Uzay Hasanusta steps lively in the title role of "Billy Elliot," opening the 100th season of the newly renovated Des Moines Playhouse.


dsm Theater Review by Michael Morain

"Billy Elliot" has a lot of moving parts and a lot of parts that are moving.

So maybe it’s ironic that one of the most moving moments in the Des Moines Community Playhouse’s new production is almost perfectly still, when the scrappy title character sits in a spotlit chair and sings to the ghost of his mother. While his voice rings outa little shaky but clearyou’ll start to feel a lump in your throat. Your heart will shift a bit. You will be moved somehow, I promise.

The musical about an 11-year-old boy who stumbles into a ballet class and discovers a hidden talent is a fitting show to open the company’s 100th season. That kind of thing happens all the time at the Playhouse, where the carpet still smells new from a recent top-to-bottom renovation.

But "Billy Elliot" is also a good show for our current political moment, a reminder that even fractured communities can pull together to take care of their own.

The story takes place during a British miners’ strike in the mid-1980s, and when Billy’s gruff dad (Micheal Davenport) can’t afford to take his son to a ballet audition in London, folks on both sides of the picket line pass around a hard hat and quietly pitch in for the cause.

The cast and crew pitch in less quietly for the boisterous show itself. Director John Viars, musical director Brenton Brown and choreographer Megan Helmers have coached the 42-member cast into an effective team, where squadrons of police officers and coal miners share the stage with a gang of fidgety girls in white tutus. "Solidarity," the biggest number in Elton John’s score, plays out like an elaborate game of Red Rover. (According to a 2004 British press report, the rock icon "was so moved by the hit British film Billy Elliot that he agreed immediately to write the songs for the musical version. … Sir Elton said the theme of a father failing to understand the artistic aspirations of his son had mirrored his own upbringing.")

Several fine individual performances emerge from the tumult, including Billy’s addled granny (the excellent Mary Bricker), his tough-love dance teacher (Rachel Meyer) and his best friend (Ryan Henzi), who loves dressing up in his sister’s clothing and helps Billy belt out the show’s main message.

"If you wanna be a dancer, dance," they sing together. "If you wanna be a miner, mine. If you want to dress like somebody else, fine, fine fine."

That’s not exactly an original idea, but you’d be hard-pressed to find it told in a more authentic way. What made a hit out of the 2000 movie, won 10 Tony Awards for the 2008 Broadway musical, and now makes the local production so goodand so movingis how ordinary Billy is.

Here, the role is shared by Uzay Hasanusta (the son of Ballet Des Moines co-founders Serkan Usta and Lori Grooters) and the earnest Asher Ekhardt, who, in the performance I saw, seemed like any other kid with a messy room and a pain-in-the-neck big brother (Nic Lovan).

But that’s why down-to-earth Billy leaps to such heights.

"Billy Elliot: The Musical" runs through Oct. 28 at the Des Moines Community Playhouse. $29-$46, with discounts for seniors and students.

Inspiration comes from knowing that every person, home, environment, culture, and community are intertwined. Silent Rivers lives, designs and builds by values that support this connectivity. It’s what inspires us to create. ... Read more »

By Design presents dsmDining —

Canelés require fermenting the batter as well as greasing the molds with a mixture of butter and beeswax to get just-the-right crust.

By Wini Moranville

Ten years ago, I spent a stretch of time in Bordeaux, France, where I was introduced to canelés, a specialty of the city. Hallmarks of these rum-infused teacakes include a custardy center and a lightly crisp, darkly caramelized crust—plus the unmistakable ridged cylindrical shape, traditionally gained through the copper molds in which they’re baked. One bite of these rich, dense treats and I thought, "Proust can keep his famed madeleines—I want canelés!"

Fortunately, Katy Nelson, owner of Scenic Route Bakery, had an equally forceful epiphany last spring when she popped into a bakery in Charlottesville, Virginia, that served canelés. While the French-trained pastry chef was certainly well acquainted with the treats, her inspiring re-encounter with them led her to say, "That’s it. I’m done. I’m not living without these any more."

She soon invested in the pricey copper molds and, working alongside Scenic Route baker Josh Hanks, perfected a recipe. While the key ingredients are simply flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt and rum, a lot of attention to detail goes into these treats—they require fermenting the batter as well as greasing the molds with a mixture of butter and beeswax to get just the right crust.

These are handily as good as any I’ve had in Bordeaux; in fact, when I tasted them, I realized I had forgotten just how good they really are. They’re perfect with a cup of coffee or tea for midmorning or afternoon. However, look for them only on Fridays and Saturdays, when they make their way into Scenic Route’s pastry rotation. Each day’s batch is limited to 16 (that’s the number of molds they have). You might want to get there early.

Scenic Route is at 350 E Locust St., 515-288-0004;

Wini Moranville writes about food, wine and dining for dsm magazine and dsmWeekly. Follow her on Facebook at All Things Food–DSM.

Well it’s officially fall! If you’re like me, the season brings thoughts of cool, crisp air, warm sweaters and cozying up at home with a big blanket and a good book or movie. With cooler weather coming, we’ll all inevitably be spending more time at home soon as winter approaches ... Read more »

The program "Contemporary Works" showcases the creativity and athleticism embraced by talented emerging choreographers.


Ballet Des Moines presents its fall performance, "Contemporary Works," Oct. 19-21 at Hoyt Sherman Place. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19 and 20; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21. Tickets are $25.50-$52.50 ($18.50 for students) and can be purchased at the box office or online.

This program presents ballets by emerging choreographers, including world-renowned Ma Cong. It showcases how Ballet Des Moines embraces a range of artistic creation, from preserving the tradition of classical ballet to promoting the athleticism of contemporary dance.

For more information, visit

The river-facing side of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates will wear multiple masks as a "Mental Banquet" progresses.


A 115-year-old downtown landmark gets a colorful new look next week, when a public art project briefly bedazzles the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.

The spectacle of "Mental Banquet: Painting With Lights" will unfold at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, and at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16. Presented by the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation, the project is the work of  internationally recognized artist Oyoram (Yorame Mevorach).

The artist uses 3D video mapping technology to push visual boundaries. Constructed and animated images colorfully and dramatically transform the eastern facade of the riverfront building at 100 Locust St. The project can be viewed from any area with an unobstructed view of the building's east side.

The Oct. 16 presentation of "Mental Banquet" coincides with the United Nations’ annual celebration of World Food Day. It is also on the eve of the annual Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, Oct. 17-19 at the downtown Marriott hotel. Known informally as the "Borlaug Dialogue," the annual symposium brings together over 1,200 people from more than 65 countries to address issues related to global food security and nutrition.

For information about the symposium, its schedule, the Food Prize, Laureates and more, click here.
Interested in Iowa's role in a hungry world? The Borlaug Blog offers diverse voices, including this commentary by Chicago writer and food-supply expert Roger Thurow.

Pompeii IPA is canned in the brewing and packaging facility at Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah.


Creating a hype that makes beer geeks behave like tween girls screaming for their favorite boy band wasn’t really what Clark Lewey had in mind when he launched Toppling Goliath in Decorah. He was just tired of driving to Rochester, Minnesota, or La Crosse, Wisconsin, to find his favorite beers. A home brewing kit set him on a course that changed his career and his community. To understand the sensation, read this story from the new issue of ia magazine, dsm's statewide sister publication. To read more ia stories, click here.

"Yellow Chairs," an oil painting by Cedar Rapids artist Michael S. Ryan, whose work is featured at Artisan Gallery 218.


Valley Junction galleries host Fall Gallery Night with receptions this Friday, Oct. 12.

Olson-Larsen Galleries is launching the exhibit "Mending Fractures: New Work by Lee Emma Running and Kim Hutchison." It celebrates the artists' knack for repurposing, giving discarded objects a new artistic life. The opening reception is from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday; the exhibit runs through Dec. 1.

Up the street at Artisan Gallery 218, a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. opens a show of paintings by Michael S. Ryan. The exhibit "Chasing Bonnard," on display through Oct. 31, showcases Ryan's interest in the work of French painter and printmaker Pierre Bonnard.

New Kids on the Block headline the 2019 "Mixtape Tour" that starts next May and reaches Des Moines June 9.


Tickets went on sale this morning to see legends of the 1980s and '90s—New Kids on the Block, Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty by Nature, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany—coming to Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday, June 9. For other fun opportunities, explore a pair of easy-to-use online calendars. We at dsm magazine and the Business Record maintain this calendar with handy filters so you can see just the types of events you're searching for. For even more categories, check Catch Des Moines.

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