JOPLIN, Mo. —
This is more like it.
2011 featured some great moments, but many of them were directly related to the tornado. It gave us a lot of satisfaction to see Joplin’s entertainment scene get back to normal in 2012, with a solid lineup of great music, theater and events.
Here are some of the events and happenings this year that went above and beyond.
Theater has a surprisingly strong presence in the Joplin area, from the high-school departments in Joplin, Webb City, Pittsburg and other area schools, to the professional groups such as Joplin Little Theatre and Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre.
This was a good year for the stage around the region:
- Joplin Little Theatre presented a wonderfully acted play about art called “Art.” Acting veterans Kevin Babbitt, Greg Swartz and Jim Lile delivered the play’s dialogue effortlessly and sublimely.
- Also at Joplin Little Theatre was “The Robber Bridegroom,” a brilliant fusion of Broadway and bluegrass. The stark set gave room for the chorus to color the stage with beautiful music and a clever story.
- Political interest drove a particularly relevant production of “1984,” a stage adaptation of George Orwell’s sci-fi classic shown at Stone’s Throw Dinner Theatre. Director Ray Goepfert made sure to schedule the show a few weeks before the presidential election -- its criticisms leveled at both sides of the political aisle called for it.
- Stone’s Throw also put on an ambitious production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic “The Mikado.” Director Shanti Navarre had the chance to tweak the script of the Victorian play, but she left it alone, and the results on stage were compelling.
- Stained Glass Theatre began a capital campaign to build a new theater on land donated by Mercy Hospital. Despite not having a home, they produced a great run of shows on many stages around the region -- the biggest of which was a production of “A Christmas Carol,” presented earlier this month at Taylor Performing Arts Center.
The seasons aren’t over for these groups -- more great plays, such as “Laundry and Bourbon / Lone Star” at Joplin Little Theatre and “Nana’s Naughty Knickers” at Stone’s Throw, are coming early next year.
One show that stood out was so good it had to be staged twice: Once in February and again in November.
“Let’s Swing!” is a revue of big-band music from the 1940s. Arranged by Cecie Fritz, the revue features classics of the World War II era, a chapter in music history in which Fritz loved to play -- in addition to directing, she was also the show’s pianist.
Medley after medley featured classics, from “In the Mood” to “Blues in the Night"; from “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” to “Take the ‘A’ Train.” The show also included a tribute to U.S. troops at the finale.
The show did so well on its first run in February that Joplin Little Theatre brought it back in November for a fundraiser. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up again around Independence Day next year.
One of our long-standing complaints is the lack of movie variety available in the region. Our only Joplin theater has 14 screens, but terrible variety. Those of us who love movies are resigned to road trips or waiting for video when Oscar favorites and other indie greats are released.
A Joplin couple changed that. Jennifer and Chad McKeough started Joplin Electric Theater and gave us a great selection of movies to watch throughout the year, from award-winners to cult favorites.
The theater has already earned a following of loyal viewers who watch whatever’s shown and talk about it afterward. To their credit, the McKeoughs created more than a theater -- they created a community.
There isn’t a shortage of good music in the area. But one family has turned its living room into a concert hall.
Every few weeks, Reed Dunn and his family transform their living room into an auditorium that seats about 40 as part of the Joplin House Concert Series. Featuring a variety of musicians, the family’s house concerts have become a must-see staple.
Getting in is tough because space is limited. But the range of musicians, from Mark Bilyeu to Eine Blume, lets the series offer some truly unique music.
For a guy that took a lot of heat for his lyrics about “getting his ass out of town,” Christofer Drew has brought a lot back to town.
The lead singer and founding member of Never Shout Never, who found success on MTV, has started Loveway Records, a record label/event company that had a busy year in 2012:
- Drew and Ben Bauder released their first album as Gonzo, a techno-dance group that let both get their geek on.
- Growing an event started in 2011, LoveDaze 3 featured almost 20 acts from techno to metal, including Never Shout Never, Remnants and Last Chance Casanova. The festival was held outdoors at Riverside by Hollyhaven.
- In October, the Ganesha Theatre opened with a Halloween costume night. The venue on Seventh Street has featured several successful fundraisers and some great concerts. It’s non-alcoholic policy keeps the venue all-ages.
- Loveway is working to sign several local acts, including Me Like Bees, a band that went on a countrywide tour with Never Shout Never.
- A music video for Never Shout Never’s “Magic,” a single off its new album “Indigo,” was filmed at Blackthorn Pizza and Pub and featured magician Reza. It debuted on MTV as a “Buzzworthy” video on Oct. 23.
Ganesha is expected to grow and offer a variety of shows in 2013. The group hasn’t forgotten about events, either -- another LoveDaze festival may be in the works for next year. But already, the group has brought a major music presence to Joplin, and it’s exciting to see the potential.
Heartland Opera Theater usually fills smaller rooms with expertly performed revues and burlesques, such as “Hot Scandals,” a revue that got more risque with each song, and “The Last Five Years,” a musical that MSSU graduate Stephanie Harter Gilmore had wanted to perform for years.
But “Hansel and Gretel” blew them all away with its sheer size. It featured a little bit of everything, including dancers from a Webb City ballet school, a children’s choir, sets built by theater instructors from MSSU and PSU and cast members from several states.
Featuring an operatic, English-language retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the production floored attendees -- we heard countless spectators rave about the quality of the music.
Heartland Opera Theatre has “A Little Mozart” coming in April. We’re crossing our fingers that they put on another show like “Hansel and Gretel.”
Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School’s new performance hall brings with it another great set of offerings.
TJ students broke in the new stage in April with a production “Hello Dolly.” Since then, the theater has offered music and drama, from the large-pupped Mermaid Theater to singer Jubilant Sykes. Upcoming performances in 2013 include Boston Brass and Tonic Sol-fa.
Though we enjoy concerts at Buffalo Run and Downstream, we were excited to see the Arkansas Music Pavilion expand in 2012. The facility moved from a mall parking lot to a dedicated facility at the county fairgrounds.
That move means a bigger stage, easier access for bands, better lights, more parking and an easier area to manage. All that means it becomes an attractive place for actively touring bands to play.
Look at this lineup that played the Amp in 2012: Cake, Daughtry, Wilco, Five Finger Death Punch, Gavin DeGraw, Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Colbie Caillat and Big Gigantic. Those are all bands that are either legendary or no more than a couple of years removed from their latest albums. If they aren’t at the forefront of their careers, they are still riding a wave of respectability that resonates strongly in current music.
To have bands of that caliber playing only 90 minutes away is huge for Joplin. It makes Fayetteville just as much a practical concert option as Springfield, Kansas City or Tulsa.
A unique, literary event got started across the country this year, and Joplin residents took part.
World Book Night allowed people to give copies of some of their favorite books away to other people for free. Local reading fans gave away copies of “The Stand,” “The Hunger Games,” “Friday Night Lights,” “The Book Thief,” “Ender’s Game” and more to complete strangers.
The goal is to get books into the hands of new readers and share the love of reading with reluctant adult readers, according to the group’s website. Local givers fell in love with the idea and were quick to sign up.
Held on April 23 to commemorate the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes, the day is also aligned with UNESCO’s International Day of the Book. The Joplin Public Library served as the area’s organizational HQ.
Casinos up game
A little friendly competition never hurt anyone.
We’ve said this before: We’re pretty sure that officials with Downstream and Buffalo Run casinos would never publicly pit their entertainment lineups against each other.
But behind the scenes, there has to be some friendly rivalries going on. And both casinos snared some pretty big names this year.
- Buffalo Run snared some actively touring rock bands in addition to a lineup of legends, including Loretta Lynn, Glenn Campbell, Hellyeah, Hinder and Buckcherry. Those last three are capstones in a lineup of modern acts.
- Downstream also featured a lineup of classics, including Chicago and country-rock innovators Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. They also paired a legend with a rising star when Randy Travis and Kellie Pickler performed. But the biggest surprise show featured barely any music: Comedy ventriloquist Jeff Dunham brought his cast of characters for a show in September.
A spooky collection of events capped off a year for a performing group without a home.
Dream Theatre, a production group led by Becki Gooch, played historical stars in Murphysburg’s annual DickensFest and led haunted history tours during spring break.
But a collection of spooky events broke new ground for the group. Strangler’s Grove featured a haunted trail, haunted history storytelling and a festival complete with vendors. The company put an unused park to good use in October, and planted seeds for what could become a bigger Halloween-themed festival in the future.
2012 was a good year for fundraising events, such as Dancing with the Joplin Stars and a concert to benefit a memorial scholarship in the name of Seneca Black Elk Matthews.
Two events took us back in time:
- An inaugural event benefiting the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks featured ‘80s tribute band Members Only. The Springfield band is excellent at what they do, and they gave an evening of terrific throwback entertainment.
- Blast from the Past returned after a four-year hiatus. Once known as the social event of the year (back in the day, it couldn’t be contained to just one event -- it was spread out over four days), the event returned with a new beneficiary: Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Way Beyond Events continued a series of breaking new ground for annual events, including a St. Patrick’s Day festival, Oktoberfest and a hip-hop festival. It also paired with the Downtown Joplin Alliance to hold Flavor of the 4 States during a Third Thursday in September.
The cancellation of this year’s Boomtown Days gave a dog-related event some puppy-like growth. Originally Dogs in Downtown was going to feature a group of stunt dogs performing. But then singers Tiffany and Tony Lucca got booked, and the event got so big they moved it to Landreth Park.
The events may not have brought as much success as organizers hoped. But we give Way Beyond Events a lot of credit for giving all their events solid attempts. Coming up in February is an expo dedicated to man caves. We’re there.