Mitch Gershenfeld has been booking shows at the McCallum Theatre now for 16 years, give or take, and has been the president and CEO of the Palm Desert venue/arts organization for four.
Every year, he books many dozens of shows at the theater—which, despite its relatively small size,during the first quarter of each yearbecomes the top-selling performing-arts venue in the state, and one of the Top 10 in the country.
He’s also a man—as one would expect, given his job—with incredibly diverse tastes when it comes to the performing arts. Given all of this, it would be utterly foolish for a journalist to ask Gershenfeld to pick the one upcoming show about which he’s most excited. Yet I was dumb enough to ask that very question when we recently sat down to discuss the just-announced 2016-2017 season lineup.
Much to my surprise, he had an answer.
“Personally, John Cleese,” he said. “I’ve tried to get him here before, and finally, all the stars aligned.”
The Monty Python and Fawlty Towers comedy god, who will be in Palm Desert for two shows on Sunday, March 12, is just one of the huge names coming to the McCallum in 2016-2017.
Like comedy? Then you may want to get tickets to see Jay Leno on Saturday, Jan. 21. Like a more folksy brand of comedy? Well, you can see Garrison Keillor on Friday, Jan. 27, or Rita Rudner on Friday, April 7.
George Takei (Saturday, Nov. 19) is also bound to offer some humor, mixed in with some serious commentary about his fascinating life, which has included a stint in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, and many, many years in the closet.
“George is such an interesting and iconic person,” Gershenfeld said, “not just for having been on Star Trek, but for the role he’s taken on as a social activist. His Facebook following is amazing. He’s a tremendous social-media person.”
Fans of Broadway classics will find a whole lot to like during the upcoming season. Shows coming through include The Sound of Music (Nov. 22-27), Mamma Mia! (Dec. 2-5), Annie (Jan. 10-11), Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles (Feb. 17-19) and Chicago (March 17-19). Meanwhile, Broadway greats like Bernadette Peters (Saturday, Feb. 4) and Kristin Chenoweth (Friday, March 24) will also take the stage.
Miss the Palm Springs Follies? Catch the McCallum’s tribute starring John Davidson and Ann Hampton Calloway on Wednesday and Thursday, March 8 and 9. Like watching comedic actresses singing songs? Enjoy “See Jane Sing!” with Jane Lynch on Saturday, Oct. 29. Like hearing really talented kids sing Christmas songs? The Vienna Boys Choir will be in town on Monday, Dec. 5. Like … um, drum lines? Well, on Sunday, Jan. 22, you’ll want to be at the McCallum for DRUMLine Live, a staged show featuring music performed the tradition of historically black colleges.
“I grew up playing in marching bands, and I used to love watching Grambling,” Gershenfeld said, referencing the renowned college band.
For the last several years, Gershenfeld has touted a handful of shows as “Mitch’s Picks”—featuring under-the-radar performers for whom Gershenfeld will personally vouch. The first of the half-dozen Mitch’s Picks for the upcoming season is Jake Shimabukuro, performing on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
“He’s a virtuoso of the ukulele,” Gershenfeld said. “I think people will really enjoy that.”
Up next is a former member of the Ten Tenors who always stood out: Daniel Belle will present a mix of pop, opera and Broadway in An Unexpected Song, on Friday, Jan. 20.
“He has the best voice I’ve ever heard in that group,” Gershenfeld said. “In fact, he has one of the most outstanding voices I’ve ever heard, period.”
Mitch’s other Picks: On Friday, Feb. 3, Michael Griffiths stars in the scripted musical Cole, during which the talented Australian performer will perform as the great Cole Porter; Simply Three features three amazing string players performing rock and pop hits on Wednesday, Feb. 15; the Mnozil Brass band mixes humor and technically brilliant music on Thursday, March 23; and Max Raabe and Palast Orchester re-create American and German standards from the 1920s and 1930s on Thursday, March 30.
Many other McCallum traditions are also back for another year, including the Fitz’s Jazz Café series, selected in part by local radio great Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald; the 15th season of Jeffrey Siegel’s Keyboard Conversations; a concert series by the Desert Symphony; the McCallum Theatre Institute’s Choreography Festival (Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 12 and 13); the Fifth Annual Family Fun Day, this year featuring The Underwater Bubble Show (Sunday, Oct. 23); and the fifth annual concert by the McCallum Theatre Concert Band, conducted by Gershenfeld himself (Sunday, March 26).
We could go on and on, but there’s pretty much something for everyone in the lineup. The McCallum is currently wrapping up its most successful season ever, Gershenfeld said, and he said he’s excited to see how audiences respond to what lies in store over the next year.
“We have 21 or 22 performers who have never been here before,” he said. “That’s more than usual.”
Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2016-2017 season are now on sale. Visit www.mccallumtheatre.com for details.