Everybody knows that Tucson summers sizzle. So why fight it? Seize the sizzle!
The Invisible Theatre has done just that over the last 20 years, channeling that heat to create some really cool concerts.
Back in 1990, Susan Claassen, of the Invisible Theatre, joined with actor/singer Jack Neubeck, pianist and arranger Jeffrey Haskell and singer Mary Baker to put together a series of musical events which they christened Sizzling Summer Sounds. The Doubletree Hotel teamed with IT, and the resulting concerts proved to be popular enough for IT to keep them coming for a decade-plus.
Claassen and company moved to the Arizona Inn in 2003, where they strutted their summer stuff for three years. However, over the last several years, the sizzle almost fizzled: The Arizona Inn was unavailable due to renovations, Claassen says, and they couldn't settle in at the right location. But this year, they're back at the Arizona Inn with an impressive schedule, ready to fire up audiences again.
Over the next month, there are 10 different concerts slated, with most of them featuring multiple performances. Some will showcase the very best of Tucson's musical talent, and some will feature out-of-town headliners in an intimate, cabaret-like setting. After each performance, the audience will be able to mingle with the singers and musicians in the Audubon Lounge.
"This is such a special opportunity," says Claassen. "All these folks are so accessible, and they're all people you'd want to know."
Neubeck, joined by Haskell and Katherine Byrnes, will be featured in the first offering, called "High Standards," on June 21 and 22. He can hardly contain his excitement about getting to perform "some of the greatest songs ever written." And having been instrumental in developing the "Sizzling" series, he's thrilled to see its return.
A New York actor who was in the original casts of Evita and La Cage Aux Folles, Neubeck moved to Tucson in 1986. "I arrived on June 3, and it was 108 degrees at 11 o'clock in the morning. But I love it here. And this series has actually morphed into something much better than in the earlier years."
He attributes much of the success to Claassen's willingness "to think outside of the box." And the setting at the Arizona Inn is like "club work," which to him is "the purest form of entertainment." Neubeck will also be featured later in the series in "Let's All Go to the Movies."
Ann Hampton Callaway will bring her mastery of multiple musical styles in for three performances, June 23-25. The award-winning composer/lyricist/singer/pianist/actress will not only sizzle, but with her full-hearted approach to making music, she is sure to smolder as well.
Although she now calls New York home, Callaway grew up in the Chicago area and says music was ever-present, so much so that it was "like breathing. I'm really grateful that I experimented with many different art forms, but I felt music was the most beautiful way to draw all the things I love and do into one field of endeavor."
Callaway says that she was particularly inspired by Carole King. "Whatever year Tapestry came out, I was walking around with my allowance and walked by the record store and saw the album. I had never heard of Carole King, but I was so intrigued by the album cover, I immediately bought it on a leap of faith. When I played it, it was an epiphany: 'This is what I want to do with the rest of my life. I want to write songs and sing songs from the heart like this incredible woman.'"
Years later, Callaway and King wrote a song together for Callaway's Slow album. "She didn't want to write the song until the day of the recording, and we worked from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to finish it. Then she stayed to hear me record her song 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?' It was one of the greatest days of my life."
Callaway has also collaborated with Barbra Streisand. "I had written a peace anthem, and when I finished it, I just thought, 'This song belongs to Barbra Streisand.' It took seven years to get this song to her, and about 150 rewrites later, she recorded the song—10 years to the day that I wrote it." Streisand also sang Callaway's "At the Same Time" for Streisand's "millennium" concert. "So thanks to Barbra, I have two platinum records and one gold record and a lot of great memories. She was always honest, direct and sweet to me."
Having played several concerts in Tucson before—one with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra—Callaway says she's looking forward to the intimate setting at the Arizona Inn, where she and the audience "can really experience each other. The songs I choose to sing in my shows are so powerful, and I am willing to share who I am and put in all the heart and soul and imagination I can. A night with just me and an audience is a recipe for a lot of magic."
Last summer, the Arizona Rose Theatre planned three outdoor concerts in association with the Marana Parks and Recreation Department. According to Brandon Howell, managing director of the company, the family-friendly shows were a great success, so plans for another series this summer were rolling along.
But the sponsorships they were counting on to finance the shows have not materialized.
As of this writing, the plan is to go ahead with the first concert in the series—"Broadway Cinema," which was actually planned for last summer but got rained out—and pass the hat to help defray costs. Howell says he remains hopeful that sponsorships will be forthcoming and the series will go on as planned.
"It's really important to us for this to be a free family event," he says.
They're not seeking huge sums, so if anyone is feeling philanthropic, let them know. Check their website for updates.[Update: Arizona Rose Theatre has been forced to cancel their first show due to a dropped sponsor. The city of Marana is looking for sponsors for the remaining shows.]