Phillips Center unveils star-studded season lineup

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

After announcing the University of Florida Performing Arts series for 2007-2008, Michael Blachly pulled an ace out of his sleeve, aimed squarely at tickling some funny bones: Jerry Seinfeld, comedy superstar and former hero of the NBC ratings bonanza "Seinfeld," will perform at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on July 14.

If performing arts directors can be said to be master of their domains, they have nothing on Blachly, who Monday outlined a 63-act main season (and five-act summer season) filled with popular musicals like "The Producers," "Chicago" and "Movin' Out," nearly unique musical performances like the Ahn Trio with David Benoit, and a slew of big name popular favorites, from Marvin Hamlisch and Joel Grey (who will perform together) to returning violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.

For those with a taste for the classics, few names rival those of Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, who will perform separately with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

"When I look at the offerings for next year, I think there's something for everyone in our community," said Blachly, who announced the schedule Monday evening to an audience of board members and patrons at the Phillips Center.

Along with the Broadway musicals and household stage-names, there are others like kids music superstar Dan Zanes, who will perform in his PJs.

Fans of other string instruments will likely be bowed over by a joint appearance of bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolin master Sam Bush and dobroist extraordinaire Jerry Douglas.

The season does include a classical coup - getting Perlman, Zukerman and soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in one season.

"We'd been working to get Itzhak Perlman here for about the last three seasons, we had to wait for the right timing and the right place in his calendar and our season," Blachly said.

Then, he added, it just happened to lineup with Zukerman who leads and is a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and soprano Kiri Te Kanawa's farewell North American tour.

In 2006, Blachly says, the most asked for program was the musical "Mamma Mia!" This year the musical "Movin' Out" fills that most-requested bill, bringing a rock musical filled with 24 Billy Joel hits. Meanwhile, a musical production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," based on the 1988 Steve Martin/Michael Caine film, will likely finagle more than a few laughs from audience members.

The coming season should be particularly strong in dance, both domestic and international, Blachly said. Both the American Ballet Theatre and the Martha Graham Dance Company are on the schedule. The dance company Urban Bush Women will join with the Senegalese troupe Compagnie JANT-BI for a world premiere January 17. And the American Indian Dance Theatre arrives in October, which Blachly said will bring "a wondrous array of movement, costume and color."

The calendar is well-seasoned with favorites from years past. The Ahn Trio returns for a jazz-flavored concert with the David Benoit Trio. The a cappella roots, gospel and blue of Sweet Honey in the Rock is back in February. "AEROS" the mix of dance, gymnastics and acrobatics that was created on the Phillips stage returns in January. While England's The King Singers and Australia's 10 Tenors, both favorites of the past come to Gainesville for holiday concerts in December.

For Beethoven lovers, there's a lot to like. During the next two seasons, the Phillips Center will offer six Beethoven string quartets. The Talich String Quartet gets it started in October. The Pacifica Quartet, David Finckel and Wu Han Voices of Vienna and Quatuor Parisii all will offer Beethoven during the year. And Andrew Manze conducts the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3.

The Phillips stage will offer global diversity, as well, with Jigu! Thunder Drums of China, the pipes and drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the South African vocal group Ladysmith Back Mambazo, Yamato The Drummers of Japan, and the Russian Patriarchate Choir.

Chip Davis - the recording phenomenon better known as Mannheim Steamroller - has sold more than 36 million albums with a style he describes as "18th century classical rock." And he'll be coming to Gainesville with "Fresh Aire" on Feb. 27. Dan Zanes, the former rocker with Del Fuegos and now a kids favorite known for popular videos on the Disney Channel, comes to the University Auditorium for a pajama party in November.

Patrons at Monday's announcement gave the 2007-2008 season two thumbs up. Todd McCray, a software project manager and consultant, lauded the season for bringing popular Broadway hits to town. "It's a little more affordable than flying up to Broadway or flying to the West End in London," said McCray, who Monday night compared list of the shows he wanted to see as Blachly announced them, with one made by his wife, Kristi.

"We like the musicals probably equally with the lesser-knowns like the Interpreti Veneziani, which we saw last year. So we try to balance out the big ones with the world and American premieres and the up-and-coming artists," McCray said.

"I think it's exciting, I love the variety," said Marilyn Nye-Islam, who despite being a Performing Arts board member didn't learn of the acts - including Seinfeld - until Blachly announced them Monday night. "I didn't even know," added Blachly's wife, Judy.

Patrons said they also liked a format change announced by Blachly: Gone are the pre-selected packages of previous years, such as those making classical performers available for a package price. Instead, patrons who purchase six tickets will receive a 10 percent discount.

Asked for the surprises of last season, Blachly lists the performance of the Peking Acrobats, Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Festival and the teaming of jazz pianist Chick Corea and banjo wizard Bela Fleck. What's waiting as a surprise in 2007? Blachly's pick would be the latest offering from Gainesville's Marion J. Caffey, "3 Mo' Divas," the female follow-up to his hit "3 Mo' Tenors."

But what about other acts, well-known performers like Norah Jones, for example, and others who top the charts and popularity polls of their genres? For those wanting some country, pop, rock and blues, Blachly asks for patience and assures it will be there - those artists put their schedules together on a shorter basis.

"We will keep adding during the year," he said.

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