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Craterian unveils an eclectic season

Comic Lily Tomlin, Broadway/Disney diva Lea Salonga and the traveling production of Lerner and Loewe's classic "Camelot" are among the highlights of Craterian Performances' 13th season, which was announced today in Medford.

The lineup includes 22 touring shows, the seventh-annual GingerBread Jubilee, a three-production collaboration with Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon and several free community events.

In a major new wrinkle for the Craterian, evening touring shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. instead of 8 to make them more accessible to families.

"We thought our audience would like the slightly earlier start," the Craterian's Maureen Esser said. "Our main concern was whether some of the big traveling shows could get set up by the earlier time."

The Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater box office will open for public sales July 21 at 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Salonga, star of "Miss Saigon" and "Les Misérables" on Broadway and voice of Disney movie heroines Princess Jasmine and Mulan, will perform Oct. 20. A celebrity in her native Philippines even as a young girl, she sings show tunes, standards and contemporary pop.

Tomlin will bring her trademark zany characters on Nov. 8. Winner of the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for Humor in 2003, Tomlin will offer an audience question-and-answer session at the end of her show.

Still more comic relief will come in the form of "A Fine and Pleasant Misery," with Tim Behrens bringing to life the wacky characters of writer Patrick McManus on Jan. 9. Capitol Steps will take aim at political targets with its bipartisan singing satire on March 15.

Craterian Executive Director Stephen McCandless acknowledged a strong flavor of humor in the season. Programmers targeted lots of upbeat shows, he said.

The season includes three touring musicals and a Broadway revue. "Camelot" will bring chivalry, romance and music on Feb. 25. Recent Broadway smash "The Drowsy Chaperone" will unleash its brand of humor March 25, and "Hairspray" will return for another "do" March 30.

Neil Berg will return with a powerhouse ensemble of Broadway performers recreating pivotal moments in the history of the Great White Way in "102 Years of Broadway" Oct. 6. Composer-producer-performer Berg is best known for his off-Broadway hit "The Prince and the Pauper."

The season features music for a variety of tastes. The romantic Spanish guitar and passionate dance of Benise will open the season Sept. 29. YouTube phenomenon Straight No Chaser will fill the auditorium with a cappella harmonies Oct. 23. In the Mood will provide a nostalgia trip Feb. 22 with big band music, dance and the fashions that helped shape America's World War II generation.

The renowned Harlem Gospel Choir will bring soul-stirring music on March 18. Billy McGuigan will pay tribute to an early rock 'n' roll icon with "Rave On! The Buddy Holly Experience" April 21. The Sons of the San Joaquin will bring their blend of Western vocals May 22.

Holiday events in the coming season include the Craterian traditions of the GingerBread Jubilee Nov. 20-25, "Christmas with the Trail Band" holiday show Dec. 5 and 6, and Dublin's Traditional Irish Cabaret March 20.

The seventh annual GingerBread Jubilee will include a gingerbread contest, benefit auction and community tour. All proceeds will benefit the theater. Trail Band shows are a mixed bag of traditional and contemporary songs with some original tunes, international numbers and storytelling tossed in. In the Dublin cabaret, legendary comedian Noel V. Ginnity, Paul Hennessy of the Three Irish Tenors, singer Emer Hartnett and step dancers provide a lighthearted way to celebrate Saint Patrick.

Two dance programs are in the lineup. Tap Kids will return to the Craterian on Feb. 9. The rhythmic footwork, body percussion and spirited vocalizing of "stepping" will be showcased by Step Afrika April 10. The troupe recently performed at the White House.

The precision and teamwork of Japan and China will be demonstrated in two "spectacle" shows this season. Drum-TAO on Feb. 3 will feature Taiko drumming, innovative choreography and colorful costumes. The famed Golden Dragon Acrobats will perform April 3.

Family shows include The Tweaksters Feb. 28, a duo that explores and seemingly ignores the laws of physics. Comedy Magician of the Year Chipper Lowell will host BLiNK! Jan. 30 with a trio of guest magicians and lots of gags.

McCandless said the 7:30 p.m. curtain time for the evening touring shows is about improving access.

"Whether for families with children or those who need to get up and go to work the next day, the earlier start should make it a bit easier for people to attend a show, particularly mid-week," McCandless said in a statement.

A merger with Children's Musical Theatre of Oregon will allow Craterian Performances to offer three productions for Rogue Valley young people beginning this summer. "Once on This Island" is a zesty musical that gives a Caribbean twist to "The Little Mermaid." Auditions will be held May 30, and performances are set for Aug. 19-22. Select members of CMTO, accompanied by John Taylor and his band, will perform memorable holiday songs from Broadway and Hollywood in "CMTO in Concert: A Musical Christmas," on Dec. 10. The group will stage Will Rogers' Follies as its spring show, with performances April 14-17.

Free community events will include "Stars on Stage: Celebrating State Soloists," featuring Jackson County winners of the District 8 high school solo music competition, on April 18, as well as the interactive Viva Voce Community Sing-Along May 21.

In addition to its own season, Craterian Performances makes the theater available for various nonprofit and commercial uses. Rogue Opera, the Rogue Valley Chorale, Rogue Valley Symphony, Ballet Rogue, Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon and Rogue Valley Youth Choruses have event listings in the 2009-2010 Craterian Performances season brochure as "Art Partners."

Member ticket orders by mail or fax will be processed in each membership level according to date received for seven weeks beginning June 2. Memberships begin at $50. Call Maureen Esser at 779-8195, ext. 303, or visit www.craterian.org.