A&E: Lingering effects: The year’s best A&E

When I came on board as IBJ’s arts and entertainment editor back in May, I had no idea to what degree critical coverage of Indianapolis’ cultural offerings would be embraced by the publication and its readers.

Well, I’m happy to report that the response has been terrific. And so, shortly after this weekly A&E column of reviews began appearing in IBJ, we launched a Thursday e-mail blast of previews and ticket giveaways (sign up for free at www.ibj.com/enews). That, too, has generated strong interest.

Then just a few weeks ago, “Lou Harry’s A&E,” the latest IBJ blog, was added to the mix. Almost immediately, the conversations became lively and interesting (you can lurk or join the fray at www.ibj.com).

With all of those continuing, 2008 looks like it’s going to be an exciting year. For now, though, let’s look back on 2007. In reviewing the year, I selected 11 of the best, focusing on those offerings with the strongest lingering effect. Of course, for every performance I caught, there are at least a half-dozen things I wanted to see that I missed-so if you don’t find something you loved on this list, forgive me.

Or, better yet, join me on the blog and we’ll discuss.

Until then, here’s my alphabetical list of 2007 highlights:

“Architecture: Real and Imagined.” This Indiana University Art Museum winner included a smartly selected, wide-ranging survey of architectural elements, artists’ interpretations of real structures, and visions of imaginary buildings. The format welcomed everything from a 4th-century B.C. sculpture to a Marcel Duchamp absurdity and an iconic New Yorker illustration. A new experience every few feet.

“Ashland Dances.” Joyful and inventive, the pieces developed during Dance Kaleidoscope’s stint with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival transcended their origins, fitting in very nicely on the Indiana Repertory Theatre upper stage. Poetry in motion.

“Emily Kennerk: Suburban Nation.” The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Forefront Gallery is now a must-stop spot thanks to exhibitions such as this, in which the up-and-comer took a biggie-sized, never condescending or obvious look at the ‘burbs. It’s the kind of exhibit that makes you really want to see what the artist does next. Eye-opening.

Savion Glover. Usually, we are happy with good and we are thrilled with very good. When already-legendary tapper Savion Glover came to town, we had the chance to bask in greatness. Awe-inspiring.

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Opening Night Gala.

When Metropolitan Opera-headlining Angela Brown partnered with her hometown orchestra, she was there to help launch the ISO season. But her soaring soprano-and the fully juiced instrumentalists-took audiences to dizzying heights. Magical.

“Lamentations.” This ambitious offering from Butler University Theatre included some of the most breathtaking and moving multi-sensory moments I’ve ever seen on stage. Visionary and soul-shattering, the fourpart exploration of loss, faith and survival raised the bar on what we can expect in Indy. Transformative.

“Smoke on the Mountain.” With an impeccable cast offering some of the finest performances of the year, tons of great music, and directorial restraint that respected the heart of the work and the integrity of the characters, Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre proved once again that, just because a theater has a carving station doesn’t mean it doesn’t also serve up outstanding productions. Joyful.

“Songs for a New World.” The surprise of the year came from Listen to the Music Productions, a group of upstart high schoolers who found the emotional truths in Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle-and brought along a terrific band for musical support. And additional kudos to Carmel Community Players, which supported the production and supplied the stage. Heartening.

“Stuff Happens.” Politics aside, the Phoenix Theatre’s ambitious production was the conversation provoker of the year, with Douglas Johnson offering an underappreciated performance as George Bush. Compelling.

“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Broadway in Indianapolis is, in part, at the mercy of what shows producers are willing to back in New York and then send on the road. This year, audiences were lucky to find this loopy treat in the mix. William Finn’s musical has its flaws, but as presented here, it never felt like it was built by committee. And the unknown cast created an endearing group of overachievers. Fun.

“A Year with Frog and Toad.” Since I just reviewed this show in last week’s IBJ, it feels a little redundant to say it again, but I will: Actors Theatre of Indiana’s production of this amphibious friendship saga was a gentle gift to Indy audiences. And “Alone” was one of the year’s most magical musical moments. Sweet.

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