As an example of how all over the map the McCallum Theatre’s 2013-2014 season offerings are, look at the first four shows.
The season begins on Oct. 13 with the theater’s Second Annual Family Fun Day, featuring the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater and its performing pooches and kitties (yes, performing cats; who knew?). That’s followed five days later by the first-ever performance of Alton Brown Live, a show featuring the off-kilter-in-a-good-way Food Network host. One week later, Mexican theater hit Frida: The Musical—performed entirely in Spanish—is on the boards. Next, country-music star Vince Gill will take the stage.
So … you have pet theater, followed by a goofy but educational chef, followed by a serious Spanish-language musical, followed by country music. And by the way, that’s all followed by a series of dance events that McCallum president/CEO Mitch Gershenfeld hopes will set the stage, so to speak, for a true international dance festival to sprout in Palm Desert.
Got all that?
“We’re trying to present diverse-enough programming to attract every segment of the community,” Gershenfeld says. “We don’t want to be elitist. We want to have a presence in all of the relevant performing-arts genres.”
In all, the 2013-2014 McCallum season lineup—which was announced earlier this week, with season-series tickets going on sale next week—includes more than six dozen shows that range from separate performances by greats Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera and Patti LuPone, to plays like Driving Miss Daisy, The Addams Family and Hello, Dolly! (staring … Sally Struthers?!), to dance by Pilobolus and the Moscow Classical Ballet, to something called Cesar Millan Live!
Gershenfeld says he uses a “market-driven approach” while booking the McCallum. In other words, he won’t bring in any show that he knows won’t get butts in seats. However, he says he’ll take a risk if he thinks he can convince the public that a show is worthy.
“If I feel like I can market it and make it work, I’ll do it,” he says.
Gershenfeld is about to enter his second year as the president and CEO of the McCallum, following the retirement last year of longtime head Ted Giatas. Before Giatas’ departure, Gershenfeld handled operations and booking at the McCallum for a dozen years—and he’s kept the booking gig as CEO. In all, the former symphony musician—he’s a tuba player—and theater producer has been booking shows for three decades.
When asked what shows he’s excited about in the upcoming season, he instantly mentions Peter and the Starcatcher, a fresh-from-Broadway play that nabbed five Tony Awards last year. The show, which offers a back-story of sorts for Peter Pan, will arrive at the McCallum March 28-30, 2014.
This show falls in that if-I-can-market-it category for Gershenfeld, he says, clarifying that while traveling Broadway musicals tend to sell well, non-musical plays can struggle when they lose the big names that often star in the shows in New York.
“I am going to talk about this play every chance I get this year,” Gershenfeld says.
And as for that Alton Brown show: It’s being produced by the same people who created the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths tour, and the McCallum is actually letting the producers use the theater for a week or so to “get the show going” before it officially premieres on Oct. 18. As a hint to what the show will be like, Gershenfeld notes that attendees in the first few rows will be given ponchos to wear.
Gershenfeld also points to the Bahia Orchestra Project show on Feb. 16, 2014, as something special. The project was founded in Brazil in 2007, modeled after El Sistema in Venezuela; organizers go into poor areas and provide youngsters with musical instruments, and teach the kids how to play. These Brazilian kids-turned-musicians, with help from star pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play at the McCallum as part of their first North American tour.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear great music played by these young people who have had a rough go in life,” Gershenfeld says.
Gershenfeld says his goal every season, of course, is to top the previous one, although he concedes that the now-concluding McCallum series—the theater’s 25th anniversary season—was “really good,” and the best-attended since 2007-2008 and the Great Recession.
“I hope people respond to this (upcoming) season as well as the last,” Gershenfeld says.
For more information on the season, or to buy season subscriptions (starting Monday, April 8), visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.