Audiences can expect an eclectic mix of genres and styles from the upcoming season at the Center for Performing Arts at Penn State. Whether a performer is new to the center’s stages or a returning favorite, center director George Trudeau said there will be one constant: interaction.
“One of our criteria is that we are looking for those with not only great artistry but someone who can connect to audiences,” he said.
Take Regina Carter. She will open the season Sept. 25 with a jazz violin show that draws from a well of influences: classical, jazz, Motown, swing, funk and world music. In her show “Southern Comfort,” she will include a blend of folk songs and spirituals. Carter has performed at the center before, but visitors can expect a new experience, Trudeau said.
“She is one of the artists exploring new territory,” he said. “This project she calls ‘Southern Comfort’ is a reflection on her family’s roots in the south. She’s done research on the field songs of the south. She has a cute way of playing the song for you — I saw her use a Walkman — so you get a little taste of the song, and she uses that as an intro. She is not only a wonderful artist but also very engaging.”
Even if Carter’s performance isn’t your thing, Trudeau said organizers work to make sure each show is worth a visit.
“We don’t specifically think about an opening performance as being anything more than the others,” he said. “We like to think of all our performances can stand on their own.”
The 2014-2015 season features 28 performances from around the globe, including the touring Broadway musicals “Mamma Mia!” “Camelot” and “Sister Act.” Five-time Tony Award-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Celtic favorites The Chieftains, folk singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash and new-wave classical ensembles will entertain audiences before the season closes.
“They all take a different path to our stage, carefully guided by us to the moment when the curtain goes up and the magic starts to happen,” Trudeau said.
One artist Trudeau said he is excited to bring to State College is Tony Award-winning actor and Broadway baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell. He earned a Tony for best actor in “Kiss Me, Kate,” was nominated for his performances in three shows — “Man of La Mancha,” “Ragtime” and “King Hedley II” — and is known for an extensive TV and film career. In his Oct. 17 show “Simply Broadway,” Mitchell will perform songs from memorable musicals including “On the Town,” “Les Miserables” and “Carousel.”
“These are his favorite Broadway songs in a stripped-down show with just a pianist and him,” Trudeau said. “I’ve seen him perform in this format. He has this way to make it personal, to embody the character he is portraying very simply but very directly with an audience. He is an artist who is absolutely captivating when you see him perform in person.”
Mitchell is among the artists that Trudeau has been tracking and waiting for the right moment to bring him to local audiences. Others he said he is looking forward to introducing are string trio Time for Three, whose members call the group a “classically trained garage band.”
Time for Three’s Feb. 26 performance is one of the season’s seven classical concerts. The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest concert orchestras in Russia, will perform works by Dvorak and Brahms on Nov. 11. The group Eighth Blackbird will present a work by Aaron Jay Kernis, co-commissioned by the Center for the Performing Arts through its membership in Music Accord, during its April 2 performance. Another ensemble expanding classical boundaries this season is Brooklyn Rider, hailed the “future of chamber music,” on April 14.
Two big bands are on the way, too. Brazil’s SpokFrevo Orquestra with the fiery-tempo music of Carnival will perform Oct. 21, and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra is set for March 19. French-born jazz singer Cyrille Aimée, described by the Washington Post as having a voice “like a fine whiskey — oaky and smooth, with a hint of smokiness,” will perform Feb. 12.
Center for the Performing Arts 2014–2015 season