Since Downtown gets most of the attention, it's easy to forget that there are events going on in other places, too. Busiest of all is the family-run Village Playhouse in Mount Pleasant, which has three highly recommended plays running at the moment.
Shipwrecked is an entertaining show for all ages but also explores the themes of truth mixing with fiction and the fickle finger of fame. It's well acted and unlike anything else in Piccolo Spoleto.
Souvenir is a comedy about the worst singer to ever hit the big time, Florence Foster Jenkins. Susie Hallatt — actually a very talented singer — has endeared audiences to her clueless character, and the slight premise holds up well throughout the show.
Like Shipwrecked and Souvenir, [title of show] is based on real events. [title] is a great example of what can be done with just four actors, four chairs, and a few cheap props. The cast put a huge amount of energy into their singing and acting, telling a true story that is relevant to contemporary audiences. Although it has musical theater in-jokes, it's fun for non-Broadway fans to watch and a symbol of low-budget Piccolo ingenuity.
Bowen's Island Restaurant off Folly Road has one more event before the festival ends. Saturday Night Fish Fry is a blues bash featuring Louis D, Ed "Porkchop" Meyer and Smoky Weiner & the Hot Links. The restaurant, a long-time local fixture, is a great location for blues and swing music. As a bonus, you get an ample bite of fish to go with your Weiner.
Over the last two weeks, Piccolo Spoleto’s Blues & Jazz series covered a lot of ground and a variety of musical styles. Charleston Jazz Initiative’s Legends festival touched on some of the great players, composers, and historical events of the Holy City’s early jazz days. Gary Erwin’s Early Bird Blues Series at Mad River hosted 13 local and regional acts during a hoppin’ happy hour in the Market. The Charleston Jewish Jazz Ensemble delivered a mix of Klezmer and swing at the Brith Sholom Beth Israel Synagogue last week. Ann Caldwell and her combo returned to the Chuma gallery with jazzy blues and gospel sets. Two harbor cruise boats — The Carolina Belle and the Spirit of Charleston — held jazz and blues concerts on the water.
Presented by the Jazz Artists of Charleston (JAC) as part of Piccolo’s Blues & Jazz series, the Upstairs at McCrady’s series ( at 2 Unity Alley, off of East Bay Street) has been a great success, drawing full-house and crowds in the Gallery Room for a variety of jazz performances. Many of sets sold out. They’ve presented 11 acts so far, and they have two more to go. The Cobblestone Quartet — veteran Charleston sax man George Kenny — performs tonight (Thurs. June 10) at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Admission is $20 (advance) and $25 at the door. On Fri. June 11, the Charleston All-Stars perform a finale set at 8 p.m. Special guest drummer Ron Free — a Charleston native and underground legend who first made his mark in the N.Y.C. jazz scene in the late ’50s and early ’60s —will be on hand alongside pianist Tommy Gill, bassist Kevin Hamilton, and other local players. This event is already sold out.
Check the Blues & Jazz page at piccolospoleto.com for more.
A quick tip: if you want to catch the JAC Jazz Series at McCrady's Restaurant, book your tickets in advance. Both the 7 and 10 p.m. shows have been selling out at the small Unity Alley venue. On Monday, the Charlton Singleton Sextet had peddled all its tickets long before audience members arrived at 6:30 p.m.
So if you want to hear any of this week's performances by Tenor Madness, the Cobblestone Quartet, or the Charleston All-Stars (featuring Ron Free), grab a ticket before they're all gone.
The Early Bird Blues gigs at the Mad River Bar & Grille have also been very well attended. It's advisable to get there early if you want a good seat for the last set of the festival, Rev. Marv Ward & Congaree Wednesday at 5 p.m.
I got the chance to see conductor John Kennedy at work recently, rehearsing Arvo Part's haunting "Fratres" for the Intermezzo series.
John talked about his intended audience, the opera Proserpina (which he also conducted), and his opinions on the festival music program in general.
Emmanuel Villaume has chosen Memorial Day to drop a bombshell. At a Spoleto Festival board meeting this morning, the Christel DeHaan Music Director for Opera & Orchestra announced he would step down from his position at the end of the current season.
"I love this Festival deeply," he told the board, "and I have always said that if I could not give the organization what I consider to be the necessary time, I would step down from my position."
Villaume's schedule is crammed with work as Chief Conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, and gigs as an internationally revered guest conductor. Something had to give, and that something is Spoleto.
A core component of the festival's classical concerts, Maestro Villaume has been the festival's Music Director for Opera & Orchestra for nine years. He has an association with Spoleto going back to 1990 with a production of Le Nozze di Figaro. General Director Nigel Redden is optimistic about Villaume returning as a guest conductor in the future.
The Maestro's influence on Spoleto should not be underestimated. The Festival Orchestra is considered one of the country's best, its high pedigree maintained by a strict and exhaustive auditioning program. The Spoleto organizers will be hard-pressed to find a replacement who's as much of a draw, and as dedicated to the festival as Villaume.
There are two chances to catch him in his final year as Music Director: tonight conducting performances of Ravel and Strauss, and June 6 for Beethoven, Mozart and Wagner. Both concerts are at the Gaillard Auditorium.