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Springsteen: Born in U.S.A. but Not Playing in O.C.

August 10, 1996|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — The Orange County Performing Arts Center had hoped to roll out the welcome mat for Bruce Springsteen's dusty boots, officials say, but it won't happen on the rock 'n' roll troubadour's current solo-acoustic tour.

Presenting the Boss would have been a striking step for the 10-year-old center, which has moved glacially when it comes to presenting music of the rock era.

Center officials made feelers about booking Springsteen, according to Judith O'Dea Morr, the 3,000-seat hall's newly installed interim chief operating officer and director of programming.

"My understanding is that a center staff person made a direct call some time ago to Bruce Springsteen's office to check his availability," Morr said Thursday. But, as it turned out, there were no open dates coinciding with Springsteen's late-October California itinerary.

Springsteen shows have been announced at three similar-sized venues in the state: Oct. 22 at San Diego's Civic Theatre, Oct. 23 at Fresno's Saroyan Theatre and Oct. 25 at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara. The Orange County center is booked during that period for rehearsals and presentations by two of its resident groups, the Pacific Chorale and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

"It's pretty hard to find available dates [coinciding with pop attractions' schedules] during the September-to-June time period, because of tight constraints in the schedule at the center," Morr said this week. "In the summer, many of the [pop] artists are touring really big houses. This is a problem we've had and probably will continue to have. But we certainly intend to pursue trying to present" pop attractions deemed suitable for the center.

Since 1986, the center has promoted only a few pop shows, starting only recently with Art Garfunkel in 1993 and Ray Charles in 1994 (outside promoters and the Pacific Symphony's pops series have brought in several other pop attractions over the years, including Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins and James Taylor).

It wasn't until April, when k.d. lang played the center, that the hall offered a pop act whose significance lies more with recent creative achievements than with nostalgic appeal.

At the time, the lang booking was held out as evidence that pop would get increased consideration at the center, although not at the expense of the classical music, opera, ballet and Broadway road shows that are the privately funded hall's chief priorities. But that was under a different administration.

Morr, however, spoke favorably of the k.d. lang booking, which was engineered under Tom Tomlinson, the center chief executive who resigned suddenly last month under circumstances that have yet to be fully explained.

"I was at the [k.d. lang] performance and thought it was great," Morr said. "Nobody [at the center] suggested there was a problem at all." Bringing pop music into the mix "is something that should be constantly worked at, and we do work at it," she added.

Morr said the center has told agents for various pop acts that the hall is interested in booking them if dates and agreeable financial terms can be worked out. She would not name the performers.

It is unclear how loud, energetic or intense a brand of pop-rock the center is prepared to present. The lang show offered a full, amplified band, including a tattooed guitar player in punk-rocker regalia. But lang's style tends toward smoother, urbane moods and dynamics.

Asked whether the center would want to present Springsteen with a backing electric band as opposed to his current solo-acoustic format, Morr responded cautiously. "We would certainly explore whether we could make that work here. Every decision has all kinds of ramifications--financial ramifications and [scheduling] ramifications."

Would the center book Sting, an adult-rock icon who sometimes plays small theaters as a change of pace from his regular big-venue touring? "I think Sting would certainly be an option," Morr said.

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