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What’s gracing the Gracie? Previewing their 2021-22 season Featured

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BANGOR – There’s another great slate of shows gracing the stage of the Gracie Theatre this season.

The Gracie Theatre – located on the campus of Husson University – will be presenting a wide range of entertainment over the course of this season. Music and comedy and more will be offered up to arts lovers and cultural consumers of the region.

The Gracie has been a welcome part of the region’s creative scene for years now, one that has thrived over the past decade, bringing a wonderful and diverse crop of performers to their Bangor stage every season. This year’s slate is no exception, though of course the landscape remains changed due to the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic.

It’s a wide array of offerings, with something for every audience. Putting together a season right now comes with plenty of obstacles, but the team at the Gracie – and at Husson – looks to be ready to do whatever it takes to overcome them. 

“It’s a thrill to be re-opening our doors for our tenth season,” said Jeri Misler, managing director of the Gracie Theatre. “Together with season sponsor Bangor Savings Bank, The Gracie is ready to kick off our season. In February 2022, ‘L.A. Law’ stars Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker will be joining us to help celebrate Valentine’s Day with a performance of ‘Love Letters.’ And for those who love the music of Freddie Mercury, ‘Queen Flash,’ a fabulous six-piece Queen tribute band, will rock the house. It’s going to be an incredible season!”

Other acts booked for the coming year include another edition of “Late Nite Catechism,” folk music sensation “Le Vent du Nord,” a classical violin and guitar duo, comedian Karen Morgan, acclaimed off-Broadway hit “Cross that River: The Musical,” and the genre-defying “Take 3” in concert.

The 2021-22 season hits the ground running with a classical concert featuring a pair of world-class musicians. On October 17, Husson University and the Gracie Theatre welcome violinist Chee-Yun performing alongside classical guitarist Mak Grgic in an exciting program called “EAST/WEST-ish.” This celebration of varying nationalities and musical influences features compositions by Mendelssohn (On Wings of Song, Op.32, No. 2), PIazzolla (selections from “History of Tango,” Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances” and “Moon River” by Henry Mancini.

Later that month, another installment of the ever-popular hit series, “Late Nite Catechism” returns to the Gracie Theatre. This season, Sister will provide her hilarious take on a number of familiar Halloween tales featuring ghosts and goblins as part of “The Holy Ghost and Other Terrifying Tales.” Sister's signature class participation will include instructions on how to build a Catholic appropriate Halloween costume. Don’t miss it!

On November 11, popular Portland comedian Karen Morgan returns to The Gracie. Morgan’s new show “Boogie Motherland” will have moms rolling in the aisles. With over 14,000 viewers on YouTube’s “Dry Bar” comedy channel, Morgan is sure to please. Audience members will love her take on turning 50. This could serve as the perfect “women’s night out” event.

Early in the new year, the Gracie welcomes the acclaimed off-Broadway musical, “Cross that River: The Musical.” This production tells the inspiring story of the Black cowboys who helped to build America during the 1800s and is a great lead-in to Black History Month. “Cross That River” takes audiences on a musical journey to a little-known point in American history where Black cowboys helped settle the West. The story revolves around Blue, a runaway slave, who escapes from bondage in Texas to become one of America’s first Black cowboys. He sees the unsettled western frontier of 1860s America as a place that can offer him a new life. This compelling tale of freedom integrates fiction with historical fact, and each song presents a different page in this complicated chapter of American history. This enlightening and entertaining musical will be at the Gracie Theatre on January 28, 2021.

Popular “L.A. Law” stars (and real-life couple) Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker usher in Valentine’s Day on Saturday, February 12 with the Pulitzer Prize-nominated A.R. Gurney play, “Love Letters.” Using a unique format that features letters read aloud, the couple reveals their hopes, ambitions, dreams and victories. Fans of “L.A. Law” will enjoy seeing the stars up close.

Just two weeks after that, February 26, the Gracie will welcome “Le Vent du Nord,” to their stage. This Canadian-Acadian group was a smash hit at the American Folk Festival along the Bangor waterfront a few years ago. This award-winning, highly-acclaimed band is a leading force in Quebec’s progressive Francophone folk movement. The group’s vast repertoire draws from both traditional sources and original compositions. It features hard-driving soulful music rooted in the Celtic diaspora and combines it with a broad range of global influences.

Fronted by renowned lookalike (and soundalike) Johnny Zatylny, “Queen Flash” will make audience members “Radio Ga Ga” on March 29. Zatylny has been captivating audiences by carrying on the musical tradition of Freddie Mercury as part of this “Queen” tribute band since 2000. His amazing likeness to Mercury, combined with his pitch-perfect performance of “Queen” songs in terms of both voice and stage presence, will make this a night to remember. Join us for a musical tribute to some of the world’s finest rock musicians!

Wrapping up the season on April 28 is the genre-defying trio “TAKE3.” With a flair for the wild and unexpected, “TAKE3” combines the refinement of a rigorous classical music background with rock-star charisma. Known for their infectious and down-to-earth onstage personalities, this trio leaves their indelible mark on captivated crowds around the country with their arrangements of top pop hits, Americana, and classical favorites.

Now, there are individual tickets available for all these shows, but there’s no reason to settle for just one at a time. Patrons who would like to put together a customized package of multiple shows can take advantage of the Gracie’s “You Pick 4” season tickets, which includes premium seats for at least four shows of your choice at a special discount price; premium seats in the middle orchestra section are available for a limited time.

Single show tickets and packages can be purchased at the venue’s website – gracietheatre.com – or by calling (207) 941-7888. They can also be acquired via the Gracie’s Facebook page.

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A conversation with the Gracie Theatre’s managing director Jeri Misler

Jeri Misler, the managing director (and more!) of the Gracie, was kind enough to answer a few questions from The Maine Edge about the upcoming season and what it means to put a program like this together in these complicated times.

What are some of the challenges that have come with scheduling considering the current circumstances? How have you dealt with those challenges?

The current challenge is the uncertainty surrounding the variants. Though agents and artists are willing to be flexible and certainly understand the global crisis, they are eager to get back to the work of providing live entertainment. Many artists did the best they could to present streamed content from their homes during the one-year shutdown of venues, but quickly realized that singing to a red dot on a laptop was not the same. Artists will admit that live audiences are partners in their work, whether music, comedy, theatre or dance. Performance art relies and thrives on audience energy, and feedback.

To meet the challenge of scheduling, we drew up clauses in artist’s contracts that included COVID contingencies. All were willing to be flexible, but asked for re-booking agreements rather than cancellations. In that way, they felt assured they would be invited back once circumstances permitted.

When spring arrived, and with it the news that we could go back to having live events, there was a flurry of excitement in terms of regarding curating a season, finalizing contracts and preparing for a Fall opening quickly. Some of the artists who were lined up for last year were happy to look at a date this season.

In what ways will seeing a show at the Gracie potentially be different for audiences this season?

Due to the rise in the Delta variant cases, and the numbers of individuals who remain unvaccinated, Husson University has mandated that Gracie patrons comply with CDC regulations regarding mask-wearing in public spaces whether vaccinated or unvaccinated. We are also suggesting patrons to print tickets at home versus coming to the box office windows and waiting in line. Whenever possible, we’re requesting that performances take place without intermissions to alleviate possible clusters of patrons. Some acts are prepared for that adjustment.

Will there be any changes in how your performances are presented? Livestreams or recorded shows for home viewing, that sort of thing?

At this time, the Gracie does not have plans to offer livestreams or recorded shows. Our first priority is to serve the needs of the University, so the focus will be on supporting Husson events versus Gracie events, in whatever format is necessary for the safety of the students and staff. For example, last spring, all pre-graduation award nights, as well as the Graduate and Undergraduate ceremonies were live-streamed. The Gracie staff, along with NESCom’s video production team, supported those events.

It’s a unique and difficult time for performing arts venues of all shapes and sizes. What are some of the issues that arose that might not be as obvious to the average audience member?

There is a lot of concern over the domino effect surrounding the closing of theatres. One effect is that local restaurants and businesses lose money when patrons aren’t dining out, shopping, or coming to town for a show. The other negative effect when there we lose live performances is in advertising services. Without shows to promote, local newspapers, radio, television, social media outlets lose all those advertising dollars. It’s evident in the size of the local papers. Live entertainment venues like the Gracie rely heavily on local newspapers and media outlets like The Maine Edge to get the word out. That partnership is equally important to both parties.

Yet, there’s another part of the domino effect we recognized on our campus. The Gracie hires students who work as technical assistants, since that is their area of interest. These students earn federally-supported funds while gaining valuable hands-on experience. We also offer box office jobs to work-study students, who engage with the public, learn phone skills, sales and marketing techniques. When we closed the theatre for outside events, we lost the ability to offer jobs to the students that year, costing them money as well as professional experience. It felt like a double loss.

What are a few of the shows/events that you are most eagerly anticipating this season?

I’d be remiss not to say “Late Nite Catechism, the Holy Ghost and other Terrifying Tales.” This is another edition of the show and our third time we’ve had “Sister” on our stage. Audiences absolutely love her, and the feeling seems to be mutual since she raves how she adores this Bangor audience. The show is part script, part improv and she’s a master at both.

I definitely want patrons to know about our January offering. It is an acclaimed Off-Broadway musical called “Cross That River.” The show was scheduled to open on Broadway just before COVID. Instead, it is touring as a concert musical, with the band on stage along with four costumed characters. The beautiful and inspiring story centers around a runaway slave who becomes one of the Black cowboys who helped settle the West. It’s a great story for our time, focusing on a segment of Black American history that few know about. The music is stunning, and I’d love to get a great turnout.

Fans of the long-running TV show, “LA Law” (like me!) will be thrilled to see the show’s stars, Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry in A.R Gurney’s sentimental play “Love Letters.” It is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 12, Valentine’s weekend, so what could be sweeter than a real-life, TV-star couple performing a great piece of theatre?

Our opening show on Sunday, October 17 is “East Meets West-ish.” The program is so appealing with everything from Bernstein, Gershwin and Mancini (yes, Moon River!) to Bartok and Mendelssohn. It’s a perfect afternoon with two master musicians, with tickets for only $20. These classical crossover shows tend to fly under the radar every year, but this one is really accessible and a wonderful way to reopen. All students are free for this performance, so I’m hoping there are guitar students and fans out there who will take advantage of hearing the talented Mak Grgic in concert with award-winning violinist Chee-Yun.

Are there any additional upcoming yet-to-be-announced shows that you might want to hint at, even if you can’t share them outright?

We will be hosting several local ballet companies this year, Warren Miller’s 72nd film, “Winter Starts Now” in December, and the local annual favorite, The Banff Film Festival sponsored by Epic Sports will be back in February. We are delighted about the season we have planned, along with these “add-on” rentals, and hope the CDC regulations regarding masks will build confidence so that patrons feel safe returning to the theatre.

Any thoughts on the state of venues in general here in Maine? What has it been like for you at the Gracie, navigating these waters?

Fellow venues are requiring patrons to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Many are requiring proof of vaccinations. The general public overall seems appreciative willing to comply, as long as they can attend live performances. At the Gracie, students are also eager to have artists back on our stage, in order to gain the experience of working with professionals so they can be “job ready” upon graduation. We will do our best to give them that experience, and keep Gracie fans coming back for more fun, laughs, and fantastic music this year.

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No community can truly thrive without creative cornerstones. To truly thrive, the mind and soul must be fed just as surely as the stomach. The Gracie Theatre – and other venues like it – are places that can provide us that necessary sustenance. Music, theatre, dance, comedy – it all matters. We’re lucky to live in a place that allows us to see and experience so much.

Looking ahead to this upcoming season and what’s gracing the Gracie, there’s no question that there’s a little something for everyone. But you don’t have to take my word for it – get out there and see for yourself. You’ll be glad that you did.

(For more information about the 2021-22 season or the Gracie Theatre in general, please visit their website at gracietheatre.com or by calling the box office at (207) 941-7888.)

Last modified on Saturday, 18 September 2021 10:33

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