Park Square Theatre had big news on Monday. Its 2014-15 season will include 15 productions – a huge number. How can it manage so many? Because the second stage the theater has promised, planned and fundraised for will finally happen. “Timing has been everything in this campaign,” executive director Michael-jon Pease said. “We are working to finalize our construction financing package and raise the final $500,000 in the next few weeks in order to announce the start of construction.” The brand-new, intimate 200-seat Andy Boss Thrust Stage in the Hamm Building will open in time to give the company two platforms for 2014-15.
Already in the works: “The Color Purple,” which will take the main stage in January 2015 with the largest all-African-American cast in the theater’s history. “After the artistic and audience success of ‘Ragtime,’ we are ready and excited for ‘The Color Purple,’” said artistic director Richard Cook. “I think it will touch our souls in a completely different way than the lavish Broadway tours that have come to town.” Lewis Whitlock III, a charter company member of Penumbra Theatre, will direct. On the Boss Stage, Park Square artistic associate Aditi Kapil will direct the area premiere of “The Other Place” by Sharr White, featuring Linda Kelsey and James A. Williams. The rest of the season will be announced in early March.
At the Park Square now, “School for Lies” is a naughty romp through 17th-century Parisian society. Loosely based on Molière’s “The Misanthrope,” written by David Ives (whose “Venus in Fur” was a provocative shocker last year at the Jungle), it’s a delicious diversion in towering wigs and low-cut gowns. Ives wrote entirely in iambic pentameter (the meter most of us are used to, thanks to Shakespeare), and outrageous rhymes, jokes and turns of phrase come thick and fast. (When was the last time you rhymed “dimity” and “equanimity”? Have you ever proclaimed “Better be a tart than Tartuffe!” Or declared “She exalts my soul! She’s single malt. She’s rain. She’s rock-and-roll!”) Ives even manages to work in “Dude” and “LOL.” It’s a silly play – it won’t change your life or make you think very hard, if at all – but if you love the English language and don’t mind spending an evening laughing out loud, this is one you probably shouldn’t miss. Throughout, canapés fly through the air so often that by mid-play, the stage looks like a used litter box. Ends this weekend. FMI and tickets.
Last week the Minnesota Orchestra announced the classical concerts in its 2014 season. Today it unveiled the rest of the season: a new series called “Live at Orchestra Hall,” a series of family-friendly performances, and this year’s Sommerfest concerts. “Live at Orchestra Hall” is described as “a broad-spectrum series of popular music, jazz, world music, Broadway classics, movie scores, comedy and other genres – bringing under one umbrella several separate concert series previously offered by the Orchestra.” In other words, these are the nonclassical concerts. The series is led by Sarah Hicks, who has a new title; formerly the orchestra’s principal conductor of pops, she’s now principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall. (The P-word, “pops,” only appears twice in the orchestra’s latest announcements, both times in reference to Doc Severinsen, the orchestra’s pops conductor laureate. Pops was not a popular word during the lockout.)
The “Live at Orchestra Hall” headliners include trumpeter Chris Botti; trumpeter and perennial Orchestra Hall favorite Doc Severinsen; jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis and guitarist John Pizzarelli together in a Nat King Cole tribute; vocalist Bobby McFerrin (who’s bringing his exceptional “spirityouall” concert here); world music ensemble Red Baraat; comedian Bill Cosby; “Bugs Bunny” and Pixar animated shows; singer-actor Matthew Morrison of television’s “Glee”; and the Midtown Men, singers from the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys.” Some concerts will feature the Minnesota Orchestra, others will not. Sommerfest, which takes over in July, includes patriotic music, classical music, show tunes and a semi-staged performance of Strauss’s opera “Die Fledermaus.”
The Friends and Family concerts, sponsored by the Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra (formerly WAMSO), are designed to bring kids into the hall. In fact, children (up to age 17) are admitted free with the purchase of an adult ticket, and adult tickets for these concerts are very affordable – from $5 for the first “Welcome Back” concert on Sunday, March 2, to $15 for the rest: “Rite of Spring,” Chris McKhool’s Fiddlefire (world music), and “Peter and the Wolf.” Three of the four concerts feature the Minnesota Orchestra; Courtney Lewis conducts two.
What’s missing? The “Inside the Classics” series, co-hosted by Sarah Hicks and violist Sam Bergman; we’ll be sad if that series is gone forever. Irvin Mayfield, who served as the orchestra’s first (and last?) artistic director of jazz from 2008 until the lockout began. The Composer Institute, whose co-founder and director, Aaron Jay Kernis, resigned the same day as Osmo Vänskä. Will that return? It’s a new start, a new world, and we’re willing to see how things shake out as the hall opens and the musicians return.
Minneapolis author Kate DiCamillo has won her second Newbery Award, for “Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures.” For children’s book writers, the Newbery – established by the American Library Association in 1921, given “for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” – is the Oscar and the Grammy rolled into one. DiCamillo won her first Newbery in 2004 for “The Tale of Despereaux.” Her second gains her entry to the even more elite ranks of authors who’ve won twice: Joseph Krumgold, Elizabeth George Speare, E.L.Konigsburg, Katherine Paterson, and Lois Lowry. DiCamillo makes six. She told Publishers Weekly on Monday that after she got the crack-of-dawn call from the Newbery committee, she went to her kitchen, had a cup of coffee and cried.
The finalists for this year’s Minnesota Book Awards were announced over the weekend. Among them are Mary Losure for “Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron” (category: Young People’s Literature), Matt Rasmussen for “Black Aperture” (Poetry), Thomas Maltman for “Little Wolves” (Novel and Short Story), Sue Leaf for “A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler” (Minnesota), Rachael Hanel for “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter” (Memoir and Creative Nonfiction), William Kent Krueger for “Tamarack County” (Genre Fiction), Jack El-Hai for “The Nazi and the Psychiatrist” (General Nonfiction), and Elizabeth Verdick for “Peep Leap” (Children’s Literature). The winners will be revealed Saturday, April 5, at the annual Minnesota Book Awards Gala, which is turning out to be quite the party. This year’s host: John Moe of MPR’s Wits. FMI and tickets.
First the Minneapolis Institute of Arts revamps the museum gift shop (it’s now more spacious and exclusive), then opens a market off the lobby (Northern Grade, from Nov. 21-Jan. 3), and now two new restaurants, Dogwood in the lobby and Grain Stack upstairs. (We haven’t seen Dogwood’s menu yet, but Grain Stack serves things like carrot tartare and a pulled BBQ squash sandwich.) What’s next, indie rock? Well, yes. In late February, MIA launches a series called Sound.Art.MIA with Body/Head, an experimental electric guitar collaboration cooked up by Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Bill Nace (Vampire Belt) and served on their debut album “Coming Apart.” Here’s a taste. They’re so sure of themselves they’re skipping bars and clubs and touring only art museums. Thursday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m. Local banjo virtuoso Paul Metzger opens. FMI and tickets here ($20/$22, on sale starting today at 10 a.m.). The series is curated by Liz Armstrong, formerly of the Walker (among other places), who brought us “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness” at MIA.
Verdi’s “Macbeth,” based on Shakespeare’s dark play about ambition, tyranny and bloodshed, has begun its run at the Ordway. We won’t see the Minnesota Opera production it in time to write about it here before it ends, but we can tell you what Rob Hubbard of the Pi Press thought: “Brenda Harris [as Lady Macbeth] delivers a tour de force in this dark chiller of a production … a world of witches and crows, ominous shadows and whispering spirits … spine-tingling … seriously spooky … a cauldron full of menace.” Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree on preview night (“#BadDay for Banquo”). FMI and tickets.
We like how writer Sally Franson thinks. As a distraction from our deep freeze, she recommends reading Dante’s “Inferno.” She asks, “Who needs Sun Country and tan lines when you’ve got Satan and scorch lines?” Then she spells out the parallels between Dante’s circles of hell and our own lives as ordinary Minnesotans in the eternal damnation known as January. Read more here on the Loft’s blog, “Writers’ Block.” We recommend the Robert Pinsky translation, with the original Italian on facing pages.
Friday’s benefit concert at the Cedar raised almost $13,000 for the victims and families of the New Year’s Day fire down the street, exceeding the $10,000 goal. More organizations pledged their support and will be donating directly to a relief fund through Pillsbury United Communities. (Anyone can do this; go here, click Donate, and include “Cedar-Riverside Disaster Relief Fund” in the Comments.) The Cedar reports that Spider John Koerner greeted the audience in both English and Somali.
Our picks for the week
Tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 28) at the Minnesota History Center: History Lounge: The Original Gangsters. Through colorful stories, author Paul Maccabee (“John Dillinger Slept Here”) takes you on a tour of St. Paul in the 1920s and 1930s, when criminals, bootleggers, and thieves like Dillinger, Babyface Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis held St. Paul hostage. Learn about gangland romances and feuds, bank heists and assassinations. FMI. 7 p.m. Free.
Tonight at the Dakota: New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott. A former Duke of Dixieland, co-founder of the modern brass band the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, McDermott is one of the Big Easy’s premier piano players and composers. You might have seen him on the HBO series “Treme.” He’s joined by our own Patty and the Buttons, with the terrific Patrick Harison on button accordion. 7 p.m., $7.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 29) through Thursday at Carleton College in Northfield: A marathon reading of “Tristram Shandy.” This isn’t for everyone (which may be the understatement of the year), but if it’s for you, it’s really for you. In celebration of Laurence Sterne’s 300th birthday, Carleton is hosting a 24-hour start-to-finish reading of “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy: Gentleman,” a novel about a lot of things including philosophy, Lockean psychology, obstetrics, noses, sexual practices, and metaphysical poetry. Starts at 12:50 p.m. Wednesday on the north balcony of the Sayles Hill Campus Center, ends at 11:50 a.m. (or thereabouts) on Thursday, with cake for the survivors. Faculty, students and staff including Carleton president Steve Poskanzer will participate.
Thursday at the New Century Theatre: “Five Course Love.” In this tasty musical comedy, three actors play fifteen different characters in five different restaurants, all on the hunt for love. Characters include a mob wife, a dominatrix and her kept man, a hill bandit and his rival – you can already tell that this will be a silly good time. Presented by Minneapolis Musical Theatre, whose performance last year of “Carrie: The Musical” was pretty terrific. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($24-$29). Through Feb. 16.