2018 Fall Arts Preview
Check out events chosen by our writers
Here are more than 40 performances and exhibits worth seeing this year and early next year as selected by our arts and entertainment writers.
An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen
Early reviews of this tour by two storytelling, alt-country Texas singer-songwriters suggest that it’s a show not to be missed. Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen met as students at Texas A&M in 1978. Forty years later, they’ll sit side-by-side, acoustic guitars in hand, taking turns playing their songs and trading good-natured banter. Now with more than 30 albums between them – and reportedly little ego – the duo complement one another all the more. Lovett is known for blending country, jazz and gospel while Keen spans country, folk and rock. This will be a stripped down acoustic performance for both icons of Americana music.
Led by the big, staccato voice, aggressive ukulele strumming and drumming of Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards delivered a buoyant Live on King Street show in 2014. Two albums later, she and the band bring their joyous sound, rooted in African and Caribbean rhythms, to the Majestic Theatre. “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life,” the band’s fourth album released in January, is deeply informed by Garbus’ contemplation of her white privilege. The result has generated mixed reviews, but the Tune-Yards have never been risk averse.
Redefining improvisational jazz by infusing it with hip-hop, R&B and even classical music, Kamasi Washington is releasing ambitious solo records. In demand as a tenor saxophonist – everyone from Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar have performed and/or recorded with him – Washington is also an impressive arranger for full orchestras and choirs. “The Epic,” released in 2015, was his symphonic breakthrough. “Heaven and Earth,” put out this past summer, is even grander. Let Washington demonstrate the acoustic promise of The Sylvee, Madison’s new live music venue opening this month.
Soweto Gospel Choir
Overture Center for the Arts
The 30-some-member Soweto Gospel Choir took shape in November 2002, shortly after white supremacist terrorists set off a series of bombs in the group’s home province of South Africa. Despite the resulting fear and anger, the choir released its first album, the uplifting “Voices of Heaven,” to worldwide acclaim. They’ve since won numerous American Gospel Music and Grammy awards and performed with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and U2. The choir sings spirituals in its native South African languages as well reggae, gospel and pop music in English. “Songs of the Free,” the choir’s concert at Overture Hall, will lift spirits and celebrate overcoming adversity.
Be aware that earlier stops on Dweezil Zappa’s “Choice Cuts World Tour” – in which the son of the weird musical genius Frank Zappa draws heavily from his dad’s discography – have reportedly lasted three and a half hours. The younger Zappa, along with veterans of the elder Zappa’s band, can jam tirelessly. That’s good news for fans, as is the official end, announced earlier this year, of a drawn-out family feud. After being served with a cease-and-desist letter from brother Ahmet Zappa (who controlled the Zappa Family Trust with sister Diva Zappa), Dweezil changed the name of his ongoing “Zappa Plays Zappa” project. In May, Dweezil invited fans of his father to join his children “in the peace of our resolution.” –JP
Opera, Classical and Jazz Music
Salon Piano Series
Farley’s House of Pianos
Nov. 4, 2018, Jan. 6, Feb. 23, April 6, 2019
There are fewer intimate ways to experience great live music in Madison than at Salon Piano Series recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos. The four scheduled events for this season include Van Cliburn competition silver medalist Kenneth Broberg on Nov. 4; the internationally acclaimed Trio Celeste, which rings in the new year on Jan. 6; local favorite Ilya Yakushev who returns on Feb. 23; and Ya-Fei Chuang is sure to dazzle on April 6.
con vivo! … music with life
First Congregational Church
Oct. 17, Feb. 3, 2019, June 1, 2019
The always stimulating programs of con vivo! … music with life returns for a 17th season. The chamber music ensemble guarantees top-flight repertoires of standard and eclectic selections, played at the First Congregational Church across the street from Camp Randall. At receptions following each performance, audience members can converse with the musicians. A ticket to a con vivo concert remains one of the best values in town.
Nov. 2 and 4, Feb. 8 and 10, 2019, April 26 and 28, 2019
Madison Opera general director Kathryn Smith has again put together an intriguing slate that mixes the tried and true with alluring alternatives. For two nights in November, the one-act melodramas “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagiliacci” will be performed — for the first time in Madison in more than 30 years. In February, Stephen Sondheim’s irresistible “A Little Night Music” comes to town. Madison Opera’s season closes in April with the fairytale magic of Antonin Dvorak’s “Russalka.”
Mead Witter School of Music
Feb. 17, 2019
The amount of attention composer John Harbison has received during his career is not nearly commensurate with his achievements — at least in Madison. That will be corrected with the celebration of Harbison’s 80th birthday this December when the Mead Witter School of Music presents the world premiere of his “Viola Sonata” on Feb. 17, 2019. Sally Chisholm, longtime violist for the Pro Arte Quartet and soloist in her own right, will give the first performance. Proceeds will be donated to a new scholarship for string music majors.
“Forward” album release
March or April, 2019
In the fall of 2017, trumpeter and composer Paul Dietrich premiered the music his new album “Forward” with a big band performance. Using Kickstarter, Dietrich raised the money to get his band, along with star guest drummer Clarence Penn, into a recording studio last month. The disc is due in March or April, so keep tabs on Dietrich’s website for news about a CD release show. The 30-year-old Dietrich continues to grow into a uniquely persuasive voice in Midwest jazz, with both his Paul Dietrich Quintet and the larger band.
Greg Hettmansberger covers opera, jazz and classical music for madisonmagazine.com.
“Joel Shapiro: The Bronzes”
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Sept. 23-Jan. 13
As one of today’s most influential sculptors — with work found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tate Gallery and many other top museums — New York-based Joel Shapiro is fluent in a variety of media. Yet it was his monumental bronze works that inspired MMoCA director Stephen Fleischman, who curated this exhibition, to bring Shapiro’s work to Madison for the first time. The sculptures are boldly geometric, playing along the line between abstraction and figuration. And while some weigh in at more than 6,000 pounds, they display an incredible balance between heft and lightness.
“Music as Art: Opera in Silk/Choral Illumination”
Edgewood College Gallery
March 29-May 12, 2019
This mixed-media exhibition encourages viewers to explore what lies beneath the surface of a work of art. Little is known but stories abound about an elaborate 14-foot, hand-embroidered Battenberg lace textile in six panels depicting Italian opera scenes that is part of UW-Madison’s Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Meanwhile, an illuminated choral manuscript in the Edgewood College collection has an equally elusive history. “Music as Art” not only showcases these two stunning music-related works but also offers multidisciplinary examinations into their individual pasts. Will it be enough to separate fictions from facts?
“Plants and Place: Flora in the Age of Climate Change”
James Watrous Gallery
April 26-June 16, 2019
Five Wisconsin artists join creative forces to explore the natural world in a time when it’s uniquely threatened. Inspired by the landscapes of the Midwest, they root their work in direct observation of nature, but their art diverges aesthetically from there — to Katie Musolff’s watercolors of arranged leaves and stems; to Lynne Railsback’s exquisitely detailed plant portraits; to Bethann Moran-Handzlik’s lush plantscapes; to Helen Klebesadel’s prairies emblazoned with color; and to Cynthia Brinich-Langlois’s contemporary references to botanical illustrations. Together, their work pairs beauty with a sense of urgency to preserve environmental treasures.
Hatch Art House
This celebration of local potters highlights the work of Hatch Art House artists Jennifer Darner Wolfe, known for her charming nesting heart bowls and mini pots; Jenny Blasen, who creates glazed bowls, mugs and more; and Madeleine Parker, whose mugs and pots reference faces and the female form. The potters’ works combine function with beauty, warmth and whimsy.
“Southern Rites: Photography by Gillian Laub.”
Chazen Museum of Art
Jan. 25-May 12
University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Gillian Laub has been photographing the residents of Montgomery County, Georgia, since 2002. She’s been particularly captivated by the region’s teenagers and young adults and has documented their coming-of-age moments against a tense backdrop of racism and inequality. Her images of segregated proms were featured in the New York Times Magazine in 2009, and a show at the Chazen reveals Laub’s skills as both a photographer and storyteller and raises questions about whether emerging generations can break free of painful and traumatic pasts.
Katie Vaughn is a Madison writer.
American Players Theatre
Oct. 25-Nov. 18
Anyone who’s seen American Players Theatre stage a George Bernard Shaw play has experienced the legendary playwright’s withering views on matrimony. Here, the legendary philanderer himself is the subject, meeting his intellectual (and romantic?) match in Charlotte Payne-Townshend, a woman who can match him witty barb for witty barb. With real-life married couple James Ridge and Colleen Madden in the starring roles, the meta is sure to be strong with this one.
Forward Theater Co.
The centerpiece of Forward Theater Co.’s 10th anniversary celebration really can’t help but live up to its name. Not only is this show the company’s first-ever musical, it also features the considerable talents of local star Karen Olivo, a woman with a Tony and a stint as Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago production of “Hamilton” topping her resume. Olivo stars as a graphic novelist who discovers the complicated truth about her secretive dad — a man who taught English and ran the family’s funeral home biz — after he commits suicide.
“Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins”
Four Seasons Theatre
Tell us that American Players Theatre treasure Sarah Day is starring in a one-woman show and we’ll be there, no matter the company or the location. Those who remember Day channeling author Joan Didion in APT’s 2014 production of “The Year of Magical Thinking” won’t want to miss her taking on an even more complex and sympathetic character: the vain, delusional and singularly talent-challenged Florence Foster Jenkins, who, despite being labeled “the world’s worst opera singer,” still managed to become a cult hero of the New York City music scene.
“Into the Woods”
University Theatre and University Opera
Feb. 21-24, 2019
It’s not so much the opportunity to see Sondheim’s fairytale-based magnum opus — we can stream the Meryl Streep Hollywood movie version anytime we want, after all — but the combined power of two University of Wisconsin-Madison programs tackling an all-time classic is what makes this an intriguing and worthwhile get. In a timeless show like this one, vocal prowess is paramount, and watching the next generation of opera stars rock Cinderella and the Witch will be a happily-ever-after blast.
“Tibet Through the Red Box”
Children’s Theater of Madison
March 9-18, 2019
We’re used to CTM staging high-quality theatrical versions of classic children’s books. But what’s truly magical is when the company turns its talents to books with which we’re not familiar — like Peter Sis’s moving novel about a boy reliving the adventures of his father, a documentary filmmaker who was lost in Tibet for several years in the 1950s, through his father’s journal. CTM is planning to use the play to shine a spotlight on Madison’s own Tibetan community, giving us additional opportunities to broaden our horizons.
Aaron R. Conklin covers the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.
Kanopy Dance Co. opens its season with a mixed repertory show that includes “Celebrations! Revel in Martha Graham: Emotions in Motion,” a masterwork by the iconic choreographer. The minimalistic and uplifting piece dates to 1934 and will showcase Kanopy dancers. Guest artists Virginie Mecène and Kevin Predmore, former principal dancers with Martha Graham Dance Co., execute the hauntingly beautiful “Threshold” by Jacqulyn Buglisi. The show also will highlight original works by Kanopy co-artistic directors Lisa Thurrell and Robert Clearly. Thurrell trained at Graham’s studio in New York for eight years.
“Consider It Not So Deeply”
William Shakespeare serves as inspiration for this Wisconsin Dance Department production overseen by assistant professor Marlene Skog. She delves into how Shakespeare articulated emotion, courage and wisdom in female characters Rosalind, Ophelia and Lady Macbeth, roles historically performed by men. The pieces display the multi-dimensionality of women’s strength and wit through contemporary dance. Dancer Lisa Sexe and actor Clare Haden are slated to perform.
“Dolce Stil Novo”
Li Chiao-Ping Dance focuses on balancing classical, contemporary and experimental dance styles in “Dolce Stil Novo.” The piece is inspired by Dante Alighieri, a 13th century poet who explored love and created the phrase dolce stil novo, which means “sweet new style” in Italian. The unique production, with two performances, is a collaboration between choreographer Li Chiao-Ping, visual artist Douglas Rosenberg and lighting designer John Frautschy.
Dec. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 26
The choreography of former Madison Ballet artistic director W. Earle Smith shines in this wildly successful holiday classic. A community cast of more than 100 people and a pick-up company — a group of dancers hired on a per production basis — tell the story of Clara and her nutcracker prince on a snow-covered stage with a 25-foot tree. Music Director Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score.
Feb. 8-10, 15-17, 2019
This entertaining work, staged every few years by Kanopy Dance Co., is “otherworldly, cool, creepy and fun,” says Kanopy Dance Co-Artistic Director Lisa Thurrell. The heroic protagonist Mohawk Man falls down a rabbit hole and is introduced to Puppetmaster and eerie china dolls. The story reaches a fevered pitch when the group of characters cross the River Styx. The glam-rock score features music by Apocalyptica, a cello metal quartet based in Finland.
Tamira Madsen is a Fitchburg-based writer.
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