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A Bumper Crop of Boffo 

There was plenty of ballyhoo for 2002-03 when the fall arts season opened. Big anniversaries for Theatre Charlotte and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Notable premieres from Opera Carolina and the North Carolina Dance Theatre. New regimes at Charlotte Rep and Children's Theatre. The new Charlotte Shout pseudo festival showered us with hype, cunningly packaging the opening month of Charlotte's arts season and bringing us the mighty International Origami Festival.

Above all else, looming in the lordly distance, there was the month-long engagement of The Lion King capping off the PAC's 10th anniversary. It was a season to herald with a trumpet fanfare.

Well, instead of one loud trumpet, grab a handful of piccolos... 2003-04 is about to begin! Local performing arts companies are tossing away the big ceremonies, dealing with lower budgets and slightly reduced production counts. But pssst! the number of companies is growing, expanding the scene.

After last season's double dose of Disney, amusement park lovers will find it hard to go cold turkey for an entire Broadway Lights Series. No animals or cartoons at all! But there are a couple of truly fine musicals in the lineup, including Thoroughly Modern Millie (opening September 23), and one of the best touring machines of recent years returns, Miss Saigon (November 18). Subscribers may not be excited by Starlight Express (October 21) or next year's Oliver! (January 13), but I'll take them over last year's Lord of the Dance and Seussical. Gladly.

Tired of rollerblades and disco? Truly hip readers will be thinking outside the boxed subscription and opting for Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam (October 14) instead.

We had hoped that Charlotte Shout would mature beyond its booster club beginnings into a genuine arts festival. But an artistic director for the month-long event is still on back order. Aspirations to rival Spoleto Festival USA have vanished along with worthy performing arts events that are strictly Shout. With prestigious Johnson & Wales University a year closer to opening its Charlotte campus, the Shout theme for its Culinary Arts Experience has devolved into Blues, Brews & BBQ. Last year's CityVerve Jazz Heritage Festival has been scrapped in favor of a logo with a pig blowing a trumpet.

So the feisty Shout of 2002 has become little more than a hog call or a yawn in its own right. Sigh. Even the lovably obnoxious shower of press releases gushing from Charlotte Center City Partners has diminished to a trickle.

Still, we hoped last year that the birth of Charlotte Shout, though little more than a container for events already scheduled by local arts organizations, would become a catalyst that would encourage our companies to open their seasons with a bang. It makes wonderful sense to put your best foot forward at the start of the season, so that locals and out-of-towners will feel the impulse to climb aboard for the whole ride.

Gathering under Charlotte Shout's omnivorous umbrella, arts organizations around town do seem more determined to make sensational first impressions in the fall. Besides Millie and OperaBabes at Belk Theater, there's a bumper crop of boffo beginnings all around town. That's the good news.

Big Dog

Curbs Its BarkAfter a splashy season that dominated the local arts headlines, Charlotte Rep has cut back on the glitter -- and its payroll. Marquee names with Tinsel Town clout and Tony Award talent began parading onto the Booth Playhouse stage a year ago. Nobody with quite the stature of Hilary Swank, Andre De Shields, Marla Schaffel or Penny Fuller is slated to emerge from the Green Room this fall. Nor are meaty modern classics the likes of Glass Menagerie and M. Butterfly on the menu.Affable managing director Matt Olin greets you on the welcome page of Rep's 2003-04 brochure alongside producing artistic director Michael Bush. But Olin and dynamo director of development Anne Lambert were out the door two weeks ago and instantly replaced. There was some fanfare when Olin was lured to the Rep from Broadway's renowned Dodger Theatricals production company. His replacement, Deborah Fitts, came to Rep in 1986 as a volunteer -- from Acme Foods in Baltimore. That's showbiz.

But no theater has captured the BBQ spirit of Charlotte Shout better than Charlotte Rep. They're opening their new season with the official 20th anniversary production of Pump Boys and Dinettes (September 6), featuring the musical's original Broadway star and co-creator Jim Wann. For those who fondly recall Suzzanne Douglas from The Parent "Hood series on TV, Rep's production of Jar the Floor (October 18) will pump out an additional stargazing experience. Plus, there's our annual ration of A Tuna Christmas (November 29).

Theatre Charlotte gave subscribers something to shout about when they launched their 2002-03 season, ferrying in CP Summer Theatre talent for their production of Show Boat. They're sticking with that award-winning game plan this season, bringing in Billy Ensley to direct Evita (September 11). They're laying off the Bard this year, perhaps loaning him to the Rep, and sticking with brand name fare, most of which has been market-tested at CP in recent years: Witness Blithe Spirit (October 30), which is cagily programmed to coincide with Halloween.

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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