By Heidi Simmons
Morning sunlight shines through the multi-story windows of the McCallum Theater’s majestic main lobby. Its three large chandeliers refract spots of color around the walls, and on rows of folding chairs.
On this day, the foyer bar offers free coffee, Danish and blue ballpoint pens. Volunteers monitor the doors as a hushed murmur of individuals, friends, and spouses peruse the McCallum brochure to decide, which and how many, programs they will see in the 2017/2018 30th Anniversary Season.
Bob and Doris Switzer of Sun City review their choices and make final marks by the performances they want to attend. They watch the red electronic counter, then glance at the small, deli-sized paper with a number anticipating their turn. Doris clutches the number 54.
“We love coming here,” said Doris in a quiet voice. “We feel so lucky to have such a terrific theater with so many wonderful programs.” Both retired PE teachers, the couple are part-time residents — seven months in the CV, and the rest of the year in Minnesota.
The Switzers sat in the lobby with a dozen others waiting to order their tickets from the McCallum Box Office, which opened at 8:00 am, Tuesday, April 4, to sell subscriptions for the 2017/2018 season. After tickets subscriptions are ordered, the theater assigns seats, sends a confirmation, and mails the printed tickets in August.
The McCallum sells out over 86 percent of its shows. It’s first come, first served. Individual ticket sales start September 12.
“We’re getting the ‘Broadway Blockbuster Series’,” said Bob Switzer. “We like the evening programs.” The Switzers will see at least seven performances over the season.
Mitchell Gershenfeld is the President and CEO of the McCallum Theater. He has been working for the Palm Desert organization for 18 years. He started as the Director of Presentations and Theater Operations, and has served as its CEO since 2012.
“It’s our thirtieth anniversary and we have a great season lined up,” said Gershenfeld. “We start with Bill Murray and finish with the Boston Pops and there is a lot of fantastic programs in-between.”
The McCallum 2017/2018 season begins in October and runs through mid April with shows nearly every evening! The elegant and intimate theater seats 1,127 with its farthest seat situated only 95 feet from the stage. It has been voted Best Theater in California, and recognized as one of the best in the nation — and the world!
Thirty years ago, valley citizens had a vision for a performing arts center that could entertain, inspire and educate by offering a variety of programs for the diverse and growing community. Built in 1987, the McCallum Theater has successfully operated and maintained a non-profit 501(c)(3) since its inception.
“Over a million dollars is raised for education with 40,000 people coming to the theater for educational purposes,” said Gershenfeld.
As a non-profit, any money the McCallum makes goes to the educational programs, supports the state-of-the-art building and maintains operations.
“The McCallum is in better financial shape than it’s ever been,” said Gershenfeld. “Our mission is to serve the community. We do our best to have something for everybody.”
The 2017/2018 season celebrates the anniversary by having one of its best lineups. Peruse the colorful brochure sent to your mailbox last week, and indeed, there’s a program for everyone.
Opening night features a performance by actor Bill Murray with European cellist Jan Vogler. Humor, literature and music merge in a unique and special way that celebrates the written word and classical composition.
No need to travel to LA or New York when there are “Broadway Blockbusters” right here in the valley. Some of the Broadway shows scheduled at the McCallum include Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” “Motown The Musical,” “Kinky Boots,” “A Chorus Line,” “Dirty Dancing,” and “West Side Story.”
Popular local radio jock Jimi “Fitz” Fitzgerald of 104.3FM continues for his 19th year with “Fitz’s Jazz Café at the McCallum” which consists of an array of amazing and popular jazz artists.
Day of the Dead fans and Mexican music lovers can celebrate in October with the “Dia de los Muertos Live” program featuring award winning artists La Santa Ceclia, Mexrrissey, and Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has only two West Coast performances, and in November, one is at the McCallum!
Other favorite McCallum artists return to celebrate the anniversary season like Bob Newhart, Viki Carr, The Kinston Trio, Mannheim Steamroller, and Paul Anka to name only a few.
For families there is a delightful selection to choose from. The Sixth Annual Family Fun Day is “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo, Live on Stage;” the 62nd Annual Edition of “It’s Magic;” and the spectacularly moving and beautiful “Circus 1903” with majestic animal puppets from the award-winning puppeteers of “War Horse.”
For something exciting and fresh, there are Gershenfeld’s choices, programed as “Mitch’s Picks.” With nearly two decades of seeking out great talent, Gershenfeld has a track record for introducing new and lasting artists to the McCallum. He brought Michael Bublé, Chris Botti, the Two Cellos, and the Ten Tenors to the stage early in their careers.
Gershenfeld’s picks include: “All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914,” based on a true story that features 12 actors and 12 singers; “Meow Meow in Concert” a cabaret beauty who sings, dances and interacts with the audience; “Davina and The Vagabonds & The Squirrel Nut Zippers,” a thoroughly entertaining eclectic musical blast; “Gobsmacked” a hip-hop infused a cappella troupe; “MozArt Group,” a charming combo of classical music and comedy.
“It is always fun introducing audiences to new artists,” said Gershenfeld. “Many have proven to be popular and have been brought back for regular shows. It’s rewarding to build an artist with an audience.”
The most important thing for Gershenfeld is to try to get a series of shows throughout the season that is going to appeal to a very broad base audience.
“We certainly have a core demographic, but we go outside of that and have some very special and different things that add up to a great Anniversary season,” said Gershenfeld.
Gershenfeld and his staff work hard to curate a dynamic program. Unlike most theaters, the McCallum Theater is seasonal, making it more challenging to book touring artist.
“We work as a team,” said Gershenfeld. “I’m fortunate to have such an incredible, and really amazing, and very experienced staff. The Broadway Series this year is terrific. It really is the hallmark of what we do here, because you can’t see Broadway at a Casino.”
Subscriptions are available at the McCallum Box Office or online. Tickets may be purchased for a variety of Series, or there is a Create-Your-Own Series option where you can buy one ticket or as many as you like.
Gershenfeld encourages patrons to purchase tickets early and directly from the McCallum. “If you buy from a broker, tickets will cost quite a bit more than face value.”
With tremendous generosity, community leaders and philanthropists had the foresight to recognize the cultural significance and value a theater like the McCallum would offer the Coachella Valley.
Whether, dance, choreography, big band, classical, doo-wop, cabaret, country or crooners — known names or new artists — the McCallum Theater delivers an intimate, entertaining and often magical experience.
“I think that people inherently yearn for human connection,” said Gershenfeld. “You can watch videos, and listen to recordings, but that can never match the experience of being there and sharing, not just with the artist, but also with the audience. That’s why there will always be live performing artists.”