Time was, fall was about fresh beginnings: a new TV season, new dramas at theaters, college bands touring campuses. Now, all that stuff happens year-round, without a clean start or finish. It can be dizzying, but this is a good thing. Nostalgic tribute shows aren't limited to the summer stadiums anymore. World music erupts at clubs and not just outdoor festivals. You can find a breezy old comedy at a theater in autumn, not limited to summer-stock houses.
The number of big, familiar names passing through Fairfield County this fall simply boggles the mind. They range from one of America's best-known living visual artists to the devoted daughter who wrote the tell-all "Mommie Dearest."
Chuck Close, known for his hyperrealistic and hypersized portraits, has had an, ahem, "close" relationship with Connecticut for years. Lately, he's been mentoring art students at Roosevelt School in Bridgeport. This fall, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich (brucemuseum.org) is hosting "Closer: The Graphic Art of Chuck Close." The exhibit, running Sept. 28 through Jan. 26, 2014, concentrates on the artist's prints rather than his paintings or photographs.
Two of the most famous local-boys-made-good in Fairfield County history are represented at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport this fall. The Ringling Bros./ Barnum & Bailey Circus, which carries on the name and legacy of Bridgeport icon P.T. Barnum, is at the arena (websterbankarena.com) for eight performances Oct. 23-27, in between a spate of Sound Tigers hockey games. On Dec. 16, Bridgeport-born and Fairfield-raised music maker John Mayer plays the arena with opening act Phillip Phillips. Mayer's calling this his "Born and Raised World Tour," which will be a truer title here than anywhere else he plays in the world.
Fairfield Theatre Company (fairfieldtheatre.org) has really been giving the other concert halls in the state a run for their melodic money. FTC's fall slate ranges from Loudon Wainwright III (Sept. 14) to Beausoleil (with Michael Doucet, Sept. 25) to smooth jazz stud David Sanborn (Dec. 1) to British blues and R&B legends John Mayall (Oct. 6) and James Hunter (Oct. 27) to still-out-there pop stars like the Smithereens (Nov. 17) to several generations of folksingers, from Lucy Kaplansky (Oct. 11) and Richard Shindell (Oct. 26) and Patty Larkin (Nov. 1) and Judy Collins (Nov. 15) and Tom Rush (Dec. 8). Fairfield Theatre Club also books lots of local bands, film series and children's theater events.
You'll find a similarly diversity-minded sensibility at the Ridgefield Playhouse (ridgefieldplayhouse.org), where this month Graham Nash (Sept. 11), Sarah Silverman (Sept. 14) and American Idol veteran Crystal Bowersox (Sept. 15), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Sept. 19) and Leo Kottke (Sept. 20) all perform within days of each other. October events commence with folk-pop legend Richard Thompson (Oct. 2) to the Zeppelin tribute band Get the Led Out (Oct. 4) and comedian Colin Quinn's latest political monologue Unconstitutional (Oct. 5), country star Travis Tritt (Oct. 6) and a benefit performance of the new musical Kilty's Revolt (by Ridgefield's own Adam Safir) to benefit A Better Chance. Varied enough for you? November has Toad the Wet Sprocket (Nov. 2), Dweezil Zappa (Nov. 3), Bettye LaVette (Nov. 7), Giancarlo Esposito's one-man show RAW (Nov. 9), Video Games Live with composer Tommy Tallarico (Nov. 10), Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo (Nov. 12), playwright Tony Kushner (Nov. 14)… What can they possibly have at Ridgefield Playhouse in December? Would you believe New-Age punchline John Tesh (Dec. 21)?
Other all-purpose stages can be found at Quick Center at Fairfield University (fairfield.edu/arts/). The fall brings a production of Juan Mayorga's political WW2-set drama Way to Heaven Sept. 25-29, symphony concerts (Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Nov. 22; New Haven Symphony Orchestra Dec. 13), modern dance (Lar Lubovitch Dance Company Oct. 4), jazz (including a female triple bill of Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding Oct. 5) and blues (Taj Mahal, Vusi Mahlasela and Fredericks Brown all on Nov. 16) and celebrity curiosities such as John Lithgow's Stories by Heart show (Nov. 15). The Quick Center also screens the live video broadcast of New York's Metropolitan Opera and London's National Theatre; among the National's productions this year are Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein Nov. 1) and Rory Kinnear as Hamlet Oct. 24), each screened twice.
The Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport (theklein.org) offers everything from "Mantrafest on Tour" with spiritual musicians Deva Premal & Miten (Sept. 19) to comedian Ralphie May (Oct. 10) to an exciting season for the Greater Bridgeport Symphony in which the orchestra is led by various candidates vying to become its new musical director. On Oct. 26, Jonathan Govias leads the GBS through Beethoven's "Triple Concerto"; on Dec. 14 it's Eric Jacobsen conducting a different concerto (Violin Concerto in D-major) by the same composer.
Sacred Heart University's Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts (edgertoncenter.org) continues its celeb-studded "American Legends" series with Mitzi Gaynor Oct. 27 and Christina Crawford (who wrote Mommie Dearest about her mommie Joan) on Nov. 23. Of more recent vintage is comic actor Kevin Nealon, who attended Sacred Heart in the mid-1970s and will perform at a benefit show for the university's scholarship programs Sept. 20. The Student Affairs Lecture Series at the Edgerton opens Sept. 11 with relatives of Henrietta Lacks talking about the contributions that this once-unknown, now world-famous woman made to science due to her blood cells being used posthumously in countless experiments. On Sept. 18, it's a "Talking Baseball and Beyond" round-up with Dwight Gooden, Bobby Valentine and sportswriter Ellis Henican. A separate "conversation" series, sponsored by WSHU Radio, offers novelists Elizabeth (Eat, Pray, Love) Gilbert Oct. 18 and Wally Lamb (whose new book is We Are Water) Oct. 29.
The college stages could scarcely be more eclectic, and that anything-goes attitude permeates the community nightclub and theater scene as well. Two Boots of Bridgeport (twobootsbridgeport.com) has a schedule which ranges from merengue bands to fashion shows to weekly karaoke nights and indie-band showcases, not to mention the club's traditional Surf Nites. The Bijou Theater in Bridgeport has movies (befitting the building's cinema roots) but also live comedy (like Rich Vos on Oct. 18) and jam and tribute bands (Klassic Kiss komes Nov. 2).
Locals are aware that one of the best jazz rooms in the area is not a club or restaurant but an art gallery: the Westport Arts Center (westportartscenter.org), whose jazz series this fall features "Art of the Jazz Piano Trio" Sept. 29 (with pianist Nick Sanders, bassist Brian Torff and drummer Kurt Leon), and Giacomo Gates adapting his fluent "vocalese" to the works of Gil-Scott Heron and Miles Davis on Nov 10. The WAC also has chamber concerts, film screenings and, of course, art exhibits.
Downtown Cabaret Theatre (dtcab.com/), which once produced its own musical theater shows year-round before economic realities forced the venue to subsist largely on tribute concerts, has reasserted its theatrical side by banding together with the Bridgeport Theatre Company. That means that amid the tributes to the Rolling Stones (Oct. 5), Johnny Cash (Oct. 11-20), John Denver (Oct. 26), the Beatles (Nov. 1-Dec. 1), Neil Diamond (Dec. 7) and the Bee Gees (Dec. 31), this fall and winter will also bring BTC productions of Little Shop of Horrors (Sept. 13-28) and Dreamgirls (Jan. 17-Feb. 1). The "Kid's Stage" series continues with How I Became a Pirate Oct. 5-27 and Annie, Jr. Nov. 10-Dec. 29.
Musicals are commonplace at the community-based Curtain Call Inc. in Stamford (curtaincallinc.com). A schedule which contains both Fiddler on the Roof (Nov. 15-Dec. 14) and Spamalot may seem wildly diverse, but consider this: Fiddler premiered in 1964, just nine years before the film on which Spamalot is based, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Also on the Curtain Call season: "Interactive Murder Mysteries" Sept. 28 and again November 8 &9; the Kaufman/Hart ensemble comedy classic You Can't Take It With You Nov. 21-Dec. 1 and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire (Oct. 18-Nov. 3, days after a big-deal professional Connecticut revival of the same play closes at the Yale Repertory Theatre).
The Westport Country Playhouse (westportplayhouse.org/) operates according to the calendar year, not the academic year like many other regional theaters. The current season ends Oct. 8-26 with the riotous 1930s Broadway comedy Room Service, which was clumsily adapted into a film for the Marx Brothers. WCP artistic director Mark Lamos directs the show, a backstage-crisis farce which hearkens back to the days when shows were rewritten and rehearsed in hotels such as the Taft in New Haven. The Westport 2014 mainstage season doesn't kick in until next April, but the theater holds lots of one-night events in fall and winter, like the Script in Hand playreading series (Nov. 11 and Dec. 9, titles yet to be announced), children's theater (Madeline and the Bad Hat, Nov. 17) and circus theater (the two-man comic/acrobatic/magic duo Circo Comedia, Dec. 15).
You've got to love an autumn arts season with so much comedy and brightness in it.
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