Robert Downes 11/9/09
The big entertainment news in Traverse City this month involves the possibility of East Lansings Wharton Center of Performing Arts taking over the management of our City Opera House.
Drawing on the creative power and resources of Michigan State University, the Wharton Center earns rave reviews from theater-goers for bringing Broadway
musicals such as Wicked to East Lansing, along with dozens of musical acts and comedians each year.
It sounds like a slam-dunk good idea when you look at their roster of upcoming performances by the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff
Foxworthy, Wilco and The Lion King. Negotiations are underway to see what Wharton can do for the City Opera House, with a proposal to be presented to the TC City Commission later this month.
Still, the philistine in me says we should think this over, lest we toss the baby with the bathwater.
The City Opera House is still struggling to pay off the debt on its $8.5 million renovation -- a project which was supported by community fundraising efforts. One might think that this is all the more reason to hand off its management to the pros in East Lansing, right?
Well, maybe. But before Traverse City takes the bait, it would be nice to know whether acts such as Jerry Seinfeld, Wilco and The Lion King would actually make the trip up here to Tiny Town to perform in our 730-seat opera house. And at what cost?
By contrast, the Cobb Great Hall at the Wharton Center in East Lansing seats 2,500 people. Whartons Concert Auditorium seats 3,763. And chances are, you couldn‘t stage a credible Broadway production at our opera house on par with Wicked; that sort of thing requires a specially-designed theater with trapdoors, a fly space, and actors whizzing around on cables and such.
It seems more likely that Traverse City would get the lesser acts with a high-culture bent, which we already have in spades at Interlochen and the Dennos Museum Center.
Acts like the Shaolin Warriors, Itzhak Perlman, The Nutcracker, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Irving Berlins White Christmas musical, and the Moscow Festival Ballets production of Coppelia. Ho-hum... Zzzz...
Excuse me for falling asleep here, but those acts -- which are on Whartons roster for the next few months -- are the exact same snoozy fare we‘ve come to expect from Interlochen during the off season. Been there, done that, seen em all a dozen times.
They are worthy acts, and they have their place (at Interlochen), but are they what Traverse
City needs to inject a lively sense of energy and excitement
Currently, theres a huge controversy about the recent
Umphreys McGee jam band show that was held at the opera house a few weeks ago. The concert-goers scuffed up the floor with their dancing and some of them were reportedly overserved. But no arrests were made and the show was widely regarded as the best of the year by opinion-makers in this town.
That show from Porterhouse Productions also brought more than 700 young adult professionals downtown, filling restaurants, stores and nightclubs. For the moment, at least, TC really was the sort of Cool City that our state aspires to.
You know: a city that is so cool and compelling that it attracts new businesses, young professionals and jobs, generating a lively downtown and a great place to live.
Those young adults in their early 20s are the future of our downtown and of the City Opera House. It would be a grave mistake to turn that crowd away simply to facilitate a management contract, because brother, Irving Berlins White Christmas isn‘t going to cut it with the people who are shaping Northern Michigans future.