Living Here Guide

Thriving cultural scene offers wide variety of shows

Culture and local history come together this season for Charlotte's arts community.

Some of the city's leading cultural groups are busy celebrating the life and work of artist Romare Bearden, who was born in Mecklenburg County 100 years ago and went on to become one of the United States' leading African-American artists. Especially in his action-packed collages, he captured the vibrant life of the three places he knew best: Mecklenburg, Harlem and the Caribbean.

Bearden's centennial is primarily fodder for groups that deal in visual art, such as the Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and the Mint Museum Uptown. But the Charlotte Symphony will also pay tribute to the music-loving artist.

As the Bearden observances die down, the orchestra and other performing groups will have a big project of their own: a Tchaikovsky festival.

In a way, of course, the ever-popular Russian has a festival every Christmastime as N.C. Dance Theatre and other dance troupes blanket the area with their annual renditions of his "Nutcracker." But what happens in March will go way beyond that.

N.C. Dance Theatre will perform "Sleeping Beauty" for the first time. Opera Carolina, in a first for it, will stage Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," a melody-filled drama whose emotional center is the ardent young woman who suffers - then prevails over - the title character's rejection. The symphony, opera and NCDT will get together on a performance that interweaves Tchaikovsky's music and life.

Many of the Bearden and Tchaikovsky events will take place at the Levine Center for the Arts, the cluster of venues that opened during the past two years on South Tryon Street uptown. On North Tryon, the two-theater Blumenthal Performing Arts Center also hosts an array of cultural events.

The center's Broadway Lights series mainly brings in the touring versions of recent shows from the Great White Way. This year's list includes "Million Dollar Quartet," inspired by a real-life recording session uniting Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins; and "Come Fly Away," a Frank Sinatra extravaganza devised by Twyla Tharp, creator of the Billy Joel hit "Movin' Out." Revivals of "West Side Story" and "La Cage Aux Folles" are also in store.

Among Charlotte's homegrown theatrical groups, the largest is the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, which has two theaters in its uptown home - the ImaginOn learning center - and takes plays on the road. This year, it plans to delight youngsters with "Seussical" and scare them with "Tales of Edgar Allan Poe."

Theatre Charlotte will mix crowd-pleasers such as "The Music Man" with more intense fare, such as the church drama "Doubt." Actor's Theater of Charlotte will offer the cult favorite "Rocky Horror Show" and the Pulitzer Prize-winner "Clybourne Park," about a black family that moves into a white neighborhood in 1950s Chicago.

Whether you're a newcomer to Charlotte or a longtime resident, your handiest opportunity to make acquaintance with these groups will come Oct. 29.

That's the date of the Wells Fargo Community Celebration, an all-day cultural festival centering on uptown's Tryon Street. With the bank as sponsor, museums will fling open their doors, and performing groups will show off what they do - all for free. They'll be trying to whet your appetite for more.