When COVID-19 struck, St. Paul’s History Theatre canceled the return of its biggest hit, “Glensheen,” and its long-awaited tour to venues in Greater Minnesota. The world premieres of “Not for Sale” and “Runestone! A Rock Musical” were postponed, as was an all-new version of “Not in Our Neighborhood.” Plans at the time were to bring back “Glensheen” for the 2020-21 mainstage season, but there wasn’t one.
Meanwhile, the theater reached out to its audiences with a series of virtual “History Theatre at Home” programs: streamed performances from the archives (“Rez Road 2000,” “Coco’s Diary,” “Sweet Land, the Musical”), a “Raw Stages: New Works Festival” of new scripts being developed by Minnesota artists, and conversations called “Spilling the HT.”
On Friday afternoon, we learned that live in-person shows will return to the History Theatre’s stage on Oct. 14. No “Glensheen” – at least not on the announced schedule – but a solid lineup of plays and musicals inspired by Minnesota’s history and people. Season passes are available now.
Here’s what we can look forward to.
Oct. 14-24: “Not in Our Neighborhood! A Story of Courage, Faith and Love.” Richard D. Thompson will direct Tom Fabel and Eric Wood’s play about Nellie and William Francis, a Black couple who dared to buy a home in 1924 in all-white Groveland Park. The cast will include Erin Nicole Farste, Darius Dotch and James Craven.
Nov. 20-Dec. 19: “Christmas of Swing: The Andrews Sisters’ USO Show.” A reimagining of History Theatre’s holiday classic, filled with Christmas songs, carols, swing tunes, and special appearances by Bing Crosby and Abbott & Costello. This version brings in letters from men and women serving overseas during World War II, reminders of a nation united for the common good. Artistic Director Ron Peluso will direct.
Feb. 5-27, 2022: “Not for Sale: Segregated Housing in the Twin Cities (was no accident) or A Redlining Play.” Edina Realty will sponsor Kim Hines’ and Barbara Teeds’ story about Arnold Weigel, a rising star in the real estate business who represented families of color trying to buy homes in all-white neighborhoods during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cast will include Andrew Wheeler, Charity Jones and Monica Scott. Peluso will direct.
March 19-April 10: “Parks: A Portrait of a Young Artist.” We’ve been eagerly awaiting Harrison David Rivers’ new play about a young Gordon Parks. We’re excited to learn that Talvin Wilks will direct, Seitu Jones will do the scenic design, and the cast will include Dwight Leslie, James A. Williams, JuCoby Johnson, A.J. Friday, Ivory Doublette, Mikell Sapp and Pearce Bunting.
May 7-29: “Runestone! A ‘Rock’ Musical.” The quotes around “rock” hint at what we’re in for: a musical about Minnesota’s own Kensington runestone. Real or fake? Tyler Michaels King will direct a “whimsical rock ’n roll musical” with book and lyrics by Mark Jensen, music and lyrics by Gary Rue, and the versatile Sasha Andreev as Olaf.
NEA names 2022 Jazz Masters
Back in 2011, when Broadway producer Rocco Landesman was heading the National Endowment for the Arts, he thought it would be a good idea to do away with some of the NEA’s arts awards, throw all the arts into two piles and hand out something called the NEA American Artists of the Year awards, one each in Performing Arts and Visual Arts.
Shortly before, Landesman said during a theater conference that the U.S. had too many arts organizations, compared to the size of its audiences. “Demand is not going to increase,” he added, “so it is time to think about decreasing supply.”
The cuts to the NEA’s budget ended up in President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. If they had been accepted, the NEA Jazz Masters award, the nation’s highest honor in jazz for 30 years, would have faded away, because as surely as God invented swing, a jazz artist would never have won the Performing Arts category. Not even if the American Artists of the Year awards had even lasted longer than a year or two.
Surprise, the House Appropriations Committee said no to eliminating the Jazz Masters program. And that’s why we can celebrate the 39th year of these prestigious awards. The Oscars of jazz, if you will, or the Kennedy Center Awards of jazz, just added this year’s masters to its pantheon. They are bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Billy Hart, and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, all named 2022 NEA Jazz Masters, and saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., recipient of the 2022 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Streaming now at pbs.org: American Experience: “Freedom Summer.” Activist, algebra teacher and soft-spoken crusader, Bob Moses was teaching high school in New York City when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent him to Mississippi to register Black voters. He helped organize the largest grassroots civil campaign the country had ever seen. Moses died Sunday at his home in Hollywood, Florida. He was 86. This program originally aired in 2014. Watch on the website or the PBS video app.
L Wednesday, July 28, 7:30 p.m. at Icehouse: Tall Tales: “Taller Tales” album release show. Their eponymous album came out in 2015 on the local collective jazz label Shifting Paradigm Records. Now guitarists Dean Granros and Zacc Harris, Chris Bates on bass and Jay Epstein on drums are back with volume 2 of unpredictable music, all previously unreleased: dreamy, playful, woozy, with Monk’s “I Mean You” tucked in. Pay the $20 cover and get a free album download card. This is a digital-only release. Indoor show. Doors at 6 p.m. FMI.
L Wednesday through Friday, July 28-30, 7:30 p.m. at Como Lakeside Pavilion: Opera on the Lake Presents Operetta Under the Stars. Minnesota-born, Vienna-based soprano Anne Wieben made a splash in summer 2019 with the debut of her company and her open-air production of Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” She would have returned in 2020 but you know. Rather than present a single work, this year’s offering will be a collection of arias, duets and ensembles from “Fledermaus,” Lehar’s “Die Lustige Witwe” (The Merry Widow), Kalman’s “Die Czardasfüstin” (the Czardas Princess, the Gypsy Princess or the Riviera Girl, depending on whom you ask) and more. Performers include Wieben, Alicia O’Neill, Ariana Strahl, KrisAnne Weiss, Justin Spenner and David Walton, with pianist Lindsey Huff Breitschaedel and Music Director Marco Real d’Arbelles on violin. FMI and tickets ($25).
L Thursday, July 29, 6-8 p.m. at Bockley Gallery: “Jim Denomie Sketch Work” book launch. The 174 sketches made over decades are glimpses into Denomie’s imaginings, travels, dreams, losses and creative process. The sketches are accompanied by essays by artist Andrea Carlson and curator Robert Cozzolino. The book was published in 2020 and will finally have its belated launch. Denomie will be present to sign books and new prints of select sketches. On Thursday only, 14 sketch prints (16″ x 20″) will be available for $50 each. The gallery is small, we’re in a heat wave, and the delta variant is not playing around. For sure, wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated. Err on the side of caution and wear one even if you are.