Spring arts preview: 20 can’t-miss shows, concerts and events

Entertainment The Arts

December 29, 2023

20 reasons to get yourself to a theater or museum during the first half of 2024  |  by Page Leggett

There’s a lot of funny business happening in Charlotte over the next six months. Comedians Nate Bargatze, Hasan Minhaj and Mike Birbiglia will be making stops in the Queen City. So will Stephen Kellogg, a singer-songwriter who’s added stand-up comic to his resume. 

And since life is all about balance, we’ll have a number of opportunities for a good, cathartic cry. Have hankies ready for QC Concerts’ Parade, Opera Carolina’s Madame Butterfly, Charlotte Ballet’s Swan Lake and Theatre Charlotte’s Next to Normal

Between the laughter and tears, we’ll be treated to spectacular dance, groundbreaking theater, crafts so remarkable they can be considered fine art. And there’s music — classical, jazz, country, Celtic and show tunes — to satisfy every taste.

Baby, it’s cold outside. But there are plenty of reasons not to hibernate this winter. Here are 20 of our favorites — plus an innovative new concert series bringing music into the community.


Mint Museum Charlotte Tanabe Mitsuko

Craft Across Continents at The Mint Museum: Tanabe Mitsuko 田辺光子 (Japanese, 1944–). Heart, 2016, bamboo. Promised Gift of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro. Photograph courtesy The Mint Museum.

Craft Across Continents: Contemporary Japanese and Western Objects — The Lassiter/Ferraro Collection, presented by The Mint Museum, through May 5

The exhibition, which opened in December, features about 60 works from artists in the U.S., Europe and Japan — all from the private collection of Lorne Lassiter and Gary Ferraro, Charlotteans with twin passions for fine craft and collecting. Lassiter previously served as executive director of the Founders’ Circle, an affiliate of The Mint, and as vice president of the American Craft Council. Ferraro is a retired professor of cultural anthropology at UNC Charlotte. The collection tells the story of their global travels and the decades they’ve spent visiting artists’ studios and building friendships with them. The couple say they collect “for the fun of it,” but that belies their extensive knowledge of contemporary craft. Mint Museum Uptown, 500 S. Tryon St. Admission to the Mint is $15 for adult non-members and free every Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. mintmuseum.org

School House Rock Live! Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Jan. 13-28 

Tom’s alarm clock rings, and he’s instantly nervous about his first day of teaching. He turns on the TV to get his mind off his jitters and is surprised when the voices in his head come to life as characters in the TV set. Those characters help Tom see what a great teacher he is. The show is for ages 5 and up. If you were a kid in the ‘70s, don’t miss Adult Night (Jan. 13), which is complete with a singalong, beer and wine prior to the show, and post-show treats in the lobby. Imaginon, 300 E. 7th St. Tickets start at $17.10. ctcharlotte.org

Nate Bargatze: The Be Funny Tour, Jan. 14 

How popular is comedian (and noted nice guy) Nate Bargatze? So popular that a second show has been added to his Charlotte stop. The pride of Old Hickory, Tenn., recently broke the attendance record at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville when more than 19,000 fans saw him live. He managed the same feat at The Delta Center in Salt Lake City, where more than 32,500 fans were in the audience. Hailed as “The Nicest Man in Stand-Up” by The Atlantic, the comedian achieved another level of fame when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in October. He invokes his father, a former clown-turned-magician, frequently in his act; his debut album was called Yelled at by a Clown. Bargatze’s Netflix specials have been critical and popular successes, as was his one-hour special, “Nate Bargatze: Hello World,” on Amazon Prime. He’s also a favorite of late-night hosts, including Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Seth Meyers and James Corden, and he’s performed live for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St. Ticket prices may fluctuate and start at about $50. ticketmaster.com  

Stephen Kellogg: Stories, Songs and Comedy, Jan. 23 

If Nate Bargatze is comedy’s nice guy, Stephen Kellogg is the music industry’s equivalent. The roots rocker describes himself on his YouTube channel as a “family guy, storyteller, song chaser, speaker, writer, entertainer, musician (in that order).” For more than two decades, the singer-songwriter, guitarist, TEDx speaker and stand-up comic has been wowing audiences through songs and stories. He’s been called “a first-class songwriter with a poet’s gift for fresh imagery” (Planet Bluegrass). And Rolling Stone described him as “John Prine fronting the Heartbreakers.” Now you can call him an author, too. His Objects in the Mirror: Thoughts on a Perfect Life from an Imperfect Person was published last year. This is a seated show, but seats are available on a first-come, first-seated basis. The Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. Tickets are $35-$40. eveningmuse.com 

Madame Butterfly, presented by Opera Carolina, Jan. 25, 27 and 28 

It’s been 12 years since Opera Carolina last staged Puccini’s enduring Madame Butterfly. The heartbreaking story, based on real people and events, follows Cio-Cio San, a Japanese girl who falls in love with an American naval officer. To say the pair was star-crossed is putting it mildly. Butterfly has all the elements you’d expect in one of the world’s best-loved operas — a soaring score, a story of a great love that’s doomed and, of course, a dramatic death. Soprano Hui He is the titular lead — a role she’s world-famous for playing. Likewise, tenor Jonathan Kaufman has built his reputation, in part, on his portrayal of her love, Pinkerton. Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets start at $22.44. carolinatix.org 

A.J. Croce Presents Croce Plays Croce 50th Anniversary Tour, Jan. 30 

Singer-songwriter A.J. Croce was not yet 2 when his dad — already a folk legend — was killed in a plane crash. And though Jim Croce was just 30 when he died, he had written and recorded a lifetime’s worth of songs that still resonate deeply. His son is a talented singer-songwriter in his own right, but on this tour, he’s honoring his father’s legacy with songs such as “Time in a Bottle” (which the elder Croce wrote for his infant son), “Operator,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.” A virtuoso piano player, A.J. has performed on The Late Show, The Tonight Show and The Today Show, and he’s toured with Willie Nelson; Earth, Wind & Fire; and B.B. King. He has a connection to our region through a 2018 Goodyear commercial featuring Kannapolis native Dale Earnhardt Jr. in which A.J. covered his dad’s 1973 hit, “I Got a Name.” Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. Tickets start at $49.50. carolinatix.org 


Confederates, presented by Three Bone Theatre, Feb. 9-24 

Fresh off their successful November run of The Lehman Trilogy, which saw multiple sold-out shows, Three Bone begins 2024 with the 2019 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award honoree. Confederates tells the stories of two women living parallel lives over a century apart. Sara is an enslaved rebel-turned-Union-spy, and Sandra is a tenured professor at a modern-day university. Both experience institutional racism. From MacArthur Fellow Dominique Morisseau, the work jumps back and forth in time to explore the lives of these two Black women as well as the racial and gender bias still at play in America today. Morisseau, who also wrote Detroit ’67, which Theatre Charlotte staged last May, has won a Drama Desk Award, two Obie Awards and a Steinberg Playwright Award. Donna Marie McMillan, founder and artistic director of TOASTCO, a theater company in Stockton, Calif., will direct. Due to adult language, partial nudity, adult themes and depictions of anti-Black and anti-female violence, this play is recommended for ages 16 and up. Despite its serious subject matter, Confederates manages to be laugh-out-loud funny. The Arts Factory at West End Studios, 1545 W. Trade St. Ticket prices weren’t determined at press time. threebonetheatre.com

Dance Theatre of Harlem, part of the Gantt Golden Year celebration, Feb. 9 and 10

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture celebrates its 50th anniversary all year long. One of the most thrilling events on the calendar is this production, held in partnership with Blumenthal Performing Arts. The world’s first Black classical ballet company was founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook. Shortly after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Mitchell felt called to start a school to offer dance instruction to children — especially those in Harlem, his birthplace. Now in its sixth decade, it’s a legendary institution with a global reach. The 18-member, multi-ethnic company’s repertoire includes both classics and groundbreaking contemporary works. A gala reception will be held prior to the Feb. 10 performance. Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets start at $29.50. carolinatix.org

Bechtler Museum of Modern Art Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson

Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson, Various Landscapes #9, 2018, Silk thread and dyes, 45 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson: Infinite Space, Sublime Horizons, presented by the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Feb. 17 – June 2

Born and raised in Reykjavik, Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson divides her time between Cleveland and Iceland. She earned a BFA and MFA from Kent State University, and her work blends drawing, painting and weaving and results in art — most notably, landscapes — that straddles the line between abstraction and representation. Organized by the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University, this exhibition features 45 works — many never before seen publicly — including large-scale “paintings” created on a loom and smaller watercolors and drawings. This show represents Jónsson’s first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. in nearly a decade. Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, 420 S. Tryon St. Free with museum admission, which is $9 for adults. bechtler.org

A Night of Jazz with Arts+ featuring Adrian Crutchfield, Feb. 27

Before Adrian Crutchfield played sax with Lionel Richie, Bette Midler and Anthony Hamilton, he was a student at Charlotte’s Arts+. The self-proclaimed “saxiest man alive” also played with Prince, whom he considered a mentor and friend. Crutchfield showed musical promise at a tender age. At just 4 years old, he was at a concert in Roanoke, Va., when the headliner noticed his enthusiasm, stopped the show and invited him on stage. The musician was so impressed, he gave the prodigy one of his own saxes. That artist? None other than Kenny G. It was an auspicious beginning for neo-soul superstar Crutchfield, who’d go on to hone his musicianship at Arts+, then known as Community School of the Arts. The nonprofit has been sparking creativity in Charlotte youth — and now, adults — for more than 50 years. Middle C Jazz, 300 S. Brevard St. Tickets for this fundraiser start at $100 and are available at artsplus.org/event


North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photograph by Matthew Murphy

The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Photograph by Matthew Murphy.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical, presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, March 19-31

Baz Luhrmann, who directed and co-created the over-the-top film Moulin Rouge! (2001), turned over the reins when his brainchild became a musical. Tony Award-winning Alex Timbers brought Luhrmann’s fever dream to wondrous life on a Broadway stage, which barely contains the extravagance. “I knew I wasn’t the right person to reinterpret something I made years ago,” Luhrmann wrote. “I feared I might be inclined to protect every choice … made in the original … as if it were somehow sacred, but that is the antithesis of art … So, I made the conscious decision to hand the work over and, instead of being the birther, to become something of an uncle to the project.” At the Moulin Rouge, barely-scraping-by Bohemians mingle with looking-for-a-good-time aristocrats. At Paris’ most decadent cabaret, they’re all just bon vivants savoring music, dance, Champagne (and absinthe, occasionally). The musical won a whopping 10 Tony Awards, including the coveted statue for Best Musical. And the songs? Naturally, a musical known for glorious excess is packed with them. There’s Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me,” Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass,” Elton John’s “Your Song,” Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and — the opening number, Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade.” And many more. “Come What May” (yet another song from the musical), don’t miss this. Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets start at $35. carolinatix.org  

Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy at the Gambrell Center, March 23. 

Fiddle virtuosos Natalie MacMaster (who’s recorded with Yo-Yo Ma and toured with The Chieftains) and Donnell Leahy met as teens and are now husband and wife as well as musical collaborators. The couple will bring a bit o’ Ireland (by way of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) to the Queen City in an evening of Celtic music, dance and stories. (It’s an appropriate way to celebrate a belated St. Paddy’s Day.) MacMaster is also a step dancer and an Order of Canada recipient who’s won two JUNO Awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy), multiple East Coast Music Awards and a Grammy nod. Leahy, known for his high-energy performances, is widely recognized as one of the best fiddlers in the world. As they often do, the couple will share the stage with their seven talented children, the youngest of whom isn’t even in elementary school yet. Sandra Levine Theatre at the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for Arts and Civic Engagement, Queens University of Charlotte, 2319 Wellesley Ave. Tickets start at $28 and are available at arts.queens.edu or 704-337-2466 ext. 1. 

BONUS EVENT: CSO Roadshow (April 28, May 5 and 12, June 21)

Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Our Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is hitting the road! In an innovative bit of programming, CSO is taking its new Stage on Wheels out into the community for free “drive-up” community concerts. The mobile concert series — a partnership with the city — features a customized 40-foot trailer that can accommodate 25 to 30 musicians. The inaugural season includes four performances from April through June in underinvested neighborhoods identified as Corridors of Opportunity. The traveling musicians’ set list will be shaped by conversations between the symphony and the communities hosting the performances. Each program will be tailored to the neighborhood where the concert takes place. “A traveling concert series is the kind of unique and engaging initiative that I’m proud Charlotte residents will experience,” said Mayor Vi Lyles in a press release. “CSO Roadshow will bring the joy of music to the center of our community.” Look for six more performances this fall. The first appearance will be at the Latin American Coalition, 4938 Central Ave. Visit charlottesymphony.org/csoroadshow for details.


Swan Lake, presented by Charlotte Ballet, May 3 – 12

If someone told you Charlotte Ballet had never performed Swan Lake, you’d probably think they were misinformed. And yet, this production marks the first time the longtime ballet company — the oldest in the state — has staged what’s arguably the world’s most famous ballet. The story has its roots in Russian and German folk tales: A sorcerer’s curse turns Princess Odette into a swan. Can the love of Prince Siegfried, who falls for Odette, reverse the hex? No spoilers here. Ib Andersen, Ballet Arizona’s artistic director who was accepted into the School of the Royal Danish Ballet at 7 and became the company’s principal dancer at 20, has based his choreography on that of Marius Petipa, considered “the father of classical ballet.” The splendor you witness on stage will be matched by the splendor you hear; the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is playing Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score. Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. Tickets start at $30. carolinatix.org

Sarah Jarosz, Polaroid Lovers Tour. Photograph by Shervin Lainez.

Sarah Jarosz, Polaroid Lovers Tour. Photograph by Shervin Lainez.

Sarah Jarosz, Polaroid Lovers Tour, May 8

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz released her debut album, Song Up In Her Head, when she was just 18. The native Texan was a child phenom who began playing mandolin at age 10 and, soon after, took up guitar and banjo. Since her debut album, she’s put out five additional studio albums, earned 10 Grammy nominations and won four. She’s toured with fellow Americana darling Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) and Garrison Keillor of “Prairie Home Companion.” Jarosz’s latest album, Polaroid Lovers (out Jan. 26), examines life’s ephemeral moments. “What I love about a Polaroid is that it’s capturing something so fleeting, but at the same time it makes that moment last forever,” she said. Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. Tickets start at $35. neighborhoodtheatre.com 

Holst’s The Planets, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, May 17-18

CSO closes out the season with a real barnburner. The seven-movement orchestral suite by Gustav Holst grew out of the composer’s fascination with astrology. It took Holst three years to complete his masterwork. He wrote the first movement (Mars) in early 1914 and didn’t finish the orchestration until 1917. Each movement of the suite is named for a planet. Our own planet isn’t featured, and Pluto hadn’t yet been discovered, which is just as well, since it was later demoted. In the final movement, the orchestra is generally joined by a wordless female chorus, usually situated offstage. The entire program is celestially inspired. Greenville, N.C., native Caroline Shaw’s The Observatory and CSO cellist Jeremy Lamb’s A Ride on ’Oumuamua, inspired by the first known interstellar object to travel our solar system, round out the evening. (Shaw won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music for her a cappella Partita for 8 Voices.) William Eddins, former music director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, conducts. Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. Tickets start at $22. charlottesymphony.org 

Next to Normal, presented by Theatre Charlotte, May 10 – 26

In the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, a suburban family grapples with a crisis and the capriciousness of the mother’s bipolar disorder. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2009, was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won three: Best Original Score, Best Orchestration and Best Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley. Using humor, candor and a powerful pop-rock score, writer Tom Kitt and lyricist and book writer Brian Yorkey take on depression, grief, suicide, addiction and America’s upper-middle-class penchant for keeping up appearances. Next to Normal reveals the lengths some parents will go to try to keep life, in the aftermath of a tragedy, normal. Or as close as possible. Billy Ensley (whom theater lovers may know for playing Hedwig at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte) directs the last play of Theatre Charlotte’s 96th season. Theatre Charlotte, 501 Queens Rd. Tickets from $15 (student) to $32 (adult). theatrecharlotte.org  

Hasan Minhaj: Off With His Head, presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, May 16

Hasan Minhaj — stand-up comic, improv artist, political satirist — is unafraid to take on sensitive topics. He talks about politics, therapy and infertility with keen insight and irreverence. Minhaj, who majored in political science at UC Davis, was a senior correspondent on “The Daily Show” and headlined the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. (An honor that, in previous years, went to Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Stephen Colbert, among others.) He’s a two-time Peabody Award-winning comedian beloved for his Netflix specials, “Homecoming King” and “The King’s Jester” and the Netflix satirical series, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” which won an Emmy and a Peabody. In 2019, TIME magazine named Minhaj one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. Tickets start at $49.50. carolinatix.org

Tim McGraw: Standing Room Only, May 17

In a career spanning more than three decades, three-time Grammy Award-winning Tim McGraw has earned a reputation for putting on high-energy live shows. Expect a big, lavish production; McGraw’s greatest hits (“Live Like You Were Dying,” “I Like It, I Love It”); and songs from his most recent album — his 17th — Standing Room Only. But don’t expect pyrotechnics; McGraw has said, “I’m not a big pyro guy. I’m scared to death … I move around all over the place and sure enough I’ll be standing right over one of those things when it goes off. We don’t need that. I’d light my a** on fire.” McGraw has sold more than 90 million records worldwide; won 21 Academy of Country Music Awards and 14 Country Music Association Awards; and added “actor” to his resume in 2004 when he joined the cast of  “Friday Night Lights.” More recently, he’s been in “Yellowstone” and “1883.” Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Carly “Every Little Thing” Pearce opens. Spectrum Center, 333 E. Trade St. Ticket prices fluctuate but start at around $40. ticketmaster.com 

Parade, presented by QC Concerts, May 18-19

Against a backdrop of religious intolerance, social injustice and racial strife, Parade explores the evils of prejudice and the redemptive power of love. In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jewish man managing a pencil factory in Georgia is tried for the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old factory worker. A corrupt prosecutor, an antisemitic journalist and a janitor’s false testimony help seal Leo’s fate, although he’d already been considered guilty by nearly everyone around him. Gov. John Slaton and Leo’s wife, Lucille, are the only people who believe in his innocence. If it all seems eerily vivid, it’s because it’s based on a true — and tragic — story.  With a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and a score by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Bridges of Madison County), the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1998, examines a dark chapter in American history. The recent Broadway redux, starring Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt and The Cher Show’s Micaela Diamond, won the 2023 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. QC Concerts Founder Zachary Tarlton serves as both director and music director. Michael Hough conducts the “concert-style” production: Don’t expect an elaborate set or costumes. Do expect incredible music. Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts. Tickets start at $18. qcconcerts.com 


Mike Birbiglia, Please Stop the Ride, presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, June 26

“Birbigs” is a comedian, actor, director, podcaster and author known for mining his personal life for its comedic value. After getting his start as an intern on Conan O’Brien’s show, he gained worldwide fame that’s taken him everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to New York’s Carnegie Hall. His solo shows — Sleepwalk With Me, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Thank God For Jokes and The New One (about his baby) — had successful runs on and off Broadway. As an actor, Birbiglia has appeared in Trainwreck, The Fault in Our Stars, A Man Called Otto and Taylor Swift’s music video for “Anti-Hero.” His book, Sleepwalk with Me and Other Painfully True Stories, was a New York Times bestseller. He sold out an 85-performance Broadway run of The Old Man and the Pool. His current tour, which began last November, is regularly selling out, too. Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St. Tickets start at $39. carolinatix.org  SP

NOTE: The concert for Grammy-winning Americana-country singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash — originally scheduled for Dec. 8, 2023 (and listed on our Fall Arts Preview) — was rescheduled. Cash will perform at 7:30 p.m. on April 6 at the Gambrell Center at Queens University of Charlotte. Tickets start at $52. queens.edu/arts

Featured image: Dance Theater of Harlem: Company Artists Kouadio Davis and Alexandra Hutchinson in Higher Ground. Photograph by Theik Smith.


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