The Hot Seats
25 Top Tickets for Fall Entertainment
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Lost in Yonkers
September 23 to November 12, Guthrie Theater
WHAT TO EXPECT: The plays of Neil Simon are pooh-poohed these days for the crime of being too popular, er, populist. But a show like this—a Tony and Pulitzer winner about the trials of two boys growing up in an eccentric New York family—reminds us why Simon became America’s favorite playwright in the last half of the 20th century. His comedy has enough bite to make us laugh and enough sentiment to make us care.
WHY GO: The show is directed by Guthrie veteran Gary Gisselman, who has reinvigorated the theater’s A Christmas Carol with warm humor.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
September 5 to October 7, Children’s Theatre Company
WHAT TO EXPECT: Told through the eyes of a 10-year-old, the story follows the Watson family on a cross-country drive in the civil-rights era, from Detroit, still relatively calm, to Birmingham, where the divide between black and white has grown violent. Lessons in liberty and familial strength add up, along with the miles.
WHY GO: Guthrie favorite Isabell Monk O’Connor plays tough-lovin’ Grandma Sands.
September 28 to October 22, Penumbra Theatre Company
WHAT TO EXPECT: Penumbra marks its 30th anniversary with a season of musicals (Sanford Moore, of Moore by Four fame, steps in as guest musical director). Misbehavin’ starts things off on a high note, celebrating the cheeky humor of composer and pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller and such hotspots of the Harlem Renaissance as the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom.
WHY GO: Penumbra founder and artistic director Lou Bellamy received the 2006 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. He ain’t out of steam yet.
September 21 to 24, Walker Art Center
WHAT TO EXPECT: New York’s Elevator Repair Service doesn’t condescend—or condense—in their take on The Great Gatsby, delivering every single word of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece as the scenes are acted out…over six hours. The performance can be viewed in two sittings a day apart or broken up by dinner. One change: the swank lead characters are re-cast as everyday office workers—think swivel chairs, not swizzle sticks.
WHY GO: You missed the Guthrie Theater’s summer Gatsby, or you’re celebrating the September 24 anniversary of Fitzgerald’s 110th birthday.
The Tales of Hoffmann
October 28 to November 5, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
WHAT TO EXPECT: A consumptive artist, an inventor’s daughter who’s revealed to be a living doll, a fickle beauty who rides out of the hero’s life in a gondola—it doesn’t get more operatic than this, folks. Created by Jacques Offenbach, dean of the French Romantics and dubbed the “Mozart of the Champs-Elysées,” this masterwork is conducted by another Jacques: the Minnesota Opera’s Jacques Lacombe, one of the most notable young conductors in today’s opera scene.
WHY GO: If your only experience of opera is Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny doing Wagner with a Brooklyn accent, this is a good introduction.
Tea at Five
September 19 to October 1, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
WHAT TO EXPECT: Remington Steele meets Katharine Hepburn when Stephanie Zimbalist, who played opposite Pierce Brosnan in the ’80s TV hit, channels the chatty actress in this one-woman show. The play visits Hepburn at home in 1938, as she reflects on her youth, having recently being labeled “box office poison,” and again in 1983, when she contemplates her success and her long affair with Spencer Tracy.
WHY GO: Hepburn was the actress everyone wanted to hang out with. This is as close as you’ll get now.
The Merchant of Venice
November 3 to 19, various locations
WHAT TO EXPECT: Because its venues are mainly prisons and homeless shelters, Ten Thousand Things Theater performs Shakespeare in stripped-down, few-props fashion. The muscular prose does most of the heavy lifting. And it consistently moves the most hardened viewers to tears. Public performances of this play, which revolves around revenge and mercy, will be held in Minneapolis at the Playwrights’ Center, Minnesota Opera Center, and Open Book.
WHY GO: Steve Hendrickson and Stacia Rice, winners of the local Ivey Award for acting, star as Shylock and Portia.
October 7 to November 5, Great American History Theatre
WHAT TO EXPECT: The bus is back. Written by longtime local actor and playwright Mark Rosenwinkel, this portrait of the late Senator Paul Wellstone and his wife, Sheila, promises surprising insights into the fiery professor-turned-politician. Are you on board?
WHY GO: Will it be a love-fest or a deeper look at the man who promised to step down after two terms but then ran for a third? Probably the former, but who couldn’t use some hopeful Wellstone rhetoric these days?
The Miser and Tartuffe
Opening September 16 and October 21, Theatre de la Jeune Lune
WHAT TO EXPECT: Sure the Lunies have stumbled a bit in recent years, but that’ll happen when you’re attempting to tight-rope the divide between high art and circus stunts. No company in town has been as crowd-pleasingly adventurous as the Theatre de la Jeune Lune. The evidence is their current season, a sort of greatest hits, in which Moliere’s The Miser and Tartuffe are reprised this fall and Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Figaro—the troupe’s delightful opera productions—return in spring.
WHY GO: Jeune Lune’s The Miser won awards in Boston, San Diego, and here at home.
James Sewell Ballet with the Minnesota Orchestra
September 20 to 23, Orchestra Hall
WHAT TO EXPECT: The James Sewell Ballet hasn’t received rave reviews from the New York Times for playing it safe—Sewell’s choreography is mesmerizingly modern, more angular than Swan Lake-smooth. The troupe, in its first-ever commission from the Minnesota Orchestra, will dance to music by Béla Bartók, the 20th-century Hungarian composer whose folk-inflected tunes should provide plenty of rhythmic inspiration.
WHY GO: The possibility, however slim, of Minnesota Orchestra conductor Osmo Vänskä pirouetting off the podium.
Night of the Living Dolls
October 18 to November 5, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
WHAT TO EXPECT: The Ballet of the Dolls finally has its own home—the restored Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis, where a host of small troupes, such as Paula Mann Dance, will perform this fall—but it has chosen to premiere this new work (about a mysterious dollmaker) in the larger Ordway theater. Not that any venue can truly hold the Dolls’ larger-than-life aesthetic, a cheeky blend of ballet, jazz, and mime that’ll make your head spin faster than a twirling ballerina.
WHY GO: This is the troupe whose campy Nutcracker included Ken and Barbie in the lead roles. Welcome to the dollhouse.
September 22 to 24, O’Shaughnessy Auditorium
WHAT TO EXPECT: Ragamala Music and Dance Theater drew 6,000 people last year for its first staging of the Indian epic story Ramayana, as told through ethnic dance, singing, and gamelan music in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. This is the troupe, after all, that has managed, by combining ancient Indian dance with jazz and other contemporary art forms, to communicate the esoteric arts of the subcontinent to a largely Caucasian audience—you know, the folks who in 1492 couldn’t tell the difference between the West Indies and India.
WHY GO: Sethu, as the Ramayana staging is known, requires nearly as many players as a Hindu wedding: 60 diverse artists, from Ragamala dancers to Indian and Balinese musicians.
Martha Graham Dance Company
October 20, Northrop Auditorium
WHAT TO EXPECT: The 22 dancers of this 80-year-old company are led these days by Janet Eilber, who shadowed the famed Martha Graham for more than 10 years and danced many of her roles. Big shoes to fill, indeed: in 1998, Time magazine named Graham the “dancer of the century,” on a creative par with James Joyce and Pablo Picasso. She worked with everyone from Mikhail Baryshnikov to Madonna. And now her classic repertoire is being revived.
WHY GO: The troupe is the oldest modern dance company in the world, and hasn’t made a Northrop appearance since 1978.
December 15 to July 15, Walker Art Center
WHAT TO EXPECT: A disappointment to all who were hoping for boudoir photos of Rush Limbaugh (both of you), the bodies in question can be found in the prints and drawings of Egon Schiele (jailed in 1912 for alleged pornography), Willem de Kooning, and other art stars of the early 20th century. The show’s conceit is that a survey of the figurative human form might offer insights into the cultural mores of the day. Makes sense. Though honestly, no centerfold shots of Ann Coulter?
WHY GO: Schiele, Edward Hopper, Paul Klee—you’d have to go to New York to see the work of so many great modern artists. No surprise, NYC’s Whitney and Guggenheim museums contributed pieces to this exhibit.
“A Passion for Paintings: Old Masters from the Wadsworth Atheneum”
October 8 to January 7, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
WHAT TO EXPECT: This show was originally titled “Renaissance to Rococo,” as it encompasses European artwork from the 15th to 18th centuries. But Old Masters is more descriptive: these paintings, imported from the internationally known Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Connecticut, are truly masterworks from the Old World. And “passion” is appropriately sexy, as the show will feature sumptuous nudes, meticulous brushwork, and all that other stuff you fell in love with on your European study-abroad stint (save for François, who had you at bonjour).
WHY GO: New MIA director Bill Griswold is a Renaissance art expert and he’ll no doubt breathe life into the work of these 300-year-old dead guys.
Lori Grinker: “Afterwar”
November 4 to January 11, Minnesota Center for Photography
WHAT TO EXPECT: In the blockbuster footsteps of last year’s “Girl Culture” exhibition by photographer Lauren Greenfield, MCP presents Grinker’s 15-year project documenting the physical and psychological effects of combat, from World War I to present-day Iraq. Her photographs and interviews with veterans and other survivors form clear-eyed portraits, minus the politics.
WHY GO: Grinker is no agitprop hack. She received access to U.S. hospital ships and traveled to Vietnam, Africa, and elsewhere for this project.
Africa NOW: Currents of a Continent
Ongoing, Walker Art Center
WHAT TO EXPECT: You’re about as likely to hear live African music in the Twin Cities as to see a giraffe loping down Hennepin Avenue. The Walker Art Center is helping remedy the situation with Africa NOW, a year-long series of concerts, dance, and theater performances from African artists. The first event, on November 2, features three of the continent’s best-known musicians: Malian guitarist Habib Koité, South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela (whose music starred in the 2006 Oscar-winning film Tsotsi), and Dobet Gnahoré, a rising Ivory Coast pop singer.
WHY GO: Bonnie Raitt has called Koité a modern-day Jimi Hendrix. Get experienced.
September 17, Ted Mann Concert Hall
WHAT TO EXPECT: Seeing Sonny Rollins work his saxophone like a conjurer coaxing magic from thin air, all furrowed brow and cool belief in his power to manifest, is as close as one can get now to experiencing the bebop jazz era of Miles Davis and John Coltrane—musicians the Grammy winner recorded with back in the day. Rollins still “blows like a force of nature,” as one writer said of him. And he’s lost none of his signature ability to remake otherwise banal tunes as eclectic, surprising songs.
WHY GO: Rollins turns 76 this month—that’s about 100 in musician years.
JazzMN Big Band with Gordon Goodwin
November 4, Hopkins High School Performing Arts Center
WHAT TO EXPECT: Gordon Goodwin’s Grammy-nominated Big Phat Band swings like a ’70s hedonist in the best 1940s style. And its members are true pros, having played with everyone from Paul McCartney to Madonna. The players in JazzMN are no slackers either, having provided the most consistently engaging big-band jazz in the area—swing, Latin, or otherwise—since Sinatra himself last passed through town.
WHY GO: Goodwin’s considered a contemporary jazz master—his music for the movie The Incredibles won a Grammy.
A Vänskä Original and 1906: The Spirit of a Concert Past
October 19 to 21 and November 22 to 25, Orchestra Hall
WHAT TO EXPECT: Osmo Vänskä has more talents than his Minnesota Orchestra has tuxedos, and the celebrated conductor is still unveiling them, this year jamming on clarinet at the Dakota Jazz Club and jumping his motorcycle over the Mississippi (okay, we made that last one up, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he could ride on water). In October, he displays his composing chops, leading the U.S. premiere of his work Here!...Beyond? In November, he conducts a re-creation of a 1906 Minnesota Orchestra concert, including selections from Wagner, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
WHY GO: Vänskä is generating more media attention than any other conductor. And he’s still pulling rabbits out of his hat.
November 2 to 18, various locations
WHAT TO EXPECT: In six concerts, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will perform all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies and all five of his piano concertos, demonstrating in one neat package why the guy with the long curls and bum ears still gets more airplay than any orchestral composer born in the last 200 years.
WHY GO: Many of the concerts will be held in churches, where the transcendent music is truly evocative. The November 18 finale, “Ode to Joy,” will be performed at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis.
October 1, Orchestra Hall
WHAT TO EXPECT: The vocal ensemble Cantus, formed a decade ago at St. Olaf College in Northfield, joins VocalEssence for a trip through the American soundscape, including classical, folk, and spiritual music by such familiar composers as Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives. Two world premieres are also in the works.
WHY GO: Are the Twin Cities the center of the American choral sound? Ask Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen, Dominick Argento, and Brent Michael Davids—local composers whose works are all featured in this performance.
TICKETS: 612-624-2345 MM