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Wendy Lehr on her McKnight award; major cast change for ‘P&P’ at Guthrie

lehr photo
Courtesy of the McKnight Foundation
Wendy Lehr

What does Wendy Lehr have in common with Dominick Argento, Robert Bly, Lou Bellamy, Ranee Ramaswamy and 11 other notable Minnesotans?  She’s now a McKnight Distinguished Artist. Presented each year for the past 16, the Distinguished Artist Award recognizes individual Minnesotans who have made significant contributions to the quality of the state’s cultural life. After five decades of acting, directing, choreographing and teaching, shaping and participating in countless theaters, and helping to establish the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (which named its theater after her), Lehr may be overqualified for the honor, which includes $50,000 in cash. It’s Minnesota’s largest arts award given for past accomplishments.

She has also won the  Twin Cities Drama Critics Award, the Sally Irvine award for commitment to the arts (2008), and the IVEY Award for Lifetime Achievement (2010).

Earlier this week, we offered our congratulations and asked how she felt about her McKnight. “It’s jaw-dropping!” Lehr said. “I’m still in the pinch-me phase. It’s sort of like being rewarded for staying in town.” Looking back on her career, she remembered “the constant body of work that kept evolving” – and always saying yes to things. “I’ve said yes to some things where I’ve wound up on a plane on the way to Budapest. You hurl yourself into the melee.” She recalled her first “aha” experience: walking into a “tiny gem” of a theater in Webster Grove High School in St. Louis, where she was a student. “Maybe it was the smell of the greasepaint, but it was perfect. Undeniable. It flowed into my imagination.”

Lehr admitted to being “grateful that at this point in my life I don’t have to work all the time,” but currently she’s serving as choreographer for “The Geriatrical Theatrical” at the Plymouth Playhouse, directed by her old friend Bain Boehlke. “This is the first time I’ve sat next to Bain on that side of the table,” she said. “You get such a different perspective on his process.” Soon she’ll be back at the Jungle in “Driving Miss Daisy,” where Boehlke will direct. The two have collaborated since the early 1960s.

Does Lehr have plans for her award? “We all have to be circumspect about our entertainment dollars,” she said. “This will afford me the luxury of going to see what I want to see, maybe even twice, instead of rushing or begging for comps. We’ll go to the theater because we love to support our friends. And music, and musical theater. We love movies. We might travel. I’m sure I’ll spend it 500 times before I put a dime down.” 


Ashley Rose Montondo
Courtesy of the Guthrie
Ashley Rose Montondo

Erin Krakow (“Army Wives”) will not play the role of Miss Elizabeth Bennet in the Guthrie’s “Pride and Prejudice,” opening July 12. Ashley Rose Montondo, a 2011 graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, will wear the bonnets and Empire waists. The Guthrie’s press release referred simply to Krakow’s “sudden departure.” Say what? “She got another job,” the Guthrie’s Quinton Skinner told MinnPost. “That’s basically what happened.” For Krakow’s sake, let’s hope it’s a really great job, because leaving the Guthrie holding the bag just 24 hours before the first rehearsal is not the world’s smartest career move. Meanwhile, Montondo gave a reading and “knocked it out of the park. Joe [Dowling] is really psyched.” This could be the start of something big for Montondo, who will play opposite Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”) as romantic hero Mr. Darcy. It’s a classic scenario: a star departs for whatever reason, a young unknown in the wings gets a break. Now we’re even more pumped about “P&P.”

In other Guthrie news, Danielle St. Germain-Gordon has been appointed as the theater’s new director of development. She comes to the Guthrie from Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where she served as chief development officer. Before then, she was vice president for institutional advancement at the American Alliance of Museums, also in D.C., and associate director of development for the city’s Shakespeare Theatre Company. St. Germain-Gordon takes over for Dianne Brennan, who resigned in December after 15 years. 

japanese art
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
“Four Elegant Pastimes” by Shibata Zeshin. 19th cent., second half. Six-panel screen pair; ink and color on gold leaf, each 152.2 (H) x 356.6 (W) cm. Clark Family Collection

Overnight, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has become one of the top five centers for Japanese art in the U.S., alongside the Smithsonian and the Met. MIA has received a major gift of Japanese art from California collectors Willard and Elizabeth Clark and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, Calif. Part gift, part purchase, the collection of nearly 1,700 objects spans 10 centuries, has an estimated value of more than $25 million and will increase the museum’s Japanese art collection by a third. MIA now devotes 15 galleries to Japanese art. As Mary Abbe reported for the Strib, this significant gift (can we say “jaw-dropping” again, after quoting Wendy Lehr earlier?) has something to do with almonds. According to the Fresno Bee, it’s also about location, location, location. “My heart is in the [San Joaquin] Valley,” Willard Clark told the Bee. “I’m fifth generation. But I have to be realistic. There isn’t enough population in the Valley to support the museum.” Along with the vast collection of paintings, sculptures, woodblock prints, ceramics, bamboo baskets and textiles, MIA also acquires a new curator. Andreas Marks will move here from the Clark Center to head the museum’s Department of Japanese and Korean Art.

Courtesy of the Minnesota State Fair
This year’s State Fair artist is Marie Olofsdotter.

We love Minnesota State Fair Commemorative Art. Each year since 2004, a Minnesota artist has captured the magic, merriment and livestock of our great state get-together. This year’s artist is Marie Olofsdotter, also an author, mask-maker, performer, poet and teacher, who moved here from Sweden in 1981 and decided to stay. Her work in acrylic is full of color and flowing lines. It will be on display at the Fine Arts Center throughout the fair. Posters and signed prints are available; sales support the Fair’s buildings, grounds and educational experiences.

Courtesy of Kerlan
Kate DiCamillo

On Saturday at the U of M’s Mondale Hall, Minneapolis-based children’s author Kate DiCamillo will receive the 2013 Kerlan Award, a recognition of her achievements and a thank-you from the Kerlan Collection for the study of children’s literature, to which she has donated many of her manuscripts. If you have kids or are around kids, you probably know that DiCamillo is the author of “Because of Winn-Dixie” (A Newbery Honor book), “The Tale of Despereaux” (a Newbery Medal winner), and six books starring a pig named Mercy Watson. Previous winners include Walter Dean Myers and Jean Craighead George. The public is invited to the award presentation and speech by Camillo; it’s free, but reservations are requested. If you want to stay for lunch, you’ll need to buy a ticket ($30/$20). Here’s a charming bit on the delightful DiCamillo from Minnesota Original.

Back in February, the Minnesota Opera hinted that its new production of “The Magic Flute,” part of its 2013-14 season, would be something special. We now know what that means. “Flute” will be a co-production with LA Opera of an original production by the award-winning British avant-garde theater group 1927. The London-based company creates performances that combine live acting, live music and film animation. Its approach to “Flute” was first produced at Komische Oper Berlin in 2012. So what we’ll see (in our North American premiere) is a wildly colorful, mixed-media Mozart full of surprises. Plus we’ll hear the Queen of the Night. Opens April 12, 2014. Season packages are on sale now; single tickets go on sale July 22.

magic flute
Photo by Iko Freese
A scene from the Berlin production of “The Magic Flute”

Our picks for the weekend

Opens tonight (Friday, June 7) at St. Anthony Main Theatre: “One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das.” If you’ve been to a yoga studio, you’ve heard his voice. This award-winning documentary tells the story of Jeffrey Kagel, the onetime rock singer who today chants the names of God. Here’s the trailer. Through June 13. FMI and tickets.

Saturday along Chicago Avenue from 32nd Street to 42nd Street: Arts on Chicago Celebration. Can art bring four neighborhoods together? Funded in part by a grant from Artplace, 20 art projects have been created along 10 blocks of Chicago Ave. where the Central, Powderhorn, Bancroft and Bryant communities meet. The day-long event features activities, visual art and photography from artists including Wing Young Huie and HOTTEA, and performance tours. FMI. Free.

Saturday at Highpoint Center for Printmaking: Open Portfolio III. More than 60 regional printmakers share their most recent work with the public and guest reviewers from the Walker, the MMAA, the MIA, and other museums and galleries. Many of the prints will be available for purchase. 1:30–7 p.m. FMI.

Saturday at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall: Bobb Fantauzzo’s “A Weaving of Traditions.” Playing Native American flute, Fantauzzo and his group JazZen blends the spirit of his instrument with the essence of jazz. With Lyz Jaakola on traditional Anishinaabe vocals and percussion. 7:30 p.m., 1631 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul. $10 online, $15 at the door.

Saturday at sunset through Sunday at dawn in St. Paul’s Lowertown: Northern Spark. This annual all-night community celebration of the arts is a house on fire, plus 75 more projects featuring 137 artists. Visit the website and plan your night or just show up and wander.

Sunday at McNally Smith: Dan Musselman “Devotion” CD Release. Jazz pianist/composer Musselman draws from books of the Bible and the examples of jazz forebears John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and John McLaughlin to create music that seeks and inspires. Young Musselman plays the piano really, really well; his compositions are melodic, inviting, and warm. 3 p.m. in the auditorium. Free.

Sunday at the Jungle: Connie Evingson. The jazz chanteuse performs hip, smart, tender songs from her CD, “Little Did I Dream: Songs by Dave Frishberg.” 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25). Later that week, she’ll make her Lincoln Center debut with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Swinging with the Big Bands,” hosted by Michael Feinstein and accompanied by Wynton Marsalis. 

Sunday-Monday at the Dakota: John Sebastian. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former member of the Lovin’ Spoonful reminisces and delivers his hits: “Summer in the City,” “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice,” “Do You Believe in Magic?” These should be mellow evenings. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($36).

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