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Arts Preview: As Winter Leads to Spring, A Busy Season

  • PASADENA, CA - MAY 22:  Paula Poundstone poses for photographer Michael Schwartz in an exclusive portrait session at the Ice House on May 22, 2008 in Pasadena, California  (Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage) *** Local Caption *** Paula Poundstone

    PASADENA, CA - MAY 22: Paula Poundstone poses for photographer Michael Schwartz in an exclusive portrait session at the Ice House on May 22, 2008 in Pasadena, California (Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage) *** Local Caption *** Paula Poundstone

  • PASADENA, CA - MAY 22:  Paula Poundstone poses for photographer Michael Schwartz in an exclusive portrait session at the Ice House on May 22, 2008 in Pasadena, California  (Photo by Michael Schwartz/WireImage) *** Local Caption *** Paula Poundstone

Winter in the hinterlands of the Upper Valley is far from being the deep, dark, isolated cultural wasteland that many outsiders might assume it to be. This winter and spring brings an eclectic, exciting array of performances and plays to the area, as the Hopkins Center continues the celebration of its 50th anniversary with a program of diverse, top-notch entertainment, Northern Stage in White River Junction stays the course after the departure of artistic director Brooke Ciardelli and Bill Cosby comes to the Lebanon Opera House.

Also at the Lebanon Opera House, Russia’s State Ballet Theatre brings Romeo and Juliet, with Prokofiev’s great score, to life, while in Thetford, the Parish Players return with their festival of 10-minute plays. And to mark St. Patrick’s Day, prominent Irish singers Karan Casey and John Doyle are doing two shows in the Upper Valley. And that’s only the short list.

If you were so inclined, you could take in jazz, dance, theater, classical music, from every corner of the globe, every night of the week. Who says winter and mud season in northern New England have to be spent inside wishing you were elsewhere? Here are some of the performances to look for:

Northern Stage,
White River Junction

Brooke Ciardelli may have exited stage right as artistic director, but her imprint is still on the season as Northern Stage will produce a run of shows that have the company’s usual mix of serious drama, farce and musicals. This season is notable because it will be the first time that audiences have a chance to see a co-production between Northern Stage and another regional theater. Capital Repertory Theater in Albany, the lead producer, will bring David Mamet’s incendiary play Race, which opened on Broadway in 2009, to the Briggs Opera House stage in March.

Directed by Capital Repertory Theater’s Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, with a cast out of New York City, the play is set in a law firm where three lawyers, two black and one white, mull over a case in which they would defend a white man charged with a crime against a black woman. “Mamet is saying things that nobody has the courage to say that are true about race in our country,” said Catherine Doherty, a veteran director and actor at Northern Stage. “We wanted to have an opportunity to have that voice heard. I’ll be very curious to see how the community responds to that.”

Doherty will be on stage in early February as the inimitable Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which is being directed by Carol Dunne, the artistic director of the New London Barn Playhouse. The season concludes with two light-hearted productions: No Sex Please, We’re British, a 1960s farce being taken out of mothballs, and the musical Nunsense. No Sex, Please risks being a little dated, Doherty admitted, but, like last year’s successful run of Boeing, Boeing, she said, “if we exploit the time period to our advantage everyone will have a lot of fun.”

In place of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, which Ciardelli had been slated to direct but which is no longer on the calendar, the compass needle will swing only slightly geographically, but radically from a thematic perspective. In May the company puts on Nunsense, which is, said Doherty, a “nice romp with a couple of nuns from Hoboken.” Think wacky, think over-the-top singing, dancing sisters from The Little Sisters of Hoboken order, charged with raising money to help pay for the — well, it’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice it to say that the convent has more than its share of talented eccentrics.

“We’ll finish the season with a pop of the cork,” Doherty said.

For a complete schedule, go to www.northernstage.org.

The Hopkins Center

The question here might be, not what is the Hopkins Center doing, but what is it not doing? Its winter and spring schedule is so chock-full of notable talents that it’s hard to pick and choose. Portuguese “fado?” Venetian Baroque music? The Carolina Chocolate Drops? An evening of Cuban jazz piano? An opera about Nikola Tesla? The Emerson String Quartet? Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, performed by Dartmouth College’s Handel Society? It’s dizzying.

Unfortunately, two of the most-anticipated events, “Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis,” scheduled for next week, and an appearance by the phenomenal Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in early March, are both sold out. (However, a note on the Hop web site says to check back on Feb. 11 for availability for Alvin Ailey once the seats to students are released: any seats not taken by students will be available then for purchase. So there’s still hope that you might be able to see one of America’s greatest dance companies during its three-night engagement March 1-3.)

The good news is that you can still get tickets to two of the more unusual evenings, which happen to be back-to-back and feature performers from Italy. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the Venice Baroque Orchestra will channel “the Venice of Vivaldi,” said Rebecca Bailey, publicity coordinator for the Hopkins Center. The orchestra, which will perform works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Telemann, uses period instruments, Bailey said. The sound is “very immediate,” she said, but not antiquated or stodgy. The next night, Canzoniere Grecanico, a band from the Apulian region of Southern Italy — look at the heel of the boot that is Italy — brings traditional “pizzica tarantata” music to the stage. It’s “really wonderful, vibrant dance music,” Bailey said.

In mid-February, the Dartmouth Theater Department will stage French playwright Pierre Corneille’s The Liar, which has been adapted by the keenly intelligent and seriously funny David Ives, whose Venus in Furs was a sensation on Broadway a few years ago. It’s directed by Dartmouth Theater Department associate professor Jamie Horton, who has a small part in the movie Lincoln.

At the end of February, Sounds from Arab Lands slips in and this is a good chance to hear Arab musicians now living in the U.S. who combine, said Bailey, the “scales and microtones of classic Arabic music” with jazz and classical music. “It’s beautiful, beautiful stuff,” she said.

In April, audiences will have an unusual opportunity to see a work still in development, a Hopkins Center co-commission of the opera Tesla in New York, a collaboration between composer Phil Kline and director Jim Jarmusch, who’s usually thought of as a movie maker. Tesla, who was born in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire but immigrated to the U.S. in 1884 to work with Thomas Edison, is one of those prescient inventors and thinkers who dreamed of then-unheard-of feats like wireless communication from coast to coast and across oceans. He died in relative obscurity and penniless in the 1940s but posthumously has been recognized for his scientific genius. It’ll be interesting to see what Kline and Jarmusch make of his life story.

At the end of April, the Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez will dazzle audiences with his virtuoso style, which has been compared to such greats as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. In a nutshell, said Bailey, he was discovered by Quincy Jones when he played the famous Montreux jazz festival in Switzerland. Jones told him that if he ever came to the U.S. to look him up; Rodriguez did; and Jones, said Bailey, “made good on his promise. ... He’s an outstanding talent.”

Finally, one of the world’s great string quartets, The Emerson, which has long been a Hop favorite, comes to play in early April. It’s their last performance at the Hopkins Center with the original four players; cellist David Finckel, who has been with the quartet for 34 years, is departing, and cellist Paul Watkins is coming in. Don’t miss the chance to see this group of musicians who are, Bailey said, “one of the most esteemed (groups) in terms of how they work together, and their sound.”

For a complete schedule, go to http://hop.dartmouth.edu.

Claremont Opera House

Upper Valley residents, do you have a hidden, or not-so-hidden, talent that has been seen only by your mirror, or heard only in your shower? Don’t let your talents wither on the vine! Now is the time to let them flower and blossom! And the Opera House has just the venue: On Feb. 23, Claremont’s Got Talent! will showcase ... You! Yes, you. Don’t let self-doubt and inhibition stop you. Auditions will be held Feb. 7 through 9.

In early February, Rusty DeWees brings his popular, one-man comedy show The Logger, which has been described as “ ‘Blue Collar Comedy’ meets Prairie Home Companion” to the Opera House stage. DeWees, a native Vermonter, has toured The Logger around New England to a wide array of audiences, from opera houses to nursing homes, and audiences can’t get enough.

Johnny Cash, or his doppelganger, Harold Ford, will be at the Opera House in early March for The Spirit of Johnny Cash. Peter Yarrow, folk singer and original member of Peter, Paul and Mary, will beguile audiences in April. And in early May, Rob Zapulla, who was a big hit last year at the Opera House with his show of Frank Sinatra standards, returns with “Retromania,” a tribute to all those earworm Baby Boomer hits that get into your head and stay there. “People loved him: he got standing ovations,” said the Opera House’s executive director Louanne Lewitt.

For a complete schedule, go to www.claremontoperahouse.org.

Tupelo Music Hall

The reason musicians keep lining up to play Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction, said owner Scott Hayward, is that it’s an intimate, comfortable atmosphere, and it helps, he said, that their sound equipment is top of the line. And so are the acts the music hall books.

Next Friday, Jan. 25, one of the great ska bands from the early 80s, The English Beat, will take the stage. They were notable in the early 80s for being one of the ska groups, like The Specials, that broke big in the U.K. and then in the U.S. They were from Birmingham in the Midlands, played ska and had some hits (a reinterpretation of Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown, and their own songs (Save It for Later and I Confess) that, with their jangling guitars and driving beat, still sound as fresh and urgent today as they did then. “They’re so great,” Hayward said. “A real high-energy dance band.”

One of the giants of 1960s British blues, John Mayall, will be at Tupelo in early February. “That’s a huge show for us,” Hayward said. “John’s a guy that’s played with Clapton and (Jeff) Beck and he’s been around an awful long time. As far as British blues go, he’s big.” Also on the roster of musicians with whom Mayall played, and tutored in the finer points of blues guitar, are Mick Taylor, Jack Bruce and Peter Green, who went on to play with, respectively, the Rolling Stones, Cream and Fleetwood Mac. You can’t get much more influential than that.

In March, the Texan songwriter and singer James McMurtry, who consistently offers the kind of incisive portraits of Americans that you’d associate with photographers like Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson and Richard Avedon, will grace the stage. Also in March, one of Hayward’s favorite bands Rusted Root, which blends world music, rock and acoustic music, will be on hand. And in May, Karla Bonoff, one of the best singer/songwriters from the 1970s and 1980s, will make her first appearance at Tupelo.

For a complete schedule, go to www.tupelohallvermont.com.

Shaker Bridge Theatre

Over six seasons, Shaker Bridge founder and artistic director Bill Coons has brought many emerging and lesser-known playwrights to the attention of Upper Valley audiences. The theater is kicking off the post-holiday season, however, with Speed-the-Plow, a play about Hollywood power and gender politics from the well-known David Mamet. It opened last night and continues weekends through Feb. 3.

“This one has been so much fun, because I just love the play,” Coons said of the play, which examines its themes via the interplay between two film executives and a secretary. “Some people will be bothered by the language, but it’s David Mamet. That’s what you get.”

In late February, Shaker Bridge will tackle Glen Berger’s one-man show Underneath the Lintel. The one character is a librarian so anal that, in Coons’ words, “if you return a book overdue by one day, he’s ready to call the police on you,” and the play follows said librarian’s efforts to learn more about a borrower when a late book is returned after more than a century.

Shaker Bridge’s season closes with Israel Horovitz’s North Shore Fish, set in a Gloucester, Mass., fish processing facility that’s struggling to stay afloat. It’s that rare Shaker Bridge Theatre play with a large cast that includes seven local actors.

“A large cast for me is four. This one is nine. But I’ve got six women and one man who are working on the fish processing line,” Coons said. “It’s a great play because there are lots of really fun parts for people to dig into.”

For more information: www.shakerbridgetheatre.org

Lebanon Opera House

The stream of big-name acts that has passed through the Lebanon Opera House in recent years will continue in the early months of 2013, although the crown jewel in the opera house’s programming, comedian Bill Cosby’s March show, sold out within days of the annoucement in the fall.

In the meantime, “we’re still booking things. We’re working on some great shows,” said Heather Clow, executive director of the Lebanon Opera House, adding to look out for “some pretty good names” coming to the opera house in the winter and spring.

The venue will continue its tradition of free concerts on the first Thursday of the month. The “Citizens Bank @ Home” series will continue on Feb. 7 with an alternative rock-themed concert at 7 p.m. featuring singer-songwriter Justin Goodrich and Turkey Point Swim Club, a band featuring Ryan Hebert of Giant Travel Avant Garde and Davis McGraw of The Pilgrims, bands that are a part of Windsor’s What Doth Life collective, joined by Caleb Thomas of Thompson Gunner. The March installment of the series will focus on bluegrass and Americana music with The Buskers, a group that formed after meeting at an open mic night in Bristol, N.H., in 1993, and Sweetgrass, a bluegrass band.

On Feb. 8 and 9, the opera house will welcome the State Ballet Theater of Russia for a performance of Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. The 52-year-old ballet company, founded in the city of Voronezh, tours internationally; 65 dancers will perform in this production.

For more information: www.lebanonoperahouse.org

Parish Players

Thetford’s Parish Players are rehearsing the community theater company’s annual festival of 10-minute plays, which will be performed Feb. 8-10 and 15-17. Now in its seventh year, the festival has become a signature event in the Eclipse Grange Theater’s performing calendar. Word has also reached playwrights living far outside the Upper Valley, who have responded in great numbers to the Parish Players’ call for short plays.

“The last couple years, we’ve had 200 plays to read,” said Barbara Payson of Thetford, the chairwoman of the Parish Players board and with Paul Hunt of Bradford, the co-producer of this year’s festival. The company has received so many entries that eight plays that will be performed next month — all come from the backlog of short plays.

Once the festival has closed, the Parish Players intend to make good on their promise to keep the Eclipse Grange in regular use by increasing the number of events. In recent months, the company staged Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, but there’s also been a greater emphasis on theater productions that aren’t two or three-act plays. Last fall and again in December, the players put on “Eclipse Grange Shorts,” an evening of staged readings of short stories, in the vein of public radio’s Selected Shorts series.

On March 15 and 16, the theater will be home to “Cabaret Against Hunger,” directed by Stephen Leblanc, with 18 singers performing solos and in small groups. Proceeds will benefit the Thetford Food Shelf and ACTS, an organization that supports medical, educational and social needs in several rural Honduran villages. In May, Hetty Thomae will direct “An Evening of David Ives,” with plays from Ives’ collection All in the Timing. “All of the plays have to do with people making decisions in certain ways and certain times,” Payson said.

For more information: www.parishplayers.org

Newport Opera House

Among the hidden gems of the Upper Valley performing arts scene are the plays staged at the Newport Opera House, which has a strong tradition of community theater productions.

Now under the leadership of Executive Director Todd Hjelt, the opera house has three separate community productions scheduled for the winter and spring months. First up on Feb. 1 and 2 is a performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), the comedic and brief take on the works of the Bard that stars Tyson and two friends who are professional actors.

“We’re really looking into educational programming, and this show is a good way to intro Shakespeare to youth, because it’s exciting and it’s funny and it’s not confusing,” said Liz Merritt, the opera house’s office manager.

From offering a show that kids can enjoy, the opera house will then present a student-run production when Schoolhouse Rock Live, Jr.! runs from March 22-24, starring Newport student actors and with other students directing and running the light board. Shifting gears, the romantic sketch comedy I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (April 12 and 13) “is quite the opposite of a youth show,” Merritt said. “It’s more of a PG-13 show for adults and (old)er high schoolers.” The show, which enjoyed a 12-year run off-Broadway, tackles all sorts of love conundrums, from young romance to finding a date at a funeral.

For more information: www.newportoperahouse.com

Chandler Center
For the Arts

Since its renovation and expansion a couple of years ago, the Chandler has been able to hold a second series of performances in a smaller, more intimate gallery made accessible by a new elevator. The idea is to hold less expensive shows featuring up-and-coming artists that will help the Randolph arts center connect to younger audiences, Executive Director Becky McMeekin said. And there’s a cash bar.

“I think there’s a really good addition to our schedule,” she said.

She has high hopes for young singer-songwriter Seth Glier’s performance on Feb. 8. He’s 23, has already earned a Grammy nomination and is now performing upward of 200 dates a year. With his recent recording, The Next Right Thing, and his live shows, he’s aiming to do more than entertain his audience. He wants to leave them changed.

The small stage schedule is heavy with traditional music, including performances by Mayfly, an old-timey and Appalachian duo comprising Vermont musicians Katie Trautz and Julia Wayne, on Feb. 16; the Northumbrian Ranters, a 37-piece band from England’s Northumberland that plays traditional music from Western Europe, on April 4; the Sky Blue Boys, Vermont brothers Dan and Willy Lindner, who play guitar and mandolin and sing in the tradition of the Louvin brothers, on April 5; and singer-songwriter Myra Flynn, a Vermont native who plans to come north with her New York band, on May 11.

On the mainstage, tickets are selling well for an appearance by celebrated standup comedienne Paula Poundstone, on April 27, McMeekin said. Perhaps the most highly anticipated performance is the March 9 concert by De Temps Antan, a traditional Quebecois band that performed at last summer’s New World Festival. The band’s 45-minute set at the festival was not enough, McMeekin said.

The Chandler’s season kicks off tonight with a performance by Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck to celebrate the release of their new recording, Eden. The party doubles as a benefit for BALE, a White River Valley nonprofit that supports business and agriculture.

For more information: www.chandlercenter.org

Alumni Hall

The Haverhill performing arts center has planned an eclectic schedule that ranges from community theater to a traditional music series.

The season starts with a rare winter production by Bradford, Vt.’s Old Church Theater. The ensemble performs in Bradford during the summer months, but its home isn’t winterized, said Keisha Luce, Alumni Hall executive director.

Old Church Theater will perform Death by Golf, a comedy, on Feb. 22-24 and March 1-3, shows just organized, Luce said.

The music schedule starts with Karan Casey and John Doyle, two of the founding members of the Irish band Solas, who will perform as part of an American tour on March 8. (They will also be at Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre the following night.)

Casey and Doyle’s performance is also the first in Alumni Hall’s Bliss Tavern Music Series, which also includes performances by the roots band Session Americana (March 30); northern Vermont’s Bayley-Hazen Boys, an Appalachian-style band (April 13); Scottish troubadour Jim Malcolm (April 27); and the roots rock R&B duo of Joyce Andersen and Harvey Reid (May 11). A season pass to all five of these shows, which are underwritten by Haverhill’s Betty Johnson Gray, costs $80.

The schedule also includes The Circus of the Possibilitarians, a family performance by Vermont’s famed Bread & Puppet Theater on March 15. The Glover, Vt., troupe is bringing its brass band and political agit-prop indoors.

Like the Chandler, Haverhill’s performing arts center tries to keep a lid on ticket prices, and most shows top out at $20 a head.

For more information: http://www.alumnihall.org

Pentangle Arts Council

The Pentangle schedule features the John Jorgenson Quintet, a hot jazz act fronted by the talented guitarist John Jorgenson, on Feb. 9.

Karan Casey and John Doyle perform on March 9, and Pentangle will hold its annual community showcase on March 23-24.

For more information: http://www.pentanglearts.org