Today, the Charleston City Paper's first issue of the 2016 Spoleto Festival hit the stands. Hopefully, you grabbed a copy before heading to the interwebs to see what was shaking with the Spoleto Buzz blog, and if you didn't, well, that's cool too. You have plenty of time and plenty of opportunities — and Lord knows, there are plenty of locations — to pick up this week's issue before the pre-game festivities kick off tomorrow night with a concert by string-band faves Old Crow Medicine Show, Thurs. May 26. I've never had much of a chance to listen to them in the past, but as a born-and-bred Upstater, not to mention a big fan of the western North Carolina Triple A radio station WNCW, I'm primed for their brand of old time-meets-new school American roots music.
But as much as I'm looking forward to letting my inner Appalachian hillbilly free to slap his knee and hoot and haller, Spoleto doesn't really get rockin' and rollin' until Fri. May 27 with the opening ceremonies at City Hall, 12 p.m. As a bonus, I'll to get to make the first of what'll likely be many pitstops at Fast and French, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Four Corners of Law. After that, it'll be time to catch the opening night of Porgy and Bess, a show I've practically lived and breathed since the festival lineup was announced in January. To actually see this thing in action has me feeling all kinds of feelings that I've never felt before. Needless to say, a few sips and few bites at Edmund's Oast before the show should keep this android's emotion chip from shorting out.
Although Porgy and Bess is hands down the most buzzed about show at Spoleto this year, there are plenty of other treats that have the City Paper office buzzing.
Take the festival finale with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (June 12). If you're a regular Bridge at 105.5 listener, then you are well acquainted with this soul-rock band thanks to spots on the playlist for two tracks off Rateliff's 2015 self-titled debut, "I Need Never Get Old" and the "S.O.B." The latter is sure to be a finale crowdpleaser, although it's not exactly blue hair and baby bottle friendly.
The Night Sweats aren't the only musical offering this Spoleto season — natch. There's a whole host of popular roots and jazz performances and plenty of opportunities for you to get your classical music fix. However, the Bank of America Chamber Music Series is almost always a highlight of the festival. Led by the ever-jovial and chatty Geoff Nuttall, the Chamber will be offering more than 10 performances throughout the fest, but three have really piqued our interest: Chamber III on May 31 with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (his rendition of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" delights with its cheekiness), Chamber VIII on June 7, because it's about Hayden and Nuttall loves him some Hayden, and Chamber X, because Geoff and company will be tackling Gershwin, who, as you know, also wrote the music for Porgy and Bess. Personally, I can never get too much "Summertime," so I sincerely hope Nuttall gives it a go.
The folks at Spoleto love puppets. Anyone who has ever attended the fest knows that. Year in and year out, they've got 'em. Now, we here at the City Paper, don't feel the same way. We've seen enough of these things to know that the chances of getting burned — OK, leaving the venue impressed but annoyed — are high. But one of this year's puppet offerings has got us excited, The Little Match Girl. Premiering May 29, The Little Match Girl combines shadow puppets with Helmut Lachenmann's otherworldly score to create a truly hallucinatory experience, a fitting proposition for anyone familiar with Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale of woe and an enticement for anybody who recently visited Colorado and came back with some medicinal gummi bears.
As one of the hosts of the Charleston Comedy Festival, we here at the CP love to get our laugh on. Which is why you're sure to find us tossing back inexpensive reds and guffawing until we wet ourselves at Theatre 99 for Piccolo Fringe. The one Fringe event that's at the top of our list: Big 'Ole Show (opens June 8). Starring Amber Nash (the voice of Pam Poovey on Archer) and Matt Horgan, this show skewers the South during the Civil War, and if you know us, nothing tickles our fancy more than getting Johnny Reb's goat — especially when there's love and lust in the air, hopefully, in this case, with an actual goat.
Speaking of Piccolo, PURE Theatre will be hosting the Southeastern premiere of Citizen: An American Lyric. I've been reading the work on which it's based — poet Claudia Rankine's 2014 award-winning book of poetry of the same name — and I guarantee you that this offering about being black in America will be shocking, heart-breaking, and eye opening. And given how Rankine's work references both Walter Scott and the Emanuel Nine, it's going to resonate with Charleston audiences in a way that few national works do.
Golem promises a "trippy and terrifying tale"
Tim Burton fans, dadaists, and circus freak lovers, the latest production by Spoleto's dark darlings the theatrical company 1927's Golem looks to be a trippy and terrifying tale that'll have you chanting, "One of us, one of us," before the show's over with. Or at least that's our hope. We loved 1927's Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2008) and The Animals and Children Took to the Streets (2012), so this satire about our obsession with gadgets, including this here laptop I'm writing this blog post on, is right up our demented alley. Visually, this may be the only show to rival Porgy and Bess.
For the past few years, Spoleto has scored with families by serving up Cirque de Soleil-esque circus performing. These types of things are fun to watch, but they generally don't offer up any more than that. In essence, they're amusing diversions that make us ooh and ahh the same way fireworks do, but generally speaking, they lack the conceptual heft to be genuine works of art. Fortunately, the days of the Spoleto circus seems to be behind us. If this makes you a wee bit weepy, you may want to catch Opposing Forces, a hip-hop, breakdancing show that dares to tackles the issues of gender and race in America. We don't know if it'll work, but we surely hope it does.
Speaking of race — a topic that dominates this Spoleto — Carrie Mae Weems' multi-media performance Grace Notes: Reflections for Now drew from the tragedy of the Mother Emanuel shooting as its inspiration, and for that reason alone, this one is high on our list of must-sees.
And finally, there's Every Brilliant Thing, which is quite literally the funniest — and most uplifting — play about suicide you've ever seen. Hyperbole, maybe. But I laughed out loud simply reading this play, so I just can't imagine how funny this heartfelt, audience-participatory romp will be. Consider this a trigger warning: You will laugh ... and you will cry. I'm a robot and even I leaked a little bit of oil.