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Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were at the top of their game when they wrote The Sound of Music, and it remains as wonderful today as it was when it premiered in 1959.

The true story—from the memoir written by Maria von Trapp—is the basis for the plot. Does anyone not know it? Regardless, this theatrical snapshot of idyllic Austrian life in the 1930s, impacted by the gathering storm clouds of Nazism, is inevitably affecting—and you will leave the theater humming, singing or at least thinking about the music. It’s like an earworm, in a good way.

At the Palm Canyon Theatre’s production, the first hurdle to be cleared is The Kids. Baron von Trapp has seven children and a deceased wife (and not one person ever wonders why), so a girl from the nearby nunnery is hired to act as a nanny for them. Maria, whom we’ve already established is not particularly suited for the cloistered life, is sent to do the job. Well, the whole play could be sunk without a gurgle if the children weren’t as ideally cast as these are: They’re adorable without being syrupy, fresh without being boring, and their singing is just great, particularly the kid playing Leisl. Kudos to all of them!

The next problem could be Baron von Trapp. But stage veteran Mark Almy fills the bill as the imperially slim, naturally elegant and casually sophisticated Navy captain. (Austria is a landlocked country, so this is a bit puzzling … but they do have some lakes.) Almy never does show us the power that we know he can command, as vocally gifted as he is, yet his choices are correct for his character. However, we have to rap his knuckles for too often dropping his voice at the ends of spoken sentences. Nonetheless, he carries von Trapp through the lovely arc from uptight single dad to warm, caring husband and father, all due to Maria.

And that brings us to Maria: Any actress brave enough to follow in Julie Andrews’ incomparable footsteps deserves credit. Palm Canyon’s uncredited Maria has the face of an angel … and later on, in her wedding dress, a va-va-voom Barbie Doll figure. Her glorious blonde hair is a ray of sunshine (and no, I do not say that because it is exactly my color), even if the braids are a little too fat to be believable. It is a daunting role, and a demanding role. Vocally, she started out singing sharp, and it took some time for her to regain her pitch—but what unfortunately didn’t change was her choice to sing behind the beat of her solos. This is OK for saloon and torch singers, but not for musical comedy. Still, she handled the emotional range fairly well, despite some overacting on the high-energy end.

The supporting roles were often played unevenly, with actors sometimes stiff, hesitant, unconvincing or unintelligible, and almost all of them needing more of that one ingredient that defines the Austrian persona: charm.

The Palm Canyon Theatre has a commitment to the community, and as such, it tries to include a variety of people in its productions. Double-casting is one way to get more people on the stage, and in this show, there is a “Blue” cast and a “Green” cast, so patrons visiting on different days may see different actors—and, hence, a different show. Director Steve Fisher handled these challenges admirably in the “Blue” version that we saw. With such a huge cast, logistics are invariably a nightmare, but they were performed fairly smoothly. Fisher uses every part of the theater for blocking, even pouring the cast down the staircases and through the audience.

The set, of course, is simply marvelous; J.W. Layne never disappoints. But what’s up with the sound? The Sound of Music became The Sound of Static far too often, with microphones cutting out, scraping against costumes, and sputtering—with one deafening attack of feedback. We’ve mentioned this problem before. Is it time to consider overhead microphones, or some other alternative? Instead of the hills being alive, here, they are too often dead. Someone has got to check the lighting, too—several scenes were ruined by shadows across the faces of the very actors who were singing or speaking. The technical aspect of theater must be nearly flawless, because unfortunately, everyone remembers only failures. Some special moments do deserve applause, such as the appearance of the uber-creepy swastika sweeping onstage.

By the way, the first act runs one hour and 45 minutes—so make sure your kidneys are advised. Mercifully, the von Trapp family speeds through the second-act plight in record time.

We must never forget that this show was written by Americans—often a surprise to those who think that “Edelweiss” is an olde European folk song. (As an aside: When I was an on-the-road musician, in another life, a sweet old drunk in Vancouver, British Columbia, frequently appeared in my lounge and demanded to hear that tune. While I sang it, he would lurch around the room and show everyone his actual dried edelweiss—the flower was pressed, preserved and displayed with his driver’s license. It’s impossible for me to hear that song and not think of him.) The words are thoughtfully printed in the program—to help you later with your earworm.

The Sound of Music is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 10; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 11 and 12; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 13, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123; or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Karen Carpenter—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

Margaret Simon moves to New Jersey, falls in love, enters sixth grade, joins an all-girl group, obsesses about bras and becomes a woman—all while singing the hits of the Carpenters. The play is loosely based on Judy Blume’s coming-of-age novel. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19; 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 20. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Frida—The Musical

This bio-musical about the life of world-famous painter Frida Kahlo shows the folklore, drama and tenderness of this exceptional woman, who endured the most intense physical and emotional pain. Its brought to the stage by a cast of 30 actors, singers and dancers; it ties together the music and popular culture that Frida valued so much. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25. $29 to $79. At the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert. 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

House of the Rising Son—from the Desert Rose Playhouse

Tom Jacobson’s play is a mysterious romance that evokes the steamy atmosphere of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The action centers on Dr. Trent Varro, who brings his younger lover, Felix, back to New Orleans to meet his wealthy relatives. Ghostly sightings and unexpected revelations follow. 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 27. $25 to $28. At 69260 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. 760-202-3000; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Master Class—from Coachella Valley Repertory

Toward the end of her career, opera star Maria Callas taught master classes at Lincoln Center. In this play, by Terrence McNally, the audience gets to watch her in action with her students, as she reflects on her life and career. 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Wednesday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 10. (Oct. 23 and 24 are previews.) $35 to $50. At the Atrium, 69930 Highway 111, No. 116, Rancho Mirage. 760-296-2966; www.cvrep.org.

The Mousetrap—from Desert Theatreworks

Agatha Christie’s well-known whodunit features chills and laughs as the harried detective tries to solve the mystery before another of the lodgers at Monkswell Manor winds up dead. 7 p.m., Friday; 2 and 7 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Nov. 1, through Sunday, Nov. 10. $23 to $25. At the Arthur Newman Theatre in the Joslyn Center, 73750 Catalina Way, Palm Desert. 760-980-1455; www.dtworks.org.

The Sound of Music—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, Oct. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 13. $32. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays

Keith Coleman, in association with Palm Springs Pride, presents an encore performance of a series of short plays, conceived by Brian Shnipper and written by Emmy-, Tony- and Pulitzer-winning authors. 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, and Saturday. Nov. 2. $29 and $39. At the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-4490; www.annenbergtheater.org.

The Sudden Glide—from Script2Stage2Screen

This comedy, written by David A. Crespy, explores the life of a 60-something Southern-born actress, Yvonne Allaway, as she faces the toughest hurdle of her life—a fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and she’s again pitted against Meryl Streep. On the way to the ceremony, she is given just enough coke and booze to throw her off her game—and make things very interesting. 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, and Saturday, Oct. 5. $10. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert, 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage. 760-702-0062; www.script2stage2screen.com.

Vivien—from the Palm Canyon Theatre

The play offers a journey beyond Vivien Leigh’s triumphs into the madness that tortured her. She reflects on her tumultuous relationship with Laurence Olivier and her tragic battles with manic depression and tuberculosis. 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 25, and Saturday, Oct. 26; 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 27. $25. At 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-323-5123; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Pippin. The very name suggests fun, music and lightness.

But there’s also a dark side to this season-closer musical at the Palm Canyon Theatre. It’s a show of contrasts.

It’s primarily a dance show. The bevy of “players” writhe, flip, shimmy, roll, strut, gyrate, leap, frolic, prance, hop, mince, stride, march, saunter, flit, spin, gallop, toddle, shuffle, glide, prowl and skim over every inch of the stage. The choreographer, Anthony Nannini, has adapted the dancing from the work of the immortal Bob Fosse. The dancers represent every possible body shape and type, but from the opening number—with the disembodied white-gloved hands illuminated by black light—it’s Fosse all the way. Sexy and suggestive moves combine with Peter Mins’ glitzy, dazzling costumes to maximize the effect.

As far as the plot goes, I’m reminded of TV and movie thugs who say, “Fuhgeddaboudit!” I’m particularly reminded of a scene—I think it was in The Sopranos—in which some semi-literate oaf offers his analysis of a script: “Maybe it’s got a weak plot.” Or, as my father used to say about opera, “If you worry about the plot, you’ll go crazy.” One problem is the betrayal of the Pippin audience’s belief when someone who is killed is then brought back to life, because it isn’t convenient to have him gone. Humph!

The story is the search for life’s meaning, by a barefoot young prince, Pippin—our choreographer, Anthony Nannini. He happens to be the heir to the throne of the great King Charlemagne, colorfully portrayed by the delightful Peter Mins. Predictably, this is complicated by a scheming second wife (Elissa Landi, with her famous legs and attitude, although she was clearly out of her depth with her vocal solo), who wants the throne to go to her son Lewis, played by the perfectly cast Daryl J. Roth, with his amazing sculpted body, chiseled face and chin for which Dick Tracy would kill. A charming turn is taken by the seasoned Rosanne Hopkins, with her admirably crisp diction, as the grandmother.

The first act is largely dominated by the mob of dancers, while Act 2 belongs to Nannini. Here, he seizes the opportunity to cut loose and show us what he can do (and do not take your eyes off the ropes). It wasn’t difficult to find out why his cast notes bid farewell to the Palm Canyon Theatre, where he has been nurtured for several years: He’s bound for New York and the big time. Watch him in this show, and you’ll see why. He’s a quadruple threat: actor, singer, dancer and choreographer. And he’s terrific at all of it. He was born to play lead roles like this. In fact, when he went off-script and improvised some dialogue to explain one of those opening-night ooops! accidents, the audience rewarded him with an appreciative ovation.

The second act also introduces his love interest, the widow Catherine, played by pretty Sarah Noe, and her son, Theo, a very young and sweet Stephen Lee. Throughout the show, Hiram Johnson, the “Leading Player,” acts as a host/narrator/Greek chorus, and I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to simply watch him move. His grace, economy of gesture and body awareness seem natural and effortless. That said, it was unfortunate that his mushy verbalizations made him difficult for the audience to understand. It wouldn’t matter so much, except that his interpretation of the events was important to explaining the action. His singing voice was true, however.

Director Don Lillie, who hails from Missouri (“where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended,” he told me), certainly had his hands full with this cast of 19. Interestingly, his first-ever theater teacher was the venerable William Layne, founder of the theater and patriarch of the family that runs it. The cast wrestles pieces of the J.W. Layne set around the stage to change scenes and locations, in full view of the audience—always fascinating to see. The Mado Nunez hair and wigs worked well, but the makeup of some actors featured a huge distracting blotch on the right side of some faces. (A heart? A star? WTF?)

Once again, the “old pros”—Mins, Hopkins, Landi—made Lillie’s production, along with the youthful Nannini, and Roth, who seemed to be flawless. Of course, the show benefits greatly from the contributions of designer Nick Edwards, musical director Charlie Creasy, the book by Roger O. Hirson, and the music/lyrics of Stephen Schwartz—and if that name sounds familiar it’s because he composed Wicked and Godspell.

So, it’s a production of contrasts. And don’t worry about the plot.

Pippin is performed at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 18; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20; and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 21. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

Is there anything more exciting than the prospect of an upcoming theater season? The offerings from the valley’s varied companies always provide a huge variety—and the 2013-2014 season is no exception. I can’t wait!

Below, you’ll find comments from the theater companies that had announced their schedules and shared their information with us as of our press deadline; we will add more at CVIndependent.com as other companies report back to us.

Don’t miss my reviews of many of these plays, both online and in the Independent’s monthly edition, launching in October!

Desert Rose Playhouse

HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, by Tom Jacobsen: Sept. 27-Oct. 27

THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, by Paul Rudnick: Nov. 15-Dec. 22

NITE CLUB CONFIDENTIAL, by Dennis Deal: Jan. 10-Feb. 16

An untitled new play, by Dan Clancy: March 21-April 20

THE HAUNTED HOST, by Robert Patrick: May 2-June 1

Jim Strait and partner Paul Taylor report that the season for their LGBT playhouse begins with a Southern gothic, Los Angeles-New Orleans show; think “Anne Rice meets Tennessee Williams.” House of the Rising Son features ghosts, graves, special effects, and a post-Katrina/Rita all-male dynasty. Eek!

The Most Fabulous Story is a re-writing of the Old Testament. “It starts in Eden. Adam looks over the fence, and it all goes to hell in a handcart! They invent civilization, wind up in Noah’s Ark (where the bartender is a rhinoceros, and there is an amorous pig), get enslaved by a fabulous pharaoh, and wind up at the Nativity. The second act is in contemporary New York.”

Nite Club Confidential is “a film-noir musical, a cross between Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve. Stars on the rise and a diva on the rocks! Very stylistic, with American songbook music plus new original music. … It takes place in the Eisenhower years.”

The Haunted Host was one of the very first gay plays in New York, and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. Strait acted in a performance in San Diego in 1983, and it was reportedly the first show that Harvey Fierstein ever did.

In addition, Desert Rose will feature a special attraction in March: Dorothy Kirk, a 65-year-old monologist. Strait muses, “I love a storyteller. We don’t get a lot of lesbian participation, so this will change that. It is charming!”

Tickets go on sale in August; www.desertroseplayhouse.org.

Coachella Valley Repertory

MASTER CLASS, by Terrence McNally: Oct. 23-Nov. 10

THE STORY OF MY LIFE, by Brian Hill and Neil Bartram: Dec. 4-22

A PERFECT GANESH, by Terrence McNally: Jan. 22-Feb. 9

FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE, by Terrence McNally: March 19-April 6

Louise Ross, the theater’s PR lady, is “really excited” about this season’s theme.

“McNally is one of America’s greatest playwrights, and we’re doing a collection of his work,” she says.

The 84-seat theater, raked for visibility, is the home of Ron Celona’s brainchild. The first Wednesday and Thursday of each show are considered preview nights (with tickets $30 instead of the usual $40); that first Thursday is also a “talkback,” featuring an audience Q&A.

“McNally has a way of being thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. He brings controversial subjects into life situations, and makes you want to talk about what you’ve seen afterward,” says Ross.

I saw Master Class, about a celeb teaching opera, years ago in L.A., and it was stunning, with everything depending on the role of Maria Callas. Frankie became a movie, marvelous with Pacino and Pfeiffer. Ross told me about a stage version with Stanley Tucci and Frances Sternhagen—and why this show has an audience advisory due to language and brief nudity, a first for CV Rep.

Ganesh is a search for The Exotic by two white ladies in India. “It starts with an ordinary situation and becomes this whole other world,” says Ross, “about your bucket list.”

More info at www.cvrep.org.

Dezart Performs

EXQUISITE POTENTIAL, by Stephen Kaplan: Nov. 22-Dec. 1

INVASION OF PRIVACY, by Larry Parr: Jan. 31-Feb. 9

SIXTH ANNUAL PLAYREADING SERIES, April 11-19

Artistic director Michael Shaw co-founded this 5-year-old group, known for its play-reading series on which the audience votes, with the winner produced the following year. Last season brought a tie—so both plays are being produced this coming season.

Exquisite playwright Stephen Kaplan came to the reading (and was very pleased), and intends to be here again for the production. “It’s brilliant, clever, one of the most interesting story lines ever,” enthuses Shaw. The comedy-drama deals with a man who believes his 3-year-old son is the Messiah—to the surprise of his rabbi and his pregnant wife.

The second play resonates with Shaw, who once lived in Central Florida, where it is set. Invasion is about a relationship that becomes a libel suit—one that really went to the Supreme Court in the 1940s. Shaw knows the life depicted in the play well. “I had alligator stew often, and my dad used to catch wild turkeys and snapping turtles for dinner. I want to hang moss for this show!”

Considering everything happening news, these topics are as timely as ever, Shaw says.

“Tickets will be on sale in July!” promises Shaw, who keeps the ticket prices to a sensible $18-$22; www.dezartperforms.com.

Desert Theatreworks

THE MOUSETRAP, by Agatha Christie: Nov. 1-10

MARRIED ALIVE, by Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto: Dec. 6-15

BLAZING GUNS AT ROARING GULCH: Jan. 24-Feb. 2

THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL: March 14-23

The Joslyn Center’s Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert is now home to the Desert Theatreworks, with Lance Phillips-Martinez at the helm. He tells me that Mousetrap is the longest-running play in the world—and it already had that distinction when I saw it back in London in 1966! It’s a whodunit murder-mystery, of course.

Married is a new musical which he describes as “zany,” with newlyweds and “oldyweds” looking at marriage. Blazing is an old-fashioned “mellerdrammer” in the Wild West, with songs, skits and a very hissable villain.

Trailer is a musical that is “the theatrical equivalent of a bag of Doritos,” says Phillips-Martinez, “at Armadillo Acres in Florida—a fun, fun, fun time!”

It’ll be exciting to watch this new company as it enters the desert’s theatrical community; www.dtworks.org.

Palm Canyon Theatre

THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Oct. 4-13

AVENUE Q: Nov. 8-17

SHREK: Dec. 6-22

LES MISERABLES: Jan. 24-Feb. 9

9 TO 5: Feb. 28-March 9

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR: April 4-20

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE: May 2-11

SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL: July 11-20

This coming season, the downtown Palm Springs mainstay is focusing on big Broadway shows—and they’re throwing in a “classic series” of one-weekend shows as well. We’d tell you more, but nobody from the theater got back to us before our press deadline; www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

Watch CVIndependent.com frequently for updates, reviews and theater news. Enjoy!

Published in Theater and Dance

The era depicted in Bye Bye Birdie must seem like ancient history to the kids in the cast of the production at the Palm Canyon Theatre. But for those of us who do remember those days, the show ironically recalls—and satirizes—that amazing time.

Thanks to J.W. Layne’s versatile set, the décor hurls us back in time to the iconic designs of 1958. Throughout this musical—which hit Broadway in 1960, followed by the big screen in 1963—we are treated to the outrageous colors, fashions and dance styles of the time. A big salute to Se Layne Tethal and her crew for the costumes, Mado Nunez for the hairstyles and wigs, Nick Edwards for props, Anthony Nannini for his choreography, Layne Tethal for the lighting, David McLaughlin for his musical direction, and all the crew members who pitched in. Of course, big kudos go to director Matthew Gose, who beautifully brought it all together. Whew!

Then there’s the cast: The actors range in age from single digits to seniors. The story is about an Elvis-like Conrad Birdie (apparently derived from singer Conway Twitty’s name) getting his draft notice from the Army (which, of course, actually happened to Elvis, no doubt throwing his management into fits at the idea that he might be forgotten by teenagers, notorious for short attention spans). So his agent comes up with the idea of memorializing Conrad’s last kiss, of a small town girl, who will obviously never forget him—hopefully leading the way for his other followers.

Everything spreads out from that. We meet Birdie’s agent, Albert Peterson, played magnificently by Dane Whitlock, and his annoyed secretary, Rosie Alvarez, played by the fabulous Layne Tethal. Peterson’s mother, Mae Peterson, is played for laughs by a scary Amanda Burr.

We meet the girl who is selected to be the recipient of Conrad’s last kiss, Kim MacAfee, solidly played by young Sasha Chasen. Her family: the nervous mother played by Colleen Walker, and the chauvinistic blustering father, played by Tom Warrick.

And her friends! Brace yourself: The screaming kids open the show, pounding down the stairs right through the audience. The tireless teens sing and dance and emote throughout, just like teenagers did then, and do today. Kim’s boyfriend, Hugo Peabody, is moodily played by Max Mule. The town’s mayor, with Charles Gaines in the role, and Shirley LeMaster as his wife, lead the ensemble.

Of course, there’s Conrad Birdie himself. It would be interesting to know how Nicholas Sloan learned the moves of Elvis. He’s impossibly slim, with a pouty arrogance so like that of The King when he started out; Sloan catches all of the qualities that made kids go wild with excitement—and parents wild with horror—when Elvis burst onto the scene (and changed the music business overnight). Dressed in boots and over-the-top costumes, he’s perfectly cast.

The show, of course, is filled with ebullient song-and-dance numbers. From the wild writhing of the teenagers, to the breath-taking grace of Layne Tethal and Whitlock, the variety is delightful. This show gave us some unforgettable songs: “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” and “Put on a Happy Face” were recorded by nearly everybody in the business, and have become classics. “Kids,” performed here by Walker and Warrick, enchanted everyone. “A Mother Doesn’t Matter,” done by the martyred harridan Mae, played by Burr, elicited appreciative laughs from the men as well as the ladies in the audience.

The sound, despite a couple of tiny glitches—the cast has to be careful with hugs while wearing face and Lavalier microphones—was as good as we’ve heard at the Palm Canyon Theatre. That said, there’s a lot of screeching that, amplified, made some heads ring. Basically, everyone yells. The singers are pitched at the top of their range, a technique used to create excitement, but that doesn’t always work with every voice; even sopranos have their limits. The hard-edged sound so often required in musical comedy can sometimes wear on listeners.

Not surprisingly, the show is dominated by the old pros, who display lovely energy and secure stage presences when compared to the frenetic youth. The writing throughout is bright, and the conflicts move along rapidly. A special “Ole!” to Se Layne Tethal for her “Spanish Rose” number, which managed to be sexy and clever at the same time.

Bye Bye Birdie’s short two-week run concludes this coming weekend. Of course, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the film version—as if you needed a reason to see it.

Bye Bye Birdie is performed at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 23; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 24 and 25; and 2 p.m., Sunday, May 26, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $32, and the show runs about two hours with one intermission. For tickets or more info, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org. Also: The theater is offering a Summer Kids Camp from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, from June 17 through July 27 ($125 per week); visit the site for more details.

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

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