Gallo Center attracts serious star power to Modesto for next season

pclark@modbee.comMay 21, 2013 

    alternate textPat Clark
    Title: Scene editor
    Coverage areas: Entertainment, features
    Bio: Pat Clark has been at The Bee for 18 years. She has an English degree with a minor in journalism from California State University, Stanislaus.
    Recent stories written by Pat

— The star power will be so bright, you just might need to wear shades inside the Gallo Center for Arts for the 2013-14 performance season.

Martin Short, Itzhak Perlman, Jason Alexander, Johnny Mathis, REO Speedwagon, Gordon Lightfoot and Three Dog Night are just some of the powerhouse performers who will light up the stages at the downtown Modesto performing arts venue during its seventh season.

The appearance of Perlman — arguably the world's most well-known violin virtuoso — is a particular coup, according to center Chief Executive Officer Lynn Dickerson.

"I think it will be a really big moment in the life of the Gallo Center," she said of Perlman's Jan. 18 concert.

Romantic crooner Mathis — who will perform with a 24-piece orchestra — is the official season opener Sept. 21, although pre-season shows also are scheduled.

The season's lineup includes appearances by comedians Lewis Black (Sept. 14) and Brian Regan (Sept. 26) in addition to Short (Nov. 23); musical artists BluesTraveler (Oct. 18), Lonestar (Feb. 16) and Chris Isaak (Aug. 10); dance great Savion Glover (March 15); Broadway star Chita Rivera (Jan. 24); and a Christmas extravaganza with Mannheim Steamroller (Dec. 4).

REO Speedwagon plays on Sept. 16, Lightfoot on Sept. 30 and Three Dog Night on Oct. 12.

Only subscription packages are on sale. Tickets for individual shows go on sale June 10.

Dickerson said bringing in Perlman would not have been possible without help from the Gallo family, given his high price tag.

"There's no way we can do that without a sponsor, an underwriter or something," said Dickerson, who called on Marie Gallo — the person who spearheaded the establishment of the downtown Modesto arts venue.

"She said, 'Let me talk to my family,' " Dickerson said. Later that day "she texted me and said, 'We're in.' "

Comedy continues to be a growing part of the Gallo Center lineup, with a slate geared to a diverse audience. "Comedy is golden for us. They almost always sell out," Dickerson said.

Popular returning comedians Regan and Black represent "two ends of the spectrum," she said. "You've got Lewis Black who's rated R and you've got Brian Regan who's rated G, so it's really nice to be able to have something for everybody."

Alexander — with a show featuring comedy and music Oct. 24 — is another big get for the Gallo Center. "I think that's going to be a great show," Dickerson said.

Best known for his role as George Costanza on TV's "Seinfeld," Alexander is set to tour the United States with his variety-type show. More than a sitcom star, the actor won a Tony Award in 1989 for his role in the musical "Jerome Robbins' Broadway."

As for the center's stage production offerings, Dickerson hopes this year's package will turn around things after a frustrating 2012-13 season.

"We did poorly with every Broadway show we presented this season, for whatever reason," she said. Scheduling those shows is "high risk, high reward," but she feels the center has a good lineup in place.

"I'm super excited about 'Million Dollar Quartet' (Nov. 15-17). This may be my favorite Broadway show I've ever seen," Dickerson said of the production about a recording session with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. "It is just a great show and I think it will resonate in our market because we have a lot of people who love Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis — that genre of music."

Other Broadway shows include "Beauty and the Beast" (Jan. 20-21) and "Memphis" (May 16-18).

Coming off a record-selling season from the year before, the 2012-13 slate had a built-in ticket-sales challenge. Dickerson said the center will break even this season, thanks in part to a strong finish with shows such as The Piano Guys, Rodney Carrington, Dana Carvey and Pat Benatar — all still to come before the center goes dark between seasons.

That dark period will be shorter this year. Usually, the center closes for July and August, holding only an annual production by youth troupe YES and the Valley's Got Talent show those months. This year, however, a collaboration with Modesto's new Sankofa Theatre Company — "Looking Over the President's Shoulder" — will be presented July 12-14, along with six big-name shows booked for August.

"We had the chance to get these really great acts that we couldn't get any other time of the year," Dickerson said. "(Country singer) Billy Currington, for example, he's an act that normally plays much bigger venues than ours and usually gets a lot more money than we're able to pay, so we could get him, but we only could get him on Aug. 1, so I took him."

Two artists, Los Lonely Boys (Aug. 7) and Isaak, are making up for cancellations this season and only could reschedule for August. Acts such as Straight No Chaser (Aug. 16), Dave Koz (Aug. 9) and George Thorogood (Aug. 22) always are popular in the region, so Dickerson said she booked them the only dates she could.

Dickerson said she's recently tried a new gauge as she ponders bookings — posting ideas on Facebook. One heavily "liked" artist was celebrity chef Robert Irvine.

Dipping back into the foodie genre was tenuous: a 2011 show featuring chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain was a huge draw, while a 2012 show with "Top Chef" head judge Tom Colicchio was a huge disappointment. But the Facebook response sealed the deal for Irvine, who will be at the center April 26.

While Bourdain and Colicchio were speaking-only engagements, Irvine will offer a cooking demonstration on stage — a unique one, at that.

"He does all this crazy stuff, like he hangs upside down from a rigging and cooks," Dickerson said.

The center continues to appeal to the region's Latino market with shows such as Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán (Sept. 27), a musical based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo (Oct. 26) and the annual holiday Posada Navideña (Dec. 21). Dickerson hopes to add more Latino shows, as well as more Christian acts, during the season.

Dickerson is reaching out to gay and lesbian patrons with comics Suzanne Westenhoefer (Oct. 5) and Elvira Kurt (April 25).

"I'm trying really hard to reach all segments of our community," she said.

Local troupe collaborations will continue, including those with Sankofa, Prospect Theater Project, Modesto Performing Arts, California State University, Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College. Current resident companies will return for the new season: Central West Ballet, Modesto Symphony Orchestra, Townsend Opera and the Modesto Community Concert Association.

More than 80 acts will play the Gallo Center in 2013-14. Other shows of note include The Ten Tenors (Feb. 20), children's entertainer Laurie Berkner (Nov. 3), singer John Tesh (Dec. 2), country singer Craig Morgan (Nov. 2), illusionist Mike Super (March 23), stage show "Stomp" (Oct. 19-20) and animal act Stunt Dog Experience (Jan. 31). For a full season schedule and ticket prices, see

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