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Aiken's Lite Brite mural lights up; tickets on sale for Penumbra's 'Spunk'

Ta-coumba T. Aiken and lite brite mural
Courtesy of Rat Race Studios
Minnesota holds a new Guinness Record for Largest Lite Brite Picture, shown here behind artist Ta-coumba T. Aiken.

Thanks to the Forever Saint Paul Challenge, Union Depot, artist Ta-coumba T. Aiken, and hundreds of volunteers, Minnesota now holds a new Guinness Record for Largest Lite Brite Picture. Aiken designed a mural made of more than 596,000 Lite Brite pegs that was completed and lit for the first time on Saturday night. It will remain at the Union Depot through Feb. 28, after which it will move to a permanent location still TBD. Are there more Guinness records of which Minnesotans can be proud? You betcha. Like Shortest Baby, Quietest Place, Largest Pizza Base Spun in 2 Minutes, Most Traded NHL Ice Hockey Player, and Most People Spooning. (The last one was set by Carleton College students in 2010. Aren’t they supposed to be studying?)

The show will go on at Penumbra, one of America’s most important African-American theaters. Having emerged from its recent financial crisis, which forced the theater to cut six full-time staff positions and suspend all programming until it could raise $340,000, Penumbra announced on Monday that tickets are now on sale for “Spunk: Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston,” a mix of storytelling, dance and the blues. Keith Jamal Downing, T. Mychael Rambo, Mikell Sapp, Dennis Spears, Jevetta Steele and Austene Van will star. March 14-April 7. Tickets here.  

The tale of the proposed Minnesota state poem has shown up in newspapers and on websites across the U.S. as an AP story that’s making the rounds. It was the topic of the Strib’s “Letter of the Day” on Sunday, where the writer defended the one-poem, one-state notion by praising his own state song, “My Old Kentucky Home.” Isn’t that the Stephen K. Foster tune where the second line once read “’Tis summer, the darkies are gay”? True, ’tis since been updated to “’Tis summer, the people are gay.”

Also in Sunday’s Strib, Chris Riemenschneider exposed the dark underbelly of “Hot Cheetos & Takis,” the smash hit video made by young hip-hoppers at an after-school YMCA program in north Minneapolis. Where’s the money, who should get it, and how much is there or will there be? Parents and attorneys are now involved. Welcome to the music business.

Mu Performing Arts has appointed Randy Reyes to succeed Mu co-founder Rick Shiomi as the company’s artistic director. After a national search, Mu drew from its own ranks; the Juilliard-trained Reyes, a Twin Cities resident since 2005, has been deeply involved with Mu as an actor, director, administrator and member of the company’s Core Artistic Group. This will be Mu’s first leadership transition since 1993. Under Shiomi’s guidance, Mu has grown from a handful of theater artists to one of the nation’s largest Asian American performing arts organizations. Mu’s “Yellow Fever,” written and directed by Shiomi, opens at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio on March 9. FMI and tickets.

Nominations are due for the 2013 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. The $50,000 award, now in its 16th year, honors an individual artist with an enduring and exceptional career who has made a substantial impact on the arts in Minnesota. Past recipients include poet John Caddy, dance artist Ranee Ramaswamy, sculptor Siah Armajani, theater artist Bain Bohlke, and writer Bill Holm. FMI and nomination criteria. Deadline: March 31, 2013.

Artists and makers of fine craft, apply now for Art at St. Kate’s, an annual juried art fair held on the St. Paul campus of St. Catherine University. This year’s St. Kate’s fest is Saturday, July 13. The deadline for entry is March 4. FMI and application. This is known as a high-quality art fair, small (100 artists) and manageable for collectors and the curious, nicely sited (on the grassy triangle area of the campus). All artwork must be original and made by the artist; all artists must be present to exhibit their own work.

Bill Frisell
Courtesy of Macalester
Bill Frisell

Internationally acclaimed, astonishingly eclectic guitarist Bill Frisell will play a free concert in St. Paul on Friday, and it would be silly to miss it. Most recently, Frisell brought home a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, was named Guitarist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association and DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll, and won the Académie Charles Cross, France’s Grammy. His dozens of albums include a John Lennon tribute, recordings with his own groups (duos, trios, quartets), and collaborations with Paul Motian, Elvis Costello, Dave Holland, Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, and Vinicius Cantuaria. Frisell has played several times in the Twin Cities – at the Dakota, the Cedar, and the Walker – but not for free. Thanks to Macalester College for including him in its annual New Music Series, whose past performers have included Maria Schneider, Matt Haimovitz, Uri Caine and Theo Bleckmann. (Lucky Mac students also get classroom visits.) Frisell will give a solo performance. Will it be jazz, folk, rock, prog rock, country, blues, or ethereal ambient sounds? We haven’t a clue. 8 p.m. Friday, Mairs Concert Hall in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, 1600 Grand Ave. Doors at 7:30. First come, first served. 

For more free music by another guitar god, you’ll have to cross the border into Wisconsin, where the University of Wisconsin-River Falls is hosting two free concerts featuring Mike Stern. Like Frisell, Stern is impossible to categorize; his latest CD, “All Over the Place” (2012), showcases his breadth, depth, curiosity and reach. Stern performs on Friday, Feb. 22, with the UWRF Jazz Faculty group at the Jazz Club Cabaret (7:30 p.m, Falcon’s Nest, University Center) and on Saturday, Feb. 23, with the UW-River Falls Jazz Ensemble directed by Dave Milne (7:30 p.m., William Abbott Concert Hall, Kleinpell Fine Arts Building). FMI.

Need a big dose of guitar before the weekend? The Dakota hosts International Guitar Night tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 20) with acoustic guitarists from around the world: Scotland’s Martin Taylor, Madagascar’s Solorazaf, Brazil’s Celso Machado, and San Francisco-based Brian Gore. This should be spectacular. FMI and tickets.

Still more free music? Yes, please. Also on Wednesday, the Twin Cities’ own much-loved Moore by Four celebrates Black History Month with a concert at the Landmark Center’s Weyerhauser Auditorium. Moore by Four is Yolande Bruce, Connie Evingson, Sanford Moore, Dennis Spears and Ginger Commodore. 6:30 p.m. Take a break and listen to “Duke’s Place.

For Black History Month, the Hennepin Gallery at the Hennepin County Government Center is hosting an exhibit from the Archie Givens Sr. Collection of African American Literature of the University of Minnesota Libraries. “Bibliophilia: Collecting Black Books” includes rare and out-of-print first editions, books with covers designed by important artists, and volumes that have been signed and inscribed by the authors. FMI.

ladyslipper
Courtesy of Ladyslipper
Baroque ensemble Ladyslipper comes to Immanuel Lutheran Church to perform four of Vivald’s works for lute and “Winter and Spring” from his “Four Seasons.”


The baroque ensemble Ladyslipper performs music by Vivaldi on Thursday (Feb. 21) at the Lute Café at Immanuel Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Sarah Hassan (mezzo-soprano), Margaret Humphrey (baroque violin), and Asako Hirabayashi (harpsichord) will be joined by Phillip Rukavina on lute and other musicians on strings for four of Vivald’s works for lute and “Winter and Spring” from his “Four Seasons.” 104 S. Snelling Ave., 7:30 p.m. $15 suggested donation.

On Thursday, Minnesota author and historian Gary Brueggemann discusses his new book, “Minnesota’s Oldest Murder Mystery: The Case of Edward Phalen, St. Paul’s Unsaintly Pioneer.” It’s the first thorough biography of Phalen, who was intimately involved in the making of St. Paul and the founding of Minnesota. Was he also a killer? 7 p.m., Common Good Books.

On our way into the Guthrie’s proscenium theater for “Other Desert Cities,” we heard happy exclamations over James Youmans’ set, a marvelous sprawl of a midcentury modern home in the Palm Springs desert. It takes up the whole stage, every inch of which is needed to contain this explosive, sometimes shocking, often very funny family drama. Parents Polly and Lyman Wyeth (Sally Wingert and David Anthony Brinkley) are staunch, wealthy Republicans who hung out with the Reagans. Adult children Brooke (Kelly McAndrew) and Trip (Christian Conn) are, respectively, an author and a producer of cheesy reality TV shows, home for a Christmas visit. Polly’s acerbic sister Silda (Michelle Barber) has moved in because she’s an alcoholic in recovery and has nowhere else to go; she brought spontaneous applause from the opening night audience with her first hilarious, gale-force scene. There was a third child, Henry, who took a left turn in the 1970s and became involved in a radical group that bombed a military recruitment center. A man died and Henry later killed himself.

When fragile Brooke announces that she has written a soon-to-be-published, tell-all memoir about her brother and her family, Polly and Lyman are shaken and threatened. This will destroy them. Does Brooke have the right? She says yes; they say no. Brother Trip says go ahead, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Silda has her own foggy reasons for siding with Brooke against Polly and Lyman. And that’s when the real secrets come out. The ending is full of surprises, some more satisfying than others. Wingert, Brinkley and Barber are superb – especially Wingert as the steely, uncompromising core of the play. Conn is convincing as the brother, McAndrew less so as Brooke, but hers may be the hardest role. Written by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Peter Rothstein. Through March 24. FMI and tickets.

It’s a great week to go to the Guthrie, where all three stages are presenting powerful plays. On the thrust, “Long Day’s Journey into Night” continues through Saturday, Feb. 23. On the proscenium: “Other Desert Cities.” In the Dowling: “Buzzer” by Tracey Scott Wilson, directed by Marion McClinton. Since last year’s sold-out, world-premiere run at the Pillsbury House Theatre, “Buzzer” has been further polished and given a slightly different ending. We spoke with someone who had seen both versions; each is thought-provoking and disturbing, but in different ways. Namir Smallwood and Hugh Kennedy are perfectly cast as Jackson and Don, Sara A. Richardson is a bit too tightly wound as Suzy in a play about race, sex, gentrification and fear. Through March 3. 

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