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Best of A&E: Local movers and shakers like pop-up Parr, the new NorShor and more

Melissa LaTour's top A&E moment of the year was when she stumbled on local folky Charlie Parr playing at Electric Fetus. 2014 file / News Tribune

Some "best of the best" moments in the A&E scene this past year: a pop-up Parr show, a newly remodeled historic theater, an art exhibition worth getting lost in. The News Tribune asked local movers and shakers to talk about the memorable music, theater, visual arts and events from the past year.


Jonathan Thunder, "The Mishu Bizhiw Awakens" ("I was lucky enough to enjoy a few wonderful local events this past year. 'Manifest'o' by Jonathan Thunder, showing at the Tweed. I really like the installation. I found it magical and calming and go up there and sometimes sit on a bench and get lost in it.

"The play 'Angry Black Woman and Well-Intentioned White Girl.' This play was so ON POINT and humorous at times. I was happy to see how well-attended it was and grateful to everyone involved that brought it to our community. It for sure started much needed conversations."

CARLA HAMILTON's "Minnesota Nice" exhibition considered how humans are more alike than different. Jonathan Thunder's "Manifest'o" is at the Tweed Museum of Art through May 26. "Angry Black Woman and Well-Intentioned White Girl" is a two-woman show about the things that go unsaid between black women and white women: rights, power, politics.


The updated NorShor Theatre opened in February with "Mamma Mia!" 2018 file / News Tribune"The big A&E headliner for me was getting to see 'Mamma Mia' during the opening of the NorShor Theatre. There was so much energy and excitement while walking into the revived NorShor, grabbing some drinks, socializing and taking in the history of the place before watching one incredibly performed musical. I was seriously impressed with the level of local talent on stage — and under it! My seat was in the front and off to the side, so I got to watch the band and the singers perform a show of their own down there, too! Can't get that type of access without paying big dollars in the big cities, that's for sure."

DAN HANGER and his Fox 21 colleagues' awkward moment of banter ended up on the "Tonight Show." "Mamma Mia!" opened in February and was the first show at the newly remodeled NorShor Theatre.


"You know what knocked me out this year? The first show that 'Take It With You' did at the NorShor, back in July. It was the usual TIWY suspects — Mary Fox, Blake Thomas, Ryan Robert Nelson, Zach Stofer, Gracie Anderson, Matt Riehle — and of course the music was spectacular and the comedy worked, as always. But it was being in that space — on the stage of the newly remodeled NorShor Theatre, with that beautiful 'Music Man' set in the background — that made it especially memorable. Just seeing what that company has managed to do in the few short years they've been here, in that environment, and seeing how the community absolutely adores and supports them, well, that was special."

TOM ISBELL and theater students at the University of Minnesota Duluth revisited the original, award-winning Holocaust play "Dear Finder" 20 years after Isbell and a team of students wrote it. "Take It With You" is a podcast about characters living in a fictionalized version of Duluth.


"My favorite show for 2018 was found by accident in a sense. My partner and I were just leaving Pizza Lucé from an impromptu dinner date. We decided to stroll across the street to check out some records at Electric Fetus. I noticed as I opened the door that there was a crowd of sorts across the way along the far windows. Then I heard the voice. I looked at Carrie, who runs the Fetus. 'He just started,' she whispered.

"The surroundings were relaxed, and the local shop was comfortably crowded. There were many smiles on peoples' faces, including mine. I scooted toward the sound and stopped half way. I started flipping through vinyl and thinking of how lucky I am that I live in a city where local music flourishes and that same music is available on the daily.

"Though this artist sells out venues wherever he plays, Charlie Parr still manages to surprise us with his charm and vulnerability.

What a great accidental date night."

MELISSA LATOUR, director of Homegrown Music Festival and a member of the committee behind Femn Fest, stumbled on the internationally-touring folk singer in November.


"I loved the Wendy Rouse exhibition at Lizzards. She is one of my absolute favorite local painters, and her work never disappoints. For me, looking at her new paintings was like being a kid at Disneyland.

"A musical highlight was seeing Father Hennepin at the Hoop's Brewing Hoopla celebration this past summer. Such a fun band in such a fun setting, with amazing beer, food and prizes. It was the perfect Duluth day."

CHRIS MONROE wrapped up her 22-year comic "Violet Days" in February. Wendy Rouse's "What Goes Around" exhibition was at the Superior St. gallery during the Art for Earth Day Gallery Hop. Hoops Brewing Hoopla was in June at the brewery.


Gabe Mayfield (left) and Carl Crawford rehearse a scene from "Fences." File / News Tribune"The Honey Bee Folk Festival at Oldenburg House had a sweet vibe. The first-time event in Carlton focused on bee-friendly speakers, craftspeople, poets and musicians. Hosts Emily and Glenn Swanson persevered through a seriously soggy start and graciously shared their historic home and garden. They also initiated pollinator-friendly practices around town. I'm hoping the festival becomes an annual event.

"I am grateful I was in the audience for 'Fences.' Paul Deaner and Lake Superior Community Theater presented the August Wilson play in Duluth and in Silver Bay with an all-black cast. The mix of stage veterans, rookies — and a diligent crew — brought the story to life with extra poignancy. They offered a perspective on family dynamics, love and the African American experience rarely seen in the north. It was a powerful performance."

KAREN SUNDERMAN is the host of WDSE-WRPT's "Making it Up North," which returns for Season 2 on Jan. 10. She won the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council's Maddie Simon Advocate Award in May. Oldenburg House is a bed and breakfast in Carlton that, in addition to hosting guests, has a monthly jazz night and regular salons with guest speakers.


Dessa ("The most memorable A&E experience I had this year was at a Lake Superior Design event in February. The two-day program was stacked with myriad speakers, mostly involving design-centric themes. On the first day, the musical artist Dessa spoke to an intimate crowd at the Spirit Of The North Theater about her ideas on incorporating interactive elements into her shows. She was a powerful speaker, and it was moving to hear her talk about the intersection of planning and spontaneity in her creative process. After the presentation and a brief walkabout, we attended a packed Dessa concert at Sound (formerly Blind Pig, formerly Tycoons). Watching the artist perform and interact directly after hearing her speak formally about the process of performance and interaction was wildly inspiring."

ADAM SWANSON had an artist residency aboard the research vessel Falkor, where he captured science with art.


Renegade theater's "Oklahoma!" (Facebook photo)"I think director Mary Fox and the cast of Renegade's minimalist 'Oklahoma!' deserve another shout-out. Stripping that show down to four cubes and a dozen actors does something to the experience. Suddenly you viscerally feel the themes of imagination: wanting more for this home you love, and making the most of what you have. Casting gender blind and putting the women in jeans only further serves to bring that spirit to the here and now. It's not a perfect story, but those actors' spirit and joy made for a near-perfect telling of it. It made me wonder if this is how Rodgers and Hammerstein would've done it, outside of the expectations of their own zeitgeist. And I love any work that can make me see artists of yesteryear in a new light."

SIMON VANVACTOR LEE was among a group of University of Minnesota Duluth students who staged Shakespeare on the grounds of Glensheen this past summer. Renegade Theater Company's production of "Oklahoma!" played in October at Teatro Zuccone.