Mitch Gershenfeld did not plan on being here. Yet here he is, sitting in his office at the McCallum Theatre, back as president and CEO after short-lived retirements in 2019 and 2020. He’s talking about the upcoming 2023-2024 season, and the fact that he’s decided to stick around for a while—for three more seasons, through the 2025-2026 season.
“I love what I do here,” he said when asked why he postponed his retirement. (He’s also agreed to stay on as artistic director for an additional two years, through the 2027-2028 season.) “My wife tells me that she thinks I’m happiest when I’m working here. So we both agree that this would be an OK thing to do.”
Tickets for the 2023-2024 season go on sale at 8 a.m., Friday, April 14. The season will kick off on Sunday, Nov. 5, with the Stunt Dog Experience, part of the City of Rancho Mirage’s Family Fun Series, and is slated to conclude with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on Sunday, April 14, 2024.
The schedule is full of returning McCallum favorites like Kristen Chenoweth (Jan. 26-27), The Ten Tenors (Feb. 13-17), Michael Feinstein (Feb. 24) and Patti Lupone (April 12)—something for which Gershenfeld makes no apologies.
“Some people want to come and see an artist every year. … Every time we bring them in, the audience is there for them,” Gershenfeld said. “So if some people say, ‘Well, I’ve seen them before,’ that’s fine, but a lot of people want to see them again. I always try to bring in some new things, too.”
The first show on the Broadway schedule is indeed new: The Cher Show, arriving Nov. 24-26. The jukebox musical ran on Broadway for nine months in 2018-2019.
“I thought, what better market to have The Cher Show than in Palm Springs?” Gershenfeld said. “Three actresses play Cher—young, middle, older—so it’s really the story of her life.”
Next up is a show that’s returning to the McCallum—for the first time in three decades: Les Misérables (Nov. 28-Dec. 3).
“I’ve been trying to get this show for a long time,” Gershenfeld. “It’s a huge production—it’s an 11-trunk show. It’s a very expensive show, but it’s one of the most popular shows in the history of Broadway. I think we’ll definitely sell out.”
Pretty Woman is up next (Jan. 19-21), followed by Chicago (March 1-3)—a show with which Gershenfeld, a professional tuba-player before he joined the McCallum as artistic director in 2000, has a personal history.
“Back in the ‘70s, when the first national tour came to Philadelphia, right after Broadway—with Jerry Orbach, Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera—I played in the orchestra,” he said.
The season’s Broadway offerings will conclude with Mean Girls (March 29-31). Gershenfeld admitted he’d never seen the Tina Fey-penned film before he saw the musical.
“I’m hearing terms like, ‘It’s so fetch,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that means,’” Gershenfeld said. “But I saw it on Broadway, and I loved it.”
Late 2023 highlights include a performance by American Idol stars Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken (Nov. 18) and a stop by The Manhattan Transfer on what’s being billed as the group’s final world tour (Dec. 9). The holidays will bring McCallum favorites Merri-Achi Christmas (Dec. 8) and Dave Koz and Friends (Dec. 18)—but the most anticipated December offering is Barry Manilow’s A Gift of Love VI. He’s returning with five shows between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17, with the proceeds benefiting 20 local nonprofits.
“We always love to have Barry here at Christmas, benefiting local charities. We’re just very lucky to have Barry here,” Gershenfeld said.
In the new year, the McCallum will kick off its new Adventure Speaker Series, starting on Jan. 22 with Climb Your Own Everest by Peter Hillary, “from one of the great families of mountaineering.” The new series replaces the National Geographic speaker series, which the McCallum featured in recent years.
“National Geographic got bought by the Walt Disney Company, and in their wisdom, they decided that the speaker series was not something they wanted to continue in all of the 40 or so markets that they were in,” Gershenfeld said. “So they kept six cities, and they dropped the rest. We were one of the ones that got dropped.”
Gershenfeld’s “Mitch’s Picks” series features four new-to-the-McCallum shows for which he personally vouches. Up first, on Jan. 15, is a show by America’s Got Talent star Jimmie Herrod.
“He is such an extraordinary young singer,” Gershenfeld said. “This is a guy I first heard here, with Pink Martini, and he sang ‘Tomorrow’ from Annie. I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ But when he opened his mouth, he was amazing.”
Next up is the public radio show/podcast Selected Shorts, featuring celebrities reading short stories, on Feb. 4.
“We asked them to make sure that all of the short stories were based on, or had themes of, Palm Springs or the Coachella Valley,” Gershenfeld said. “That will be fun.”
Gershenfeld gushed about the Mitch’s Picks show on Feb. 22 featuring Carrie St. Louis, a Coachella Valley native who went on to star on Broadway in Wicked, Kinky Boots and more.
“She was in Open Call,” Gershenfeld said, referring to the McCallum’s annual local talent contest. “She won in 2004 as a teenager. I was at that show … and I said to somebody, ‘This kid is going to be something.’”
The fourth pick by Mitch is a brand-new, McCallum-produced original called Industrial Strength Broadway. Gershenfeld explained how the show, premiering Feb. 8, came to be.
“We are a roadhouse, so most of the things we do here, we buy from the road and we put on our stage,” Gershenfeld said. “When I have a relationship with an artist, or have some sort of wild idea that I want to try to make happen, to the extent that we have the time and facilities to make it happen, I like to do that.”
The wild idea came as Gershenfeld watched Bathtubs Over Broadway, a 2018 documentary on Netflix about “industrials”: In the 1950s and ’60s, corporations flush with cash would produce full-fledged musicals—often performed just once—for their employees.
“They used the top people,” Gershenfeld said. “They would have composers like Kander and Ebb, who wrote the musical Chicago. They did industrials. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof, they did industrials. Susan Stroman, one of the great choreographers, she choreographed these things.”
As Gershenfeld watched Bathtubs Over Broadway, he saw a familiar face. “I’m watching one of the scenes, and one of the actors … I said, ‘That’s one of (the McCallum’s) founders. That’s Dean Stolber.’”
Gershenfeld reached out to Stolber, who told Gershenfeld that industrials allowed him to make a living in between Broadway roles. The experience spurred Gershenfeld to reach out to Steve Young, the star of Bathtubs Over Broadway, who discovered (and became obsessed with) industrials while he was looking for strange records as a writer for David Letterman—and Industrial Strength Broadway will be the result.
“It’ll be like a cabaret-type show, where we’ll have singers and dancers and musicians, and we’ll re-create some of these things,” Gershenfeld said.
Fun fact: Gershenfeld said that in the late-’80s, shortly after the McCallum opened, Mercedes-Benz rented the theater for an industrial.
“Mercedes-Benz rented the theater for three weeks, and they actually flew a car onto the stage. Some of the folks still remember who were around back then,” he said.
Gershenfeld said the concluding 2022-2023 season was the second-most successful season ever in terms of ticket sales, despite a vaccination mandate that rankled some customers. He said the vaccination requirement will no longer be in place next season.
“I’m hoping next year, we have even more attendance,” he said.
Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2023-2024 season will go on sale to the general public at 8 a.m., Friday, April 14, at the box office (73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert), by phone (760-340-2787) and online at www.mccallumtheatre.org.