MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Willie Nelson headlines an exciting array of talent that will light up the MSU Riley Center during its 2017-2018 Fall/Winter Performing Arts Series.
The 12-show series will also feature the hot young country-music duo Brothers Osborne, beloved storyteller Garrison Keillor, singer-songwriter Amos Lee, “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight and a joint appearance by two of the greatest vocal harmony groups ever, The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6.
An inventive theater company will re-imagine a classic romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility.” Urban Bush Women will push the boundaries of African-American dance. Traditional Irish band Danú will enliven the week of St. Patrick’s Day. And three Family Shows will charm everyone from kindergarten students to grandparents.
The Fall/Winter Series begins and ends with affordably priced Family Shows: Dallas Children’s Theater’s “How I Became a Pirate” on September 23, 2017, and “Three Little Pigs,” performed by Virginia Rep on Tour, on April 27, 2018. All performances will take place in one of Mississippi’s treasures, the beautifully restored Grand Opera House theater in historic downtown Meridian.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. except for the Family Shows, which start at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. on Saturday. This year you will be able to purchase a Family Series package of all three shows at a discounted rate.
“We always try to include something for every taste in each of our series, and I think we’ve outdone ourselves this time,” said Dennis Sankovich, the Riley Center’s executive director. “We’ll feature legends like Willie Nelson, Gladys Knight, Garrison Keillor, and a Christmas show with The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6. We’ll rock out a bit with Brothers Osborne and let our theater’s intimacy provide the perfect setting for Amos Lee’s very personal songs.
“Two tremendously creative ensembles will bring us a wonderful dramatic experience in the form of Aquila Theatre’s ‘Sense & Sensibility’ and powerful dancing with an African-American flair from Urban Bush Women. The traditional Irish music of Danú will put everyone in a St. Patrick’s Day mood.
“And our gorgeous, historic theater is always an attraction in itself. If you’ve been to a show, you’ve probably noticed me doing my favorite thing, which is visiting with our patrons in the lobby and the elevator. To see people so thrilled, so awed at what a special experience the Riley Center offers leaves me and all the rest of our staff incredibly gratified.”
After the comic musical “How I Became a Pirate” kicks off the series on September 23, humorist Garrison Keillor will spin his stories on September 28. October will be a big month for country-music fans. Willie Nelson and Family will visit the Riley Center on October 10. At age 84, Nelson has just released a new album, “God’s Problem Child,” that shot to No. 1 on the Billboard country chart. Those who like a harder-edged sound and working-man authenticity will love the October 20 show by Brothers Osborne.
November will bring Amos Lee, whose fans include such diverse artists as the jazzy Norah Jones and country’s Zac Brown Band, on the 14th. On November 17, another Family Show, Erth’s DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE, will feature extraordinarily lifelike puppets and onstage audience participation. A real treat awaits fans of the TV series “Glee” and other devotees of vocal music on December 7. The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6 will star two extraordinary ensembles harmonizing both separately and together.
“Sense & Sensibility” brings a fresh new stage version of the beloved 19th-century novel to the Riley Center on February 9. Urban Bush Women will present their unique style of contemporary dance on March 6. Danú, from counties Waterford, Cork, Dublin and Donegal in Ireland, will turn the town green (figuratively speaking) on March 13. And another musical Family Show, “Three Little Pigs,” will bring the series to a close on April 27.
The Riley Center offers a range of season-ticket options. Patrons can customize their own packages of shows and receive discounted prices and other perks. If subscribers lose or forget their tickets, the Box Office will issue duplicates on the spot. With a simple phone call, subscribers can also arrange to leave their tickets at the Box Office for friends, family members or clients.
Current season-ticket holders must renew by Wednesday, August 16, 2017 to retain the same seats. New season-ticket buyers can purchase full-season packages starting Monday, August 21. A smaller “build your own package” option, which includes a discount and early seating, is available starting Monday, August 28, for those who wish to purchase tickets to three or more shows. Tickets for individual shows go on sale Wednesday, September 6.
The MSU Riley Center thanks The Riley Foundation and Mississippi State University for their continuing support. They make the good times possible. Also providing support for performances during the Fall/Winter Series are South Arts, a nonprofit regional arts organization based in Atlanta, and New England Foundation for the Arts.
Dallas Children’s Theater How I Became a Pirate
Saturday, September 23, 2017
2 p.m. | $20, $12
When a real, live pirate ship interrupts a day at the beach, young Jeremy Jacob joins Captain Braid Beard’s scurvy but not so fearsome band of musical buccaneers. Pirates ignore table manners and never have to brush their teeth. But they don’t get bedtime stories or a goodnight kiss either. As Jeremy helps the pirates find a spot to bury their treasure, he learns about the real treasures of home and family. Such rollicking songs as “Green Teeth,” “I’m Really Just a Sensitive Guy,” and “Talk Like a Pirate” will have young mateys (and their parents) yo-ho-hoing with delight.
For fans of: the Melinda Long-David Shannon pirate books,Pirates of the Caribbean movies, children’s adventure stories
Thursday, September 28, 2017
7:30 p.m. | $63, $57
Tall and bespectacled, Garrison Keillor stands alone on stage, simply talking. To keep an audience rapt, he needs no co-stars, no costumes, no props, just his voice. That soft-around-the-edges baritone caresses each word as he tells his deceptively simple tales. His stage shows resemble the “News from Lake Wobegon” monologues from his beloved public-radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, from which he retired last year. Keillor’s stories unfold at a relaxed pace, mixing small-town vignettes, sharply observed commentaries about contemporary life, and even a little singing now and then. Like the children of Lake Wobegon, it’s all very much above average.
For fans of: A Prairie Home Companion, public radio, Jean Shepherd
Willie Nelson and Family
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
7:30 p.m. | $88, $82
Willie Nelson is coming to the MSU Riley Center this October. With a six-decade career and 200-plus albums, this iconic Texan is the creative genius behind the historic recordings of Crazy, Red Headed Stranger, and Stardust. Nelson has earned every conceivable award as a musician and has amassed reputable credentials as an author, actor, and activist. In April 2017, Nelson released God’s Problem Child, his latest studio album, with 13 new songs. Nelson continues to record more new songs for upcoming projects as well as tour throughout North America all year long.
For fans of: Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, George Jones
Friday, October 20, 2017
7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
Brothers Osborne concerts are like the all-night family jam sessions where TJ and John Osborne learned to play and sing as kids. Anything goes in terms of musical influences, and everybody has a great time. TJ’s country-flavored baritone lead vocals reflect the Osbornes’ upbringing in small-town Maryland. The lyrics to every song, from party anthems like “Let’s Go There” and “Rum” to the more poignant “21 Summer” and “Stay a Little Longer,” are grounded in that blue-collar reality. Meanwhile, John’s powerful lead guitar work and the band’s propulsive rhythms keep the sound big and bold. It doesn’t get any better than this: fun music that touches the heart.
For fans of: Chris Stapleton, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
7:30 p.m. | $68, $62
The MSU Riley Center provides the perfect intimate setting for the deeply personal music of singer-songwriter Amos Lee. His latest album, Spirit, emphasizes the soulful side of his folk-soul sound, showcasing what a New York Times critic called his “honeyed singing voice – light amber, mildly sweet, a touch of grain.” Lee’s lyrics deal with complex emotions, addressed with a restraint that only intensifies their impact. “All you can ask for as an artist is the chance to create what you hear and feel inside of yourself,” he said. With Spirit, he added, “I was able to get into the heart of every single moment of this record.”
For fans of: John Prine, Norah Jones, Ben Harper
Erth’s DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE
Friday, November 17, 2017
7 p.m. | $20, $12
Erth’s DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE guides you on a breathtaking tour that begins in prehistoric Australia. You’ll interact with amazingly lifelike dinosaurs in a theatrical performance that will thrill kids while stimulating their imaginations. Brought to life by skilled puppeteers and designed with the help of paleontologists, Erth’s DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE’s puppets are so realistic you may feel the urge to run and hide – but don’t! Because you won’t want to miss a minute of this fun, educational show, created by Erth Visual & Physical of Sydney, Australia. It may have been 65 million years in the making, but it’s worth the wait.
For fans of: dinosaurs, zoos, the Dinosaur Train TV series
The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6
Thursday, December 7, 2017
7:30 p.m. | $65, $59
Two of history’s greatest vocal groups have joined forces for a unique and thrilling musical collaboration. The jazzy Manhattan Transfer quartet celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. The gospel-infused Take 6 sextet came together 37 years ago at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Both groups get to perform separately, showing off the harmonic interplay that has won them eight Grammy Awards apiece. They also sing nearly a dozen songs together in a dazzling display of the pinnacle of vocal arts. The genuine respect and love the singers have for one another shines through, making each concert a joyous event for performers and audience alike.
For fans of: Pentatonix, Al Jarreau, The Four Freshmen
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
7:30 p.m. | $80, $74
Gladys Knight, the Empress of Soul and winner of seven Grammy Awards, possesses one of the richest voices in pop music. In the late 1960s and 1970s, she created a string of memorable hits, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Rolling Stone magazine listed her among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and she’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She loves to perform, beaming her trademark smile as she connects with audiences on an intimately emotional level.
For fans of: Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle
Sense & Sensibility
Friday, February 9, 2018
7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
Aquila Theatre brings its inventive touch to a groundbreaking romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. After their father’s death leaves them in reduced circumstances, the Dashwood sisters, levelheaded Elinor and passionate Marianne, repeatedly taste love only to have their hearts broken. Can they possibly find their way to a happy ending? Desiree Sanchez, Aquila’s artistic director, directs this adaptation of the beloved 1811 novel. Her innovative use of space, movement, design, and sound keep the story’s ups and downs fresh and fun for contemporary audiences. Aquila, based in New York but rooted in England, is the perfect company to update this beloved classic.
For fans of: Jane Austen, British literature, romance
Urban Bush Women
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
Urban Bush Women dance like nobody else, with high energy, athleticism, and an artistic vision that flows from the African American experience. Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar founded the Brooklyn, New York-based troupe in 1984. “I wanted a company that brought forth the vulnerability, sassiness, and bodaciousness of the women I experienced growing up in Kansas City,” she said. Urban Bush Women works with musicians, writers, poets, and other artists to create works dealing with the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of African Americans. Expect a feast for the eyes, sometimes emotionally wrenching but always uplifting, imbued with what the company calls “the bittersweet joy of survival.”
For fans of: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Judith Jamison, Dance Theatre of Harlem
DANÚ A St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
7:30 p.m. | $35, $29
One of today’s leading traditional Irish ensembles will celebrate the week of St. Patrick’s Day at the MSU Riley Center. Four Irishmen formed Danú in 1995. The band has been winning awards ever since for its sometimes lively, sometimes haunting explorations of Irish music. It has released eight albums and a live-performance DVD, all featuring virtuoso players on flute, tin whistle, fiddle, button accordion, and other traditional instruments. In 2016, the band added the young Irish singer Nell Ní Chróinín, winner of several traditional Irish singing competitions. Anyone who is Irish will love this show. And around St. Paddy’s Day, everyone is Irish.
For fans of: The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Dropkick Murphys
Three Little Pigs
Friday, April 27, 2018
7 p.m. | $20, $12
What if the Big Bad Wolf wasn’t actually bad, just a well-meaning klutz? That’s the intriguing premise of this hilarious musical, which retells the story of the Three Little Pigs: Rose, Frank, and Ham. The Wolf doesn’t mean to scare the pigs or wreck their houses. He just wants to invite them to his birthday party. Finally, he confides in Mother Pig, and she teaches him how to be gentle and careful. Paul Deiss updated the classic fairy tale, writing the book, music, and lyrics. Virginia Rep on Tour brings it energetically to the stage.
For fans of: fairy tales, musicals, family entertainment