American in Paris
(Pictured above) May 9–14 From Aladdin to The Bodyguard to American Psycho, film-to-musical adaptations have become trendy on Broadway in recent years. But Tony winner An American in Paris stands out from that pack for one distinct reason: When’s the last time dance was the selling point of a musical? One can get a sense of Hamilton or The Book of Mormon by listening to the soundtrack. An American in Paris needs to be seen.
Under the direction of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (whose works have premiered at Pacific Northwest Ballet), An American in Paris becomes a breathtaking exercise in storytelling through physical movement set to the music of George Gershwin. As a love story unfolds between an American soldier and French ballerina in the blossoming post–World War II Paris art scene, the cast performs myriad multilayered dance numbers: from the opening, wordless journey through the city’s postwar rebirth to ballet segments on pointe to big, glitzy tap routines.
Singing and pulling off Wheeldon’s choreography is no easy feat, but An American in Paris’s associate choreographer, Sean Maurice Kelly, hopes the genre cross-pollination can open the audience’s mind. “It takes a unique person like Christopher to bridge the dance and musical theater worlds,” says Kelly. “For the future of dance, I think it’s very important that people are exposed to more classical work through different mediums. One might say, ‘I don’t think I’d be keen on [ballet].’ But after seeing a musical like this, they might suddenly go, ‘Oh, actually that was really beautiful, and I’d be interested in going to see PNB.’ ” Paramount Theatre, stgpresents.org
Upstream Music Fest
May 11–13 Can Seattle support its own SXSW? Paul Allen thinks so. The new Upstream Music Fest and Summit takes over Pioneer Square for three days in May, spreading more than 200 emerging Northwest acts across 25 stages in atypical venues. Will Upstream
be a chaotic and noisy scene? Almost assuredly. But who says that’s a bad thing? Pioneer Square, upstreammusicfest.com
Emerald City Comicon
Mar 2–5 Emerald City Comicon has come a long way in its 15-year existence. Paralleling nerd culture’s popularity boom, the event has grown substantially (from 2,500 attendees to 88,000) and now brings in massive stars like Jeremy Renner, Stan Lee, and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). Still, actual comics get their due via visits from creators like Black Panther’s Brian Stelfreeze and Bitch Planet’s Kelly Sue DeConnick. Washington State Convention Center, emeraldcitycomicon.com
Here Lies Love
Apr 7–May 28 Potential understatement of the year: Here Lies Love will be unlike anything Seattle Repertory Theatre has ever produced. But who wants anything resembling normalcy from a disco musical about the wife of a Filipino dictator that originated in the minds of Talking Heads’ David Byrne and Fatboy Slim?
Here Lies Love follows the rise and fall of Ferdinand Marcos’s regime in the Philippines from the vantage point of his wife, Imelda. While a story of violent martial law might not seem like fodder for a disco musical, it made sense to Byrne the more he learned about the former First Lady. “I heard Imelda loved going to discos,” says Byrne. “She had a mirror ball put into her New York town house, and the roof of the palace in Manila kind of turned into a dance club. I thought, She lives within that musical world, within that genre…. Everything is going to hell in a handbasket outside, but the party goes on.”
For the show, Seattle Rep will transform into a decadent disco dance floor, extending the stage over the orchestra seating and immersing the audience in an on-your-feet party scene. The intent is for the audience to be swept up in the joyous emotions the Philippine people felt during the Marcoses’ rise—that alluring intoxication—so that when things turn, they feel connected to the people the Marcoses betray.
While Here Lies Love debuted in New York in 2013, it’s hard to not find even more meaning in the show’s themes in the current American political climate. “I think there are a lot of parallels between the Marcoses, the present leadership of the Philippines, and people here,” says Byrne. “They use those kind of phrases, like ‘Let’s make it all great again.’ ”
“But it’s not a history lesson,” he stresses. “It’s fun. But the history is real.” Seattle Repertory Theatre, seattlerep.org
Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor
Apr 8–Sept 4 In terms of grand archaeological discoveries, little tops the Terracotta Army. In 1974, Chinese farmers discovered the 2,200-year-old tomb of China’s first emperor and, guarding it, a legion of roughly 8,000 six-foot-tall clay soldiers (each with a unique face) and horses. Don’t miss a collection of these stunning figures as they make their West Coast debut. Pacific Science Center, pacificsciencecenter.org
Classical & More
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience
Mar 31 There are hit TV shows and then there are fill-an-arena-with-just-the-show’s-music phenomena. The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience takes concertgoers on a visual tour of Westeros and Essos (via show footage and new digital imagery) as a full orchestra and choir perform Ramin Djawadi’s scores on an elaborate in-the-round set worthy of the arena setting. KeyArena, keyarena.com
Books & Talks
Binge-Worthy Journalism: Backstage with the Creators of Serial
Mar 18 The entertainment world overflows with examples of artists—bands, filmmakers, authors—hitting their sophomore slump. But how do you bounce back when your entertainment is reporting? That’s a question for Serial host Sarah Koenig and executive producer Julie Snyder, who’ll visit the Paramount in March.
When the podcast debuted in 2014, it turned investigative reporting into gripping audio storytelling. Koenig and her team sunk their teeth into the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee and the subsequent prosecution of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Audiences were hooked as the story unfolded week by week. The medium had been around for years, but Serial served as the general public’s introduction to the format—the first podcast pop culture sensation.
Anticipation was high for Serial’s second season, which premiered the following year and dug into the story of U.S. Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted his post in Afghanistan in 2009 only to be captured and held by the Taliban for nearly five years. The reporting was still top notch, and the story drew clearer conclusions, but without the weekly thrill of piecing together a mystery, Serial plummeted out of the pop culture conversation.
Theories about what the diminished reception to season two says about our entertainment consumption can be disconcerting. True, the lack of whodunit drama resulted in less compelling storytelling, but Bergdahl’s plight was tangled up in an ongoing global conflict. Do somewhat bloodthirsty desires for true crime thrills numb us to more important journalism?
Rumor is Serial will go back to the true-crime well for season three, to investigate a 2015 gang-related triple-homicide in a Cleveland barbershop. Hopefully, Koenig and Snyder chose it to examine the issues the story raises, not just to recapture season one fans. Paramount Theatre, stgpresents.org
Daniel Carrillo: Studio Visit
Apr 6–May 27 Between self-indulgent Instagramming and manipulative Photoshopping, it’s almost too easy to rag on the era of digital photography. There are certainly positives to the user-friendly ubiquity of camera phones and their ability to capture moments that otherwise would never have been documented. But the element missed most in the modern age happens to be the specialty of Seattle photographer Daniel Carrillo: physicality.
Carrillo is an artists’ artist: For his 2012 exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery he took ambrotype portraits of local artists. He continues that journey with new show Studio Visit. This time he creates daguerreotypes—a photographic process where iodine helps create images on silver-coated copper plates—to capture images of objects found in Seattle creators’ studios, like wood chips from sculptor Dan Webb and Troy Gua’s handcrafted Prince doll.
Each shiny, metallic image is unique. “They’re a one-off piece of art,” says Carrillo. “I don’t do digital copies.” The difficulty in their complex creation process becomes part of the thrill. “There’s sort of a high failure rate, but that’s the fun in it too. It kind of fights back.”
While daguerreotypes can survive in mint condition for hundreds of years, they’re a relative rarity these days, which leads to fresh viewing experiences that can’t be replicated via digitally stored pictures. “You have to be in front of it in order to experience daguerreotype,” says Carrillo. “The plate is the piece of art that resulted from the light bouncing off whatever was being photographed. It’s a physical object that’s recording the moment in time.” Greg Kucera Gallery, gregkucera.com
Mar 24 Patton Oswalt is teaching a master class on dealing with grief. Pay attention. Since the unexpected death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, at the age of 46 last April, the comedian has been sorting out how to continue on as a single father in a very public, touching, often painful, but funny way. Embrace him with the hug of laughter when he visits the Paramount—just don’t expect the jokes to be light. Paramount Theatre, stgpresents.org
The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited
May 20–Jan 1 There are only a few artistic geniuses with the imagination to create multiple realms of beloved characters. Jim Henson was one of them. MoPop (formerly EMP) takes a look back at the master puppeteer’s career crafting the worlds of The Muppets, Sesame Street, Labyrinth, and more via sketches, storyboards, photos, video clips, and over 20 puppets. Museum of Pop Culture, mopop.org
Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II
Mar 3–5 When you stop and think about it, has anyone introduced more children to classical music than Bugs Bunny? With Looney Tunes shorts like “Rabbit of Seville” and “Rhapsody Rabbit,” everyone’s favorite carrot-munching cartoon character is a symphonic ambassador. Introduce new generations (or relive your faves) when the Seattle Symphony plays along with those timeless episodes on the big screen. Benaroya Hall, seattlesymphony.org
Rambunctious Iteration #3: The Immigrants
Mar 2–5 The artistic impact of U.S. transplants is still among the strongest arguments to combat the rising tide of hateful anti-immigrant sentiment. Spectrum Dance Theater offers Rambunctious Iteration #3, choreographing its movements to music by immigrant composers to showcase the value and beauty of our diversity. Cornish Playhouse, spectrumdance.org
Cherdonna’s Doll House
Apr 28–May 15 When it debuted in 1879, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House shocked audiences with a protagonist who abandons her family to find herself. Washington Ensemble Theatre enlists acclaimed local director Ali Mohamed el-Gasseir and female drag queen Cherdonna Shinatra (Jody Kuehner) to spice up the classic for modern viewers, by filtering it through the character’s over-the-top feminist worldview in Cherdonna’s Doll House. 12th Avenue Arts, washingtonensemble.org
Classical & More
Apr 20 For composers, film and television have filled the commissioning role that royal courts once occupied. Mixing traditional and electronic instrumentation, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson weaves dark soundscapes of ominous tones (Arrival, Sicario) and dreamy scores alike (The Theory of Everything). Join Jóhannsson and the Contemporary Music Ensemble to hear his music in the flesh. Benaroya Hall, seattlesymphony.org
Books & Talks
May 4 It’s nearly impossible to argue that we aren’t living in a golden age of television. And while most conversations about TV’s artistic ascendance focus on award-winning hour-long prestige dramas, The New Yorker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning critic Emily Nussbaum has a different take. “To me, this is just this huge headache,” says Nussbaum, “because I’m not interested in the idea that there has to be one serious, violent drama that is the adult show that all adults should be watching. And frankly, in the last few years many of the shows that fit that definition are either vastly overrated or beautiful and made with a lot of money, but kind of empty.”
Nussbaum, who heads to Town Hall on May 4 as part of Seattle Arts and Lectures’ Women You Need to Know series, has built her career offering insightful analysis of modern television, often extolling the virtues of less critically heralded programs like Sex and the City and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though she also loves The Sopranos). She champions detaching conversations about television from comparisons to film or literature in order to “celebrate TV as TV.”
With TV recommendations becoming an increasingly go-to topic of casual conversation in the binge-watching era, having shrewd guidance (Nussbaum’s recs: Search Party, Fleabag, and Atlanta) from someone with a knack for breaking down the important issues programs raise is paramount. “I feel like there are these false hierarchies of what matters,” Nussbaum says. There’s this not-useful idea that drama is intrinsically more important or more valuable or more culturally adult than comedy. And I think that part of my mission is trying to knock down what I regard as those unuseful distinctions.” Town Hall, lectures.org