James F. Mills
The Annenberg Theatre may very well be Palm Springs’ community center. Located within the Palm Springs Art Museum, the 433-seat Annenberg attracts a diverse group of people for a wide range of events.
“We really are a vibrant community cultural center,” reports Bob Bogard, director of marketing and communication for the Palm Springs Art Museum. “We, of course, use it for theatrical performances, but we also do concerts here, have film screenings, host lecture series, even put on a cabaret show on the stage. Many different things happen here that attract many different people.”
The gay community especially seems to love the Annenberg Theatre. “We’re popular with the locals in general, but shows that cater to the gay community always do extremely well,” says Bogard. Named for TV Guide founder Walter Annenberg who provided the bulk of the construction money, the Annenberg Theatre opened in 1976 to raves from performers and the public alike who love the intimate feel and acoustically perfect nature of the room.
Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell just opened the 2011-2012 season two weeks ago. Two-time Tony-winner Christine Ebersole is performing on Friday, Dec. 2. Come January, Freda Payne, best known for her Top 10 hit “Band of Gold,” will be there. And then in April, Tony-nominated actresses Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway, better known as The Callaway Sisters, are returning after last year’s sold-out show. “We work with several talent bookers, so we get a lot of people on their way up and plenty of long established stars as well,” says Bogard. “We try to provide a cultural opportunity and make a small profit.”
Aside from the programs they book, the theatre rents out the space to many other groups, thus keeping the room in regular use. The upcoming Sparkle: All-Star Holiday Show to benefit the Desert AIDS Project is there on Dec. 7. Several other holiday shows are booked there as well. Thursday nights are always popular at the Museum. Free to the public between 4-8 p.m. on Thursdays, people often drop in the museum while attending Village Fest, the weekly arts and crafts fair held on nearby Palm Canyon Drive. And then they stay for a movie. Every Thursday night, the Annenberg has a free movie screening. Over the summer, they had a series of classic comedies. Currently, they’re doing a foreign film series called Global Lens, featuring international movies that likely would never screen in Palm Springs otherwise.
But the hot ticket in town is to their Cabaret 88 shows. It’s hot because there are so few tickets available. Named for the 88 keys on the piano, they set up a piano on stage and put 88 chairs around it. “It’s an incredibly intimate show that people love and the performers love too. It always sells out in minutes,” Bogard says. “People keep asking us why they don’t do it in the seats so more people can attend, but then that becomes a performance rather than a cabaret. And we want to keep it intimate and special.”