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Tue07162019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Lea DeLaria is known for different things in different circles.

Mainstream audiences know her for stealing scenes as Carrie “Big Boo” Black on Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black.

LGBT audiences know her as a pioneering comedian. She started performing in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and became the first openly gay/lesbian comic on a late-night show when she appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.

Music-loving audiences know her as a fantastic jazz musician—who paid tribute to the great David Bowie with her album House of David, released in 2015, just months before Bowie passed away.

All of DeLaria’s talents will be on display when she performs at the McCallum Theatre at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8. In fact, DeLaria usually blends these talents when she performs—because audiences can’t handle her otherwise, she said during a recent phone interview.

“I do music and comedy together, because my comedy’s so loud, fast, vulgar, in your face, rowdy and crazy that people can only take it for about five minutes, and they’re like, ‘Mommy, make it stop!’ she said. “So I always add a little music. That gives people a rest from my crazy, rageful, screaming comedy style.”

DeLaria will be performing some of her Bowie covers from House of David.

“He was a big supporter of this record. He championed it on his website and his social media. He told people to contribute to my campaign so that I could get the record made,” DeLaria said. “We released the cover of that album on his website. He was involved with it, which I think was kind of lovely.

“I loved him my whole life. I grew up in the Midwest—St. Louis. So, in 1974, when David Bowie walks out onstage in a fucking skirt and starts singing this amazing rock ‘n’ roll, my queer little heart in the Midwest went, ‘Oh my god.’ I mean, it was like the greatest thing I’d ever seen.

“He was probably the first real performer in the public eye who taught me that one, being weird is cool, and two, to be true to who you are as a performer. He was always ahead of the curve.”

DeLaria was born into music, in a sense.

“My father was a jazz pianist. He was always playing in the house, rehearsing in the house,” DeLaria said. “He would come home late from gigs and bring the guys home, and they would play. Me and my siblings would sit at the top of the steps and listen to them play music when it was like 2 o’clock in the morning—when we should be in bed. So I’ve always had a love of that music. He spotted it in me immediately at a very young age and taught me to sing and really instilled a passion of that music in me. In fact, it was the first thing I ever did professionally—I used to sing with him when I was a kid at the club.”

Comedy came naturally to DeLaria … as did being outspoken and political.

“I was a big voice in San Francisco in the ’80s during the AIDS crisis and was working with ACT UP,” she said. “That’s my history of comedy, and that’s why I’ve always been a really radical comic—a really in-your-face dyke comic. I’m not a comedian; I’m a dyke comic. I always call myself that.

“When I went out onstage at that time, I wasn’t even called Lea DeLaria; they called me ‘that fucking dyke.’ So when they would bring me out onstage, they would go, ‘Please welcome to the stage that fucking dyke!’ I had a shaved head and safety pins in my ears and big stomping boots. … I was a rageful, rageful lesbian. I was always in touch with my rage. I’m still in touch with my rage, and I find that’s important. It’s an important distinction—anger’s a tiny little emotion. It’s a wimpy little emotion. But rage, ooh, rage can get things done.

“That’s why I keep telling people to stay in touch with their rage this election. Rage is when people go, ‘I’m done; I’m not doing this anymore. I’m gonna do something about it.’”

While DeLaria has been singing, acting and doing comedy for decades, she gained a large mainstream audience for the first time in 2013 with the premiere of Orange Is the New Black. After five seasons on the show, DeLaria’s Big Boo only appeared in one episode of this year’s sixth season. I had to ask: Will Big Boo be back for next year’s seventh and final season?

“I can’t speak to future seasons,” she said. “I don’t know, because I was written off the show this last season, so I have no idea. I have nothing but love for Orange Is the New Black; it changed the face of the world, television and certainly my life.”

This is definitely not the first time DeLaria has performed in Palm Springs; in fact, she became part of local LGBT lore when she upset organizers while performing at a benefit more than a decade ago.

“Oh, where I insulted George W. Bush, and they turned off my mic and pulled me offstage?” she responded when I asked her about the now-infamous event. “Unbelievable censorship, especially since it was a gay event. … I was never a fan of George W. Bush, but I never thought of him as evil the way I think of Trump. So that’s what happened there. What happened was people with money—conservative, gay people with money—had me pulled off the stage for spouting my political opinion.”

In other words … come to the McCallum prepared for a great show—as long as you’re not easily offended.

Lea DeLaria will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Previews

For lovers of the performing arts who reside in the Coachella Valley, Christmas figuratively comes in April every year—because that’s when the McCallum Theatre announces what gifts it is bringing to town during the upcoming season.

To overextend this tortured metaphor … that makes Mitch Gershenfeld Santa Claus, sort of, as the McCallum president and CEO is the sleighmaster (OK, this metaphor is officially finished) who books the theater’s shows each season—a task he’s now accomplished for some 19 years.

“Every time I finish booking the season, I tell my wife, ‘I am afraid this is not going to be as good of a season as last year was,’” Gershenfeld said. “But, honestly, this is going to be a very good season.”

Tickets for the 2018-2019 will go on sale Monday, April 16, at 8 a.m. The 2018-2019 roster includes names both new and familiar to the McCallum: Singers from Jackie Evancho to Bernadette Peters to Willie Nelson, plus six performances by the Ten Tenors; traveling Broadway shows including Rent, Jersey Boys, Spamalot, Evita, The Wizard of Oz and Something Rotten; comedy greats like Lily Tomlin and Bob Newhart; and the tried-and-true McCallum series, including Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel, Fitz’s Jazz Cafe, and Gershenfeld’s own “Mitch’s Picks.”

When I asked Gershenfeld which shows excited him the most, he mentioned Savion Glover’s All FuNKD’ Up, scheduled to come to the McCallum on March 30, 2019.

“Savion is not only the greatest living tap dancer; he’s such an incredible artist,” Gershenfeld said. “He’s taken tap beyond what anyone else has done before.” All FuNKD’ Up will feature a six-piece band and a full company of dancers.

Gershenfeld said he’s also looking forward to a series coming to the McCallum for the first time: National Geographic Live will bring scientists, photographers and other great minds to the theater for Exploring Mars (Jan. 21); Coral Kingdoms and Empires of Ice (Feb. 18); and Capturing the Impossible (March 18). The Exploring Mars lecture, in particular, should be exciting, as it’ll feature Kobie Boykins, the NASA mechanical engineer who’s had a hand in numerous discoveries about the red planet—including the revelation that there was once water on Mars.

“This is a program that’s been around for many years, as a series in a lot of cities,” Gershenfeld said. “It works very well in a theater.”

For the fifth year in a row, Gershenfeld has highlighted five shows as “Mitch’s Picks”—concerts Gershenfeld personally recommends, even if the performers are not household names. They include Spanish guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas’ Americano (March 4); BRAVO Amici, a “popera” group featuring three tenors and two divas (March 11); Piaf! Le Spectacle, a show telling the singing great’s life story via music and heretofore unseen photos—entirely in French (March 26); and Asere!, a celebration of Cuban dance and music featuring the Havana Cuba All-Stars (April 3).

And then there’s Blokelahoma! (March 29) starring Toby Francis, a former member of the Ten Tenors who also starred in the Australian production of Kinky Boots. He became a friend of Gershenfeld during Francis’ time in the Ten Tenors—the most popular act ever to grace the McCallum stage. Gershenfeld said Francis told him about Blokelahoma!—Francis’ story about being a “good Austrian bloke” who grew up with a love of Broadway musicals—when they enjoyed dinner in Sydney last June.

“I basically said, you have to do this show at the McCallum,” Gershenfeld recalled.

Per usual, McCallum’s schedule is packed with an unimaginably wide variety of singers, humorists and performers, ranging from comedian and Orange Is the New Black star Lea DeLaria returning to her jazz roots (Nov. 8) to LeAnn Rimes doing a Christmas show (Dec. 15) to concerts by prolific songwriter Paul Anka (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1).

Traveling Broadway shows are a McCallum staple, and the 2018-2019 slate includes a lot of classics and old favorites. The one exception: Something Rotten! (April 5-7), which ended its initial Broadway run on Jan. 1, 2017.

“It’s such a fun story,” Gershenfeld said. “It takes place in Shakespeare’s time; he’s literally a rock star.”

The story centers on two brothers who are playwrights struggling to compete with the great Shakespeare. They visit a soothsayer named Nostradamus—the nephew of the famous one—and wind up inventing this new thing called a “musical.”

Gershenfeld said booking shows at the McCallum presents unique challenges in terms of timing—with rare exceptions, the theater goes dark out of necessity from May through September—and size; at 1,100 seats, the medium-sized venue is simply too small to meet the budgetary requirements of some grand productions, like Wicked.

“There will be no Hamilton here in my lifetime,” he said with a laugh.

Despite these challenges, the McCallum consistently makes Pollstar’s annual list of the Top 100 theaters in terms of ticket sales, because dark nights are rare in the spring—and because Gershenfeld books shows that he knows will sell well.

He’s hoping a change to the way the McCallum sells tickets may make sales even better. In past years, the McCallum only sold “subscriptions” for the upcoming year during the late spring and summer months. This year, tickets for all currently booked shows will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Monday, April 16.

Gershenfeld said he was looking forward to the 2018-2019 season, as the 2017-2018 season comes to an end.

“This has been a great season,” he said. “It’s been better than the last two years, and the shows have been well-attended. Philanthropically, people have been very generous, too. Ticket sales make up only 60 percent of our budget, and we’ve been making a lot of capital improvements to the theater; we’ve been spending about $500,000 a year in improvements and new equipment.”

Tickets for the McCallum Theatre’s 2018-2019 season go on sale at 8 a.m., Monday, April 16. For tickets or more information, including the complete schedule, show up at the box office at 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert; call 760-340-2787; or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance