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Meet Chris Hoggatt. He’s a 20-year-old student at the College of the Desert and a graduate of Palm Desert High School who works at the Yard House.

Oh, and one more thing about Hoggatt: He’s a hip-hop dancer.

Hoggatt will be making his big-stage debut alongside 21 other individuals and groups this week as part of Open Call, the McCallum Theatre’s annual talent project. This is the 15th year for Open Call, which is part of the McCallum’s education and outreach program.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the director of education at the McCallum, has been a part of Open Call since the beginning. She says that Open Call started as part of an effort by the McCallum to live up to a then-new slogan—“It’s your theatre”—as the organization emerged from tough times in the late 1990s.

“It’s an effort to closely work with the local community to create a community event,” she says.

Here’s how it works: In the fall, non-professional members of the community (within 45 miles of the theater) who are least 8 years old are invited to send in a CD or DVD of themselves performing—dancing, singing or doing anything else that would work on a stage. The McCallum folks call in the performers with the most talent and/or potential for in-person auditions. The judges then select the finalists, who must commit to six straight days of mandatory rehearsals under the direction of professionals, as well as four open-to-the-public shows over three days at the McCallum. While there’s no fee to enter the contest, finalists receive a stipend and compete for three prizes: a $2,500 grand prize; a $750 second-place prize; and a $750 audience choice award.

Hoggatt says he’s been dancing all his life, and joined a dance company—he can’t remember the name of it—when he was 8 years old. (The company, interestingly enough, performed at the McCallum, Hoggatt says.) However, Hoggatt then put dance aside for sports, before getting involved in “dance battles” while he was in middle school. In high school, he performed at assemblies as part of Palm Desert High’s Hip-Hop Club (yes, the school really does have a Hip-Hop Club), and performed at the COD Live show last spring.

It was the College of the Desert show and an increasing interest in theater, he says, that led him to take dancing more seriously, and to look at it as a possible profession. That’s why he decided to send in an audition DVD for Open Call last fall.

“It was a real chance to test myself and challenge myself,” he says.

This is actually Hoggatt’s second brush with Open Call fame. He says he sent in a video during his freshman year of high school, and was asked to come in for a live audition—but got sick and could not go.

So why did he wait five years to try out again? He says he lost confidence in his abilities; he started watching shows like America’s Best Dance Crew, and thought: “I can’t do what these guys do.”

“I was sitting there, and I didn’t know if I wanted to try out again,” Hoggatt says.

Hoggatt says the Open Call experience has been rewarding—especially the chance to work with choreographer Jennifer Backhaus, the founder of Orange County’s Backhausdance contemporary dance company. He says Backhaus has been very helpful in pointing him toward studios and other ways to help him go beyond his current, largely self-taught dance methods.

Joana CiurashAnother finalist, opera singer Joana Ciurash, 50—who, by day, is an associate professor of chemistry at College of the Desert—took a different path to Open Call. She was born in Romania and came to the United States 27 years ago. Her mother was an opera singer.

“I was never interested in singing,” Ciurash says. Instead, she was interested in dancing, and wanted to become a ballerina.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t good,” she laughs.

Around the age of 40, she started singing in church choirs, and while she earned her master’s degree at Cal State Northridge, she took an opera workshop—not for singing purposes, but to help her overcome her fear of speaking in front of a crowd.

When she got her job at College of the Desert about seven years ago, she took an opera class there, and kept getting the lead singing role in the class productions. (Look for videos of her singing in La Boheme on YouTube.)

It turns out she inherited some talent from her mother.

“My mom came to a performance, and she was shocked,” Ciurash says.

Those opera-class shows (sadly, Ciurash says, the class was a casualty of budget cuts) were followed by several other performances—she sang at a benefit concert a colleague organized following the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, and she performed at her own recital at COD.

She credits her friends for nudging her into trying out for Open Call.

“Many of my friends, they want to hear me sing again, and want me to take any opportunity to get exposed more,” she says. “I thought it was a good opportunity to send in my tape.”

At the Open Call, each of the performers/groups does an individual number; then, for the finale, all of the performers come together onstage—where everyone sings, and everyone dances, regardless of whether one is a singer, a dancer, a ventriloquist or something else.

Both Hoggatt and Ciurash cited the finale as one of the biggest challenges.

“An opera singer usually just (stands) on the stage,” Ciurash says. “I mean, they do acting … but they don’t dance. And for me, all the moves I have to do (in the finale) … oh my gosh. I told them to put me in the back.”

The Open Call shows take place at 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday, April 18 and 19; and 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 20, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. A limited number of tickets remain; the shows will sell out. Tickets are $7 to $55. For more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

As an example of how all over the map the McCallum Theatre’s 2013-2014 season offerings are, look at the first four shows.

The season begins on Oct. 13 with the theater’s Second Annual Family Fun Day, featuring the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater and its performing pooches and kitties (yes, performing cats; who knew?). That’s followed five days later by the first-ever performance of Alton Brown Live, a show featuring the off-kilter-in-a-good-way Food Network host. One week later, Mexican theater hit Frida: The Musical—performed entirely in Spanish—is on the boards. Next, country-music star Vince Gill will take the stage.

So … you have pet theater, followed by a goofy but educational chef, followed by a serious Spanish-language musical, followed by country music. And by the way, that’s all followed by a series of dance events that McCallum president/CEO Mitch Gershenfeld hopes will set the stage, so to speak, for a true international dance festival to sprout in Palm Desert.

Got all that?

“We’re trying to present diverse-enough programming to attract every segment of the community,” Gershenfeld says. “We don’t want to be elitist. We want to have a presence in all of the relevant performing-arts genres.”

In all, the 2013-2014 McCallum season lineup—which was announced earlier this week, with season-series tickets going on sale next week—includes more than six dozen shows that range from separate performances by greats Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera and Patti LuPone, to plays like Driving Miss Daisy, The Addams Family and Hello, Dolly! (staring … Sally Struthers?!), to dance by Pilobolus and the Moscow Classical Ballet, to something called Cesar Millan Live!

Gershenfeld says he uses a “market-driven approach” while booking the McCallum. In other words, he won’t bring in any show that he knows won’t get butts in seats. However, he says he’ll take a risk if he thinks he can convince the public that a show is worthy.

“If I feel like I can market it and make it work, I’ll do it,” he says.

Gershenfeld is about to enter his second year as the president and CEO of the McCallum, following the retirement last year of longtime head Ted Giatas. Before Giatas’ departure, Gershenfeld handled operations and booking at the McCallum for a dozen years—and he’s kept the booking gig as CEO. In all, the former symphony musician—he’s a tuba player—and theater producer has been booking shows for three decades.

When asked what shows he’s excited about in the upcoming season, he instantly mentions Peter and the Starcatcher, a fresh-from-Broadway play that nabbed five Tony Awards last year. The show, which offers a back-story of sorts for Peter Pan, will arrive at the McCallum March 28-30, 2014.

This show falls in that if-I-can-market-it category for Gershenfeld, he says, clarifying that while traveling Broadway musicals tend to sell well, non-musical plays can struggle when they lose the big names that often star in the shows in New York.

“I am going to talk about this play every chance I get this year,” Gershenfeld says.

And as for that Alton Brown show: It’s being produced by the same people who created the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths tour, and the McCallum is actually letting the producers use the theater for a week or so to “get the show going” before it officially premieres on Oct. 18. As a hint to what the show will be like, Gershenfeld notes that attendees in the first few rows will be given ponchos to wear.

Gershenfeld also points to the Bahia Orchestra Project show on Feb. 16, 2014, as something special. The project was founded in Brazil in 2007, modeled after El Sistema in Venezuela; organizers go into poor areas and provide youngsters with musical instruments, and teach the kids how to play. These Brazilian kids-turned-musicians, with help from star pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play at the McCallum as part of their first North American tour.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear great music played by these young people who have had a rough go in life,” Gershenfeld says.

Gershenfeld says his goal every season, of course, is to top the previous one, although he concedes that the now-concluding McCallum series—the theater’s 25th anniversary season—was “really good,” and the best-attended since 2007-2008 and the Great Recession.

“I hope people respond to this (upcoming) season as well as the last,” Gershenfeld says.

For more information on the season, or to buy season subscriptions (starting Monday, April 8), visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

Ah, spring in the Coachella Valley. Some days feature the Best. Weather. Ever. Other days make it clear that the furnace we call “summer” is going to be here all too soon.

Whether the weather’s amazing or appalling, there’s no sense in sitting around at home; spring in the Coachella Valley is simply packed with great things to do—no matter your interest, your budget, or what part of the valley you live in.

We here at the Independent have scoured the various press releases and arts websites, and we came up with this selection of eight spring highlights. (OK, the last one occurs when it’s actually summer. But it’s the freaking Village People, people.)

Oh, and before we begin: If you’re part of an arts organization, gallery or special event, make sure to send all of your info to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., so we can keep our readers (who, like you, are all stunningly smart and gorgeous) in the know.

Thanks! And enjoy!

 

What: Roger Ballen Photography

When: Through Sunday, July 28

Where: New Media Gallery at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs:

How much: $12.50; $10.50 seniors; $5 students; free to members, kids 12 and younger, and active duty military and families; free to all every Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m., and the second Sunday of each month

Contact info: 322-4800; www.psmuseum.org

Why: When it’s hot out, the museum offers an awesome respite.

At some point this spring, it’s going to get hot—so hot that, as Dave Barry once wrote, “nuns are cursing openly on the street.”

And at some point when it’s nun-cursingly hot, you’re going to want to get out and do something, despite the outdoor oven. We recommend the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Among the exhibits the museum has on display this spring is Roger Ballen Photography. Ballen is a New York native who moved to South Africa to work in geology after earning his doctorate in mineral economics. “Fascinated by the uncertain and precarious conditions he found, he began photographing people in small towns at the margins of society. Ballen documented these residents through a series of unsettling portraits that reveal the human condition even as his subjects exhibit idiosyncratic manners and habits,” says a write-up on the museum website.

He’s since shifted away from documentary photography, and today, his photos increasingly “exploit the shallow space between a constructed backdrop and the camera in a way that is immediate and confrontational. However, the overall effect is less aggressive than intimate and challenging,” continues the website.

If you understand all of that art-speak, get thee to the Palm Springs Art Museum. If you don’t understand it, let me translate: His photos look as cool as the air conditioning inside of the museum. So, go.

 

What: The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

When: 8 p.m., Thursday, April 11

Where: McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert

How much: $49 to $99

Contact info: 340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com

Why: Modern dance doesn’t get any better.

In 2011, Robert Battle became only the third artistic director in the 55-year history of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. When he started making his own mark on the lauded modern-dance company—it started as an all-African American modern-dance company in 1958, and went on to become a model organization, both in terms of creative influence and management—some critics were less than pleased.

“Battle faced the tough New York critics when he presented his first Big Apple season as artistic director (in the winter of 2011),” wrote Margaret Regan of the Tucson Weekly (who happens to be one of this country’s foremost arts writers). “Several writers seemed wary of the Ailey troupe’s accessibility and celebratory appeal. A review by The New York Times’ Alistair Macaulay was headlined ‘Trying Always to Please, Rarely to Challenge.’”

What was Battle’s response?

“I was too busy celebrating,” he told Regan. “There’s so much to celebrate. (That is) what is wonderful about the company and what we do. People leave the theater feeling uplifted. It’s an important aspect of what we do. There’s so much cynicism in the world. People can come here and feel connected.”

Now in his second season as artistic director, Battle continues to craft the company in his own way, while still honoring Ailey and Judith Jamison, Battle’s predecessor. The show at McCallum is slated to include works by young choreographer Kyle Abraham; Czech Jiří Kylián; Garth Fagan (the choreographer of The Lion King play) and others, in addition to Battle’s own works—and, of course, dances from Ailey himself, including “Revelations” in its entirety.

Alvin Ailey Dance is just one small part of a packed schedule at the McCallum through May 10, when comedian/flight purser/complete lunatic Pam Ann (aka Caroline Reid) will close out the 2012-2013 season. Check the website for a complete schedule.

 

What: Tru, the final play in the 2012-2013 season for Coyote StageWorks

When: Friday, April 19, through Sunday, April 28

Where: The Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $39 to $55

Contact info: 325-4490 (box office); www.coyotestageworks.org

Why: Because a theater company named after margarita-drinking episodes is putting on a Truman Capote play, and that is all-around awesome.

OK, we’re being a bit smart-assed in our description of why this play is worth your attention, although the company is indeed named after El Coyote, the Los Angeles Mexican restaurant where founding artistic director Chuck Yates and his friends—many of whom are involved with Coyote StageWorks—would mark important moments in their lives “by raising a margarita together,” according to the theater-company website.

Nonetheless, this play—starring Yates as a lonely Capote looking back on his life—is rarely performed (the Coyote StageWorks folks say they’re one of the “few” companies granted the rights to perform it), and it’s adapted from the works of Capote, so you know it will be entertaining.

Throw in the play’s Tony Award-winning pedigree, and the fine reputation Coyote StageWorks has, and this sounds like a winner. Check out the website for more details.

 

What: Gabriel Iglesias

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, May 4; 6 p.m., Sunday, May 5

Where: Agua Caliente, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage

How much: $45 to $75

Contact info: (866) 923-7244; www.hotwatercasino.com

Why: Because fluffy is funny.

In 2006, Gabriel Iglesias appeared on the NBC TV show Last Comic Standing, in which comics compete in a competition to become … well, y’know, the last comic standing.

Iglesias was doing well on the show—which offered him his first real widespread exposure—and was among the final eight contestant-comedians. Then he was caught using a Blackberry to communicate with the outside world. This was a no-no, and Iglesias was thrown off the show.

Despite that bit of cheating and idiocy, Iglesias has had the last laugh: He’s gone on to not only have a bigger career than any of the other comedians on that season of Last Comic Standing; he’s arguably gone on to have a bigger career than any winner of Last Comic Standing.

Also, if you saw Magic Mike: Remember the DJ who got Adam (“The Kid”) in trouble by getting him to deal drugs? Yep, that was Iglesias.

Other performers at Agua Caliente this spring include Melissa Etheridge, Penn and Teller, and even Tony Bennett. Check the website for a complete list.

 

What: Cyndi Lauper headlines the 20th Evening Under the Stars, a benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program

When: 6 p.m., Saturday, May 11

Where: O’Donnell Golf Club, 301 N. Belardo Road, Palm Springs

How much: $395 and up

Contact info: 325-8481; www.aidsassistance.org

Why: It’s a great cause, and Lauper is a class act

Despite all sorts of wonderful medical advances, HIV and AIDS are still around, and they’re still wreaking havoc on people’s lives.

That’s where the AIDS Assistance Program comes in. The program helps low-income folks with HIV/AIDS by distributing $100 in food vouchers to them every month, and by offering counseling and training seminars to help those folks get back on their professional and social feet. According to the AIDS Assistance Program website, some $7 million in direct service has been extended to some 1,500 clients since the program began in 1991—and the AAP receives no state or federal funding.

Therefore, the AAP needs to raise money—and a lot of it, and one way in which the AAP does that is through the annual Evening Under the Stars gala. The event includes cocktails, dinner and dancing, as well as a ceremony honoring three people who have gone above and beyond to help AAP and its clients.

Of course, this year’s event also includes a performance by Cyndi Lauper, who is as busy as ever. Did you know that in 2010, the renowned singer, actress and gay-rights activist released an album called Memphis Blues, which became the year’s top blues album? And that she’s written a musical with Harvey Fierstein, called Kinky Boots, that’s opening on Broadway this April?

Tickets for the gala start at $395 (although $270 of that is tax-deductible). It’s a lot of money, sure, but AAP is an amazing cause—and that money will get you an amazing evening under the stars, too.

 

What: Bye Bye Birdie

When: Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 26

Where: Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

How much: $32

Contact info: 323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org

Why: Because OMG IT’S HEARTTHROB CONRAD BIRDIE!!!

Can we get a round of applause for the folks at the Palm Canyon Theatre? Whereas most local theater companies go on hiatus when temperatures hit triple-digits and the snowbirds exit stage left, these people stick around and provide quality theater almost year-round.

In May, Palm Canyon Theatre will be the home of the classic Bye Bye Birdie. In this musical, set in 1958, heartthrob rock ’n’ roller Conrad Birdie is drafted into the Army—but before he departs, he heads to little Sweet Apple, Ohio, to sing to one lucky member of his fan club. Birdie creates quite a stir among the small town and the family of the chosen fan, Kim MacAfee—and the hijinks (and songs) ensue.

Also on the rather-diverse boards for the Palm Canyon Theatre are The Vagina Monologues (April 5-7), Hair (April 19-28), and Pippin (July 12-21).

 

What: Scotty McCreery in concert

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, June 1

Where: Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella

How much: $45-$65

Contact info: (866) 377-6829; www.spotlight29.com

Why: Because OMG IT’S HEARTTHROB SCOTTY MCCREERY!!!

Scotty McCreery was just a wee lad of 17 in 2011, when he cruised to victory on the 10th season of American Idol.

What has he done since then, you ask? Well, he promptly released his debut album, Clear as Day, which went to No. 1 and achieved platinum status; and he followed that up with a Christmas album, Christmas With Scotty McCreery, that went to No. 2 on the country charts and reached gold status, even though it was a freakin’ Christmas album.

He’s now at work on a new album, taking college classes, and sniveling to the media about how tough it is to date while on tour. And he’s only 19. OK, everyone, say it along with me: Awww, poor thing!

So, yeah, it’s OK to hate McCreery a little. But there’s no denying his talent; with that deep voice of his and his good looks (didja know he’s part Puerto Rican?), he’s a contender to become the most successful Idol alum of all time.

He’ll kick off the month of June at Spotlight 29’s Spotlight Showroom. Other bookings this season include the Spring Love Tour on Saturday, April 6 (highlight: Exposé singing “Point of No Return”!), comedian Brian Regan on Friday, April 12, and Mexican comedian Jo Jo Jorge Falcon on Saturday, May 4. Check out the website for a full schedule.

 

What: The Village People, in concert with KC and the Sunshine Band

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, July 6

Where: Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio

How much: $39 to $69

Contact info: 342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com

Why: Because you can stay there, and I’m sure you will find many ways to have a good time …

True story: When I was little, my mother—a conservative housewife who lived on a cattle ranch just outside of Reno, NV—would occasionally clean house to a Village People 8-track. She loved this 8-track, and would turn it up to a volume usually reserved for Boeing 747 engines.

In other words, as a child, I was routinely subjected to disturbingly loud renditions of lyrics like: “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA! They have everything for young men to enjoy! You can hang out with all the boys!”

It’s no wonder I turned out gay.

Anyhow, the Village People and another ’70s mainstay, KC and the Sunshine Band, will be rocking the Fantasy Springs Special Events Center on July 6. (Fun fact: That same day, KC and the Sunshine Band’s Wayne Casey will get his own star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.)

In other words: Start working on your YMCA dance now!

Visit the Fantasy Springs website for a list of other upcoming shows; there’s some good stuff coming up, ranging from John Legend (Saturday, April 6) to Pepe Aguilar (Saturday, May 4) the Doobie Brothers (Saturday, June 15).

Published in Local Fun

Note to McCallum Theatre security: Chill. Raul Malo's got this.

Mavericks fans are going to dance in the aisles, in front of the stage and at their seats, but it's OK. Malo and the Mavericks fly their fans a kite, effortlessly, instinctively and joyfully. Safe landing guaranteed.

Cliques of stylish professional women; two- or three-generation families; aging braided and beaded hippies; loving couples of all ages and genders; folks in cowboy hats, party dresses, wheelchairs and low-slung pants with oversized shirts—they all dance and cheer like it's their birthday. They're having that much fun.

Many discovered the Mavericks as a country band, touring with the likes of Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson, and acting as the house band for Johnny Cash specials. The band's 1994 album What a Crying Shame showcased singer and songwriter Malo's fluid Elvis Presley-meets-Roy Orbison vocals in a gleaming Nashville-slick production of honky-tonk dance tunes, seminal Nashville pop and a throwback dollop of ’50s Sun Studios style. Every track was poised to be a country-radio hit.

But the Mavericks had also toured with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Dave Matthews Band. Founding drummer Paul Deakin said in an interview with the Independent that he's always considered the band to be multi-genre. With the release of Trampoline in 1998, the band seemed to prove their breadth, pushing new boundaries and integrating more of the pan-Latin influences they grew up with together in Miami.

Alas, industry forces had begun to work in the opposite direction. Radio was being Balkanized into ever-more genre-specific playlists pitched perfectly to defined market segments. Suddenly, there was no airtime to be had for an album that covered so much ground as Trampoline. The release tanked in the U.S., and effectively ended their country-music career.

Ironically, it turned out to be their most popular album of all time: Europe went wild.

“It was our biggest-selling record per capita, ever,” Deakin said. “There's a song on there called 'Dance the Night Away.' It was huge! It was No. 1 in the U.K.”

As that one track broke, Deakin said, the Mavericks went from playing for a few thousand people at Shepherd's Bush Empire, to selling out six nights in a row at Royal Albert Hall.

Apart from a live album in 1998, and a brief reunion in 2003-2004, The Mavericks weren't heard from again for more than a decade. Members worked on side projects, and Malo enjoyed a successful solo career, delivering five albums of mostly new material. He was also a featured member of Los Super Seven, a super-group including members of the Texas Tornados, Los Lobos, Ozomatli and Calexico, among others.

Then one day, Malo called Deakin for a dinner meeting. “Someone who had worked with the band and Raul before said, 'Let's put together 30 dates,'” Deakin said, including the 2012 Stagecoach festival. “At the time, Raul had a batch of songs that he started feeling were Mavericks-oriented. So there was that, and incessant comments from his fans: 'When are the Mavericks going to get back together?' He said he thought it would go away, but it didn't. So that had a lot to do with it. He called it kind of a perfect storm.”

According to Deakin, Malo had some reservations about the revival being perceived as a cash-in tour. He thought the band should have a new record, and in fact, he'd scored the deal to make it before he'd picked up the phone. “So before we ever played a note (in concert), we went right into the studio and made (In Time),” Deakin said. “Luckily, we had a label (Valory), and the president of the label said, 'Please go and make the record you want to make, and we'll put it out. We'll figure out where it's gonna fit after the fact.’

“And in my opinion, it's one of the best ones we've made.”

Critics and fans agree. “We were just talking about this,” Deakin said. “The shows that we're putting on, the press this record has garnered … I see us heading toward more of a lifestyle-type band, which is wonderful, because it's not genre-specific.”

The Mavericks' live show provides plenty of opportunities to get to know the music from In Time, which was released on Feb. 26: It’s rich with horns, plaintive accordion parts, soulful keyboards (calling to mind a Hammond B3) and irresistibly danceable polyrhythms. But the set is also chockablock with selections from the throughout the band's career, and fan favorites like “Dance the Night Away,” “Here Comes the Rain” and “What a Crying Shame.” There are also sing-along covers like “Guantanamera” and a short acoustic set from Malo's solo work. A recent set list even included “Sweet Dreams (Of You),” on which tenor Malo is Patsy Cline's undisputed heir.

But The Mavericks' greatest crowd-pleaser is not so much a song but an aura. Malo is as compelling and charismatic a presence as Frank Sinatra, and he keeps the crowd in the palm of his hand as he leads his merry band of insanely proficient musicians through fields of fun that let every one of them shine.

“We've always been that kind of band,” Deakin said. “Kind of pleasing ourselves and having fun, and having that come through.”

The Mavericks play at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 27, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 to $55. For tickets or more information, call 340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com. To see a set list from The Mavericks' recent show in Tucson, Ariz., go here.

Published in Previews

In Sacramento, Beauty and the Beast was a hit—especially the strapping young man who plays Gaston.

“Under the direction of Rob Roth, (Joe) Hager steals the show as the larger-than-life Gaston, always preening and flexing his muscles,” wrote Saunthy Nicolson-Singh in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. “The town’s womenfolk follow him around, pumping up his already inflated ego. You want to hate him, but his affectations reminiscent of Steve Martin and Jim Carrey are hilarious.”

Following that March 6-17 Sacramento run—as well as a two-day stop in San Luis Obispo—Hager and his Beauty and the Beast cast mates will stop at the McCallum Theatre for five shows this weekend (March 22-24).

The Independent spoke to Hager in the midst of the show’s Sacramento stop, and he said the cast was enjoying the ability to settle down a little bit following a stretch that saw them in 17 cities within 20 days.

“My biggest worry is remembering my hotel-room number,” he said, laughing, when asked about the frantic travel schedule.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most successful musicals of all time. Following the 1991 Disney film that became the first animated movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, the play opened on Broadway in 1994, and would continue its Broadway run for more than 13 years. Numerous international, domestic and traveling productions of the show have charmed millions over the years.

For the current national tour, the original Broadway design team reunited in an effort to inject a bit of new life into the play, which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton.

Hager said the current production takes a “fresh approach” to the story of the beautiful Belle, the Beast, and the vain hunter/town hottie, Gaston.

“Because this is a tour, and the set’s scaled down a bit, it means the ensemble plays a very big role,” he said. “The presence onstage is very powerful.”

Joe Hager.Hager (pictured to the right), a Kansas native who is making is national-tour debut, said playing Gaston is actually a dream come true. He said he saw the show as a wee lad in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, and decided then and there that one day, he’d play either the Beast or Gaston. He later convinced his parents to enroll him in performing-arts camp, a move which helped him overcome shyness as he grew up; he then studied theater throughout high school.

“I was the Glee guy before Glee was Glee,” he said. “I’d do football in the fall, and theater in the spring.”

In college, he decided to focus on opera. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University, and moved on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Kansas. While he had some success in the opera world, after a while, he decided to move to New York City to “explore other boundaries.”

Soon after the move, he saw an audition notice for Beauty and the Beast. He decided to try out; he got the part of Gaston and joined the cast on Nov. 30; and after the McCallum shows, Hager and company will head to Los Angeles—where Hager will perform his dream role in the place where the dream came to be.

Of course, the dream won’t end there; Hager will remain with the cast into early June, before the play closes for a couple of months. Hager said he’d like to remain in the show when it resumes touring later in the year.

“It really does become a family after a while,” he said.

And beyond that? Hager said he’s open to whatever possibilities come his way.

“This experience so far has kind of woken me up and made me realize I don’t know my potential yet,” he said. “I want to try it all. If you throw enough darts, you’re eventually going to hit a bull’s-eye.”

Meanwhile, he’s having the time of his life playing Gaston.

“For me, at least, he’s the best part,” he said of Gaston. “He is the villain, but you can’t help but love him. He’s a charming oaf.”

Beauty and the Beast will be at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert, from Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24. Shows are at 8 p.m., Friday; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday. Tickets are $45 to $105. For tickets or more information, call 340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

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