In addition to performances by Tony Award-winner
Leslie Uggams this month and music legend Bobby Vinton in March,
Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts’ golden anniversary season
will be made even more memorable by the dramatic renovations
to its home, the Walt Whitman Theatre at Brooklyn College.
Brooklyn Center’s former director of development, Cheri Walsh, stepped into the role of managing director in mid-July. She told GO Brooklyn that the theater’s "long overdue" renovations had been in the works for years but the funding had routinely been snipped from city and state budgets until this summer.
"The largest highlight of our 50th anniversary is the theater itself, which has undergone $4 million in renovations - which are almost complete," said Walsh. "So it’s a lovely facelift that includes refurbished seats, new sound and lighting equipment and new carpeting."
Part of what sets Brooklyn Center apart from other venues in New York City is its diverse array of programs, which include a mix of opera, dance, children’s productions, plays and cabaret. The 2004-2005 season includes artists from the United States, Russia, Africa, Canada, China and Jamaica among other countries.
"Our mission is to serve the diverse communities of Brooklyn, which is a very large challenge," explained Walsh. "We can’t be all things to all people, but we try to be. You do that delicate dance of selling tickets, maintaining integrity within artistry and pleasing a very diverse constituency."
Brooklyn Center’s mix of programming must be a recipe for success because many of its season ticket buyers have remained loyal since its inception.
"I work with patrons who chose their seat 50 years ago," said Walsh. "These are great ladies and gentlemen who remember the glory days of Brooklyn and stayed supportive all these years. Some of them are now in their 90s."
Kicking off this golden anniversary season is the organization’s high-quality "Familyfun" series, which, Walsh said, succeeds at bringing a truly diverse audience together. On Nov. 13, the Omaha Theater Company for Young People will present "Miss Nelson is Missing," Joan Cushing’s musical adaptation of the popular children’s book by Harry Allard about a class that must deal with a mean substitute teacher - Miss Viola Swamp - while their regular teacher is away.
The season continues on Nov. 20 with a performance by Uggams, who will sing pop and Broadway favorites as well as songs from her new album "On My Way to You."
The latest season is also jam-packed with dance companies - another programming strong suit of Brooklyn Center.
"I’m a former dancer, so my love is the dance series, which is particularly strong this year," said Walsh, now a Carroll Gardens resident with her husband, Robert, and 23-month-old son, Liam. Among the offerings will be performances by the Colorado Ballet (March 6); Ballet Internationale (having its New York City debut on April 3); and Russia’s Moiseyev Dance Company, on Feb. 12.
On Nov. 21, the Manhattan-based Complexions company will perform "A Concept in Dance."
"Complexions is a very innovative, cutting-edge company and the company itself is diverse. Its artistic directors, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, are former Alvin Ailey dancers," said Walsh.
While Brooklyn Center provides a priceless opportunity for locals to enjoy dance from across the country and around the world, it also "serves as a valuable performing opportunity for dance companies both from New York and abroad," said Walsh.
"The Brooklyn Center series has presented companies over the years that do not often have the opportunity to be presented in Manhattan. Paying for theater space and marketing in New York is outrageously expensive. We pay a fee for the companies. They’re actually getting paid to perform here.
"I have a success story: When I worked for North Carolina Dance Theater, our goal was to perform in New York City because it is a dance mecca," said Walsh.
"We had the opportunity to perform ’A Streetcar Named Desire’ at Brooklyn Center in the spring of ’03, and as a result, we got a review in the New York Times. That was leverage for the Joyce Theater, which invited us to perform there the following year. So [Brooklyn Center was] a springboard to a series in Manhattan."
And while it’s icing on the cake to be able to propel dance companies into Manhattan’s limelight, Walsh said Brooklyn Center is very much about serving its nearby residents of Midwood and Flatbush and the rest of Brooklyn with high quality, affordable performing arts programs.
"There’s no other theater like ours in Brooklyn," said Walsh. "Brooklynites shouldn’t have to cross the river to see a fabulous performance for a fabulous price that won’t break the bank."
Individual tickets for Brooklyn Center
for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College’s 2004-2005 season
are now on sale. All performances take place at Brooklyn College’s
Walt Whitman Theatre, one block from the junction of Flatbush
and Nostrand avenues. For a complete performance schedule, visit
the Web site at www.brookl