Arts & Entertainment Season Preview
Orlando’s rapidly expanding cultural scene presents a fresh array of theater, music, art, comedy, dance—even a stellar speaker.
Ordinarily, our arts preview is a guideline, an educated guess at what the best offerings of the upcoming cultural season are going to be.
This year’s list is a bit more than that. This year’s list tells a story about Orlando as a young but quickly maturing cultural center.
The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts continues to pick up steam, with a third-year lineup that includes an appearance by celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson and a touring production of a fresh, much-lauded drama that’s only a year out from winning a Tony Award. There’s an uptick in the range of visual arts offerings, too, with a visit from a world-renowned photographer along with a groundbreaking, locally produced exhibition of a forgotten late-Baroque painter. Factor in a run of imaginative homages to assorted icons, from Joan of Arc to Andrew Wyeth to the Jets, the Sharks, and Ol’ Blue Eyes, and it’s a season that serves two purposes:
One, it shouldn’t have any problems holding your attention. Two, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come.
LOST AND FOUND
Nearly 30 years ago, Arthur Blumenthal saw a painting that would forever change his life.
It was an 18th-century religious masterpiece by Francesco de Mura, in storage at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins College campus. Blumenthal, who became the museum’s director soon after seeing the painting of the Virgin Mary, was entranced.
“I would bring it out as often as I could to show it off,” he says. “I never stopped.”
Charity by Francesco de Mura (COURTESY FEDERICO CASTELLUCCHIO/CORNELL FINE ARTS MUSEUM)
Maybe now he can at least slow down. He has spent much of his time since retiring in 2007 creating “In the Light of Naples: The Art of Francesco de Mura.” The exhibition will be shown at the Cornell Sept. 17-Dec. 18 before traveling to two other U.S. museums. It will be the world’s first exploration devoted to the late-Baroque, rock-star leader of the Neapolitan School, who was largely forgotten after one-third of his priceless creations were destroyed in a pointless Allied bombing of a Benedictine abbey during World War II.
The 43 paintings and sketches in the exhibit, including that painting of Mary sharing the news that she is pregnant with the Christ child, will include works on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples. It will also include four paintings from an unlikely source: the private collection of actor/painter/art collector Federico Castellucchio, best known for his role as Furio, a Mafioso who fell in love with the boss’ wife in The Sopranos.
Castelluccio, a fellow de Mura loyalist whom Blumenthal met while delivering a lecture in New York City, will be in Orlando for the opening. So will a delegation of grateful Italian dignitaries: There are plans for part of the exhibition to be staged in Italy.
Shown: Charity by Francesco de Mura. Collection of Federico Castelluccio.
Artist, 2013 Asylum of the Birds Series (ROGER BALLEN).
DARK ROOM PHOTOS
Here’s what Roger Ballen says about his photographs:
“When you take your eyeballs and you turn them around in your head, things happen.”
“The pictures shouldn’t be seen as dark. And I’m not quite clear what dark is, anyway.”
“If I had more time, I’d tell you about that basement. You wouldn’t like that basement.”
Ballen is out to hot-wire your brain with his staged, black-and-white compositions. They are absurdist tableaus, typically of destitute, misshapen human beings against starkly eerie backgrounds: cracked cement walls adorned with childlike sketches, cryptic assortments of wires and broken toys. There’s no artifice in his models, no particular story in their surroundings. “Tell me what that rose means,” he asks, midway through a lecture, pointing to a projected image of one of his photographs. Silence from the crowd, met by a slight, satisfied smile that slips across his face. “Nobody can ever answer me,” he says. “That means it’s a good picture.”
A retrospective of Ballen’s photography will be staged at Snap! Space gallery on Colonial Drive, Oct. 7-Dec. 12. Ballen, a highly influential, internationally recognized, American-born photographer, will talk about his work on Oct. 8 at the Southeast Museum of Photography at Daytona State College. The exhibit is in partnership with the Southeast Museum, which will stage a more extensive, 40-year retrospective exhibit in the same time frame.
Ballen, who lives in Johannesburg, finds the setting and the characters featured in most of his photographs in impoverished rural areas of South Africa, where people live in abandoned factories and mining-camp dormitories. He has had over 50 exhibitions worldwide.
“He really is exploring the depths of the human mind,” says Steven Benson, the Daytona State College photography professor who curated the exhibition. “There isn’t clear beginning and end to the stories you see in his photographs. I call them ‘circular narratives.’ He’s dealing with a visual language with an emotional quality, as opposed to giving us something to try and decipher. And we find that a little unsettling.”
Shown above: Artist, 2013 Asylum of the Birds Series, by Roger Ballen.
ERIC JACOBSEN (DARIO ACOSTA)
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
Not only are they coming, they’ll be sticking around all season. Music director Eric Jacobsen (below) wants to emphasize Russian composers in his second year at the helm of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, beginning with Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in the Oct. 1 season opener. Works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and a world premiere of a work by Ljova, a contemporary violist, composer and arranger, will be performed in the following months.
Jacobsen made an interesting choice for the third selection of the season opener: Alban Berg’s Violin concerto. It was the last work of the controversial early 20th century composer, who combined Romantic lyricism with 12-tone technique.
Berg, an elite Arnold Schoenberg student who counted the lavishly erotic painter Gustav Klimt among his tony fin de siècle Viennese friends, was once involved in a concert-hall riot. In March of 1913, when the Vienna Concert Society staged a performance of experimental music featuring two expressionistic Berg compositions, the audience revolted and began shouting insults. In what came to be known as das Skandalkonzert, things got physical when the enraged concert organizer punched an audience member. A rival composer who was in the audience would later note that it was the most harmonious sound of the entire evening.
Written 33 years later as a tribute to a young woman who died of polio, Berg’s violin concerto, his best-known work, is fiery, emotional, atonal and extremely complex. Just remember: If you go, behave yourself.
ADAMS AND EVES
Mad Cow Theatre has two particularly timely shows this season, both tied into the presidential-election year.
The first one is 1776, a historical musical first produced on Broadway 38 years ago, depicting John Adams’ efforts to coax his hesitant peers into composing and signing the Declaration of Independence. In a stunt-casting stroke that will come off as a sly wink at the possible outcome of the real-life election, every character will be portrayed by a woman.
The second show is The God Game, Suzanne Bradbeer’s play about a Virginia senator who is asked to sign on as the vice presidential candidate on his party’s ticket. All he has to do is make sure, during the campaign, to refer to his religious beliefs. Problem is, he has none. He is an atheist, one who resists the suggestion to work a few discreet “God bless Americas” into his conversations to make himself a more palatable part of the ticket. Bradbeer was inspired to write the play during the 2008 presidential race, when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. The two Mad Cow productions will overlap, with 1776 running Sept. 23-Oct 23 and The God Game set for Oct. 21-Nov. 20.
Cut blown glass bowl, c. 1897 (COURTESY CHARLES HOSMER MORSE MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART).
THERE'S MORE TO THE MORSE
Though revered for its unparalleled collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s paintings, sculptures, architectural elements and iconic stained-glass creations, the truth is that the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art had a life of its own long before it rescued some of Tiffany’s greatest masterpieces.
The Winter Park museum was established almost 75 years ago by Jeannette Genius McKean and named after her grandfather, Chicago industrialist and philanthropist Charles Hosmer Morse. Jeannette and her husband, Hugh McKean, established it primarily as a collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century art, a legacy the museum will pay homage to with an exhibition that opens Oct. 18: “Celebrating 75 Years—Pathways of American Art.”
The McKeans, at least initially, were primarily interested in paintings, prints, pottery and sculptures that reflected the diversity of American art. Objects on view will include not only Tiffany art glass made for the wealthy, but elegant cast glass for the middle class and iridescent carnival glass that was pressed and sold for pennies to the masses.
Most of the museum’s Tiffany collection dates back to 1957, when Hugh McKean, who had been a student of Louis Comfort Tiffany, salvaged windows and other architectural pieces from Laurelton Hall, Tiffany’s Long Island estate, which had fallen into ruin after his death.
Shown: Cut blown glass bowl, c. 1897, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company; cast glass compote, c. 1878-1890, George Duncan & Sons; pressed glass bowl, c. 1910, H. Northwood Glass Co.
ALAN CUMMING (©TRE INC. 2016)
AN ACTOR, FOR LIFE
Age 49 seems a bit young to be publishing your memoir. Not that Alan Cumming lacked for material.
The Scottish-born stage and screen actor has won acting awards on both sides of the Atlantic: an Olivier for his role as the madman in Accidental Death of an Anarchist in London; a Tony in New York for his lithe, lascivious emcee in Cabaret. He has been married to a woman, Hilary Lyon, who played Ophelia to his Hamlet, and he is currently married to a man—artist, illustrator and graphic designer Grant Shaffer. He has written both a novel, Tommy’s Tale, a story about a British bisexual’s midlife crisis, and his memoir, Not My Father’s Son, which revolves around an abusive childhood and a startling revelation.
Cumming will appear at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on March 4 in Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs. Since the show’s debut last year at the Café Carlyle in Manhattan, Cumming has toured it extensively in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Scotland. The wide-ranging cabaret features covers of songs by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Adele, Billy Joel and Cole Porter.
Once alliteratively described in The New York Times as a “provocateur and pansexual pied piper,” Cumming revealed in his 2014 memoir that his father systematically gave him impossible tasks, then would beat him for his inevitable failures. Years later, Cumming discovered a family secret: His father had always believed him to be another man’s son. He immediately took a DNA test that proved otherwise, but father and son never reconciled. The former, who died soon after hearing the test results, never apologized. The latter traces his acting skills back to a youth spent hiding his own anger and pain, masquerading in order to survive.
THE JETS SET
The score is by Leonard Bernstein, America’s first great conductor/composer. The lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim, the show-stopping genius of his generation. As for the choreographer, here’s all you need to know about Jerome Robbins: They dimmed the lights on Broadway the day he died.
Oh. The plotline. That would be based on the most famous romance ever written, by the greatest playwright who ever lived. No wonder Jim Helsinger wanted to work his way up to this one. Best to have all your cylinders clicking by the time you take on West Side Story.
The beloved, genre-bending 1957 musical about two ethnic gangs doing battle in a chain-link, switchblade, urban-jungle version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, will open the season for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater on Sept. 7.
Helsinger, the company’s artistic director, has piloted the Shakes through a series of challenging, season-opening musicals, including Nicholas Nickleby, Les Misérables and Monty Python’s Spamalot over the past three years. He sees West Side Story as being more demanding than any of them. He’s intrigued by Bernstein’s semi-operatic score in particular. “Mozart said that the great thing about opera is that you get to see what every character on the stage is thinking,” Helsinger says. “And that’s exactly what happens in the ‘Tonight’ quintet.” (That’s the iconic five-part medley as Tony, Maria, Anita, the Jets and the Sharks converge toward a climactic tragedy.)
The Shakes’ production, starring Carly Evans as Maria and Marc Koeck as Tony, will feature a wraparound set to bring the timeless turf-war battlefield and fire-escape balcony scene up close. As a matter of both principle and added authenticity, Helsinger—with apologies to Natalie Wood—was careful to cast actors whose ethnicity matched up with the respective Latino/Caucasian gangs. He smiles: “If you needed brown makeup, that meant you needed to be a Jet.”
Fairfax Choral Society (COURTESY ALLIANCE ARTIST MANAGEMENT).
ARC OF TRIUMPH
The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film about the trial and execution of the 15th-century mystic, martyr and teenaged military leader, made a film-buff legend of both Dreyer and the movie’s ethereal star, Maria Falconetti.
It also made such an impression on composer Richard Einhorn decades later that he began working on musical accompaniment soon after seeing a final cut of the film in 1988. He even went so far as to travel to Domrémy, Joan’s hometown, to record the bells of its ancient church as inspiration.
First performed in 1994, Einhorn’s oratorio, Voices of Light, combines an orchestra with a chorus and soloists. He researched both Latin and medieval French in writing the lyrics. The exquisite, multi-layered work has been heard at dozens of venues ranging from Wolf Trap to Lincoln Center, always in accompaniment with Dreyer’s film. It will be staged at Knowles Memorial Chapel at Rollins College Nov. 18-19, with the Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra performing.
A 15th-century instrument called a viola da gamba will be featured amid woodwinds, strings and over 100 choral voices under the direction of John Sinclair, the Bach Festival Society’s artistic director. Einhorn will be among the speakers who will appear at Rollins during a free, Saturday-afternoon forum about the film, the oratorio, and Joan of Arc as a historical figure.
The production and the forum are being underwritten by GladdeningLight, a Winter Park nonprofit spiritual initiative whose founder, Randall Robertson, was inspired to bring the event to Rollins after seeing it performed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., two years ago.
Don Pasqual (COURTESY ORLANDO OPERA).
Opera takes funny business seriously. Don Pasquale is a prime example.
Gaetano Donizetti’s 19th-century work is about a foolish old man who goes courting to spite his footloose nephew and cut him out of his will. It is considered an opera buffa, the era’s equivalent of a lighthearted sitcom, filled with familiar commedia dell’arte characters. But it’s a heartbreaking moment, just the same, when the nephew, crushed, vows in a second-act aria that he is going to leave home and wander through foreign lands to escape his sorrow. And you can’t help but feel for the old fool when, slapped by the woman who is only posing as his bride, he sadly sings: “It’s all over for Don Pasquale.”
It doesn’t matter how footloose or foolish the complaints of the characters. When they share their feelings in magical bel canto tones, it melts all their foolishness away.
Don Pasquale, which was first performed at the Salle Ventadour in Paris in 1843, is considered the greatest comic opera of its era. The Orlando production, starring Metropolitan Opera singer Peter Strummer (left) in the title role, will be presented by Orlando Opera at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Nov. 18-20. Strummer has performed this classic role for both the Florentine Opera Company of Milwaukee, and New York City Opera.
Orlando Ballet (MICHAEL CAIRNS).
The sentimental favorite of the Orlando Ballet’s season offerings is “A Tribute to Harriett: The Best of Broadway,” a Feb. 25 gala honoring Harriett Lake, the ballet’s most loyal supporter. But we’re not here to be sentimental. We’re here to tell you not to miss “Masterworks,” a triple-threat tribute to iconic choreographers being performed by the ballet March 24-26.
The performance will feature historical works by a trio of great American choreographers: George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp.
Balanchine’s “Serenade,” first performed in 1934, is a passionate piece with religious overtones that features 17 dancers who connect throughout the piece in small groups that bespeak powerful linkages of love and loss, all to the sinuous strains of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.
The Robbins piece is a nice counterpoint—a bright, early work called “Fancy Free” that foreshadows the smooth irreverence to come, with music by another up-and-comer by the name of Leonard Bernstein. The piece envisions three sailors on shore leave doing their best to attract the attention of two young ladies. (Robbins was inspired to do the work by a painting by Paul Cadmus called The Fleet’s In!)
Last is Tharp’s “Sinatra Suite,” first performed in 1983 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with an iconic lineup: The dancers were Elaine Kudo and Mikhail Baryshnikov; the costumes were by Oscar de la Renta; and the musical swagger was supplied by Ol’ Blue Eyes—All the Way, That’s Life, My Way and of course, One for My Baby (and One More for the Road.)
Galilee by Bo Bartlett (COURTESY BO BARTLETT STUDIO, LTD).
The Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum of American Art are next-door neighbors, situated just across Princeton Street from each other. It makes sense for them to take advantage of the proximity, as they will by pairing two related exhibits come January.
OMA’s exhibit, “The Wyeths and American Artists in Maine,” will open January 13 and focus on paintings by three generations of Wyeths: N.C. (Newell Convers), Andrew, and James (Jamie). N.C. Wyeth was an illustrator whose realist paintings graced the covers of periodicals such as The Saturday Evening Post and the pages of classic novels such as Treasure
Islandand The Last of the Mohicans. His son, Andrew, was a realist painter who lived in Pennsylvania and Maine and whose most famous work is that of a fragile young woman sitting in a field, leaning forward on slender limbs, gazing at a farmhouse in the distance. His grandson, Jamie, is a contemporary realist painter.
The OMA exhibit, featuring paintings on loan from the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Me., will also include paintings by other Maine artists.
The Mennello exhibit, which opens a week later, will feature works by Bo Bartlett, a Columbus, Ga., realist painter who was mentored by Andrew Wyeth, became a lifelong friend, and created a documentary, Snow Hill, about Wyeth’s life and work.
Shown: Galilee by Bo Bartlett; Maine Headland by N.C. Wyeth.
Second City (KIRSTEN MICCOLI).
FIRST STOP SECOND CITY
You can’t help but appreciate the irony. In 1952, a caustic New Yorker magazine writer by the name of A.J. Liebling gave Chicago a mocking nickname, “The Second City,” after writing a series of articles characterizing the Windy City as “a large expanse of dimness,” “a boundless agglutination of streets, dramshops, and low buildings without urban character,” and declaring himself repulsed by “the exiguous skyscraper core and the vast, anonymous pulp of the city, plopped down by the lakeside like a piece of waterlogged fruit.”
Little did he know that, years later, his pet name for the city would be adopted, tongue-in-cheek, by a wildly successful comedy improv troupe that evolved in Chicago and Canada. The Second City has helped to launch the careers of comedians such as John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.
Now, the ensemble has a touring production, The Second City Hits Home, which combines some of the company’s own sketches with tailor-made skits that poke fun at each city where they make a stop.
Orlando will get its turn when the troupe visits the city for the first time Oct. 14-15 at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The troupe also will conduct improv workshops while they are here.
Tyson (COURTESY DR. PHILLIPS CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS).
Growing up among the city lights and crowded buildings of the Bronx, Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t see much of the stars.
He’s more than made up for it since.
Tyson would earn a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University, become director of Manhattan’s Hayden Planetarium, and gradually assume the role of the nation’s de facto Ask-Mr.-Science-Guy. He’ll appear at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on March 28 in the first of an ongoing series, sponsored by the Orlando Utilities Commission, that promises to present “a range of speakers from various disciplines with diverse viewpoints and stories.”
If it’s diverse viewpoints and stories they’re after, Tyson is definitely their man. He is a feisty, ebullient raconteur with a fervor for science and a gift for explaining it simply, whether he’s discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life (quite likely, in his opinion), gravity waves, or the kind of foods needed for long-term space flight (“Tortillas are great because they don’t leave crumbs”).
A frequent talk-show guest and host of radio and television science shows and documentaries, including a rebooting of Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos series, he will literally kick off his shoes when he steps onto a stage to pace back and forth, breaking down the atmosphere of Jupiter and how gravity affects the flow of time in down-to-earth fashion. He is far more combative than Sagan was when it comes to ignorance about critical issues such as climate change, and more likely to define himself not as an astrophysicist but as an educator. He has left instructions for a quote by American educator Horace Mann to be inscribed on his grave: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
Expletive Deleted (KYLE TROWBRIDGE).
The Orlando Museum of Art’s Florida Prize in Contemporary Art exhibit deserves a bit of recognition itself.
Over the past three years the juried event, which brings the works of 10 emerging contemporary artists with Florida ties to the museum and awards a cash prize to the winner, has earned itself a spot as one of the highlights of the cultural season. It’s also a yearly reminder that OMA is no longer the quaint Southern belle of a museum it once was, in part because OMA curator Hansen Mulford scours the state every year to bring emerging contemporary Florida-based artists—and the world at large—to Orlando for the Florida Prize exhibition.
If you haven’t noticed the transition overtaking OMA over the past two years, via exhibitions such as Maya Lin’s evocative and sobering environmental sculptures, you could have seen it jarringly illustrated by this year’s Florida Prize winner, Noelle Mason. The diminutive Tampa artist’s fiercely ironic compositions were imbued with a sense of eerie foreshadowing after the Pulse nightclub massacre. They covered one wall of the gallery: frilly, feminine handkerchiefs, upon which she had precisely duplicated, in embroidery, page after page of the homicidal diary of one of the Columbine shooters.
The 2017 Florida Prize exhibit opens May 26.
Shown: Expletive Deleted by Kyle Trowbridge; (bottom) The Lost Steps by Sergio Vega.
Curios (©2014 JOAN MARCUS).
A CURIOUS JOURNEY
Meet Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old British boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties.”
Notice that he does not use a label.
Christopher has an enviable grasp of Pythagorean theory, astrophysics, math (“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away”) and why dogs are better than people (“Dogs are faithful and they do not lie because they cannot talk”). On the other hand, he can’t read expressions, bear to be touched, understand metaphors, or face the sensory overload and fearsome panic of traveling beyond the street where he lives.
But that’s the journey he’ll have to take to solve the mystery posed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, a coming-of-age drama based on Mark Haddon’s marvelously imagined 2003 novel.
The play, which was a huge success in London before moving to Broadway for a run that earned it five Tonys last year, will be at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts Nov. 1-6 as part of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series. It’s the show’s first North American tour.
The genius of Haddon’s novel is that it is told in the first person, which gives the reader the sense of seeing life through the mind of a savant. That immersive strategy is shrewdly duplicated in the stage version of Christopher’s story. A backdrop of shifting, crisply choreographed projections suggest the workings of his mind, from how chaotic and overwhelming the sights and sounds of London’s Underground railways system are to him to how sharply delineated his powers of deduction are.
To reach his goal, Christopher will have to use his strengths to overcome his weaknesses. And who can’t relate to that?