Last week had a definite cultural bent, with an amazing performance by the Baton Rouge Symphony, the opening of the latest exhibit at the Old State Capitol, news from the Arts Council and a celebration of the city’s newest TV star.

‘Bravo Broadway!’

There’s nothing like a good Broadway show tune to complete your day, and the Baton Rouge Symphony offered up a slew of them at its All Star Automotive Pops Series II “Bravo Broadway!” performance June 18 at the River Center Theatre. The cherry on top were the three Broadway stars — Christiane Noll, Debbie Gravitte and Doug Labrecque — who joined the orchestra.

All three were terrific as they together performed Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from “Hairspray” and a “Mamma Mia” medley. Noll earned enthusiastic applause with “I Could Have Danced All Night,” from “My Fair Lady” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” She and Labrecque then teamed up for Phantom’s “Music of the Night” and earned a standing ovation. Other stand-out performances for Labrecque were “Cabaret” and Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine.”

Gravitte provided the evening’s comic moments with her rendition’s of “Willkommen” from “Cabaret” and “Mr. Monotnoy” from Jerome Robbins’ “Broadway” before teaming up with Noll for “All That Jazz” from “Chicago.” Later, she showed her more serious side with “Memory” from “Cats.” Not wanting the evening to end, the audience shouted for — and got — an encore that took us all back to the ’60s with “The Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine” from “Hair.”

The night began and ended with a reception at the Manship Theatre, with the guest artists joining in for the post-concert party where they were toasted along with associate conductor David Torns, who has really come into his own in the past couple of years. Entertaining at the pre-concert reception were cast members from Theatre Baton Rouge’s summer musical, “The Music Man,” and Baton Rougean Mary Elizabeth Drake, who’s heading to the Big Apple on July 1 to pursue a career in musical theater. The receptions were chaired by Kelly and Enrique Hurtado.

It all made for a memorable night, all the more so for me because I got to show off my city and one of its amazing cultural jewels to my sister Sally Parker, who was visiting from Alabama.

Arts Council

The symphony is one of 15 arts and humanities organizations funded by the Community Fund for the Arts, a fundraising project of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, which held its annual meeting June 16 at the LSU Museum of Art. It doubled as the introduction of the council’s new executive director, Renée Chatelain, who’s had quite an exciting couple of weeks.

The current head of the Manship Theatre turned 50, got married to Kevin Kyle in New York City and got offered the job to lead the Arts Council. Whew, talk about an emotional high!

The Baton Rouge native, who officially takes over in mid-August, has been involved in the arts since she started out as a dancer as a child. “All of you who run our arts organizations are important to the fabric of our community,” said Chatelain, adding that she’s looking forward to being an advocate for those organizations. “We’re going to take what all’s good and grow it into a new space.”

Attendees also heard from board Chairman Brian Haymon, who thanked his fellow board members for their support in what was a “difficult” year. He also thanked the staff for stepping up, particularly co-interim directors Lisa Ibert and Jonathan Grimes and interim CFA director Malcolm Robinson. Rob Chidester was recognized with the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award for his efforts at Laurel Street Palooza and FestForAll.

Outgoing Treasurer Michael Loveless announced that $467,000 was awarded last year and some 400 visual and performing artists were employed by the Arts Council. Laurie Saurage had the honor of presenting this year’s Michael Crespo Visual Artist Fellowship Award to Steve Wilson. He read over a list of his associates over the years, adding “This is Baton Rouge, and I love Baton Rouge.” He wrapped up by reading a thank-you poem he penned specially for the occasion.

In other business, the membership elected new executive committee members and board members. They include Haymon, chairman; Scott Hensgens, vice chairman and CFA committee chairman; Nancy Stich, treasurer/finance committee chairwoman; Yolanda Dixon, secretary; Randy Roussel, development committee chairman; and Emelie Alton, nomination and board development committee chairwoman. New board members include Todd McQueen and Sharon Bethea. Thanked for the service were outgoing board members Munzer Qaddourah, Ralph Stephens, Bret Talbot and Loveless.

Hays Town exhibit

Between these two major events, I popped into the Old State Capitol for the opening reception for its latest exhibit, “The Enduring Architecture of A. Hays Town.” Sponsored by the Louisiana Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the exhibit features photos by Philip Gould from Cyril Vetter’s book of the same name, as well as personal items on loan from Town’s family and local architect Kevin Harris.

On hand for the reception were Gould, Vetter, Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Louisiana Chapter AIA President Lisa Nice.


From the Old State Capitol, I headed down Nicholson to the Tin Roof Brewery for a special viewing party for Fox TV’s “MasterChef.” It was hosted by Baton Rouge’s own Jesse Romero, who is competing on the show where chefs Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliott and Christina Tosi sit in judgement each week. On hand for the festivities were his fellow competitors Justin Banister, Charlie Chapman, Natasha Clement, Stephen Lee and Mateo McConnell, as well as buddy and former “MasterChef” competitor Jay Ducote, who is currently competing on Food Network’s “Food Network Star.”

Ducote and Romero are having a lot of fun cheering each other on as they cook their way to stardom, putting Baton Rouge on the culinary map.

Day of Action

Hundreds of volunteers grabbed paint brushes, shovels, screwdrivers and other tools for Capital Area United Way’s Day of Action. Sponsored by ExxonMobil, it had 275 employees taking part in the event, which took care of 24 projects at the various agencies served by CAUW. Most of them were working at the McMains Children’s Developmental Center, including Plant Manager Charles Dabadie.

“It’s our fifth year to sponsor Day of Action,” said Dabadie. “You’ve got old guys working with the young folks. This is fun.”

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