In a something for everyone approach, PBS is launching its first-ever PBS Arts Fall Festival. This multi-platform event will feature nine arts specials with online and educational content, highlighting the best of the arts in America today. Enjoy front-row seats in the comfort of your home to nine new shows, featuring ballet, opera, Broadway, the banjo, dance-theater and more.
The festival will start Friday, Oct. 14, with the first of nine events from around the country celebrating arts in the communities. The specials will air on Friday nights with the exception of Dec. 9. For each show (except for the operatic offerings, due to their length), mini films also will air to showcase the cultural scenes and performing arts organizations, giving viewers behind-the-scene background information into the performances. PBS member stations are enhancing their own local broadcast with additional arts content from their communities. All shows will begin at 9 p.m. EDT.
Celebrity hosts with connections to a particular locale will introduce the programs. These specials come from across the country, ranging from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Chicago, Seattle, Minnesota, Miami and the Gulf Coast of Texas.
Viewers can go to websites prior to the performances and whet their appetites with video clips covering many behind-the-scenes details, such as choreography, costume and set design, that will enhance their viewing experiences when the specials air.
Excerpts from programs are also available. One can find preview clips and trailers, background information, music clips and more. Parents will find access to this information helpful in determining which shows they wish their children to see, depending on their ages and maturity.
Here’s a snapshot of what to expect and who the celebrity hosts will be:
1. All aboard Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic, “H.M.S. Pinafore in Minnesota.” A nautical romp hosted by Rainn Wilson of “The Office,” "Pinafore" is a show the entire family can enjoy on Oct. 14.
2. Next stop is Seattle for American Masters' “Pearl Jam Twenty,” which chronicles the band since its inception. It will offer an inside view of Pearl Jam’s journey and celebrate its 20th anniversary as seen by director and music journalist Cameron Crowe. The host, film director Taylor Hackford has a passion for music. It will be shown Oct. 21.
3. Next, on Oct. 28, will be “Miami City Ballet Dances Balanchine and Tharp.” Actor Andy Garcia, known for his role in "The Godfather: Part III," will host this broadcast. Garcia has strong connections to Miami. He studied acting at Florida International University and maintains a home in the city.
4. The festival then goes to the banjo as portrayed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Narrated by actor/comedian/banjoist Steve Martin, “Give Me the Banjo” explores the banjo’s roots. It will include minstrel shows, ragtime and early jazz, blues, old-time, folk, bluegrass and country. It will cover the banjo from its beginnings in African slavery to the 21st century, featuring performances and commentary from contemporary folk musicians such as Earl Scruggs. Singer, songwriter and country music star Rosanne Cash will host this special on Nov. 4.
5. Prepare for an insightful dance-theater performance with American Masters' “Bill T. Jones: A Good Man.” Director/choreographer Bill T. Jones’s expressive creation, "Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray," is an original piece in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial. This event will be hosted by theater and television actress Anna Deveare Smith on Nov. 11.
6. In Cleveland, tribute is being paid to female rockers in “Women Who Rock.” Find out what it means to be a woman in the male-dominated world of rock and roll. Rocker Cyndi Lauper will host this event, which will include Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin and Lady Gaga on Nov. 18.
7. Los Angeles will share one of the great performances in opera. First up will be the rich voice of tenor PlÁcido Domingo in “Il Postino" from the Los Angeles Opera, sung entirely in Spanish. PBS will provide English subtitles. Linda Ronstadt, fluent in Spanish and skilled in many styles of music, from country, rock, Mexican folk, operetta and more, will host the special on Nov. 25.
8. Another operatic offering will come from a special in New York: “Andrea Bocelli Live in Central Park.” Bocelli will present a varied repertoire. Well-known in network news, the host will be Paula Zahn, who plays the cello and debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1992. The special will air on Dec. 2.
9. San Francisco will round out the festival with a performance of “The Little Mermaid” from San Francisco Ballet. Parents should be cautioned that this ballet is not for children. Although it is exquisitely executed, the tone and content is very dark, even frightening. A warning is even found on the San Francisco Ballet’s website. This "Little Mermaid" is nothing like its Disney counterpart. Its adult themes are strong, multi-layered and deeply disturbing.
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Choreographer John Neumeier, who also designed the sets, lighting and costumes, is relentless in his vision of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. He says, “Without darkness there is no light.” The dancing is remarkable, but despite brief moments of frivolity, very little light shines through. Olympic Gold medalist and Bay Area resident Kristi Yamaguchi will hosts the ballet on Dec. 16.
Salt Lake City’s www.kued.org is taking an opportunity during the national PBS Arts Fall Festival to focus on local arts stories on Friday nights. Check its website for more information: www.pbs.org