Back in Business: Performing Arts’ Triumphant Return to Downtown Salt Lake
By Melissa Fields
After two years of cancellations, postponements and other COVID-19 shenanigans, the 2022-23 performing arts season in THE BLOCKS is, at long last, back to its colorful, talent-packed and thought-provoking normal. Though, in truth, ‘normal’ doesn’t do this season’s events schedule justice. As you’ll see below, downtown Salt Lake’s performing arts organizations have truly outdone themselves this season by putting together an unforgettably triumphant season of dances, concerts and plays.
If you’ve never witnessed a performance—or if you are lifelong fan—the Utah Symphony’s 2022-23 season is one you’re not going to want to miss. Bad news first: Thierry Fischer will step to the rostrum in Abravanel Hall as the symphony’s artistic director for his final time at the end of this season. Now the good news: Fischer’s farewell season promises to be a “monumental celebration” of his 14-year tenure in Utah. “In crafting this season’s programs and inviting our impressive guest artists, my hope is to give a gift back to our audiences who have given so much to us over these years,” Fischer says. “I want to explore musical moments to celebrate the orchestra’s creativity and it is my belief that this season will allow our community to feel the unparalleled power of live music like never before.”
In addition to the symphony’s ever-popular Masterworks, Entertainment and Films in Concert series, the orchestra’s fantastic slate of special events includes performances with Tony Award winner, Bernadette Peters; America’s Got Talent sensation Storm Large; two-time Grammy Award-winning vocalist Sylvia McNair; and Kevin Cole, praised as “the best Gershwin pianist since Gershwin himself,” whose performance will celebrate nearly 100 years of Rhapsody in Blue. Other special events include the symphony’s annual celebration of Hispanic culture with food, arts and crafts, and music by Latin American composers, led by spirited conductor Enrique Lopez-Yañez, at ¡Celebración Sinfónica!.
Not-to-be-missed: Fischer has tapped into the Salt Lake City community for his final performance as artistic director, scheduled May 26 and 27, 2023 at the symphony’s Abravanel Hall home. The Symphony No. 3 event will feature The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and The Madeleine Choir School.
Archetypal, family-friendly and modern are all apt descriptors for productions on tap for the Utah Opera’s 2022-23 season. “Opera directly reflects life’s emotions and the human condition in a way that few other art forms can,” says Utah Symphony | Utah Opera President & CEO Steve Brosvik. “With themes of romance, trust, heartbreak, family, growing up, work-life-balance, and so much more—all brought to the stage by some of today’s most gifted performers—our 2022-23 season is crafted to be meaningful and memorable for our entire community.”
Opera purists and newbies alike will appreciate two classics being presented by the Utah Opera this season: Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (October season opener) and Verdi’s Rigoletto (running in March 2023). For parents considering exposing their kids to opera for the first time, this is the season to do it. The Utah Opera will stage Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment for the first time in January 2023. This spunky comedy tells the tale of Marie, a young girl who grows up with not just one over-protective father, but a whole army regiment of them. Her adopted “dads” are firmly against her having anything to do with Tonio, the soldier she’s met from across enemy lines—and to complicate the situation further, a mysterious, aristocratic relative whisks her away to turn her into a lady and marry her off to a “proper” man.
Not-to-be-missed: Anyone familiar with the real-life drama endemic to the life of the late Steve Jobs is in for a treat with the Utah Opera’s final 2022-23 production, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (May 2023), which won a Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 2019. Utah Opera co-produced this new production by Tomer Zvulun with The Atlanta Opera, Austin Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Calgary Opera. This soon-to-be-classic chronicles how Jobs struggled with imperfections in his relationships and personal life while relentlessly dedicating himself to creating the perfect device.
Ballet West kicks off its 59th—and biggest ever—season on October 21 with the return of Onegin, a hauntingly beautiful, unrequited-love story based on the novel by Russian Romantic writer, Alexander Pushkin. Other productions in this brimming-over season include a triple-bill starring the American classic, Rodeo (originally on Ballet West’s schedule for 2020, but postponed until now for obvious reasons), performed alongside Concerto Barocco and Return to Strange Land; and a trio of always-popular family-pleasers: The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. “Throughout my tenure, I have worked hard to honor the legacy of our founder Willam Christensen while respecting the contributions of each one of my predecessors,” said Adam Sklute, who marks his 15th year as Ballet West artistic director this season. “At the same time, I work to bring our community great pieces from history and new, untried creations. My goal for every season is to present a well-balanced ‘meal’ with something for everyone.”
Not to be missed: Aficionados will have their moment with Ballet West’s triple-bill season finale, April 14-22, 2023, featuring the 100th anniversary of Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces (The Wedding)—a rarely performed, groundbreaking and HUGE masterpiece made up of, in part, by 40 dancers, a full chorus, four solo singers and four pianos. Jerome Robbins In the Night and Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain round out this spectacular performance trifecta.
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
If you live with a grade-schooler, then you’ve likely heard about Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s Virtual Dance days: live, 30-minute sessions hosted on Zoom by the company’s dancers and available for free for all children in Utah in kindergarten through 6th grade. Though Virtual Dance days are just a small part of what RWDC does, the effort seems innately expressive of this 59-year-old dance company’s mission of “furthering contemporary dance as an accessible and valued art form through performance and dance education that raise the standards, deepen the understanding and promote personal connections with dance.”
If you didn’t catch RWDC September 2022 season opener—the three-part Precipice featuring the first work RWDC Artistic Director Daniel Charon choreographed for the company after being appointed to his current post almost 10 years ago, titled “Everything That Changes” –don’t fret. There’s still lots to love about the rest of RWDC’s 59th season including choreographer meet and greets, Young Artists in Motion workshops and, of course, two more concerts.
Not-to-be-missed: The three-part Here Today, running January 2023, will include a reimagined “Full View,” a dance-for-camera piece created during the pandemic by Molly Heller, founder of the multi-disciplinary Heartland Collective and assistant professor within the School of Dance at the University of Utah alongside “Scenes for an Ending” by Raja Feather Kelly, a Brooklyn, New York-based and nationally renowned, Black, queer, dancing, writing choreographer and director, and “Rites: Come As You Are” a community piece by Charles O. Anderson, founder of the Philadelphia-based dance theatre X and professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Both Raja’s and Charles’ vision fit into our repertory and feel like incredibly relevant conversations to our time,” said RWDC Artistic Director Daniel Charon. “Molly’s research investigates performance as a healing practice and the relationship between physical expression and emotion. This point of view helps create a good balance between the three pieces on the program both thematically and in terms of style.”collective
Repertory Dance Theatre
Billing their 2022-23 offerings as “a season of connection,” Repertory Dance Theatre seems to be fully embracing the return of (mostly) normal operations after the last two difficult years. As such, this season RDT’s broad menu of programming is back in full force. Along with a full slate of company performances, the current season includes the ongoing Dance Center on Broadway classes, workshops and, of course, Ring Around the Rose.
RDT launched its 57th season in September with Quadruple Bill, an homage to Bill Evans, a Lehi native who served as RDT company choreographer and dancer from 1967 to 1974 and then took an advisory role thereafter. The company’s upcoming concerts, which promise to be just as special and creative as its season opener, include Sojourn (November 2022) and the season finale, Flight (April 2023). RDT will also present its annual community-focused concert, Emerge (January 2023), and competition/fundraiser, Regalia (February 2023).
Not to be missed: Four choreographic visions of community, contemporary issues and the nature of human relationships will meet with Sojourn. This unforgettable evening will feature a world premiere dance by 2022 Regalia winner, Tyler Schnese; Kaley Pruitt’s “Hold” (2021), created with the intent to orient audiences inside the present moment with attuned awareness of our humanity and greater connections; Natosha Washington’s searingly prescient “Say Their Names” (2018); and “Triptych “(2014) by Cherylyn Lavignino, made up of reverent, intertwining sections referencing spiritual icons against an original score by longtime collaborator, Scott Killian.
Plan-B Theatre Company
Making people consider the world in a different way by boldly creating socially conscious entertainment with a local point of view—as well as “global stories with a local perspective”—has been the mission of Plan-B Theatre Company since it was founded 30 years ago. The slate of plays and events Plan-B will present as part of its 2022-23 season leans into that objective as enthusiastically as ever. First up is the horror-comedy My Brother Was a Vampire by Morag Shepherd. Following is Go Home, Come Back, a heartwarming tale of second chances by Darryl Stamp, a member of Plan-B’s Artist of Color Writing Workshop. The season’s final play is Jenifer Nii’s tragically historic Fire!. Other events include free public performances of the children’s play, Ballet is for Aliens by Gerard Hernandez, Jenny Kokai and Oliver Kokai Means; Plan-B’s Script-In-Hand Series, free Zoom readings of plays in progress by Rachel Bublitz, Tatiana Christian, Jenny Kokai and Tito Livas; and Radio Hour Episode 16: The Case of the Missing Dog by Brandan Ngo, Plan-B’s annual co-production with KUER’s RadioWest.
Not to be missed: In 2010, Plan-B premiered Wallace, a pair of solo, one-actor plays about two figures in Utah history with the same first name. As part of that production Utah playwright Jenifer Nii told the story of Wallace Thurman, a major influencer in the Harlem Renaissance who happened to also be queer, Black and a Salt Lake City native. Nii expanded her original Thurman one-act into a full-length play which Plan-B will present in April 2023 as Fire!. Carleton Bluford, who played Thurman in Wallace (and who is also author of Plan-B’s The Clean Up Project) will reprise his role in Wallace for Fire!
Live at the Eccles
‘Eclectic’ just scratchers the surface in describing the entertainment lined up for the Eccles Theater’s Live at the Eccles shows on tap for this fall, winter and spring. From a chat with celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and a concert with Latin Grammy winner Lila Downs to an evening with The Blues Clues & You!, a musical ode to planet Earth and three evenings with Utah’s native son, Kurt Bestor, the Eccles Theater offers something for everyone, and then some.
Not to be missed: On November 1, Grateful Dead co-founder and one of rock’s finest and most distinctive rhythm guitarists, Bob Weir, will step onto the Eccles Theater stage with bassist Don Was and drummer Jay Lane (the latter two are known collectively as the Wolf Brothers), pedal steel guitarist Barry Sless and The Wolfpack, a string and brass quintet made up of Alex Kelly, Brian Switzer, Adam Theis, Mads Tolling and Sheldon Brown. This talent mashup will deliver an unforgettable evening of music combining the nostalgic familiarity of the Dead’s classic catalog infused with beautiful orchestral elements.
Broadway at the Eccles
Getting to see Broadway shows right here in Salt Lake City is, of course, the huge benefit of the large-production-ready Eccles Theater. This season’s Broadway at the Eccles lineup is jam-packed with classics and newer hits—four of which have not played in Utah previously. Local Great White Way purists likely have already scored tickets to Disney’s The Lion King, Moulin Rouge!, Les Misérables, Hairspray or even Beetlejuice. Dear Evan Hansen, which was rudely interrupted when the pandemic landed on Utah’s doorstep in March 2020, returns to the Eccles for a week at the end of February. And the new musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, promises to be a boogie-inducing stroll down memory lane.
Not to be missed: A production from Broadway at the Eccles’ current season sure to make audiences laugh, cry, sing out loud and be on their feet to both dance and applaud is TINA – The Tina Turner Musical, playing May 30-June 4, 2023. Turner, who grew up the daughter of sharecroppers and later endured years of abuse from at the hands of her former husband and band partner, Ike, went on to become the world’s bestselling live performer. Featuring her much loved songs, TINA – The Tina Turner Musical is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.