Front & Center
Le Petit picks up the pace
When Maxwell Williams signed on as artistic director at Le Petit Théâtre dü Vieux Carré in 2015, he promised that change lay ahead. A year later it appears the theatre is on track.
Rough financial times descended on the city's oldest playhouse during the past decade, forcing the stage to go dark until benefactors came to the rescue with funding and a new game plan. A 2012 agreement to sell part of Le Petit's building to restaurateur Dickie Brennan enabled a substantial renovation of the property. And last year, Le Petit's board put Williams in charge of launching a new era in professional theatre on the upgraded stage.
Williams brought on Katie Hallman as managing director, and as Le Petit celebrates its 100th anniversary season, it is offering a lineup of drama and musical theatre that sets this year apart from less theatrically rigorous seasons.
Fresh off its season opener, "Pippin," a classic coming of age story with a pop-rock score, Le Petit next launches into a cerebral production that expresses the anguish of pre-World War II England through a conversation between young philosopher C.S. Lewis and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Mark St. Germain's "Freud's Last Session" is a touching and revealing discussion that occurs weeks before Freud ends his own life.
From there Le Petit moves into holiday mode with the jazzy jamboree, "The Musicians of Bremen." And in January comes a don't-miss production with the New Orleans debut of "Jelly's Last Jam," the musical story of one of the city's early "piano men," Jelly Roll Morton.
Yet another regional premiere comes in March, with Horton Foote's "Dividing the Estate," the comedic and highly relatable story of an heirship fight in a dysfunctional family.
Le Petit wraps up the season by teaming with the NOLA Project to present "It's Only a Play," an entertaining look at what's really behind opening night jitters.
Cheers, Cripple Creek
One of the city's most socially conscious theatre companies turned 10 this year. To mark a decade of commitment to strengthening society's moral core, Cripple Creek Theatre Company presented the beautiful-but-tough "Ragtime," a hard look at the conflicts between progress and humanity amid the poisonous environment of entrenched racism. The well-received production, which opened in August, got an extended run at the Marigny Opera House, further solidifying Cripple Creek's mission.
"Ragtime follows people striving for their share of respect, prosperity, and justice," artistic director Andrew Vaught said. "As long as these stories need to be told, and they clearly still do, Cripple Creek will work to tell them."
Rivertown gets revved
Musical theatre can get a warm welcome on nearly any stage in New Orleans, but perhaps few are more hospitable to song-and-dance than Rivertown Theatres for the Performing Arts.
Now in its fifth year in the hands of Theatre 13 principals Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi, Rivertown launched the fall season with an encore performance by the 1960s-style Big Easy Buddies, in "Let the Good Times Roll." The theatre will keep it coming in November with the entertaining history-musical "1776," and in January will present the blockbuster "Billy Elliot," about a young boy's struggle against the odds to pursue his passion for dance.
And there's more. "Bye Bye Birdie" hits the Rivertown stage in the spring, and a family favorite, "The Little Mermaid" will close the season in July.
Speaking of music ...
The tradition continues amid the grandeur of the venerable Saenger Theater, which has packed its fall season with contemporary concerts interspersed with musical hits from Broadway.
Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, breakthrough artist Lindsey Stirling, and perennial country-rock favorite Bonnie Raitt are among the concert performers lined up in October and November. And upcoming musicals on tour from Broadway include "Jersey Boys," "The Lion King," "Beautiful, the Carole King Musical," and from hit film to the local stage, the romantic musical thriller "The Bodyguard."
Bring the kids for a holiday musical treat as the Saenger presents Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in late November.
No place like home
Ask any artistic director whose theatre organization has faced relocation to name a priority need and you will likely hear something about a place to call home. Amid the myriad demands of running a theater, finding a stage where the company can do its work is the biggest challenge some managers face.
For one organization that has coped with shelter issues for several years, the end of the struggle appears close.
Southern Repertory Theatre has been “homeless” for several years since losing its lease on its former longtime quarters in the Canal Place retail center. During that time, artistic director Aimée Hayes spent nearly as much time securing permissions to use borrowed stages as she did lining up productions and keeping the theater on its feet.
Recent months, however, have brought reason for hope. In February, Hayes announced a joint effort with two community partners to renovate the long-vacant former St. Rose de Lima Church into a hub for the performing arts, to include a new home for Southern Rep.
The historic church “offers everything we have envisioned in our search for a permanent space,” Hayes said.
Plans for the new Bayou Tremé Center arose from a partnership with Rose Community Development Corp and Alembic Community Development, both of which were interested in expanding arts education opportunities in the area and saw Southern Rep as a good partner for the project.
The centerpiece of the campus will be a 13,000-square-foot theater complex, to be operated by Southern Rep and including a 125-seat main stage proscenium, with a 65-seat Lagniappe Stage and an outdoor stage for pre-performance activities.
“We look forward to seeing the impact that the pairing of this beautiful historic building and Southern Rep will bring to Bayou Road and the city,” Hayes said. She hopes to see construction begin next year, with a projected opening in 2018.
Southern Rep launches its current season in October with the regional premiere of “Airline Highway” at the University of New Orleans, Nims Theatre.
Meanwhile, another local theatre recently completed a cross-town move that appears to secure its long-term future. Anthony Bean Community Theatre and Acting School, housed for the past 15 years in rented space along South Carrollton Avenue, has relocated to the former St. Raymond Catholic Church on Paris Avenue in Gentilly.
Theater owner Anthony Bean announced in February that the theater had bought the church. In an article published in Gambit, he said that the new space will allow him to add a dance studio, music rooms and a museum.
Anthony Bean opened its fall season with “Detroit 67.”
One place where concern for a “home” theater is not a consuming issue is among the itinerant troupes that regularly stage their works in diverse settings.
The NOLA Project has staged its productions in parks and various other public places since the troupe’s founding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most recently, and in typically timely fashion given the recent disastrous flooding in the Baton Rouge area, the company presented “Flood City,” a new play by Gabrielle Reisman, at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Next up, in October, is the regional premiere of “4000 Miles,” by Amy Herzog, at Ashé Cultural Arts Center, followed by "the Grapes of Wrath" in January, and "The Spider Queen, coming in May.
St. Rose de Lima Church on Bayou Road may become the new home of Southern Rep.
Classics in fashion for fall
If springtime is the season to enjoy nature's floral wonders, autumn is when the beauty of New Orleans' classical performance organizations comes into full bloom. The fall cultural season holds a lineup rich with creative promise.
The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, now in its 26th season and its 11th year under the direction of maestro Carlos Miguel Prieto, is an organization that, after the difficult post-Hurricane Katrina years, not only regained its footing and its splendid home in the renovated Orpheum Theater, but even managed to expand its audience by regularly staging performances in suburban areas.
The LPO has a broad and loyal following for concerts that have become a mix of brilliantly performed classics and contemporary works that cover a spectrum of musical styles and cultural backgrounds.
October, for instance, brings a performance of Dvorák's Symphony No. 8 along with the soulful African-American folk melodies of William Grant Still's Afro-American Symphony, featuring guest saxophone soloist James Carter.
A week later the orchestra will perform Brahms' Requiem, featuring vocal soloists, including New Orleans' own Sarah Jane McMahon -- all to be followed by a Halloween family concert of "spooky dances," for which audiences are invited to don costumes.
The subsequent months will continue the mix of old and new with a concert of "Broadway's Best" featuring Bryan Batt, classics by Mozart, Holst, Mendelssohn and others, and holiday performances that range from Baroque to contemporary.
In addition to customizing concerts for its audiences, the orchestra aims to bring new cultural opportunities to people unlikely to seek them out on their own.
For the second year in a row, the LPO was awarded funding from Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute to support Music for Life, a program offering disadvantaged youth the opportunity to study music intensively throughout the year with both LPO musicians and peers from the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestras.
Along with the symphonic lineup, local audiences will enjoy a full season of grand opera courtesy of the New Orleans Opera Association, which launches the fall season with Mozart's "Don Giovanni," and will follow with spectacular performances of "Macbeth" and "Faust." In between the latter two, the opera will deliver a different style of drama, in the form of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." The works will bring the star power of internationally known vocalists to the grand stage of the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts.
In addition, like the symphony, the local opera will continue its outreach into a variety of non-traditional settings by again offering Opera on Tap – a series of informal performances by leading vocalists in local bars and pubs.
Meanwhile, a season of spectacular dance lies ahead for audiences of the New Orleans Ballet Association, which opens its schedule with an electric performance by Brazil's Grupo Corpo on Oct. 15. Exotic and breathtaking in its strength and athleticism, the company packages thrilling moves and surprises into each performance.
And the awe-inspiring performances of contemporary dance will continue into the spring with Ronald K. Brown's EVIDENCE, the return of Complexions and Jessica Lang Dance.
The lineup also includes a performance by Stars of American Ballet, selected and directed by New York City Ballet's Daniel Ulbricht.
TOP LEFT: Violinist Stefan Jackiw gives an other-worldly performance Mozart’s energetic Violin Concerto No. 4. TOP RIGHT: Enjoy hits from Broadway’s main stages featuring New Orleans native Bryan Batt. BOTTOM: Saxophonist James Carter performs Robert Sierra’s brilliant Concert for Saxophones.
1111 Canal St. • New Orleans • 800-218-7469 • saengernola.com
The majestic Saenger Theatre is a home on the road for Broadway musical companies and a big-name entertainers. See the website for the full lineup.
"The Illusionists – Live from Broadway" (Oct. 25-30). The jaw-dropping talents of seven of the world's most incredible Illusionists come to the stage.
Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (Nov. 22-27) Max the Dog narrates the musical about a mean Grinch who decides to steal Christmas from the holiday-loving Whos.
"Jersey Boys" (Dec. 13-18) The true story of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history.
Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker (Dec. 23) The biggest Christmas experience of the year!
"The Lion King" (Jan. 4-29). Giraffes strut, birds swoop and as the music soars, Pride Rock emerges from the mist. Disney’s musical is a season special.
"Beautiful – The Carole King Musical" (March 7-12). The true story of King’s rise to become one of the most successful solo acts in pop music history.
"The Bodyguard" (April 4-9. The award-winning musical will star Grammy nominee Deborah Cox.
Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts
325 Minor St. • Kenner • 504-461-9475 • rivertowntheaters.com
With artistic directors Gary Rucker and Kelly Fouchi at the helm, the lovely theaters near the riverside in Kenner keep the musical fun coming.
"Junie B. Jones, The Musical" (Oct. 7-16). A delightful adaptation of four books by Barbara Park comes to life in a comical musical show. Directed by Ricky Graham on the Lagniappe Stage.
"1776" (Nov. 4-20). A musical perfect for an election year puts a human face on pages from history. Directed by A.J. Allegra.
"Billy Elliot" (Jan. 13-29). Kelly Fouchi directs the hugely successful musical about a boy and his passion to dance, featuring a score by Elton John.
Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" (March 10-26). The popular comedy returns, with four actors portraying dozens of characters. A brilliant madcap directed by Ricky Graham.
"Bye Bye Birdie" (May 5-21). Hip-swinging singer Conrad Birdie is about to be drafted into the army, to the dismay of adoring fans. Directed by Gary Rucker.
Disney's "The Little Mermaid" (July 13-23). Ricky Graham directs a hauntingly beautiful musical love story for the ages.
Southern Repertory Theatre
New Orleans • Box office: 504.522.6545 • southernrep.com
A crown jewel of local theater delivers quality drama under the professional artistic direction of Aimée Hayes. Check the website for updated times and locations at either University of New Orleans or Loyola University.
"Airline Highway" (Oct. 5-23). In the parking lot of the dilapidated Hummingbird Hotel on AIRLINE HIGHWAY, assorted strippers, hustlers and poets celebrate the “living funeral” of a beloved burlesque performer. By Lisa D'Amour, directed by Aimée Hayes.
"Grounded" (Nov. 2-20). Kerry Cahill stars as an Air Force pilot who journeys into the darkness of an Iraqi desert. By George Brant, directed by Larissa Lurry.
"Sweet Bird of Youth" (March 21-April 15). Presented in partnership with the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, Leslie Castay stars as a silver screen legend humiliated in a comeback try. Directed by Mel Cook.
"Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 and 3)" (May 31-June 18). A slave in 1863 is promised freedom in exchange for his service in the Civil War – on the Confederate side. By Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton.
Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré
616 St. Peter St. • New Orleans • Box office: 504-522-2081 • lepetittheatre.com
Le Petit offers a season of fresh performances under artistic director Maxwell Williams and managing director Katie Hallman.
"Freud's Last Session" (Nov. 4-20). Regional premier recalls a day in 1939 when psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud engaged in a battle of wits with C.S. Lewis.
"The Musicians of Bremen" (Dec. 14-21). When the music-making animals of Bremen lose their instruments the night before a big holiday show they set out on a quest to save the soul of a musical city.
"Christmas without Tears" (Dec. 22-23). Harry Shearer and Judith Owen spread yuletide cheer, with special guests, to benefit Le Petit Theatre.
"Jelly's Last Jam" (Jan. 27-Feb. 12). New Orleans debut of a musical that tells the true story of Jelly Roll Morton.
"Dividing the Estate" (March 24-April 15). Regional premiere of Horton Foote's play about a woman dead-set against parceling out her family’s land despite the crush of an oil bust.
"It's Only a Play" (June 9-25). In partnership with the NOLA Project, the outrageously funny farce portrays the Broadway opening of a brand new play.
The Joy Theater
1200 Canal St. • New Orleans • 504-528-9569 • thejoytheater.com
Renovated to its original art deco grandeur, including the iconic marquee, the Joy is conveniently located on the Canal streetcar line in downtown New Orleans, within walking distance of the French Quarter.
Cameron Esposito (Oct. 11). The standup comic, actor and writer is a regular on late-night television and has drawn raves for her music and comedy routines; with opening comedy act Rhea Butcher.
Nick Swardson (Oct. 14). An experienced comic, actor and writer-producer known for his work in TV and film.
Greensky Bluegrass (Oct. 15). The five members of the band have forged a defiant, powerful sound.
Jason Isbell (Oct. 22). Performing his latest, from the album "Something More Than Free."
Phantogram (Nov. 3). Discipline and innovation have won Phantogram admiration from well-seasoned peers. Opening with The Range.
Tegan and Sara (Nov. 12). Twin sisters born in Calgary, Alberta perform the latest sonic chapter in their 17-year career. Opened by Torres.
The Last Waltz – New Orleans (Nov. 25).
Jim Jefferies: The Unusual Punishment Tour (Dec. 10). One of the most popular comedians of his generation.
Jefferson Performing Arts Society
6400 Airline Drive • Metairie • Box Office: 504-885-2000 • jpas.org.
Now in its 39th season, and at home in the beautiful new Jefferson Performing Arts Center, the organization led by Artistic Director Dennis Assaf offers a line-up of shows sure to excite audiences from around the region. Performances also are on tap at Teatro Wego on the West Bank.
"West Side Story" (through Oct. 2). Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" comes to modern-day New York City.
"Funny Girl" (Nov. 4-13). Beloved comedienne Fanny Brice, whose life began on the Lower East Side, dreams of making it big. Featuring beloved songs such as "People" and "Don't Rain on My Parade."
"The Nutcracker" (Dec. 17-18). Named Best Ballet Presentation of 2015 at the Big Easy Classical Arts Award.
"Tarzan" (March 17-26). A man raised in the jungle navigates clashes as he discovers his human instincts. Adapted from the Edgar Rice Burroughs story.
"The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged)" (Dec. 2-11. Annual holiday variety show and Christmas pageant at St. Everybody's Non-Denominational Universalist Church. At Teatro Wego!
Marigny Opera House
725 St. Ferdinand St. • New Orleans • 504-948-9998 • marignyoperahouse.org
Founded by Dave Hurlbert and supported by the Marigny Opera House Foundation, its mission is to celebrate the arts as a common spiritual bond among all people and support the work of local performing artists, in a 160-year-old church in the Faubourg Marigny.
Schola Cantorum of New Orleans (Oct. 2) A chamber choir inspired by its Venezuelan namesake performs new works by local composers and contemporary choral music that reflects the diversity of cultures in New Orleans and around the world.
Longing for Peace and Home (Oct. 28-29). Theresa Tova, Natasha Ramer and Latvian-born international singing star Aelita perform Russian songs that sustained the Russian home front population during the terrible days of the Second World War. Accompanying are Vadim Kolpakov, Russian Roma 7-String Guitarist, and pianist Boris Fogel of the Bolshoi Theatre.
Giselle Deslondes (Nov. 18-20). The Marigny Opera Ballet premieres a full-length contemporary ballet set in 1930 New Orleans, with the New Resonance Chamber Orchestra performing the original score by local composer Tucker Fuller.
Anthony Bean Community Theatre
3738 Paris Ave. • New Orleans • 504-862-7529 • anthonybeantheater.com
Founder and Artistic Director Anthony Bean has found a new home for the theatre in Gentilly as he continues his mission of developing young talent and providing a stage where novices and professional actors may work together. The situations and characters of the productions reflect issues in the New Orleans community, past and present.
"Detroit '67" (Sept. 9-25). Local premiere of the play by Dominique Morisseau. It's 1967 and Motown music is getting the party started as a brother and sister try to make ends meet by turning the basement of their late parents' home into an after-hours club. When a mysterious woman finds her way into their lives, pent-up feelings erupt into clashes, at home and in the city around them.
"The Dance on Widow's Row" (Nov. 4-20). Samm-Art Williams' hit comedic play about death, dating and superstition, or more specifically, how hard it can be for a woman to get a date after she has buried a few husbands. Meet four ladies who invite eligible bachelors to an intimate soiree. A New Orleans premiere.
Classical Music Merformances
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra
1010 Common Street • New Orleans • Box office: 504.523.6530 • lpomusic.com
In its 26th anniversary season, the orchestra embarks on a fantastic musical voyage from its home in the grand Orpheum Theater. The orchestra remains in the hands of its director and principal conductor, Carlos Miguel Prieto. The LPO also will continue to perform concerts at other venues as well. Check the website for many more events and details.
Dvoråk Symphony No. 8 (Oct. 21) Featuring James Carter, saxophone, and Thomas Wilkins, guest conductor.
Brahms Requiem (Oct. 28-29). Featuring soprano Sarah Jane McMahon, baritone Grant Young Blood, NOVA Masterworks and Loyola Chorale.
Broadway's Best: Featuring Bryan Batt (Nov. 12) Enjoy hits from Broadway shows such as "Evita," "Les Miserables," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Funny Girl."
The Planets (Nov. 17, 19). Guest conductor Fawzi Haimor leads the orchestra, featuring violinist Stefan Jackiw.
Holiday Spectacular (Dec. 9-11). The theater gets lit for the holidays with the LPO and guest artists, including 610 Stompers.
Baroque Christmas (Dec. 15) Featuring soprano Alissa Mercurio Rowe, Tenor Kameron Lopreore and NOVA Masterworks.
New Orleans Opera Association
935 Gravier St., Suite 1940 • New Orleans • Box office: 504.529.3000, 800.881.4459 • neworleansopera.org
Artistic Director Robert Lyall leads another season filled with drama, grandeur and thrilling voices from around the world, at home in the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.
"Don Giovanni" (Oct. 7, 9). Rogue or sociopath? Mozart's sizzler is one of the greatest operas ever composed, portraying the original ladies' man, Don Juan. Starring Daniel Okulitch and Angela Fout.
"Macbeth" (Nov. 11, 13). Verdi's masterpiece shows that ambition can get bloody, marking the classic thriller of power, greed and ambition. Featuring Michael Chioldi and Mary Elizabeth Williams.
"Sweeney Todd" (Feb. 10, 12) An opera for a modern audience inspired by the "Penny Dreadfuls" of Victorian London. Featuring Greer Grimsley as the murderous barber, and introducing recent Loyola University graduate Emma Grimsley as Sweeney's long lost daughter.
"Faust," (March 31, April 2) The age-old story of trading one's soul for youth and love. Gounod's French lyric masterpiece stars Paul Groves, Raymond Aceto and Sarah Jane McMahon.
The Donald W. Wood Sr. Competition (Oct. 15). Attendance is free at Freda Lupin Memorial Hall, NOCCA.
New Orleans Ballet Association
Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts • New Orleans • Box office: 504.522.0996 • nobadance.com
The central Gulf region's premiere presenting organization dedicated solely to dance, the association offers another season of main stage and educational programs featuring world-class dance companies and artists.
Grupo Corpo from Brazil (Oct. 15). Sleekly athletic and hypnotically gorgeous ensemble brings revolutionized contemporary dance with and exotic fusion of ballet, modern and hip-swiveling Brazilian styles.
Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE (Jan. 27-28). With a singular gift of telling stories, Ronald K. Brown masterfully creates spiritual and earthy dances that move the mind and the heart. His superbly articulate dancers embody his unique style of blending contemporary dance with African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms and dance forms. Co-presented with the NOCCA Institute, at NOCCA.
Stars of American Ballet Encore! (March 18). Artistic director Daniel Elbricht brings hand-picked, dazzling dancers for a performance of classical masterpieces.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet (April 22). Returning with its rock concert brand of high-octane ballets and thoroughbred dancers let by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater virtuosos.
Jessica Lang Dance (May 13). A major American dance force returns with spellbinding, artfully crafted works.