Both orchestras locked out; Chanhassen’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ delights

MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are now joined by their colleagues in St. Paul.

This is not the Twin Cities’ proudest moment as a cultural center. Both of our great orchestras are now silent, locked out by their managements over contract disputes. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra joined the Minnesota Orchestra in that unhappy place at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. At 6:05, SPCO president Dobson West issued a statement saying, in part, “We are not close to an agreement. … It is with great sorrow that we arrive at this juncture.” Later that day, Carol Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, responded with, “We are puzzled by the choice of Oct. 21 for this ultimatum,” noting that musicians are still awaiting financial information requested earlier and that many are currently away, working in other ensembles, because they knew as early as June that the SPCO would not be performing last week. If you saw the prickly exchange between West and Mason Smith on Friday’s “Almanac,” the lockout comes as no surprise.

In his statement, West stood firm on not raising ticket prices: “Our current ticket pricing strategy, with lower prices and broader audience access, has resulted in increased attendance and increased net ticket revenue.” In a letter to West on Oct. 19, Brad Eggen, president of the Twin Cities Musicians Union, included documentation showing that the SPCO’s ticket prices are not only among the lowest of major symphony orchestras in the U.S. but also among the lowest of all entertainment activities in the Twin Cities.

While the Minnesota Orchestra has canceled all concerts through Nov. 25, SPCO management seems a bit more optimistic that a new contract will be signed sooner rather than later and has cleared its calendar only through Nov. 4. Canceled concerts include Baroque Inventions (Oct. 25-27), Faust and Fantasy (Nov. 2-3), and the Parker Quartet: Reflection (Nov. 1-4). Parker Quartet concerts will be rescheduled. Performances of Laurie Anderson’s “Dirtday!” at the Walker (Nov. 2-4), part of the SPCO’s new Liquid Music series, are not affected by the lockout.

“Bye Bye Birdie” opened at the Chanhassen this weekend.
Courtesy of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
Resistance is futile to “Bye Bye Birdie,” now playing at the Chanhassen Theatre.


On a brighter note in every way, “Bye Bye Birdie” opened at the Chanhassen this weekend, and it’s a blast. A half-century old – the original opened on Broadway in 1960 – the Tony-winning musical shows its age in sweetness, innocence and story, but once you’ve been danced at, sung to and dazzled by the neon-bright colors of the costumes and sets, resistance is futile. We looked around the audience and saw smiles everywhere (and this was press night, so the place was full of jaded journalists). If you know the Ann-Margret movie from 1963, you don’t know the musical, which is less about rock star Conrad Birdie (a Conway Twitty-Elvis Presley hybrid) and his screaming teenage fans, more about Albert Peterson, Birdie’s mamma’s-boy manager, and his fraught romance with his secretary, Rosie, who wants him to quit the music biz and be an English teacher.

Michael Brindisi directs an excellent cast led by Michael Gruber as Albert and the lovely, limber Ann Michels as Rosie. Michels is the centerpiece of every scene she’s in except, perhaps, those she shares with Frank Moran (Birdie) and his sky-high pompadour, an edifice that inspires both awe and fear. The show is a bubblegum time warp and good, clean fun. Songs you may remember: “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” “Baby Talk to Me,” and “Kids” (“What’s the matter with kids today?”). Through March 30. FMI and tickets.

Choral conductor Dale Warland, founder of the Dale Warland Singers, has been named to the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. Other members of the 2012 class include pianist Emanuel Ax, minimalist composer Steve Reich, composer, conductor and educator Nadia Boulanger (teacher to Aaron Copland and Philip Glass), and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which has emerged from bankruptcy but still faces huge deficits.

On Monday the American Composers Forum announced the winners of the 2012 Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards (MECA). Three Minnesota artists will each receive $3,000 to pursue a new project that will help them take artistic risks and push their careers ahead. Jazz drummer JT Bates will compose and record his first album of original material. Musician and sound designer Lucas Melchior will create a 13-song serialized album to be released over 13 months, followed by a live performance. The six-member Balkan dance music band Orkestar Bez Ime will produce a live concert and an EP. MECA is supported by the Jerome Foundation.

JT Bates
Photo by John Whiting
Jazz drummer JT Bates has won a 2012 Minnesota Emerging Composer Award.


The Jungle has unveiled its 2013 season line-up, a continuation of its trademark combo of classics and recent works. Opening Feb. 1: the regional premiere of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur.” April 6: Ira Levin’s thriller “Deathtrap.” June 7: “Urinetown, the Musical” with Bradley Greenwald. Sept. 6: a reprise of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” for which Terry Hempleman returns as Eddie. Nov. 8: Alfred Uhry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “Driving Miss Daisy,” with Wendy Lehr in the title role. Bain Boehlke directs all except “Venus in Fur” (Joel Sass) and “Urinetown” (John Command). Season tickets on sale Nov. 12.

James Stroud Jr. of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder has a frank and revealing interview with the Penumbra’s managing director, Chris Widdess, about the theater’s current situation and economic challenges. Founder Lou Bellamy will be replaced as artistic director; his successor will not be announced until the theater resumes production next year.  

Park Square Theatre’s future second stage has a name: the Andy Boss Thrust Stage, for W. Andrew Boss, a local business and community leader, longtime Park Square subscriber and donor, and avid supporter of the arts; he was founding president of Northern Clay Center and has served as a trustee for Music in the Park, COMPAS, the Minnesota Museum of American Art and the SPCO. Park Square hopes to begin construction on the new theater in February 2013. Let’s just call it the Boss.

For all young classical musicians in Minnesota: Classical MPR is taking submissions now for its third annual Minnesota Varsity program. Music students ages 14-18 (grades 9-12) are invited to submit a recording of themselves performing. No worries about professional quality; even a smartphone recording will do. The competition is open to classical and music-theater singers, instrumental soloists and small ensembles. New this year: a composition category (a partnership with the American Composers Forum). The finalists (four instrumental and vocal entrants, two composers) will perform on stage at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 28, 2013, in a live radio broadcast. Submissions accepted through Jan. 9. FMI.

Fifty-six high schools from across the state – from Andover to Zimmerman – will take part in Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 2012-13 SpotLight Musical Theatre Program. Now in its eighth year, SpotLight honors, supports, provides training and advocates for Minnesota high school musical-theater students and programs, recognizing extraordinary achievements and helping to develop young talent. Schools and students are featured in an annual SpotLight Showcase at the Orpheum; this season’s is set for 7 p.m. Monday, June 3, 2013, if you want to mark your calendar now. Educators who want in next year may contact Whitney Rhodes at 612-455-9531.

Which presidential candidate supports the arts? That’s easy: the one who isn’t pointing a gun at Big Bird. Which legislative candidates support the arts? That’s hard. The ever-vigilant Minnesota Citizens for the Arts surveyed all of them last month, then compiled their responses in a helpful chart you can download here. There’s a disappointing number of nonresponders. If your candidate is among them, give him or her a call.

After its ignominious crash in 2011 due to mismanagement of McKnight funds, the Southern Theater can hold its head up. Under general manager Damon Runnals, the only full-time staff member since June of last year, the Southern served 38 artists and organizations in 2012 (its fiscal year ends Aug. 31) including Ananya Dance Theatre, MovingCompany, Pangea World Theater and Live Action Set. It realized an operating surplus of $34,000, eliminated debt totaling $53,000 (including payments to all artists, vendors, ticket holders, and independent contractors), and upgraded its aging HVAC system. The theater is already booked through August 2013 with minimal openings remaining. The Southern plans to host a salon in November for more than 20 performing organizations to discuss future programming possibilities.

Have you contributed to a Kickstarter project? Have you launched one, successfully or not? A crowdfunding website, Kickstarter went live in April 2009. This year it will channel more than $150 million to creative projects. On Thursday, Oct. 25, in the Walker Cinema, cofounder Yancey Strickler will speak about Kickstarter and the wider world of arts funding. Arrive early or stay late for a local Kickstarter artists’ reception, then check out their stuff – playing cards, a children’s picture book, games, mugs, comic books, and more – at the Walker shop. Reception from 5-9 p.m., talk at 7 p.m. Free. FMI.

More film festivals? Why not? A fundraiser for the Edina Art Center, the second annual Edina Film Festival starts Thursday (Oct. 25) at the Edina Theater. Many of the films have Minnesota connections; directors Alec Fischer (“Minnesota Nice?”), Steve Date (“Welcome to Coalwood”), and Samuel Fischer (“Memorial Day”) will be present for Q&As following the screenings of their films. Local film historian and archivist Bob DeFlores will introduce the newly restored re-release of “My Man Godfrey” (1936), a screwball comedy starring William Powell and Carol Lombard. Through Saturday, Oct. 27. FMI and tickets.

A foodie film festival, with food? We’ll drink to that. Also starting Thursday (Oct. 25), the Film Society’s “Feast for the Eyes” screens a dozen movies about cooking and eating, chefs, restaurants and winemakers including classics (“Big Night,” “Babette’s Feast,” “Ratatouille,” “Eat Drink Man Woman”), new documentaries, and eight Minnesota premieres. Screenings are paired with tastings from local purveyors. Two “small bites feastivals,” a dinner and brunch, marry meals with shorts. A surprise in the line-up (a serious choice on the Society’s part, tongue-in-cheek, or simply wicked?): the Minnesota premiere of “Bill W,” the story of the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Paired with soda, not wine. FMI and tickets.

And on Thursday, Intermedia Arts will host the opening reception for its latest show, “Feed and Be Fed (Alimenta & Alimentarán): A Nourishing Art Exhibit,” a “cross-cultural Día de los Muertos [Day of the Dead] wonderland” featuring work by local and national artists. The exhibit also serves as the set for live performances of “¡Viva la Soul Power!,” an evening of food and theater produced by The Peoples Cook. Hosted by Mero Cocinero, the reception features music, live performance, special guests and free food. 6-9 p.m. FMI.

workers removing R
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library
The steel ‘LIBRARY’ letters outside the Walker Library have been removed and placed in storage.


If you’ve worried about the fate of the stainless-steel LIBRARY letters that stood atop Uptown’s underground Walker Library, be easy: The letters have been saved, stored, and will be reinstalled on a wall of the new above-ground library, set to open in 2014. We love those letters, but please, no more bunker-like libraries.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Langford on 10/23/2012 - 02:31 pm.

    SPCO Management choosing lockout

    It is so disappointing that the Board of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has chosen to lock out the musicians rather than continuing to negotiate in good faith. This must be some kind of scorched earth policy the board and its lawyers feel will bring the players to their knees begging for something. I am a very disgusted patron, and would hope the people who decided this strategy will be replaced by someone who knows the meaning of good faith in negotiations. Lock out is a crude anti-personnel practice that is employed to give the managment, who have little to lose, supreme power over the people most affected, the musicans. Read the SPCO literature about the purpose, nature and approach of the Orchestra to make good music, and judge whether the lock out is appropriate. I have asked for the return of both my unused ticket values and the gift I made this year to the SPCO in the good faith belief it would be for the benefit of the musicans and patraons, not to pay for the unionbusting lawyers that have brought on this calamity. As you can imagine, the Board must have locked out the patrons as well, as I have heard nary a word in response to my request.

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