December 2010 Arts Calendar

9 Hot Picks: 2/1

You wriggled in their laps, tugged on their beards, and, even when they smelled vaguely of Southern Comfort, entrusted them with your Christmas wishes. And then you read Santaland Diaries, David Sedaris’s acerbically comic chronicle of his stint as one of Santa’s helpers in a mall Christmas display. It’s hilarious. It’s affirmation for anyone whose trust in store Santas is about as strong as the glue holding their beards on. But mostly it’s humane, as Sedaris peels back the red suits to reveal the loners, third-jobbers, and other misfits paid to stoke the fantasies of small children. And now Sedaris’s novella is a one-man show, staged by Frank Theatre through December 31 at Hennepin Stages and starring a chain-smoking Joe Leary (who will appear in Vera Farmiga’s upcoming film, Higher Ground). Christmas has rarely been so funny, or so heartbreakingly real.


Jazz violinist Jenny Scheinman leads a super-group of rock and jazz sidemen, including Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, at the Walker Art Center.


The Groveland Gallery opens Winterscapes, a group show by its stable of artists.


The New Standards (John Munson on bass, Chan Poling on piano, Steve Roehm on vibraphone) play jazzed-up pop hits at the Fitzgerald Theater, joined by familiar friends in the rock and jazz scene.


Katie McMahon, formerly the lead singer in Riverdance, draws from her new CD, Christmas Angels, at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium.


DJ/rupture and indie percussionist Owen Weaver share an evening of rhythm and complex grooves at the Southern Theater.


Billy Elliot: The Musical, winner of 10 Tonys, hits the Orpheum Theatre.


Dee Dee Bridgewater joins Irvin Mayfield and the Minnesota Orchestra for a swinging Yuletide Jazz.


Rose Ensemble sings La Nochebuena: A Spanish Renaissance Christmas at the Basilica of St. Mary.



The faces behind this month’s arts and culture

To Music!

The Schubert Club gets a makeover

In a cozy salon of the Landmark Center in St. Paul, a piano once played by Gustav Mahler is positioned atop a Persian rug while guests help themselves to cookies, careful not to spill any on the antiques. Kathleen van Bergen clears her throat. Then, the youthful director of the Schubert Club, which presents recitals in St. Paul by the world’s finest classical musicians, announces that the group has recently undergone something for the first time in its 128 years: a rebranding.

“It was time,” she says, noting the Schubert’s growth. Its revamped museum of music, which displays antique instruments and manuscripts at the Landmark Center, has notched more than 10,000 visitors this year. And this fall, the Schubert took over the Music in the Park Series, which presents recitals in St. Anthony Park.

Van Bergen ticks off some of the things the modern-day Schubert aspires to be: relevant, accessible, intimate. Then she unveils a new logo—a cursive, rather baroque S—along with a new program guide.

“We stayed up all night thinking of what to title it,” she says. Though the name is in German, much of the crowd oohs and ahhs in recognition. Then a pianist and singer perform a Schubert tune, and a few more people catch on, the tune being the title of the new guide: An die Musik—to music! • The Schubert presents free concerts at the Landmark Center by Dolce Wind Quintet on December 9, Kantorei on December 16, and the Elkina Piano Duo on December 23.

Boy Band Rebirth

The Blenders grow up

“New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, ’N Sync, the Backstreet Boys….” Tim Kasper is recalling all the boy bands that have come and gone since he and three friends formed their own vocal group, The Blenders, in Fargo, North Dakota. That was 20 years ago.

“People would shout, ‘Take off your shirt!’” recalls Ryan Lance of the band’s early tours, when The Blenders, riding some jaunty a cappella hits, were signed to Universal and appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show and the Today Show. They spent an uncomfortable couple of years, Lance says, wearing Nehru jackets and trying to squeeze into the label’s mold. They never quite fit.

The Blenders [ fig. 2 ], now with families to juggle, have largely become a Christmas act, based in Minneapolis and uniting once a year for a popular holiday tour through the Midwest. “It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time,” says Allan Rust of the group’s axing from Universal in 2000. “But it was probably the best thing that happened to us. Look at the alternative: We could be a washed-up boy band.”

Instead, the guys appear remarkably well-preserved. Though they’ve wisely resisted the skinny-jeans trend, their hair is still intact and their collars are still occasionally popped. Their performance style, too, by turns soulful and silly, remains uniquely hard to pin down. “It’s ours,” says Darren Rust. “It’s not someone telling us how to look, how to act. For better or worse, it’s ours.” • The Blenders perform December 3 to 5 at Pantages Theatre.

Goodbye, Donny

The Ordway’s new Dreamcoat

Jamie Rocco can’t shake the ghost of Donny Osmond. “I didn’t realize how in love with Donny everybody seems to be!” exclaims Rocco, the artistic director and vice president of programming at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, in St. Paul.

Osmond, of course, starred in the popular 1990s revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This month, Rocco is producing and directing a new version of the show at the Ordway with hopes of taking it to Broadway—without Osmond.

Osmond’s long shadow is exactly why Rocco believes the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic is ripe for a remix. “I didn’t want to do the same old thing,” he says, relaxing in his basement office beneath a poster of Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Once I read the script again, I realized it’s really funny and you can approach it in a Monty Python-esque way.” With a psychedelic set à la Yellow Submarine and an American Idol castoff with six-pack abs in the title role, Rocco is betting that the Osmond ghost will finally be exorcised.

“It’s time,” says Rocco. As a veteran of Broadway’s Cats, he understands the need to let go of certain roles. “Even if I could fit into the leotard, which is a joke, would you want a man my age running around the stage like a cat? It’s not what you want.” • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat runs December 7 to January 2.

Written by Alex Davy, Tim Gihring, and Monica Wright.

Book Bag

What to read over the holidays

Wishing for a Snow Day
Peg Meier’s portrait of growing up Minnesotan, drawn from historic photos and letters.

The Good Fight
Walter Mondale’s look back on a life in politics—and advice to today’s embattled liberals.

Deadly Reunion
Ex-WCCO exec Ron Handberg’s mystery about a shy newsman drawn into a quirky murder case.