‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ surprise
Playwright Todd Kreidler’s update of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the 1967 film about interracial romance, had a fraught, unexpected showstopper in April at the Guthrie. The moment came out of the tension between Tillie (Regina Marie Williams), who is overprotective about the white family she works for, and Mary Prentice (Greta Oglesby), mother of the bride-to-be. They had been eyeing each other with suspicion, but when they began to sing, their voices blending gorgeously, all the enmity melted away.
Rohan Preston, theater critic
Five heavenly minutes with Bach
The time is November, the music Bach’s “St. John Passion.” In a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performance, English countertenor Tim Mead stood up to sing “Es ist vollbracht,” an aria marking the moment of Christ’s crucifixion. His mellifluous, compassionate vocalism freeze-framed time, beautifully interlacing with Beiliang Zhu’s sinuous viola da gamba solo. The difference between “performing” music and actually living it seemed encapsulated in those five unforgettable minutes.
Terry Blain, classical critic
Rediscovering Aretha Franklin
Even though we knew she was ill, Franklin’s death hit me harder than expected. I flashed back on Aretha moments in my life: her canceling a Minneapolis Armory show in 1968 after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died; all the times I saw her in concert; my 1996 interview with her. Writing two pieces about her the day she died was reassuringly heartwarming and overwhelmingly emotional. Then for weeks I scoured YouTube and listened to SiriusXM’s Aretha channel, revisiting the greatest singer of the rock generation.
Jon Bream, music critic
Davu Seru’s ‘Dead King Mother’
Grabbing a firm hold on two “third rail” issues, race and gun violence, the Twin Cities drummer/composer exhumed a 50-year-old piece of fraught family history. The evening the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Seru’s uncle grabbed a pistol, walked out of his home on Minneapolis’ North Side and gunned down a white neighbor. At the Feb. 23 premiere, vocalist Sarah Greer wailed in lament over a seven-piece band as relatives of the two men — one life lost, the other altered forever — watched from the front row.
Tim Campbell, senior arts editor
Laughing, crying with ‘Nanette’
I laughed. I wept. I cursed at the screen like it was a Vikings-Packers game. Watching Hannah Gadsby’s feminist manifesto — err, Netflix comedy special — was emotionally cathartic and intellectually thrilling. The Australian comic serves up art history lessons and wicked burns (I especially loved the one for men who call women “too sensitive”). What makes the show superlative, though, is the finale: a meta take on stand-up and gender that reveals Gadsby’s genius as a rhetorician.
Christy DeSmith, assistant arts editor
Repainting an iconic bridge
The repainting of Siah Armajani’s 1989 Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge (with fresh coats of bright “Jeffersonian yellow” and “elegant baby blue”) was a beautiful process to behold. Spanning eight lanes of Interstate 94, the bridge was updated as part of the Minnesota artist’s Walker Art Center retrospective. During points in its reconstruction last spring, the bridge was shrouded with a giant sheet that reminded this critic of a cocoon. Traffic was stopped to make way for the bridge’s timely rebirth.
Alicia Eler, art critic
Paris Bennett sings ‘Home’
It was early in the year — and not even in a play — but Paris Bennett’s delivery of “Home” from “The Wiz,” at the Musical Mondays cabaret, was a shivery highlight, previewing the performance she would deliver at Children’s Theatre Company a few weeks later. As she stepped up to the mic, Bennett seemed nervous about competing with all the other great singers that January night, but her full-throated delivery of a song about what it would mean to Dorothy to return home from Oz was a flat-out stunner.
Chris Hewitt, theater critic
A perfect moment with Paul Simon
When the short singer with the big guitar walked out on the Xcel Center stage June 8 and launched into “America,” I got a little choked up. But the perfect moment came when he and the chamber group yMusic quieted things down with “Rene and Georgette Magritte, With Their Dog After the War” — a surreal song about a surrealist painter. Simon’s voice, the tremulous flute, the deep cello, the image of Rene and his wife dancing in the moonlight, Simon gently beating out the tune — it was all just right.
Laurie Hertzel, senior books editor
Seeing myself in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’
“Crazy Rich Asians” is a formulaic romantic comedy, but the top-notch cast and director Jon M. Chu proved you can still paint inside the lines and create a masterpiece. I saw the film with a group of fellow Asian-Americans, all of us grateful to see people of color be just as goofy and gorgeous as Julia Roberts and Matthew McConaughey. I never imagined getting choked up while watching a game of mahjong, just one of many ways “Crazy” defied the odds.
Neal Justin, TV critic
Low’s surreal concert at Sacred Heart
From the back balcony of a church-turned-venue, Low got supernatural. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s haunting harmonies filled Duluth’s Sacred Heart Music Center in March as bassist Steve Garrington played the century-old cathedral’s Felgemaker organ. Much of the audience, sitting in rows facing the balcony, couldn’t see Garrington. But his shadow rocked forward and back across the arched ceilings. The concert felt like a surreal, stirring performance piece. At one point, Sparhawk held out an apple, then took a bite.
Jenna Ross, arts and culture reporter
‘Pa’lante’ by Hurray for the Riff Raff
The stage banner behind Alynda Segarra and her rustic Americana band for their April 28 First Avenue gig simply read, “We’re all in this together.” How fitting that the show climaxed with a plea for unity. Spanish slang for “go for it,” their final song “Pa’lante” riffs on Segarra’s Puerto Rican roots and her family’s and friends’ efforts to assimilate into America. “I just want to go to work, get back home, and be something,” she bellowed. “I just want to prove my worth on Planet Earth, and be something.” She went for it, all right.
Chris Riemenschneider, music critic
Dick Van Dyke pops into ‘Mary Poppins’
The movie is called “Mary Poppins Returns,” but it’s the return of Dick Van Dyke that melts our hearts. Van Dyke, who, of course, co-starred in the 1964 original, makes a cameo in this reboot in which he sings and dances and charms us to pieces. Compared with the show’s big production numbers, it’s a short performance — hey, the guy was 92 when it was filmed — but every second of it is absolutely delightful.
Jeff Strickler, assistant features editor