The Mesa Arts Center’s second season of performing arts events, announced Thursday, comes dripping with déjà vu. The 2006-2007 season of touring acts — what the MAC calls its Performing Live series — boasts a host of arts notables who’ve already made names in the Valley playing at venues elsewhere, now slated to play the MAC’s 1,600-seat Ikeda Theater:
• Pop singer Kenny Loggins (Oct. 6), who last performed here in late 2005 at the Dodge Theatre.
• New Age act Mannheim Steamroller, here two years ago at the Glendale Arena, performing April 27.
• Jazz trumpeter-cum-performing arts center mainstay Wynton Marsalis (Nov. 2).
• And Los Angeles Latin rock act Los Lobos (Feb. 24), who performed just one week ago in Scottsdale music festival.
Also on the roster are Celtic act The Chieftains (Jan. 23), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (March 6-7), pianist Olga Kern (March 8) and violinist Joshua Bell — all usual staples of the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, making their MAC debuts.
Conventional wisdom would suggest such a familiar season is proof the Valley’s abundance of midsize and larger venues is approaching a near-saturation point. But MAC programmer Randy Vogel says the déjà vu season is intentional: It’s part of the center’s plan for building an audience base.
“We’re in the process of developing and investing in audience,” he says — bringing in favorite acts for new audiences to discover the center and its four theater spaces.
Vogel is hoping to lure those repeat ticketbuyers by either hyping the more intimate environs of the Ikeda (“To see Mannheim Steamroller” — largely an arena act — “in a 1,600-seat theater is a completely different experience,” Vogel says) or otherwise featuring those known performers in different settings.
Marsalis, who leads the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, is bringing his own smaller ensemble. Los Lobos is performing an acoustic set. Violinist Bell is fronting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra. And Kern is coming as a featured soloist with the National Philharmonic of Russia.
The National Philharmonic date is another attempt at booking an international orchestra — following the highly anticipated but ultimately canceled concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the MAC’s inaugural season.
“We’re staying true to our promise, that we would bring one international orchestra, one major orchestra,” Vogel says.
POP GOES THE MAC?
It’s too soon for the MAC to announce any pop acts in its season, beyond announced dates by Loggins and another Kenny — Kenny Rogers (Oct. 8), who performs just two days after Loggins.
(“I tried for a third Kenny” — pop saxman Kenny G — “to do a weekend of Kenny,” Vogel laughs. “Could you imagine?”)
Pop groups are often booked just a few months in advance. Successful highlights from the MAC’s inaugural season were concerts by Seal and Trisha Yearwood, and Vogel promises the next season will include country, smooth jazz and contemporary rock.
Also on tap for 2006-07: Stand-up comedy. Though an appearance by “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” yuckster Bill Engvall early in the inaugural season coincided with an infamous audience injury — a wood panel fell from the balcony and hit Phoenix resident Brian McClure, sending him to the hospital to receive six stitches to his head — the concert was nevertheless a box office success.
PLAY IT AGAIN
That seen-it-before sensation carries over to touring groups that did well in the $98 million Mesa center’s inaugural season, now making return engagements: Big band daddyos Brian Setzer Orchestra, performing another Christmas concert Dec. 13; concert pianists The 5 Browns (Feb. 9); jazz standards performer Rachael Price (March 10).
Those groups, Vogel says, earned solid audience response and, in the case of Setzer and The 5 Browns, the center’s acoustics bowled them over enough to want to return. The center, Vogel says, “has established itself as probably the top venue in terms of acoustics, and we really want to take advantage of that.”
One big success in the MAC’s season was a seven-week run of the one-woman show “Around the World in a Bad Mood: Confessions of a Flight Attendant,” in the center’s 200-seat Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse. A cheap-to-produce show that garnered positive word-of-mouth buzz, it prompted the center to book another solo comedy show — “Fully Committed” (Nov. 30-Jan. 7), about an actor whose day job is taking reservations for a posh restaurant.
That show is a remount of Arizona Theatre Company’s 2002 staging at the Herberger Theatre Center and once again stars Valley expatriate Bob Sorenson.
REACHING FOR HISPANIC AUDIENCE
The Mesa Arts Center is also amping up its attempts to appeal to the city’s Latino demographic with what it hopes are more appealing offerings: Los Lobos, Buenos Aires-based tango group ¡Tango Fire! (Oct. 11), norteño band Los Tucanes de Tijuana (Oct. 14) and Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez (Oct. 27-28).
“We jumped into Latino programming a lot more this season because we felt like we really needed to do a better job of reaching out and bringing people in,” Vogel says. “We wanted to make a point of building understanding that Mesa Arts Center is for the whole community.”
BROADWAY IN MESA
The Mesa Arts Center continues its partnership with Theater League, the Kansas City, Mo.-based presenter of largely non-Equity (nonunion) touring theatrical productions, in the MAC’s second season.
It’s a season of familiar shows — “Man of La Mancha” (Nov. 21-22), “Jesus Christ Superstar” starring original 1973 film star Ted Neely (March 26-27) and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” (May 8-10) — bolstered by the tentpole “The Producers” (April 13-15), like “Cats” and “La Mancha” a non-Equity staging.
The announced season already has drawn some public complaint: Because of tour routing and logistics, all of the shows, save for “The Producers,” run during the week without weekend performances.
Early word of no weekend dates prompted one Mesa resident to e-mail Mayor Keno Hawker and the City Council last month, expressing her frustration.
“Most of us can only attend on weekends,” she wrote. “We never imagined that just after one season we would no longer be able to attend these shows.”
(Meanwhile, Theater League’s concurrent season at downtown Phoenix’s Orpheum Theatre is a more star-studded affair: Along with performances of “La Mancha” and “Superstar,” the lineup boasts appearances by Joan Collins and Linda Evans in “Legends!” Jan. 30-Feb. 4, and Tom Bosley and Michael Learned in “On Golden Pond” Feb. 20-25.)
Theater League’s president, Mark Edelman, has expressed his own frustration over competing with ASU’s Gammage Auditorium, which brings a professional season of Broadway shows to town, while higher-profile musicals like “Spamalot” and “The Phantom of the Opera” are now playing in Las Vegas rather than touring. The end result is fewer quality shows available to secondary market players like Theater League.
According to Vogel, Theater League had planned on not having a second MAC season, before it secured better-known titles like “The Producers” and “Superstar.”
DAYTIME AIMS FOR SENIORS
The Mesa center is also continuing its Curtain Call series of daytime performances aimed at seniors with disposable income and available afternoons. The 3 p.m. Wednesday series is highlighted by an April 18 concert by Pat Boone — celebrating his 50th anniversary in show business — and also includes the “L.A. Law” duo Jill Eichenberry and Michael Tucker (Jan. 10), a big band tribute by Guy Lombardo (Feb. 14), and Irish tenor Brian Dunphy of “Riverdance” fame (March 7.
Vogel doesn’t know yet what Boone is planning for his concert date, but he does promise “he’ll be wearing his trademark white buck shoes.”
Tickets for those daytime concerts are $35.
Tickets for the MAC’s Performing Live series run $18 to $80, the highest being choice seating for Kenny Rogers’ Ikeda performance.
That high is markedly lower than some of the center’s inaugural events, including a grand opening concert by original “Phantom of the Opera” star Michael Crawford, for which tickets topped at $285, or the canceled London Philharmonic Orchestra date’s $105 top ticket price. (Even tickets for the London Phil’s replacement act, the Utah Symphony, topped out at $90.)
Most major events in the upcoming season range from $25 to $60, including an appearance by animal handler and “Late Show with David Letterman” regular Jack Hanna (Sept. 19, $24 to $36) and Los Lobos ($28 to $42).
Tickets for all events — except shows in Theatre League’s season — are now available to the center’s paid Members Circle patrons.
Single tickets to events, including Theatre League’s shows, go on sale to the general public July 8, via the center’s box office, calling (480) 644-6500 or visiting www.mesaartscenter.com.
Theater league season packages will be sold by Theater League; information at www.theaterleague.org.
THE 2006-’07 SEASON
All performances at the Ikeda Theatre, except where noted.
• Kenny Loggins, 8 p.m. Oct. 6, $40-$72
• Kenny Rogers, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8, $40-$80 • Los Tucanes de Tijuana, 8 p.m. Oct. 14, $27-$58 • Wynton Marsalis, 8 p.m. Nov. 2, $27-$58 • Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Extravaganza, 8 p.m. Dec. 13, $47-$79 • The Chieftains, 8 p.m. Jan. 23, $38-$56 • The 5 Browns, 8 p.m. Feb. 9, $25-$46 • “Kodo,” Japanese drum ensemble, 8 p.m. Feb. 13, $32-$64 • Los Lobos, 8 p.m. Feb. 24, $28-$42 • National Philharmonic of Russia (with Olga Kern), 8 p.m. March 8, $35-$75 • Rachael Price, 8 p.m. March 10, Piper Theater, $28 • Vienna Choir Boys, 7:30 p.m. March 11, $26-$42 • Irish Rovers, 8 p.m. March 24, $24-$34 • Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (with Joshua Bell), 7:30 p.m. March 25, $35-$75 • Mannheim Steamroller, 8 p.m. April 27, $38-$76
• “¡Tango Fire!,” 8 p.m. Oct. 11, $25-$45 • Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez, 8 p.m. Oct. 27-28, $21-$41 • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 8 p.m. March 6-7, $36-$56
• “Fully Committed,” starring Bob Sorenson, various dates and times, Nov. 30-Jan. 7, Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse, $32.50-$37.50 • “100 Years of Broadway,” 8 p.m. April 21, $26-$50 • Cirque Eloize’s “Rain,” 8 p.m. April 10-11, $30-$45
• “The Wiggles: Dorothy the Dinosaur Dance Party,” 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 17, $18-$25
• “Jungle Jack Hanna,” Sept. 19, $24-$36 • The Golden Dragon Acrobats, 8 p.m. Feb. 23, $24-$34
THEATER LEAGUE SERIES
• “Man of La Mancha,” 8 p.m. Nov. 21-22
• “Jesus Christ Superstar,” 8 p.m. Mach 26-27 • “The Producers,” 8 p.m. April 13, 2 and 8 p.m. April 14, 2 and 7 p.m. April 15 • “Cats,” 8 p.m. May 8-10
CURTAIN CALL SERIES
All tickets $35 and shows at 3 p.m.
• “From Belle to Broadway,” with Paige O’Hara and Michael Piontek, Dec. 6, Piper Theater • “A Visit with Jill Eichenberry and Michael Tucker,” Jan. 10 • Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians, Feb. 14, Piper Theater • “R…Alta!” with Brian Dunphy, March 7, Piper Theater • Pat Boone, April 18