Book Award Winners, Beethoven, Yoda on Tap for Festival of the Arts 2020

Postmodern Jukebox

This week, Festival of the Arts Boca unveiled the 2020 lineup for its 14th-annual cultural fete, with 10 days of authors, thinkers, musicians, dancers and films loosely organized around the theme “a season of heroes.” While some of the events fit that concept better than others, there’s an eclecticism to the lineup that is refreshing—further proof that the programmers are continuing to think outside the box even while filling it with some of the usual suspects. Here’s the lineup, which takes place, as usual, at both the Mizner Park Amphitheater and Cultural Center.

Feb. 28: Troupe Vertigo

The Festival debut of Troupe Vertigo will kick off the festivities on a literal high note. Aerial flyers and acrobats will soar near the rafters of the Mizner Park Amphitheater, contortionists will turn their bodies into putty, and jugglers will perform handy feats. The troupe, combining circus, dance and theatre, has its roots in Cirque du Soleil and other world-famous collectives. Fitting the “hero” theme, the entertainers will perform to live symphonic music from movies like “Batman,” “Mission: Impossible” and the James Bond franchise.

Feb. 29: The Moth StorySLAM

NPR nerds take note: The Moth, the weekly podcast and public-radio favorite, has been celebrating the art and craft of short-form storytelling since its formation in New York City more than 20 years ago. Certainly the most extemporaneous, interactive program in Festival of the Arts’ history, this live Moth StorySLAM welcomes participants from the audience to fearlessly walk onstage and share five-minute stories on the theme of “Achilles Heel”—aka weaknesses and soft spots, however the storyteller wants to interpret them.

Eroica Trio

Feb. 29: Beethoven’s Birthday Bash

The Festival’s premier classical music program for 2020, this celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven coincides with the master’s 250th birthday. The Eroica Trio, the first all-female chamber-music supergroup, will join the Boca Symphonia under the baton of resident conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, for a full night of Beethoven bliss, including his Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” and the “Triple” Concerto.

March 1: Milos: Voice of the Guitar

A returning champion of Festival of the Arts, Montenegro-born Milos Karadaglic will bring his acoustic-guitar majesty to the Amphitheater for an all-new program. Since he last performed in Boca Raton, Karadaglic endured a crippling head injury that led to what he called “the lowest point of his life.” Recovering, phoenix-like, from this setback—and fulfilling this year’s heroism theme nicely—Karadaglic returned to the limelight with the 2019 album The Sound of Silence, composed of compositions that inspired him during recovery, from Catalonian and Caribbean music to gorgeous instrumental covers of Radiohead, the Moody Blues, Leonard Cohen and the Magnetic Fields.

March 2: An Evening With Jesmyn Ward

At this moment in history, few names in contemporary fiction are as important as Ward’s, who in 2017 became the first woman to win the National Book Award for Fiction twice: first for 2011’s Salvage the Bones, an unsparing drama about an African-American family struggling with a teenage pregnancy in the days leading to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina; and then for 2017’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, a poetic road trip about a broken family in the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, which earned comparisons to Toni Morrison and William Faulkner.

March 3: Roz Chast: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

One of the delights of receiving my New Yorker every week in the mail is the possibility of a new Roz Chast cartoon. Chast is one of the magazine’s most enduring and entertaining comedic truth-tellers, distilling the anxieties, observations and absurdities of middle-aged life in the 21st century with a concise and deadpan wit—not to mention a frazzled style of drawing that is wholly her own. Chast has published more than a dozen books, including her landmark 2014 title Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which became the first time a graphic novel received a National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography.

March 4: Laurie Santos: Psychology and the Good Life

In a world—and especially an internet—teeming with negativity, who knew that positivity would be so popular? Dr. Laurie Santos discovered this firsthand in 2018 when she launched a class for Yale undergraduates called “Psychology and the Good Life,” focusing on positive psychology and human flourishing. More than 25 percent of the student body signed up, which made it the most popular class in Yale’s history. An expert in the brains of humans and non-human mammals alike, and a veteran TED Talker, Santos will share insights from her groundbreaking course as well as her online class, “The Science of Well-Being.”

March 5: Amy Walter: Where Are We Now?

The title of political analyst Walter’s lecture is an apt one: In today’s fast-shifting political landscape, it’s impossible to tell where we will be on March 5, 2020. One thing is for certain: With her talk scheduled just two days after Super Tuesday, we should have a much greater expectation of which Democratic hopeful will win his or her party’s nomination, and go on to face President Trump. Or President Pence. Or a Republican to be determined. Whatever the chaos in Washington, this sober-minded pundit will break it down for us.

March 6: “The Empire Strikes Back”

I’m sensing a trend, and I’m liking it. This year, the Festival presented the hugely successful original film in the “Star Wars” saga, “A New Hope,” so it’s only fitting that next year, its even more-acclaimed sequel—No. 3 on Empire magazine’s list of the 500 greatest films of all-time—will receive the live-scored treatment. Constantine Kitsopoulos guides the Symphonia through John Williams’ iconic, rousing score, while fans—hopefully many in costume!—will enjoy the movie on the Amphitheater’s 130-LCD screen.

March 7: Nu Deco Ensemble Rides Again

The Nu Deco Ensemble made such an impression in its Boca Raton debut at last year’s festival that programmers have asked it back again for another set of modern, genre-bending mash-ups of symphonic, popular and world music. This year’s explosive Queen medley was the talk of the Festival; let’s see if the orchestra can replicate or even top its success with a program still to be determined.

March 8: Postmodern Jukebox

This musical collective founded by pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee originated in 2011 in decidedly lo-fi fashion: as a group of friends making music in a Queens basement, and filming casual YouTube videos of their performances from Bradlee’s living room. Since finding his niche—recording contemporary pop hits in swing, ragtime and other vintage styles—Postmodern Jukebox has became an internet and touring juggernaut, amassing 4 million YouTube subscribers and releasing a new video every week, from “Call Me Maybe” as a jazz standard to “Feel it Still” in the ‘60s girl group style to “Shake it Off” as a vintage Motown number.

Early bird tickets for Festival of the Arts Boca 2020 are on sale through Oct. 31. Visit festivalboca.org.