Boston's lively arts

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

This city is a tapestry of artistic endeavor, with its warp and woof being the fine and performing arts. Among its music groups, its museums, and its theaters is the occasional thread of gold that makes the whole weave sparkle.

For Boston and its environs have a rich history of arts. Even Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals, which were preceded by the Hasty Pudding Club, in effect go back to 1975. In the years since, the student theater group has proved the foundation for careers of many a star or character actor. Its commercial theaters bring in shows prior to Broadway, and sometimes on post-Broadway tours. The city sees most of the biggest attractions the theater world offers.

Boston's music scene attracts the world's greatest players, singers, and conductors; the city's museums and galleries pull in international art shows and the world's best-known artists; and its moviehouses offer the newest, the biggest, the best -- and sometimes the worst -- films put out by Hollywood or New York, as well as imports from abroad.

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Movies: Boston's Sack chain of moviehouses is one of the country's best-known. Originated by Benjamin Sack (whence its name), it is now run by A. Alan Friedberg who continues the tradition of bringing to Boston the newest pictures available. There are 15 houses within the city bearing the Sack name, plus a number of the suburban perimeter.

And the Sack chain does not exhaust the possibilities. The Exeter, known for decades as an independent theater that often screens movies from abroad, continues its tradition in its castle-like building now under new management. Freshly air-conditioned and with new seating to bring it into line with today's more luxurious houses, it offers such pictures as the currently popular, gentle comedy, "Robert et Robert."

Then there is the Off the Wall cinema which shows in the "Where's Boston?" house at the city's famous Quincy Market at times when the slide show of Boston's ways and by-ways doesn't play. You find the unusual at Off the Wall. A series called "The Great Cartoons," for instance, ran recently featuring Disney, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made, and Fleischer brothers cartoons of Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman. That's not a program you will find in many moviehouses.

The Nickelodeon Cinemas (two of them) are also somewhat offbeat in programming. Located in the midst of the Boston University campus sprawl, they offer some classic films and retrospectives of films by great producers or directors ("A Salute to Sir Alfred [Hitchcock]" was a recent series).

Art: Think art. Immediately, in Boston at least, the echo comes back "Newbury Street." It is the center, though by no means the circumference, of the art world here. On the blocks of this street galleries abound, ranging from Art Asia, which shows paintings, graphics, sculpture all with a Far Eastern flavor, and the Harcus Krakow immediately across the street, which often shows the most avant garde art and "body sculpture" (translation: somewhat massive jewelry), to the traditional Copley Society, the Boston Guild of Artists, and the Vose Gallery all farther uptown on Newbury. The vose has a strong collection of the Hudson River School of painting. The other two can be counted on for those evocative landscapes and seascapes generations of art fanciers have known and loved.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is, as its name implies, home to modern art. It also puts on special exhibitions from time to time, and its show of an artist's work is sometimes accompanied by related slide shows. The institute also puts on occasional series of film shows geared to a subject. It is a place to watch because one can often cathc golden oldies not regularly available.

Dance: As might be expected, the Boston area is rife with dance companies, too -- ranging from ballet to modern to what sometimes looks like improvisational groups. The best-known is undoutedly the Boston Ballet. Its founder, E. Virginia Williams, often collaborates with New York's choreographer/artistic director George Balanchine in works to be presented on the stage of Boston's Music Hall. Miss Williams offers several series of programs each year.

On the modern side of terpsichore, the Boston area boasts the Joy of Movement Center in Cambridge, where anyone interested in participating in dance can find courses suited to his or her talents, from simple movement to advanced choreography. Then there is the Harvard Summer Dance Center, also in Cambridge, where dance courses are given regularly.

The Mandala Folk Dance Ensemble (also based in Cambridge), is, as its name implies, a folk dance group which gives public performances at irregular intervals in dress appropriate to whatever dance is being offered. Bright ribbons fly as multi-layered skirts twirl when this group shows off its choreography. The New England Dinosaur Company and the Concert Dance Company of Boston both offer modern athletic performances and are seen at intervals in various halls.

Theater: Boston was once the most active theater town after New York. Now the town is down to three major stages --one of the finest straight playhouses in the Eastern seaboard. The Colonial is probably the most beautiful musical house in the country today, and now one of the oldest.The Shubert is due for a complete redecoration this summer. In Boston, all the road tours of Broadway hits -- "A Chorus Line," "Annie," "Deathtrap" -- play from two- to 26-week runs.

But the local theater scene is also quite active -- at times the mainstay of the entire season. The Charles Playhouse, site of a fine repertory company in the '60s, uses a good deal of local talent in its productions of smaller hits. The Boston Rep Theater, which also housed a now-defunct repertory company, is a charming small theater. The Next Move Theater produces revues, new plays, and revivals for much of the season. And in Horticultural Hall, the Boston Shakespeare Company presents its highly popular evenings.

Several smaller groups that go in and out of production -- such as Reality Workshop Theater and Little Flags (the gifted Maxine Klein's political theater) -- as well as Boston University, and Harvard student productions also contribute to the local scene. And now, Robert Brustein has begun his Yale-type work at Harvard's Loeb Theater (one of the finest, most flexible modern facilities on any university campus), and there is once again hope that the Boston area will have a full-fledged repertory company to enrich its seasons.

Boston offers several theater clubs that ensure seating for the season's productions, just where you may want it, and save the hassle of racing around to get tickets for what is usually a limited run. A convenience not available in all cities.

In the good old summertime there's still theater to be found around Boston. Summer theaters on the North Shore, at Cohasset on the way to the cape, and on the cape itself, offer a full season of entertainment. It used to be musicals and a few dramas, but these days the events are usually personal appearances by headliners from films and television, with the occasional play thrown in. And all within about an hour's drive to the city.

Music: Symphony Hall Dominates the music scene in Boston. The Venerable home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is also one of the finest concert halls in the world -- austere, severe in seating, but with glorious acoustics, a rich but not suffocating reverberation. Seiji Ozawa is music director, with Sir Colin Davis principal guest conductor, for the season that runs from September through April. In May, the Boston Pops takes over the hall, now under the direction of Hollywood film scorer John Williams.

It should be added that while season tickets are available for the entire Symphony year of Friday-Saturday concerts, you can also get shorter-series tickets, say for Tuesday evenings, or Thursdays. That makes the best music the world has to offer available at less-than-prohibitive cost.

On non-symphony nights, the hall is a showcase for many of the finest soloists, recitalists, and visiting orchestras of the world. Just about a block away from Symphony Hall is Jordan Hall, a concert hall that is also part of the New England Conservatory of Music. It is one of the best recital halls in the country, ideal for the newer pianists, and most of the eminent chamber groups that play Boston regularly.

After the BSO, Boston's most visible and prestigious institution is Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston, now in a permanent home at the B. F. Keith Memorial Theater -- a flagship vaudeville house beter known in recent years as the Savoy movie house.

Student orchestras of both the N.E. Conservatory and the BU School of Music offer outstanding concerts throughout the year.Some enterprising student groups in Harvard also sponsor concerts, such as this year's complete Beethoven Trio cycle by the Beaux Arts Trio. The historic Handel & Haydn Society is heard at least four times a season in Symphony Hall. Two community-type orchestras further enrich our season.

In the summertime, music moves out of doors, onto the streets and squares of Boston, onto the peaceful Charles River-side Esplanade, with the well-known Hatch Shell (seen on nationwide TV July 4, 1976). And, of course, the BSO goes out to Tanglewood, only 2 1/2 hours from Boston, in the rolling verdure of the Berkshires.

Early music fans will already know that Boston is also a haven for outstanding performers -- amateur and professional alike -- in such groups as the Boston Camerata, Banchetto Musicale, and a host of independent recitals and productions that involve these exceptional players.

It is not just the diversity, but the unusually high quality of the performers and their performances that sets the Boston music scene apart from any other in the country. Boston musicians care about their results, and rare indeed is the slipshod or substandard performance by the more notable of local ensembles and soloists.

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