2016 in Review: Top 10 Amarillo arts events

Posted by Chip Chandler on
Amarillo Little Theatre's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
Photo by Chip Chandler

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

Amarillo's arts scene offered breathtaking exhibitions, rousing concerts and thought-provoking theatrical works in 2016.

Try as I might, I couldn't catch everything that the thriving scene offered. But the following is a sampling of the excellent work offered in the last 12 months, presented in chronological order. (Spoiler: February was an outstanding month.)

Annie: To be honest, Annie has never been one of my favorite musicals; in the wrong hands, it can get more than a little sticky-sweet. But the nationally touring production that was one of the highlights of Civic Amarillo's 2015-16 Broadway Spotlight Series toned down the typical cloyingness — and it had a secret weapon in Amarillo's Theresa Rowley, an ensemble member and understudy who performed as Miss Hannigan at both performances in town. Rowley was a dynamo in the role, and I suspect the Amarillo audience found itself cheering for the villainess over the curly-headed ginger orphan. Here's hoping Annie leads to bigger and better opportunities for Rowley. (Jan. 26, Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium)

BrundibarAmarillo Opera's production of this Holocaust-era opera, featuring a cast of talented student actor/singers, was moving enough on its own, but an appearance by concentration camp survivor Ela Stein Weissberger, who starred in the opera when it was performed in the Theresienstadt camp in then-Czechoslovakia, made the performance a truly profound experience. Despite the nightmare she lived through, she told an audience of school-age children that she still believes in hope and in the power of art and music to bring light to the world. (Feb. 4, Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts)

Cheech Marin: The actor and comedian loaned his renowned Chicano art collection to Amarillo Museum of Art for its Achievement in Art exhibition from January through March, then came to town to speak about his passion for art at a special February lecture. The collection itself was eclectic, impressive and surprisingly diverse, while Marin's discussion was both insightful and, as you'd expect, highly entertaining. (Exhibition: Jan. 31-March 27, Amarillo Museum of Art; Lecture: Feb. 9, Globe-News Center

Next to Normal: This rock musical, a heartbreaker staged by Amarillo Little Theatre in February, focuses on unimaginable loss and the morass of mental illness, but the catharsis it inspired was devastatingly beautiful. Stars Jeni Roller, Joshua Gibson, Brett Spalding and Chesley Hedger gave sensational, career-best performances in one of ALT's all-time greatest productions. (Feb. 12; ALT Adventure Space)

Liquid Roads: Modern American Dance Co.'s road show, brought to Amarillo by Lone Star Ballet, showcased powerful dancing, popping jazz music and invigorating choreography, capped by the sensational "Second Line," a dance interpretation of traditional New Orleans funeral processionals. (Feb. 13, Globe-News Center)

Big Love: Charles Mee's idiosyncratic, complicated adaptation of an ancient Greek tale, staged by West Texas A&M University, was a fascinating dive into gender politics and identity, capped off by bloody finale that was equally gripping and horrifying, as well as morbidly hysterical. (Feb. 18, WTAMU Happy State Bank Studio Theatre)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: ALT's production of this classic Edward Albee drama was explosively entertaining, mordantly funny and positively gasp-inducing. Don Washburn, one of the theater's stalwart actors, gave one of his best-ever performances, while Michael Froschheiser and ALT newcomer Marlee Wall more than held their own as the young couple drawn into a jaw-dropping head game. But the incandescent Heather Manderson stole the show in the most searing performance of the year. (April 8, ALT Adventure Space) 

Lightnin' & Mr. Hyde: Amarillo-based artists Lightnin' McDuff and Scott Hyde joined forces for a killer art exhibition at Process Art House, one of the last — and best — shows on view at the gone-too-soon downtown gallery. McDuff's whimsical steel sculptures paired nicely with a retrospective of Hyde's nearly eight-decade career as a photographer, painter and sketch artist. (May 13, Process Art House)

Side by Side: Larry Bell and Gabriel Dawe: AMoA brought the drama with this joint exhibition by unconventional sculptors Bell and Dawe. Bell played with light, bouncing them off of handmade Mylar knots that spun and sparkled in the second-floor gallery. Dawe made the latest in his site-specific Plexus sculptures, this one comprised of more than 35 miles of thread stretching more than 30 feet from top to bottom of the museum's three-story atrium. (July 15-Oct. 16, AMoA)

Amarillo Symphony featuring Mary Jane Johnson: Amarillo's own opera diva gave what she billed as her final full concert appearance with the hometown orchestra, offering local fans possibly one last chance to hear her stirring renditions of "Vissi d'Arte" and "Musetta's Waltz," among other treats. Though Johnson stopped performing full time more than a decade ago, her voice still delighted and thrilled. (Sept. 17, Globe-News Center)



Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.


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