Copious notes

Theater, music and dance make summer a busy time

Theater, music and dance combine for a busy time of year

Herald-Leader Culture ColumnistJuly 1, 2012 

The arts used to take a summer vacation in Lexington.

When I spent my first summer in the city, 15 years ago, the warm months were prime time to take a break from the arts beat and write stories about other subjects that interested me, including baseball, or indulge in coverage of pop culture coverage, such as movies and rock concerts at regional amphitheaters.

Nowadays, summertime in Lexington can keep an arts writer busy. School-year calendars wind down and formal "seasons" come to a close. But many theaters, including Studio Players and Lexington Children's Theatre, essentially produce year-round now, and new entities have come into and out of the mix to keep area artists busy all year.

It used to be a very segmented summer. June belonged to the musical revue It's a Grand Night for Singing. July was the Lexington Shakespeare Festival, and then August brought Ballet Under the Stars and Picnic With the Pops.

The Shakespeare festival was the big kahuna, running three weeks and attracting nightly audiences sometimes in the thousands. It was a gathering place for Lexington theater artists from all over the area, and its successor, SummerFest, remains that to an extent. Among its pleasures was seeing actress Anitra Brumagen, who primarily worked with Lexington Children's Theatre, taking the roles of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in successive summers, working with actors such as Roger Leasor, who tended to come out only for Shakespeare festival shows, and Adam Luckey, who was emerging at the time as a formidable local talent.

You could kind of chart Luckey's growth at Shakespeare, from a supporting role in Hamlet to Romeo to Iago in Othello to directing SummerFest's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream this year.

It was a time when Lexington's best theater talent came together and the city turned out in appreciation, with audiences topping 2,000 people a night for some productions.

SummerFest emerged in 2007 after the abrupt dissolution of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival in 2006. It maintains the tradition of summer theater in the park and much of the theater-community- reunion feel of Shakespeare, although a lot has grown up around it.

The summer of 2007 was a crazy season that had us asking how far the local acting pool could be stretched. Shows including Actors Guild of Lexington's Shakespeare at Equus Run popped up before SummerFest directors declared that they would carry on in the Arboretum.

Studio Players' annual summer musical has grown into a big summer event — the 2009 production of Always, Patsy Cline was the theater's most successful production ever, in any season — and Lexington Children's Theatre has turned the annual summer family musical, with an emphasis on families performing together, into an event.

The latest to join the summer theater mix are Paragon Music Theatre and now The Rep, taking advantage of the summertime emptiness of the Lexington Opera House to produce a big musical there, including 2010's hugely successful The Sound of Music. This August, it's Bye Bye Birdie.

There also have been various iterations of ensembles of teenagers and twentysomethings, including the Apprentice Players, whose productions included the youth-oriented The History Boys and SubUrbia, bringing some unexpected sophistication to the theater scene.

Maybe the most absent genre from the summer schedule was classical music, which was represented only by Picnic With the Pops, which often barely qualified as "classical."

Now, the summer is bookended by chamber music festivals; the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, on Memorial Day weekend; and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, on or near Labor Day weekend. Both bring world-class musicians to the region,.

Picnic With the Pops is undergoing a makeover, appearing for the third year at Keeneland in the lovely meadow behind the Keene Barn and boasting strong guests. (This year, it's a Las Vegas-style show, with jazz crooner Matt Dusk, on Aug. 17 and 18.)

Ballet Under the Stars has continued through the years despite upheaval in the local ballet world. In fact, it has been a gathering place the past couple of years or dance in somewhat the same way the Shakespeare Festival united theaters. Lexington Ballet and Kentucky Ballet Theatre have shared the Woodland Park stage, giving fans a look at both companies.

There still are natural lulls in the calendar, including this week, which brings the Fourth of July, and late August, between the start of schools and Labor Day. But the arts no longer take a long vacation in Lexington during the summer, which is good. If the arts are as important to our lives as we say they are, we don't want them to take a season-long break.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: rcopley@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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