2017 Fall Arts Preview

What are you going to do this year?
2017 Fall Arts Preview

As summer cools down, Madison’s art scene heats up with more than 30 hot shows and events.


Lizzo, Wisconsin Union Theater
Sept. 23
A Minneapolis favorite since 2013, rapper/singer Melissa Jefferson, aka Lizzo, scored a huge hit last year with “Good as Hell,” an unabashed celebration of self care, included on the soundtrack for the film “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” The track was one of six on Lizzo’s first major-label EP “Coconut Oil” released last October. Prior to that, Lizzo founded several indie hip-hop groups and put out two full-length solo albums–“Lizzobangers” in 2013 and, recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, “Big GRRRL Small World” in late 2015. Lizzo put on a “joyful and explosive live show” at SXSW this past spring, according to Stephan Thompson of National Public Radio. Watching that set with her backup dancers “The Big Girls” at npr.org should convince you to see Lizzo at Wisconsin Union Theater.2017 Fall Arts Preview

Modest Mouse with Gogol Bordello, Breese Stevens Field
Sept. 30
Indie-rock institution Modest Mouse has survived many lineup changes since forming in suburban Seattle in 1992. Eight years after 2007’s “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” (which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and included the hit single “Dashboard”), founding member, guitarist and lead singer Isaac Brock saw through recording the band’s next and most recent record, “Strangers to Ourselves.” Modest Mouse isn’t the rough-edged indie band from the Northwest it started out as. Flashes of brilliance and incoherence can crop up in the same live shows, but the chance to witness the former makes the veteran act worth seeing. For a predictably unpredictable set, go to the show for the opening circus act: Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band from New York City that brings fiddles, accordions, weird hard-driving percussion and theatrics to the stage. The band, a large international melange, is fronted by showman Eugene Hütz, who keeps the chaos coming.2017 Fall Arts Preview

Foo Fighters, Kohl Center
Nov. 7
Foo Fighters will bring its big stadium, riff-heavy and melodic rock show to the Kohl Center in support of the band’s ninth studio album “Concrete and Gold,” due to be released three weeks earlier. Reportedly, this is the “weird record” the hitmaking band has long threatened/wanted to make. Thank Frank Productions for the booking–although the post-grunge Seattle band fronted by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl has played Madison a handful of times. Given the new material, the concert won’t likely be an extended repeat of the acoustic set they played when opening for Bob Dylan at the Kohl Center in 2006. Grohl is still known to strip down some of his band’s hits, including “Times Like These” and “Best of You,” so expect a sea of glowing cellphones raised overhead for the best of the old and new Foo.

Bernadette Peters, Overture Hall
Nov. 10 ( This show has been CANCELLED . A spokesperson for the Overture Center said Peters will be rescheduled for sometime in the 2018-19 season.)
With standards drawn from a long career on Broadway, “An Evening with Bernadette Peters” is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for Overture Hall. The renown interpreter of Stephen Sondheim’s songbook, Peters will perform tunes from his musicals “Into the Woods,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Gypsy.” With three Tony Awards on her mantle and her signature red ringlets of hair, Peters is 69 and not the powerhouse singer she once was. But she’s no less a performer. In fact, she currently stars in two television series, “Mozart in the Jungle” and “The Good Fight.”2017 Fall Arts Preview

James McMurtry, High Noon Saloon
Nov. 12
Americana singer-storyteller James McMurtry is a one-man bridge from an earlier, more potent era of protest to today, still speaking poetically and authentically for the poor and working classes. McMurtry’s song “We Can’t Make it Here” was released as a free download on the eve of the 2004 presidential election. He could have put it out in November 2016 and it would have felt just as poignant: “Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin?/Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in?/Should I hate ’em for having our jobs today?/No, I hate the men who sent the jobs away.” McMurtry, who has recorded a dozen albums, writes story songs that are rarely autobiographical but always powerful and potently subversive.

Love the Fab Four? Check out all the Beatles events happening this music season in Madison.

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.


2017 Fall Arts Preview

David Kim and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, Mills Concert Hall
Oct. 17
David Kim, concertmaster for the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra, talks about his life and career and performs a wide range of music. His personal story has been described as “humorous, sometimes jarring and often poignant.” In the course of the evening he will lead the University of Wisconsin-Madison string players through Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and perform short selections for violin and piano. This is a rare opportunity to learn about the life experiences that lie behind great art.

Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky, Overture Hall
Jan. 19-21, 2018
A historic first faces Madison Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain and the MSO management: The first local appearance of violinist Gil Shaham. Pursued for no fewer than 15 years, Shaham has only added to his resume with accolades which equal a strong argument for calling him the greatest violinist of his generation. Shaham brings the tried and true Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto.” At a concert in Southern California in the late 1990s, he took the work and did the near-impossible: He made it sound new again.

Alon Goldstein and The Pro Arte Quartet, Farley’s House of Pianos
March 10 and 11, 2018
It would be enough if the Salon Piano Series–presented in the perfectly intimate showroom of Farley’s House of Pianos–gave us three great pianists a season, playing upon one of the historic and lovingly restored keyboards. But we often also get another instrument or ensemble. Alon Goldstein, who has already dazzled us here, returns and opens with a selection of Scarlatti sonatas. He will then be joined by the Pro Arte Quartet for an arrangement of Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23.” After intermission, the fireworks kick into high gear, with one of the most powerful chamber works ever composed, Brahms’ “Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 34.” Catch your breath at the reception to follow, and try to find the right words to tell the players how they moved you.

“Florencia en el Amazonas”, Overture Hall
April 27 and 29, 2018
Madison Opera’s 56th season closes with “Florencia en el Amazonas” by Daniel Catán, one of the great operas of the last 22 years. The first Spanish-language commissioned opera by U.S. companies was premiered by Houston Grand Opera in 1996. The haunting and lyrical work is based on the writings of Gabriel García Márquez. The story concerns a famous opera singer who sails down the Amazon River in search of a long-lost lover.

Looking to jazz up the music scene? April will be a big month for the jazz music scene.

Greg Hettmansberger reviews opera and classical music for madisonmagazine.com.


2017 Fall Arts Preview

Michael Schwegmann and Ernest Miller, Abel Contemporary Gallery
Nov. 10-Dec. 31
For an exhibit at the Abel Contemporary Gallery in Belleville, gallery owner and art director Theresa Abel pairs Michael Schwegmann and Ernest Miller, two functional and sculptural ceramicists with contrasting artistic visions. Schwegmann turns clay into realistic forms, like paint cans, pails and tools. A closer inspection unearths questions about each piece’s literal and artistic function. Miller’s work contemplates the humble subjects through abstract and literal shapes and forms found in rural America–barns, tractors and silos. These iconic architectural features are a starting point for appreciating Miller’s beautifully simplified ceramic vessels and glazes.

Chris Maddox’s “≠” (Antiparallel), Arts + Literature Laboratory
Dec. 9-Jan. 6, 2018
Through the text-based exhibition”≠,” Chris Maddox “investigates shifts of meaning that occur when prose is translated,” according to his website–specifically when applied to two English translations of “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Broges. A central theme, evident even in the title of Broges’ short story written in 1941, is the notion of multiple personal and parallel existences, each resulting from particular life choices that trigger different sequences of events. Maddox extracts and recombines fragments of the text into a visual display. Chance, instinct, fortune, regret, escape and death fold together.2017 Fall Arts Preview

Overture Center Galleries
Dec. 12-March 4, 2018
The work of Madison artists who explore simple aspects of life through their chosen media–be it fiber, paint or photography–will be grouped in “Etudes: Madison Contemporary Fiber Artists Guild,” in Gallery I of the Overture Center. This exhibition explores the use of “etudes,” or studies, to expand creative endeavors. In Gallery II, artists Gideon Abbott, Chuck Bauer and Tom Cubr reveal the tension and tranquility within our environment. Abbott portrays city scenes through pixilated imagery. Bauer paints peaceful neighborhoods en plein air; and Cubr’s paintings are inspired by photos he finds on Google Earth and demonstrate the need for humanity to conform to the constraints of nature. In Gallery III, the disparate media used by Greg Gregson and Christian Strait explore memory and interpretation. Gregson, a painter originally from Latvia, interprets everyday objects and shadows cast through windows, using layers of dynamic and broad brush strokes. Strait is a photographer who shoots iconic Madison sites in an arresting way.

“Whirling Return of the Ancestors: Egúngún Arts of the Yorùbá in Africa and Beyond”, Ruth Davis Design Gallery
Jan. 22-April 8, 2018
The Yorùbá people of West Africa celebrate ancestral spirits through masquerades of richly designed costume and textiles. “Whirling Return of the Ancestors” honors the artists and labor behind this powerful visual experience. The exhibit will include work on loan from several universities and artists across the U.S., including UW-Madison’s Chazen Art Museum, and a newly commissioned masquerade ensemble by Bolanji Campbell of the Rhode Island School of Design.2017 Fall Arts Preview

Holly Cohn’s “The Endless Unbegun”, James Watrous Gallery
Nov. 17-Jan. 28, 2018
Holly Cohn’s visual poetry translates thoughts on the mystery of what we do and don’t know about loss and connection. In her exhibition, “The Endless Unbegun,” Cohn’s dimensional paintings incorporate landscape fragments, metal elements and images of deep space as unframed markers of specific moments that extend to and connect with the “wide open.” Her work is inspired by nature, poetry, life experience and the boundless universe, intersecting the junctures of looking, seeing and becoming.

Pat Dillon is an artist who writes about Madison’s arts scene.


2017 Fall Arts Preview

“Madagascar”, Overture Center Playhouse
Oct. 6-23
The Children’s Theatre of Madison continues to splash big-ticket musicals featuring animated animals into its annual mix. On the heels of “Shrek the Musical” (2015) and “Seussical” (2017), CTM launches season No. 52 with “Madagascar,” the musical based on the ubiquitous Dreamworks franchise. Color us intrigued to see how CTM evokes King Julien and his band of wacky lemurs.

“Rats in the Wall”, Bartell Theatre
Oct. 24
“H.P. Lovecraft” and “theater” aren’t often paired concepts, but back at the beginning of his illustrious career, Stephen Sondheim thought the horror-master’s tale of a man driven mad by his imagination and ghoulish heritage would make a bang-up radio play. The companies of the Bartell Theatre think it’ll make a great fundraiser and Halloween treat–they’re staging a world-premiere reading of Sondheim’s adaptation of “Rats in the Wall” and a bunch of other hair-raising shorts. Sounds like a great way to commemorate the theatre’s 20th anniversary season and scare the heck out of us.

“Creditors”, Touchstone Theatre
Nov. 2-19
We’ve long been massive fans of American Players Theatre’s shoulder-season slot, into which artistic director Brenda DeVita keeps slipping intriguing and interesting shows, kind of like a mixologist who gilds your perfect Old Fashioned with sour cherries. This year’s offering collects three of the core company’s key actors–Jim DeVita and real-life married couple Tracy Michelle Arnold and Marcus Truschinski–into the taut and twisting pas de trois of August Strindberg’s “Creditors.” DeVita plays a schemer messing with the head (and the marriage) of Truschinski’s insecure artist.2017 Fall Arts Preview

“The Spitfire Grill”, Overture Center Playhouse
Dec. 1-10
Keeping the local in local theater is always admirable, so you’ll understand if we give a ‘Sconnie salute to Four Seasons Theatre’s decision to stage “The Spitfire Grill,” a homey musical written by Wisconsin lyricist and librettist Fred Alley and playwright James Valcq that’s also set in the Badger State. (OK, so it’s actually based on the 1996 flick that’s set in Maine, but let’s just agree that Wisconsin is the better setting.) The tale of a young woman’s journey of rural redemption has a score that’s both emotional and honest, so bring Kleenex and your Badgers hat.

“Exit Strategy”, Overture Center Playhouse
Jan. 8-Feb. 4, 2018
Forward Theater Co. prides itself on always tucking “talkers” into its annual lineup–shows that center on hot-button social or political issues that make you stop and think. This year’s talker is “Exit Strategy,” playwright Ike Holter’s look at an urban city struggling to save its neighborhood school. Given how tumultuous the funding of public schools has been in Wisconsin, the timing of the play couldn’t be more opportune.

“Working”, Bartell Theatre
April 13-28, 2018
The work of Lin-Manuel Miranda–Mr. “Hamilton”–on a Madison stage! Well, OK, not that one–at least not yet. For now, we’ll have to be content with the songs Miranda contributed to “Working,” a 2012 musical about a day in the life of 40 types of working people. Madison Theatre Guild is taking on the production, which also features tunes written by James Taylor.

Interested in absurdist theater? Then join these two local theater companies.

Aaron R. Conklin covers the Madison theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.


“A Dancehall Ting”, Lathrop Hall
Oct. 19-21
Dance hall days with a dash of international flavor will be on display at Lathrop Hall, courtesy of dancer and choreographer Chris Walker–former artistic director of the First Wave program, a multicultural artistic scholarship offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now associate professor in UW-Madison’s dance department. The performance “A Dancehall Ting” will feature Walker’s contemporary dance choreography, translating Jamaican and Caribbean movement for the concert stage.

“Symphonie Dramatique”, Capitol Theater
Oct. 20
You’ll want to grab a seat for this energetic, fling-across-the-stage rendition of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Cas Public, a contemporary dance company from Montreal. The piece, performed by an ensemble of eight dancers, is a corrosive interpretation with punchy music compositions from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Gounod and Sergei Prokofiev. Another highlight is a solo by William Taylor, who was 13 when he won the grand prize at Overture’s 2016 Rising Star contest. Taylor, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, will perform a work titled “Sometimes I Cry,” relaying a man’s despair and vulnerability while dealing with a broken heart.

“Beautiful Isolation”, Promenade Hall
Nov. 10-12
The plight of urban depressives is a hallmark of iconic dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow, whose work will be performed by the Kanopy Dance Co. and feature dancer Samantha Geracht of Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble. Geracht, artistic director of the New York City’s Sokolow Theatre/Dance Ensemble, will perform the solo piece “Escape,” which depicts loneliness and beauty. “This is Not America,” a contemporary work from Robert E. Cleary, will be presented, as will “Partita and Chorales” by Lisa Thurrell. Cleary and Thurrell are co-artistic directors for Kanopy Dance Co.

“The Nutcracker”, Overture Hall
Dec. 9-26
Tchaikovsky’s breathtaking score and Madison Ballet’s production are a holiday tradition. The family-friendly ballet, with its endearing story of Clara and her nutcracker prince, gets a few new choreographic twists from Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith, an advocate of the Balanchine technique (a performance styled by the father of American ballet George Balanchine, who often preferred exaggerated but lightly landed jumps). We can’t fail to also mention that there will be snow and a 25-foot Christmas tree. Andrew Sewell will conduct the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

“Stepping Out”, Shannon Hall
Feb. 2, 2018
The influential benchmarks of Irish immigrants’ journeys will be told by an all-star ensemble performing the enthralling choreography of Dublin native Anthony Fallon. The show will trace the evolution of Irish dance and Celtic culture from pre-famine Ireland, through the Great Hunger and across the Atlantic Ocean to New York’s Ellis Island. “Tradition cannot survive without change, and Irish music and dance are captivating examples,” Fallon says.

Tamira Madsen is a Madison-based freelance writer.

For more on the arts, visit our fall artist cover story homepage.