Since I missed out on saying it in January, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I’ve been laboring over the subject of this column for the last few days, feeling the need to give some attention to a big bummer: the closing of Empyrean. BUT, alas, I require BOTH hands to count the number of times I’ve written about depressing venue issues in this column… and so, instead, I’m going to turn to something REALLY AWESOME!

On January 19, INB Performing Arts Center hosted the touring production of “SPRING AWAKENING” – yes, the play mentioned here in October that won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2007. And the day AFTER the play, the response was overwhelming… and overwhelmingly positive! This might be my favorite story in a while, so I followed up with WestCoast Entertainment, who is in charge of all things Broadway in Spokane. Marketing Coordinator Danielle Curtis echoed my sentiments exactly, saying, “It’s great to see Spokane embracing new and less typical entertainment!”

“We are very pleased with the response we have received from [the] engagement,” WestCoast Entertainment President Jack G. Lucas added via email. “Our office has received countless phone calls from patrons who tell us this performance touched their lives. ‘Spring Awakening’ is an important piece of musical theatre. We believe it was important to share this performance with Spokane, and we’re glad it was enjoyed by those who attended.”

Excellent! And, let’s be clear here, this isn’t a rag-on-Spokane’s-lack-of-culture mention, but rather a WAY-TO-GO-SPOKANE! I wanted to share what I think is a really fantastic moment for theatre (and the arts) in Spokane. “Spring Awakening” is challenging, it’s new, it’s unconventional, and it has changed so many people’s lives in its six short years. It’s very exciting to see it a) IN Spokane, and, even more, b) being so readily embraced.

While I can guaranteeeee you that nothing further on down the line will quite compare to this production (I actually just saw it last night in Tacoma for the second time and WOW, AGAIN), but there are a handful of great productions headed to town in the 2011 season. Most notably among those is “WICKED,” based on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West BEFORE she got tangled up with Dorothy Gale, which is a great story with great music, and a great underlying message (report back on the difference between an “animal” and an “Animal” afterward!). This month’s show, running February 10-13, is “Legally Blonde,” which will probably NOT be as fulfilling, but would probably be quite a bit of fun! More info and tickets are available at the Best of Broadway Spokane website.

New to Far West Billiards is a monthly showcase called Feed the Artist, which claims to “focus on creating financial, motivational and social assistance for emerging artists.” Hmmm. Each month’s opening night is tied in with local First Friday festivities, with this month’s falling on February 4 and featuring local artists HEATHERANN FRANZ and SUMMER HIGHTOWER, with live music by DJ LIKES GIRLS. Artwork will stay on display through the month.

Also radical this month is/might be GANG OF FOUR’S show at the Knitting Factory on February 14. I was lucky enough to see the reunited group when they toured in 2004 and it was MAGIC. Now they tour with originals Jon King and Andy Gill, with replacements in for Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham. Either way, I imagine this will be a treat. Soooo many bands these daaaays have these guys to thank for their sound, popularity and loads of money. As well, the group has a new album, Content, released in January.