Coachella Valley music lovers are jumping for joy! Derrik Lewis’ popular Concert Production, “Musical Chairs”, returns to the Valley for an 11th season. Impresario Lewis brings his creative team and a host of star performers to the stage of the Indian Wells Theater, in Palm Desert for a two-performance-only engagement on Wednesday, February 29th at 2:30 pm, and again at 7 pm. I had the good fortune of catching Lewis on his cel phone between rehearsals and technical preparations for his upcoming show.
JL/DLN: Does your “Polka Dots and Moonbeams: The music of Jimmy Van Heusen”, show signal the return of your popular “Musical Chairs” series?
DL: “I certainly hope so. We’ve been on hiatus from the Palm Springs area for two years, and to be honest, I’m raring to get back to serving our loyal patrons and fans with this fabulous production at the beautiful Indian Wells Theater, in Palm Desert.”
JL: Over the years you have presented many, many, star performers in your shows. Who will be performing in this production?
DL: “There are returning performers our audiences will fondly remember and I’ve added a few new and very talented individuals for this engagement. Loyal patrons will be happy to hear that Richard Leibell, Darci Daniels, Francesca Amari, Michael Holmes, the singing group Desert Blend, Deryl Jon Bair, Diane Burt, Joel Baker, Theresa Dann, Julia Olsen-Rodriquez, Jose Gonzales, along with my newest discovery Patrick Arendall, make up this very talented group of thirteen professional performers. And, I’m thrilled to be able to perform onstage with them”.
JL: With a large group such as this, and with some of the performers working at various venues in LA, Orange County, and the Coachella Valley, how difficult is it for a producer to corral such a talented group and bring them together for just two performances?
DL: “The casting part is comparatively easy. It’s the rehearsal schedules, that must be coordinated, that are the nightmares. Hardly any of this cast has worked together, but most know one another or each other’s work. In addition, some cast members are currently working in other shows.”
JL: How much preparation goes into producing a ‘Musical Chairs’ production like this tribute to composer Jimmy Van Heusen?
DL: “I started working on this show six months ago. Putting together a Musical Chairs show is a little bit like an Army general mapping out his battle plans. I set my cast. Then I send them their various rehearsal schedules. Fortunately, they are all professionals in every sense, so I know that they know what to do and when. We usually run the technical rehearsals (at the Indian Wells Theater) three or four days before the performance”.
JL: Do you or the guest artists select the songs and numbers they will perform?
DL: “I select all of the material. For this show there are more than thirty songs and numbers. I usually begin by selecting a composer and his or her material that I want to feature. I research the composer’s canon of work, and begin selecting and discarding until I have an ‘A List’ of some fifty songs. Then I begin the winnowing process all over again until I arrive at the twenty or thirty best songs, and we go from there.”
JL: I can see why six months lead-time is needed. How many musicians will accompany the singers?
DL: We will have a four-piece band on stage for accompaniment, Don Rice on Saxophone, Jeff Stover on Bass, Andy Fraga, Jr, on Drums, and myself on piano.
Frankly, I can’t wait for February 29 to get here and for the show to begin. However, I want to mention how proud I am of the ‘Musical Chairs’ scholarship program over the years. This year we will, once again, give out two scholarships to deserving honorees. One scholarship will go to the Lion’s Pride Chamber Singers, of Cathedral City High School who are going to Carnegie Hall, in New York City. Our donation will help defray the group’s cost while in New York. The other scholarship goes to Noah Yaghoubian, the brilliant piano prodigy, who will perform, here in the desert, in April at the Indian Wells Theater. His concert is entitled ‘I Love A Piano’.”
JL: I want to thank you for giving us your time for this interview; especially at this very busy time in your schedule.
DL: “Your very welcome. It was my pleasure”.
You won’t want to miss the return of “Musical Chairs”. For ticket information and reservations for the show at the Indian Wells Theater call 760-883-1800. There are two additional special preview performances. One is at the Shenandoah Springs Room, at Tri Palms Estates, on February 26th at 3 pm. Call for information at 760-343-3497.
The other is being performed at the Mizell Senior Center, in Palm Springs on Monday, February 27th at 7 pm. Musical Chairs and the Mizell Senior Center have partnered with one another to present the “Polka Dots and Moonbeams: The songs of Jimmy Van Heusen” show to all Valley residents. Call the Mizell Senior Center for their preview ticket information at 760-323-5689.