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‘700 Sundays’ is a tour de force; Artability show in St. Paul

ALSO: Lizz Wright & Raul Midón at the Ordway; OcTUBAfest at Gustavus Adolphus; three film festivals coming up; and more.

Courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust
Billy Crystal in “700 Sundays”

The first act of Billy Crystal’s “700 Sundays” is an hourlong fusillade of jokes. Good jokes. Funny jokes. So many, so fast you can hardly catch your breath in between, and not one is mean-spirited. A huge hit on Broadway during its original run in 2004 ($10 million in advance sales, one of the top 10 grossing shows every week, 2005 Tony win), Crystal’s solo autobiographical play is at the State Theatre for a handful of performances before returning to Broadway, where the tickets cost more. It’s a loving and hilarious homage to his colorful family, especially his parents.

His hard-working father died of a sudden heart attack when Crystal was 15; 700 is the number of Sundays they spent together before everything changed. Jack Crystal, a jazz concert promoter who managed a record store, introduced his youngest son to comedy and jazz. (Jazz fans will love Crystal’s story of the time singer Billie Holiday took him to see his first movie, “Shane.” He sat on her lap, and at the end, when Joey shouted, “Shane, come back!” Holiday said to young Billy, “That man is not coming back.”) Memories of a flatulent grandfather, an aunt with a “Lesbyterian” daughter, an uncle whose face is half-paralyzed (“Uncle Picasso”), a gray-on-gray Plymouth Belvedere, his grandmother’s advice to Louis Armstrong (“Louis, have you ever just tried coughing it up?”) and more – this is a jam-packed show lasting over two hours – are underscored with snippets from real 16mm home movies of the Crystal clan, projected on the windows of the family home.

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The second act isn’t as funny as the first, but it’s not supposed to be. And it’s riskier for Crystal, who also deals with the death of his mother in 2004. The phrase “tour de force” is overused but entirely apropos here. Crystal is a superstar; it’s why he lands the big gigs like the Oscars. Being in the same room with him, even in a crowd of 1,600, is a privilege and a pleasure. Catch “700 Sundays” if you can. Three performances remain. FMI and tickets.

If you want the next Minneapolis mayor to be one who supports the arts, take a few moments to read the results of a survey by the Minneapolis Arts Commission. On Sept. 12, the MAC co-hosted a forum with several of the mayoral candidates to discuss creative placemaking and arts in the city. As a follow-up, it distributed an online survey to all candidates, inviting them to share their opinions on arts-related issues. With dozens of candidates to choose from, and ranked-choice voting making its debut, it’s probably a good idea to zero in on issues you care about. Like, for example, whether arts funding should be increased, decreased, or kept the same. Of those candidates participating in the survey, Mark Andrew, Edmund Bruyere, Jackie Cherryhomes, Dan Cohen, Betsy Hodges, Gregg Iverson and John Wilson said “increase funding.” Bill Kahn, Cam Winton and Christopher Zimmerman said “decrease funding.” Bob “Again” Carney Jr., Christopher Clark, Bob Fine, Don Samuels and Captain Jack Sparrow said “keep funding the same as now.”

Mayor R.T. Rybak has set the bar high when it comes to attending arts events, and we may never see his like again. However, wouldn’t it be nice if our mayor showed up at museums, concerts and plays as well as ball games? When asked, “What is an art experience you had recently?” Mark Andrew replied that he and his wife had gone to an amateur dance review at the Cowles Center. Jackie Cherryhomes attended her daughter’s production of “Hair” and saw a show at the Dakota. Bob Fine took in “Uncle Vanya” at the Guthrie. Betsy Hodges stood with the locked-out musicians and viewed the Made Here installation at Block E. Bill Kahn “made a tasty and pretty egg and cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast.” Here’s a shorter version of the survey results, edited for length, not content. Here are the original unedited results.

The American Composers Forum has announced the winners of the 2013 Minnesota Emerging Composer Awards (MECA) and the Jerome Fund for New Music (JFund) commissions. Improvising percussionist Davu Seru, former Dark Dark Dark frontwoman Nona Marie Invie, and multitasking musician Mark McGee will each receive $3,000 to pursue a significant new project. Four Minnesota-based composers will have their projects funded to the tune of $4,000-$7,000. Greg Brosofske of Minneapolis will write a one-act opera for Bradley Greenwood based on the life of poet John Berryman. Hip-hop MC Alexei Casselle will make a new album. John Keston will document a series of live performances at acoustic sound sculptures in England and Denmark. And Duluth cellist Kathy McTavish will compose a new work for Zeitgeist. Seven projects from New York City-based applicants were also selected for JFunding, including a new work by Shawn Jaeger, whose piece “The Cold Pane” has its world premiere this weekend with Dawn Upshaw and the SPCO.

Courtesy of ReelAbilities
“Wampler’s Ascent” which chronicles the attempt of Steve Wampler, who has cerebral palsy, to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan.

Three notable film festivals are coming our way. Nov. 1-5: ReelAbilities, the nation’s largest film festival dedicated to sharing the stories of people with disabilities, makes its Twin Cities debut. Along with presenting award-winning films by and about people with disabilities, the festival will feature post-screening discussions and other programs meant to bring the community together. Films include the acclaimed documentary “Wampler’s Ascent,” which chronicles the attempt of Steve Wampler, who has cerebral palsy, to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan; Wampler will take questions from the audience following the screening. In “Ocean Heaven,” Jet Li stars in the story of a father’s love for his autistic son. FMI, schedule, and tickets here. (Most films screen at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre.)

Nov. 13-17: Sound Unseen. Now in its 14th year, Sound Unseen is our annual films-on-music festival. The party has expanded to include live music performances at the Amsterdam, a special event at Summit Brewing (with beer, duh), and a juried competition.  This year’s films include “Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart,” about the former Hüsker Dü co-songwriter/singer/drummer (Hart will be present, as will director Gorman Bechard and producer Jan Radder); “Death Metal Angola,” about Angola’s first national rock concert; six films by Les Blank; “We Always Lie to Strangers,” a film about wholesome Branson, Mo., one of America’s biggest tourist destinations; and the Twin Cities premiere of “Meeting Charlie Parr,” with Minnesota singer Parr in the house. Films screen at the Trylon and McNally Smith College of Music; opening night is at Landmark Center. Complete schedule here. Live music and event lineup here. (These are placeholder pages while the official festival site is under construction. We’re cutting them slack because the festival is run by a staff of two volunteers.) 

grant hart
Courtesy of Sound Unseen
“Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart”

Nov. 15-21: Images of Africa, with 30 narrative and documentary films from 15 countries. A nod to Minnesota’s growing African communities, this new series is part of the Film Society’s Diaspora Project. Several visiting filmmakers will be in attendance, along with experts in the field of African history and cinema. The contemporary (and some classic) narrative and documentary films include Sundance audience winner “The Square,” which chronicles the events that led to the January 2011 demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and the fall of Hosni Mubarak; “Broken Dreams,” about the Minneapolis families of young Somali men recruited by Al-Shabab; and South by Southwest grand jury prize winner “William and the Windmill,” about a 14-year-old Malawian who becomes an energy icon for the developing world. Screenings take place at the St. Anthony Main Theatre and Mixed Blood. FMI and tickets.

the square still
Courtesy of Noujaim Films
Egyptian activist Ramy Essam (R) in Jehane Noujaim’s documentary THE SQUARE.

The Oratorio Society of Minnesota has announced its first concert of the 2013 season: the regional premiere of “Annelies,” the first major choral setting of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Composed by James Whitbourn, with a libretto compiled and translated from the diary, it will be performed by mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (Sister James in the Minnesota Opera’s “Doubt”) and the 80-voice Oratorio Society Chorus accompanied by violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Ordinarily, we might think … depressing. But Gramophone, the respected London-based classical music magazine, had this to say: “Whitbourn has created some music of great beauty, without trespassing into the realm of cloying. Not only does that release one to listen to the work’s oases of soaring melody … but leaves the integrity of such an important piece of literature, and history, intact.” Sunday, Nov. 24, 4 p.m. at the Colonial Church of Edina. FMI and tickets. (While on the website, we couldn’t help but notice what’s coming up March 8: “Music of Downton Abbey.”)

Our picks for the weekend

Tonight (Friday) at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter: OcTUBAfest. Musically speaking, this is about as low as you can go. The Department of Music’s annual recital of works for euphonium and tuba, under the direction of Professor Paul Budde, features music by Schumann, Handel, Bach, Guilmant, Capuzzi, and other composers. 7:30 p.m. in Björling Recital Hall. Free and open to the public. 

Friday at the Ordway: Lizz Wright & Raul Midón. Each singer/songwriter has a successful solo career. They’ve been on tour together in Europe, and now they’re here for what promises to be an extraordinary evening of music: contemporary spirituals that draw from jazz, R&B, soul and gospel. When Wright’s warm, dusky voice meets Midón’s soaring, silky tenor, grab someone’s hand. Listen on SoundCloud or watch a video from a festival in Lugano, Switzerland. 7:30 p.m. Pre-concert conversation at 6:30 in the foyer with Jeff Bailey (Moveable Feast), Ben Abrahamson (Lulu’s Playground), and vocalist Ashley Commodore. FMI and tickets.

Friday through Sunday at Landmark Center: People Incorporated’s Artability Art Show and Sale. Landscape and nature photography, anime, abstracts and poetry by more than 90 artists who live with mental illness. A special installation, “Facing Voices,” features works by people who experience auditory hallucinations (due to their mental illness, they hear voices). Some 300 works of art will be on display and for sale; artists receive 90 percent of the sale price, and 10 percent goes back into the Artability project. Opening reception (with live Baroque music, award presentations, and ASL interpreters) Friday, 6-9 p.m., in the Cortile. Viewing Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., in Courtroom #317. Free and open to the public. FMI.

Saturday and Sunday in Excelsior: BOO-seum and Ghost Trolley Tour. A family-friendly trip through the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society’s “haunted” museum, a trolley ride, and a reenactment of “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast of 1938 with former WCCO TV anchor Don Shelby and former Old Log owner Don Stolz, organized by Ivey lifetime achievement winner Jeffrey Hatcher. Come in costume, one and all; Martian garb encouraged. $7 adults/$5 ages 10 and under. Trolley rides 6-9 p.m. Stage show at 8 p.m. in the parking lot next to the museum. FMI.

Courtesy of Barebones Productions
The Barebones Halloween Puppet Extravaganza is inspired by Celtic traditions, harvest festivals, All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead.

Saturday and Sunday at Hidden Falls Regional Park: 20th Annual Barebones Halloween Puppet Extravaganza. Created through a series of community workshops, inspired by Celtic traditions, harvest festivals, All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead. This year’s production, “Carry On – A Requiem for 20 Years” tells a story about the wild natural cycles of loss, grief and transformation with shadow puppetry, stilting, bicycles, aerial dance, a live orchestra, and fire. There’s a giant cuckoo clock filled with vultures, along with herds of bats and tea-sipping spiders. Friday’s performance is followed by music from the Poor Nobodys, Saturday’s by Brass Messengers. Shows at 7 p.m. Suggested donation $5-$20. Come in the North Gate (Magoffin Ave.) entrance, 1305 Mississippi River Blvd., St. Paul. Can’t come this weekend? More shows are scheduled for Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. FMI.

Saturday at Union Depot: Doggie Depot. A fun day for people and pooches. Learn obedience training tips, take part in a doggie costume contest, have your pet’s photo taken, treat Ruff to a pet-a-cure, watch demonstrations by the St. Paul Police Department’s K-9 unit, take part in an Ask-the-Vet Q&A, make take-home dog treats – and maybe adopt a dog from Secondhand Hounds, Wags N Whiskers or the Pet Project Rescue. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Sunday at Central Lutheran Church: “There Was a Child.” Under the direction of Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence opens its 45th season with premieres and audience favorites. Kristina MacKenzie of Theoroi, a group of arts ambassadors ages 21-35 sponsored by the Schubert Club, contributed this preview of Sunday’s event: “As a choral singer and former member of the St. Olaf Choir, I am particularly excited about the upcoming U.S. premiere of British composer Jonathan Dove’s ‘There Was a Child.’ Commissioned as a memorial to a friend’s son who died in a snorkeling accident, it traces the young man’s life from childhood to adulthood. Rather than writing a grim Requiem, Dove created a vibrant, uplifting celebration of life. Many reviewers of this work have cited the clear influence of Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughn Williams – two of my personal favorite composers, both masters of bringing a narrative to life through music. Literature lovers should note that ‘There Was a Child’ builds its narrative on the works of Keats, Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson, among other well-known poets. Minnesota is known for its choral music for a reason, and the chance to see these renowned ensembles and soloists onstage together is not to be missed.” The concert also includes a world premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis. 4 p.m., preceded at 3 by a Concert Conversation with Classical MPR’s John Birge and composer Dove. FMI and tickets. Seating is very limited; turnbacks at the door.