I think we can all agree that the worst time of year is the long, dreary slog from post-holidays December to the first bluebonnet blooms of March. This year, we’re turning to exciting young novelists, up-and-coming A-listers, and nostalgic TV reboots to carry us through to spring. Our winter cultural lineup includes plenty of reasons to get off the couch, including Cowboy Bob, a debut musical based on the infamous bank robber, and 80 for Brady, a tale of Houston Super Bowl LI starring Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Lily Tomlin. No matter your taste or preferred medium of entertainment, there’s no reason to be bored with this roster of happenings around the state.
A New Race of Men From Heaven by Chaitali Sen (January 17, Sarabande Books)
Since my son was born earlier this year, finding time to read has been a challenge. I used to spend entire Sunday afternoons getting lost in long, dense novels while curled up on the worn leather sofa at my favorite coffee shop (which sadly may not be long for this world). Now I steal reading time here and there, usually first thing in the morning before anyone else is awake. Short stories are perfect for this, because they allow you to dip into another world in the span of fifteen or twenty minutes. (An Alice Munro collection is one of the only books on my nightstand that I’ve actually finished in the last few months.) Next on my list: Chaitali Sen’s A New Race of Men From Heaven. The Austin author’s understated, lyrical prose has drawn comparisons to the work of Michael Ondaatje and Jhumpa Lahiri. A Kirkus reviewer called her latest, which won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, “a study in restraint.” After a year that felt a little too unrestrained, what with Elon Musk shouting on Twitter, and Ted Cruz, well, being Ted Cruz, that sounds pretty great to me. — Rose Cahalan
Trash by Sylvia Aguilar Zéleny (March 7, Deep Vellum Publishing)
Sylvia Aguilar Zéleny teaches creative writing at UT–El Paso, but her new novel Trash trains its view directly across the Rio Grande at Ciudad Juárez. The book weaves together the tales of three protagonists who frequent the same municipal garbage dump: an academic who crosses the river to study the place and care for her aging tía, a feral teenager left there to fend for herself, and a trans sex worker who operates in the area. It’s a portrait of a place like nowhere else, just off the edge of Texas, and it reaches us thanks to two indispensable local institutions: Houston-based translator J.D. Pluecker, whose energy bridging Spanish- and English-language literary communities knows no borders, and Dallas publisher Deep Vellum, which, between an impressive recent run of new releases and ongoing reissues of out-of-print experimental classics first published by Dalkey Archive, continues to build a case for itself as the best indie press in America. — Michael Agresta
Film, TV, and Music
The Last of Us (HBO, January 15)
HBO’s adaptation of the mega-popular video game series stars Pedro Pascal, whose brief stint as a San Antonio middle schooler fails to qualify him as an official Texan, or so I’ve been told by my Texas Monthly editors. The show was also co-created by Craig Mazin, but I’ve also been informed that being college roommates with Ted Cruz doesn’t really count either. So for our narrowly defined purposes, the local appeal of The Last of Us lies in its setting: Like the game, the series kicks off in Austin, where Pascal’s journeyman protagonist Joel is living when a mutant fungus outbreak suddenly transforms half of humanity into cannibalistic zombies. Of course, The Last of Us was actually filmed in Alberta, Canada; some behind-the-scenes shots reveal how Alberta was transformed into Austin through clever signage and, presumably, by raising everyone’s rent 800 percent. But while the show’s not technically Texan either, if nothing else it will give us all the cathartic pleasure of seeing our Bum Steer of the Year recipient ravaged by sudden apocalypse, rather than the more gradual devastation it’s undergoing now. — Sean O’Neal
80 for Brady (Theaters, February 3)
There are a million different ways Hollywood could make a movie about 2017’s Super Bowl LI, which was held in Houston. The game was the greatest Super Bowl ever played, with a three-act structure that would make screenwriting expert Robert McKee weak in the knees—but most of the takes on Tom Brady’s finest on-field performance would be boring or clichéd. (Nobody needs to see a hagiography of the underdog-turned-GOAT, and definitely nobody needs to see more blustering Boston sports bros depicted on screen.) Which is what makes 80 for Brady exciting: One thing we haven’t seen is a quartet of octogenarian Oscar-winning actresses in a goofy road comedy about their love of Brady and the Pats. Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Lily Tomlin are among the finest talents cinema has ever produced, and they’ve never appeared in a single movie together. I’m super psyched to see the four of them spend a couple hours goofing off in an absurd-looking comedy about a trip to Houston. Is there a better way to tell a story about the greatest Super Bowl, and the greatest quarterback, than in a movie that gives four of our greatest actors the chance to cut loose in their golden years? — Dan Solomon
Bruce Springsteen (Dallas, Houston, Austin; February 10, 14, 16)
When Bruce Springsteen announced that he’d spend six months of 2023 on the road, my only question was how many of those shows I’d be able to see. The answer, it turned out, was pretty satisfying: Three, if I felt like driving from Dallas to Houston to Austin in the span of six days, which I absolutely do. The Boss’s trio of Texas dates, beginning in Dallas on February 10, heading to Houston on Valentine’s Day, and wrapping in Austin on February 16, come near the start of his run through the U.S. and Europe, and are an early favorite to make up the best week I’ll have in 2023. A New Jersey legend, Springsteen’s obviously not a Texan, but the Garden State’s greatest musical export infuses his music with as much of a sense of his home state as Willie Nelson does with Texas—which, as someone who appreciates home state pride, makes him kind of an honorary Texan to me. — D.S.
Party Down (Starz, February 24)
This never happens. Of all the shows mourned that suffered an unjust early cancellation, how many returned with a new season nearly thirteen years later? The comedically acclaimed cast of Party Down, which follows a Los Angeles catering crew holding out for their big breaks, will once again don their little pink bow ties when the show returns with six new episodes (centered, naturally, around an impromptu reunion) this February. Created by Austin TV writer Rob Thomas and starring Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally, Adam Scott, and Martin Starr, the original seasons were critically lauded but had a notoriously small viewership—a typical formula for cult status. If you, like many, missed watching the first time around, seasons one and two are available to stream on Hulu before the show’s return. — Amanda O’Donnell
Jonathan Majors in Ant-Man: Quantumania (Theaters, February 17) and Creed III (Theaters, March 3)
It’s been the year of Jonathan Majors since at least 2020, when the Metroplex-bred actor landed his starring role in HBO’s regrettably short-lived Lovecraft Country. Majors has been verging on mainstream breakthrough for a while now; this year brought him closer than ever, with a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live in the fall and a lead role opposite Texas’s other perennial next big thing, Glen Powell, in the recent Devotion. But 2023 well and truly promises to launch Majors into the A-list at last. February finds Majors officially kicking off his multi-film run as Marvel’s Kang the Conqueror in the next Ant-Man movie, playing the final-boss supervillain to a new generation of Avengers. And just a few weeks later, Majors will make another high-profile heel turn in Creed III, squaring off as the hungry challenger to Michael B. Jordan’s boxing champ. Both movies are poised to be two of the year’s biggest hits; together they promise to catapult Majors into the kind of international stardom we’ve been predicting for a while now. — S.O.
Nina Simone: Four Women (Russell Hill Rogers Theater, San Antonio, January 20–February 12)
Set on the day after the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Christina Ham’s powerful “play with music” imagines how Nina Simone’s civil-rights-era activism came to life through her music as she writes a song at her home in Mount Vernon, New York. Ham, who also wrote Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 and the musical Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges, had a personal reason for setting this play around the church bombing: though Ham grew up in Los Angeles, her mother attended Sixteenth Street Baptist when she was young. Framed by both traditional spirituals and Simone’s own incendiary songs, including “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” “Go Limp,” and “Mississippi Goddam,” Four Women delves into the artist’s creative process and reveals how her music helped countless Black women on a journey of healing and transformation. — Amy Weaver Dorning
Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones with Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, February 8)
The brilliant jazz trumpeter–composer Terence Blanchard, who has scored most of Spike Lee’s films since Jungle Fever in 1991 and was Oscar-nominated for the two most recent, BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods, joins the DSO for a single performance of his recent opera Fire Shut Up in My Bones, which opened the 2021 season at the Metropolitan Opera as the first opera by a Black composer ever staged there. Based on the memoir by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, it’s a searing story of Black experience in America, told through Blanchard’s music and a libretto by Kasi Lemmons, director of films such as Eve’s Bayou and Harriet. The cast is led by bass-baritone Nicholas Newson, a Rice University graduate and rising star who appeared in the Dallas Opera’s Rigoletto this fall. The next night, February 9, Blanchard will give a jazz concert on DSO’s stage with his quintet the E-Collective and the string ensemble Turtle Island Quartet. — Marilyn Bailey
Das Rheingold (Dallas Opera, February 10–18)
It’s a good time to be a Richard Wagner fan in North Texas. Earlier this year, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra announced that it would perform an ambitious concert version of the German composer’s four-opera, sixteen-hour Ring cycle in 2024. If you can’t wait that long, the Dallas Opera is staging a full-scale production of Das Rheingold, the first part of the cycle, in February. At a comparatively short two and a half hours, Rheingold is the perfect introduction to Wagner for opera newbies. And with a brand-new production by the Atlanta Opera’s Israeli-born artistic director, Tomer Zvulun, it also promises to attract the kind of hard-core Wagnerians who happily jet across the world to witness a new staging. (They’re easily spotted—just look for the people wearing Viking helmets.) — Michael Hardy
Sarah’s Songs (The Long Center, Austin, February 10–12)
Following up Ballet Austin’s sixtieth-annual performance of The Nutcracker (and its most successful run ever of the holiday stalwart) is a trio of works that promises to be a dance-lover’s dream. Curated by artistic director Stephen Mills, the collection of ballets includes George Balanchine’s romantic Serenade, with its Tchaikovsky score and dreamy blue palette. Next is choreographer Jessica Lang’s contemporary ballet Garden Blue. Shot through with vivid color and featuring large moveable pieces resembling sculptures, this piece explores color, form, and movement, and features the onstage work of visual artist Sarah Crowner. Concluding the evening is the world premiere of Mills’ own I Am The Monument, set to the music of Philip Glass and dedicated to longtime Ballet Austin supporters Sarah and Dr. Ernest Butler, in celebration of their love of the arts. — A.W.D.
“Songs of the Earth” Festival (Jones Hall, Houston, February 10–19)
Houston Symphony Orchestra is smartly packaging back-to-back programs as themed “festivals” that incorporate free community events. February’s series uses Gustav Mahler’s meditative masterpiece Song of the Earth as a springboard for several concerts that build bridges between classical European and contemporary Asian composers. New music director Juraj Valčuha conducts the Mahler February 10–12, with world-renowned vocalists Sasha Cooke and Clay Hilley performing the accompanying ancient Chinese poetry. That program opens with a work by the renowned (and living) Chinese-French composer Qigang Chen. One evening features the Indonesian gamelan. The festival concludes with three performances of Claude Debussy’s shimmering La mer and a late twentieth–century work that freely quotes it, Tōru Takemitsu’s Quotation of Dream. — Molly Glentzer
Cowboy Bob (Alley Theatre, Houston, March 3–26)
We’ve got our hands up for the world premiere of this experimental musical with a Thelma and Louise spirit. It’s by an all-female creative team that includes Molly Beach Murphy, an up-and-coming playwright from Galveston. Cowboy Bob is loosely based on the real-life story of Peggy Jo Tallas, a meek Dallas woman who robbed banks for about a decade to pay her mother’s medical bills. Tallas called herself Cowboy Bob because on the job, she dressed as a bearded man in Western wear. Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth once described her as “a modern-day Bonnie without a Clyde.” She eluded the law for a decade, until she died in 2005 during a shootout with police; she was wielding only a toy gun. Murphy and Cowboy Bob co-creators Jeanna Phillips and Annie Tippe tell the story through the lens of people who might have known her, including a fictional Chili’s waitress who’s hungry for life-affirming inspiration. — M.G.
“Leslie Martinez: The Secrecy of Water” (Blaffer Art Museum, Houston, January 20–March 12)
Born in the Rio Grande Valley and based in Dallas, Leslie Martinez was a breakout star at Art Basel Miami Beach this December, selling out a gallery show and earning a laudatory write-up in The Guardian. At the Blaffer, expect to see large-scale works that layer different materials, textures, and colors, including bright shocks of pink, blue, and yellow. Martinez practices a no-waste studio approach, incorporating cast-off elements of older works into new canvases, manipulating and restructuring the surfaces of the paintings into organic, almost sculptural landscapes. This will be the artist’s first-ever institutional show, thematically inspired by the Texas drought of 2022. It will be interesting to see how much Texas audiences are able to attune to the poetic intentions—Martinez speaks of wanting to link a meditation on climate extremities to the political atmosphere of the present moment—in these highly abstract works. — M.A.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen” (Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, February 12–April 30)
The Modern’s next exhibit tackles the question of how the astonishing takeover of our lives by digital screens has been reflected in art. Its starting point is 1969—year of the moon-landing TV spectacle as well as the first messages sent over ARPANET, the proto-internet—and it takes us through our screen-happy present. Curator Alison Hearst has chosen pieces by fifty artists who’ve confronted this revolution in their work. The inevitable Andy Warhol is the biggest name, but there’s a diverse range including Texas residents Liss LaFleur, Kristin Lucas, and John Pomara as well as the late video-art pioneer Nam June Paik, represented by his huge American flag made up of 84 televisions. The show will sprawl across 25,000 square feet in the photogenic Tadao Ando–designed building, and many museumgoers undoubtedly will mediate the experience for themselves the way we do now: cellphones up, framing images of these screen-culture commentaries on their own little screens. — M.B.
“Day Jobs” (Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, February 19–July 23)
Don’t quit your day job—but, wait, really, don’t. A new exhibit at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art examines the creative redemption many artists find in their daily work. The featured pieces explore ways in which learning a certain trade or developing expertise in an industry outside of visual arts can broaden an artist’s craft. “Day Jobs,” which will feature works by Emma Amos, Larry Bell, Chuck Ramirez, and more, aims to “demystify” the creative process and illustrate that artistic thought occurs in everyday spaces while completing tasks sometimes considered banal (if you’ve ever sent an email, you know). Artists featured in the exhibit have been employed by major companies such as H-E-B and IKEA, or have worked jobs as a dishwasher, hairstylist, and nanny. If anything, the exhibit is sure to offer a little extra creative fuel to workers whose 9-to-5’s feature a fair amount of daydreaming. — A.O.
“None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection”(Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 19–May 14)
Don’t be fooled by the title of the exhibition “None Whatsoever.” The show contains more than one hundred masterworks from the most extensive collection of Zen artwork outside of Japan, many of which were recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Among the treasures that New Orleans residents Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen amassed during fifty years are revolutionary Edo-period hanging scrolls by artist and monk Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) that reframed Zen Buddhism as an accessible art form. We’re ready to Zen out. — M.G.