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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

For lovers of the performing arts who reside in the Coachella Valley, Christmas figuratively comes in April every year—because that’s when the McCallum Theatre announces what gifts it is bringing to town during the upcoming season.

To overextend this tortured metaphor … that makes Mitch Gershenfeld Santa Claus, sort of, as the McCallum president and CEO is the sleighmaster (OK, this metaphor is officially finished) who books the theater’s shows each season—a task he’s now accomplished for some 19 years.

“Every time I finish booking the season, I tell my wife, ‘I am afraid this is not going to be as good of a season as last year was,’” Gershenfeld said. “But, honestly, this is going to be a very good season.”

Tickets for the 2018-2019 will go on sale Monday, April 16, at 8 a.m. The 2018-2019 roster includes names both new and familiar to the McCallum: Singers from Jackie Evancho to Bernadette Peters to Willie Nelson, plus six performances by the Ten Tenors; traveling Broadway shows including Rent, Jersey Boys, Spamalot, Evita, The Wizard of Oz and Something Rotten; comedy greats like Lily Tomlin and Bob Newhart; and the tried-and-true McCallum series, including Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel, Fitz’s Jazz Cafe, and Gershenfeld’s own “Mitch’s Picks.”

When I asked Gershenfeld which shows excited him the most, he mentioned Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’ Up, scheduled to come to the McCallum on March 30, 2019.

“Savion is not only the greatest living tap dancer; he’s such an incredible artist,” Gershenfeld said. “He’s taken tap beyond what anyone else has done before.” All FuNKD’ Up will feature a six-piece band and a full company of dancers.

Gershenfeld said he’s also looking forward to a series coming to the McCallum for the first time: National Geographic Live will bring scientists, photographers and other great minds to the theater for Exploring Mars (Jan. 21); Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice (Feb. 18); and Capturing the Impossible (March 18). The Exploring Mars lecture, in particular, should be exciting, as it’ll feature Kobie Boykins, the NASA mechanical engineer who’s had a hand in numerous discoveries about the red planet—including the revelation that there was once water on Mars.

“This is a program that’s been around for many years, as a series in a lot of cities,” Gershenfeld said. “It works very well in a theater.”

For the fifth year in a row, Gershenfeld has highlighted five shows as “Mitch’s Picks”—concerts Gershenfeld personally recommends, even if the performers are not household names. They include Spanish guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas’ Americano (March 4); BRAVO Amici, a “popera” group featuring three tenors and two divas (March 11); Piaf! Le Spectacle, a show telling the singing great’s life story via music and heretofore unseen photos—entirely in French (March 26); and Asere!, a celebration of Cuban dance and music featuring the Havana Cuba All-Stars (April 3).

And then there’s Blokelahoma! (March 29) starring Toby Francis, a former member of the Ten Tenors who also starred in the Australian production of Kinky Boots. He became a friend of Gershenfeld during Francis’ time in the Ten Tenors—the most popular act ever to grace the McCallum stage. Gershenfeld said Francis told him about Blokelahoma!—Francis’ story about being a “good Austrian bloke” who grew up with a love of Broadway musicals—when they enjoyed dinner in Sydney last June.

“I basically said, you have to do this show at the McCallum,” Gershenfeld recalled.

Per usual, McCallum’s schedule is packed with an unimaginably wide variety of singers, humorists and performers, ranging from comedian and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria returning to her jazz roots (Nov. 8) to LeAnn Rimes doing a Christmas show (Dec. 15) to concerts by prolific songwriter Paul Anka (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1).

Traveling Broadway shows are a McCallum staple, and the 2018-2019 slate includes a lot of classics and old favorites. The one exception: Something Rotten! (April 5-7), which ended its initial Broadway run on Jan. 1, 2017.

“It’s such a fun story,” Gershenfeld said. “It takes place in Shakespeare’s time; he’s literally a rock star.”

The story centers on two brothers who are playwrights struggling to compete with the great Shakespeare. They visit a soothsayer named Nostradamus—the nephew of the famous one—and wind up inventing this new thing called a “musical.”

Gershenfeld said booking shows at the McCallum presents unique challenges in terms of timing—with rare exceptions, the theater goes dark out of necessity from May through September—and size; at 1,100 seats, the medium-sized venue is simply too small to meet the budgetary requirements of some grand productions, like Wicked.

“There will be no Hamilton here in my lifetime,” he said with a laugh.

Despite these challenges, the McCallum consistently makes Pollstar’s annual list of the Top 100 theaters in terms of ticket sales, because dark nights are rare in the spring—and because Gershenfeld books shows that he knows will sell well.

He’s hoping a change to the way the McCallum sells tickets may make sales even better. In past years, the McCallum only sold “subscriptions” for the upcoming year during the late spring and summer months. This year, tickets for all currently booked shows will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 16.

Gershenfeld said he was looking forward to the 2018-2019 season, as the 2017-2018 season comes to an end.

“This has been a great season,” he said. “It’s been better than the last two years, and the shows have been well-attended. Philanthropically, people have been very generous, too. Ticket sales make up only 60 percent of our budget, and we’ve been making a lot of capital improvements to the theater; we’ve been spending about $500,000 a year in improvements and new equipment.”

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2018-2019 season go on sale at 8 a.m., Monday, April 16. For tickets or more information, including the complete schedule, show up at the box office at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert; call 760-340-2787; or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

As of Jan. 1, the holiday season is over—but the tourist/snowbird season is cranking into high gear, meaning there are a ton of fabulous events to take in across the Coachella Valley.

The McCallum Theatre is hosting a lot of sold-out events in January, but there are still tickets left for a few great shows. At 8 p.m., Monday, Jan. 22, operatic baritone singer Nathan Gunn will be performing from the Great American Songbook, as well as songs by Leonard Cohen and … Pearl Jam. Operatic Pearl Jam? Whoa! Tickets are $27 to $87. At 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25, Broadway legends Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune will take the stage. These greats have 12 Tony Awards between them! Tickets are $37 to $67. At 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 29, piano virtuoso Jeffrey Siegel will be performing his variations on classical piano pieces, all while offering commentary. Siegel has played with some of the world’s best orchestras, so this is one you won’t want to miss. Tickets are $22 to $42. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino had a rocking holiday season and is sailing into January with a great schedule. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, Motown R&B and soul legend Smokey Robinson will be performing. Smokey Robinson is an icon—even Bob Dylan listed Smokey Robinson as one of his favorite singers. His list of awards and honors is endless. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, if you’re a man wondering where your wife is, she might be at the Michael Bolton concert. Bolton is a good sport and hasn’t been afraid to poke fun at himself, as seen in Netflix’s Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Special. Oh, he’s won two Grammy Awards and has sold more than 65 million records, too. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, witness the spectacle of Adam Sandler going back to standup comedy and performing his comedy songs. It’s been years since he’s performed these types of shows; given his massive Netflix contract; he certainly doesn’t need the money. Tickets are $79 to $139. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa is going to be sizzling in January with hot events. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13, our favorite show is coming back: It’s Thunder from Down Under! That’s right, the all-male Aussie review that makes women scream will return to the Coachella Valley. Tickets are $15 to $25. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, crooner Burt Bacharach (right) will perform. The “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” scribe is always popular when he comes to the Coachella Valley, which is no wonder, considering Bacharach has written some of the greatest songs ever—plus he performs them beautifully. Tickets are $40 to $60. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, comedy great Howie Mandel will be performing with Preacher Lawson. I’ve always found Mandel a little odd, with his fears of germs and his refusal to shake people’s hands, but he’s an icon. Tickets are $35 to $55. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 has some fantastic weekend shows coming in January. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, comedian and actor Mike Epps will do his thing. You might remember Epps for performing opposite Ice Cube as Day-Day in Next Friday and Friday After Next. One of Epps’ funniest moments in my opinion was when he told the story of Baby-D and her “Y2K snacks” in Next Friday. Tickets are $45 to $65. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, recording artist and television star Tony Orlando will be performing. I had a chance to interview Orlando last year, and it was a pleasurable experience. Growing up, I remember seeing him on many television shows, and hearing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” which received heavy airplay on the radio. Tickets are $25 to $45. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a January event with a limited number of tickets still available as of our press deadline. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 5, comedian Sinbad will bring the funny. Sinbad seemingly disappeared for a while … until he had financial problems. However, he seems to be finding his groove and is getting good reviews for his “family friendly comedy.” Tickets are $29. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has a ton of events in January, featuring acts both national and local, so be sure to check the full schedule. Here are a few highlights. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 19, punk/rockabilly band The Flesh Eaters will take the stage. The Flesh Eaters have some dark themes in their music and were a hit in the Los Angeles punk scene. Also on the bill are Sean Wheeler and the Reluctant Messengers. Tickets are $25. At 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 21, Monkees guitarist/vocalist Michael Nesmith will be performing with his band, The First National Band. Fun fact: During the ’70s, Nesmith wrote and performed country music. Just a heads up: Nesmith usually avoids performing Monkees songs. Tickets are $30 to $40. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, country and rock singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield (below) will be performing. Mayfield has shared the stage with rock contemporaries such as Ryan Adams, and has collaborated with The Black Keys. Given she’s from Northeast Ohio like me, I’m rooting for her. Tickets are $15. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Purple Room Palm Springs is always a popular place during season. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 6, jazz singer Jonathan Karrant will perform. The Arkansas native has been on stages since he was a young child and says that he cherishes the storytelling aspect of performing. Tickets are $25 to $35. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12, Tony Award-winner Levi Kreis will be performing. The Broadway singer and pianist from Tennessee is quite popular, and overcame personal beliefs and issues to embrace the fact that he’s gay. Tickets are $30 to $35. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 26, Barbra Streisand impersonator Steven Brinberg will be doing his show Simply Barbra. Considering Streisand is unlikely to be performing locally anytime soon, these types of shows are a great way to celebrate Bab’s music and style. Tickets are $25 to $30. Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

The Copa has one event in January worth noting: At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, get ready for Lee Squared: An Evening With Liberace and Miss Peggy Lee. This show will be performed by David Maiocco and Chuck Sweeney, who are both dazzling and acclaimed performers. Tickets are $25 to $40. Copa Palm Springs, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-866-0021; www.copapalmsprings.com.

Published in Previews