PBS Provides Theater Fans a Must-Watch Arts Festival
By: Ellis Nassour
The seven-week 2013 PBS Arts Fall Festival premieres Friday [October 18] with a much-deserved salute to PBS long-running Great Performances, with a star-studded gala concert event, Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration.
Lincoln Center’s Koch Theatre will host a stellar roster of diverse artists sharing stories of what Great Performances, America’s only primetime stage for the performing arts, means to them. Among those on the telecast are Julie Andrews, Patti Austin with Take 6, Michael Bublé acclaimed Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, Josh Groban, Don Henley, Audra McDonald, New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins, Itzhak Perlman, and, among others, David Hyde Pierce.
The Festival gets underway a week later with an additional five eagerly-anticipated Great Performances specials, each of which will be hosted by playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith. All air at 9 P.M.
October 25: the documentary A Raisin in the Sun Revisited: The Raisin Cycle at [Baltimore’s]Center Stage, which explores the history and legacy of Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 play through the lens of a culturally significant milestone: the staging and behind-the-scenes creativity of staging plays that Raisin inspired: Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize-and Tony-winning Clybourne Park and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Beneatha’s Place. The special is produced by Third Rail Productions, in collaboration with Maryland Public Television.
A Raisin in the Sun, soon to be revived on Broadway, was the first Main Stem play to depict the turmoil of an African-American family striving for a piece of the American dream by buying a house in a Chicago white working-class neighborhood. More than 50 years later, Norris’ play, a sardonic prequel and sequel, took place in the same house and revisits the questions of race and gentrification. Kwei-Armah’s play follows two Raisin’s characters to Nigeria and its post-colonial struggles.
November 1: The San Francisco’s landmark three-hour production of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie [music] and Gene Scheer [libretto], and starring tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who was praised for his "fiery brilliance " and the "fierce lyricism" in his vocals. The production received media raves, such as being "Achingly beautiful, magnificently sung, and gorgeously staged." The opening night audience gave it an eight-minute standing ovation. Principal guest conductor Patrick Summers, praised by The New York Times for his "lyrical flow and suitably stormy climaxes," conducts.
November 8: the acclaimed concert production of Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical Company, about a bachelor’s 35th birthday, premieres starring an amazing Neil Patrick Harris and an all-star cast, which includes Tony winner Patti LuPone, Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, Tony winner Anika Noni Rose, Jon Cryer, and, in a not-to-be-missed performance, Martha Plimpton.
November 15: a rare telecast of Trevor Nunn’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! starring Hugh Jackman. This amazing, landmark musicial is still doin’ fine 70 years after its Broadway debut. This 1998 lavish revival, which played Broadway, but without Jackman, from the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, was filmed for this PBS special. Co-starring are Josefina Gabrielle [West Side Story revival] as Laurey, Jimmy Johnston as Will Parker, Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller, Vicki Simon as Ado Annie, Peter Polyarrpou as Ali Hakim, and Tony and Drama Desk-winner Shuler Hensely [Young Frankenstein] as Jud Fry. Other assets: choreography is by Tony and Drama Desk-winner Susan Stroman. The production features a huge orchestra with Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations from the 1943 production.
November 22: Nashville 2.0: The Rise of Americana tracks the endlessly morphing musical genre whose heart is in Nashville but whose reach is worldwide. From Emmylou Harris to Mumford & Sons, Rosanne Cash to The Mavericks, and rising new stars Like Shovels and Rope and the Milk Carton Kids, this entertaining special with music overflow celebrates America’s influential musical melting pot.
November 29: a very special holiday season treat, Barbra Streisand headlines Back to Brooklyn, taped at her Brooklyn Barclays Center two-hour concert [her first in six years]. She sings 27 classic and lesser-known tunes, backed by a 60-piece orchestra, framed by informal chatter with the audience and multi-faceted video montages of Streisand’s childhood and early career. Guests are Il Volo, trumpeter Chris Botti, and Streisand’s son Jason Gould, who duets with his Mom.