David Bowie tribute and a concert of freedom songs among shows coming up

You already know which Broadway musicals are coming to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall next season — yes, including “Hamilton” — but unless you attended the onstage party last night, you don’t know about the rest of the Texas Performing Arts season.

Related: Broadway smash”Hamilton” part of 2018-2019 season.

‘Amarillo’ from Teatro Linea de Sombra. Contributed by Sophie Garcia

The University of Texas presenting group’s director, Kathy Panoff, who reports that subscriptions for the Broadway in Austin series are unsurprisingly strong, cheerfully introduced the dance, classical, world and other Essential Series selections to several dozen fans. Then she introduced Stephanie Rothenberg, a member of the Broadway cast of “Anastasia,” who sang two numbers from the show. Reminder: Among the name producers for this stage version of the animated movie are local backers Marc and Carolyn Seriff.

(I wondered if the Austin group flew in talented Rothenberg and indeed they had, just for two songs. She’s a “swing” member of the New York cast, which means she can take over several parts, including the title role, but also could fly away for the night.)

Without any further delay …

2018-2019 Texas Performing Arts Season

Voca People. Contributed by Trambarin Yan

Sept. 12: Voca People. An a cappella group from Israel completely reconfigures popular hits.

Sept. 14: Reduced Shakespeare Company. The original creators of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)” bring back the hilarious work that made them famous.

Sept. 21: Fred Hersch Trio. Ten-time Grammy nominated pianist brings the real jazz deal.

Sept. 28: Taylor Mac. Extravagant drag performer messes with the audiences during “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged).”

Oct. 5: Yekwon Sunwoo. UT likes to book the top talent from the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and this is the 2017 winner.

Ragamala Dance Company performs “Written in Water.” Contributed by Bruce Palmer

Oct. 18: Ragamala Dance Company. It’s hard to believe this is the first major Indian dance troupe to play Bass, but I’m pretty sure that’s what Panoff said. They’ll perform “Written in Water.”

Nov. 1: “Blackstar: An Orchestral Tribute to David Bowie.” Lots of excitement about this take on the great man.

Nov. 8: Jordi Savall. Early music promoter returns to Austin, this time with a global vision in “The Routes of Slavery.”

Nov. 9: Pavel Urkiza and Congri Ensemble. The Cuban guitarist and composer interprets classic Cuban songs in “The Root of the Root.”

Drag performer Taylor Mac digs into the history of music. Contributed

Nov. 13: Circa. Australian contemporary circus troupe presents “Humans.”

Nov. 14-Dec. 2. “The Merchant of Venice.” There’s usually one or two selections from UT’s department of theater and dance in the bill; this season it’s a take on Shakespeare.

Nov. 16: “Private Peaceful.” Verdant Productions and Pemberley produced this staging of Michael Morpurgo’s book on World War I, directed and adapted for the stage by Simon Reade.

Jan. 30: Michelle Dorrance Dance. Trust UT to bring in the best of the dance world; this tap troupe introduces “ETM: Double Down.”

Feb. 5: Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. This sliver of the storied orchestra was founded in 1988.

Terence Blanchard collaborates with Rennie Harris Puremovement Dance Company. Contributed by Henry Adebonojo

Feb. 8: “Songs of Freedom.” Drummer Ulysses Owns, Jr. leads a group interpreting Joni Mitchell, Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone as part of the center’s series on protest arts.

March 27: “A Thousand Thoughts.” The Kronos Quartet team with Oscar-nominaed filmmaker Sam Green for this live documentary.

April 11: “Caravan: A Revolution on the Road.” A collaboration between Terence Blanchard E-Collective and Rennie Harris Puremovement Dance Company with projections and installations by Andrew Scott.

April 13: UT Jazz Orchestra with Joe Lovano. American saxophonist joins the college ensemble as part of the Butler School of Music’s Longhorn Jazz Festival.

April 11: Trey McLaughlin and Sounds of Zamar. They saved the blessing for last with this Georgia-based gospel group.

Austin Symphony picks 8 for Texas Young Composers Prize

Each year, the Austin Symphony holds the well-regarded Butler Texas Young Composers Competition. The best pieces can be heard during the Texas Young Composers Concert, to take place on June 16 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts in the big house, Dell Hall.

This year’s winners attend high schools and universities the Austin, Dallas and Houston areas. Seattle-based Ars Nova Music will publish the top five winners at arsnovamusic.com. Austin super-donors Sarah and Ernest Butler gave the $1.2 million to establish the endowment that pays for the prizes.

Peter Bay reveals decisive new season for Austin Symphony

RELATED: Previous Butler winner part of symphony’s decisive new season.

2018 Butler Texas Young Composers Competition

First Prize: Harrison Collins, “Ecstatic,” $3,000 scholarship; Little Elm High School (Little Elm)

Second Prize: Ayden Machajewski, “Nexus,” $2,500 scholarship; Round Rock High School (Round Rock)

Third Prize: Tanner Walterman, “Insidious,” $2,000 scholarship; Vista Ridge High School (Cedar Park)

Fourth Prize: David Schuler, “Uncharted Seas,” $1,500 scholarship; Rouse High School (Leander)

Fifth Prize: Catherine Hoelscher, “Memories of a Summer Evening,” $1,000 scholarship; Klein Oak High School (Houston)

Other winners

Ethan Dintzner, “Concerto in Db,” $500 scholarship; Westlake High School (Austin)

Julian Falco, “Prism Skyline,” $500 scholarship; Friendswood High School (Houston)

Amy Gravell, “In This Moment,” $500 scholarship; Texas State University (San Marcos)

Get an early look at what’s coming up at Creek Show 2018

Creek Show, the annual procession of light art staged by the Waller Creek Conservancy, turned a corner of sorts last year.

What started as mostly elegant minimalist efforts along downtown Austin’s eastern waterway went maximalist in 2017 with masses of pink flags for “Night Garden” by Eric Leshinsky (lead) with Colter Sonneville, Megahn Skornia and Wenjie Zhao.

“Night Garden” was a hit for the Creek Show in 2017. Contributed by creekshow.com

The designs for year five — the free event will be Nov. 9-17 — were recently announced and promise to continue the large-scale experience. In 2017, more than 20,000 people attended Creek Show, sampling the kind of attractions planned for a transformed Waller Creek. For 2018, Creek Show will be in a different section of Waller Creek — between Ninth and 11th streets — and include Symphony Square, where the “Creek Show Lounge” will be located.

Here’s a look at early renderings of what’s planned for 2018, along with the teams behind the designs:

“Tentsion”

By Perkins + Will

Chet Morgan, Assoc. (lead)

Jenny Adair

Caitlin Admire

Aaron Manns

Emilie Ogburn

Ellen Saathoff

Paul Ward

“Ambedo βeta”

By Polis

Daniel Goodwin (lead)

Brianna Graves

Olivia Nguyen

Bruce Wilcoxon

“Parabolus”

By aod

Jose Roberto Corea (lead)

Courtney Jones Burton

Gretchen Leigh Du Pré

Jeff Fletcher

“Light Lines”

By Campbell Landscape Architecture + Tab Labs

Cameron Campbell (lead)

Bill Baird

Taurin Barrera

Stuart Campbell

Jenny Janis

Viddhi Jhaveri

“La Noria”

By Drophouse Design

Christian Klein (lead)

Matt Satter

Christy Taylor

“Urban Scrim”

By Lemmo Architecture and Design

Ryan Lemmo, (lead)

Stephanie Lemmo, Assoc. (lead)

Jonathan Butler

Julia Martinelli

 

 

 

Setting the highest standards for the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria

Etherial location. Elegant crowd. Exquisite cuisine. Excellent art.

Scene from the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

For the past five years, the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria has benefitted the Contemporary Austin. Hosts expertly employ the arboreal setting on the grounds of the Clara Driscoll villa to create an elevated atmosphere at dusk and into the evening. This year, that effort included the passage of the S.S. Hangover through the lagoon with members of an Austin music collective playing a dirge-like piece.

Visual artists do love a bit of theater!

The S.S. Hangover at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Guests were in no hurry to pass up cocktails a key points in and around the villa, but the seated dinner took place under tents on the front lawn. Happily, I was placed next to designers Lydia G. Cook and Geoff Fritz from the Cambridge, Mass. firm of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture. They helped explained the company’s master plan for the Contemporary’s Marcus Sculpture Park, including connectivity to nearby Mayfield Park.

RELATED: Imagine a new welcome at Laguna Gloria.

The modest but tasty dinner arrived courtesy of restauranteur Tyson Cole along with chefs Ed Sura of Uchiko and Joe Zoccoli of Uchi. (Note to other Austin charity hosts: You don’t need a big slab of animal protein to satisfy.) The evening climaxed with an unusually civilized live auction featuring work by artists close to projects at the Contemporary.

Dr. Sam Rumi and Dr. Meena Vendal andat the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

“When all was said and done, we raised more than $500,000 in the live and silent auctions,” reported the museum’s spokeswoman, Nicole Chism Griffin. “One hundred percent of these funds will go to support exhibitions at both of our locations. We also raised  $325,0000 toward the purchase of Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree Trunk.” Our goal had been $100,000 for the evening! This $325,000 will go toward fulfilling the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation’s challenge grant of $500,000 (for the purchase).”

I hear that some guests danced till the wee hours.

Andre Revilla and Rachel Imwalle at the Art Dinner at Laguna Gloria. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Austin Symphony

Some notes on the Austin Symphony‘s recent concert at the Long Center.

• One way to fill a house: Schedule Beethoven‘s Fifth. It is the duty of artistic leaders such as Peter Bay to expand tastes and lead audiences in new directions. Still, the Fifth — if well done, and it was — satisfies and enlightens with each fresh interpretation. It comes with the added benefit of a standing-room-only crowd.

RELATED: Why I adore the Austin Symphony.

• I’ve tried to sit in every part of the Long Center house since it opened 10 years ago. Row 4 on the orchestra level was not the right place to take in the concert’s opening piece, Michael Torke‘s “Bright Blue Music.” All I heard was the lower range of the strings and all I saw were the polished shoes of the musicians.

• Turns out the same seat was ideal for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion.” Here, only the strings really mattered and they came together beautifully in conjunction with violinist Vadim Gluzman‘s playful then profound solo turn. Booked as part of the “Bernstein at 100” celebration, this near-concerto is a gem to revive more often.

• Bay has proven time and again that he can take epic forms to ever higher heights. Last season, it was Mahler‘s Sixth, an almost brutally difficult symphony to get right. With Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, the challenge instead is overfamiliarity. Bay and his always advancing ensemble treated the first movement with rhythmic clarity, the second with architectural balance, the third with taut force and the final movement with bristling brilliance.

Winning the Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards

Forget the Oscars. Never mind the Tonys. Pay no attention to the Grammys.

Give us the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards.

Contributed by Cathie Sheridan.

Sure, last night’s ceremony at the Long Center clocked in at just under four hours. Nevertheless, we loved almost every minute of this energetic toast to 38 participating high schools and their remarkable talents.

Some quick observations and then some winners. Playbill’s Tyler Mount was the show’s best emcee yet. Fast, funny and on target with his “paid segues” and promos. Despite the total running time, the show, which highlights dozens of slickly produced musical numbers and video selfies from Broadway pros, felt tighter, more on time this year.

RELATED: Tyler Mount returns to Austin for high school musical theater awards.

Austin City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan just about stole the show and earned the evening’s only unadulterated standing ovation. He showed up to read municipal proclamation — usually a dull task — but donned a little, regal hat and performed a magnificent version to the tune of King George III‘s “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.”

To use a show biz term: He killed! Killed! He should come back every year.

Enough is enough: Here are the top winners. A full list will come later this morning.

Best Production: “Adams Family,” Dripping Springs High School

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Katie Haberman, Dripping Springs High School

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Stone Mountain, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School

Check back for more winners.

Texas State’s ‘Ragtime’ shows why musical is so timely today

The late-1990s musical “Ragtime” has never been considered a major, “important” work of American theater, in the way that shows like “South Pacific,” “Rent” or “Hamilton” have. However, a new production of “Ragtime” by the Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance proves that it should be, and is a must-see for any fan of musical theater.

Emma Hearn, Ben Toomer and Trevor Berger star in ‘Ragtime’ at Texas State University. Contributed

Based on the historical novel of the same title by E. L. Doctorow, “Ragtime” tells the story of three groups of Americans (a wealthy white family living in the suburb of New Rochelle, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter living in the tenements of New York and respected African-American ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. and his lover, Sarah) in the first decade of the 20th century. Like the novel it comes from, the musical — with a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens — explores the massive social changes America was undergoing at the turn of the century, with these different groups and families weaving in and out of one another’s lives in increasingly deep ways.

When it was first produced, during the relatively peaceful era of the late ’90s, the full impact of “Ragtime” may have been perhaps muted. Seen through the lens of today’s world, though, the power of the text speaks directly to our contemporary problems. As director Michael Rau explains in his program note, “The conflicts over immigration, wealth inequality, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and black lives are as present in this story as they are in our society today. This is a piece that explores the foundations of our society and the fractures that divide America. But most importantly, this musical offers a vision of America that contains both despair and the possibility of a better future.”

Though audiences and reviewers at the time of its initial production may have found such a hopeful ending somewhat trite, in light of the much darker and more disturbing tone of a good deal of the play, that vision of a more just, more united, and more diverse future is a potent message for today.

RELATED: Musical ‘Ragtime’ is an American classic

The other reason “Ragtime” has a checkered history of major productions is that, quite simply, it is a huge show. The musical demands a tremendous cast, period costuming and a set that can represent dozens of different locations. As Rau and his designers have shown, though, “Ragtime” can (and perhaps should) be stripped down to allow the powerful songs to take prominence over the scenery. Costume designer Marissa L. Menezes does the heaviest lifting when it comes to setting the tone for the time period, while scenic designer Brandon M. Newton’s mobile set of three tall platforms, three stairways and an occasional piece of flown-in backdrop, aided by lighting designer Annalise V. Caudle’s expressive illumination, simply and effectively create a number of evocative settings.

In addition, a stripped-down production works so well here because of the immense amount of talent to be found on the stage. Against a powerful orchestra under the helm of music director Austin Haller, the student performers form a delightful ensemble, particularly in the larger dance numbers created with an historical eye by choreographer Kiira Schmidt-Carper.

Among the main characters, Trevor Berger’s Tateh taps into the humor and sadness of the Jewish immigrant experience without ever resorting to stereotyping, while Emma Hearn as Mother gives a tight, controlled performance that shows a woman undergoing massive shifts beneath the skin while holding herself together on the surface.

The standout performances in this production, though, are Anna Uzele as Sarah and Ben Toomer as Coalhouse Walker Jr. Though each of them has their own show-stopping solo, their duets have a unique power that is equally reliant upon their on-stage chemistry as it is their individual charisma as performers.

Texas State’s production of “Ragtime” is not only a beautiful, moving and important piece of musical theater on its own, but it is also a powerful reminder of an oft-overlooked show that has aged into a crucial commentary on present-day America.

‘RAGTIME’
When: Through April 22
Where: Harrison Theatre, Texas State University, San Marcos
Cost: $8-$15
Information: txstatepresents.universitytickets.com, 512-245-6500

Meet the 2018 Austin Arts Hall of Fame inductees

The Austin Critics Table recently announced the latest group to be inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.

The five honored Austinites have contributed to the city’s cultural scene over the course of many years. They will be inducted 7 p.m. June 4 at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research Blvd. The event is free. Following the inductions, the arts critics will give out awards for the 2017-2018 season. Lots of awards.

RELATED: Giving City toasts Austin Critics Table Awards

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Anuradha Niampally. Contributed by Austin Dance India

The honored are (with the informal journalism group’s identifiers):

Norman Blumensaadt (Different Stages) – company founder, artistic director, director, actor

Kathy Dunn Hamrick (Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, choreographer, dancer, educator

Michael and Jeanne Klein (Blanton Museum of Art, The Contemporary Austin, Ransom Center, et al.) – patrons, board members, civic leaders, arts advocates

Anuradha Naimpally (Austin Dance India, Cafe Dance) – company founder, artistic director, dancer, choreographer, educator

Your ‘Book of Mormon’ $25 ticket prayers have been answered

“The Book of Mormon,” the hit Broadway musical about latter-day missionaries in Africa, returns to Austin and Bass Concert Hall April 17-22. The folks at Broadway in Austin and Texas Performing Arts don’t want you to to miss a beat, so they have instituted a lottery for a limited number of $25 tickets.

‘The Book of Mormon’ returns to Bass Concert Hall as a season option. Contributed by Joan Marcus.

Here’s how it works: Two and a half hours before each performance on the University of Texas campus, box office staff will start to accept entry cards with each person’s name and the number of tickets (1 or 2) that they wish to purchase. One person; one entry. Winners must be present at the time of the drawing and show a valid ID.

Again: Limit of one entry per person and two $25 tickets per winner. In New York, this kind of lottery, which was also used for them musical “Rent,” has attracted as many as 800 entries for some performances.

By now, any Broadway buff knows this 2011 show created by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, known variously for their creative work behind “South Park” and “Avenue Q.” Although it mocks the Mormon religion, it does so with just enough good will to attract LDS fans.

Austin actor, producer and educator Billy Harden has died

Billy Harden, co-founder of Spectrum Theatre Company, died early Tuesday of colon cancer. He was 64. An actor, producer and educator, Harden appeared in many shows with Spectrum, Zach Theatre and permutations of Austin Playhouse.

lkbilly
Austin actor, producer and educator Billy Harden has died. Larry Kolvoord/American-Statesman

“(I’m) wrecked today at the loss of Billy Harden,” posted Laura Toner Haddock, artistic director of Austin Playhouse, on social media. “I met Billy when I was 12 years old and for 30 years he served as an unparalleled example of kindness and integrity. … I’m grateful to have known him and so saddened by his loss.”

Harden earned a doctorate in educational leadership and served as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He was former head of school at Goodwill Industries Charter School and assistant principal at the Austin School District’s Alternative Learning Center.

Among his memorable performances were multiple stagings of “I’m Not Rappaport” with fellow actor Tom Parker. Other standouts include roles in “Porgy and Bess,” “Purlie,” “Spunk,” “Our Town,” “The Gospel at Colonus,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Two Trains Running,” “The Exonerated,” “Five Guys Named Moe,” and many more.

“Billy was such as sweet soul,” posted actor Felicia Dinwiddie on social media. “And so talented and surely he will be missed. … He has taken his final bow into the hands of the Lord.”

“Billy F. Harden was present from some of the earliest parts of my venture into this industry,” posted actor Vincent Hooper. “A constant source of wisdom, experience, kindness, and support; Billy was always such a positive presence to have around. You could always find him involved in something bigger than himself.”

Harden served as executive director of Spectrum, Austin’s leading African-American theater company, founded by Harden with Jacqui Cross, Janis Stinson and Carla Nickerson.

“There’s an old gospel song that says, ‘May the work I’ve done, speak for me’,” Stinson said. “Although Billy is now safe in the arms of Jesus, his works will continue to speak. I will truly miss my dear friend of 33 years. We have shared the stage many times, often cast as husband and wife. In fact, Billy would sometime introduce me as his ‘stage wife.’ So as your friend, castmate and stage wife, I say, ‘Take your rest my friend.'”

RELATED: Billy Harden on desegregating the city’s schools.

He is survived by his mother, Ada Harden, brother, Roosevelt Harden, Jr., and sisters, Marilyn Harden and Anita Davis. No memorial service has been announced.

This is a developing story. Check back here later for more details.

‘Grounded,’ a one-woman show about a military pilot, soars

We’ve heard a lot about drone warfare in the past few years, from the constitutionality of such attacks to the level of secrecy associated with the programs. One thing that rarely gets discussed, though, is the effect that waging war from thousands of miles away has on the pilots and operators of those drones.

Contributed by Chris Conard

This is the subject of George Brant’s play “Grounded,” now in a new production from Street Corner Arts at Hyde Park Theater. The one-woman show features an unnamed pilot telling the story of her career as she went from hotshot jet fighter pilot to drone operator thanks to an unplanned — but not unwanted — pregnancy. She tells the audience about both her satisfactions and frustrations with the job, while showing the ways in which it wears upon her psyche and influences her home life.

As “The Pilot” in Street Corner Arts’ production, Sarah Danko is transcendent. She strikes the perfect balance, vocalizing the pilot’s story while simultaneously physicalizing and emoting the riotous turmoil going on just beneath the surface. At turns arrogant, sexy, vulnerable, angry, disturbed and loving, Danko’s portrayal is all the more impressive for the fact that her entire journey takes place in front of the audiences’ eyes with no intermission.

Thanks to director Benjamin Summers, lighting designer Chris Conard and video/sound designer Lowell Bartholomee, Danko is never quite alone on stage. Though told in the present tense, the story clearly evolves from her memory as she evokes moods, images, light and sound that help tell her story and express her emotional depths. The use of such elements avoids overkill, allowing Danko to remain the heart of the production without getting overwhelmed by external trappings.

The production serves Brant’s text marvelously well. The extended monologue is densely packed with symbols and metaphors but expressed through immediate, visceral, every-day language. Simultaneously poetic and conversational, the equal emphasis on story and imagery is borne out wonderfully by Danko, Summers and the entire production crew.

“Grounded” is a funny, moving, disturbing piece of theater that is all the more powerful for its unique look at an important contemporary issue and its stunning, heartbreaking one-woman performance.

“Grounded”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through April 21, with additional performance 8 p.m. April 16
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $15-$22
Information: streetcornerarts.org