With another year about to end, and having recently engaged in a friendly debate with a “big-city” dweller (he currently lives in Berlin, having previously resided in New York, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area), a summary of the performing arts scene in and around Sacramento should definitively establish that we live in the midst of an abundance of good venues and theatrical companies.
Any such review has to start with the Mondavi Center (on the campus of U.C. Davis). Admittedly, the two main stages there (Jackson Hall and the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre) are not located within Sacramento’s city and county limits. But the short drive over the causeway, which we happily make a good two dozen times a year, provides a wealth of performances by some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, dance companies, jazz ensembles and theatrical productions.
In this year alone, Mondavi has hosted performances by the Royal Philharmonic, Russian National, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and China Philharmonic Orchestras; by new jazz phenoms Cecile McLorin Salvant and Joey Alexander, and by the SF Jazz Collective and the Jazz and Lincoln Center Orchestra; along with recitals by soprano Renee Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
In addition to the touring orchestras that perform at Mondavi (or at the smaller Harris Center in Folsom), Sacramento is also home to a fine professional orchestra, the Sacramento Philharmonic, this year led by a succession of visiting conductors; the excellent Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra (with its own professional orchestra), led by Donald Kendrick; and the continually impressive Camellia Symphony, directed for a fifth year by Christian Baldini.
And if theater is your thing, Sacramento can boast several world-class companies that consistently provide dramatic and musical productions that are as good as any that can be seen in those big cities noted above. Any such list must start with Sacramento’s Music Circus, which has a history of over six decades of summer musical productions that have drawn major acting talents from Hollywood and Broadway. And in the last fifteen years, since the opening of the Wells Fargo Pavilion, Music Circus has become the venue most sought for roles by pros from those big cities.
In Capital Stage and the B Street Theater, Sacramento also has two highly professional theatrical companies that provide the best equivalent to “Off-Broadway” productions of classic and new dramatic works.
Cap Stage, now in its twelfth season (under the direction of Michael Stevenson), continues to produce plays that are thought provoking and cutting edge, with recent productions of Tracy Letts’s “August: Osage County” and the world premiere of Will Snider’s “How to Use a Knife” as excellent examples. At B Street, which may open a new facility in 2017 if all goes as planned, Buck Busfield continues to produce interesting and entertaining plays by modern playwrights.
In addition to these venues and companies, the Sacramento Theater Company (under the direction of Michael Laun) produces mainstream works, often with a modern twist, and the Sacramento Musical Theater Company brings touring productions of top Broadway plays (this year’s highlight was “Book of Mormon”) to the Community Center Theater. The main stage at Harris Center also hosts touring productions that come our way.
Major rock and pop singers have performed frequently at Arco Arena, but even more such performances by more prominent stars are expected at the Golden One Arena (no less a name than Paul McCartney opened the facility in October) now that it is the home of the National Basketball Association’s Sacramento Kings.
So, you put it all together, and here’s the bottom line: No, Sacramento is not New York City, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco (or, perhaps, even Berlin, Germany) as a cultural haven, but for a relatively small community, when you look at what the city has to offer, it certainly provides a whole lot more high quality culture and entertainment in the performing arts than your average “big-city” dweller might expect.