After one season cut short, and another wiped out entirely, the McCallum Theatre finally re-opened its doors last November.
“It really has been an amazing season,” said Mitch Gershenfeld, the McCallum’s president and artistic director. “It started out, I think, a little bit slow; it took a little while for audiences to feel comfortable coming back. But certainly, January, February and March were spectacular. The houses were full, and people were enjoying the shows.”
After a successful 2021-2022 comeback season, Gershenfeld is now looking ahead to a jam-packed 2022-2023 season—for which tickets will go on sale this Friday, April 15. The new season will include more than two-dozen shows that are brand-new to the theater, along with a whole lot of McCallum favorites.
“We have seven Broadway shows, which is great, because this season, we only had four,” Gershenfeld said. “It’s a season that has a lot of the audience favorites.”
The first of the Broadway shows to arrive—from Nov. 18 to 20, 2022—will be a musical Gershenfeld has long been trying to bring to Palm Desert: The Book of Mormon.
“It’s an extraordinary show—for reasons that perhaps most people don’t see,” he said. “Every big production number in The Book of Mormon is an homage to a great Broadway show of the past. For example, there’s a scene where the children from the little village in Uganda tell the story of the Book of Mormon. It is right out of The King and I, where the Siamese children tell the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. There’s a song in The Book of Mormon called ‘Sal Tlay Ka Siti’—and that is right out Little Shop of Horrors’ ‘Somewhere That’s Green.’”
The Book of Mormon will be followed by Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles (Nov. 25 to 27). The lavish Lincoln Center Theater version of My Fair Lady will take the McCallum stage Feb. 17 to 19, 2023, followed by On Your Feet!, the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, from Feb. 24 to 26.
Waitress will return to the McCallum from March 10-12, and the Broadway season will conclude in April with Come From Away (April 4 to 9) and the return of Riverdance (April 14 to 16.)
Gershenfeld said he was particularly excited to get Come From Away on the schedule; it was originally slated to come to the McCallum during the pandemic-erased 2020-2021 season. Gershenfeld called the story of 7,000 airplane passengers who became stranded when their flights were forced to land in Newfoundland on Sept. 11, 2001, “one of the most extraordinary musicals of the last 20 years.”
“It’s an unbelievable story,” Gershenfeld said. “It’s based on a true story, and it’s cathartic—it’s uplifting art. I’m so happy that we’re able to have it. We’re going to do a full eight-show week.”
While the schedule is packed with shows by returning favorites, from The Ten Tenors (Dec. 10 to 11) to Patti LuPone (Feb. 7) to Steve Tyrell (Feb. 22), the calendar is sprinkled with six “Mitch’s Picks”—shows most people have not heard of, for which Gershenfeld personally vouches.
“It’s about trying to figure out what is right for this market—because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff that I turn down that I would buy a ticket to,” he said. “I’m trying to find the things that our audience will embrace, but also trying to push the audience to try new things, and that’s why there are Mitch’s Picks.”
The first of Mitch’s Picks will take place on Jan. 25, when four bluegrass masters—Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer and George Meyer—get together for a special performance. That will be followed by Loudon Wainwright III performing with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks on Feb. 5.
“This is a group that is based in New York, and they play music from the ’20s and ‘30s in an absolutely authentic style,” Gershenfeld said of the Nighthawks. “Vince is a scholar in the way that Michael Feinstein is a scholar of the American Songbook; he has 66,000 arrangements of music from that era. … The last time I was in New York, I saw Vince, and I said, ‘Do you guys ever come to the West Coast?’ And he said, ‘No, we really don’t travel. We’re all New York-based freelance musicians, and that’s what we do.’ And then I heard that they’re coming to the West Coast; they were going to do one performance in the L.A. area, and I said, ‘I have to get them here.’”
Another of Mitch’s Picks is Mnozil Brass, a group which will (hopefully) make its delayed McCallum debut on Feb. 27.
“These guys are so extraordinary,” Gershenfeld said. “These are brass players from Vienna. Thomas Gansch is the first trumpet player—and I’ve never heard trumpet-playing like this guy. But the other thing about them is that they’re hilarious. They do physical comedy. … It’s sort of like Monty Python meets the Vienna Philharmonic.”
It wouldn’t be the holidays without a slate of shows such as A Prairie Home Holiday (Nov. 28), The Storm Large Holiday Ordeal (Dec. 9) and Dave Koz and Friends (Dec. 19). However, Gershenfeld pointed to the Dec. 6 show in particular as a can’t-miss night of theater.
“All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most extraordinary pieces of theater. … It was here once before, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since,” Gershenfeld said. “It’s based on what actually happened in World War I. On Christmas Day, the British and the German troops, who were about 150 yards apart in trenches, came out, and they spent the day together—socializing, sharing food, playing soccer and things like that. Then the next day, they went back to killing each other. … The actors read from the letters of the actual soldiers, and then the singers sing the German carols and the English carols they would’ve sung together. It’s such a moving piece of theater.”
National Geographic LIVE will return to the McCallum for a fourth season with three shows, starting with Secrets of the Whales on Jan. 15.
“It built up slowly,” Gershenfeld said about the National Geographic series. “The first year, I think, we had a little better than half a house (of tickets sold per show)—and then it kept building, and building.”
Gershenfeld said the McCallum is getting in on the trend of tribute shows, which meld great singers with theatrical performances. One of these shows, scheduled for March 14, comes with a story of a local boy who made good—Tyler Hilton, who graduated from La Quinta High School.
“(He) played Elvis in Walk the Line,” Gershenfeld said. “There’s a show that we’re going to do called Celebrating Elvis Presley’s Records From Sun Studios. These are the songs from the early years of Elvis, when he was recording for Sam Phillips at Sun Studios in Memphis. … The band will be the Hot Club of Cowtown, which is a group that’s been here before. Tyler will play Elvis. … I think that’s going to be a really cool concert.”
No McCallum Theatre season would be complete without some oldies but goodies. The Smothers Brothers have come out of retirement and will perform on Jan. 13-14—and toward the season’s end, the seemingly ageless Charo will come to Palm Desert for a show on March 31.
“Obviously, there is a kitsch component to Charo—cuchi cuchi and all of that—but she is really an outstanding classical guitar player,” Gershenfeld said. “She studied under Segovia. … She’ll be joined by the Mariachi Divas, which is the all-female mariachi group from Los Angeles.”
Proof of vaccination and face masks have been required throughout the 2021-2022 season. Gershenfeld said those requirements may or may not return for 2022-2023; it all depends on what SARS-CoV-2 does between now and then.
“Whatever the protocols are at the time, that’s what we’ll do,” Gershenfeld said. “If everything gets better, then hopefully, we won’t have to wear the masks and do all this—but we don’t know what’s going to happen over the summer. We don’t know what the fall’s going to look like. For now, these protocols are in place and they’ll be re-evaluated by the board in the fall.”
Tickets for the 2022-2023 McCallum Theatre season will go on sale online at 6 a.m., Friday, April 15; at 8 a.m., tickets will be available at the box office, at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert, or by calling 760-340-2787. For a complete schedule or more information, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.
Story corrected on April 12 to fix Tyler Hilton’s high school.