When the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened three years ago this month, architecture critics and most Center-goers stood in awe of the building's boldly innovative, non-traditional design.
But with the notable exception of numerous first-rank ballet groups, most of the Center's own presentations would have been served just fine by four plywood walls, an old blanket for a curtain and plastic, fold-out chairs.
Those of us who hoped the Center's bill of fare would offer anything approaching the range and depth found at other performing arts complexes around the country will have to keep waiting.
For ballet lovers, things could hardly be better, especially for so young an operation. In the first year, we got the only West Coast appearance of the New York City Ballet. Last month, we got the exclusive on the vaunted Kirov Ballet. And next year, though Center officials haven't officially announced it, we should see the Royal Ballet of Great Britain in what figures to be its only pirouette west of the Mississip.
So if your tastes run to dance and nothing else, everything's coming up tutus.
If only the choices in terms of popular entertainment were quite so, well, choice.
This week's performances of "Anything Goes" put a wrap on the Center's 1988-89 Broadway season, with Mitzi Gaynor attempting to revive (or should we say resuscitate?) a role in a 55-year-old musical that she played on screen 33 years ago.
We also have been treated to Topol playing "Fiddler on the Roof" for the umpteenth-thousandth time of his one-role career; Tyne Daly in a revival of "Gypsy" (another musical nearly old enough to run for President); "Elvis: A Musical Celebration," a pandering show that had as much to do with rock 'n' roll as Pat Sajak has to do with incisive wit, and the one (count it) one remotely new and thoughtful product, Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
The Center also has blessed us with such middle-of-the-road entertainers as Vic Damone and Diahann Carroll.
The Center largely owes its existence to the contributions of the Segerstrom family, who also commissioned the nearby Noguchi sculpture garden, which includes a rock sculpture called "The Spirit of the Lima Bean."
In terms of its pop bookings, the Center has been calling often and loudly on "The Spirit of the Has-Been."
Look around the country and see how other facilities are mixing pop culture with the high arts. The Kennedy Center in Washington (former stomping grounds of O.C. Performing Arts Center President Thomas R. Kendrick, by the way), recently booked soul-music queen Aretha Franklin.
The Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville this summer continued its mall-theater series of "Lonesome Pine Specials"--performances that would fit neatly into the Center's 299-seat Founders Hall theater--with bluegrass whiz David Grisman, the offbeat a cappella harmonizing of the Bobs and New Orleans R&B great Irma Thomas, among others.
The Center is attempting to better utilize Founders Hall, but so far we've had three (count 'em, three) public concerts there in as many years, only one of which, in the Center's view, has warranted even a penny's worth of advertising or promotion.
Closer to home, on Thursday, veteran French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli will play Royce Hall at UCLA's Center for the Performing Arts.
Pop Renaissance man David Byrne is bringing his heady new musical/theatrical act to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles next month. (I can hear the conversation in the Center board room now: "David Byrne--isn't he that guy who used to be married to Meredith Baxter?")
The lavish Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena has not only lined up loads of orchestras, ballet companies and chamber groups for its 1989-90 season, but is also managing to find room for admirable cultural diversity with such bookings as the sublime Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Choir, legendary country pianist Floyd Cramer, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Band and the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. (At least the Hungarian group will make it to Orange County; we can thank the Orange County Philharmonic Society for that.)
What do we get? Mitzi Gaynor.
The rub is that when you ask Center officials why they don't offer more, and better, in the way of popular entertainment, they reassert their high-minded devotion to what they define as "the four major disciplines: ballet, symphonic music, opera and Broadway musicals."
(Hmmm. Ex-"Happy Days" stars Tom Bosley and Donny Most mugging their way through a limp revival of "Strike Up the Band?" Vic Damone cracking crude jokes about the size of his wife's breasts?)
Yet, quiz them about the retread musicals and \o7 persona non talent \f7 singers they line up, and they'll tell you:
"We're just responding to what the public wants."
If this is what the people want, I have a few ideas that should go over great: How about Mickey Rooney in a revival of "Andy Hardy's Face Breaks Out?" Or perhaps a live version of "Great Balls of Fire" with Dennis Quaid aping Jerry Lee Lewis? (By God, let's not get the real thing if there's any way to simulate it.)
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery. But originality is still the sincerest form of art.