Setting the Stage

Scott Brassart Arts & Entertainment

Riff Markowitz, emcee and driving energy behind The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies
the fabulous palm springs follies

The Coachella Valley’s vibrant live theater scene, once teetering on the brink of near collapse, is back with a fresh slate of shows and several new companies springing to life. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find as the curtains rise around the desert. .


The Annenberg Theater, part of Palm Springs Art Museum, presents a unique mix of comedy, live theatre, music, and dance. The 2011-12 season kicks off Nov. 19 with An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell. Dubbed “the last leading man” by the New York Times, Mitchell has received Tony nominations for his performances in Man of La Mancha, Kiss Me Kate, Ragtime, and King Hedley II, winning for Kiss Me Kate. Additional performances include Freda Payne and The Calloway Sisters. 101 Museum Dr., Palm Springs, 1-760-325-4490;

Cabaret Theatre West presents musical theater with actors, dancers, sets, and costumes just like Broadway. But instead of a story,  the show has a theme. Productions planned for 2011-12 include Hooray for Hollywood, a tribute to the music of Hollywood movies and musicals, and Hooray for the USA, a musical journey across the country. 1-760-568-0024;


Coachella Valley Repertory now has its own performance space at The Atrium in Rancho Mirage. This year’s hows include Vivian, starring soap actress Judith Chapman as Vivian Lee, along with a Children’s Outreach Production of Jonathan Dorf’s Thank You for Flushing My Head in the Toilet, a play about bullying in schools. 69903 Hwy. 111, Ste. 116, Rancho Mirage. 1-760-296-2966;

Another newcomer, Desert Rose Playhouse presents plays and musicals geared toward the lesbian and gay community, as well as a broader audience. The company’s opening production, tentatively scheduled for January 2012, is Paul Rudnick’s hilariously funny biblical rewrite, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. 1- 760-321-6788;

Among the fledging theatre companies this year is Ensemble Theater Company, combining the talents of Playwright’s Circle and A Fluid Movement. The group is looking to mount original productions and to present a new works festival and a classical works festival. [email protected]; Phone and Website info forthcoming


The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies is a Broadway-caliber extravaganza featuring the music, dance, and comedy of mid-20th century America — with a cast old enough to have lived it. Its 21st season celebrates summer in a new show titled Hot! Hot! Hot! Joining the renowned long-legged lovelies and gentlemen at the historic Plaza Theatre are ventriloquist Brad Cummings and Rex and musical acts John Davidson (Nov. 1-Dec. 31), Maureen McGovern (Jan. 5-Mar. 10), and The Diamonds (Mar. 13-May 20). 128 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs. 1-760-327-0225;


Founded in 1985, this intimate 20-seat venue in nearby Morongo Valley presents critically acclaimed but usually lesser known shows. Groves Cabin is planning a full slate for the 2011-12 season, including Del Shores’ play, Daughters of the Lone Star State. 8768 Desert Willow Tr., Morongo Valley. 1-760-365-4523;

The Hi-Desert Cultural Center was founded in 1967 in the eclectic town of Joshua Tree, and has been promoting cultural arts in the Morongo Basin ever since. The Kaye Ballard Playhouse is home to dozens of music and cultural events each year. 61231 Hwy. 62, Joshua Tree. 1-760-366-3777;

The Indian Wells Theater is a beautifully designed 300-seat performing arts theatre that hosts a Broadway play series, the Indian Wells Pops Orchestra and other musicians, and a distinguished speaker series. Their season promises to excite. 37500 Cook St.,  Palm Desert. 1-760-341-6909;


Over the past few years, IPAC has grown into a vibrant center for the arts, presenting affordably priced plays, musicals, comedy, dance, and children’s events throughout the year. IPAC’s 2011-12 musical theatre season starts with Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class, Nov. 18-27. For the holidays, IPAC presents Amahl and the Night Visitors and Nutcracker Ballet Act II, Dec.  9-17. The post-holiday season kicks off with Bingo, Jan. 13-Feb. 12. Next up is The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, February 24-March 25. The season concludes with 4 Guys Named Jose and una Mujer Named Maria, April 13-March 13. 45175 Fargo St., Indio. 1-760-775-5200;

McCallum Theatre presents a dazzling array of plays, musicals, dance, music, and more. This season there are two Broadway series: “Broadway Blockbusters” and “Broadway on a Budget.” Each series is comprised of four great shows. The Blockbusters series begins with My Fair Lady, Jan. 13-15. Next in the series is Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, Jan. 27-29. The third offering in the series is Mamma Mia!, March 9-11. The Blockbusters series concludes with 2008 Tony winner In the Heights, March 30-April 1.
The Broadway on a Budget series is equally exciting, opening with The Marvelous Wonderettes, Feb. 3-4. The nostalgia continues with Grease, March 2-3. Next up is the 2001 Tony winner for Best Special Theatrical Event, Blast!, March 21-22. The budget series concludes with Burn the Floor, April 6-7.

The McCallum also has a terrific slate of shows not in the Broadway series. Riverdance visits Nov. 25-27. The Peking Acrobats visit Jan. 26. Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is performed by the Moscow Classical Ballet Dec. 13. The renowned Gilbert and Sullivan repertory company presents HMS Pinafore on Jan. 17. The Russian National Ballet performs Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty on Feb. 6. On Feb. 13, Teatro Lirico d’Europa presents Puccini’s operatic masterpiece, La Boheme. And on Feb. 19, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents Moulin Rouge. 73000 Fred Waring Dr., Palm Desert. 1-760-340-2787;

The Palm Canyon Theatre, now in its 13th season, is a not-for-profit professional theatre presenting shows year-round. The schedule leans heavily toward well-known musicals, with the occasional straight play thrown in to keep things interesting. Tickets are reasonably priced, and shows are enjoyable. The season opens with Del Shores’ classic comedy Sordid Lives, Sept. 9-11. Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, Pirates of Penzance, runs Oct. 7-23. The Mystery of Irma Vep runs Oct. 27-31. The Fantasticks, the world’s longest continuously running musical (42 years), plays Nov. 10-20. PCT celebrates the holiday season with Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Dec. 2-18. After the holidays the season resumes with Hairspray, the story of a plump teenager who fights for integration in 1962 Baltimore, Jan. 27-Feb. 12. Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music runs Feb. 24-26. Urinetown, an unconventional musical satirizing the legal system, politics, capitalism, and Broadway itself, takes the stage March 9-18. Robert Harling’s comedic tearjerker, Steel Magnolias, plays March 30-April 1. The Lerner and Loewe classic, Brigadoon, runs April 13-29. The season closes with West Side Story, May 11-27. PCT’s 2012 summer show is Fame, July 6-22. 538 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs. 1-760-323-5123;

The new troupe will stage It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play (Dec. 1-11) and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Feb. 16-Mar. 4).

Among the new companies to spring up last year is Palm Desert Stage Company. This season they’re planning two great shows: It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Play, Dec.  1-11, followed by I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, Feb. 16-March 4.


The Show at Agua Caliente Casino • Resort • Spa in Rancho Mirage is the desert’s newest and nicest venue for live entertainment. The arena has excellent acoustics and no bad seats. Top attractions scheduled for 2011-12 include Train and Carlos Mencia in September, and Don Rickles in October. 32250 Bob Hope Dr., 1-888-999-1995;


Theatre 29 is located in Twentynine Palms, near the Marine base in the high desert. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but the company mounts enjoyable shows and their ticket prices are modest. Check their website regularly for upcoming shows. 73637 Sullivan Rd., Twentynine Palms. 1-760-341-4151;