Top 10 of 2013 Tacoma Weekly looks back on the year in arts and entertainment

From visiting legends to legends in the making, cinematic crisis to craft beer controversy, here are 10 of the most memorable arts and entertainment stories of 2013.

1. Stephanie Johnson went national on “The Voice”

There was a scene from the latest season of NBC-TV's “The Voice” that could have been an ad for Stadium High School. Singer-songwriter Stephanie Anne Johnson was going through her blind audition, and her soulful take on KT Tunstall's “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” was enough to spin the chairs of celebrity coaches, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera.

Green seemed especially enamored. “You're such a pleasant surprise,” he said, recalling his star pupil from four seasons earlier. “I can't believe that was you singing. I kind of saw Vicci Martinez from season one.”

“I went to (Stadium) high school with her,” Johnson replied. Green seemed taken aback by the coincidence. But he was even more shocked moments later as he gave Johnson a hilarious stink eye as she chose Team Xtina over his squad. Still, he wasn't too ticked to save Johnson from elimination a few episodes later by “stealing” her; and, for that, we forgive him for calling in sick to this year's Washington State Fair.

Johnson may not have gotten as far as her classmate. But the show was a great platform for showing the world what many of us have known for years around these parts: That girl can sing. Hopefully, her face time will translate into national tour dates and tons of sales for her excellent, new CD, “Hollatchagurl.” Which you can find on iTunes, by the way.

Ernest A. Jasmin

2. Mother Monster had a ball

Months before she kicked it with Kermit or got freaky with R. Kelly, Lady Gaga was out on the road setting a mighty high bar for arena rockers in 2013. Her Born This Way Ball tour made its U.S. debut at the Tacoma Dome on Jan. 16, and an army of her “little monsters” turned out, many of them in costume and all giddy to be among the first to witness her epic, new show.

Gaga didn't skimp on the jaw-dropping spectacle, with a set built around a giant, gothic castle that shifted into different configurations as the night went on. Miss G made her dramatic entrance, riding a mechanical horse and dressed in dystopian cyborg chic. She played sexy Transformer, turning into a motorcycle for “Heavy Metal Lover.” And she went with a yellow, latex ensemble as she popped out of an inflatable womb for “Born This Way.” (Yes, that happened. Subtlety is not her thing.)

Of course, it wouldn't be a Gaga show if there weren't some kind of empowering message woven into all that insanity. Her between song banter promoted acceptance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folk. “You are the new generation, and in this generation we breed compassion,” she said. And before the show she made a cameo outside to unveil her Born Brave Bus, a rolling resource center aimed at connecting fans with counselors and volunteering opportunities in their respective communities. “Applause,” indeed.

Ernest A. Jasmin

3. The Cos went back to college

From “I Spy” to “The Cosby Show,” classic standup albums to best-selling books, few entertainers have left their mark on popular culture quite like William Henry Cosby, a.k.a. the Cos. On Feb. 10, students flocked to the University of Puget Sound Fieldhouse to hear America's Dad do an hour of standup. Remarkably, he seemed to figure out his topic right on the spot and regaled the audience with a hilarious account of his slacker daughter's exploits in college.

But before took the stage at UPS, the weekly got to ask him about years spent as an African-American trailblazer.

“In those days … coming into the Civil Right Movement, it was still media and people looking at us and asking what we wanted,” he recalled. “'What is it you people want?' We were not people who were looked at as similar. The way to racism is to take away the similarity; the fact that we are human beings, and we may be different in terms of this word that is so misused now – culture.”

Perhaps most poignantly, though, he explained what had compelled him to do so much educational programming over the years: his own lack of a positive father figure.

“Many times people who have never met their father ... take this in a very hard way,” he said. “And low self-esteem is one of the things that is a reaction because they continue to wonder if there is something really wrong with them or why they had a person that just rejected them. … In my case, the man's behavior was so poor … that eventually I came to believe that it was better if he did not show up at all.”

Ernest A. Jasmin

4. The Grand and Blue Mouse theaters went digital 

The Blue Mouse Theatre and The Grand Cinema are Tacoma's favorite independent movie houses, beloved for their lower ticket prices, penchant for showing challenging films and their homemade, hand-me-down vibe. But they, unlike the multiplexes, still showed 35mm films on projectors in 2013, which was a problem as film distributors declared their intention to switch exclusively to digital format.

With their old projectors facing obsolescence, both beloved movie houses launched campaigns to raise the hefty sums needed to switch to digital, lest they have to go dark completely. The Blue Mouse needed to raise $75,000 to update its projector and turned to popular fundraising site, Kickstarter.com. The theater exceeded its goal by $9,000. 

The Grand faced a steeper climb, and set a goal of raising $344,000 to convert its install state-of-the-art projectors in its four theaters by Sept. 15. The non-profit venue reached its goal with a multi-tiered approach, which included film festivals, online fundraising and other events. 

“We’re thrilled with the community’s response,” executive director Philip Cowan said in a statement included in an announcement. “We had no choice but to switch to digital technology. But now we can enhance the total viewer experience in other ways as well.”

Ernest A. Jasmin

5. Tony Bennett charmed Tacoma

He's the reigning king of the crooners. He’s loved by old timers and hipsters alike. He’s got Lady Gaga on speed dial. You wish you could be as cool as Tony Bennett who, at 86, still possesses a supple, expressive voice and effortless charm, both on display June 15 at Broadway Center's Pantages Theater.

Backed by a stellar four-piece band that included Lee Musiker on piano, Marshall Wood on upright bass, Harold James on drums and Gray Sargent on guitar, Bennett kept a near capacity crowd spellbound with hits from his six decades in show business, from the melancholy “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the dreamy, nostalgic “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Many of the songs were standards, selections from the Great American Songbook that we’ve heard countless times – in movies, as Muzak. But as familiar as the material was, Bennett imbued each song with an earnestness that was quite moving, and not a moment of his performance felt cynical or contrived.

Ernest A. Jasmin

6. Tacoma Art Museum landed the Haub Art Collection

Art lovers use fishing terms to describe the news that Tacoma Art Museum not only received a collection of “transformative” art pieces from the Haub Family Collection of Western American Art as well as money for a wing to house the exhibit, which will be one of the largest collection of Western American Art in the nation. Tacoma landed a whale of a deal.

Construction of the Olson Kundig-designed, 16,000-square-foot wing has begun and will double the museum’s gallery space, provide greater art experiences for visitors and increase the museum’s role in downtown Tacoma. The $15 million wing will double TAM’s exhibit space just 10 years after the museum opened.

The expansion translates into a boost of the museum’s economic impact by $1.5 million annually for a total of $5.9 million in tourism spending.

The project’s team also includes Murase Associates as the landscape architecture firm, Sellen Construction as the project’s construction company, and Bonewitz Project Leadership as project management. The project will create a lobby and gallery space. It will also include a new family interactive gallery, a sculpture hall and a visitor orientation room. Changes to the existing museum will include a new entrance from the parking level, a faster elevator from the parking level and improvements to the cafe and museum store. The museum’s outdoor plaza will also be transformed with a canopy that will arch over both the existing museum and the new wing. Outdoors, public art installations will be woven into the areas surrounding the museum.

German industrialist billionaire Erivan Haub has ties to Tacoma, dating back to when he visited with his wife Helga in the 1950s. Three of his sons were born at Tacoma General Hospital. He has had business and family interests in the area ever since.

The donated collection includes prominent 19th century artists who shaped our views of Native Americans, mountain men, cowboys and pristine American landscapes. Big names in the collection include George Catlin, John Mix Stanley, Thomas Moran and Frederic Remington. From the 20th century, the collection includes artists, such as E. Martin Hennings, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tom Lovell and John Clymer. who brought modern art movements west and who explored western history and American identity The collection also includes many artists who are active and working today. Contemporary Native American artists William Acheff and Kevin Red Star take a fresh approach and portray American culture in a modern light, and pop artist Bill Schenck uses humor and satire to challenge long-held assumptions about the American West. Together, these collections will offer a comprehensive understanding of the Northwest region as part of the expanded history of the West.

The exhibit will open in fall of 2014.

Steve Dunkelberger

7. Craft beer controversy

South Sound beer fanatics were in heaven for stretches of 2013. Aside from the opening of the Harmon Brewing Company’s fourth brewpub, near Tacoma Narrows Airport in May, the Tacoma Craft Beer Festival seemed to be on the verge of a big tipping point. Little did fans know which way the event would fall. 

Craft Beer Fest organizers had drawn a few thousand revelers to 21st Street Park for a festive afternoon of libation and local rock the previous summer drew to a close. They spring-boarded off of that success by adding a second winter event, called the Big Beer Festival, that showcased heartier local microbrews in February. Then they upgraded to spacious Cheney Stadium for the fifth installment of their big event in September. By all appearances, it was a tradition in the making; at least until King 5 and other news outlets reported complaints that organizers had not come through with tens of thousands promised to local non-profit sponsors, YWCA Pierce County and the Emergency Food Network. 

That could be the brew fest’s death knell, considering Washington law requires that such events partner with non-profits. But could Broadway Center’s Brew Five Three Festival be the beneficiary of the Tacoma Craft Beer Fest’s demise? Broadway Center sponsored that event, which made its debut in June, showcasing the best in local craft beer and blues music on Broadway. If organizers fix the ratio between the event’s steep $30 admission cost and its tiny 2 oz. taster glasses they may be in a position to fill the void.  

Ernest A. Jasmin

8. A beloved watering hole announced closure, got ripped off  

After hearing news of Flying Boots Cafe’s impending closure in July, some patrons dealt with the loss in an interesting way: By stealing anything they could get their hands on.

“The monetary value of what was stolen doesn’t mean much to me,” said owner Peggy Warren. “It’s the fact that these pieces are part of the history of the Boots. What we had on these walls were anywhere from 75 years old to two years old.”

The bar was packed that night, with a birthday party and two busy bartenders trying to keep up with business. Although few people attempted to stop the thieves that night, Warren is encouraging anyone who was taking pictures to see if they can spot anything unusual in the background of their photographs.

When one bartender spotted a man unscrewing the bar’s signature neon “Spur Room” sign from the wall, she managed to stop him. But that did not stop people from leaving with paintings, plaques, trays, glasses and more. “People just helped themselves,” Warren said.

She filed a police report, and asked that stolen items be returned to the beer garden. “Hopefully some people out there will feel guilty,” she said.

The Flying Boots Café has certainly enjoyed better days, filled with generations of regulars who made many memories throughout the decades. “This has always been such a friendly, neighborhood spot,” Warren said. “We truly got to know our customers and their friends and family.”

Kate Burrows

9 Lakewood Playhouse celebrated 75 years 

Lakewood Playhouse marked a milestone when the stage lights flickered on Sept. 13.

The community theater’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” marked the community theater’s 75th anniversary, entertaining generations of South Sound residents with more than 400 shows as the generations passed.

Lakewood Playhouse opened in 1938 and has evolved with the city since its incorporation in 1996. An intimate theater seating 167, Lakewood Playhouse is the oldest “black box” theater in Washington. The black box theater environment concentrates on the theatrical performances, with minimal sets, and it parallels the playhouse’s focus on community.

During its 75 years, the playhouse has flourished, thanks to the Lakewood community’s involvement and love of the performing arts. Volunteers have donated more than a million hours as designers, actors, directors and front of the house staff. Additionally, the Lakewood Playhouse Institute of Theatre offers an education program to build confidence and theatrical skills. More than 4,500 children and young adults have graduated from the program during the last 15 years.

 Not to be missed, Tacoma Little Theatre has been at its present home in Tacoma's Stadium District for 50 years and marked its 95th anniversary in 2013, making it  the oldest community theater on the West Coast.

Steve Dunkelberger

10. Residents showed their love for the city

A collective of arts and urban-living groups took charge of beautifying their city.

Tacoma Urban Landscaping, Downtown On the Go, Coalition for Active Transportation, 35 Ways to safer streets, Grand Cinema and the New Tacoma Neighborhood Council, for example, created a walking survey and urban art installation to increase awareness and potentials of the downtown.

The center of the work was at Sixth and Broadway, where the effort took over an 108 foot-long chain link fence that displayed “Love Tacoma Lane” with random notes about why people love the City of Destiny.

 While the art was the focal point, it only represented the work behind the scenes. Downtown walkers are encouraged to stroll through the neighborhood and answer a questionnaire about what short and long term work could be done to make the neighborhood safer and more vibrant.

Other efforts included a “yarn bomber” who randomly knitted over bike stands and street signs to create small bits of art in otherwise unsightly urban features. And let’s not forget the “crossing walk” vandal who painted cross walks downtown to promote safety. The city wasn’t happy about that, but the message was clear; people care.

Steve Dunkelberger

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