Best of Kansas City 2016: Arts & Entertainment
1735 Swift, North Kansas City
Adam Roberts and Brent Miller are among the upper echelon of creative forces in Kansas City. This dynamic duo runs Screenland Armour, Screenland Crossroads and Tapcade and puts on one of the best beer fests in the city, Arts & Crafts. There’s also the horror-film bonanza Panic Fest. And now comes Shock Treatment, an interactive horror experience in North Kansas City’s budding downtown. Shock Treatment is an immersive experience — it’s like a real-life Resident Evil — so get ready to outwit zombies, hunt for ghosts and fight for survival. Who doesn’t want to be the star of their own horror flick? Thanks for Roberts and Miller, we all can be.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Kansas City Actors Theatre, kcactors.org
Cinnamon Schultz, a veteran KC actress whose name is synonymous with good work, managed to turn us inside out with her deft and heart-wrenching performance as the tragic heroine Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ iconic A Streetcar Named Desire. “A capital-L Leading Lady,” we called her, “a luminary,” so taken were we by a transcendent performance in which she reset the parameters of her already solid reputation. Surrounded by a skilled cast, Schultz’s Blanche anchored — no, dominated — Streetcar, realizing this primary character’s complexity with a dexterity and a pathos that made the warhorse play newly touching.
Best Musical About a Disorder
Next to Normal
Musical Theater Heritage | mthkc.com
Musical theater meets mental illness in Next to Normal, a moving and sometimes funny portrait of a woman’s battle with bipolar disorder — her attempts at treatment, its effects on her family. The production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical at Musical Theater Heritage, directed by Sarah Crawford, was both intimate and powerful. In its typically semi-staged format, with few embellishments, MTH extracted the show’s essence, its intelligent lyrics and compelling compositions, with a talented six-piece band (led by Jeremy Watson) and a strong cast (Ashley Pankow, Ben Gulley, Corbin Williams, Robert Hingula, Paris Naster and Daniel Verschelden), revealing the ups and downs of the illness with humor, gravitas and candor — and bringing the audience right along with them.
Best Showcase of Young Talent
Spinning Tree Theatre | spinningtreetheatre.com
Oh, those long-ago years in middle school and high school and all their travails. Who wants to revisit all that? Turns out, we do — when it’s Spinning Tree Theatre’s painlessly entertaining and funny musical 13. The comedic drive down those years’ bumpy and memorable lane was smoothed out considerably by outstanding performances of 19 bona fide middle- and high-school stars of the future, who happen to be doing high-level singing, dancing and acting now. It didn’t hurt that they were under the direction of Spinning Tree co-founders Michael Grayman and Andrew Parkhurst — been-there, done-that theater pros themselves who are clearly able to ID new talent when they see it.
Best Family Night at the Theater
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre | metkc.org
When we say a particular person loves drama, we don’t typically intend it as a compliment. But a play by Tennessee Williams is the kind of drama we can embrace, especially when it’s produced with the skill and focus that Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre brought to bear on its revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In this instance, the tumult involves a family in all its revelatory dysfunction — resentments, rivalries, self-interests, mistreatments and, perhaps most sad of all, an inability to connect. With an outstanding cast — Ellen Kirk, Matt Leonard, Scott Cordes, Kelly Main, Chris Roady and Nicole Green in primary roles — under Karen Paisley’s adept direction, this Cat exerted a tight hold on the audience and touched a collective nerve. It was a night of excellent theater, a highlight of the season.
Best Delayed Discovery
Kansas Repertory Theatre, Lawrence
We were late. Kansas Repertory Theatre, in Lawrence, debuted in 2014 with two summer productions, and we missed them. It produced two summer shows in 2015, and we missed those, too. So we’re grateful that we were educated in time for the 2016 summer season, in which the company again staged two plays — this time, Harvey and Angel Street — in exemplary, true repertory fashion. Though part of the Department of Theatre at KU, Kansas Rep “operates as a professional company,” assistant professor and director Peter Zazzali says. That means guest directors (including, this year, Kansas City’s John Rensenhouse), Equity and visiting actors (including, this year, Michael Samuel Kaplan from New York and Jeanne Averill), alongside faculty and students. It’s a rich mix, and it made an impression, one that will have to hold us till we visit again next year.
Best One-Man Marathon
Buyer & Cellar
The Unicorn Theatre | unicorntheatre.org
The charismatic and, in this case, energetic Seth Golay ran the show in the 95-minute, one-man Buyer & Cellar, in which his Alex, an actor with a background in retail, gets a gig manning an underground Main Street-like mall on Barbra Streisand’s estate (should she decide to go shopping for her own swag). It was the Unicorn’s holiday show and it was funny, a fast-moving, nonstop run of quips and dialogue that left this actor no time to let up. Golay kept apace, morphing into a cast of characters throughout a physical, all-consuming enactment and bringing us wholly into Alex’s world. He was sensitive, sarcastic, funny and vulnerable in an endurance test of a performance that’s memorable still.
Best Original One-Man Fringe Festival Play
Crazy Horse: a Dream of Thunder
Fringe Festival | kcfringe.org
We recognize the name Crazy Horse, but what do we know of the man? Playwright and actor Sam Wright lent a view in his one-man play Crazy Horse: a Dream of Thunder, a vivid reimagining of the Oglala Lakota warrior — as a youth and as an adult — and his fight for the survival of his people. It’s a personal story, delicate in details of tribal life — coming of age, hunting, courtship — and both heartbreaking and riveting in its depictions of betrayal and war. Wright did it all, solely portraying the famous tribal leader as well as a community of characters — family, elders, peers, enemies — through gesture, voice, movement and the simplest of props. Under the direction of British actor-director Nicholas Collett, Wright’s Crazy Horse held us from the start, looking to his audience — his ancestors, he thought — for help and guidance. We didn’t have answers, but Wright, through his exceptional skill, rendered a sad part of U.S. history with a piece of poetic storytelling.
The cast of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s Parade had already impressed us. Then Vaughan Harrison — in his MET debut — opened his mouth and brought down the house. Harrison’s cream-smooth vocals and peerless musical precision (as janitor Jim Conley) stole the show in a cast full of titans. Frankly, it almost felt a little unfair to everybody else. Casting directors, take note.
Kansas City Actors Theatre | kcactors.org
Clones — they’re all the same. Except when they’re not, as we saw in A Number at Kansas City Actors Theatre. The fascinating and chilling sci-fi drama starred two actors “at the top of their game,” we said — Gary Neal Johnson and Matthew Schmidli — as a father and his son(s), respectively. In the quick-paced one-act, skillfully directed by Mark Robbins, Schmidli’s three characters — the “original” son and two of his clones (the script alluded to yet more) — emerged in contiguous scenes with such distinct personalities and behavior that we might have suspected Schmidli clones. It was all Schmidli, of course — who, opposite his talented co-star, metamorphosed before us to lasting effect.
Best Costume Design
Georgianna Londré Buchanan
Whenever we see costume designer Georgianna Londré Buchanan’s name on the program, we know we’re in for a visual feast. This year was no exception: Londré Buchanan engineered two season show-stoppers. Her detailed fat suit for The Whale riveted and repelled, the microbead rolls jiggling and jostling with uncanny verisimilitude. And her haunting Santa Muerte costume — vivid colors, sumptuous accents, an imposing silhouette — for The Ghosts of Lote Bravo chilled our blood each time the character entered.
Every now and then, an actor gives a performance so impeccably, compellingly detailed that the line between stage and seats disappears. This year, that was Phil Fiorini, whose marathon performance as Charlie, a 600-pound writing teacher with a heart as tender as it is swollen, anchored the Unicorn’s production of The Whale. Fiorini’s physical portrayal was masterful: He carried the weight with punishing accuracy, sweating like a triathlete and groaning like an Olympic power lifter. More impressive was the way he carried the part’s emotional weight. Conversations with his cruel teenage daughter broke our hearts; conversations with his students buoyed them again as we saw him step into a more confident self. Now that’s a heavyweight champ.
Best Sound Design
Sound designers rarely get the attention they deserve — mentions in reviews can be few and far between (and often only when something goes wrong). But David Kiehl owned our ears this season with a series of memorable soundscapes at different theaters. A string of cues for Santa Muerte’s entrances in The Ghosts of Lote Bravo conditioned us to flinch at a dog’s bark. Gentle whale song and soft transition music tugged at our heartstrings in The Whale. And perfectly balanced mics in Pontypool made John Rensenhouse’s silken voice a little more luxurious.
Best Fringe Production Design
Freak Up the Street
Fringe Festival shows have tight budgets and even tighter rehearsal schedules. So we were all the more impressed by the polished, immersive production design of Billy Blob’s Freak Up the Street. Blob’s intricate creations included a curiously cuddly paper possum, a cartoonish barbecue, and David Bowie albums enlarged to the size of their influence. The props and set pieces were wildly imaginative and enchantingly executed — a Fringegoer’s (Technicolor) dream.
Best Theatrical “Tiny House”
Roof of the World
What do you do with a script set in multiple countries, climates and homes? If you’re scenic designer Jack Magaw, you hit the road with a literal trunk show. Magaw’s rotating set for the epic Roof of the World packed multiple, richly detailed interiors into a compact cube fashioned after a steamer trunk. At times, the trunk itself became an elevated stage for rooftop chases and scenic mountain views. (A trapdoor allowed for rapid-fire scene changes.) Tiny houses are already making headlines. Props to Magaw for marrying form and function in his stylish “tiny set.”
Best One-Woman Show
Marilyn vs. God
Playing an icon (let alone one as beloved as Marilyn Monroe) can give even the most seasoned actors butterflies. It’s easy to get bogged down in imitation and ignore that old Sanford Meisner saw about “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Fortunately, Heidi Van mastered both. Her performance in the one-woman Marilyn/God was an emotional endurance test, showing us Monroe at her most impetuous and vulnerable. Van’s rock-solid vocal work — and Jeff Church’s sensitive direction — made Marilyn a star all over again.
Cynthia Levin and Missy Koonce
Hypothesis: Directors Cynthia Levin and Missy Koonce have as much fun collaborating as we do watching the result. Evidence: Heathers: the Musical, in which Levin and Koonce led a competent production team to moments of transcendent theatrical magic. Snappy choreography, slow-mo fight sequences and vividly witty tableaux kept us howling through the infectious late-1980s nostalgia. Every inch of the set was used, and every scene was blocked with microscopic detail to maximum effect. The result was nothing short of “Big Fun.”
Best Comedic Performance by an Actress
How to Steal a Picasso
This season was full of sharp comedic performances, but Cathy Barnett earned top honors thanks to her performance as Belle, the flaky matriarch in How to Steal a Picasso. Barnett held her own in a family of eccentric artists; she fussed, needled, cooed and squealed through each emotional hairpin turn. And despite the cartwheeling script, Barnett never stooped to mere zaniness. Her precision and commitment made even Belle’s wackier schemes seem inevitable — earning some of the show’s biggest laughs along the way.
Best Comedic Performance by an Actor
Hand to God
Sharp comedic timing is hard enough to master when you have only one character to worry about. Add a second, and you have your hands full — if you’re Bob Linebarger, literally. In Hand to God, Linebarger portrayed both Jason, a sheepish Sunday-school acolyte, and Tyrone, a “possessed” hand puppet, often in the same scene. The jokes and physical gags always landed, thanks to Linebarger’s light-switch vocal work and expert puppet control. Degree of difficulty: Simone Biles routine. But Linebarger made it all look easy.
Best Third Friday
916 East Fifth Street
Kiosk Gallery, in Columbus Park, isn’t a big space, but it packs in some of the most interesting art in Kansas City. Relying on the ingenuity of local artists rather than banking on the commercial potential of the work, Kiosk feels like a place where you’ll make a discovery. Better yet, it puts up its openings on third Fridays rather than at the chaotic start of the month. Programming like the Black House Collective — an experimental-music residency — gives the gallery a sense of freedom and variety that frees itself, and you, from the typical art-on-the-walls format.
Best Surprise From the Past
Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Temptation of St Anthony”
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art 4525 Oak | nelson-atkins.org
“The Temptation of St. Anthony” was long believed to have been painted by an admirer of Bosch rather than by the man himself, sometime between 1500 and 1510. It has the trademark surrealist religious humor for which Bosch is celebrated, including what looks like a funnel with legs attacking a bird-fish hybrid as the saint calmly gathers water in a jug. Recently, however, deeper examination of the piece, including an infrared reflectogram to study the underdrawing (no, seriously), revealed it as an original. Thus a piece at KC’s biggest, most admired museum turns out to be a brand-new worldwide attraction, a surprise addition to the small body of work — about 25 paintings altogether — we know were truly Bosch’s. This revelation brings the total count of Bosch works in the United States up to about seven, and further elevates the Nelson’s prestige.
Best WTF Movie Series
Cannonball Roarers Psychotronic Films
Occult weirdness, D-list erotica, obscure Hungarian animation — such is the what-the-fuck red meat of this low-flying monthly series. Curators Jaclyn Dalbey and Matt Lloyd have a reputation for taking the audience on whirlwind trips down hallucinogenic hidey-holes and into the murky minds of certain delusional filmmakers. Somehow, they know facts that should be unknowable about cinema familiar to only a tiny fraction of the brave, the curious and/or the stoned. Most of the movies take place inside Holy Cow Market, at 31st Street and Cherry, but other events are shrouded in secrecy. It’s worth asking around to join this cult.
Best Hidden Gem
2011 Baltimore | cerberagallery.com
Bringing hard-to-come-by art to the public is no easy task, but the Crossroads’ Cerbera Gallery delivers. The shotgun room is packed with unexpected treasures — an unusual Tara Donovan here, a palm-sized Beth Cavner there. That the space is so small only adds to the allure; you’re seeing things you don’t expect to see, in a context that is itself unexpected. Bonus: The curation feels irreverent, refusing to stick to any single aesthetic. Why should Cerbera, after all? Why should any gallery?
Best Iffy-for-Kids Puppet Show
Shitty Guy Theater
When this troupe decides to be kid-friendly, the name switches to Shady Guy Theater, but make no mistake: Shitty Guy Theater, which made its first public appearance late last August and has since taken on gigs at Rabbit Hole and some children’s parties, isn’t clowns and cakes. The concept of the theater is inspired by Victorian parlor games: The players hang a white sheet in a doorway and light it from behind, projecting the shadows of bodies and props. Strobe lighting is as high-tech as things get, really — when, say, a sketch calls for the actors to contain a rapidly growing ball of energy. That requires imagination on both sides of the curtain, which sounds more illuminating than, you know, more video games.
In his moving and complex third novel, The Good Lieutenant, Whitney Terrell, assistant professor of English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, uses an ingenious story structure and multifaceted characters to give us what has been called “the Bush wars’ best novel.” Following Lt. Emma Fowler from the moment a doomed rescue mission goes awry, the story’s chronology moves backward, explicating Fowler’s motives and her romantic relationship with a fellow lieutenant, Dixon Pulowski. Terrell uses his book to raise numerous ethical questions that don’t have easy answers, especially with regard to wartime decision-making and complicity. Still, the novel never loses sight of its characters’ essential humanity, making its conclusion all the more powerful.
Best Bittersweet Change
Paul Tyler’s retirement
Former ArtsKC Grants Director Paul Tyler is the kind of person who can recognize you from 20 feet away whether you are tromping out of the grocery store or “in context” at an opening or a performance. You think you hear your name. You pause, then hear your name again. And when you turn around, ah, the warmest greeting and in-public hug ever, outside the grocery store. Tyler is so dedicated to his job — even though he retired with much fanfare and deeply sincere feelings of pre-loss in May, after 14 years as a grants administrator — that he can pick out KC’s artists and art-minded figures years and years after he last encountered them. He worked at ArtsKC before it acquired its streamlined current name, lending knowledge of what other cities had done and were doing to bolster their arts communities. Then he helped make it happen here. Under Tyler, the community-wide ArtsKC Fund campaign did more than the measure that failed twice at the ballot box (bi-state cultural tax) — more for our artists, museums and midsized arts organizations than perhaps many people know. Is it vulgar that making art takes money and not just time? Time is money, right? Tyler will reassure you that every artist can use some help. And he steered the grants program with integrity and with an alacrity that made all those long hours (reviewing applications, attending interview sessions) seem as joyous as the performances and exhibitions he seemed never to miss. The best function of art is to bring about pure feeling and new thought, and we want to acknowledge publicly and in this very small way our gratitude for how much Paul Tyler has made this possible for so many of us.
Best Reason to Quit Your Damn Job and Look at Art All the Time
The NCECA Conference
Kansas City got to host the 50th-anniversary Conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts this past spring. It was a big deal. You can still download the 23-page gallery guide to the exhibitions, if only to reminisce about what you saw and kick yourself about what you missed, presumably because you were busy working. Of note was The Garden Party, at the Belger Arts Center (2100 Walnut), which featured stunning works by Kim Dickey, Rain Harris, Jessica Knapp, Kyle Triplett and Casey Whittier and stayed on view into the summer. We also fell in love with Emily Connell, whose “petrified” books in Vade Mecum at the Kiosk Gallery (916 East Fifth Street) captivated with their delicate-seeming solidity.
Best Show You Didn’t Know You Needed
Alone & Together: Colette & Jeff Bangert
Kansas City Artists Coalition
When the Kansas City Artists Coalition (201 Wyandotte) mounted its expansive exhibition of the 50-year career of Colette and Jeff Bangert — who produced “computer art” when that term was new and needed to be enclosed in quotation marks — most of us probably had never heard of the artist and her mathematician husband. All this time later, though, Colette Bangert, a KCAC founding member, has thousands of works in her Lawrence studio. So it’s no surprise that KCAC director Janet Simpson found the task of selecting the works for this retrospective daunting and inspiring. Collette, in her 80s, is still working, and she has been a master at self-documentation along the way: The binder of press clips, gallery guides and other retro-fonted material that was on a pedestal during the exhibition was a delightful slice of local art history.
Best Place to Insta-Culture Yourself
The Folly Theater
300 West 12th Street | follytheater.org
Sometime during the Christian McBride Trio’s Folly Theater finale, a slyly unironic reading of Rose Royce’s Bicentennial classic, “Car Wash,” it occurred to us that live music doesn’t get any better than this. Wait, isn’t that what Bill Shapiro says on KCUR whenever he books one of his Cyprus Avenue Live shows at the Folly? Pretty sure that’s just how he puts it. Well, he’s right — as long as we’re talking about the full Folly calendar (not limited to the stately events connected to Shapiro’s boomer-magnet radio show). McBride, the bass genius and superconnected jazz ambassador, was here in April, playing to a full house not too long after we’d had all kinds of elbow and leg room at a piano recital lightly attended by eager music students and a couple of dozen folks who clearly see their names printed in all the glossy programs at all the venues, somewhere between “thank you” and a dollar sign. Tell you what, people: Keep writing those checks to the Folly and the entities that keep us dressing up and strolling into this classic old burlesque house. The Folly Jazz Series, the Kansas City Friends of Chamber Music, those Cyprus Avenue nights, the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey — like the song goes, ain’t no tellin’ who you might meet at the Folly. We love all of these series enough to wish we were big-checkbook types and not cash-and-carry English majors (You might not ever get rich/But let me tell ya it’s better than diggin’ a ditch).
Best Blues Venue
- Knuckleheads Saloon
- Green Lady Lounge
- BB’s Lawnside BBQ
Best Jazz Venue
- Green Lady Lounge
- The Phoenix
- Blue Room
- Harry’s Country Club
- Chez Charlie
- Offkey Karaoke Lounge & Suites
- Red Balloon
- Uptown Arts Bar
Best Local Album
- Katy Guillen & the Girls: Heavy Days
- The Philistines: Backbone of Night
- John Goolsby: The Midwest
Best Local Band
- Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
- The Greeting Committee
- Sterling Witt
Best Local 7-Inch Single
- The Greeting Committee: “Hands Down”
- Claire and the Classical Revolution: “In the Blue”
- The Conquerors: “You Must Be Dreaming” | The Uncouth: “KC United” (tie)
Best New Music Venue
- Madrid Theatre
- Prohibition Hall
Best Open Mic
- Knuckleheads Saloon
- Uptown Arts Bar
- The Tank Room
Best Outdoor Music Venue
- Starlight Theatre
- Crossroads KC at Grinders
- Knuckleheads Saloon
Best Place to Hear Live Music
- Crossroads KC at Grinders
- Knuckleheads Saloon
- The Midland Theatre
Best Jazz Artist
- Mark Lowrey
- Molly Hammer
- Hermon Mehari | Alex Abramovitz and His Swing’n Kansas City Jazz Band (tie)
Best Jazz Event
- 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival
- Saturday Jazz Brunch at the Phoenix
- Prairie Village JazzFest | SoJo Summerfest (formerly Jazz in the Woods) (tie)
Best Local Record Label
- Strange Music
- The Record Machine
- Unlabeled Records
Best Comedy Club
- Improv KC
- Stanford & Sons
- KC Improv’s Kick Comedy Theater
Best Fashion Event
- Kansas City Fashion Week
- West 18th Street Fashion Show
- Adorn Style Show
Best Improv/Sketch Troupe
- KC Improv/Kick Comedy Theater
- Lucha Raptor (Uptown Arts Bar)
- Ham Kitty
Best Live Theater
- Starlight Theatre
- Kansas City Repertory Theatre
- Unicorn Theatre
Best Local Actor (Living in KC)
- Ron Megee
- Rusty Sneary
- Victor Raider-Wexler
Best Local Actress
- Katie Gilchrist
- Vanessa Severo
- Cathy Barnett
Best Locally Made Movie
- The Stylist
- On Sight
Best Local Theater Company
- Kansas City Repertory Theatre
- The Living Room
- Kansas City Actors Theater
Best Movie Theater
- Alamo Drafthouse
- AMC Ward Parkway
- Screenland Armour
Best Performing Arts Group
- Kansas City Symphony
- Bohemian Cult Revival
Best Place to Dance
- Funky Town
- Missie B’s
- Shark Bar
- Twelfth Night, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival
- Heathers: The Musical, Unicorn Theatre
- Cluelessness, Late Night Theatre | The Gin Game, Kansas City Actors Theatre (tie)
Best Art Festival
- Plaza Art Fair
- Brookside Art Annual
- Art Westport
Best Local Visual Artist
- Ryan Wilks
- Sterling Witt
- Seth Jones
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
- The National WWI Museum and Memorial
- Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Best Art Space
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
- Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
- Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
Best Poet/Spoken-Word Artist
- Jeanette Powers
- Jen Harris
- José Faus
Best Public Art
- Shuttlecocks at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
- Art Alley
- Mini Vinnie Bini by Blanket Undercover
Best Fireworks Display
- KC Symphony Celebration at the Station
- KC Riverfest at Berkley Riverfront Park
- Corporate Woods
Best Radio Station
- 96.5 the Buzz
- 89.3 KCUR
- 90.9 the Bridge
Best Trivia Night
- Westport Flea Market
- Flying Saucer
- KC Trivia Geeks at Bricks Pub & Grub Lee’s Summit