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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

One way or another, two words are likely to dominate the complicated politics of California’s housing crisis in 2018: rent control.

On Thursday, Jan. 11, state lawmakers are slated to hear a proposal from Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, that would allow cities to dramatically restrict what landlords can charge tenants year over year.

The bill couldn’t even get a hearing last year amid intense opposition from landlords. But looming over legislators’ heads this time around is a potential ballot initiative supported by tenants’ rights groups that would do much of the same. If the bill stalls, there’s a good chance you’ll see the rent-control question on your November ballot.

What should an average Californian know about a rent control debate poised to gobble up so much political oxygen? Here are five key points:

1. Under current state law, a wide swath of California’s housing stock can’t be placed under rent control.

Rent-control or rent-stabilization policies come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the city in which you may find them. Some place a hard cap on how much a landlord can raise rents year over year, while others may be indexed to inflation. Currently, 15 California cities have some form of rent control on the books, including major population centers like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland—and one Coachella Valley city, Palm Springs.

But current state law prohibits any locality in California from imposing rent control on properties built after 1995. That’s the year the state passed the Costa-Hawkins Act, which also prohibited cities that already had rent control laws on their books from updating them for new properties. Thus in Los Angeles. rent control only applies to buildings constructed before 1978, and in San Francisco, rent control only applies to buildings built before 1980. Palm Springs’ ordinance only covers properties built before April 1979, among other exclusions.

A bit of background: After some cities responded to tenants’ concerns about rising rents in the 1970s and 80s by adopting rent-control ordinances, real estate interests first tried to stop them in the courts. Unsuccessful there, they focused on the Legislature. Bills to pre-empt local rent control would routinely pass the Assembly and then die in the Senate, held up by then-Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, a West Hollywood Democrat. The year after he was termed out of office, Costa-Hawkins passed by a one-vote margin.

Both Bloom’s bill (as it is currently written) and the initiative would fully repeal Costa-Hawkins, massively expanding the number of properties on which cities could impose rent control. That includes single-family homes, which Costa-Hawkins also excluded from rent control protections. (Palm Springs’ ordinance currently excludes “buildings consisting of four units or less containing one unit occupied by the owner as his/her primary residence.”)

2. Most economists—left- or right-leaning—think rent control is bad.

Economists have a hard time agreeing on most things, but regardless of partisan leaning, most economists say rent control is not great policy. Even prominent progressives like Paul Krugman have expressed opposition.

Rent control is quite literally the textbook example of a “price ceiling,” and undergrad economics textbooks will often feature problem sets with questions about what’s wrong with rent control. The classic microeconomic downsides include killing the incentive to build more housing, causing landlords to neglect maintenance and repair, and inflated prices for non-rent-controlled units. A poll of ideologically diverse economists found that only 2 percent agreed with the statement that rent control had a positive impact on housing affordability in cities like New York and San Francisco.

3. Scholars in other fields are generally bigger fans. And if you took away rent control, the results could be disastrous for affordability.

Many urban planners and other scholars studying gentrification and displacement cite rent control as an effective policy to keep long-time residents in the communities in which they live and work. And because rent control has become so deeply embedded in the housing markets of some cities, taking it away—no matter how economically inefficient it may be—could spell disaster for current residents.

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute—a business-aligned policy think tank—ran a simulation of 20 policy changes that could improve or worsen housing affordability in San Francisco. The policy that would make things worst? Getting rid of rent control, which they found would plunge 16,000 households into an unaffordable housing situation.

4. One of the best studies of rent control shows that it primarily benefits older households—at the expense of households without rent control.

There actually aren’t a ton of empirical studies looking at how rent control plays out in practice. But a groundbreaking Stanford University study released last year on San Francisco’s rent-control experience has shed new light on who wins and loses from the policy.

Looking at a roughly 20-year span of proprietary rental and migration data, the study authors found that rent-controlled tenants age 40 or older saw average savings of nearly $120,000 from rent control; by contrast, younger rent-controlled tenants only saved an average of $40,000.

That’s because younger households were more likely to move out of rent-controlled apartments because of various life milestones—a new job, a new family, buying a house in the suburbs, etc.

5. The study also found that rent control paradoxically fueled gentrification, as landlords converted units to condos.

The Stanford study found that rent controlled buildings were 10 percent more likely to be converted to a condominium or some other type of non-rental property, as landlords searched for ways to evade the law. Those units being drawn off the market partly drove up rental prices for tenants searching for apartments in San Francisco. In this sense, the study authors argue, rent control paradoxically contributed to the well-publicized gentrification the city has experienced over the past few decades.

While the study also found that rent-controlled tenants were more likely to stay in the city than tenants without rent control, the gap may not be as wide as you think. After 10 years, about 11 percent of tenants without rent control were living at the same San Francisco address. Tenants with rent control? Just 13 percent stayed put.

The rent control bill will be heard by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 9 a.m., and will include a public comment period. You can watch the hearing—which should be pretty lively as far as legislative hearings go—here.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. For more of Matt Levin’s housing coverage, check out the CALmatters podcast “Gimme Shelter.” Jimmy Boegle contributed to this version of this article.

Published in Local Issues

When Rent opened off-Broadway in February 1996, it rocked the theater world and won instant acclaim. The death of 35-year-old composer-lyricist Jonathan Larson from an aortic aneurysm just before the show’s opening certainly added to the show’s impact, but the musical’s stark depiction of life and death in New York City in the late 1980s stands on its own.

Based on Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent—now getting an excellent production complements of College of the Desert—chronicles one year in the life of a group of poor artists living in the East Village of Manhattan. Aspiring film-maker Mark (Shafik Wahab) searches for professional recognition, while his HIV-positive songwriter-roommate, Roger (Christian Quevedo), longs to pen a hit tune before succumbing to his illness (“One Song Glory”). Soon, Roger meets Mimi (Allegra Angelo), also HIV-positive, and the two fall in love after she seduces him (“Light My Candle”).

Mark is pining for his ex-lover, Maureen (Meagan Van Dyke), a highly sexed performance artist who has left him for a woman, Joanne (Alisha Bates). Mark and Joanne sing of their mutual obsession with Maureen in “Tango: Maureen.”

Computer whiz Tom Collins (Anthony Martinez) falls for Angel (Aaron Anzaldua), an adorable transvestite inflicted with AIDS. Rounding out the principal cast is Benny (Dion Khan), Mark and Roger’s former roommate and current landlord, who is pressuring them for past-due rent.

The score is terrific, but certain numbers really stand out, including Mimi’s steamy “Out Tonight,” the tender Tom/Angel duet “I’ll Cover You,” and the best-known tune in the show—“Seasons of Love.”

I cannot say enough great things about this cast: The leads are all outstanding. I would not be at all surprised to see some of their names in lights on Broadway down the road. However, the glue that holds the show together is Wahab as Mark. His stage presence, strong voice and acting chops are perfectly suited to the role. As the tragic lovers Roger and Mimi, Quevedo and Angelo are marvelous. Their voices are terrific, and both dig down deep to bring true emotion to the stage. Their passion is palpable; both are guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye at some point.

With a cast this strong, it’s hard to do, but Anzaldua nearly steals the show as the doomed Angel. His slight build and outrageous costumes complement his superb performance. He is clearly having a blast onstage … but when the darkness sets in, the audience wants to wrap him in our arms and comfort him.

As Angel’s lover Tom, Martinez is stupendous. When he reprises “I’ll Cover You” after losing Angel, his voice soars up to the rafters. I defy any audience member with a pulse not to have chills after hearing that number.

Khan’s Benny is also fantastic. He handles his featured song “You’ll See” with great aplomb.

The chemistry between Van Dyke and Bates as lesbian lovers Maureen and Joanne is sizzling. Even women who’ve never had the slightest interest in switching teams might consider it after their erotic duet “Take Me or Leave Me.” Van Dyke has a huge future ahead of her in musical theater.

The members of the ensemble hold their own with the principals—there is not a weak link.

A lot goes on in this show—there’s a large cast, a band onstage, lots of dancing, heavy emotion, sexual themes—all of which require a director with great skill. Mark Almy has that skill; everything flows just as it should. Major kudos also go to musical director Scott Smith and choreographer Shea New. Joseph Layne’s set and lighting, and Jack Ramoran’s sound, are right on the money, as are the costumes (Rick Doerfler, Kathy Smith, Courtney Ohnstad).

The only flaw in this production is an occasional volume imbalance between the band (the excellent Scott Smith, Anthony Arizaga, Mikael Jacobson and Brad Vaughn) and the singers. There are times when the lyrics are difficult to understand—partly because the band’s a bit too loud, and partly because the singers’ diction is a bit unclear. A slight adjustment in the musicians’ volume would make a big difference.

The show is long—about 2 1/2 hours, but well worth it.

This was the first time I have seen a production of Rent. It won’t be my last.

College of the Desert’s Rent will be performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Nov. 29, at the Pollock Theatre on the COD campus, 43500 Monterey Ave., in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 for general admission, and $20 for students. The run time is 2 1/2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call 760-773-2574, or visit collegeofthedesert.ticketleap.com.

Published in Theater and Dance