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2013 Year in Review: The Arts

Will Coviello on a year that flourished with entertainment options



In 2013, New Orleans' entertainment options expanded, with reopened theaters, renewed institutions, new venues on strips including Freret and Frenchmen streets, rapidly growing festivals, a slew of new restaurants and craft cocktail bars and more.

  With its prime downtown address, no opening was more conspicuous than the reopening of the Saenger Theatre following a $52 million renovation. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, it was best known as the local home to touring Broadway shows, and those productions returned, starting with a run of the hit musical The Book of Mormon (see "Final Curtain," p. 56). But the Saenger Theatre booked a wide variety of shows including national comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, Chris Tucker, etc.), grandes dames Diana Ross and Bonnie Raitt, the Moscow Ballet's The Great Russian Nutcracker, Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's Abyssinian Mass and even Long Island medium Theresa Caputo.

  Other downtown theaters also reopened and/or booked full schedules for the first time. The Civic Theatre welcomed concerts, comedians and New Orleans Film Festival presentations, including Lily Keber's remarkable documentary about James Booker, Bayou Maharajah (see "Artistic directors," p. 51). The Joy Theater announced a 2013-2014 schedule that includes concerts and theatrical runs, most notably the just-concluded holiday show Lightwire: A Very Electric Christmas by dance-based production company Lightwire Theater. Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre reopened after three years, having sold 60 percent of its space to Dickie Brennan and Co., which opened the restaurant Tableau.

  Standup comedy blossomed in New Orleans in 2013. Besides Seinfeld's gigs, the Saenger hosted Brian Regan. There were laughs at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts (Jim Gaffigan), Civic (Bo Burnham), Harrah's New Orleans (Anthony Jeselnik), The Howlin' Wolf (W. Kamau Bell, Doug Benson), House of Blues (Amy Schumer), Tipitina's (Pete Holmes) and One Eyed Jacks (Dave Attell, Moshe Kasher, Natasha Leggero, Eric Andre) and The New Movement (Hannibal Buress). November's Hell Yes Fest! brought Todd Barry, Sara Schaefer and many others to New Orleans.

  The Big Easy's heavyweight festivals were loaded with knockouts. The New Orleans Jazz Festival lineup included Fleetwood Mac, Willie Nelson, Hall & Oates, Patti Smith, Billy Joel and many others. Beyonce, Keyshia Cole, LL Cool J and Janelle Monae headlined Essence Music Festival. Pearl Jam (including "honorary member" Steve Gleason), The Cure and Nine Inch Nails rocked the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience, as well as surrounding neighborhoods. When rock acts weren't on the main stage, a steady stream of bass pumped from its electronic music stage. Electronic music is driving the rapid growth of the Buku Music + Art Project (see "Rewind," p. 45).

  The annual festival calendar is busier than ever. Several events followed the local festival template and supersized themselves at New Orleans City Park's new festival grounds. They include the Louisiana Seafood Festival and fundraiser Hogs for the Cause.

  Under the guidance of new Executive Director Neil Barclay, the Contemporary Arts Center announced an impressive array of visual and performing arts shows. Pittsburgh's Kyle Abraham presented Pavement in a basketball court-like stage in the warehouse space. The CAC reopened its third floor to accommodate two floors of Edward Burtynsky's stunning photography show Water, curated by the New Orleans Museum of Art's Russell Lord (see "New Worldview," p. 53).

  On a smaller scale, the Marigny Opera House continued to renovate its interior and scheduled everything from puppet and dance festivals with commissioned pieces to classical concerts and shoestring opera productions, including a lively rendition of Xavier University professor Dan Shore's An Embarrassing Position. It was again a venue in the ever-growing New Orleans Fringe Festival, which serves as a platform for independent and alternative theater.

  On a grander scale, New Orleans got its cameo on screen. The critically acclaimed 12 Years a Slave, which was filmed in Louisiana, opened the New Orleans Film Festival. Bounce rapper Big Freedia starred in his own reality TV show, Queen of Bounce, on Fuse. HBO aired the fourth and final season of David Simon's Treme.

  Several entertainment strips saw the addition of new businesses. The Freret Street corridor between Napoleon and Jefferson avenues added more restaurants and the music venues Gasa Gasa and Publiq House. Dat Dog moved across the street to a larger location, added a Magazine Street location and is constructing a third spot on Frenchmen Street. The Faubourg Marigny cluster is constantly changing, and renovation of the building at 514 Frenchmen St. into the restaurant and music club Bamboula's was a big addition to the Frenchmen strip in October.

  New restaurants opened across the city. The small plates and rum-focused craft cocktails spot Cane and Table opened in an unassuming space on lower Decatur Street. Casa Borrega brought authentic Mexican food to Central City. Galatoire's added a steak house on Bourbon Street, and Gautreau's owner Patrick Singley added two upscale restaurants, the small plates boutique Ivy in Uptown and brasserie Marti's in the former home of Anne Kearney's Peristyle on the edge of the French Quarter. One dining trend was the proliferation of food trucks and food truck roundup events, which seems fitting for an entertainment scene that kept locals busy and on the go.

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