By Greg Stepanich
This might be a good month to get your grunge on.
The pestilential heat of an August in South Florida has to be tempered some way, and perhaps an evening of rough-edged rock from rain-soaked bands that made it big in the 1990s will do the trick.
On Aug. 10, Seattle’s Soundgarden joins forces with Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails for a concert at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in suburban West Palm Beach. This tour, which brings these two acts together for the first time in 20 years, has been drawing strong reviews, such as this from the Denver Post’s account of the July 21 show at Red Rocks: “This was pure aural pleasure, delivered in the tastiest of fashions to an absolutely ravenous audience. Grunge is dead; long live grunge.”
The pairing of the two bands is a smart one from the standpoint of contrast in the same general musical sphere. Soundgarden, which reunited in 2010 after a hiatus of 13 years, has a more conventional matinee idol in its lead singer and songwriter, Chris Cornell, who turned 50 last month.
Cornell is gifted with one of rock’s great voices, and if his lyrics are often muddled, there’s no denying the big hooks of songs like Burden in My Hand, Fell on Black Days and Black Hole Sun, and in a current universe dominated by grrlzz pop and fey young men singing light-as-air dance music, Soundgarden sounds like what happens to the party music when the adults take over.
Nine Inch Nails, which essentially is a solo project by Reznor, a Pennsylvania native who writes the NIN records and then assembles a band for touring, has in some ways had a bigger influence than Soundgarden. Through songs such as Wish, Happiness in Slavery and Hurt, Reznor has given hope, Velvet Underground-style, to aspirant rockers whose message might be too disturbing or quirky for easy acceptance. He is uncompromising about his art, and that’s a good example for other bands wanting to walk a difficult road.
The Cruzan this summer has seen repeat visitors such as eternal hipster Dave Matthews and country idol Tim McGraw, who can always be counted on to draw large crowds to the fairgrounds. But this show will offer audiences a chance to hear how well this particular genre of popular music has held up over the years; whether, in fact, grunge still lives. Tickets for the 7 p.m. show start at $60; visit cruzanamphitheatre.net.
Other music: The free outdoor Friday night concert series at Boca Raton’s Mizner Park has been featuring a lineup of tribute bands. On Aug. 1, it’s Jimmy Stowe and the Stowaways, a Jimmy Buffett act, and on Aug. 8, it’s Turnstiles, a Billy Joel tribute band. Two national, ticketed concerts follow: Panic! at the Disco on Aug. 15, and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir on Aug. 23. If you’re still in the mood for free music, the brass section of the Symphonia Boca Raton sets up Aug. 17 for its own tribute to the music of the Big Band era.
Meanwhile, the Symphony of the Americas moves its annual Summerfest appearance in Boca Raton to Florida Atlantic University on Aug. 8, joined by the Mission Chamber Orchestra of Rome. The program is a mixed salad of music by Leopold Mozart, Vivaldi and Dohnanyi, Cole Porter and Herbert L. Clarke, and new works by Juan Castillo (a Panama Canal rhapsody) and Lorenzo Turchi-Floris. Visit sota.org for tickets, or call 954-335-7002. … The Camerata del Re Baroque ensemble at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach virtually visits the Netherlands on the afternoon of Aug. 24 with music by 17th- and 18th-century Dutch and Flemish composers including Matthias Mercker and Johannes Grönemann. Tickets for the 3 p.m. concert are $15-$20. Call 561-278-6003 for more information.
Dance: The Natalie Portman star vehicle Black Swan (2010), which won the actress an Oscar, reminded the non-dance world of the beauty and popularity of Swan Lake, which might be the first piece the average person thinks of when he or she hears the word “ballet.”
And for good reason: It is not only a compelling fairy-tale scenario of a faraway kingdom, courtly love, a force of evil and two tragic deaths, it has some of composer Peter Tchaikovsky’s most memorable music (and indeed, it was this score that established him as a go-to writer for the dance world after its premiere in Moscow in 1877).
The Boca Ballet Theatre kicks off August with three performances of Swan Lake at the Olympic Heights High School auditorium, featuring a major contemporary ballerina, Sara Mearns, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Mearns will dance the role of Odette/Odile (i.e., White Swan/Black Swan) opposite Simon Ball, a principal dancer with Houston Ballet, as Prince Siegfried; Ball was a guest last year of the Boca Ballet Theatre for performances of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
Mearns made her New York City Ballet debut as Odette at age 19, plucked from the corps de ballet by artistic director Peter Martins. She is considered one of the leading interpreters of the role in the ballet world, and doubtless her appearance here will be a huge event for young, aspiring dancers. They’ve probably already watched Mearns in several charming behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube, in which she gives viewers insight into the life of a leading dancer.
The ballet can be seen at 7 p.m. Aug. 1, 8 p.m. Aug. 2, and 2 p.m. Aug. 3. Tickets are $20-$35 for adults, $10-$25 for children and seniors. Call 561-995-0709 or visit bocaballet.org.
Other dances: In Palm Beach Gardens, choreographers Maria Konrad (Reach Dance Company) and Jerry Opdenaker (O Dance) are teaming again for their Reach Dance Collective Intensive, a summer contemporary dance program for young dancers that opened July 28 and runs through Aug. 8.
Special guest instructors this year include Melissa Rector of Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company, Kristina Fernandez of Broadway’s Wicked and In the Heights, Ryan Redman of the Trey McIntyre Project, and Christopher Huggins, formerly of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
The advanced students of the intensive will show their stuff at 8 p.m. Aug. 9 in a performance called “Heat Wave,” set for the Eissey Campus Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens. The show will feature a mixed program that includes new dances by Konrad and Opdenaker. Tickets are $15-$20; visit reachdancecompany.com or call 561-339-6360.
Theater: The Delray Beach Center for the Arts will mark its 25th anniversary in December with its first-ever production of a musical, Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line (1975).
The show, under the direction of Bennett protégé and choreographer Kimberly Dawn Smith and mounted by MNM Productions, is still in need of several major roles: Cassie, Larry, Richie, Al, Bobby and Mike, as well as six understudies.
Auditions for these roles and the company are set for Aug. 11 at the Crest Theatre, and will be conducted like the auditions that make up the narrative of this much-admired musical. Smith has directed versions of this show locally for years, and she brings to it an inside knowledge of the now-iconic musical as a onetime cast member.
If you’re interested in seeing what it’s like to wear a gold top hat in one of the most famous kick-line moments in Broadway history, prepare a song from the show and arrive in appropriate dancewear, including character shoes. The auditions are set for 1:30 p.m. at the Crest, where the show will be presented 12 times Dec. 5-14. For more information, call 561-243-7922 or visit www.delrayarts.org.
Other theater: The Most Happy Fella, in a concert version at Palm Beach Dramaworks, has been extended a week from its original July 27 closing date, and can be seen through Aug. 3 at Dramaworks’ home at the Brown Theatre on Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach.
This concert presentation of Frank Loesser’s 1956 musical about a May-December romance in Northern California stars William Michals as the Italian immigrant wine grower Tony, and Jessica Hershberg (from Broadway’s Cinderella) as Rosabella.
The show, which also stars Jim Ballard, Laura Hodos, Jeni Hacker and Shane Tanner, has enjoyed enthusiastic support from audience and critics; thus the extension. Our own Hap Erstein of Palm Beach ArtsPaper called it “a completely satisfying evening of rarified musical theater.”
Tickets are $40; call 561-514-4042, ext. 2, or visit palmbeachdramaworks.org.
And up at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, the product of another summer intensive will be seen at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 16, when a troupe of area high school students presents The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s meditation on the Salem witch trials of 1692, a play engendered by the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s. Tickets are $20 ($15 for children); call 561-575-2223 or visit jupitertheatre.org. … The Plaza Theatre in Manalapan brings back its tribute to three great vaudevillians of a century ago — Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson — in a revue that features standards such as Makin’ Whoopee, Swanee, and You Made Me Love You. Brice, Cantor & Jolson, which stars John Lariviere, Jon Zimmerman and Melissa Jacobson, opens Aug. 14 and runs through Sept. 14; tickets are $30. Call 561-588-1820 or visit theplazatheatre.net.
News: The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach has named a new president and chief executive officer to replace the retiring Ervin Duggan.
David Breneman, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Virginia, will take over the job Jan. 1 from Duggan, who has retired to North Carolina. In addition to serving as dean of UVa’s Curry School of Education and leading the public policy program at the university’s Batten School of Leadership, Breneman has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
He also was president of Kalamazoo College in Michigan for six years, and was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution from 1975 to 1983.
In choosing Breneman, the Four Arts is following in the path set out by Duggan, who was fond of saying that the Four Arts was essentially a small liberal arts college, pointing to its large lineup of Campus on the Lake educational programs (which served almost 8,000 people this past season) and more recently, its opening last year of the Dixon Education Building, a well-appointed home for classrooms, art studios and a demonstration kitchen.
Breneman’s wife, Donna Plasket, has run UVa’s bachelor’s degree completion program for adults for the past 15 years, and with a background in music and choral conducting, should also fit right in at the Four Arts, which in addition to its educational programs, presents a rewarding of series of concerts and art exhibits during the season.
With a strong endowment and a history of nearly 80 years, the Four Arts is in a great position to raise its profile and increase its outreach, and Breneman should have the proverbial wind at his back for almost anything he wants to do there.