Time to break open your piggy banks. The spring arts season is upon us with dozens of quality events on the horizon and ample opportunities to let “your freak flag fly.”
“Eclectic” is the best way to describe some of the talent headed our way, a tribute to adventurous local bookers and risk-taking audiences. Even with more than 50 choices in this highly selective list, the arts community is still adding events and attractions to their venues. Just be sure to snap up that ticket early for the rarely seen performer or show.
The side effect of importing all that top-flight talent is a very noticeable, creeping rise in ticket prices. As a counter measure, this preview highlights a number of high-quality, free or low-cost productions that are well worth your time.
COMEDY AND SPOKEN WORD
An Evening with David Sedaris
The writer and monologist releases his latest book “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002),” a few days before he arrives in Des Moines, but if you don’t want to know what he’ll be reading on the Hoyt Sherman stage, buy a copy and put it to one side. Sedaris will also share some new stories and is setting aside time to answer questions from the audience. So, you have some advance warning to be creative with your query. It might make a future diary entry. April 29, Hoyt Sherman Place. $50.50, $60.50.
Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science
Puppets, musical interludes and the potential for a messy front few rows arrive at the Civic Center when charismatic food boffin Alton Brown hosts an interactive evening celebrating science, explosions and being let off the leash from his “Iron Chef” and “Good Eats” Food Network TV hosting gigs. Recommend where Brown should eat when he comes to town by tweeting him suggestions including the hashtag #ABRoadEatsDSM. May 6, Des Moines Civic Center. $30- $125.
An Evening with Bill Maher
If he wasn’t the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” Bill Maher would still be pacing the country’s stages, sharing his uncensored, bitingly satirical opinion of the world. Away from the desk, the road lets him ruminate on broader topics, with no less venom or insight. May 7, Des Moines Civic Center. $49- $125.
One Man “Star Wars Trilogy”
The force is strong with Charles Ross, who narrates, mimes and reenacts the original “Star Wars” films alone on stage. Responsible for all the sound effects, impressions and lightsaber battles, you'll believe a man can fly the Millennium Falcon. Suitable for fans and obsessives six years and older, the production has the blessing of George Lucas. April 4-9, The Temple Theater. $20-$38.
Writer, producer and actor Erik Stolhanske is best known for his work with the Broken Lizard comedy team, like the role of Rabbit in “Super Troopers.” The multi-talented Minnesotan is also gaining attention for his live appearances, a combination of comedy and showbiz anecdotes that often veer into motivational speaking territory. You’ll need to turn up to see which side of his personality will be on stage at the Kum & Go Theater, but it will be funny. March 24, Des Moines Social Club. $12-$15.
The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?
Robert Dubac’s one-man comedy show channels the advice of his five equally clueless friends who try to work out where Dubac went wrong in his latest relationship and how they can come close to understanding “what do women really want?” April 25-May 14, The Temple Theater. $20-$38.
The Naked Magicians
Des Moines couldn’t get enough of the Australian duo who lived up to their name so The Naked Magicians are returning for two shows a night to satisfy a curious and 18-plus crowd. Magicians first, naked second, these entertainers know the secret to a good show and great marketing gimmick. June 10-11, The Temple Theater. $36-66.
Decades of talent and longevity are being celebrating on the touring circuit and some big names are celebrating major career milestones. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers will bring their “40th Anniversary Tour” to the Wells Fargo Arena on June 5, ($39.50-$129.50) and you can feel confident you’ll hear the greatest hits. A few days before in the same venue, May 21 ($39.50-$129.50) you’ll never believe this is Neil Diamond’s “50-year-anniversary-tour.” A consummate entertainer, Diamond still performs like he something to prove.
Less high profile but no less familiar, compare your sing-in-the shower version of "Carry On Wayward Son" with the real McCoy, when Kansas the band arrives in Iowa on March 31 at Hoyt Sherman Place, ($49.50-$99.50) part of their “40th Anniversary Leftoverture Tour.”
And not to be outdone, The Marshall Tucker Band keeps on rockin’ after 40 years andw ill hit the Wooly’s stage on April 6, ($35-$40), with some no-nonsense Southern rock.
But when “Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds” takes the stage of the Des Moines Civic Center on April 18, ($44.50 - $139.50), it will have been exactly 50 years, 11 months, two days since the release of The Beach Boys album that stunned The Beatles and inspired them to greater creative heights. If you have any affection for The Beach Boys sound, this touring tribute is a treat for the ears and highly recommended. Featuring original member Al Jardine, the tour also highlights guitarist Blondie Chaplin who sings and plays the two best tracks from the 1973 album “Holland,” back when the California boys decided it was a good idea to relocate all their families to the Netherlands. The Beach Boys could be genuinely strange cats.
Without spoiling the surprise of what will be joining The Flaming Lips on stage when they arrive in Des Moines, we only offer one tease — unicorns. Wayne Coyne and chums could pilot a time machine back to San Francisco in 1968 and become the toast of the town, but their latest release "Oczy Mlody," is inspired by the youth of today. It’s still as trippy and out-there as Lips fans could ever need and their latest tour will fill Hoyt Sherman with high weirdness and a whole lot of confetti. April 22, Hoyt Sherman Place. $40, $45, $55.
If you were looking to double down on the odd, Les Claypool and Primus will be presenting “An Evening with Primus” at Hoyt Sherman on May 19, but be warned it has already sold out, as will many of the events in this preview.
Talking of which, Son Volt is touring and selling out venues off the back of their first album since 2013. Alt-country pioneer Jay Farrar’s latest direction is blues-tinged, but still harkens back to the days of Uncle Tupelo and his former partnership with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Son Volt’s authentic and passionate exploration of musical Americana will be on display June 7 at Wooly's. $20-$25.
Most performers dream of a portfolio of hits like Pat Benatar’s and it helped they were written with guitarist and husband Neil Giraldo. Decades on, this is still a hardworking, good time rock and roll show, punctuated with instantly recognizable power ballads. May 1, Hoyt Sherman Place. $59-$99.
For jazz fans, a couple of dates to take note. Grammy winning pianist Laurence Hobgood will make a rare local appearance at Noce on April 14 ($25-$50). Well known for his former collaborations with Kurt Elling, the virtuoso is now free to peruse his own singular journey. If you’d like to become part of permanent jazz history, saxophonist Damani Phillips’ dates at the venue on March 25, ($15-$30) are being recorded for inclusion on a future live album. Phillips will be joined by Lewis Nash, Pat Bianchi and Greg Gisbert.
Indie pop darlings Bastille perform May 3 at the 7 Flags Event Center ($35-$40). The Brits are on a substantial world tour, so don’t expect a speedy return visit to Clive.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers will give it away on May 23 at the Wells Fargo Arena ($50, $100) and DJ duo The Chainsmokers can also pretty much guarantee to get you out of your seat at the arena the following month on April 30 ($31 to $81).
And if you love and miss the ’80s, musical chameleon Joe Jackson will lay his fedora at Hoyt Sherman Place on June 20 ($30-$75), Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears will double-bill at the Wells Fargo Arena on May 8 ($35-$129.50) and Def Leppard, Poison, plus Tesla, will try to burst your eardrums at the same venue on April 24, ($29.50- $129.50).
In these confusing times, nine contemporary artists and one artist collective have been brought together for an exhibit titled “Ruptures,” translating their “feelings of threat, anxiety, unrest, instability, and impending loss” into a gallery filled with reflection and also hope for the future. The provocative theme will be on display from June 3-Sept. 3, Des Moines Art Center. As always, admission is free.
Before it arrives, you still have plenty of time to catch the Art Center’s “Alchemy: Transformations in Gold” exhibit, which is running through May 5. Plus, a collection of prints, drawings and sculpture curated under the banner of “Wild Life,” will stick around until April 16 and a self-described “small exhibition” of the work permanent collection favorite Alberto Giacometti, is available for viewing until April 23.
There must be some high levels of creative angst in the air. Des Moines native Judy J. Long is presenting her latest work at the Des Moines Social Club, stimulated by “anxiety, grief, and the psychological response to traumatic stimuli.” Head over to the Viaduct Gallery to experience empathy or reassurance, from now until March 30. Free.
Parallels: The Architecture of Impermanence
Joe Patrick has been creating art in Iowa for more than fifty years and traveling to Oaxaca, Mexico, for almost 40 of them. Both homes inspired his latest exhibition collecting paintings and drawings, ranging from views of a transient Mexican market to portraits of Iowan friends. Now through Jul. 30, Brunnier Art Museum in Ames. Free.
Also at the Brunnier Art Museum, “Creative by Nature,” a chance for the public to see an expanded selection from the museum’s Bohan Collection of Inuit Art, spotlighting fine and decorative arts of the Inuit people of South Baffin Island in Arctic Canada. It runs through July 30.
“Denice Peters: The Skies Have It,” will fill the Community Gallery with pastoral images of rural life created with pastels, a tricky medium to master, but perfect for the soft vistas Peters is renowned for. April 6-May 20. Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames. Free.
“Robert Hodierne: Vietnam War Photographs” will feature the work of the former Grinnell student’s photographs taken during two tours of duty in Vietnam and gives a unique, first-hand insight into the strife of his fellow soldiers. April 7-June 4, Grinnell College's Faulconer Gallery. Free.
Move — Beyond — Live on Tour
“Dancing with the Stars” devotees won’t escape the sweat and heat during Derek and Julianne Hough’s latest live production that doesn’t let the bubbly energy lapse for a moment. The very large and very upbeat stage show mixes ballroom, tap, salsa and hip-hop dance styles, all augmented by arena-style lighting and high volume accompaniment. Be prepared to stand up and groove along. May 26, Iowa State Center Stephens Auditorium. $54.50-$124.50.
Ballet Jazz of Montreal
As a group and in solo performances, BJM will present an evening of contemporary ballet and unpredictable creativity. A kinetic experience, full of surprises for even the most ardent fans of modern dance. April 27, Des Moines Civic Center. $15-$57
“Beauty and the Beast”
Malandain Ballet Biarritz’s romantic and dark interpretation of the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale is accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky. A psychological interpretation of the well-known story, told through inventive choreography. March 28, Des Moines Civic Center. $15-$61.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”
The winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play is a visual feast and a very quirky concept. A 15-year-old boy with difficulty fitting into modern society sets off on a journey to investigate the death of Wellington, a neighbor’s dog. Along the way, he learns more about his own family than he could have imagined and through the process builds a confidence to face the world. If you usually shy away from Broadway shows, this is far from your typical extravaganza. May 16-21, Des Moines Civic Center. $35-$103.
“The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein”
Welcome to Transylvania, where “Puttin' on the Ritz” means dressing a monster in a top hat and tails. If you loved the movie “Young Frankenstein,” the live version adds new jokes, songs and scenes from Mel Brooks himself, while keeping enough of the comedy classic to satisfy the devoted fans. March 17-April 9 Des Moines Community Playhouse. $25- $45.
Once Frankenstein lurches off into the sunset, Des Moines Community Playhouse will be turned into a slice of Louisiana for “Steel Magnolias.” Six friends brought together by laughter under the roof Truvy’s beauty salon are forced to face some serious situations that will test their bonds. June 2-18, Des Moines Community Playhouse. $25-$36.
“The Last Five Years”
Noce continues its bold first season of theatrical productions with their third residency, “The Last Five Years,” a 2001 musical built around a very unusual structure. It plots the twin trajectories of a failed marriage between a novelist and a struggling actress, with one story told in reverse and the other in chronological order. June 2-11, Noce. $25-$50.
“Women Playing Hamlet”
The agonies and insecurities of the acting life are humorously skewered by William Missouri Downs’ play. A young actress is cast in a seminal role, but it happens to be Hamlet and sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. March 31-April 15, The Tallgrass Theatre Company. $17.
Bet your bottom dollar this newly updated touring production will have you humming the infectious hits for weeks. April 1, Stephens Auditorium. $25-$78.
“The Man Who Planted Trees”
Rare to find a theatrical production featuring puppets that can be described as “moving,” but this adaptation of a Jean Giono tale is full of charm and thought-provoking surprises. March 26, The Temple Theater. $5-10.
Masterworks 6 & 7
The Des Moines Symphony concludes its season with two big weekends. April 1 and 2 will showcase Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” beginning with a multimedia dramatization of the composer’s life and inner inspirations, followed by staging of the emotional work. For their two final performances on May 12 and 14, the symphony will highlight the work of Paul Hindemith, Camille Saint-Saëns’s “First Cello Concerto” and a special performance of Iowa native Michael Daugherty’s “American Gothic,” accompanied by a film “celebrating Grant Wood’s Iowa.” As a topper for the night, the ever stirring crescendo of Bolero by Ravel. Des Moines Civic Center. $15-$65.
The grand setting of the Ambrose Cathedral and harmonious talent of The Des Moines Choral Society combine once again to perform Eriks Esenvald’s “Passion and Resurrection” and Handel’s “Israel in Egypt.” The evening of soloists and chamber orchestra will also include choral works by Howells, Palestrina and Samuel Barber. April 29, St. Ambrose Cathedral. $10-$25.
ODDS & ENDS
Wonder of Words Festival
The festival returns, heading indoors this year and filling downtown’s Central Library with a day of readings, advice, storytelling and commerce. Meet bestselling authors and learn the ins and outs of the trade from knowledgeable members of the Des Moines Writers’ Workshop. There will be plenty to keep the kids engaged and Beaverdale Books will be bringing along some of their favorite books for you to purchase. April 22, Des Moines Public Library. Free.
The Fashion Show
The 35th annual student-run show, will display more than 150 fashion creations on the runaway and in mounted exhibitions, all designed and modeled by attendees of Iowa State University. The very popular event has chosen "Altered Aspects" as this year’s theme. April 8, Stephens Auditorium. $15-$30.
Valley Junction Arts Festival
Discover, admire and purchase a potential masterpiece for your home or office at the annual arts festival. This year, the event staff has been more selective in choosing who will be displaying their wares, so hope to find some quality work. The all-day show will be open rain or shine and feature food vendors and live musical accompaniment as you walk through the district. May 21, Historic Valley Junction. Free.