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Music and magic, movement and MST3K – A 2019-2020 CCA season preview

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ORONO – It’s another big year for the CCA.

The Collins Center for the Arts is heading into its 34th season of exceptional arts programming on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono.

The CCA – formerly known as the Maine Center for the Arts – has been a vital hub for the performing arts in the region ever since the Bangor Symphony Orchestra christened its stage all the way back in 1986. The iconic building has played host to memorable acts large and small over the years, bringing a wonderful variety of arts and entertainment to our area.

The Collins Center is a foundational piece of the region’s cultural community; for over three decades, they have been a key part of the scene, offering quality programming at affordable prices year after year.

The 2019-2020 season is no exception, with a wonderful variety of music, theater and dance aimed at audiences of all ages. As per usual, the powers that be at the CCA have managed to ensure that there really is something for everyone. No surprise there – accessibility has always been a watchword for the organization.

Danny Williams, the CCA’s Executive Director, and Associate Director Karen Cole sat down with The Maine Edge to discuss some of the highlights of the upcoming season. Williams hit the ground running with a story about the performer officially opening the CCA season on Sept. 13, the legendary Chubby Checker.

“So Brett [Ziegler, CCA Associated Director for Budget and Programming] and I go to a couple of conferences a year, to talk to various promoters and agents about who they’ve got, what’s going on,” he said. “The national ones, especially for tribute acts, there are often impersonators in there. walking around the venues.

“We’re at this conference, I see this guy walking around. I was ‘That looks like Chubby Checker. That’s the best one I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Chubby Checker impersonator, but that is amazing.’ Only come to find out, it IS him. And he looks GREAT.

“So Brett and I are meeting with another agent,” he continued. “It’s just a little booth space chart and so I’m talking to him and looking out into the space. And I see him sort of look over shoulder. That’s Chubby Checker. He’s like ‘Yeah. Let’s meet him.’ And he comes over!

“So we’re talking a little bit and finally I ask ‘What’s it going to take to get you to come to Maine?’ And then HE says ‘Well, Chubby comes to Maine. Band sets up. Chubby burns it down. Chubby leaves.’ That is a direct quote.”

(Note: It’s a real shame that we can’t offer audio of this to our readers, because Williams does a dynamite Chubby Checker. For real – it’s solid.)

“Anyway, after he said that, I realized that this guy definitely still has game and we’re clearly going to do this. He’s 77 and he’s still ready to burn it down. He’s coming on Reunion Weekend and it’s just a great fit. A legacy act like this is perfect – and hey, he’s ready to burn it down.”

Of course, that’s just the first offering in a season jam-packed with exceptional performances. Just a couple of weeks after Chubby Checker twists it up on the CCA stage, music legend Bobby McFerrin will land in Maine as the featured artist for the CCA’s annual Gala.

“We’ve got one of the most innovative and talented artists of our time in Bobby McFerrin joining us,” Williams said. “Obviously, there’s ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’ That’s the song people know him for and that’s what certainly put him on the map, but that’s far from all of it.”

“He’s fascinating,” Cole added. “He’s just so much more than that song. And that’s why he doesn’t really sing it much anymore, but he is an incredible innovator.”

“He is a genius,” continued Williams. “Just genius. He’s a genius. I think he’s got what, 10 Grammy Awards? He’s so much more than ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy.’”

“His bio is just amazing,” said Cole. “Just pages and pages. You can’t pin him down. You can’t. He’s a vocalist unlike any other. What he has done is incredible and remarkable. And it’s almost hard to describe what he does and how he uses his voice as an instrument and how he just sort of paints sound.”

“He is going to be, I think, a remarkable experience and remarkable evening for anybody who loves music and vocal music in particular,” Williams said.

And that’s just September. The rest of the season is filled with entertainments that will appeal to a wide swath of audiences. Music and magic, comedy and kid’s shows – the CCA has it all.

October is bookended by a pair of outstanding musical acts. On Oct. 7, the CCA hosts A Tribute to the Beatles White Album, a show that features a number of rock and roll legends, including Christopher Cross, Todd Rundgren and Mickey Dolenz among many others.

“So this is a 50th anniversary of The White Album,” said Williams. “I believe the plan is that they are going to do selections from the album and then they’re going to do some of their own stuff as well. That’s at least how I understood it; I think they confirm that in the article in Rolling Stone that talked about this tour. We were actually listed in the list of venues. It’s always nice to be seen in the pages of Rolling Stone, you know?”

Meanwhile, the last mainstage show of the month, taking place on Oct. 26, is country music legend Roseanne Cash.

“Roseanne Cash is somebody we’ve been trying to get here for years,” Williams said. “And finally we were able to make it work. She’ll be here Homecoming Weekend; I think that’ll be nice. It’ll be a good group of people here anyway already, a lot of whom will want to stick around for that. She has quite a following; people seem very excited about this show in particular.

“I’ve been asked about her by our audiences. Asking me to bring her here. Yeah. And as I said she’s been difficult to nail down as far as availability, but we were finally able to make it work. And I think for homecoming it’ll be a great, great show. She’s just such a great musician and we’re excited to have her.”

In between those two musical offerings are some great shows: “42 FT: A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels” from Cirque Mechanics (Oct. 10); The Magic of Lyn Dillies (Oct. 18); and annual CCA fixture comedian Bob Marley (Oct. 19).

“We decided to have [Cirque Mechanics] back; they’re doing ‘42 feet,’ which is the circumference or the diameter of the center ring of a circus. Imagine – a Cirque show dedicated to the circus. They were so good last time, so innovative and creative.”

“We haven’t had magic for a while; Lyn Dillies is somebody who has also been here before,” Cole said. “We wanted to bring her back again in keeping with the idea that we want to have broad offering for our audience. We wanted to bring back some magic.”

As for Bob Marley, well – he’s a mainstay. He’s been doing shows as part of the CCA season for years and continues to practically sell the place out. And according to Williams and Cole, you should expect new material every time out, because that’s what Marley delivers.

There’s more excitement coming in November, with diverse offerings that include an educational reptile show and a musical parody performance featuring everybody’s favorite Scranton-based paper company.

Yeah, that’s right – the infamous “The Office! A Musical Parody” is coming on Nov. 3, while “Rainforest Reptiles – Reptiles Rock!” slithers onto the CCA stage on Nov. 17.

“The popularity of ‘The Office’ is through the roof right now, even more than when it was originally on the air,” said Williams. “I think it has great potential; the people that I’ve talked to who have seen it have loved it. There’s definitely a following; I think it’ll be it’ll be great to see it set to music. In some ways, I don’t want to know too much about it because I want to experience it new along with everybody else.”

Honestly, I could go on and on about every show in the upcoming season – there are some phenomenal offerings set to land in Orono over the coming months. Here are a few quick-hit looks at what’s coming.

In December, there are a couple of fun holiday shows. On Dec. 12, a touring production of an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” will grace the stage. Meanwhile, on Dec. 17, the celebrated a cappella group The Swingles will present “The Swingles Christmas.” And of course, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and Robinson Ballet will be presenting their beloved holiday production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 21 and 22.

Come 2020, there’s plenty going on. January 21 sees “The Simon & Garfunkel Story,” a show that Williams says many people have told him is one of the best they’ve ever seen. And February offers up one of the most diverse bills of fare you’re likely to find on any area performing arts stage – the dancer-illusionists of MOMIX present their show “Viva MOMIX” on Feb. 5, followed by the internationally-acclaimed percussion artists TAO in “DRUM TAO 2020” (Feb. 21) and the legendary musical act The Irish Rovers on Feb. 25. That’s a trifecta you won’t find anywhere else.

Other shows in 2020 include a performance from renowned movement troupe FLEXN on March 1, the renowned concert show “The Choir of Man” on April 8 and the live show of kiddie-lit favorite “Llama Llama” on April 9. Oh, and the show that I personally am most eagerly anticipating – the “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” live tour. On March 8, series creator Joel Hodgson will be in the building, as will his robot pals Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy, to have fun making fun of a terrible, terrible movie.

(Seriously – there are a LOT of great shows on the CCA docket for 2019-2020, but this is easily the one that has me feeling most tingly.)

All that and I haven’t even mentioned the Broadway touring shows yet!

These touring shows – a foundational part of every CCA season – are “The Color Purple” (Feb. 3), “Finding Neverland” (March 2) and “An American in Paris” (April 19).

“This year our Broadway offerings are concentrated in the spring,” said Williams. “It’s just how it played out. It always depends on scheduling and availability as far as when we’re able to book these shows.

“We have ‘The Color Purple,’ which of course was a really successful movie right that has become a very successful venture, a very successful musical. What I really love about ‘The Color Purple’ is specifically the music, it’s got such a gospel and soulful feel. It’s great. It’s really great. It’s a wonderful story, a wonderful musical about an important topic.

“Then in March, we have ‘Finding Neverland,’ which is pretty cool. It’s the musical about the creator of Peter Pan, a musical about the story behind one of the most well-known stories of our time. It’s not as well-known a musical as some we’ve had, but it had a good run on Broadway and it’s been quite popular on tour. We’re excited to have them have out here.

“And then we finish in April with ‘An American in Paris,’” he continued. “I’ve never seen the musical myself, but my wife has; she said it was one of the most romantic shows she’s ever seen. It’s been revived numerous times and is just a beloved and popular show.

“So those are the three. Those are the three musicals that we have; those are always kind of the cornerstone of our radar season.”

All that, plus the CCA’s long-running broadcast series – the National Theatre Live and Met Opera series are both in full effect, with 17 shows between them (seven NT Live, 10 Met Opera). In addition, the broadcast series will feature two musicals – “42nd Street” (Oct. 20) and “Kinky Boots” (March 28). These broadcasts have become a vital and eagerly embraced part of the CCA’s annual offerings.

In addition, the Music in Minsky series remains ongoing, and while the focus is still on chamber music (the John I. and Elizabeth E. Patches Chamber Music Series is one of the richest and most well-curated that you’ll find anywhere), the CCA has also added a jazz series.

It’s an embarrassment of riches, one that Williams and Cole – and everyone at the CCA – works very hard to put together, all in service to their mission: to bring the arts to as many people as they can.

“A big part of our mission is accessibility and making sure that people can afford a ticket,” Williams said. “We do our very best to maintain reasonable ticket prices – particularly when it comes to kids. We aim to have free student tickets or reduced student prices available for as many shows as possible; it’s all on our on our website. I think that’s an important part of it.

“It’s not always just for kids shows either,” added Cole. “We encourage parents to bring their children to some of these performances. That’s how young people get exposed to the arts. Those are our audience members of the future – it’s important to instill that passion early. So we want to be accessible.”

“And we want to bring things here that you might not otherwise see anywhere else,” said Williams.

The Collins Center for the Arts is an incredible resource, a beautiful space that plays host to a vast and varied collection of performances that we would otherwise have to travel hours to experience. Yes, there’s probably something on this slate that immediately excites you, but there’s even more here that may never have heard of, but that you will almost certainly love if you give it a chance. That’s the real joy of the CCA – it’s not about the stuff you already like (though there’s plenty of that), but rather the stuff that you don’t yet know that you like.

So yeah. Go see something. You’ll be glad that you did.

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