Beautiful Music, Beautiful Venue

Last night, we went to the new Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) to see one of their inargural concerts: Brian Stokes Mitchell. Before I go into the show itself, a few words about the venue.

This was our first time at VPAC, which is a brand-new (opened in February) performing arts facility located on the CSUN campus. It is a beautiful venue in many ways, with loads of light woods and marble; however, as befits a CSUN building, it isn’t overly ornate. Decorations are primarily glass and the overhead lighting is florescent, although there is a beautiful reflecting pool with sculptures in front of the building. Inside, the light woods theme is repeated. There are three seating levels (we were the last row in the first balcony, called the loge) over four stories with a total seeting capacity of 1672. This is about the same size as the Ahmanson (which is configurable to 1600-2000), but it seems a lot smaller; it’s smaller than the 1800-seat Kavli and significantly larger than the 499-seat Broad. The sight lines are great, and the seats are comfortable (although firm). What sets the building apart are the acoustics (technical specifications). The hall has variable acoustics, meaning that behind the screen “grillage” covering the rear and side walls are carefully shaped reflecting wall construction and deployable sound absorptive wool serge fabric. Additional variable acoustic banners can be deployed above the hall’s catwalks to further modify the halls sound quality to suit a wide range of performance types. The hall also includes sinuous wood ribbons radiating from the stage while more than 34,000 feet of stainless steel mesh panels cover the acoustical fabric on the rear walls. The hall also includes an adjustable orchestra shell, a spacious professional stage-house with an 85-foot-high full fly tower equipped with a 60-line set rigging system, a hydraulic stage extension/pit lift and generous backstage maneuvering space for large stage sets. You can see the effect of this in the figure to the right.. What this means, of course, is that the acoustics are perfect (better than the Disney Hall downtown, from what I’ve been told). From where we were sitting in the last row of the first balcony, we could hear perfectly, and there was no hint of amplification is the sound. In fact, Stokes did one song without amplification, and we could hear him perfectly. That’s great acoustics, and that’s what makes this hall a delight. We only had two, easily correctible, complaints with the hall, in fact: (1) the blue safety lights behind the box seating were too bright and need to be toned down, and (2) they need edging on the marble steps so that people know where the edges are and don’t slip.

As for the concert itself. If you’re not familiar with Brian Stokes Mitchell, he’s a Broadway performer who has been the lead in a number of shows: Ragtime, Man of La Mancha, South Pacific (concert), Do Re Mi, and many many others. He has a beautiful baritone voice with lots of power behind it; this is combined with a friendly and accessible demeanor that makes him great in shows. Over the two-and-a-half hour show, Stokes (as he is known) sang the following:

Act I
Some Enchanted Evening
Make Someone Happy
Where is the Life That Late I Led?
Love for Sale
How Long Has This Been Going On
This Nearly Was Mine (no amplification)
I Was Here
      Act II
Take The “A” Train/Another Hundred People
The Best Is Yet To Come
The Waters of March
It’s Not Easy Being Green
Hooray for Tom
New Words
America The Beautiful/Wheels of a Dream
Some Other Time (encore)
The Impossible Dream (encore)

This was a mix of Broadway songs (with at least one from each of his major shows, with the exception of Guys and Dolls, which he was in at the Hollywood Bowl). Some songs were particularly notable. He did “This Nearly Was Mine” without amplification (as I noted above); we could hear him perfectly from the back of the hall, although I was much more conscious of audience noise. “I Was Here” is a song from The Glorious Ones that was adapted by Ahrens/Flaherty for a new book Stokes has out supporting the Actors Fund; it is all about being in the theatre. “The Waters of March” was a Brazilian list song I hadn’t heard before. “Hooray for Tom” is a song about a kid at a spelling bee. “New Words” is a Maury Yeston song about a child learning new words that is a beautiful lullaby.

On the whole, this was a beautiful concert in a beautiful facility.

Also announced during the concert was the 2011/12 season at VPAC. There are a number of shows we’re interested in (my shows are bolded; my wife’s are italicized; and things we both like are bold-italic: Arturo Sandoval “Tribute to My Friend Dizzy Gillespie) (Sep 10); Jamie Lee Curtis (Sep 24); National Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China (Sep 30); An Evening with Bernadette Peters (Oct 15); Mariinsky Orchestra (Oct 18); The Miles Davis Experience (Oct 23); Linda Eder and Tom Wopat (Oct 30); The King’s Singers (Nov 5); Wynonna (Nov 6); Trisha Brown Dance (Nov 19); David Sedaris (Nov 20); Compania Flamenca/Jose Porcel (Dec 2); Moscow National Ballet (Dec 14/15); Susan Graham (Jan 18); Diavolo (Feb 2); Hal Holbrook/”Mark Twain Tonight” (Feb 4); Ramsey Lewish with Nnenna Freelon (Feb 11); Royal Winnipeg Balley/Moulin Rouge (Feb 18); Wroclaw Philharmonic (Feb 23); Vladimir Spivakov/Olga Kern (Mar 1); Los Tigres del Norte (Mar 8); Marin Mazzie/Jason Danieley (Mar 17); Savion Glover (Mar 24); SFJAZZ Collective (Mar 27); Emerson String Quartet (Apr 18); Geena Davis (Apr 19); Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell (Apr 25); The Acting Company/Julius Caesar (May 1); The Acting Company/Comedy of Errors (May 3); Stars of the Russian Ballet (May 4); John Pizzarelli Quartet with Jane Monheit (May 12); and Barbara Cook (May 19).

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: May starts with our penultimate Pasadena Playhouse production, “George Gershwin Alone“, on May 7. The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, but most of June is lost to the college visit trip (but who knows — we might go see “Always Patsy Cline” at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville). July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix), and continue with Jerry Springer: The Opera (July 8, Chance Theatre, pending ticketing); “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed); “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed); Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl, pending ticketing); “Shrek” (July 23 or 24, Pantages Theatre, pending ticketing); and “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed).