Fall in Fairfield County looks and behaves differently this year. You could call it artistic license, in the way that there are hunting seasons with special licenses for rare game.
The season is a fantastical odyssey designed to upend expectations at every turn. There's historic. There's cutting-edge. There are contemporary artists posing as '70s superstars. There's the Barnum & Bailey Circus, coming to the city that helped spawn it. There's William Shatner and Carol Channing.
One event stands out because of its attempt to give a largely overlooked artist his due, give new appreciation to his contributions to his chosen art form, and gear the exhibit to the special circumstances of a museum located outside the cities known as major hubs of the arts.
Face & Figure: The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise opens Sept. 22 at the Bruce Museum, where it's on view through Jan. 6. So many American artists fled to Europe in the 1920s and '30s to find inspiration and a creative community. Lachaise, born in France in 1882, went the other way, chasing his muse — and future wife — to her U.S. homeland. Lachaise, who also did busts of his artsy contemporaries e.e. cummings and Marianne Moore, earned a retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935, the year he died. Now the Bruce has him, in a provocative reconsideration of his life and aesthetic principles, curated by Ken Silver, the museum's adjunct curator of art.
Some shows just exude Bridgeport. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has a four-night stand at Webster Bank Arena in mid-October. On opening night, Oct. 18, there's a special fundraiser for the local institution that keeps famed Bridgeport resident and politician P.T. Barnum's name alive year-round. The Barnum Museum is still down, but never out, following the devastating storm of 2010. The museum's closed, but continues to sponsor exhibits and special events geared to keeping the Barnum legacy in the public eye while funds are raised for the building's ongoing restoration.
P.T. Barnum dominated Fairfield County culture and politics in the mid-1800s. Fairfield Museum is rockin' the 19th century in its own fashion. "The War of 1812 at Sea" exhibit just closed (a week before a new American Girl doll of that era debuted — bad timing!), but here comes "Promise of Freedom," commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The show, which includes a copy of the proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, runs Sept. 23 through Feb. 24, with a gala opening reception Sept. 22.
Moving forward half a century or so, the Greater Bridgeport Symphony opens its season with a burst of "Americana," courtesy of composers George Gershwin, Edward MacDowell and Samuel Barber and piano soloist Andrew Armstrong Oct. 20, followed a few weeks later on Nov. 17 with a jolt of "Germania" (namely Beethoven and Bruch, with violinist Adele Anthony. Gustav Meier conducts both shows, at Klein Auditorium. For its part, the Stamford Symphony is going Russian and Finnish for its Oct. 6 season opener, which boasts a "Sweeping Romance" theme with works by Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Sibelius.
Between the Civil War, the circus and the Russian Revolution, that's a lot of bombs bursting in air. Other slam-bang cultural confrontations come courtesy of Bridgeport Theatre Company, which subsists on staples such as Dracula (Oct. 26-Nov. 4) and A Christmas Carol (Dec. 7-16) for the fall, then kicks off 2013 with a humdinger, the depressive-disorder musical Next to Normal (Jan. 25-Feb. 10). The Ridgefield Theater Barn also made a brazen new-musical choice, winding down its 2012 season with Spring Awakening (through Oct. 6).
Connecticut Ballet offers a new dance rendition of the greatest work of strange-world disorientation ever, Alice in Wonderland. The company's principal dancer, Oksana Maslova, takes the title role, Oct. 20, at the Palace Theatre in Stamford.
The Quick Center at Fairfield University continues to offer a Live Radio Drama series (the theme of the Sept. 28/29 old-time-radio recreation is "Criminals and Evil Deeds"), and also hosts everyone from Carolina Chocolate Drops (Sept. 22) to Bang on a Can All-Stars (Jan. 26) to a special show by Fairfield U. alums the Alternate Routes. Theater productions at the Quick include a local production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross in October and an adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days from Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre in February.
Traditional, surefire events like the circus or based-on-books plays and ballets (including the inevitable glut of Nutcrackers) have equivalents in the music offerings at clubs and small theaters. The Infinity Music Hall out in Norfolk may now be giving it a run for its money, but Downtown Cabaret Theatre remains one of the best places in the state to catch a tribute band. Bring your own food and drink, sit at a big table, and dig tributes to Springsteen (Bruce in the USA, Sept. 14-16), Neil Diamond (Tom Sadge, Oct. 20-21), John Denver (Ted Vigil, Oct. 27), ABBA (ABBAmania, Dec. 14-16, plus a special New Year's Eve show), John Lennon (via The Nutopians, Feb. 23) and the Eagles (Desert Highway, March 9).
Klein Auditorium's roster is, as ever, random and intriguing, ranging from Pat Benatar (co-billed with hubby Neil Giraldo) Sept. 30, a '70s AM-radio soul mix of Tower of Power & Average White Band on Oct. 21, the Capitol Steps political comedy troupe on Oct. 27 and a true mindboggle of a show, "The Royal Family Ball featuring Soulive & Lettuce" on Nov. 1. Soulive drummer Alan Evans just played Stage One in Fairfield, which is opening its doors to everyone from Glen & Grant-Lee Phillips (Oct. 10) to Over the Rhine (Oct. 5) to Betty Lavette (Oct. 24) to Jayhawks co-founder Gary Louris (Nov. 1) to Fountains of Wayne (Nov. 15). Likewise, the varied offerings at the Palace Theater in Stamford include Ballet Folklorico de Mexico (Sept. 27), jazz great Marilyn Maye (Oct. 5), the live One Life to Live tribute Loving Llanview (with the folks who played Blair, Victor, Natalie, Rex, Nora and David on the long running soap, Oct. 12), Royal Drummers & Dancers of Burundi (Oct. 19), godlike New Orleans musician Dr. John (Nov. 2) and — beam us up! — William Shatner in his one-man show Shatner's World, based on, we Shat you not, his own life story (Nov. 8).
Shatner's not the only onstage celebrity sighting this season (in a part of the state where you might see more famous people shopping at a farmer's market than treading the boards). Famous folk appearing at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk include Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on Oct. 8, Marvel avengers Spider-Man, Thor and Iron Man (touting the environmental Operation Green effort) on Oct. 27 and Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp from the original Broadway cast of Rent on Dec. 6. And you thought meerkats and stingrays made weird museum-mates!
Sacred Heart University's "American Legends" series offers Rich Little (Sept. 29 — do they consider him the legend, or the people he impersonates?), Carol Channing (Oct. 20 — still wowing 'em at age 91) and Florence Henderson (May 4), while the "Broadway Divas" series kicks off with "Les Leads of Les Mis" — several performers who did the show (soon to be a major motion picture) when it was on Broadway.
Carol Channing isn't the only nonagenarian artist getting attention in Fairfield County this fall. The exhibit "Ageless Art — Works by Trudy Gilbert and Edith McClean" (both of whom are in their 90s) opened at Rowayton Arts Center's Portside Gallery Sept. 9 and runs through the end of the month.
If all this journeying — through time, through space, through life, through the desert highway and over the Rhine — makes you hungry, Westport Arts Center has a tasty exhibit of food-related art, juried by Stew Leonard, Pat Callaghan of Pepperidge Farms, Michael Nischan of The Dressing Room and Le Farm and The Whelk owner Bill Taibe. "Foodies" doesn't reach its expiration date until Nov. 4. Some special events that serve as side dishes to the show include various café klatches, a "Dinner Doodles" collection where patrons' napkin doodles may be chosen for a special reception exhibit, and a screening of the Italian-restaurant movie Big Night supplemented by an Italian dinner prepared by Tarry Lodge.
The Fairfield fall arts season is a feast that will have you on your feet.