By Don Cuddy
Standard-Times Staff Writer
It was a very big deal for New Bedford in October 2005 when Lily Tomlin took the stage at the Zeiterion to open the performance season, the venerable theater’s first under the guiding hand of the newly appointed director Katherine Knowles.
It had been a long time since this city had hosted one of the biggest names in show business, but as the sellout crowd that night amply demonstrated, New Bedford was hungry for more.
The following year another big star, Whoopi Goldberg, opened the season. Since then, the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center’s cachet has increased as the list of performers who have trod the boards has grown longer and more impressive.
“The success of the Zeiterion has now become a source of pride to the community,” Ms. Knowles said last week as she unveiled the program for the 2008 season.
The lineup coming to the Purchase Street stage this season promises to add to the Z’s prestige and bolster its claim as a venue capable of competing with Boston or Providence in attracting not only world-class performers, but performers from around the world.
“Our responsibility as a performing arts center is to serve the interests of a very diverse community,” Ms. Knowles said of her choices.
There is certainly no lack of diversity among the performers either. Choirboys from Vienna, monks from Tibet, dancers from Montreal, acrobats from China and bluesmen from the Delta will all take their turn on stage between opening night Oct. 11 and next June. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but Ms. Knowles believes that the audience for internationalism exists on the SouthCoast.
“When we began booking, people went only to the shows that interested them, but now we see that people are willing to try everything,” she said.
There is also plenty of variety in the kind of entertainment offered by the 32 headliners scheduled to appear.
Music of all kinds predominates, from Afro-Cuban to Celtic to rock opera but theater, dance, comedy and illusionists are included, in addition to a number of shows geared towards both families and children.
“When I put the programming together, I don’t have a conscious theme, but once it is complete one always seem to emerge,” Ms. Knowles said. “This year, obviously, Brazil is going to play a big part in our celebrations.”
The season opener will be the renowned Milton Nascimento along with the Jobim Trio.
“Milton Nascimento is one of the great artists of our time. When I found out he was going to come, I wanted to stand on my head,” Ms. Knowles said. “This will be his only Massachusetts appearance.”
This show will no doubt sell out quickly as it is also being widely advertised in the larger Brazilian community in Massachusetts.
Mr. Nascimento’s tour celebrates the 50th anniversary of the bossa nova, a style that exerted a major influence on jazz musicians in the United States when it emerged from Brazil in 1958.
A festive night is planned for the opening, with dancing in a tent outside the theater after the show and Brazilian food and drinks available beforehand.
Continuing the Brazilian theme, Dance Brazil, a company form Bahia, will bring a taste of “carnaval” to the SouthCoast in February while the Parsons Dance Company show in November is titled “Nascimento” and was developed in collaboration with, and as a tribute to, Milton Nascimento.
Sure to please the Portuguese community will be the return of fado singer Mariza.
“Mariza is a mega-star internationally,” Ms. Knowles said. “She had the option of performing in Boston or here and she chose to come here because of the reception she received on her last visit when both of her shows sold out.”
The 46 members of DRUMLine Live, playing brass and percussion and streaming down the aisles of the Zeiterion, are guaranteed to generate considerable excitement when they play the venue in March. Derived from the tradition of the marching bands at America’s historically black colleges, “DRUMLine Live” comes to the Z for the first time, promising a high-energy show.
A more laid-back evening is in store when Arlo Guthrie takes the stage in November. The legendary folkie has bestirred himself with the release of an album, his first in 12 years, scheduled for next month and a tour to support it. His next appearance after his stop in New Bedford will be at Carnegie Hall.
In an election year, it seems only fitting that some political satire be included. The Reduced Shakespeare Co. presents “The Complete History of America” on Oct. 12. The timing is no accident. “I thought around mid-October we might all need a few laughs,” Ms. Knowles said.
From further afield, a group of musicians from Africa, led by Bela Fleck, will be here in April. Mr. Fleck’s Africa Project is the newest venture for the celebrated banjo wizard who has won numerous Grammys for his playing and is now exploring the origins of his instrument. His travels in Africa led to a collaboration that produced his current band.
A performance of sacred music and dance by the Tibetan monks of the Drepung Loseling monastery will conclude the season, but their appearance will be no one-night stand. Over the course of a week the monks will create a mandala, an intricate pattern of colored sand, that is to be specific to New Bedford.
The public will be invited to watch them at work and to create one of their own. During their New Bedford visit, Tibetan prayer flags will be hung around town and a photo exhibit featuring Tibet is planned at the same time.
“The closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon will be something that nobody should miss,” Ms. Knowles said.
“When the mandala is finished it will be left intact for just one second since they believe that life is temporal. Half of the sand will be then put in bags and given to the community and the rest will be taken and thrown into the water.
“I have witnessed this ceremony and I have seen how it can bring a community together in so many ways.”
For complete information on the schedule, visit www.zeiterion.org
September 07, 2008
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080907/LIFE/809070322/-1/SUB04
By Don Cuddy