Critic's choice: Manchester beckons all


MANCHESTER -- Summer's here, and the time is right for -- well, fans of the Rolling Stones and others of a "certain age" may recall the advice given by the self-described world's greatest rock ‘n' roll band, at that time anyway.

(For those who missed it or who can't remember 1968, here's a hint: It wasn't passive aggressive or inward-looking introspection, or going to the art museum, a play or a concert. You can look it up. Or just keep reading.)

But art, museums, plays and concerts will have much to offer this summer in Manchester. The pickings look richer than usual this year

First there are two dates worth circling: 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, July 18, and Friday, Aug. 15. They are the days of summer street fairs in Manchester, and if the weather cooperates, it's hard to picture a better way to spend a pleasant summer evening.

Last year, to celebrate the completion of the town's new traffic roundabout in the center of town, local officials organized a "summer solstice" street fair. Main Street was closed off, bands played, vendors lined the sidewalks and the throngs of people who converged on the downtown had a great time -- so much that doing that again was not even up for debate.

Anyone who travels up to Manchester to enjoy the outdoor recreation pursuits of kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking or visiting any of the better-known lures of the town -- like shopping -- should plan to hang around for the evening and party with the locals. No one will call you a flatlander.

But what if you don't want to wait until mid-July before penciling in a trip up or down Route 7? No worries. There's lots to do, and here's the short list.

Check out Hills Alive for plays and shows from June 27-Aug. 2.

Hills Alive is a collaboration between some of the major players in the local arts scene that came together two years ago. The Manchester Music Festival, Dorset Theater Festival, Southern Vermont Art Center and Weston Theatre Company, now joined by a few others, realized the power of combining efforts. This year, they offer discounts for events at the four arts venues, joined this year by the Green Mountain Academy of Lifelong Learning, which will present high-definition films from the British National Theatre.

All told, they have about 43 events to choose from, including local bands performing on the town green on Tuesday afternoons (free and lots of fun). Here are a couple that sound good.

The Dorset Theater Festival will offer two plays that move the intrigue meter. One is a world premier of "Out of the City" by playwright Leslie Ayvazian, July 10 to 19. A play of a longer vintage, the comedy with a brain "All in the Timing," by David Ives will run July 24 to Aug. 9.

For music, performances by the Manchester Music Festival are first-rate, even for those whose tastes don't always run to the classical. This critic is eyeballing all of them, but two in particular. On July 17, the music festival will offer chamber music composed by Haydn, Mendelsohn and Verdi, and fans of drumming and percussion will enjoy a piece by composer Kenji Bunch. On Aug. 2 comes the annual Family Pops concert. A highlight may be tap dancer Devin Johnson. Their performances are held at the Arkell Pavilion at the Southern Vermont Arts Center.

Fans of classical brass will definitely want to make it over here on Tuesday, July 15, for the performance by the Canadian Brass quintet, a concert sponsored by the Northshire Performing Arts. This brass quintet has recorded many albums of fine music going back over decades. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Arkell Pavilion.

Speaking of the arts center, it has several interesting exhibits on tap. For something different, a retrospective exhibit will open Aug. 2 on the work of a local painter, Brian Sweetland. His landscapes are distinctive and sought after around these parts. Sweetland died, tragically, last year, and this exhibit will be the first posthumous major exhibit of his prolific work.

We can't leave without mentioning the Weston Playhouse, which has another strong lineup of shows, including the world premiere of the pop-rock musical "Analog and Vinyl," which opens June 26, and its production of the Tony Award-winning comedy "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike," which opens July 17. How can you not be intrigued by a comedy where three middle-aged siblings grapple with their lives in the company of a sooth-saying cleaning woman, a sexy boy toy and a star-struck ingénue?

Later in the summer, another "Vanya" returns in the form of a revival of the classic Chekhov play, "Uncle Vanya," which opens Aug. 28 on Weston's Main Stage.

It may not be fighting in the streets -- the answer to the question at the start -- but there's no way you'll be bored.


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