Performing arts groups gear up for live audiences; here’s what you can expect in Long Beach

After nearly a year and a half since their stages went dark, Long Beach performing arts are gearing up for live audiences once again.

The city’s leading performing arts groups, including Long Beach Opera, Long Beach Camerata Singers, International City Theatre, Long Beach Playhouse and Musical Theatre West have all announced new programming for their 2021-2022 seasons.

But how those companies are approaching their return and what those experiences might entail for audiences could vary now that the highly contagious delta variant, which has caused a spike in COVID-19 cases, has complicated matters.

With concert halls such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Walt Disney Concert Hall now requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination to attend, it’s still left to be seen whether Long Beach companies will follow suit.

At present, only Long Beach Playhouse said it will be requiring patrons to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to attendance. Despite already requiring its staff and volunteer performers to be fully vaccinated, the company said it wanted to add this extra level of protection as a security buffer. Long Beach Playhouse President Madison Mooney said they would be updating their website with the new requirements this week.

“At first our thoughts were if everyone is masked, then we’re fine. But delta has changed things,” Mooney said. “So we’re going to be adding that so our patrons and volunteers feel more secure.”

But other performing arts groups with shows slated for late fall this year and spring 2022—such as the Long Beach Camerata Singers and Long Beach Opera—aren’t making any concrete decisions just yet, noting that it’s too soon to do so.

“At this point, everything is changing practically from day to day in terms of protocols for audiences. So, we’ll just do what’s necessary, and what’s required at the time,” said Jan Hower, president of the Long Beach Camerata Singers.

Notably, the Long Beach Symphony has not announced a return season.

“We are closely monitoring the COVID health crisis and look forward to announcing our 2021-2022 Classical and Pops season plans as soon as possible,” Long Beach Symphony president Kelly Lucera said via email.

What the leading performing arts groups do have in common is their strict health mandates within the companies.

Long Beach Camerata, Musical Theater West, Long Beach Playhouse and International City Theatre and Long Beach Opera have all required their staff and performers to be fully vaccinated during auditions and rehearsals.

“Our staff is all fully vaccinated, just by choice. And I would say 99% of the artists are already choosing to be vaccinated,” LBO’s general director and CEO Jennifer Rivera said.

In Long Beach and Los Angeles County, people are required to wear masks while indoors regardless of their vaccination status. International City Theatre said it will require patrons to wear masks in addition to staggering seating for its comeback play, “Closely Related Keys” with previews Aug. 25-26, and opening night Friday, Aug. 27, at the Beverly O’Neill Theatre in Downtown.

“We’re skipping rows and seats because this is the first time people are coming back and we want to make sure that they really feel safe,” ICT President caryn desai said.

As an extra precaution mandated by their unions, ICT has also tasked a COVID safety officer, a person not involved in the production, to be on duty at every rehearsal and production checking temperatures, reinforcing mask-wearing, providing hand sanitizer and requiring production to sign off on a daily safety declaration.

Despite the unforeseen complications, performing arts groups across the board described elation at the prospect of returning to live shows.

“During the 18 months we did four virtual productions,” desai said. “But you know, it’s just not the same thing as going as seeing it live and having that shared experience with so many others, because that’s what theater is.”

But some, like Long Beach Playhouse, are considering contingency plans should the city return to more stringent COVID-19 restrictions.

“If we have to for any reason to cancel productions or postpone we hope to still be able to offer online digital programming,” Mooney said.

Still, however tenuous, here’s what you can expect to see, hear and watch this next year in Long Beach.

International City Theatre

After 18 months, resident professional theatre company ICT is returning for its 36th season with family-drama “Closely Related Keys.” Written by multiple award-winning Los Angeles-based playwright Wendy Graf and directed by Sundra McClain, the play is set in the weeks after the 2001 Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and follows the life of an up-and-coming corporate attorney who discovers she has an Iraqi half-sister.

“The sisters are both broken, each in her own way, and they come from opposite, seemingly irreconcilable worlds,” says ICT artistic director desai. “As they search for a way forward based on the little they have in common, maybe there’s a lesson for the rest of us during these partisan times.”

“Closely Related Keys” will run Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Aug. 27 through Sept. 12. Opening night is Friday, Aug. 27, however two preview performances are available Wednesday and Thursday Aug. 25-26.

Closing out its annual season is “Blues in the Night,” a Tony-nominated and Oliver-nominated musical by Sheldon Epps that celebrates all the Blues legends through interweaving stories and song.

“Blues in the Night” will premiere Oct. 20 through Nov. 7.

ICT anticipates it will announce its 37th season in the coming months.

Click here for more information on tickets and schedules. Both performances will be staged at the Beverly O’Neill Theater.

The Beverly O’Neill Theater is at 330 E. Seaside Way.

Long Beach Playhouse

Long Beach Playhouse will kick-off its season with slapstick comedy “Noises Off,” (Sept. 11 to Oct. 9), followed by feel-good comedy “Sister Act: The Musical” (Oct. 23 to Nov. 20) and the iconic “A Christmas Carol” (Dec. 3 to Dec. 20) in their Main Stage.

Their second stage, the Studio Stage, will feature a one-day fundraising performance for Long Beach Gives (Sept. 23) and drama “Angels in America – Part One: Millenium Approaches” (Oct. 2 to Oct. 30).

Click here for more information on tickets and schedules.

Long Beach Playhouse is at 5021 E. Anaheim St.

Long Beach Camerata Singers

Long Beach Camerata Singers first major return performance, “9/11 Remembered” will be outdoors at Marine Stadium Park on Sept. 11. The show will be a scaled-up version of their “Front Porch Concerts” series the company launched in August last year, with 12 singers instead of a quartet and directed by Grammy-award-winning director James K. Bass and associate conductor Tammi Alderman.

The show will commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks for its 20th anniversary this year.

The Camerata Singers first indoor performance is the “Return to Stage” Gala event on Oct. 6 at Terrace Theatre in Downtown. Traditionally, the gala was held a week before the group’s first seasonal performance, but this year they’re doing things a little differently. The event will honor Councilman Rex Richardson, the Long Beach NAACP and its President Naomi Rainey Pearson and the California Conference for Equality and Justice (CCEJ) with the Beverly O’Neill Arts and Leadership Award. Director Bass will also speak about Camerata’s upcoming Peace Project concert on Nov. 14. The evening will culminate with an intimate performance from a selection of the Camerata Singers.

The first “official” seasonal performance of the Camerata Singers is Nov. 14 at Jordan High School’s newly renovated auditorium. The show, titled “Peace Project V” has always been a themed performance. This year’s theme is reconciliation and will focus on social justice issues. The show will feature a new piece titled “Testimony” by Grammy-awarding winning composer Richard Daniel Pour, directed by James K. Bass with libretto by African American poet laureate Rita Dove. Tickets for the performance should be available to purchase online by the end of the month, Camerata President Jan Hower said.

Come the holiday season, Camerata will be teaming up again with Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra for the beloved “Handel’s Messiah” at the Beverly O’Neill Theater Dec. 3 and Dec. 4

On March 19, 2022, Camerata will perform “Northern Lights” a concert of Scandinavian pieces by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.

The final seasonal performance “Evening of Song” on May 17 will highlight the distinct talents of their singers and includes a silent auction.

The Long Beach Camerata Singers will be updating their website with the shows in the incoming weeks. Click here to keep up with the performance schedule.

Musical Theatre West

Musical Theatre West has announced six shows for their new season which will be performed in the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at the Cal State Long Beach campus.

MTW comeback performance and only show of 2021 is “A Grand Night for Singing” (replacing “Mame”), a musical revue showcasing the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical is slated for Oct. 15 to Oct. 31.

Their 2022 schedule is as follows:

  • “The Andrews Brothers” – Feb 11-27, 2022 (replaces “Treasure Island”)
  • “On This Side of the World” – A World Premiere New Musical – March 25-April 10, 2022 (replaces “An American in Paris”)
  • “Grease” – July 8-24, 2022
  • “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” – Oct 14-30, 2022 (replaces “Damn Yankees”)
  • “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” – Dec. 2-18, 2022

Click here for more information.

The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is at 6200 E. Atherton St.

Long Beach Opera

After bringing in new artistic director James Darrah in March followed by the recently appointed music director Christopher Rountree, Long Beach Opera is primed to present their most innovative season yet.

The season kicks off March 2022, with performances of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s acapella opera, “STIMMUNG.” The immersive opera will be staged in what was formerly the Fresh and Easy grocery store at the City Place shopping mall in East Village. Since the grocery store closed, LBO president Jennifer Rivera said the company has been using the massive space to rehearse.

“And a lightbulb went off where we said this would actually be a perfect place to do this opera,” she said.

“STIMMUNG” will be transformed into a “magical kitchen” where the audience will encircle the six performers as they “virtuosically prepare a meal for the audience over the hour-long duration of the piece,” a press release explained. Performances are scheduled for March 19, 20, 26 and 27.

On April 23 and 24, LBO will be taking over the Art Theatre of Long Beach with the repurposed performance of the film “Quando,” produced by Derrell Acon with music from Giusseppe Verdi’s operas “La Traviata” and “Don Carlo” and Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” The show will screen the 25-min film, followed by a second screening without the audio with a live soundtrack played over it, “what we’re calling disrupting the sounds,” Rivera said.

In May, LBO will present a new production of George Frideric Handel’s “Giustino” reimagined by artistic director James Darrah, conducted by Christopher Roundtree with an adapted score by composer Shelley Washington. The location of the shows on May 21, 22 and 28 is to be determined.

Finishing off the season is a new production of the Pulitzer prize-winning opera, “Central Park Five” directed by CSULB alum Desean Terry, recognized by many as the star of Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show.”

“I’m very excited to host him for his first opera,” Rivera said. “It’s a really exciting direction for opera to take, to bring in new collaborators and support them entering this art form which can often seem a little exclusionary.”

LBO is still working to finalize a location for the shows slated for June 18, 19 and 25.

Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.

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Cheantay Jensen is reporter and award-winning videographer who covers entertainment, art, food and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post. And sometimes breaking news, you know, just to keep things interesting.
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