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Performing arts organizations offering full seasons

Jackson — From the Mississippi Symphony kicking off its Bravo! Series with work by composer Samuel Jones to New Stage Theatre’s admittedly self-referential season, from the Mississippi Opera’s first collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi, to W. Kessler Ltd.’s productions of American theatre classics, performing arts organizations are beginning their seasons by bringing diverse offerings to the Capital City.

Michael Beattie, who came on as the MSO president and executive director a year ago, said that the MSO ended its 60th anniversary year in good financial condition, ending in the black and emerging on a much stronger financial platform. He declined to give specific figures.

This season’s offerings range from the perennial standbys “Mozart by Candlelight” and “Afternoon Spring Musicale” of the chamber series to tributes to longtime Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fielder, native Mississippi composer Samuel Jones and Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers.

“We put together a committee of community members from around the metro area to find a way to celebrate the life of Medgar Evers in a way that reached out to the entire community,” Beattie said.

Taking the stage

The only common thread that New Stage artistic director Patrick Benton can find in this year’s season is that many of the plays are set in theatres or during onstage productions.

“There’s sort of a theatrical theme running through all the subscription shows this year,” Benton said, in his third year as permanent artistic director.

The season opener, Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” plays out in alternating scenes of onstage action interspersed with backstage action and personal intrigue. The second play, “Women In Black,” is set in a theatre at Halloween.

Last year’s musical revue, “Idols of the King” featuring Elvis Presley tunes, was spectacularly successful and resulted in one of the longest runs in New Stage’s history, Benton said. Another production that brought in a diverse audience was “The Santaland Diaries,” offered as a counterpoint to the annual holiday production of “A Christmas Carol.”

“But we brought a new crowd into the theatre that didn’t come to ‘Christmas Carol,’” Benton said.

Raise those voices

Alan Mann, in his third season as general manager of the Mississippi Opera, is hoping to present a full slate of productions this year, although only one has been finalized thus far — a collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi on Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

We needed something that would work well with students,” he said.

With two performances in Hattiesburg and one in Jackson in November, the production marks the first time the Opera has combined forces with the opera program at USM, Mann said. The USM Orchestra will participate in the performances, as will six USM students in the lesser roles with local favorite Scott Bearden, romantic lead Victor Khodadad and rising soprano Marsha Thompson filling the lead roles and conducting master classes on the Southern Miss campus for a week.

Last year’s breakthrough performance of the “The Gospel of Colonus”production really put the Mississippi company on the musical map, Mann said. The decision to do multi-racial casting and the preponderance of local Mississippi talent used in the work made it a very exciting production for the organization. The hope is that some of the audiences that came to the opera for the first time for “Colonus” will return for this season’s opener.

A taste of Americana

W. Kessler Ltd.’s “Best of Broadway” has a distinctly American theme this year, said Averyell Kessler, director of the company.

The organization, which brings in touring Broadway shows, kicks off the season in September with “Blast,” inspired by performers on the drum and bugle corps competition circuit.

“Band folks from all over the state have been calling about tickets,” said Kessler. Other scheduled productions include “Chicago,” “Oklahoma!,” “The Will Rogers Follies,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” — classics all of Americana.

How can performing arts organizations plan to continue to compete in a world of satellite TV and radio, DVD and downloaded performances from the Web? Beattie believes that the saving grace of the performing arts in Jackson is their immediacy.

“There’s nothing like the electricity of a live orchestra concert,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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