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Pick your favorites at Fringe previews; Dessa to open O'Shaughnessy's season

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
‘Gilligan: A Tropical Musical’ by Literally Entertainment Production

Who should attend the Minnesota Fringe Festival preview nights? Hard-core Fringers, like the couple seated beside us at the Rarig Monday night, who usually see 40 or more Fringe shows. (This year, hitting that number might be challenging. They have two kids now instead of one, and their regular baby-sitter has a full-time job.) And Fringe newbies curious about the annual performing arts festival, now in its 23rd year, where all of the shows are chosen by lottery. And anyone who wants a head start on wrestling the great, hairy, lumbering beast that is Fringe: 168 different shows, 860 performances, 15+ stages, 11 days.

A preview night is 3-minute snippets of 30 Fringe shows. Think of it as a succession of performing arts appetizers: small plates of drama, comedy, dance, musical theater and the category the Fringe calls “something different.” On the way in, you’re handed a program with room to jot your own notes about each one. Take notes. By the time you’re watching snippet 23, you will have totally forgotten snippet 7.

A preview night is also a glimpse into the well-oiled machine of the Fringe itself. Each snippet is introduced by the Fringe’s wryly witty executive director, Jeff D. Larson. Each starts and ends on time, moved along by a yellow warning light followed 30 seconds later by a red “get off the stage” light. There was one obvious technical difficulty Monday, and a few mysterious noises from backstage. That was all.

It’s early in the game, but here are six shows we give the thumbs-up.

“Ball: A Musical Tribute to My Lost Testicle” by The Catalysts. Actor, playwright, singer and lyricist Max Wojtanowicz was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer in January 2016. The preview was strong, and we loved his “Fruit Fly: The Musical,” a 2012 Fringe hit that became a full-length show at the Illusion in 2015.

“Bezubaan: The Voiceless” by Bollywood Dance Scene. A Fringe Festival juggernaut, the creators of 2015’s best-selling show (at all U.S. festivals, Larson pointed out) are back with more storytelling, music and high-energy dancing. Larson noted that the cast is “so good at showing up at Fringe Central” (the festival’s end-of-day gathering place) “that we had to get a bigger bar.” This year it’s Republic on Cedar.

“Caucasian Aggressive Pandas and Other Mulatto Tales” presented by Fearless Comedy Productions. Stories and sketch comedy about being mixed-race, handling stereotypes and finding one’s place in the world. This seems very much to come from the place of wanting to build understanding, something we badly need.

“Evil Twin” presented by Ilana Kapra Productions. Kapra and Billie Jo Konze play twins separated at birth. The preview was quick and clever and fun.

“Gilligan: A Tropical Musical” presented by Literally Entertainment Productions. A “Hamilton”-inspired take on “Gilligan’s Island.” What we saw looked well-acted, well-performed and especially well-written.

“A Pie, a Duck, and a Shoe” presented by Sparkle Theatricals. This is billed as a kids’ show, but we’ll go anywhere to see Rick Ausland tap-dance. And he promised the show would also feature beatboxer Carnage the Executioner and shadow puppets.

Coming up: Fringe Previews #2 (another 30 shows) at 7 p.m. Monday, July 25, again at the Rarig Center, and the Touring Artist Showcase (previews of shows by companies not from around here) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 at Mixed Blood. Admission is a $4 Fringe button, available at the door. (Buy it once and you don’t have to buy it again. Also, this year you don’t need a Fringe button to get into shows, just to get special deals at participating bars and restaurants like the Red Stag and the Sheridan Room.)

O’Shaughnessy’s next season calls Minnesota artists home

Five-time Grammy winner Maria Schneider is coming home. So are Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin and neo-soul artist Caroline Smith. All Minnesota natives now living elsewhere, they will return to perform on St. Kate’s stage for the O’Shaughnessy’s 2016-17 season, appropriately called Homecoming.

Combined with the 20th anniversary of the O’Shaughnessy’s Women of Substance series, the season includes 11 noteworthy music and dance events.

Sept. 9: Dessa. Performing with her full band and some new collaborators, the Minneapolis-based, internationally acclaimed rapper, singer, songwriter, poet, essayist and philosopher will play familiar songs and recent compositions. This will be Dessa’s largest hometown headliner of 2016. Sept. 16-17: Ananya Dance Theatre in “Horidraa: Golden Healing.” The Minneapolis-based contemporary Indian dance company led by Ananya Chatterjea premieres its newest work on the theme of “Work Women Do.”

Oct. 6: Caroline Smith. Originally from Detroit Lakes, Smith makes her O’Shaughnessy debut. Her latest album, “Half About Being a Woman,” explores self-acceptance and growing into yourself. Oct. 22: Test Pilot: A Dance Opera. A work about the birth of flight by Twin Cities choreographer Penelope Freeh and composer Jocelyn Hagen.

Nov. 4-6: James Sewell Ballet. The Minnesota dance company partners with McKnight choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, with live music by an octet from the SPCO. Nov. 20-22: TU Dance. A new work and crowd favorites from award-winning St. Paul-based contemporary dance company founded by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands. Dec. 23: Katie McMahon’s Celtic Christmas. Hailing from Dublin, McMahon now calls Minneapolis home.

Feb. 14, 2017: “The Love Show” with Kevin Kling and Friends. An all-new Valentine’s Day special from one of Minnesota’s favorite storytellers. Feb. 16: Maria Schneider Orchestra. Born in Windom, Schneider pays tribute to her hometown in the gorgeous, Grammy-winning “The Thompson Fields.”

Feb. 24-25 Threads Dance Project in “The Secret of Slave Songs.” The Golden Valley-based dance company led by Karen L. Charles will use spirituals and dance to tell of slavery’s abolition. April 2: Sharon Isbin and Isabel Leonard perform “Music from Spain.” The St. Louis Park native will be joined by mezzo-soprano (and Grammy winner) Isabel Leonard.

Tickets are available now to all concerts except Caroline Smith, which goes on sale Aug. 5. Prices vary by event.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, July 20) at the Bryant-Lake Bowl TheaterCinema Lounge. The BLB’s monthly program of 4-5 short films by local indie filmmakers, each 20 minutes or less, presented by IFP Minnesota, hosted by Josh Carlon and ending with a short Q&A with the filmmakers. Always unpredictable. Doors at 6:30 p.m., program at 7. Free.

Tonight (Wednesday, July 20) at Como Dockside: St. Paul Ballet. A selection of works from the artist-led company’s repertoire of classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballets. 7 p.m. Free.

Courtesy of the Duluth Art Institute
D.R. Martin, ‘Superior Street’ (1968), edited.

Opens Thursday at the Duluth Art Institute: “Duluth Street Photographer.” What did downtown Duluth look like some 40 years ago? D.R. Martin grew up there attending Woodland Junior High and East High, living near what was then known as the Tweed Gallery and frequenting the public library, where one day he found a coffee-table book about the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. From 1967-1973, he took 6,000 pictures. Curated by large-format documentary photographer Kip Praslowicz, the show opens with a reception Thursday at the Red Herring Lounge, where Martin will be present. Ends Aug. 17.

Thursday-Saturday at the Black Dog: Grand Re-Opening Celebration Weekend. Owned by siblings Sara, Stacy and Andy Remke, the Black Dog opened in Lowertown’s Northern Warehouse building in early 1998 and has hung on ever since, through thick and very thin. It has seen Lowertown become a “hipster ZIP code,” survived the construction of CHS Field (right across the street) and the Green Line, and hosted meetings, readings, art shows and live music nightly, from the late, much-lamented Minnesota sur Seine festival to performances by a long parade of interesting musicians. (The Dog has been especially welcoming to jazz and improvisation.) A couple years short of its 20th anniversary at the corner of 4th and Broadway, this venerable St. Paul spot has just completed a major expansion and remodel. There’s a full bar, a full scratch kitchen serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, full table service and an expanded stage with improved sight lines. Thursday night is a party from 5-10 p.m., with music by Howard “Guitar” Leudtke and Steve Kaminski starting at 7. On Friday at 8, the Willie Murphy Trio performs. Saturday is jazz night, curated by tireless trumpeter Steve Kenny, with the former Artist Quarter’s Tuesday Night Band (Kenny Horst, Bill Brown and Bill Franze) at 9 p.m. and the Ted Godbout Trio opening at 7:30. Stop in, raise a glass and say congrats.

Photo by Aleutian Calabay
Eclectic Edge Ensemble

Thursday-Sunday at the Southern: Eclectic Edge Ensemble: First Nights of a Foot Flight. Jazz dance and new music, including a preview of artistic director Kari Sloss’ evening-length adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with original score by local composers Richard Sloss, Brian Just, Reese Kling and Nathanial Kling. 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. FMI and tickets ($24/$18 student with ID/free to ARTshare members).

Plan ahead

For Marcus Miller at the Dakota on Aug. 8. The great jazz bassist (actually, multi-instrumentalist) and two-time Grammy winner is touring behind his latest album on Blue Note, “Afrodeezia,” inspired by his role as a UNESCO artist for peace and spokesperson for the agency’s Slave Route Project. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35-$47).

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