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The Curtain Rises on a New Arts Season
By Julie Bonner Stevenson

Beauty. It has the power to rejuvenate our souls and rest our minds. Autumn brings us nature’s beauty in brilliant colors and spicy smells. It also brings another beauty: a new season of the arts to celebrate.
Buy your tickets. Find your seats. Sit back, take a relaxing breath and enjoy. Here’s what’s on the program for the area’s 2004-2005 season.

Actors’ Theatre at Spectrum
A mainstay in local arts, Actors’ Theatre productions always manage to impress. The talented Jeralyn Pinsky directs this season’s moving opener, “The Exonerated” (Sept. 23-Oct. 2). Richard O’Brien’s original musical “The Rocky Horror Show” (Dec. 9-18) is certain to be great fun (reserve tickets early)! The Tony-Award-winning “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” (Jan.20-29) by America’s greatest living playwright Edward Albee will undoubtedly make for a worthwhile theater-going experience.

The Ladies of the Camellias” (March 17-26), will give local theatergoers a chance to escape mid-winter blahs with a little hilarity, but when it comes to Actors’ late spring production, things are hush-hush. Something is coming May 19-28, but all those in the know will say is that the slot is being held open for a late-release script they assure us will exceed our expectations.

Broadway Theatre Guild
Expertise and exceptional quality come to Grand Rapids through the Broadway Theatre Guild. The kickoff comes September 21-26 with “Cirque Dreams,” a colorful extravaganza filled with acrobats, aerialists and amazing contortionists. After the hot performance of “Cirque Dreams,” the DeVos stage will be transformed into an ice rink for “Broadway on Ice” (Nov. 9-14), a show that brings Broadway performers and international skaters together to wow spectators.

Mel Brooks fans will be first in line for tickets to “The Producers” (Nov 23-28). Based on the Academy Award-winning film, this musical is sure to give theater buffs a giggle. Speaking of award-winners, don’t miss “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (April 5-10), a show that walked away with an armful of Tony awards in 2002. Set in the 1920s, the flapper-esque Millie brings her bobbed hair and knee-revealing hemlines — and great jazz — to DeVos Hall.

Les Miserables” (May 24-29), the musical based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, is a staple for any theater lover’s must-see list. And don’t be surprised to find yourself buying the CD after seeing the performance. What grand finale could top off a stellar season like this? How about a special added presentation that features Tony Award-nominee Cathy Rigby? That’s right, Rigby will be here, starring in the well-loved family favorite “Peter Pan” (June 21-26).

Grand Rapids Ballet Company
Caught in a Midsummer Night’s Dream” (Oct. 15-17) opens the GR Ballet Company’s season, following a record-breaking 55 performances last year. This original production is a blend of the Shakespearean story with the romantic music of Mendelssohn, sprinkled with the jazz music of Ed Clifford. A full orchestra and jazz band accompanies the innovative choreography. A local tradition, “The Nutcracker” is as much a part of the holidays as candy canes and carols. Performance dates are Dec. 3-5 and 10-12; put them in your Palm Pilot and don’t miss out! You can also add the spring performance of “Can-Can” (March 18-20). Artistic Director Gordon Peirce Schmidt’s world premiere celebrates the excitement of Paris at night, featuring 19th century music.

In addition to its DeVos Performance Hall Main Stage Series, the Dancers’ Theatre Series offers three performances in the intimate venue of the company’s Studio A: “Another Part of the Forest” (Nov. 4-7), “In a Nutshell” (Jan 6-9) and another Schmidt world premiere in May.

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Have a penchant for local theater? Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Michigan’s largest community theater, has a season not to be missed. “Cotton Patch Gospel” (Sept. 16-Oct. 9) is set to the music of Harry Chapin. “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” (Oct. 20-24) is a family show about a mouse with a love of fashion accessories, including cowboy boots and a crown.

The Civic rings in the holidays with a performance of the musical “Scrooge!” (Nov. 18-Dec. 18), featuring favorite Dickens characters Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit center stage. “You Can’t Take it With You” (Jan. 6 - Jan. 29) provides an opportunity to sit back and relax in the plush ambiance of the Civic and laugh off those winter blahs.

Gypsy” (Feb. 24 - March 19) brings the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim to Grand Rapids in this tale of a family chasing an elusive dream. “Blood Relations” (April 7-23) brings to mind that childhood ditty, “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 whacks.” It’s an excitement-laden performance of a macabre event etched into America’s history. If that’s too much for the little ones, how about “Harriet the Spy” (May 12-May 22), the story of a precocious child who loves to spy on family and friends.

In the mood for a romantic comedy? Try “Crossing Delancy” (June 9-June 25), the charming story of a grandmother who hires a matchmaker to find a husband for her granddaughter. Will it be the good-looking author or the pickle vendor?

The Civic Theatre finishes the season with two family-friendly performances: “Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.” Running alternately, they will be performed July 29-August 7.

Grand Rapids Symphony
The Grand Rapids Symphony is dropping names this season — big ones. Olivia Newton-John (Nov. 16) and Leann Rimes (Dec. 21) will bring their sparkle to DeVos Hall in a season that celebrates GRS’ 75th anniversary.

The season opens with Opening Night Tour de Force (Sept. 10-11) featuring violinist Dylana Jenson, while the Anniversary Gala Celebration will feature Grammy-winning soprano Kathleen Battle (Oct. 22).

The GRS Pops Series opens with impressionist Rich Little (Sept. 17-19) and continues with The Big Band Show (Oct. 8-10), followed by the ever-popular Fifth Third Holiday Pops (Dec. 17, 18, 19). The series also includes the outrageously talented Flying Karamazov Brothers in March and a Cinco De Mayo Celebration with Mariachi Cobre (May 6, 7, 8) ends the series.

Angela Hewitt Plays and Conducts Bach” (Nov. 5-6) is part of the GRS Classical Series and even Mahler will be present, if only in spirit, with “Mahler’s Song of the Earth,” (Jan. 28-29).

Opera Grand Rapids
Opera Grand Rapids puts forth a power-packed season, starting with a semi-staged version of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (Oct. 29-30). While Gershwin’s name alone draws crowds, famed performers Alvy Powell, Roberta Laws and Cedric Cannon will ensure a memorable event for GR audiences.

La Boheme” (Feb. 11-12), Puccini’s masterpiece of love and loss in the lives of Bohemian Parisian artists, will be performed with a twist. “Die Fledermaus” (April 29-30), the rollicking operetta of Johann Strauss II, will conclude the OGR season with a mix of charm and silliness.

St. Cecilia Music Society
The Kaleidoscope Series is packed with “mark your calendar” performances this season. The Brazilian Guitar Quartet performs its unique guitar techniques on Oct. 15. Together since childhood, the three lovely ladies who make up the Eroica Trio (Nov. 13) will perform on piano, violin and cello. They are winners of the prestigious Naumburg Award (1991) and have received several Grammy nominations. Pianist Leon Bates (Feb. 19) will perform classical and jazz selections, as well as a solo version of “Rhapsody in Blue.” On March 5, the annual Eight Piano Benefit Concert fills the stage of the lovely Royce Auditorium with eight grand pianos for an evening of great music. GR

Julie Bonner Stevenson is a free-lance writer who lives in Grand Rapids Magazine.

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