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Culture notes: Denver’s ‘Almost Heaven’ to launch Ga. Ensemble season; Emerging Artist Award winner’s exhibit opens Thursday

Georgia Ensemble’s season opener will be ‘Almost Heaven’ for Denver fans
If everything old can be new again, maybe everything deemed square long ago can be hip for the first time.

What other conclusion to draw from the announcement that Roswell’s Georgia Ensemble Theatre will open its 2013-14 season with the jukebox musical “Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America” — this following on the heels of the early April release of the album “The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver?”

The tribute album features artists including My Morning Jacket, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Dave Matthews and Train updating ultra-familiar Denver tunes for a new generation.

“Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America” does much the same. The musical features 29 “rediscovered and reinvented” Denver songs, according to Georgia Ensemble, including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” “Annie’s Song” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

While the tribute album is new, “Almost Heaven” played for nearly two years in Denver starting in 2002 and had an off-Broadway run in 2005.

Reviews by New York critics, not the types you’d expect to embrace Denver’s granola-sweet songbook, were mixed.

The New York Times called it “a pale imitation of a biographical musical.” The Associated Press found it “sentimental and at times drowsy.” But Variety termed “Almost Heaven” “an excellent tribute to an artist who remains great at making people feel good.”

Denver, who perished in a 1997 plane crash, was well aware that his songs evoked such mixed feelings. “All right, I’m not Bob Dylan. I don’t write songs like that,” he said in a 1975 interview. “But I think 25 years from now people will be singing my songs even if they don’t remember who wrote them.”

Here’s the rundown of Georgia Ensemble’s 21st season:

Sept. 5-22: “Almost Heaven: John Denver’s America,” written and adapted by Peter Glazer

Nov. 7-24: “Deathtrap,” the Ira Levin thriller

Jan. 9-26, 2014: “The Only Light in Reno,” a world premiere comedy by Atlantan Topher Payne about the Nevada filming of “The Misfits” with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift

Feb. 27-March 16, 2014: “The Great Gatsby,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic adapted by Simon Levy

April 10-27, 2014: “Camelot,” the Lerner-Loewe musical

Subscriptions (with early-bird pricing through May 17): 770-641-1260. Meanwhile, Georgia Ensemble’s current season closer, “Hello, Dolly!” continues through April 28. Information: HOWARD POUSNER

Ex-graffiti artist emerges with Buckhead show
Born, the Atlanta found-object artist who was named the Forward Arts Foundation’s 2012‐13 Emerging Artist Award winner, opens the exhibit Thursday that accompanies the honor. “Wabi Sabi: New Work by Born” debuts at Swan Coach House Gallery in Buckhead with a 6-9 p.m. public reception.

 Works by Emerging Artist Award finalists S. Andre Keichian, Kevin Byrd, Romy Maloon and John-Paul Floyd also will be exhibited. A former graffiti artist, Born will give a free talk at 2 p.m. May 4. The show continues through June 1. 3130 Slaton Drive, Atlanta. 404-266-2636, HOWARD POUSNER

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