Urban planning

Manufacturing technician Nichole Gerl couldn't tell her boss why she had to miss work on two days' notice, but it was really, really important. Her bus-driver husband, Mike, told his supervisor that he "had a family thing." Well, actually Nichole won a contest for Keith Urban fans. The Plymouth couple flew to Atlanta to sit in the front row and be filmed by cable's Great American Country. Mid-show, Nichole was given a backstage tour by the contest producer and unexpectedly met the star himself beneath the stage. She was so starstruck she forgot to ask for an autograph. Now that she has connections, Nichole hopes to get an autograph at Urban's concert June 21 in Chicago. Meanwhile, country fans can watch her Urban adventure on "Ultimate Keith Urban Fans" (8 p.m. Sat., GAC).


Diddley daddy

For many Twin Cities rockers, Bo Diddley, who died Monday, was more than a hero -- he was their Boss Man for a night. During visits to town he was backed by the likes of Slim Dunlap (the Replacements), Curt Obeda (Butanes) and Pat Hayes (Lamont Cranston). "He was really nice, a lot nicer than Chuck Berry," said Curtiss A, who played bass behind Bo at a First Avenue show in 1980 or '81. He recalled that Diddley wore "this too-tight red polyester jumpsuit" with two prominent lumps in the pockets: one for a roll of big bills, another for small. Diddley was careful with that cash, too. "He talked about playing poker with Ray Charles," Curt said. "He quit after he figured out Ray was cheating -- the cards had to be marked, or else Ray wouldn't have known what they were!"


Singing loud and clear

I.W. hears that Cantus has been quietly lighting up houses on a tour out East. The a cappella singers sold out recent shows in Cleveland and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post patted Erick Lichte's Minneapolis lads on the back with such accolades as "exalting finesse" and "ultra-smooth legato." Speaking of Cantus, the group's Christmas Truce show "All Is Calm" has been recorded, and the CD will be released at a performance on Veterans Day at the Minneapolis VA Hospital. A book, featuring the spoken text by Theatre Latté Da's Peter Rothstein, is slated for release in fall 2009. Rothstein said he's working with four European museums to get images in the book. Cantus and the speaking cast will tour the show during the Christmas season and do a Minneapolis engagement shortly before the holiday.



How's this for family support? Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard's cousin, who lives in the Twin Cities, almost skipped the band's show Monday night at the Orpheum Theatre because it conflicted with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup series, and he's a major Red Wings fan. "I had to promise him I'd announce the score of the game on stage so he'd show up," Gibbard told the sold-out crowd, after a roadie passed on a note that the Wings were up 3-2. Good thing the band only played one encore, because the game wound up a thriller in overtime.


Big stars, small stage

Sean Haberle, the New York actor who played Rochester in the Guthrie's "Jane Eyre," must have had great chemistry with co-star Stacia Rice. Haberle will return in the fall to play "Macbeth" alongside Rice for her tiny Torch Theater company. "Sean went to the Iveys last year with us and said he really loved the Minneapolis theater community and mentioned that he'd like to do something with Torch if the opportunity arose," said Rice. It came with Torch's long-delayed production of "Macbeth," which will play the 120-seat Minneapolis Theatre Garage Oct. 11-Nov. 1. I.W. preemptively declares it the coup of the upcoming theater season. In the meantime, Rice tells I.W. that she and actor/director Craig Johnson will have some fun in August with a campy production of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" directed by Peter Rothstein. Rice will play the Bette Davis role and Johnson will don wig and dress, sit in a wheelchair and whimper like Joan Crawford.


Stylish in the city

I.W. has been blown away by the fashion sense of Twin Citians going to see "Sex and the City." There were Jimmy Choos and vintage frocks at Bellanotte's jam-packed party last Friday. And moviegoers who gathered pre-screening Saturday at the downtown Minneapolis boutique Drama proved there's no reason not to wear a strapless dress and carry a clutch to a flick. Shop owner Courtney Smallbeck looked very Audrey Hepburn in a custom-made Kjurek Couture dress. Now if we could just get the fellas to switch over from sneakers and jeans.


Sugarman goes sour

St. Paul's most colorful downtown sculpture, a 17-ton melange of painted aluminum squiggles and blobs by George Sugarman, is heading to Texas. A cheerful landmark at the corner of 5th and Minnesota streets since 1971, the 44-piece sculpture is considered a modernist masterpiece potentially worth millions. First National Bank (now U.S. Bank) commissioned it, then disavowed ownership after selling the building, leaving the current owner -- a real-estate investment firm -- free to dispose of it. "It just didn't have a place in the new image," said Tanya Hemphill, manager of Cushman and Wakefield, which is upgrading the building. Hemphill said the building's new owner, whose name she doesn't know, plans to install new art by an unnamed artist sometime within the next year but "I can't commit to a date." Meanwhile, chunks of the Sugarman were hauled off this week for restoration and reinstallation in Austin, Texas. "This is just wrong, so wrong," said Christine Podas Larson, founder of Public Art St. Paul, which raised $20,000 in an unsuccessful effort to keep the work in Minnesota.