A historic Houston-Broadway debut, the Obamas, and big name changes highlight 2022 in the arts
As much as we embrace our Space City, Bayou City, and Energy Capital monikers, we in Houston are fully aware that this is an arts town. To wit: Ten years ago, Broadway World called Houston the nation's top theater scene along with New York City — imagine the change now.
Change is a theme this year in Houston arts, as the Alley Theatre announced a name change thanks to a generous — and anonymous — $25 million gift. And speaking of Houston theater, a former Rice student made history the first Latina to sing the iconic Christie role in Phantom of the Opera role on Broadway.
In dance, Houston Ballet leaped into news — also with an HQ named change, named for a longtime and beloved Houston benefactor. In visual arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston played host to the Obamas. Musically, the greatest living jazzer came to town, while we said goodbye to a cherished jazz singer.
Quite a dramatic year — here are its top moments in Houston arts.
The Alley Theatre's home on Texas Avenue has a new name: The Meredith J. Long Theatre Center. This comes after a surprising and anonymous $25 million gift to the organization's Alley Vision for the Future Campaign. The largest gift in the Alley's 75 year history, the donation sees the name change to honor the Alley's longtime chairman emeritus.
A Houston-trained woman of color made history on Broadway. Former Rice student Kanisha Feliciano took the role of Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera, making her the first Latina to sing the iconic role on Broadway. Feliciano, who identifies as Latina and Black, is also only the second Black performer to sing the role on the Great White Way. We loved the fact that Feliciano was understudying for Emilie Kouatchou, who is the first.
Houston Ballet’s downtown headquarters downtown will now be known as the Margaret Alkek Williams Center for Dance, after the beloved Houston society queen and benefactor gifted the organization $10 million organization $10 million towards the Houston Ballet Endowment. The surprise announcement was made during a dinner celebrating Williams, who has been an endless champion, and her support that dates back to 1989.
President Barack Obama and Former First Lady Michelle Obama made a stop in Houston — specifically, to the MFAH. Thousands packed the opening of Obama Portraits Tour. The MFAH made general admission to the museum and exhibit free on opening day, where visitors were encouraged to don their “Sunday best” attire and enjoy live music, food, activations, and special programs. Houston was the last stop for the tour after wildly popular shows in Chicago, New York; Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush got positively bookish in their old stomping grounds. In Houston for the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation annual and star-studded Celebration of Reading, the granddaughters of Barbara Bush and twin daughters of President George W. Bush, shared some fun family stories and insight on their new book, The Superpower Sisterhood.
Wynton Marsalis, America's greatest living jazz performer and icon, swung into town for a special performance with Jazz Houston, dubbed Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. As he explained to CultureMap, the world's most celebrated jazz trumpeter was in town to support his friend and frequent musical partner Vincent Gardner, who heads Jazz Houston. The show was a bucket-list gig for any jazz lover or fan.
And we bid farewell to a beloved local jazz legend, Yvonne Washington. Thecharming andcharismatic Houston performer who wowed audiences here and across the globes with her often stunning jazz, blues, gospel, and soul vocals, passed away at the age of 72.
Washington performed for notables such as Former President George HW Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush and toured with legends such as Stevie Wonder. She was a mainstay of jazz clubs, power performances, and even weddings (including this writer’s). Her rendition of “Amazing Grace” is nearly legendary in Houston circles: soaring, evocative, and triumphant.