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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Theater and Dance

It’s time to put away the ugly holiday sweaters, throw away the wrapping paper and embrace the new year—including the fact that season is in full swing.

The McCallum Theatre is hosting some excellent events, as always. At 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 7, the red-headed stranger, Willie Nelson will be returning for another performance at the McCallum. He’s 81, and it seems like nothing can slow him down. Tickets are $65 to $100. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16, America’s Got Talent contestant Jackie Evancho will be stopping by. She was only 10 years old when she competed on the show in 2010 and has since seen a great deal of success, including becoming the youngest person to ever play at the Lincoln Center. Tickets are $55 to $125. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, iconic actor Hal Holbrook will be performing Mark Twain Tonight. For 59 years (!), Holbrook has portrayed Mark Twain in his one-man show. Tickets are $45 to $75. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino has a fabulous lineup this month. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10, Paul Anka will take the stage. Originally from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Anka started off his career with the 1957 hit song “Diana.” He’s been on and off the best-seller charts ever since. Not bad for a career that’s lasted almost 60 years. Tickets are $39 to $79. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, Motown singing sensation Smokey Robinson will perform. His honey-coated voice has produced some beautiful soul hits, and he continues to sing beautifully today. Tickets are $29 to $59. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30, the legendary Tony Bennett will be returning to the Coachella Valley. He has 17 Grammy Awards; he’s a Kennedy Center honoree; and he has more than 70 albums to his credit, including his latest with Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek. What more can you say? Tickets are $49 to $99. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 800-827-2946; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

The Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs announced recently that it would begin an outdoor concert series. Kicking things off, The Guess Who will be performing at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10. The Canadian rock band was an international success in the late ’60s through the mid ’70s. You know them thanks to their hit song “American Woman.” Admission is free, and the concert will be on the corner of Calle Encilia and Andreas Road. Spa Resort Casino, 401 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 888-999-1995; www.sparesortcasino.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has two great events scheduled. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, you can venture back into the ’50s with The Golden Boys. The group consists of Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Fabian. Considering these guys once ruled the music charts, seeing all three together should be a real delight. Tickets are $50 to $70. If you prefer something with a little more edge, you’ll be happy to know that Styx will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24. When Styx started in 1972, the band offered a truly unique sound that blended hard-rock songs with brilliantly written ballads. However, the band was never the same after a bitter dispute between frontman Tommy Shaw and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. While Styx fans hope for an eventual return by DeYoung, that’ll probably never happen. Tickets are $45 to $85. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Spotlight 29 will host some fun January shows. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 10, country greats Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (above right) will be performing. During 50 years in the business, they’ve racked up numerous country music hits. Tickets are $20 to $40. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 24, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas will play. If you remember Jefferson Airplane, they turned into Jefferson Starship, and now they’re just Starship. Hmm. Tickets are $20 to $40. Spotlight 29, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has one noteworthy concert scheduled during the month. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, Vince Neil—Mötley Crüe frontman and star of Janine and Vince Neil: Hardcore and Uncensored—will be performing. Given Mötley Crüe has announced its retirement, expect Neil, Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx to promote themselves through their solo acts … until they decide to come out of retirement. Tickets are $40 to $60. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Copa will be booming in January. At 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16, and Saturday, Jan. 17, former Mouseketeer Lindsey Alley will be performing. She was part of the revival of the Mickey Mouse Club from 1989 to 1994. Tickets are $25 to $35. At 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 18, former American Idol and The Voice contestant Frenchie Davis will sing. Davis was the subject of controversy in 2003 when topless photos from years previous began to surface during her run on Idol. In 2011, she was a contestant on The Voice, and made it to the semifinals. Trust me: If you plan to meet her after the show, don’t bring any of that up; she doesn’t like to discuss her past. Tickets are $25 to $45. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-322-3554; www.coparoomps.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace was the talk of social media after announcing that Neutral Milk Hotel will be playing in May; tickets quickly sold out. Meanwhile, in January, the venue will be hosting some great indoor shows. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 3, there will be a performance by The Solid Ray Woods Raw Soul Revival. Frontman Ray Woods has worked with some big names, including as The Jayhawks and Victoria Williams. Admission is free. At 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 15, Ryan Williams will take the stage. He is described as an Americana performer with a knack for songwriting. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31, the indie-rock band We Are Scientists (below) will play. They have toured with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon since breaking on to the scene in 2000. Admission is $7. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; pappyandharriets.com.

The Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club has an event planned you won’t want to miss. At 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 4, there will be a poolside DJ performance by FSQ. FSQ is made up of several people—including Chuck Da Fonk, who used to tour and record with George Clinton and Parliament during the ’90s, and The Hourchild, from Tommy Boy Records. Resident DJ Colour Vision will also perform. Attendance is free to those 21 and older. Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, 1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-778-8954; www.haciendacantina.com.

Mark your calendars for a couple of cool events at The Hood Bar and Pizza. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23, there will be an album release party for local Latin/hip-hop artist J. Patron. Admission is free. At 9 p.m., Friday, Jan. 30, a triple bill will include the Hellions, You Know Who and the Chuck Norris Experiment. Admission is again free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

Published in Previews

The month of December is full of holiday magic—and many of the local venues are bringing in great holiday-themed shows, along with other worthy acts.

The Palm Springs Festival of Lights starts at 5:45 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. It’s a huge parade on Palm Canyon Drive featuring floats, marching bands and other special participants. Past guests have included the Budweiser Clydesdales, Snoopy and the Gang, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Attendance is free. 760-323-8276; www.psfestivaloflights.com.

The newly formed Modern Men, the Coachella Valley Men’s Chorus, is holding an inaugural concert at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs. There will be a second performance at 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. Tickets are $20. The chorus is also asking those who attend to bring a nonperishable food item to donate to the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s NestEggg Food Bank. Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, Palm Springs; 760-992-5109; www.modernmen.org.

The Classic Club in Palm Desert will host a special fundraiser thrown by Opera Arts and the Steinway Society for their children’s music programs in the Coachella Valley. For the Children starts at 6 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8, with a wine-and-cheese reception; it’s followed by a sit-down dinner at 7:15 p.m., and a musical presentation at 8:15 p.m. with Shana Blake Hill and Gregorio Gonzalez. Tickets are $125. 75200 Classic Club Drive, Palm Desert; 760-323-8353; www.operaartspalmsprings.org.

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing their holiday concert “With Bells On” at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14, and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Palm Springs High School Auditorium. They say they’re going to be performing a mix of sentimental, spiritual, humorous and classical songs. Tickets are $25 to $50. 2401 E. Baristo Road; www.psgmc.com.

The city of Palm Springs is hosting yet more special events at Forever Marilyn. The free Forever Marilyn Holiday Concert Series will take place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 21, and 6:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 22. The performers include Celine Dion tribute performer Brigitte Valdez, Just Like That and local band New Sensations. 101 N. Palm Canyon Drive; www.visitpalmsprings.com.

The McCallum Theatre certainly is the place to be during the month of December. The McCallum will host The Ten Tenors for five shows, Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6-8. The Australian musical ensemble is well known for choral covers of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” as well as other pop and rock classics. Here, they will be performing an all-new show of holiday classics. Tickets are $25 to $95. Willie Nelson will be making a stop at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 17. The Red Headed Stranger is still going strong at 80 years of age; he’s still doing what he can to help out farmers through his Farm Aid concerts; and, yes, he’s still advocating for the legalization of marijuana. Tickets are $60 to $100. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Of course, the Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has some fine holiday shows on tap in December. Jazz saxophonist Dave Koz will be performing a Christmas show at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14. He’ll be bringing special guests Oleta Adams, Jonathan Butler and Keiko Matsui. Tickets are $40 to $60. If you’re suffering from a Christmas hangover, Chris Isaak can help at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 27. While Isaak is a well-known actor with roles in Little Buddha, The Silence of the Lambs and The Informers, he’s also a brilliant recording artist with a music career that goes back almost 30 years. Tickets are $40 to $75. At 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Agua Caliente will be hosting Danny Bonaduce’s ex-wife, Gretchen Bonaduce, and her band, The Fatal ’80s. I don’t know what to make of a woman who divorces Danny Bonaduce and continues to keep that last name, but more power to her! Tickets are $25. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino will be hosting Mannheim Steamroller (right) at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7. Not to be confused with the near-heavy-metal, prog-rock Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Mannheim Streamroller is also known for holiday shows full of MIDI-sounding keyboards and an electronic-symphony sound. Tickets are $39 to $69. America’s Got Talent star Jackie Evancho will be appearing at Fantasy Springs at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14. Evancho, now 13, won the hearts of America during the fifth season of the show and finished as the runner-up—sparking outrage among her fans who felt she should have won the competition over Michael Grimm. Tickets are $49 to $89. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino is hosting the Winter Gathering Pow Wow from Friday through Sunday, Dec. 6-8. The pow wow will include Native American tribes from across the country sharing clothing, dances, songs, arts, crafts and food. There will also be a drum and dance contest. Hours are 7 to 11 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6; 1 to 11 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7; and 1 to 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8. Admission is free. The Spinners, a legendary Motown R&B group, will be making a stop at Spotlight 29 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 28. Most of the original members of the Spinners are not active, but original member Henry Fambrough remains. Tickets are $25 to $45. At 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Stayin’ Alive, a tribute to the Bee Gees, will ring in 2014. Tickets are $20. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Morongo Casino Resort Spa has a solid schedule for December. At 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 13, Charo will be performing. The Spanish-American actress known for both her campy comedy and her flamenco-guitar music is still going strong—and she’s a huge hit in the LGBT community. Tickets are $20 to $29. Hiroshima plays at 9 p.m., Friday, Dec. 20. The Japanese-American act was a hit in the ’70s in the electric-jazz scene, and even performed as the opening act for Miles Davis. While the band has gone through several lineup changes, Dan Kuramoto, June Kuramoto and Danny Yamamoto are still around. Tickets are $15 to $20. Morongo’s Vibe Nightclub will host a New Year’s Eve Party at 10:30 p.m. The Dazz Band will be performing their high-energy R&B to bring in 2014. Tickets are $25, or $40 on the day of the show. Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, Cabazon; 800-252-4499; www.morongocasinoresort.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s will be hosting Dengue Fever (the band, not the virus) at 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7; the show is one of the highlights of an absolutely packed month for the Pioneertown venue. The Los Angeles band is known for combining Cambodian pop music with psychedelic rock—a unique and eccentric combination. If that wasn’t enough, Jesika von Rabbit from Gram Rabbit will be the opening act, performing under the moniker JVR. Tickets are $10. Pappy’s will be throwing a New Year’s Eve concert featuring the blues-rock sound of the Paul Chesne Band. Doors open at 6, and tickets are $5. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; pappyandharriets.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert has established itself as a hot place to be, especially after November’s show with Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine. Rick Thorne and his band Thorne will play at 10 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6. Thorne is one of the most-recognizable BMX riders around today—but he also puts on an excellent show as a punk-band frontman. Attendance is free. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 21, The Hood will host Strung Out. The Simi Valley band has been performing its brand of punk since 1992 and has been on Fat Wreck Chords since its debut, Another Day in Paradise, in 1994. There’s talk of a new record coming out in 2014. Given the intimate size of The Hood, Strung Out should be another wild show. The cost is $10 at the door for those 21 and older; or $15 for those 18 to 20. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.thehoodbar.com.

Clinic Bar and Lounge in Palm Springs is picking up steam with a regular schedule of music nights. On Thursdays at 9 p.m., Symara Stone hosts Spotlight, a local talent showcase. A variety of performers bring their own instruments, and it’s guaranteed to be a good time. On Wednesday nights at 10 p.m., Derek Gregg and Sean Poe, now known as the Hive Minds, are putting on a show. Considering the quality of Derek’s originals, it’s not a surprise he’s continuing to make a name for himself in the local music scene. Clinic Bar has a lot more to offer with regular DJ sets by talented people including Independent resident DJ Alex Harrington (aka All Night Shoes) and various other music nights. Admission is free. Clinic Bar and Lounge, 188 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-864-4119; www.clinicbarps.com.

The Purple Room in Palm Springs is back, and the Rat Pack-inspired lounge is now hosting a regular schedule of shows. The Judy Show, a comedy and song show, will take place on Sunday nights at 9:30. Tickets are $20. The Gand Band will perform on Friday and Saturday nights at 9 p.m. The cost is $10. The Michael Holmes Trio will perform on “No Cover Wednesday” nights from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and Machin’ will be bringing the Spanglish Jive every Thursday at 7 p.m.; there is no cover. Watch the website for yet more shows. The Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-322-4422; www.purpleroompalmsprings.com.

Below: Strung Out: The Hood, Dec. 21.

Published in Previews