Gallo Center shows exceed expectations

Grand opening gala of the Gallo Center for the Arts September 27, 2007, in Modesto, Ca.   White roses, bottles of Gallo wine, and cheese were just one of the tables for diners. The after concert dinner and dance outside the center.    (Debbie Noda/The Modesto Bee)
Grand opening gala of the Gallo Center for the Arts September 27, 2007, in Modesto, Ca. White roses, bottles of Gallo wine, and cheese were just one of the tables for diners. The after concert dinner and dance outside the center. (Debbie Noda/The Modesto Bee) Modesto Bee

After I saw six shows in as many days during the grand-opening week of the Gallo Center for the Arts, friends kept asking me if I was burned out.

Surely I was sick of all things arts and never again wanted to look at the new downtown Modesto venue.

No way. I'd been waiting for this place to open for years and wasn't about to miss a minute of it. Even on the days I wasn't working during the opening festivities, I headed to the arts center to check things out.

I can honestly say I enjoyed every show, not just for the performances, which were great, but for the audiences, who were just as thrilled as I was to be there. Best of all, I saw all ethnic groups and ages represented, not just the upper-class older white crowd some thought would be the only people in attendance. And audience members came from all over the county, not just Modesto.

Despite ticketing problems, everything ran smoothly overall. The arts center staff successfully managed simultaneous performances in the 1,252-seat Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Theater, with everyone mixing easily in the lobby before and after the shows.

According to Dave Pier, the center's executive director, the week was a financial success in part because of corporate sponsors who underwrote the programs.

"My impression is we were pretty close to budget targets on the expense and income side," he said, without giving specifics. "We were conservative in our income projections."

Here are some of the highlights from the opening week, which began Sept. 27 and ended Tuesday:

CLASSIEST PERFORMER: At age 81, Tony Bennett remains as cool as ever and a consummate professional. While you'd think it would be tiring to sing the same songs over and over, Bennett looked as if he was having the time of his life at his sold-out performance in the Rogers Theater.

He enchanted the audience by singing favorites such as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" and "The Best Is Yet to Come," cracking jokes and sharing stories about old-time performers including Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.

MOST ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD: Mexican-American band Los Tigres del Norte, known for its tiger-theme costumes and peppy, accordion-driven polka music, got the most love from an audience all week. A mostly Latino crowd of 1,100, some in evening wear and some in cowboy hats and jeans, cheered, whistled and sang along to the Spanish songs throughout the loud, raucous Rogers Theater show. Women lined up to kiss band members, and couples danced in the aisles. Afterward, dozens of people rushed the stage to get the band to autograph their programs.

BEST MUSCLES: It was a tossup between performers in Cirque-Works' "Birdhouse Factory" and the Joffrey Ballet. About 1,800 people watched the circus performers twist their bodies into pretzels during five performances in the Foster Theater over the weekend. About 900 people in the Rogers Theater marveled at the toned ballet dancers as they leapt high in the air, spun around at lightning speeds and carried each other across the stage.

GLITZIEST NIGHT: Modesto has rarely, if ever, seen such a glamorous crowd as the one that turned out for the grand-opening gala performance by the Modesto Symphony Orchestra and Broadway diva Patti LuPone.

Most everyone at the red-carpet event was dressed to the nines, with many in ball gowns or tuxedos. The lobby looked lovely with its white roses and soft lighting. One woman commented that she felt as if she were at the Emmy Awards.

SHOW MUST GO ON AWARD: LuPone managed to put on an entertaining show despite feeling under the weather and visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist earlier in the day.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TURNOUT: Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash's country-singing daughter, drew the smallest crowd, with about 650 people coming to her concert in the Rogers Theater. It was too bad because the show, which included classic country and newer songs, plus trivia about Cash's famous family, was a big hit with those who did attend. It seems strange that the one country act would fare so poorly in an area that so loves country music. Though she doesn't have any current hits, you'd think more people would have come out if only because the tickets were among the lowest-priced of the week. Pier blamed the low turnout on the Sunday night timing.

TICKETING PROBLEMS: The center struggled with ticketing issues, including overselling Bennett by a dozen orders, failing to list the children's price for Internet ticket orders of Cirque-Works and printing the wrong date on some Joffrey Ballet tickets. Fred Silva, chairman of the Gallo Center board, urged patience. "I would hope people would be a little bit more understanding of the fact we are a startup," he said. "The people we've hired are working very hard, but they're working on a new system."

The arts center has tried to rectify every mistake, either through refunds or ticket exchanges. Hopefully, the worst is behind the venue and everything will run better.

COMPLIMENTS FOR SOUND, LOOK: Bennett, LuPone and Cash all praised the acoustics in the Rogers Theater. Bennett and LuPone also turned off their microphones for one song to demonstrate the excellent sound. The feedback problems at the beginning of Bennett's show were due to his sound equipment.

The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects is giving a design excellence award to arts center architect Steve Gaffney on Thursday at a reception at the Del Rio Golf and Country Club.

BACKSTAGE FUN: Following a longtime theater tradition, entertainers signed their names on a wall backstage. Bennett signed "What an honor! Thank you very much!" Jim Shirley, the center's events coordinator, said all the performers enjoyed their engagement at the venue and want to come back.

OUT AND ABOUT DOWNTOWN: Bennett walked from the DoubleTree Hotel to the Gallo Center for his rehearsal, and he, Cash and LuPone all ate meals at the Gallo family-owned Galletto Ristorante. Performers also were seen at downtown restaurants Bacchus, Concetta, Tresetti's and Subway Sandwiches.

COMING UP: Though the grand-opening festivities are over, the Gallo Center isn't slowing down. Sixteen events are scheduled the rest of this month. Today, the International Heritage Festival is offering a free world music and dance concert from noon to 6 p.m. in the Foster Theater and lobby. There also is a mariachi concert at 7 p.m. today in the Rogers Theater (tickets are $45 to $65). Upcoming programs include the touring Broadway show "Little Shop of Horrors,"

Oct. 19-21, Rogers Theater, and singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, Oct. 28, Rogers Theater.

More shows, including pop singers, will be booked as the season progresses, Silva said. Most likely will be scheduled midweek, when performers are between engagements in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Gallo Center staff plans to get the word out for all shows through its Web site, www.galloarts.org, e-mail, direct mail and advertising in print media and radio.

"As more and more people get to go and experience a show, they will get it," Pier said. "Once you've gone to a show, you see the value of it and want to participate more."

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com or 578-2313.

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