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Sun12152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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