We've been blessed with a steady stream of Erykah Badu updates this year. Some of the things that have kept her busy: She busked in Manhattan, appeared on the local news when her flight was delayed, performed an epic hip-hop medley with the Roots, headlined opening night at The Bomb Factory, dissed the Black Eyed Peas and released a mixtape to save the world. (We're nearly out of breath.) But best of all, Badu won the prestigious Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. It's an honor shared by Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, and it perfectly befits our own Queen of Neo-Soul.

Versatile, classically trained Jenny Ledel is half of one of Dallas' most powerful theater-making duos. Husband Alex Organ, our Best Actor pick, is artistic director at Second Thought Theatre. Ledel is a company member at Kitchen Dog, where she was a comic delight in Lee Trull's zany Wilde/Earnest. She played a neurotic wife in creepy Belleville at Second Thought. Opposite her hubby's Iago, she was riveting as Emilia in Othello. Why does she act? "Every day I read something in the news that ignites my sense of outrage," Ledel says. "Acting allows me to proclaim it on high more eloquently than I could ever do on my own." Offstage, Ledel voices anime and is a certified notary public. We certify that she's a notable actor.

Lakewood Landing

A jukebox — a real, honest-to-goodness one with CDs or records and pages that flip — is most at home in a dive bar. And if any bar in Dallas gets it right, it's Lakewood Landing. Put in $1 and you'll get three songs, but why would you do that when $2 gets you seven? Cue up some Ernest Tubbs to go with ELO, Fleetwood Mac, the Pixies or Big Star, grab a Lone Star and celebrate your impeccable taste in music from the comfort of the patio, because hell yes the music plays outside too.

Sure, Alex Organ is great in the big classic roles: Coriolanus at Shakespeare Dallas, Iago in Othello at Second Thought Theatre (where he's artistic director now). But it was in Undermain Theatre's weird and wonderful production of Annie Baker's The Flick this season that this Yale-trained actor really showed the depth of his talent. As a 35-year-old movie usher who barely spoke and spent most of the three-hour play sweeping and mopping, he was as heartbroken and heartbreaking as Hamlet (and in way fewer words). It takes a great actor to make long silences into a bravura performance.

In your face, Jerry Jones. The Cowboys owner may have built the biggest indoor concert venue in the state of Texas, but when Garth Brooks decided to make his big North Texas comeback, he took his business elsewhere. And boy did it pay off: Brooks, who hadn't played Dallas since 1998, made the sensational decision to play seven — yes, seven — shows across five nights at American Airlines Center, and the country legend sold over 100,000 tickets in the span of a few hours. It wasn't just Brooks' ego that benefited either; with floor seats costing less than $70, the fans were the real winners.

Granada Theater

Sometimes it's best to let the music do the talking. When Sleater-Kinney visited Dallas in the spring, they answered questions about whether their reunion tour could capture the old fire in the simplest way possible: by kicking ass. The trio barely spoke throughout the show, preferring instead to ratchet up the energy with every song, as though Corinne Tucker, Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein wanted to see who would break first. In the end, they just about burned the Granada down with the apocryphal "Modern Girl." This wasn't the best feminist show in Dallas this year, or even the best punk or rock show. It was the best show, period.

The Undermain Theatre

For several decades, the 90-seat basement space in Deep Ellum has staged avant-garde plays by emerging writers. This season, however, something clicked on a higher level with the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist's sci-fi drama Tomorrow Come Today, the tightly focused work of actor Shannon Kearns Simmons as the title character in The Testament of Mary and the impeccably acted and directed (by Blake Hackler) The Flick, Annie Baker's Pulitzer winner about three nobodies working in an old cinema. Undermain's married founders Katherine Owens and Bruce DuBose have lined up another challenging season, including Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, which regional theaters rarely touch (it opens early next year), and the current premiere (through October 17) of Meg Moroshnik's The Droll (Or, a Stage Play about the END of Theatre), about a time when all theater is banned and one troupe puts on a secret Hamlet. End of theater? Not at Undermain.

The Kessler Theater
Mike Brooks

When you think of an all-ages venue you might think punk music and kids waving middle fingers at their parents and the establishment. But cultivating a great all-ages audience is really about respect for elders. The Kessler Theater, an always-all-ages venue, is nothing if not reverent toward music's past, and it's the perfect place for young music fans to gain an appreciation for history. To say The Kessler books "legacy acts" would be to give it short shrift; catching the Mavis Staples or Zombies of the world in a 400-person theater is once-in-a-lifetime stuff and a chance for those under-18 music-heads to experience music the way it should be.

Founder and director Sue Birch's small professional company in Plano keeps the accent on all things English in seasons packed with murder mysteries, farces and traditional holiday "pantos." Production quality is consistently tickety-boo (as Brits would say), with fairy-tale panto shows designed like storybooks come to life (and scripts designed to make adults giggle, too). You'll find authentic English snackies at intermission (try the prawn crisps). Shows frequently sell out. "I see a great deal of affection for all things British," says Birch. Alan Ayckbourn's saucy comedy How the Other Half Loves is playing through October 4. The next panto is King Arthur, opening November 28.

Theatre Britain performs in the Cox Building Playhouse. Visit Theatre Britain for information about performances.

He often starts with a title: A School Bus Named Desire. Then writer-director Jeff Swearingen creates an ingenious homage to the original play, but with the twist of using children and teens as characters. As the co-founder and director of all-youth Fun House Theatre and Film, Swearingen has wowed critics and audiences with his smart Mamet spoof, Daffodil Girls (a Glengarry satire about the cutthroat world of Scout cookie sales); his holiday-themed take on Albee called Yes, Virginia Woolf, There Is a Santa Claus; and the pie-throwing Game of Thrones, Jr. His best might be Stiff, a showbiz farce that had a Sweet Smell of Success in its plot about a theater critic whose untimely death threatens an opening night. If one of Swearingen's brilliant little comedies-with-kids is opening, we're there.

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