CVIndependent

Wed07082020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I would like to officially welcome you all to the toasty portion of the Coachella Valley 2020: Pandemic Edition.

Starting tomorrow, and for the next week plus, we’re expected to hit triple-digits each and every day. And as far as sheltering in place, I am trying to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the plus side: I won’t want to go outside as much during the day, and that’ll make staying at home less of an issue.

On the minus side: I looooove summer evenings here—you know the kind, where you walk outside and think, “Gee, this doesn’t seem that hot,” and then you look at the weather on your phone, and it’s still 103 degrees, and you start to wonder if perhaps the heat has fried portions of your brain. Love those evenings.

Also on the minus side: most local HOA and apartment pools are still closed. And wearing a mask out when it’s 103 is gonna be less than pleasant.

Sigh.

Today’s links—and there are a lot of ’em:

• Gov. Gavin Newsom today said the state is ramping up COVID-19 testing—something that needs to happen, he says, before we start reopening the state.

• Related: Kaiser Permanente is building a new lab in Berkeley that will be able to process 5,000 tests a day by the time it opens in early June.

• The Santa Clara County health officer says a woman who died in her home on Feb. 6 was a COVID-19 victim—meaning the virus was spreading in this country a lot earlier than previously known.

• Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors has assembled a “Palm Springs Business Transition and Re-Entry Task Force” to guide the city’s efforts when it’s time to start reopening.

Meanwhile, the news coming out of Washington, D.C., is completely weird, with the president now saying he disagrees with the Georgia governor’s move to start reopening that state. And the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (i.e. the government agency involved most with developing a vaccine) says he was forced out by the president because he spoke out against Trump’s touting of hydroxychloroquine.

• Oh, and Attorney General William Barr recently left open the possibility of legal action against states that go “too far” with keeping stay-at-home orders in place. Lovely.

• People who needed medical help to battle the coronavirus are now starting to get some large medical bills.

• A New York Times analysis of mortality data in 11 countries shows a lot more people are dying during this pandemic than official counts are reporting.

• The city of Indio offers this very cool video from local leaders, all of whom have one thing to say to all of the essential workers out there: Thank you.

• As a former resident of Las Vegas who still retains great affection for the city, I have a fun fact for you: Did you know that the vast majority of the Las Vegas Strip is not actually part of the city of Las Vegas? The city limits actually start at Sahara Avenue and go north, for the most part; everything south of that is just part of unincorporated Clark County. In other words, the mayor of Las Vegas doesn’t actually have anything to do with most of what people think of as Las Vegas. Keep this in mind when you hear this dumpster-fire of an interview Anderson Cooper had with Carolyn Goodman, that aforementioned mayor of Las Vegas.

• The headline of this piece from New York Magazine is, quite simply, “We Might Never Get a Good Coronavirus Vaccine.” I won’t comment further, because I don’t want to start whimpering.

• Oh, and here’s more depressing news: A number of COVID-19 victims will be dealing with the effects of the disease for the rest of their lives.

How do blood sugar levels affect COVID-19? The Conversation explains the science behind this question thus far.

• From the Independent: What happens when two bored, laid-off bartenders, who happen to be roommates, talk about cocktails, and then transcribe the whole thing? Find out here, especially if you’re a fan of pickled eggs.

• Also from the Independent: The McCallum Theatre has announced a fantastic 2020-2021 season. We talked to McCallum head Mitch Gershenfeld about it—while keeping our fingers crossed that the season actually comes to be.

• The state has launched a website where people who are able can sign up to volunteer with organizations that have a need. Check out the California Volunteers website

• This story made me laugh out loud, even though it probably shouldn’t have: The California Highway Patrol says they’re giving out waaaay more tickets to people traveling more than 100 miles per hour.

Coachella Valley Repertory is starting a series of free online classes/lectures. The first one is taking place tomorrow (Thursday), at 6 p.m.: “Broadway Musicals: Blockbusters From Gypsy to Hello, Dolly!” with Glenn Rosenblum.

That’s what we call a busy news day, and that’s enough for now. If you want to support a local small business and the Independent at the same time, please consider our Adopt a Small Business program. If you want to support the CREATE Center for the Arts, local artists and the Independent at the same time, buy our amazing Coloring Book! Wash your hands, and wear a mask when you absolutely must go outside. We’re on deadline for the May print edition tomorrow, so we may or may not have a Daily Digest for Thursday, depending on how that goes; in either case, we’ll be here Friday. Stay safe, and thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Mitch Gershenfeld has been booking shows at the McCallum Theatre for more than two decades now—and it’s a vast understatement to say he’s never experienced a season like this.

The longtime McCallum president and CEO retired—while keeping his booking duties—late last summer to make way for a new president and CEO, Terrence Dwyer. Three months later, Dwyer was let go, and Gershenfeld returned as the acting president.

Then came March 12—and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were supposed to have Ricky Skaggs that night,” Gershenfeld said during a recent phone interview. “It was a sold-out show, but we shut everything down. The rest of the shows for the season were canceled.

“But we had a plan. We kept all of our full-time staff on, and we’re continuing to work from our homes. We’re using Zoom and having daily meetings. We’re working on all the various aspects of the business, and we’re working on ramping up to get the new season launched.”

Tickets for that 2020-2021 season went on sale earlier this week at www.mccallumtheatre.com. The season is slated to kick off on Oct. 10 with the Ninth Annual Family Fun Day, featuring a participatory performance of The Little Mermaid by The Panto Company USA. The season then kicks into high gear in November, starting with a Nov. 1 show by humorist Jeanne Robertson.

That is, of course, if theaters are allowed to operate by then.

“We’re certainly looking with optimism that by November, things may have returned to a point where people can gather again and go to the theater,” Gershenfeld said. “If that doesn’t happen, if shows get canceled, people will get their tickets refunded, as we refunded all the tickets for the shows that were canceled (in March and April). … But we feel optimistic, and that’s why we want to go ahead with the season. We certainly want to be there for people. We know that being in isolation is difficult for everyone. We know that human beings crave the human connection. They crave the live experience, and that’s what the McCallum is all about. We hope that we will see a day soon when we’re all able to gather again—and when that day comes, we want to be prepared to provide those kinds of performances.”

Gershenfeld said he’s proud of the 2020-2021 season that he and his team have assembled. In some ways, he said, it’s one of the McCallum’s best ever.

“I think it’s the best Broadway season we’ve had in 20 years. I really do,” he said. “We have Come From Away, which I think is an extraordinary musical.” The musical nabbed seven 2017 Tony Award nominations, earning a win for Best Direction of a Musical. It’s slated for eight performances Feb. 3-7, 2021.

“I think Come From Away actually is even more meaningful now,” Gershenfeld said. “It is the story of Sept. 11, when all the airplanes were suddenly unable to come to the United States. We closed our airspace, and they landed in this little town of Gander, in Canada. It’s a story of how people react in a crisis. It’s a story of how the people of this town took care of 7,000 people that were left in the dark. They didn’t know what was happening in the U.S. The airspace was closed; there was no communication, and it was a very, very trying time. To see how people can come together and take care of each other—given what’s going on now, this musical becomes even more meaningful.”

Other Broadway shows on the schedule include Blue Man Group (Nov. 27-29); Jersey Boys (Jan. 15-17); Summer: The Donna Summer Story (Jan. 19-20); Riverdance (Jan. 26-31); Hairspray (April 2-4); an encore of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (April 8-10); and Les Misérables (March 23-28)—returning to the McCallum for the first time since 1993.

“It’s got these beautiful new sets that they created a couple of years back with all these video screens and everything,” Gershenfeld said about the new Les Misérables. “When you see the death of Javert—well, I don’t want to give it all away, but it’s pretty amazing.”

The schedule features the divas (like Patti Lupone on Jan. 6), comedians (like Paula Poundstone on Nov. 20) and old-school favorites (like Neil Sedaka on Jan. 8 and 9) one would expect to see on the McCallum slate, as well as some true legends, like the great John Cleese, who is slated to return to the McCallum for two shows on Feb. 13.

“When I’m booking shows, what I’m thinking most about is: What will the McCallum audience enjoy? What will engage the McCallum audience?” Gershenfeld said. “With John Cleese, I just wanted to meet the guy. I’m a Monty Python fan; I’ve been for years, and I just wanted to see if he was a nice guy, or if he was kind of, sort of a curmudgeon. First of all, he’s a very nice guy. Second of all, his career has been phenomenal. It’s not just Monty Python; it’s Fawlty Towers, which was an amazing television series, and then movies like A Fish Called Wanda. … He talks about his career. He has film clips and images and things like that, and it’s a really fascinating presentation. It’s sort of a lecture and sort of a standup comedy set. He’s a fascinating, fascinating guy.”

The 2020-2021 season includes the return of series that McCallum audiences have come to love over the years, including Keyboard Confessions With Jeffrey Siegel, Mitch’s Picks—a slate of unheralded acts for which Gershenfeld personally vouches—and, for the third year, National Geographic Live!

“You’ve got these journalists and photographers from National Geographic, and they have these extraordinary images and videos that they go to all kinds of crazy lengths to get,” Gershenfeld said. “… They do a Q&A with the audience. This is a real family-oriented kind of program. It’s great for kids, and it’s always something interesting.”

All five performers in the Mitch’s Picks series are making their McCallum headlining debuts, starting with Harlem 100 Featuring Mwenso and The Shakes, a multi-media concert celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, on Nov. 21; and concluding with … something called Puddles Pity Party on March 5.

Puddles Pity Party?

“He’s this 7-foot clown who has this amazing voice and does this really wonderful theatrical presentation,” Gershenfeld said. “He’ll sing opera but will also sing Ozzy Osborne songs. He’s a silent clown except when he sings. He doesn’t speak, but like the great silent clowns of the past, like Emmett Kelly and those, he will make a story arc out of his show. It becomes like a theatrical presentation.”

Dammit, coronavirus, back off. Palm Desert needs Puddles Pity Party next year!

For the complete McCallum Theatre 2020-2021 schedule, or to buy tickets, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

If you’re a data geek like I am, you can have a lot of fun with Pollstar magazine’s annual list of the Top 200 theater venues in the world.

For example: The Coachella Valley’s McCallum Theatre—considered a small- to medium-sized venue—in 2018 came in at No. 70 in the entire world, with well more than 100,000 tickets sold. No theater in Southern California sold more tickets than the McCallum did, even though the venue is only open for half the year.

That’s right: The McCallum had more butts in its seats in 2018 than any theater in Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the country.

Mitch Gershenfeld, the McCallum’s president, CEO and show-booker, said 2019 has been even stronger—and that he has high hopes for the 2019-2020 season. Tickets for all shows in the upcoming season go on sale online today (April 11) at 6 p.m., with box-office and phone sales beginning tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

The 2019-2020 season includes the big names—Melissa Etheridge (Nov. 14), anyone?—that people have come to expect to be on the McCallum schedule, along with valley favorites like the Ten Tenors (Feb. 19-23, 2020) and Pink Martini (March 4-8). However, Gershenfeld said he’s particularly thrilled about the Broadway shows he’s booked; five of them have never been to the McCallum before, kicking off with the musical adaptation of A Christmas Story (Nov. 26 and 27).

“It has all of the key things that are in the movie,” Gershenfeld said. “There’s a whole number with dancing leg lamps.”

That will be followed by Waitress (Dec. 6-8) and The Play That Goes Wrong (Jan. 21 and 22), a critical darling that just closed on Broadway earlier this year—and is still going strong on London’s West End.

“It’s the quintessential British farce,” Gershenfeld said.

Escape to Margaritaville (Jan. 30-Feb. 1)—a musical featuring the songs of Jimmy Buffett, but you probably figured that out already—will be followed by Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Feb. 7-9), which has become a Broadway fixture, recently celebrating its fifth anniversary there.

“It’s really nice to get another musical that’s still on Broadway,” Gershenfeld said.

Those new-to-the-McCallum shows will be joined by returnees Chicago (March 13-15) and The Illusionists (April 7 and 8).

Mitch’s Picks—a series of a shows by unheralded performers that Gershenfeld personally recommends—are back, starting off on Nov. 22 with a double-bill of performers who perform traditional Latin music with a twist: the all-women Mariachi Flor de Toloache and The Villalobos Brothers. They’ll be followed by a Christmas show on Dec. 16 by YouTube a cappella sensation Voctave.

“They’re an amazing group who primarily performs at Disneyworld,” Gershenfeld said. “The core members have beautiful voices, and the arrangements are extraordinary.”

Other Mitch’s Picks include the Derina Harvey Band, a Celtic-rock group (Jan. 14); Wicked alum-turned-soul singer Shoshana Bean (Feb. 4); and Mnozil Brass (March 24), a brass septet that melds original tunes, classics and a lot of humor.

The National Geographic Live series will be back at the McCallum for a second year with three shows. Gershenfeld admits he was concerned about how a science series would do—and he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction of McCallum audiences this year.

“They love it, and they point out that it’s so different,” Gershenfeld said. “It’s also a program that attracts children, which is great. During the Q&A sessions, the kids are always asking questions.”

This year’s shows are On the Trail of Big Cats (Jan. 6), Photography Without Borders (March 2) and View From Above (April 5) with astronaut Terry Virts.

Gershenfeld said the new season’s highlights include some tribute shows that are quite special. First and foremost is A Toast to Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé (April 4). The two were most successful act to regularly appear at the McCallum before the Ten Tenors came along, Gershenfeld said.

“Frank Sinatra would show up to hang out backstage,” he added.

Gormé passed away in 2013, and Lawrence has retired from performing; this show will feature their son, David Lawrence, and Tony Award-winner Debbie Gravitte, along with a 32-piece orchestra and vintage video clips.

“We have all of their original music charts,” Gershenfeld said. “… This is the first place this show is going to play. There’s no place (Steve Lawrence) would want to do the first show other than (here).”

Speaking of Frank Sinatra … he’ll be returning to the McCallum, sort of, thanks to the talents of Bob Anderson, on Feb. 14 and 15. Gershenfeld explained that the Sinatra impressionist sounds exactly like Ol’ Blue Eyes, and to add to the impression, he has a prosthetic mask of Sinatra’s face. When you add in a 32-piece orchestra playing Sinatra’s original arrangements … the likeness is eerie and amazing.

The other big names coming to the McCallum zigzag across genres—Mandy Patinkin (Nov. 16), The Beach Boys (Dec. 1), Itzhak Perlman (Jan. 20), Ricky Skaggs (March 12), the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (March 15), and so on.

“Last season (2017-2018) was the most successful in our history,” Gershenfeld said. “This year (the just-concluding 2018-2019) surpassed it.” And 2019-2020 has a great chance of continuing that trend.

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2019-2020 season go on sale online at mccallumtheatre.com at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 11; and at 9 a.m., Friday, April 12, at the box office, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, and by phone, at 760-340-2787. For the complete schedule, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

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

Even though Mitch Gershenfeld has been booking shows at the McCallum Theatre for 18 years now, he admits he gets nervous whenever subscriptions for a new season go on sale—as they did on Tuesday, April 4, for the theater’s 30th anniversary 2017-2018 season.

“I get this pain in the pit of my stomach, thinking: What if nobody buys tickets?” he told me on Tuesday as we talked in his office. Of course, he had nothing to worry about—there were dozens of people at the box office snapping up season subscriptions.

Yet another reason Gershenfeld had no reason to worry: Every year, the McCallum is one of the busiest theaters in the world. Despite being dark for almost half of the year, and having a modest 1,100-seat capacity, industry publication Pollstar ranked the McCallum as the No. 58 theater in the world in terms of 2016 ticket sales.

Finally, there is one more reason Gershenfeld has no reason to worry: Seeing as he’s been booking shows at the McCallum now for 60 percent of the time its doors have been open, Gershenfeld knows what shows work, and what shows don’t work at the Palm Desert theater. As a result, about 86 percent of the seats available during 2016-2017 season were sold, he said.

As for the upcoming season, Gershenfeld said he’s happy with how it turned out, adding that he thinks the Broadway-show lineup is one of the theater’s strongest ever.

“Three shows we’re bringing in have been on Broadway within the last 12 months,” he said: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Nov. 24-28), Motown the Musical (Jan. 16-21, 2018) and Kinky Boots (Feb. 2-4).

Gershenfeld expressed excitement about another Broadway show, Circus 1903 (March 27-April 1). You may have seen a performance from the show recently on The Late Show With Steven Colbert. (Scroll down to see a clip.) The show is exactly what the title says: It’s a circus-style show from 1903—except the elephants are products of puppetry, not real animals … although they sure do look realistic.

Other Broadway shows include the legendary A Chorus Line (Jan. 26-28), Dirty Dancing (Feb. 16-18), MAESTRO: The Art of Leonard Bernstein (March 20-21, in conjunction with the Leonard Bernstein centennial) and a concert performance of the music from West Side Story (March 9-11).

“I think it’s the best musical ever written,” Gershenfeld said about West Side Story, adding that a 40-piece orchestra, assembled by conductor Richard Kauffman, will join Broadway-level cast members as assembled by the McCallum’s own Chad Hilligus, himself a former member of the Ten Tenors.

The 30th anniversary season kicks off with a bang on Oct. 7, when acting and comedy legend Bill Murray will take the stage in a show called New Worlds … with a bunch of musicians?

“Bill Murray is one of those guys you just want to meet, and hope he’s cool,” Gershenfeld said.

Yeah, of course. But … with a bunch of musicians?

“The show is the result of a friendship with (cellist) Jan Vogler,” Gershenfeld explained. “They got together to do the show as a one-off in Germany … as a corporate thing.”

Turns out New Worlds features Murray reading from the works of Hemingway, Capote, Twain and other American literary icons, while Vogler, violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez perform classical music. The goal is to showcase American values in literature and music. Oh, and Murray is going to dance a tango, too.

Speaking of American values: In these … uh, deeply interesting political times, the Capitol Steps—a long-touring humor group consisting of former and current congressional staffers—will perform an afternoon show at the McCallum on Sunday, Jan. 14.

“I thought that if there were ever a time to have fun with politics, on both sides of the aisle, now is the time to do it,” Gershenfeld said.

About a month or so later, the McCallum will become the week-long home of classical/jazz/everything-else-you-can-imagine band Pink Martini, for eight shows from Feb. 9-15. The group, featuring singers China Forbes and Storm Large, was here for five shows last year—all-sellouts. What makes this band such a Palm Desert favorite?

“They’re very unpredictable and very diverse in what they do,” Gershenfeld said. “They do songs in eight different languages. … (Bandleader) Thomas Lauderdale is brilliant at finding these great songs from all over the world.”

All of the series for which the McCallum is known—including Fitz’s Jazz Café at the McCallum, curated by desert radio icon Jim Fitzgerald, and Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel—are back, as are Mitch’s Picks, a series of shows by performers who may not be well-known, but who have earned the endorsement of the McCallum president and CEO. Mitch’s Picks are now in their fourth year, and Gershenfeld said the series has allowed him to book great acts that he may have hesitated to book before.

“We’re saying, ‘You know, if you trust me to make good decisions, try these,’” he said. “Fortunately, it’s worked.”

This year’s Mitch’s Picks include All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, a play/concert about a moment when Allied and German soldiers in World War I stopped fighting to celebrate the holiday together (Dec. 3).

“It’s an amazing story, but it took place in such a terrible time,” Gershenfeld said. “I wasn’t going to book it, but I kept coming back to it.”

Australian diva Meow Meow will bring her combination of cabaret music and physical comedy to the McCallum on Jan. 31. On March 2, Davina and The Vagabonds will share the stage with swing-band greats the Squirrel Nut Zippers. On March 6, the fourth Mitch’s Picks show is Gobsmacked!, an all-a capella show featuring seven singers and beat boxers. Finally, on March 12, MozART Group, a string quartet that combines classical music and comedy, will make the trip to the McCallum from Poland.

While season-subscription sales have been brisk since Tuesday morning, putting Gershenfeld’s mind at ease, he expressed frustration about a growing number of ticket brokers and re-sellers that are gobbling up tickets and then re-selling them with high mark-ups—that is, if the tickets are real at all. Some of these re-sellers use deceptive names and URLs to make it appear that the tickets are being sold directly by the McCallum—so make sure you’re only getting tickets from mccallumtheatre.com.

Gershenfeld said he’s honored that so many people keep coming back to the McCallum year after year.

“Our subscriptions and series are one reason that people have been keeping the same seats for 30 years,” he said.

For more information, or to purchase season subscriptions, visit mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

The McCallum Theatre, the venue, is well-known for top-notch Broadway musicals, concerts by world-class musicians, and a wide variety of other arts programming.

However, the McCallum Theatre, the institution, does much more than host shows. The McCallum has an education wing, the McCallum Theatre Institute, that has served hundreds of thousands of locals over the years—and through its Crisalida Community Arts Project, the McCallum has spent the last two-plus years seeking out the artistic voices of the Eastern Coachella Valley.

Some of the results of that search will be presented on Saturday, May 14, at the McCallum in a showcase titled East Valley Voices Out Loud, which will feature singers, rappers, poets, storytellers, musicians, actors, playwrights and visual artists—all from the Eastern Coachella Valley.

Jeffrey Norman, the director of communications and public affairs at the McCallum Theatre, said the Crisalida Community Arts Project came to be thanks to inspiration from McCallum president/CEO Mitch Gershenfeld, and funding from the James Irvine Foundation.

“Mitch Gershenfeld got this idea in his head,” Norman said. “We knew that the James Irvine Foundation had funds available, but that they wouldn’t be necessarily for the conventional presentations that the McCallum does.”

The McCallum asked David Gonzalez—a professional storyteller, poet, playwright and musician who is a cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department—to spearhead the effort. The McCallum had worked with Gonzalez before, Norman said.

“David Gonzalez had appeared through the McCallum Theatre Institute several times and visited classrooms throughout the valley as part of our education program. He just seemed like the guy we could partner with,” Norman said.

The grant from the James Irvine Foundation is the largest ever received by the McCallum.

“I have a history of grant-writing, and Mitch, David and I were all going to be in New York at the same time,” Norman said. “We sat at some restaurant and just kind of riffed on this for a couple of hours. I went home and wrote the grant application. We submitted it, and they asked us to change a couple of things. It’s a very competitive grant, and we got it.”

Art’s role in building community is an important topic to Norman. Before arriving at the McCallum, he was the vice president for public affairs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J., a city that was victimized by riots in 1967.

“We built a $187 million theater in downtown Newark. It was very important to us that this performing-arts center be built, because so many things were promised to Newark after the riots that never came to fruition,” Norman said. “My boss had a professor (back in 1967), and the professor said, ‘It’s going to be 30 years before anything happens.’ We opened 30 years later, on Oct. 18, 1997. It was important that we build a place that appealed to the Mozart and Beethoven crowd, but also to the residents of the community. As it turned out, at our best, we had an audience that was 28 percent other than Caucasian, which is unheard of in the arts. … We did a lot of stuff in the Newark schools and the urban schools throughout the state. This kind of stuff, about making the arts available to disparate communities, is my passion.”


When Gonzalez arrived in the Coachella Valley and began work on the Crisalida Community Arts Project, he immediately started finding talent.

“It seems like every rock I picked up, there was a creative voice,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve met so many fabulously talented people in visual arts, music, poetry and the theater arts. It’s just been a wonderful experience for me to make so many artistic friends and collaborators.”

Gonzalez said some widely held perceptions of the East Valley—an area which includes some of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the state—are not accurate.

“It’s certainly not a monolith, and there’s certainly a lot of diversity in the population out there,” Gonzalez said. “Some families I’ve met have been in that valley and on the land for a couple hundred years. There are some of the pioneer families, who are the old Mexican families that go way back before there was even big agriculture. There are also families who just arrived a year or two ago.

“There’s also a lot of diversity when it comes to economic status. Some of those towns have a healthy middle class, and even in the places where there is lower income, there’s so much dignity. If you go to Mecca, the median income is less than standard, but the quality of life is good: The streets are clean, and there’s so much community spirit—but there are some problems. I think there’s a misconception about the monolithic, uneducated poverty out there, and it’s simply not true.”

Both Norman and Gonzalez said it was not always easy to gain trust in the East Valley.

“The first year was about relationship-building,” Norman. “We expected some skepticism. I think a lot of people have promised a lot of things to the east side of the valley and have walked away.”

Fortunately, Gonzalez was up to the task.

“I think this is a common story: When an arts institution that’s seen … in a way as elitist tries a new hand in being a community partner, there’s a lot of suspicion and doubt,” Gonzalez said. “My job was to go and meet folks and listen to folks, because nothing communicates a willingness to partner better than listening to the concerns and interests, as well as seeing what’s there instead of telling people what they need. The grant was written in such a way where we could use the first eight to 10 months to go out and meet folks and see what was there.”

Gonzalez said not everybody he encountered was willing to participate in the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

“Because the grant is only a two-year grant, I couldn’t spend too much time trying to convince them that they should,” he said. “We did partner up with some wonderful community organizations like the Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, the Indio Teen Center, the Indio Senior Center, the (Coachella Valley History) Museum, and Pueblo Unido.”


One example of the talent Gonzalez (right in photo to the right) found is Francisco Rodriguez (left).

“Francisco Rodriguez has a degree in creative writing and poetry from UC Riverside,” Gonzalez said. “He’s from Mecca, and he’s a brilliant young man. I’ve hired him to do a series of interviews with community elders and in some of the housing projects. He did one poem with Leonardo Espinosa (center), who worked for 40-plus years as a farm worker and was quite active in the farm-worker strikes back in the day with Cesar Chavez and others. Francisco brought his listening ear to Leonardo’s house, and Leonardo told him, in two installments, part of his life story. Francisco memorialized it into a poem, and that will be presented at our event.”

Rodriguez said he was delighted to take part in the Crisalida Community Arts Project.

“It was really beautiful and really nice to be able to hear the voices of the valley,” Rodriguez said. “… Being able to hear different people’s stories, experiences, things they’ve been through, and even things they’re going through right now that are good or bad—it’s part of life, and to see them being passionate and moving on, it’s really refreshing.”

Rodriguez said even he didn’t realize how much talent could be found in the East Valley.

“I’ve lived here in the valley just about all my life,” Rodriguez said. “When I met David Gonzalez and became part of the Crisalida Community Arts Project, I was able to meet different people, and it wasn’t as isolated as I thought it was. There are so many artists here, so many writers, and so many musicians. It was really refreshing to discover that part of the valley and to see how things tend to be a little obscure—but you see and get to know they exist, too.”

Gonzalez said he played a role in developing a theater group.

“Something we noticed in the East Valley was the interest in developing theater,” Gonzalez said. “I collaborated with Carlos Garcia, a retired drama teacher from Desert Mirage High School, to create the East Valley Repertory Company, which is bilingual theater, and its focus is to encourage people in the theater arts from the East Valley to participate in community theater. We’ve had a number of successful events, such as a 10-minute play festival (first photo below), which was very well-attended. We published seven 10-minute plays in a book.”

Gonzalez said the East Valley Voices Out Loud event should be fantastic.

“It’s going to be a really thrilling event, because you’re going to hear, see and come and touch a very wide variety of artists in the East Valley,” he said, “everything from hip-hop artists to a brand-new band of seniors who sing bolero with themes of social justice and how they see their communities. There are also going to be singer-songwriters and documentary videos, and it’s going to be a kaleidoscopic night where you can experience a lot of artists who are vibrant in the East Valley.”

Gonzalez said the Crisalida Community Arts Project has had numerous positive effects—both at the McCallum and in the East Valley.

“The McCallum is, along with a couple of other institutions in the valley, the premier cultural beacon,” Gonzalez said. “Its credibility, its pool of talent and its brain trust are a tremendous resource for the broader community. I’ve watched the staff of the McCallum grow in their interest in the community, and it’s been a thrill to see the leadership and the board get behind a new initiative that brings the McCallum out into the community, so it’s appreciated and understood in a way it hadn’t been before.”

Gonzalez said the Crisalida Community Arts Project proved the arts can make a positive difference in the East Valley.

“Art is a critical component to a healthy society,” Gonzalez said. “Art connects us through dialogue around intellectual challenges and beauty. There’s a tremendous vitality and aliveness in the East Valley, and they have enjoyed traditions for a very long time. The influence of this grant has been to support the impulses that were already there and bring them to greater fruition. There have been a couple of instances where this was a first-time experience for people. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily saving lives, but it’s giving people the opportunity to see themselves as creative people and contributors to the creative dialogue in their community.”

East Valley Voices Out Loud will take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 14, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $9 to $22. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Below: A scene from Tacos, Teardrops and Tequila, a 10-minute play festival produced by East Valley Repertory Company and the Crisalida Community Arts Project; Arturo Castellanos will be performing as part of the East Valley Voices Out Loud show at the McCallum.

Published in Local Fun

Mitch Gershenfeld has been booking shows at the McCallum Theatre now for 16 years, give or take, and has been the president and CEO of the Palm Desert venue/arts organization for four.

Every year, he books many dozens of shows at the theater—which, despite its relatively small size, during the first quarter of each year becomes the top-selling performing-arts venue in the state, and one of the Top 10 in the country.

He’s also a man—as one would expect, given his job—with incredibly diverse tastes when it comes to the performing arts. Given all of this, it would be utterly foolish for a journalist to ask Gershenfeld to pick the one upcoming show about which he’s most excited. Yet I was dumb enough to ask that very question when we recently sat down to discuss the just-announced 2016-2017 season lineup.

Much to my surprise, he had an answer.

“Personally, John Cleese,” he said. “I’ve tried to get him here before, and finally, all the stars aligned.”

The Monty Python and Fawlty Towers comedy god, who will be in Palm Desert for two shows on Sunday, March 12, is just one of the huge names coming to the McCallum in 2016-2017.

Like comedy? Then you may want to get tickets to see Jay Leno on Saturday, Jan. 21. Like a more folksy brand of comedy? Well, you can see Garrison Keillor on Friday, Jan. 27, or Rita Rudner on Friday, April 7.

George Takei (Saturday, Nov. 19) is also bound to offer some humor, mixed in with some serious commentary about his fascinating life, which has included a stint in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, and many, many years in the closet.

“George is such an interesting and iconic person,” Gershenfeld said, “not just for having been on Star Trek, but for the role he’s taken on as a social activist. His Facebook following is amazing. He’s a tremendous social-media person.”

Fans of Broadway classics will find a whole lot to like during the upcoming season. Shows coming through include The Sound of Music (Nov. 22-27), Mamma Mia! (Dec. 2-5), Annie (Jan. 10-11), Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles (Feb. 17-19) and Chicago (March 17-19). Meanwhile, Broadway greats like Bernadette Peters (Saturday, Feb. 4) and Kristin Chenoweth (Friday, March 24) will also take the stage.

Miss the Palm Springs Follies? Catch the McCallum’s tribute starring John Davidson and Ann Hampton Calloway on Wednesday and Thursday, March 8 and 9. Like watching comedic actresses singing songs? Enjoy “See Jane Sing!” with Jane Lynch on Saturday, Oct. 29. Like hearing really talented kids sing Christmas songs? The Vienna Boys Choir will be in town on Monday, Dec. 5. Like … um, drum lines? Well, on Sunday, Jan. 22, you’ll want to be at the McCallum for DRUMLine Live, a staged show featuring music performed the tradition of historically black colleges.

“I grew up playing in marching bands, and I used to love watching Grambling,” Gershenfeld said, referencing the renowned college band.

For the last several years, Gershenfeld has touted a handful of shows as “Mitch’s Picks”—featuring under-the-radar performers for whom Gershenfeld will personally vouch. The first of the half-dozen Mitch’s Picks for the upcoming season is Jake Shimabukuro, performing on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

“He’s a virtuoso of the ukulele,” Gershenfeld said. “I think people will really enjoy that.”

Up next is a former member of the Ten Tenors who always stood out: Daniel Belle will present a mix of pop, opera and Broadway in An Unexpected Song, on Friday, Jan. 20.

“He has the best voice I’ve ever heard in that group,” Gershenfeld said. “In fact, he has one of the most outstanding voices I’ve ever heard, period.”

Mitch’s other Picks: On Friday, Feb. 3, Michael Griffiths stars in the scripted musical Cole, during which the talented Australian performer will perform as the great Cole Porter; Simply Three features three amazing string players performing rock and pop hits on Wednesday, Feb. 15; the Mnozil Brass band mixes humor and technically brilliant music on Thursday, March 23; and Max Raabe and Palast Orchester re-create American and German standards from the 1920s and 1930s on Thursday, March 30.

Many other McCallum traditions are also back for another year, including the Fitz’s Jazz Café series, selected in part by local radio great Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald; the 15th season of Jeffrey Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations; a concert series by the Desert Symphony; the McCallum Theatre Institute’s Choreography Festival (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 and 13); the Fifth Annual Family Fun Day, this year featuring The Underwater Bubble Show (Sunday, Oct. 23); and the fifth annual concert by the McCallum Theatre Concert Band, conducted by Gershenfeld himself (Sunday, March 26).

We could go on and on, but there’s pretty much something for everyone in the lineup. The McCallum is currently wrapping up its most successful season ever, Gershenfeld said, and he said he’s excited to see how audiences respond to what lies in store over the next year.

“We have 21 or 22 performers who have never been here before,” he said. “That’s more than usual.”

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2016-2017 season are now on sale. Visit www.mccallumtheatre.com for details.

Published in Local Fun

It’s been a fine year for the McCallum Theatre.

“This is one of the best seasons we’ve had in terms of artists—and financially, as well,” said Mitch Gershenfeld, the president, CEO and longtime booker of the McCallum. “Ticket sales have been very, very strong this year, considerably stronger than last year.”

The McCallum is winding down its wildly successful 2014-2015 season this month with just a handful shows, most notably the theater’s popular Open Call local talent competition (Thursday through Saturday, April 14-16). But all this leads to a question: How can Gershenfeld and the McCallum raise the bar next season?

The answer came over the weekend, when the McCallum released the schedule for the 2015-2016 season. Tickets went on sale today, and to raise that figurative bar, Gershenfeld looked east—specifically, all the way to Broadway.

The McCallum’s new season features eight Broadway and Broadway-style shows, with musical comedy classic 42nd Street (Nov. 24-29) and newly revived hit Pippin (Jan. 12-17, 2016) leading the way, followed by the ever-popular Jersey Boys (Feb. 16-21) and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (March 25-27).

Joining those shows are shorter runs of the 20th anniversary tour of Riverdance (Jan. 23 and 24), one-man comedy show Steve Solomon’s Cannoli, Latkes and Guilt (Feb. 12), the now-legendary The Producers (Feb. 27 and 28), and a brand-new McCallum production, Tribute to the Follies (March 10-11).

“This one of the strongest Broadway seasons we’ve ever had,” Gershenfeld said.

In particular, Gershenfeld said he was proud to nab Pippin, on its first national tour after winning four Tony Awards—including Best Revival of a Musical—in 2013.

“The production is so brilliantly done,” he said.

As for that Tribute to the Follies: Gershenfeld said the folks at the McCallum wanted to pay tribute to—and not imitate—the legendary Palm Springs Follies. Therefore, they assembled a show honoring not only the Palm Springs Follies, but theatrical revues including the Folies Bergère and the Ziegfeld Follies. Performers from the Palm Springs Follies will play a big part in the show.

“We’re doing three performances,” Gershenfeld said. “If people like it, we’ll do more next year.”

For a second year, Gershenfeld is offering his series of “Mitch’s Picks.” These are his personal selections of shows featuring unfamiliar or under-the-radar artists. (For what it’s worth, several of his picks for the soon-to-conclude season ended up being wildly successful: Tickets for 2Cellos and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain sold out well before show time.)

In something of a contradiction, his first pick features a fairly familiar name: Jane Lynch, who will be taking the stage on Nov. 14. The Glee star, known best for being a comedic actor, will be bringing to the McCallum stage her new solo-concert show, “See Jane Sing!”

“She has a wonderful cabaret act,” Gershenfeld said. “People don’t know her as a cabaret performer.”

Mitch’s other picks: Rebel organist Cameron Carpenter (Feb. 3); the Pasadena Roof Orchestra, a long-performing ensemble that plays songs from the 1920s and 1930s (Feb. 10); The von Trapps (yes, those von Trapps; March 2); and comedy violin-and-piano duo Igudesman and Joo (March 18).

Gershenfeld compared Carpenter to 2Cellos, but in reverse: While the 2Cellos guys look traditional, and use traditional instruments to play non-traditional (read: rock) music, Carpenter looks non-traditional, and uses a (sort of) traditional instrument (a souped-up organ, in his case) to play traditional (read: classical) music.

“He is known for his technical brilliance,” Gershenfeld said. “He plays Bach on an organ—but he is kind of a rebel and a bad boy. He’s very flamboyant. He’s … developed an organ that has electric elements to it. It’s like an organ on steroids.”

All of the usual McCallum staples are back for another year, including five shows as part of Fitz’s Jazz Café (curated by Easy 103’s Jim Fitzgerald), four “Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel,” and McCallum’s season-opener, the Fourth Annual Family Fun Day, starring lots of animals and ventriloquist Kevin Johnson, on Sunday, Oct. 18.

Something new this year: Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 in December, so the McCallum is celebrating the legend with several shows, including Frank Sinatra Jr. in “Sinatra Sings Sinatra” (Feb. 5 and 6), and Steve Lawrence paying tribute to his longtime friend on Feb. 14.

“More than any other singer alive today, Steve Lawrence is the personification of the Great American Songbook,” Gershenfeld said.

Of course, Gershenfeld is not done with the 2015-2016 schedule; in fact, he’d booked another show on the day we spoke to him, he said.

“I’ve pretty much filled the calendar,” he said. “There will probably be another six to 10 shows added to the season.”

In other words … stay tuned.

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2015-2016 season are now on sale. Visit www.mccallumtheatre.com for details.

Published in Local Fun

After the McCallum Theatre announced the addition of more than a dozen shows to the 2014-2015 season, I asked Mitch Gershenfeld—the McCallum’s president, CEO and chief booker—if he was done adding to the lineup.

“There may be one or two more things,” he said. “We may have one or two surprises up our sleeves, but the calendar’s getting pretty full.”

He’s not kidding: In February, for example, the McCallum is booked for 24 of the month’s 28 days. In March, only six days are open. The packed schedule is one reason why the Palm Desert venue is usually the top-selling theater in California—and one of the top-selling theaters in the world—each spring, according to Pollstar magazine.

Another reason: the quality and variety of the shows at the McCallum. Highlights of the new additions to the schedule include Ray LaMontagne, on Tuesday, Oct. 21; Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers, on Monday, Nov. 10; country music legend Willie Nelson and Family, on Wednesday, Jan. 7; comedy great Jay Leno, on Saturday, Jan. 24; and “American Pie” legend Don McLean on Tuesday, March 17.

When asked which of the new additions about which he was particularly excited, Gershenfeld mentioned Jay Leno, the former Tonight Show host.

“That should be a lot of fun. We’ve never worked with him before,” Gershenfeld said of Leno.

Not many comics are a good fit for a mid-size venue like the McCallum, Gershenfeld noted, although he said he’s happy with the McCallum’s comedy lineup this season, which includes a newly announced stop by the Last Comic Standing tour (Sunday, Nov. 23), and a previously announced show by the legendary Bob Newhart (Friday, Feb. 20).

Gershenfeld also said he was looking forward to the performance by music great Ray LaMontagne. He will play just two days after the McCallum’s new season officially kicks off with the theater’s third-annual Family Fun day.

“He usually plays much larger rooms,” Gershenfeld said about the Grammy-winning singer. “… Everything aligned the right way (for him to perform at the McCallum).”

Gershenfeld also mentioned newly booked shows by two country greats: Willie Nelson, and Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers.

“Willie likes to play the McCallum,” Gershenfeld said. “We’re really happy we can bring him back.”

As for Vince Gill’s show, it’s the inclusion of the Time Jumpers that will make that performance truly special, Gershenfeld said.

“In country music, there are a lot of musicians who reside in Nashville, and do nothing but record,” he explained. “They’re incredible studio musicians—and that’s who the Time Jumpers are. They tour very rarely.”

Gershenfeld said he’s pleased with the “tremendous amount of variety” in the theater’s season, from the singers to the comedians to the Broadway shows, such as Nice Work If You Can Get It, which will stop at the McCallum for five shows March 13-15. The musical comedy, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, wrapped up more than a year on Broadway in June 2013, and just began the national tour that will eventually bring it to the McCallum.

“It’s the best Gershwin musical to come to Broadway in perhaps 30 years,” he said.

Individual tickets for all shows during the McCallum Theatre’s 2014-2015 season went on sale on Tuesday, Sept. 16. For tickets, more information and a complete schedule of shows, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

The McCallum Theatre will, as always, bring in big names and big shows during the 2014-2015 season (and subscription tickets that include many of those big names are going on sale at 8 a.m., Tuesday, April 8).

Comedy legend Bob Newhart. Grammy Hall of Famer Neil Sedaka. Violin icon Itzhak Perlman. The legendary musical Anything Goes.

But if you’re looking for some hidden gems on the just-announced schedule, McCallum director of communications and public affairs Jeffrey Norman encourages you to check out Mitch’s Picks.

“Mitch” is Mitch Gershenfeld, the president and CEO of the McCallum, who has been booking shows at the venerable theater—the top-selling venue in California in the spring, according to Pollstar—for about 14 years now. His “Picks” are five shows by performers who may not be household names, but are immensely talented nonetheless.

“He’s kinda saying, ‘I’ve been booking shows for a long time, and I can personally recommend these,’” Norman said.

Those picks by Mitch include a show by Cheyenne Jackson (below), who will be performing Shaken Not Stirred: The Music of the Movies. The performer is best known for acting roles on 30 Rock and Glee, but he’s one hell of a singer, too. (He’s also gorgeous, and proudly out.) He’ll be performing on Saturday, Nov. 1; tickets are $25 to $75.

Mitch’s other picks include the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (yes, I really did just write “Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain”) on Thursday, Jan. 29; Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass performing Brothers on the Battlefield, a multimedia show honoring the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, on Monday, Feb. 16; Mona Golabek’s one-woman show about a young Jewish musician in 1938 Vienna, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, on Wednesday, Feb. 25; and 2Cellos on Friday, March 6.

Norman encouraged me to look for clips of 2Cellos—which consists of Croatian cellists Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser—online. I now encourage you to do the same. (Scroll down to the bottom to see one.) They’re simply amazing (and, like Cheyenne Jackson, they’re simply gorgeous.)

“Elton John called them the most amazing thing since Jimi Hendrix. They play the heck out of those cellos,” Norman said.

Of course, Norman—a veteran of the theater-venue world himself—also has his own opinions, so I asked him for one of Jeffrey’s Picks for the 2014-2015 season.

“It would have to be Dame Edna,” Norman said, referring to the alter ego of Australian comedian/performer Barry Humphries, who recently turned 80. “She had reportedly retired—or perhaps I should say he had reportedly retired. Apparently, he decided to do one last farewell tour, and he specifically remembered the McCallum Theatre, and wanted to return.”

Dame Edna—who was a semi-regular on Ally McBeal, fans may recall—will perform on Monday and Tuesday, March 30 and 31; and Wednesday, April 1. Tickets are $35 to $95, possums.

And now for my pick: I was intrigued to see that John Waters, the uniquely Baltimore “pope of trash” known for Pink Flamingos and Hairspray, will be doing his one-man Christmas show, A John Waters Christmas, at the McCallum on Tuesday, Dec. 2; tickets are $25 to $55.

I’ve seen Waters do a one-man show before; he’s hilarious and even charming (though certainly graphic and, um, profane).

“We were very explicit in the brochure: This is for diehard John Waters fans. He is definitely putting the ‘x’ back in Xmas,” Norman said.

All in all, 2014-2015 looks like yet another diverse and busy year for the McCallum—and Norman said up to a dozen more shows may be added before all is said and done.

“I am really excited about it,” Norman said. “It’s a really fun, interesting, eclectic season that has a little bit of everything.”

A lot of really fun and interesting things are going on behind the scenes at the McCallum, too. While the theater is best known for its great shows, the McCallum Theatre Institute spends a lot of time, money and effort promoting arts around the community, especially to local students; Norman notes that the institute puts on 1,700 workshops at 28 schools throughout the valley each year.

In September 2014, the McCallum will be expanding its community-arts mission even further: Thanks to a $600,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation, the McCallum will launch a new effort. The Crisálida Project: Transforming Ourselves, Transforming Our Communities is “an initiative to give voice to the cultural traditions and aspirations of the largely Hispanic and economically disadvantaged communities” in Indio, Coachella, Thermal and Mecca.

The project, funded by the grant for two years, will be led by master storyteller David Gonzalez. He will hold a series of meetings, classes, workshops, story circles and performances in the East Valley to promote community art-making, gather stories and preserve traditions.

Norman said that the products of The Crisálida Project could lead to community-wide performances, and perhaps even shows on the McCallum stage, although there are no prescribed expectations for the project.

“As the valley’s leading performing-arts venue, we have a responsibility to promote broader access to the arts,” Norman said.

Hear, hear. Looks like 2014-2015 is going to be a great year for the McCallum, both inside the theater itself and beyond.

For subscription sales or more information, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

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