Arts & Entertainment
Creating lush yet delicate sculptures, installations and collages from found objects and meticulously cut paper, Elizabeth Alexander has shown her work everywhere from the Gardner Museum to France’s Pont-Aven Contemporary Gallery to South Korea’s Gallery Al. But we were particularly taken by the MassArt alum’s recent shows at Boston Sculptors Gallery and Newton’s New Art Center, featuring wonders made from deconstructed wallpaper and hand-cut porcelain chinaware befitting a mad hatter’s tea party.
You might not know him yet, but we have a hunch you’ll be hearing big things about Alex Pollock very soon. The versatile young actor took home the Norton Award for Outstanding Actor for Small or Fringe Theater for his turns in three excellent productions this year—Gloucester Stage Company’s This Is Our Youth, Company One’s The Flick, and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre’s Windowmen. In the last, a play based on local actor-turned-playwright Steven Barkhimer’s experiences working at Fulton Fish Market, Pollock shone in a talented all-male ensemble as a new employee forced to fit in fast.
Photo credit: Leslie Hassler
Actress and playwright Obehi Janice has two first names and talent to spare. Just 26 years old, she was one of three women selected for this year’s XX PLAYLAB, a program that supports the development of new work by promising female playwrights. The result: Fufu & Oreos, her one-woman show about a multicultural 20-something navigating several worlds, which she starred in at the BCA last month. Janice has also had roles with Company One, Zeitgeist Stage Company and Whistler in the Dark, among other local companies, and you can catch her flexing her comedic chops on Thursday Nights at ImprovBoston.about.me/obehijanice
Photo credit: Shawn Brackbill
Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz
Northampton-based Sadie Dupuis’ bedroom-project-turned-band has been up to some big things this past year. An edgy noise-pop quartet dealing in moody musings— buoyed by fuzzed-out guitars and Dupuis’ oft-changing vocals—Speedy Ortiz won New Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards and released this killer debut, called out in Pitchfork’s Best New Music roundup. Now they can add this award to their list of accomplishments, because we can’t stop spinning it.
This burly, bearded band of free-wheelin’ Americana rockers—who never met a party they didn’t like or a stage they couldn’t own—have been popping up everywhere during the past six months or so, from SXSW (where they made friends with Dave Grohl) to a formidable run in this year’s Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble to an opening slot at May’s Boston Calling. Plus, the Georgia-born, North Shore-bred Tiger men proved that, along with knowing their way around a mean banjo breakdown, they’re cool dudes: After Boston Calling, they joined other local bands for Boston Clawing, a free show devised to keep the music playing for those who didn’t score tix to the festival.
Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Salome
As the closing notes of Salome echoed throughout Symphony Hall in March, the audience rose to its feet in a roaring standing ovation. If you’ve ever been to the symphony, you know that means something—this can be a bit of a reserved crowd. Undeniably one of the most exciting musical events of the year, the one-night-only production of Strauss’ interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s take on the biblical tale marked BSO music director designate Andris Nelsons’ first time conducting opera at Symphony Hall—and only left us more excited for his debut season, which kicks off in September.
Tucked away amid the hustle and bustle of Hanover Street, Improv Asylum is easy to overlook. Despite that, the little basement-level comedy club (whose owners opened Laugh Boston in the Seaport last year) consistently sells out its rowdy Friday and Saturday night shows. That’s because of the quality of the improvisers, who are always at the top of their game. Stick around after a Saturday night show for the free (for ticket holders) midnight set, when performers drink onstage and get a little loose. Bonus: On Tuesday nights the “House Teams” (talented improvisers-in-training) perform for just five bucks, so you can spend the cash you save on an extra bucket of ice-cold beer.216 Hanover St., Boston (617-263-6887) improvasylum.com
Boston Ballet’s “Night of Stars”
A kickoff to the acclaimed company’s 50th season, Boston Ballet’s first free outdoor installment of its annual “Night of Stars” event drew an estimated 55,000 people to the largest stage ever built on Boston Common. Dancers culled from around the world performed in a diverse program that included Balanchine’s Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements and Christopher Bruce’s Rolling Stones-set Rooster. If its reception was any evidence, this unique night will soon be reprised.
Photo credit: Steve Osemwenkhae
A longtime fixture on Boston’s nightlife circuit, White is the kind of DJ who moves effortlessly among scenes and genres. Name a club in this town and he’s likely helmed its tables, with residencies at venues including Middlesex, Good Life, Alibi and North Star, to name just a few. Recently, White has been earning big props for his skills, scoring an opening set at last September’s Boston Calling and nabbing the award for DJ Artist of the Year at 2013’s Boston Music Awards.@djfrankwhite666; soundcloud.com/djfrankwhite
She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World at the MFA
Challenging Western stereotypes of Middle Eastern women, this Kristen Gresh-curated exhibit spotlighted approximately 100 photos and two videos by a dozen artists. Some highlights: Lalla Assia Essaydi’s stunning triptych Bullet Revisited #3 riffed on 19th-century Orientalist tropes with an odalisque whose ornate gold and silver surroundings are revealed to be bullet casings. And Rania Matar’s portrait series A Girl and Her Room peered into the bedrooms of teenage girls, finding common ground despite stark differences in class and circumstance. Missed the show? Take heart: The MFA’s acquired 18 works.Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston (617-267-9300) mfa.org
Samsøn Projects turned 10 this year, but its South End art space still operates like a boundary-busting upstart. Owner Camilo Alvarez offers platforms to relatively unknown up-and-comers and fresh looks at established artists through multimedia exhibits, live performances and participatory events. Unique artist-in-residence program sübSamsøn invites artists to work in the gallery’s basement studio for six-month stints. Always a hot destination during First Fridays, the space can often feel more like a hip downtown party than an art gallery—that’s a good thing.450 Harrison Ave., Boston (617-357-7177) samsonprojects.com
A major outdoor music festival in Boston’s city center? When people first caught wind of May 2013’s inaugural Boston Calling, reactions ranged from majorly psyched to cautiously skeptical. A fest of this nature is usually held in a rolling field somewhere bucolic and, you know, fest-y—not in a concrete office-plex like Government Center. However, Boston Calling went off with nary a hitch, and has since evolved into a biannual three-day-party drawing thousands of people and some seriously major national talent—The National, fun. and Passion Pit, to name a few—to City Hall Plaza. Who needs Coachella when you can a hop the T to a huge-ass music fest in your own backyard?
Allston Rock City also happens to be home to excellent jazz. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Scullers has hosted big names like Arturo Sandoval, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones. But discerning jazz aficionados know it’s also a great place to catch both rising stars and seasoned vets—from soloists to swinging big bands—in intimate digs where you can sup, sip and drink in views of the Charles.400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston (617-562-4111) scullersjazz.com
Courtside Karaoke happens every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the sprawling back room of a dingy dive where wizened drinkers hold court at the bar. This is karaoke as it was meant to be sung. The master of ceremonies takes his job seriously, making sure that no show-boater hogs more than his fair share of the mic, and affably brusque waitresses serve up pitchers of cheap beer and cheaper bar snacks to long folding tables of singers and attentive listeners. In short: perfection.291 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-547-4374) courtsidekaraoke.com
Brighton Music Hall
If you want proximity to a band about to blow up, catch a show at Brighton Music Hall. The rock club—which filled the gap left in Allston when Harpers Ferry closed—serves as a pivotal jumping-off point for both local and nationally touring bands on the rise. Artists who’ve graduated from small-scale clubs like T.T.’s and Great Scott stop by Brighton Music Hall (which offers that same feeling of intimacy with more space) before launching to grander venues—think past acts as varied as Canadian garage-rockers Japandroids, Berklee-trained songstress Betty Who, and indie-folk outfit Typhoon. Plus, the club occasionally books massive touring acts that drop in for an afterparty (notably, a midnight bash with Diplo).158 Brighton Ave, Boston (617-779-0140) brightonmusichall.com
Turning a movie into a musical can be tricky. While there have certainly been success stories, from Billy Elliot to The Lion King to The Producers, in recent years we’ve seen more misses than hits. (We’re looking at you, Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark.) Happily, Kinky Boots falls squarely in the former category. In fact, thanks to Cyndi Lauper’s killer score, it actually improves upon the original tale of a down-on-his-luck factory owner who saves his shoe business with help from a savvy drag queen. The show took home six Tonys in 2013, including Best Musical, so we’re sure it’ll make a smashing finale to Broadway in Boston’s upcoming season. Get your tickets early, folks; this one should sell out.
Nonfiction Book by a Local Author
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Harvard professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore adds another item to her impressive resume with her groundbreaking portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister, a mother of 12 who lived in the shadow of her celebrated brother. Through little-studied letters, documents and portraits, Lepore paints a lively picture of the “other” Franklin, revealing her to be as interesting a subject as her famed sibling—who wrote more letters to her than he did to any other person, but who didn’t mention her once in his memoirs.
Novel by a Local Author
The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell
Northeastern professor Jeremy P. Bushnell’s debut novel is a quirky, wildly entertaining commentary on the state of the struggling young writer, and to accomplish it he didn’t even need a leg-up from any dark forces (that we know of). The Weirdness follows a downtrodden would-be fiction writer who awakes one morning in his Brooklyn apartment with a nasty hangover and a nastier visitor: the devil himself. Lucifer is ready to grant him a big book deal in exchange for a little favor. No success comes without cost, however, and Bushnell’s witty debut is a fine, slightly meta exploration of that bargain.
Radio Show (Streaming)
This Is 617 on Vanya Radio
When WFNX folded last year, Boston lost a platform for promising local bands. Vanyaland, a music blog captained by former Boston Phoenix music editor Michael Marotta, has stepped up to fill that void with Vanya Radio, a live-streaming online station. And while Vanya Radio spins buzzy alt, indie, electro and hip-hop jams all day, tune in at 6 am, 1 pm and 7 pm for This Is 617, a showcase of all the local bands you should be listening to right now.
Radio Show (Terrestrial)
Matty in the Morning on Kiss 108
The Top 40 hits that Kiss 108 spins in steady rotation aren’t unique to the airwaves, but the station’s long-beloved Matty in the Morning show certainly is. Mixing the latest Katy Perry jam or One Direction pop power ballad with sharp, snappy pop culture commentary and more energy than any of us poor commuters have before 9 am, Matt Siegel and reliable sidekicks Lisa and Billy continue to provide as much jolt to our mornings as a shot of espresso—and then some.
Run for Cover Records
In case you haven’t heard, there’s an emo revival (well, another one) happening as we speak, and Boston-based label Run for Cover is at its forefront. No longer the whiny domain of angsty teens with black eyeliner and way too many feelings, emo is being reinvented by a new generation of hungry young bands. Run for Cover founder Jeff Casazza has an ear for the genre, and he’s helped some talented outfits—Tigers Jaw, Modern Baseball and Seahaven, to name just a few standouts—put out some excellent recent albums. Get educated: Emo isn’t dead; it never was.
The Sinclair has been open for a little more than a year, but it took less time than that to establish itself as the best thing going in this town’s music scene. We have our fair share of venerable rock clubs, but the Harvard Square powerhouse is the only one where you can catch an awesome show, have a good meal and grab an expertly crafted drink all in one place. The fact that you can saddle up to an attractive bar with an estimable cocktail program between sets is just an added bonus when you consider that the Sinclair has its booking on lock, consistently billing great artists that span genres.52 Church St., Cambridge (617-547-5200) sinclaircambridge.com
Speakeasy Stage Company
If one were to visit Boston’s official Theater District—and stop there—one might think big-ticket, nationally touring productions like The Lion King are all we’ve got. And yes, we have those (and love them). But our theater scene is as rich and varied as our city, with local companies like SpeakEasy quietly producing some truly outstanding work every year. Case in point: SpeakEasy founder and producing artistic director Paul Daigneault scored a well-deserved Norton Award for Sustained Excellence this year—excellence demonstrated by productions like this past season’s New England premiere stagings of Tribes (which took home a few awards of its own) and The Whale.
A.R.T.’s All the Way
A three-hour play about Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency does not sound like a premise for a rousing theater experience. But oh, how wrong you’d have been to miss American Repertory Theater’s remarkable production, starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as LBJ, wheeling and dealing to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. Cranston’s formidable star power and layered portrait of the former president would have been enough to make this a winning production. However, the entire cast and crew rose to the occasion, breathing life and intrigue into dense material and taking it, well, all the way to the top—and to Broadway, and two Tony Awards, after a sold-out run in Cambridge.