By Chris Waddington, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
New Orleans summers are hot, but the 2014 Fall arts season promises to be hotter. To help you plan, we assembled a list of 35 arts events between Labor Day and Christmas: prime time for anyone passionate about theater, music, dance, literature and visual arts.
We built our list the same way that most fans do it. We drew on tips from friends, word-of-mouth, some Internet browsing, and a lot of previous experience on the New Orleans arts scene. We also checked the menu for Culture Collision, the free, annual promotional party that brings about 60 New Orleans arts groups under one roof on Aug. 27. (This year will be at the National World War II Museum.)
Mostly, we looked for things that made us tingle with anticipation, the kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling that gets us to mark our calendars, call for tickets, stir up friends and make plans.
Our list isn’t exhaustive. In fact, we left out some obvious attractions: the arena acts and big touring stage shows; the major outdoor festivals and daily club gigs; the TV tie-ins, movie screenings and celebrity promotions that form the entertainment background noise in New Orleans.
Don’t get us wrong: We love that stuff, too.
This list is different, however. It’s not about “high” culture — whatever that means in the 21st century — but a list of things likely to stretch your mind, touch your heart, and surprise you. It’s a list to make you happy — even if you stay home — because it shows that New Orleans has room for everything.
Did we miss something important? Want to add your favorites? Tell us in the comment stream. We’ll be watching for other suggestions, so please include details: dates, time, locations, websites, and photographs. Most of all, tell us WHY you’re excited.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
The NOLA Project returns for its 10th season with the 1963 Broadway adaptation of Ken Kesey’s celebrated novel. Men in a madhouse make a timely subject for every generation: See what the hottest young acting troupe in New Orleans can do with it. New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, Sept. 4-21,NOLAProject.com
Winner of a MacArthur “genius grant” for his composing and saxophone improvisations, Vandermark blows in from Chicago for a show with a smart New Orleans band: Alvin Fielder, James Singleton and Jeff Albert. On a 2009 visit, Vandermark sent our reviewer into ecstasy, reaching the part of him “that digs the guitar feedback of Jimi Hendrix, that seeks out the trance music of Joujouka horns from Morocco, or that jumps for joy when an orchestra programs Ligeti.” Oh, yeah: This show is free. Roussel Hall, Loyola University, Sept. 8, 8 p.m. N.O.I.S.E website.
Michael Allen Zell
We loved the noir atmosphere of Zell’s debut novel and raved about his word-drunk 2013 drama, “What Do You Say to a Shadow?” The New Orleans writer has a new play, “Thin Walls,” that sounds just as promising: The dark comedy mixes tango, silent movie titles, and a quintet of well-regarded actors, including the incandescent Mary Pauley. Shadowbox Theatre, Sept. 12-28.
The insights of this Pulitzer Prize winning playwright never go out of fashion as America struggles with race, prejudice and the continuing legacy of slavery. With “Two Trains Running,” the Anthony Bean Community Theater continues its acclaimed survey of Wilson’s historical plays, which trace the struggles of African-Americans over the decades. Anthony Bean Community Theater, Sept. 12-28. ABCT Facebook page.
The National Book Award winner will talk about race, Mississippi, the untimely deaths of five young black men and her struggles to survive: the volatile materials of her 2013 memoir, “Men We Reaped.” Ward joined the Tulane University faculty this summer. The event is keyed to the paperback release of her memoir. Garden District Book Shop, Sept. 16, 6 p.m. GardenDistrictBookShop.com
One of the nation’s most sumptuous sopranos joins one of the nation’s most expressive orchestras for an all-Strauss season-opener with Carlos Miguel Prieto at the podium. Phillips will sing the “Four Last Songs” – elegiac works that draw on everything Strauss learned from a lifetime of writing for voice. The rest of the program: a high-octane road test for those who like to see a New Orleans band testing its limits. Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts, Sept. 19, 7:30 p.m. LPOMusic.com
Developed by Tony Award-winning actor Dennis O’Hare, this solo show retells Homer’s grand epic of the Trojan War and drives home its continuing relevance. New York critics loved the play in 2012. Contemporary Arts Center, Sept. 27-28.CACNO.org
New Orleans playwright John Biguenet emerged as a national figure on the strength of his “Katrina Trilogy,” but he has more up his sleeve. Just ask fans of his glorious, fable-like short stories. In Biguenet’s “Broomstick,” actress Liann Pattison will conjure the colorful life of a witch in an intimate, one-woman performance. The play already has stirred national interest and several productions are scheduled. Southern Rep is presenting the regional premiere. Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Oct. 4 – Nov. 2. SouthernRep.com
Dave Douglas Quintet
The visionary trumpet master brings his working band from New York for an intimate club gig on Frenchmen Street. Douglas soars as an improviser, but he’s equally good as a composer, a musical conceptualist, and a bandleader with eclectic tastes. Snug Harbor, Oct. 4, 8 and 10 p.m. SnugHarbor.com
Among the world’s fastest rising tenors, the New Orleans native became the toast of New York and London as a last-minute substitute in recent productions. He comes home to fall in love, suffer and die in the New Orleans Opera Association’s production of “Carmen,” the super-melodic 19th century crowd-pleaser by Bizet. Mahalia Jackson Theater, Oct. 10 and 12. NewOrleansOpera.org
When the Kaminari Taiko Drummers unleash thunder amid the live oaks of New Orleans City Park, you’ll understand why Japan Fest isn’t just any other local celebrations. At this one, one can learn flower arranging, dress in a kimono for a photo portrait, fly a decorative kite, attend martial arts demonstrations, and tour the Asian collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Oct. 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the museum and the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. NOMA.org
The crowd-pleasing illusionist dance troupe will use huge props, projected imagery, complex theatrical lighting and about 10 dancers during its sixth appearance for the New Orleans Ballet Association. When the company toured here in 2012, founder Moses Pendleton talked with NOLA.com|The Times-Picayune: “Theater and dance are both evolving to take advantage of new technologies,” Pendleton said. “It’s a natural change – and many in the audience expect it. We’re living in a time when people pay big money to go to a football game, and end up watching most of it on giant TV screens. The crowd wants instant replays – not just a bunch tiny athletes colliding on a distant field.” Mahalia Jackson Theater, Oct. 17, 8 p.m.NOBADance.com
“Waiting Around: The Restaurant Musical”
For New Orleans comedy fans this simple description of “Waiting Around” should suffice: “An original musical by Ricky Graham and Harry Mayronne about life in the service industry.” Both men are theater pros and Mayronne has a gift for composition. The show has a proven track record among theater-goers. Critic Theodore P. Mahne says it “serves up a full plate of laughs.” Teatro Wego, Oct. 17-Nov. 2; and Christ Episcopal School Theater in Covington, Nov. 7-9. Jefferson Performing Arts Society
Wu Han and David Finckel
Sometimes called “the power couple of classical music” for their institutional leadership in New York and San Francisco, these spouses hook up in telepathic fashion on stage — Wu Han on piano, Finckel on cello – offering performances in which jockeying athleticism leads to emotional heights. New Orleans Friends of Music brings the popular favorites back. Dixon Hall, Tulane University, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. FriendsofMusic.org.
Diogo de Lima
Skeptical about new dance troupes? Let Diogo de Lima convince you. The Brazilian dancer-choreographer, now a professor at Tulane University, will stage a world premiere with the Marigny Opera House Dance Company in October. The new troupe is still recruiting performers, but it made a good start with de Lima. He delivered a “best of 2014” performance during a June concert staged by New Orleans Ballet Theatre. In that show, he led seven dancers through “a spare 20-minute exercise in choreographic abstraction that sustained a mood of trance and controlled aggression with nary a wasted step.” The upcoming concert also will feature premieres by New Orleans choreographers Donna Crump and Maya Taylor. Marigny Opera House, Oct. 24-26. MarignyOperaHouse.org
“Basquiat and the Bayou”
Look for the DVD first: Someone made a big, commercial, see-it-in-your-multiplex movie about Jean-Michel Basquiat, the street painter whose work now graces museums. Back in the day, Andy Warhol boosted Basquiat’s career. Basquiat made a pile of money; died young; and, so yes, the art-world storyline merges with other familiar tales about meteoric careers that end in misadventure. As a painter, he remains a figure of controversy; as a creature of myth, he can go toe-to-toe with Tupac, Richard Pryor, Charlie Parker, you name it. Basquiat’s paintings take center stage during Prospect.3, the international arts biennial that comes to dozens of New Orleans venues this Fall. Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Oct. 25-Jan. 25. OgdenMuseum.org
Will Ryman’s “Icon”
Love the life-size, golden log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art? The artist behind that provocative, walk-in sculpture is about to plant a giant red flower in City Park. He returns as part of Prospect.3, the international arts biennial that began here after Hurricane Katrina. Ryman’s “Icon” will be installed near the entrance to City Park’s festival grounds. Prospect.3, Oct. 25-Jan. 25.
“Pan American Life Fiesta Sinfonica”
Carlos Miguel Prieto tours the world when not directing the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, and wherever this electrifying young conductor travels, he brings a bit of his native Mexico with him. That should be especially apparent during the annual “Pan American Life Fiesta Sinfonica.” This all-Latin show, subtitled “La Triste Historia,” includes work by Chavez, Ginestera and Moncayo. The centerpiece is a contemporary symphony by Juan Trigos, which will be paired with a fantastical animated film. Mahalia Jackson Theater, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m. LPOMusic.org
Why will the mega-selling author come to New Orleans on All Saints Day? She has a new book, of course — “Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles” – but her reasons run deeper than that, as she suggested in a 2013 interview with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune: “I grew up on the edge of the Garden District in an Irish Catholic family full of storytellers. Like them, I have a need to make drama out of the ordinary,” Rice said. “When we took family walks, every house that we passed had some kind of story attached to it – a death, a ghost, a crazy woman, a mystery. I added to those stories at the public library. At age 12, I was reading old New Orleans tales about supernatural things. Storytelling runs in my blood.” Garden District Book Shop, Nov. 2, 1 p.m. GardenDistrictBookShop.com
“From a Time of War”
Tanks, planes and chamber music come together in this visionary program hosted by the National World War II Museum. The players include top soloists from the Louisiana Philharmonic, and Viktor Valkov, the 2012 gold medalist from the New Orleans International Piano Competition. French works by Poulenc and Messiaen are on the bill. The Stage Door Canteen at the WWII Museum, Nov. 2, 4:30 p.m.LPOMusic.org
“Empire of Sin”
Best-selling author Gary Krist has a knack for titles: “Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans” has something for everyone who has ever staggered down Bourbon Street with a Kindle. Krist spent a lot of time in the city’s great archival collections, wondering why our funky hometown got this way. And, boy did he latch onto a story. Krist will make two Louisiana appearances: Octavia Books, Nov. 4, 6 p.m., and at the Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge, Nov. 1. OctaviaBooks.com and LouisianaBookFestival.org
“Andrew Jackson: Hero of New Orleans”
Ever wondered why this frontiersman rides a bronze horse in New Orleans’ most celebrated public space? Expect answers from the city’s most celebrated archive, which has gathered a trove of historic material – and insights – to create a centerpiece exhibit for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans celebrations. Historic New Orleans Collection, Nov. 5.-March 29.
Stars of American Ballet
Great idea: Recruit top dancers from the best American troupes and put them on the road with a program of classics by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Jerome Robbins and others. Artistic Director Daniel Ulbricht, himself a star with the New York City Ballet, did much of his cherry-picking among his colleagues and at the equally rarified San Francisco Ballet. The New Orleans Ballet Association brings the troupe to town. Mahalia Jackson Theater, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.NOBADance.com
Great pipes, good looks, and star power: What’s not to like about Cheyenne Jackson? Celebrated on Broadway and for TV roles on “Glee” and “30 Rock,” Jackson comes to New Orleans for a one-on-one chat and songfest with pianist Seth Rudetsky. Their encounter, part of the ongoing “Broadway @ NOCCA” series, will take place in the school’s super-cozy Freda Lupin Memorial Hall. New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, Nov. 7, 8 p.m. BroadwayNola.com
Yo La Tengo: The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller
Yo La Tengo and Buckminster Fuller? Bourbon Street drinks don’t get any stronger than this cultural cocktail. Fuller (1895-1983) invented the geodesic dome – and bestrode the 20th century intellectual landscape with his ideas as an architect, designer and author. Yo La Tengo might be the greatest indie rock band of all time, one celebrated for its electric power and quirky cultural insights. For this multimedia documentary show, the band teams with Oscar-nominated actor Sam Green. Contemporary Arts Center, Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. CACNO.org.
“One Man, Two Guvnors”
Ricky Graham means comedy in New Orleans. This busy trouper has been honing his timing and driving home punch lines for decades. This season, Graham will be directing, and he has found a good play: Richard Bean’s hilarious comedy received five-star reviews from many British critics and was a 2012 Broadway hit. Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, Nov. 7-22. RivertownTheaters.com
Expect double takes and exclamations when “Photorealism: The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Collection” opens at the New Orleans Museum of Art. For local boosters, this show offers a chance to celebrate a great private collection from New Orleans. For art lovers, it’s a rare opportunity to catch up with 78 works by acknowledged masters. For the rest of us, it’s going to be a believe-it-or-not sideshow, a chance to let your jaw drop over hand-made art that mimics photographic exactitude. New Orleans Museum of Art, Nov. 8-Jan. 25. NOMA.org
America inspired the great Czech composer to write his most popular symphony and string quartet, but that grand gesture hasn’t endeared him to conservative opera fans in the United States. Most steer away from “Rusalka,” the richly melodic, folk-flavored Dvorak opera that has long been a beloved staple in Europe. The New Orleans Opera thinks you’re ready for this 1901 masterpiece. We think you’re in for a treat. Mahalia Jackson Theater, Nov. 14 and 18. NewOrleansOpera.org
When these Parisian string stars toured here in 2012, they brought out the wild, unbuttoned side of Mozart and Borodin, then showed off their improvisational chops in a persuasive program of modern jazz themes. As an ensemble, Ebene made it clear that the string-centered French jazz tradition didn’t end with masters like Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. Dixon Hall, Tulane University, Nov. 19, 8 p.m. FriendsofMusic.org
New Orleans Fringe Festival
A sprawling citywide celebration that draws international artists? You must mean the New Orleans Fringe Festival. It didn’t exist before Katrina, and now it’s showing the world that we’re a serious theater town — one where the definition of “serious” embraces dancers, circus acts, puppet shows, stand-up comedians, dramatic actors, and a costumed street parade. Fringe organizers will post the full lineup for the five-day theater festival on Oct. 1. Tickets go on sale at that time. About 60 groups are expected to participate. 40 venues around the city, Nov. 19-23. NOFringe.org.
Rick Bragg: “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story”
The best-selling author of “Ava’s Man,” and “All Over But the Shoutin’” spent two years interviewing the rock icon from Ferriday, La. What a great pairing! Bragg earned a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times reporting, and he writes with the sweep and color needed to portray a grand, Southern bad boy. Garden District Book Shop, Nov. 20, 6 p.m. GardenDistrictBookShop.com
With “Now Now Oh Now,” this genre-busting Texas theater collective shows the risk-taking spirit that has made it a nationally touring champion for cutting-edge theater. It’s an interactive puzzle piece that borrows elements from outside the tradition of realistic stage drama. In an interview with the Austin-American newspaper, one of the troupe’s directors, Madge Darlington, described the genesis of the play: “We started with a list of things we liked,” she said. “We all like lectures. We like games. And we’ve always been attracted to subcultures.” Contemporary Arts Center, Nov. 19-22.CACNO.org
“Twelfth Night; or, What You Will”
The NOLA Project has piled up raves for its Shakespeare stagings at the New Orleans Museum of Art and at the adjacent sculpture garden. This smart young company, now in it’s 10th season, always makes interesting use of these nontraditional settings – and the Bard just seems to come naturally to the troupe. New Orleans Museum of Art, Dec. 2-21.NOLAProject.org
Sidra Bell Dance: “ReVue”
This compact New York troupe tests aesthetic limits for many fans of the art form. The dancers grimace, stumble and strain, striking erotic poses and threatening violence. Send the kids to “The Nutcracker” — this show is for grownups. Contemporary Arts Center, Dec. 5-6. CACNO.org
Cirque de Noel
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra brings plenty of drama to all its performances, but for this collaboration with a team of gymnasts, physical risk will be a factor, too. Aerialist Alexander Streltsov, who impressed with the LPO in January, returns to New Orleans with a group of circus artists accustomed to setting their routines to music. Expect to see juggling, floor work and aerial routines. Saenger Theatre, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m. LPOmusic.com