CVIndependent

Mon05292017

Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Jimmy Boegle

We are living in unprecedented times, as far as national politics is concerned.

This thought kept coming to mind as I read the latest installment of Democracy in Crisis published by the Independent. Writer Baynard Woods, simply and briefly, lays out 13 anecdotes that show how authoritarianism is on the rise in our country.

Reporters arrested. Protesters arrested. Conflicts of interest being flouted and going unchecked. Sigh.

However, there’s at least one silver lining I’m finding in all the chaos: It’s clear that great journalism is alive and well in the United States.

Some of the reporting we’ve seen from The New York Times and the Washington Post, just for starters, has been amazing. In recent weeks, these papers exposed the fact that our president apparently revealed classified information to the Russians—jeopardizing, at the very least, relationships with countries with whom we partner on intelligence. They reported that our president apparently asked our FBI director to lay off of an investigation of him—before the president would go on to fire that very FBI director.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Times in April published an unprecedented six-part editorial series titled “Our Dishonest President,” which made the clear case that Donald Trump is unfit for office.

As always, smaller news outlets are doing great work, too. Take Democracy in Crisis as an example; it’s a joint project of alternative papers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent.

While it’s inspiring and amazing to see all of this great journalism, it’s important to point out that these aforementioned newspapers are operating with a fraction of the resources they had, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

That’s why it’s vital that you support great journalism: Buy a newspaper subscription, or two, or three. Advertise. Pay for online articles. It costs money to do well-reported, well-written, well-edited stories.

In that vein, if you like what the Independent is doing, consider throwing a few bucks our way. Both our print version and CVIndependent.com have always been and always will be free to all—but you can join our Supporters of the Independent program for just $10, or even less. Find details at CVindependent.com/supporters.

By the way, pick up the June 2017 print edition of the Coachella Valley Independent, hitting streets this week and early next week. As always, thanks for reading—and if you have thoughts or feedback, email me anytime.

What: The build-your-own pizza

Where: Blaze Pizza, 201 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; also at 73393 Highway 111, Palm Desert

How much: $7.95

Contact: 760-318-2529 (Palm Springs); 760-895-4259 (Palm Desert); www.blazepizza.com

Why: It’s delicious, and it’s a great deal.

In the almost five years that the Independent has been around, we’ve written 116 Indy Endorsements. Only a half-dozen or so have been written about chain joints—and most of those were about smaller, California-based chains. In other words, the Indy Endorsement is a feature that almost exclusively touts locally owned restaurants.

Therefore, it really means something that we’re endorsing the make-your-own pies at Blaze Pizza.

Why are we endorsing food at a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time? For one thing, the make-your-own 11-inch pizzas at Blaze are truly make-your-own—you can have as many cheeses, sauces and toppings on your pizza as you want. There’s no limit. For example, the pizza in the picture here has mozzarella cheese, goat cheese, bacon, smoked ham, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes, with classic red sauce and just a little garlic pesto underneath. That’s two sauces, two cheeses and five toppings—for one price. If I wanted to double those numbers, the price would stay the same.

For another thing … that price is a deal: just $7.95. Where else can you get an 11-inch pizza with unlimited ingredients for less than eight bucks? Nowhere, you say?

That’s why we’re endorsing a large, national chain, pretty much for the first time.

The process is easy: You get in line, pick your crust (gluten-free and high-rise/thicker options cost a bit extra), pick your sauces, pick your cheeses and pick your toppings. You watch as the employees put the toppings on your pie—and if you want more or less of an ingredient, tell ’em, and they’ll happily make it so. You then watch as they put the pizza in the oven; a couple of minutes later, they take it out, put it on a metal plate, and call your name.

Simple. Inexpensive. Delicious. Endorsement-worthy.

The New York Company Restaurant Closes After Three-Plus Years

After more than three years in business, The New York Company Restaurant, at 1260 S. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, has closed its doors for good.

“We know you enjoyed dining at The New York Company Restaurant,” said a note sent to the restaurant’s email list on April 25. “So, we want you to know that our last day serving our guests was at Sunday’s champagne Brunch on April 23rd. It was a great run while it lasted … three-plus years of spending wonderful evenings together. Our party is over despite all we could do to create success. We know that we will miss you!”

This closure saddened me for several reasons. For one thing, one of the finest meals I’ve had in the Coachella Valley occurred last year at The New York Company Restaurant. For another, I got to know some of the folks there due to the restaurant’s participation in the inaugural Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, during which New York Company bartender Joey Tapia won both the Audience Choice Award at the Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, and top honors at the Non-Alcoholic Craft Cocktail Championship.

While the closure saddened me, it certainly didn’t surprise me. I don’t know all of the things Neil Castren, Ken Misa and Wally D’Agostino did to get the word out about the restaurant, but I do know the place escaped my consciousness, more or less, for most of the time it was open—even though I live just a five-minute drive away. I rarely saw advertisements for the restaurant, and its social-media presence was nearly non-existent. If someone like me—a media-savvy person who writes about food on a regular basis—was never somehow motivated to check the place out, what chance did The New York Company Restaurant have with other potential customers?

Perhaps there’s a lesson here: Marketing and publicity, or a lack thereof, can make or break a restaurant.

So long, New York Company. You’ll be missed.


Coming Soon to Palm Springs: 716 on 111

After the sudden closure of the beloved Dickie O’Neals due to the death of its owner in the spring of 2015, the building at 2155 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, sat vacant until Frenchy’s Sports Bar and Grill came along in late 2016.

But within months, Frenchy’s was gone. However, the building won’t be vacant for long.

Keep your fingers crossed for an August opening of 716 on 111. The restaurant, owned by couple Christopher Krayna and David Hoffman, already has a Facebook page that’s full of useful information. For example, the page tells us that 716 on 111 will use “always fresh, never frozen” ingredients, often from local purveyors; that the menu will include “real deal” chicken wings, as well as a cast iron-prepared filet over a crisp wedge iceberg salad; and that a life-sized buffalo sculpture will somehow be involved.

Watch the 716 on 111 Facebook page for updates.


In Brief

We’re getting more and more information about the restaurants coming to the big downtown Palm Springs redevelopment project along Palm Canyon Drive north of Tahquitz Canyon Way. A press release issued in mid-May by Grit Development—formerly known as Wessman Development, before John Wessman, y’know, got indicted—revealed that Il Corso, a longtime Palm Desert restaurant, will open a spot in the development. Other restaurants will include Stout Beer and Burgers, a Tommy Bahama and a Starbucks Reserve. … New to Cathedral City: Justin Eat and Drink just opened its doors at 68784 E. Palm Canyon Drive. The menu of the “upscale casual” restaurant includes appetizers (“Snack Time,” says the menu header), tacos (“Taco ’bout It”), salads (“Rabbit Food”), sandwiches/burgers (“Things on Bread”) and entrees (“Grown Up Stuff”) including a prime hanger steak and a mushroom risotto. For more info, call 760-904-4093, or visit www.facebook.com/justinrestaurantcc. … A few doors down is another new place: Pollo Doky’s, at 68718 E. Palm Canyon Drive. Peruvian fare—most notably rotisserie chicken and chicharron (pork) sandwiches—is what you’ll find at this fast-casual joint. For more information, call 760-832-6878, or head over to the restaurant Facebook page. … The Reef is now open in the bar area at the Caliente Tropics, at 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Rory Snyder’s bar/restaurant replaces The Congo Room, which fled the property amidst claims of leaky roofs and storm damage. Visit www.thereefpalmsprings.com to learn more. … Now open: Blackbook, in the old Café Palette space at 315 E. Arenas Road in downtown Palm Springs. The stylish-looking joint serves appetizers, sandwiches, chicken wings, salads and tacos; call 760 832 8497 or visit www.facebook.com/blackbookbarandkitchen for more info.

What: The turkey BLT folded waffle sandwich

Where: Si Bon Belgian Bistro, 40101 Monterey Ave., Rancho Mirage

How much: $13

Contact: 760-837-0011; www.sibon-sogood.com

Why: It’s a clever take on a classic sandwich.

I had just finished a less-than-pleasant medical appointment in Rancho Mirage. It was lunch time; I was hungry; and I wanted to treat myself. Hmm … where should I go?

When I realized I was more or less across the street from Si Bon, I smiled.

Si Bon is one of those places I’d heard great things about and had wanted to try for years—but for some reason, I’d never gotten around to it. Well, I was finally getting around to it.

I expected the classy-but-unpretentious vibe and the top-notch service. What I did not expect was Si Bon’s obsession with waffles.

Seeing waffles on the breakfast/brunch menus at a Belgian bistro makes total sense—but on the lunch menu? Yes, waffles dominate Si Bon’s lunch menu, due to selections of pizza-style flat waffles, folded waffle sandwiches, and waffle bun sandwiches. (Waffles are even on the dinner menu—most intriguingly in the form of the “9 holers escargot waffle.”)

I decided to try one of the folded waffle sandwiches: the turkey BLT with pesto and avocado, with waffles serving as the bread. I admit I was concerned about the waffle part—but once I took a bite, I realized the concern was all for naught. The waffle was not sweet at all, and instead had a rather pleasant yet subtle savory flavor. It was thick enough to properly contain the sandwich ingredients, yet thin enough to manageably eat.

As for what was inside the folded waffles: The ingredients were top-notch, with the delightful pesto bringing all of the flavors together.

I’ve eaten many, many BLT sandwich variations over the years. This was the first time that waffles were involved—and Si Bon’s sandwich was one of the better BLTs I’ve had. Who knew?

By the time mid-May comes along, most valley theater companies are about to close their curtains on major productions until the fall—if they have not done so already.

However, such is not the case at the Palm Canyon Theatre. This weekend, the downtown Palm Springs mainstay will open one of its most complex shows of the season for a seven-show run.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Rock of Ages, either on the stage or on the big screen. The homage to 1980s rock opened in Los Angeles in 2005, before moving Off-Broadway in 2008, and to Broadway itself in 2009; the show would not close until almost six years later. In the midst of that epic Broadway run, a film version hit screens in 2012, with Julianne Hough playing the transplant from Oklahoma with big dreams, and Tom Cruise playing egotistical rock star Stacee Jaxx.

Now, the epic show is coming to the Palm Canyon Theatre. I recently spoke to the show’s director and choreographer, Andrea Bellato. She’s a veteran of about a dozen Palm Canyon productions, ranging from Hairspray to West Side Story to Legally Blonde; she’ll also appear in Rock of Ages as part of the ensemble. Here are five things you should know about the show.

1. Rock of Ages marks the directing debut for Bellato. Bellato is a 2011 graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles with a fair number of shows under her belt as both an actress and a choreographer—but she’s never taken the helm of a play before. How’s the experience been?

“It’s been great,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work and determination, but I have such a great cast. They came in with great ideas for their characters and were ready to just go for it.”

She said Rock of Ages was the perfect show for her as a first-time director.

“To be honest, I feel like I was pretty prepared for this show,” she said. “I love ’80s rock music so much, so doing this has felt natural to me.”

2. The cast is freaking huge—23 people huge, to be exact. There are nine named roles, and 14 people in the ensemble. However, Bellato—who’s infectiously enthusiastic—said her great cast has made things relatively easy for her. In fact, she repeatedly heaped praise on the cast during our chat.

“I feel like a mother who’s bragging about her children all the time,” she said with a laugh.

3. If you don’t like musicals, or are new to musicals, Rock of Ages is still worth your time. Bellato said the show is often liked by people who don’t like musicals for good reason.

“The show is, top to bottom, full of energy, and it’s so much fun,” she said. “It’s a party, and the audience can sing along. In a way, it’s an anti-musical. We actually make fun of musicals in it. People who don’t know musical theater can come in and enjoy it. … It’s like a rock concert mixed with a lot of comedy.”

4. The show came together pretty quickly. Bellato said the cast began rehearsals only about a month ago; fortunately, things have come together, she said, although it has been a lot of work.

“There’s never enough time,” she said with a chuckle. “I want to be able to duplicate my body and do everything that needs to be done.”

5. The ’80s music in the show is pretty awesome. I asked Bellato what her favorite songs in the show are.

“I love Foreigner, so I love everything they sing,” she said. “There are two of their songs in the show, ‘Waiting for a Girl Like You’ and ‘I Want to Know What Love Is.’ … But the whole show is jam-packed.”

Rock of Ages will be performed at 7 p.m., Thursday; 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 12, through Sunday, May 21, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, 538 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $36, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 760-323-5123, or visit www.palmcanyontheatre.org.

What: The chocolate-peanut butter cheesecake

Where: Capizzi’s Cheesecakes, 68718 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City

How much: $4.50 per slice; $25-$35 for a whole cake

Contact: 760-408-8788; www.capizzischeesecake.com

Why: It’s a decadent and reasonably priced dessert

My sweet tooth was barking at me one recent afternoon as I drove down Highway 111. I wanted dessert—something nuanced and delicious. I was in the “downtown Cathedral City” area, and I remembered some raves I’d heard about Capizzi’s Cheesecakes.

I pulled off Highway 111, parked near Trilussa Ristorante, and began looking for Capizzi’s. It’s tucked into one of the spaces that has seen a variety of businesses come and go in recent years—although more and more spaces are getting tenants, owner Louis Capizzi told me as we chatted after I’d found the place.

I drooled as I perused the cheesecake by-the-slice offerings. Louie told me the original is especially popular, as is the pineapple coconut cheesecake. However, my eye was set on a gorgeous brown and black number: I was going to get a chocolate-peanut butter slice.

Since there’s no way to dine at Capizzi’s, I got my piece to go. Once I got home, I dug in.

Wow. This was one decadent dessert—and I mean that in the best possible way. The creamy peanut butter melded perfectly with the chocolate crust, top and chunks, as one would expect; chocolate and peanut butter are a classic combination, after all. However, if the ingredients aren’t top-notch, or if they’re assembled in inappropriate proportions, this classic combination can fall short. Well, there was no falling short with this piece of cheesecake; it exceeded my lofty expectations.

It turns out the Capizzi family has a lengthy and storied food history. There’s a menu near the counter for the Capizzis’ old Chicago restaurant—Louie told me some confused customers occasionally try to order off of it—and the Cathedral City space is now also offering pizzas, ravioli, cannoli and biscotti.

Well, my taste buds are very happy the Capizzi family is here in the Coachella Valley. That amazing piece of cheesecake satisfied my barking sweet tooth—if only for just a bit, before it started wanting more.

One of the biggest issues of the Palm Springs city election back in 2015 was the ever-increasing amount of homelessness in downtown Palm Springs.

While I think the Palm Springs City Council has done an admirable job, more or less, since that November 2015 election, the City Council has done a flat-out awful job of addressing homelessness.

Make sure you read Brian Blueskye’s excellent piece on the state of the homelessness problem in the Coachella Valley. As Brian notes, the problem is getting worse—especially on the west side of the valley—and it’s going to become a full-blown crisis when Roy’s Resource Center, the only west side shelter for the homeless, closes its doors at the end of June.

That means 90 people are going to lose their only shelter—in the midst of the summer heat.

In other news: I also recommend you read Baynard Woods’ recent “Democracy in Crisis” dispatch. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, and one point that Baynard makes has haunted me ever since I first read it: Many critics of President Trump heaped effusive praise on him—for the first time—after he ordered an April 7 missile strike in Syria, following the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Shaykhun three days prior. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria even went so far as to say that the missile strike marked the moment when “Trump became president of the United States.”

Putting aside the question of whether or not the missile strikes were the right thing to do: What does it say about our country when a violent act of war, justified or not, is the ONE thing that made Donald Trump suddenly become “presidential”?

I’ve been pondering that question now for almost three weeks. I am not at all happy about any of the answers I’ve been able to come up with.

Anyway … for those of you dismayed by the troubling nature of the aforementioned stories, never fear: As always, the Independent has plenty of happy, positive arts, food and music coverage that’ll make you feel a bit better about things.

As always, thanks for reading the Coachella Valley Independent. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and be sure to pick up the May 2017 print edition, being distributed valley-wide this week

Mark Your Calendars: Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week Happens June 2-11

It’s the favorite time of year for many Coachella Valley foodies: Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week is almost here! This year, it will take place from Friday, June 2, through Sunday, June 11.

Why is the week so fantastic? Well, when else can one have a full, three-course dinner at Wally’s Desert Turtle for just $39?

For the uninitiated: During these 10 days, restaurants valley-wide offer special, discounted prix-fixe menus. In the past, the event has been dinner-focused—but this year, restaurants can offer special lunch menus, too. Three-course dinner prices are $29, $39 or $49, while two-course lunch prices are $15, $20 or $25. Participating restaurants should offer their regular menus during these 10 days, but emphasize the special Restaurant Week offerings.

As of our press deadline, the new Restaurant Week website had an ever-growing list of participating restaurants, along with the prices of their menus—but only a few of the actual menus had been posted. However, that handful of posted menus looked inviting. For example, Vicky’s of Santa Fe, in Indian Wells, is offering entrées including a 10-ounce flat iron steak, boneless beef short ribs or New Zealand lamb chops, among other offerings, plus an appetizer and dessert, for just $29. That’s one hell of a deal.

Check out visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/restaurantweek for more information.


Pho 533 Is Now 533 Viet-Fusion

Chad Gardner, the man behind the successful Dash and a Handful catering business, purchased Pho 533—then a longtime family-owned pho joint in Palm Springs’ Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center—back in 2015.

Ever since, Gardner has been guiding the restaurant through a series of changes. First, he revamped the menu. Next, he expanded the restaurant into an adjoining space, and completely revamped the décor—including the addition of a spring roll bar. Now he’s making even more changes to the menu—and to the name as well.

In fact, the only significant thing remaining from the old Pho 533 are those numerals: The restaurant is now called 533 Viet-Fusion.

“I had a vision of what it would be even before I first heard Pho 533 was for sale,” said Gardner in a press-release quote. “I have always wanted to blend classics with contemporary Vietnamese.”

New menu items include a Maine lobster-claw spring roll; ahi Viet-nachos (wonton chips and topped with avocado, spicy ahi tuna, cilantro, Fresno chili and various sauces); tamari-glazed Atlantic salmon; red curry “ramen”; and chile-braised osso bucco.

By the way, there’s a good reason Gardner is keeping “533” as part of the name: That was the number on the side of the USS Cheboygan County, an old Navy tanker that transported nearly 300 Vietnamese refugees who were fleeing the fall of Saigon in 1975. One of those passengers was 10-year-old Anh Ho Rock—the founder of the original Pho 533.

533 Viet-Fusion is located at 1775 E. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 625. For more information, call 760-778-6595, or visit 533VietFusion.com.


In Brief

Coming soon to the under-construction downtown Palm Springs redevelopment project: a Tommy Bahama restaurant. … Also coming soon to downtown Palm Springs: Urban Crates, an indoor farmers’ market sort of thing at 358 S. Indian Canyon Drive, just a door or two down from Rooster and the Pig. There’s a sign up in one of the windows that says vendor stations are available by calling 760-808-3756. We’ll watch and see what develops. … Oops! We missed the opening of the Wine Emporium in Old Town La Quinta last September. Well, better late than never! The restaurant and live-music venue features a big retail wine room, and seems to have lots of cool stuff going on. Stop by 78100 Main St.; call 760-565-5512; or track down the place on Facebook for more information. … Add UberEATS to the growing list of services offering restaurant deliveries in the Coachella Valley. While I am morally opposed to the company’s management, I tested out the delivery service recently; I got some breakfast delivered from one of my favorites, the Broken Yolk Café. Pros: The delivery was fast, and the food came hot and fresh; it only cost 99 cents for the delivery itself. Cons: There’s no way to tip the driver via the app. Yeah, the app emphasizes that driver tips are neither necessary nor expected, but I still felt like a major ass when I realized I had only $1 in cash on me to give for a tip. Lesson learned.

What: The shredded pork with garlic sauce

Where: Cie Sichuan Cuisine, 45682 Towne St., Indio

How much: $8.50 as a lunch special; $9.50 as an entrée

Contact: 760-342-9888; ciesichuancuisine.com

Why: It was worth the wait.

I’ve been hearing raves about Cie Sichuan Cuisine for months now. Some friends have even gone so far as to say that Cie serves some of the best—if not the best—Chinese cuisine in the Coachella Valley. Seeing as I love good Chinese food, and am generally unimpressed with the Chinese restaurants ’round these parts, I looked forward to dining at Cie Sichuan.

One problem: Cie Sichuan is a 28-mile drive from both my home and my office. While I do get to the East Valley often, my schedule is usually slammed, so I don’t often have time to go explore new restaurants and such. Ugh.

However, on one recent weekday, I turned lemons into lemonade: A client was a no-show for a meeting in Indio. I suddenly had an open hour around lunch time—so off to Cie Sichuan I went.

I would have loved to try Cie for the first time with several other people, so we could have sampled a variety of dishes. However, it was just me. Hmm … should I try something rather unique-sounding like the cold dressing beef slice and lung ($9.50)? Or the ribs-with-radish soup ($7.95)? The divine-sounding stir-fried pork belly ($10.50)?

I couldn’t decide, so I asked the server for advice; he recommended the shredded pork with garlic sauce lunch special. I took his advice—and was glad I did.

After a lovely cup of egg drop soup, the entrée arrived. The pork was not shredded like you’d find in a burrito at a Mexican joint; instead, it was sliced into thin strips and coated with a splendid garlic sauce that included sprouts, carrots, green onions and peppers. While my breath after lunch was probably dreadful, my taste buds were enthralled.

I’m looking forward to trying more of Cie Sichuan’s cuisine … and with the rise of all the new delivery services here locally (Yelp’s Eat24, UberEATS, etc.), it looks like I may be able to get Cie’s food delivered to my home soon, if not already. Awesome.

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.

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