2016 Season Preview (AKA Tickets Not To Miss)
Some people try to tell you their favorite season is autumn. And personally, I do have a soft spot for spring. But here in the Rural Intelligence region, summer is a time like no other. This much we know. So even all you confirmed ski addicts and avid leaf peepers must render unto Caesar and just dive into the summer smorgasbord. It’s a cultural buffet like no other. And I, for one, always have great trouble quelling the urge to go back up for another round. (Anyone who’s been with me to the Sunday buffet at Bombay in Lee can attest to this.)
Our annual season preview scopes out the performing arts situation. Elsewhere on this site, as always, you’ll find coverage of the most notable fine art events, restaurants, and all the rest. But if it happens this summer on a stage, this season preview of theater, live music and dance will have you covered.
So get going and fill up that calendar. After all, ‘tis the season. —Jeremy D. Goodwin
Rosanne Cash at Helsinki Hudson
Rosanne Cash isn’t slowing down; just last year she won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, quite appropriately. When she plays the Rural Intelligence region, we’re not quite sure if she’s coming straight from New York City or from her country retreat in Columbia County, but we’re more used to seeing her play in stately theaters like the Colonial in Pittsfield. Catching the legend amid the intimate ambience of Helsinki Hudson should be a particular treat.
The National at MASS MoCA
The National has been busy recently, assembling a magisterial Grateful Dead tribute in the form of a 59-track box set featuring a phone book’s worth of leading indie acts. The National itself has a place on any such list, and this booking seems to be something of a coup — it’s billed as the band’s only headlining show in the Northeast this year (not counting the odd, abbreviated festival appearance). We love when MASS MoCA brings tastemakers from this world to North Adams. Rock (or thereabouts) on.
Bob Dylan with Mavis Staples at The Shed at Tanglewood
Granted, Bob Dylan’s live shows can be a mixed bag for those who aren’t 100-percent committed to all things Bob — and even to some who are. But Dylan at Tanglewood? Come on. This is a must-see. The Bard of Hibbing played the venerable Lenox shed once before, in 1997, and most recently played the Berkshires in 2005, at Pittsfield’s Wahconah Park. This time we can trade the hot dogs for the usual Tanglewood picnic. His opening act is the similarly lauded, golden-voiced Mavis Staples, who Dylan used to talk about wanting to marry back in the day. To this pairing, just say ‘I do!’
Aston Magna Festival: J.S. Bach, Sacred and Secular
at Laszló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building, Bard College
at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The themed programs of the Aston Magna Festival always add a layer of wit and intellectual curiosity to what is already a captivating concert of early music, played on period instruments by some of the great practitioners of that particular craft. As per usual, this program will be offered in three venues: Brandeis University, Bard College Conservatory, and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The program includes three pieces that offer different views of the prodigious and multifaceted talents of the composer.
Photo by Andrew Eccles.
Emerson String Quartet with Renée Fleming at Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood
Midweek performances by Emerson String Quartet are in some ways the quintessential Ozawa Hall experience. A group that would be the highlight of many classical music festivals’ schedule can pack ’em in here any day of the week, but there’s something special about catching them on a casual Tuesday and Wednesday, as you can this summer. But get this: they’re joined on the second night by opera superstar Renée Fleming, more likely to be a featured guest with the Boston Symphony Orchestra — as she was for the BSO’s opening night at Tanglewood two summers ago, shortly before opening her run in the charming “Living On Love” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. For decent lawn space on Wednesday, arrive early. Maybe just go Tuesday and camp out.
Bang On A Can All-Stars at MASS MoCA
The annual Bang On A Fan festival — aka “Banglewood” — is an event that offers more rewards the more time you give to it. It’s hard to go wrong with an afternoon-long visit to MASS MoCA framed around a featured gallery recital by one of the leading lights of the new-music movement and perhaps an evening concert by the All-Stars. (And at least once in your life, treat yourself to one of the late-night chalet parties, where mini-recitals by Bang On A Can Institute fellows and faculty are known to give way to a dizzy dance party fueled by super-group jams on “Mustang Sally.”) In its featured concert this year, BOAC’s signature ensemble offers a live performance of Brian Eno’s seminal Music For Airports.
Chick Corea Trio at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood
It’s been a few years since Tanglewood nixed its long-running jazz festival, instead sprinkling a handful of well-chosen, high-wattage stars of the genre throughout the season. A big treat this year is keyboard legend Chick Corea, appearing at Ozawa with a trio that is just bursting with talent. Bassist Christian McBride, a frequent headliner in his own right, and drummer Brian Blade (known for long collaborations with Wayne Shorter and with Joshua Redman) will help the Chelsea, Mass. native celebrate his 75th birthday. His show here a few summers ago with vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet was a real treat; this appearance should be no different.
Photo by Jason Bell.
Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble at The Shed, Tanglewood
When the Tanglewood season is announced every year, one of the first things we check for is Yo-Yo Ma, to see in what musical contexts he’ll appear. This year he brings his great, poly-ethnic world fusion band Silk Road Ensemble to the Shed. (Mr. Ma will be back to play with the full Boston Symphony Orchestra on August 27.) This group was born here, and first played the venue in 2000. As always, it feels like a hometown crowd when the world’s greatest cellist comes to play.
Kelli O’Hara at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
The ever-hotter Broadway favorite Kelli O’Hara was most recently seen in the popular revival of “The King And I,” winning a Tony Award in the process — though we liked her just as much in “Far From Heaven” and “The Bridges of Madison County” at Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’ll make her solo Carnegie Hall debut in October, but we won’t have to wait that long to see her in the Berkshires; she’s one of the boldfaced names on the schedule of the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. There’s something special about strolling over to see a talent like this after having dinner around the corner in downtown Great Barrington.
Rubblebucket at MASS MoCA
The Boston-spawned group puts on one of the most fun shows out there, propelled by bouncy rhythms, an indefatigable horn section and the smiley charisma of vocalist Kal Traver. In recent years they’ve laid happy waste to Infinity Hall and Northampton’s Pearl Street Nightclub; we can’t wait to see what they do to a courtyard stage at MASS MoCA. The only problem: it may not be so comfortable pogoing up and down on the concrete for hours. Wear sensible shoes.
Berkshire Opera Festival: Madame Butterfly at Colonial Theatre
August 27 & 30 and September 2
Since the closing of the fondly remembered Berkshire Opera Company in 2008, the Berkshires has been without home-grown opera. No longer! Berkshire Opera Festival makes its debut this summer with the Puccini favorite, staged at the stately Colonial Theatre, a great home for opera if we’ve ever seen one. Headed by Jonathon Loy, who has worked as a guest director at the Metropolitan Opera and been a frequent Berkshire visitor, and conductor Brian Garman, the arrival of BOF is well appreciated. Our hopes are as high as one of those glass-shattering notes.
Shanghai Quartet at Music Mountain
September 3 & 4
The esteemed Shanghai Quartet has been making music since 1983, when these talented players came together at the Shanghai Conservatory. (That’s Shanghai, China, not Shanghai City, Illinois.) The group welcomes guests as it plays Labor Day weekend, the penultimate weekend in Music Mountain’s season. The first night includes pieces by Mendelssohn, Zhou Long and Brahms, with guest pianist Jonathan Yates. On Sunday, the quartet is joined by Yates plus another pianist, Gilbert Kalish. Things could get wild! That’s even before you consider that the latter show is a benefit performance, followed by a festive reception.
Presto Change-O at Barrington Stage Company
May 18-June 11
Director Marc Bruni, of Broadway’s “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” directs this world premiere tuner in the cozy environs of the St. Germain Stage. He’s recruited a big, Broadway-tested cast, including Tony Award-winner Michael Rupert (“Falsettos,” “On The Town”), Tony Award-nominees Jarrod Spector (“Beautiful”) and Barbara Walsh (“Company”), Jenni Barber (“Wicked”), Lenny Wolpe (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Wicked”) and Bob Walton (“42nd Street”). Surely they have their sights set on a different zip code for this show (say, 10036?), so this could be a good chance to be among the first to have something to say about it.
Photo by WAM Theatre.
The Oregon Trail at WAM Theatre
WAM Theatre’s principal season happens in the winter and spring, but a series of play readings keeps them in the game over the summer. This also gives us an excuse to visit one of our favorite Berkshire beaneries, No. Six Depot Roastery and Café; the performance is in the gallery in back. “The Oregon Trail,” which had its world premiere last year at the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival in Washington, D.C., looks like a magic-realist coming of age story. Jane is “an awkward middle-schooler with body odor” who is an ace at the titular computer game, which was all the rage, you’ll recall, back when the Berlin Wall was still standing. Her story is intermixed with that of a heroine in the game. (Hopefully no one involved sees their game end with the infamous kicker: “You have died of dysentery.”)
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof at Berkshire Theatre Group
June 22-July 16
Berkshire Theatre Group (nee Festival) is built on a foundation of the classics of 20th-century American theater. So here’s a crazy stat: it doesn’t seem that the troupe has ever mounted this Tennessee Williams classic, which looks to be right in its wheelhouse. We’re happy to see the production will be directed by David Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of “Proof”), who has made a summer production in Stockbridge a regular part of his schedule. He’s directed Williams here before, spinning gold from the little-seen comedy “Period of Adjustment” in 2011. In 2013, he helmed Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” on this stage and provided one of the highlights of the season.
The Rose Tattoo at Williamstown Theatre Festival
June 28-July 17
“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” is at Berkshire Theatre Group, but a relatively less familiar slice of Tennessee Williams can be found up in Williamstown, with “The Rose Tattoo.” We may tell our more purist theater friends we’re attracted by the material, which won four Tony Awards — including Best Play — upon its Broadway debut in 1951, and includes familiar Williams elements like hot weather and steamy romance. But let’s face it, the more pressing reason people are cueing up for this one is the leading lady, Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei. (She was up for a one-time reading of a different play last August.) This should be one of the hottest tickets of the summer. As hot as that tin roof, even.
Photo by Rob Jones.
The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare & Company
July 1-August 21
We want to see whatever Tina Packer is up to — especially when it’s a play in the theater named after her (S&Co.’s Tina Packer Playhouse). But now that the esteemed director (and founding artistic director of the Company) has been focusing on lesser-known plays to fill out the roster of Shakespeare works she’s directed, we take notice when she brings to the stage a title as well-beloved as this one. Longtime Company favorite Jonathan Epstein, who has assumed leading roles here only occasionally in the past several years, plays Shylock. This show is the anchor of Company’s season, and we can’t wait to see what Tina & Co. have in store.
Photo by Todd Norwood.
Demolishing Everything With Amazing Speed at Bard SummerScape
This world-premiere production is described as a “surreal puppet noir” based on four “beautiful but disquieting” plays written by the Italian futurist Fortunato Depero during World War I. You had me at surreal puppet noir. Hudson Valley-based puppet artist Dan Hurlin adapted the plays, which have never before been translated or performed in English. This deliciously original piece includes a live score, 3-D printing and, of course, puppets. Lots of puppets, we’re figuring.
Maureen Keiller and Will Lyman, courtesy of Israeli Stage.
Oh God at Chester Theatre Company
This production appeared first in Watertown, Mass. in April, before taking the stage again in Chester’s first season under new producing artistic director Daniel Elihu Kramer.
“Oh God” concerns the titular being’s first session with a new therapist. It features two of the Boston theater scene’s justly decorated actors, Will Lyman and Maureen Keiller. They’re directed by Guy Ben-Aharon, wunderkind founder of Boston’s up-and-coming company Israeli Stage.
Pirates of Penzance at Barrington Stage Company
July 15 – August 13
It looks like Julianne Boyd is setting up a shuttlebus from Broadway to Pittsfield for two big musicals this season, including a staging of this Gilbert & Sullivan favorite. The cast includes Will Swenson (“Hair”), whom we loved at Williamstown in “A Moon for the Misbegotten” last season alongside his wife, Audra McDonald. He’s joined by Scarlett Strallen (“Mary Poppins”), Kyle Dean Massey (“Pippin,” “Next To Normal”), Tony Award-nominee David Garrison (“Wicked”), Jane Carr (“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder”) and Tony Award-winner Phillip Boykin, who was seen on Broadway in Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” and “On The Town,” the latter originating at Barrington Stage. Tony Award-winning director John Rando and Emmy Award-winner Joshua Bergasse will look to replicate their success with that production, which was a highlight of the 2013 summer season before migrating city-ward.
The Wolves at Powerhouse Theater
This is the first fully staged production of Sarah DeLappe’s dark comedy, written for 10 female actors. It examines a girls’ indoor soccer team and the freewheeling, no-holds- (or feelings) barred conversations over the course of their warm-ups for five different games. Each character is identified by the position she plays — plus a “soccer mom.” The script calls for the warm-ups to be accomplished “in perfect unison and with military precision.” Sounds like quite a workout for those onstage, but audience members should be primed for the refreshing sound of a new theatrical voice.
Photo by Peter Wise.
Kickwheel Ensemble Theater: Passage at Shire City Sanctuary
After ten years of bringing compelling theater and live music to the region, the folks behind Berkshire Fringe switched gears to focus on their own work. The latest fruit of their creative labor is this devised piece of satirical physical comedy, described as a “climate change romance” and inspired by the ever-melting Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Whatever this gang is up to, we want to see it.
And No More Shall We Part at Williamstown Theatre Festival
New artistic director Mandy Greenfield, who arrived last season, landed in Williamstown with a slew of world premieres and American premieres. Put this one in the latter category. It stars Alfred Molina, who was most recently seen in the Tina Fey film “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” but has been nominated for three Tony Awards, and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”), who’s checked off seven Emmy nominations over the years. The play, about the effect of a grave illness on a couple’s marriage, isn’t brand new — it was first performed in 2009, in Australia — but Greenfield sees something here and so the chances are very high that she’s right.
Photo by Robert Cooper.
Christopher Williams Dances at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center
Choreographer Christopher Williams describes himself as an alchemist of theater who “commingles contemporary dance with visual art, puppetry, poetry and live music.” I’m into that stuff; aren’t you? For this appearance, he culminates a residency at Kaatsbaan with a performance by his troupe with excerpts from two pieces: “Dardanus Suite” (2015) and the brand-new “Il Giardino d′Amore,” inspired by the love story of Venus and Adonis.
Viva Momix at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
This accessible dance company, led by choreographer Moses Pendleton, describes its performers as dancer-illusionists. This will be the Connecticut-based troupe’s third visit to the Mahaiwe. Sounds like a great, family-friendly event, and an alternative to weather-dependent Independence Day Weekend festivities.
Photo by James Houston.
Paul Taylor Dance Company at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
We did a double-take when we noticed that this year marks the Mahaiwe’s ninth annual visit from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. This no-longer-new tradition is well appreciated indeed. Among the dances featured this year will be the 2009 piece “Beloved Renegade,” inspired by the life and writings of Walt Whitman. And to warm everybody up, the theater is showing the 1998 documentary “Paul Taylor, Dancemaker,” the previous weekend.
Dorrance Dance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Tap-dance artist Michelle Dorrance has become a real favorite at the Pillow, performing a variety of original programs and thoroughly charming the Gala crowd in 2013 when she won the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award. This year, she brings along “ETM: Double Down,” an expanded version of a dance she developed in residence here and premiered in 2014. Fame is tapping at Dorrance’s door, and we love seeing her artistry reach new and greater heights.
Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks, with Brooklyn Rider at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
When Wendy Whelan left her position as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet to take off the pointe shoes and pursue new dance interests, we got one of the first looks at “Restless Creature,” a collection of four new duets, including one with Brian Brooks. Now comes a deeper collaboration between the two, with live accompaniment from Brooklyn Rider, whom we loved at the Pillow three seasons ago in a performance by Dance Heginbotham. This is a can’t-miss program of solos and duets.
Photo by Lou Damars.
Compagnie Hervé KOUBI at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
We’re told this is a rare U.S. appearance by the French dance company, which presents a dance described as “highly physical and awe-inspiring.” These types of companies always get a high-energy response from audiences, and we’re looking forward to the exploits of these 12 male dancers, who hail from Algeria and Burkina Faso and are said to combine capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop, and contemporary dance. Sounds like you may break a sweat just sitting in the audience.