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Firehouse Arts Center kicking off 10th season in downtown Pleasanton

Lineup features tried and true favorites as well as new experiences

The new season at the Firehouse Arts Center includes all genres of entertainment, including bluegrass music by The Special Consensus. (Contributed photo)

The Firehouse Arts Center is launching its Season 10 -- a lively combination of old favorites, new experiences, musicals and Pleasanton's own teen improv troupe.

Stephen Bishop, a singer-songwriter from the '70s-'80s, kicks off the 2019-20 season Sept. 7.

"He had a couple of big hits -- 'On and On' and 'It Might Be You,'" Firehouse Theater supervisor and programmer Rob Vogt said. "It will be the first time for him, and it should be fun. You can reminisce with Stephen Bishop."

Another new act, Eagles tribute band Midnight Flyer, is appearing Sept. 14-15, with an opportunity to celebrate the past at the city's arts center in downtown Pleasanton.

"This will be the first time for them," Vogt said. "There is a huge rock 'n' roll audience out there."

A week later, the Firehouse will host a new innovative dance performance. Concert harpist Anna Maria Mendieta is presenting her Tango del Cielo -- Tango from Heaven -- a multi-media program designed to conjure up the smoky cafes of Argentina, the bullfights of Spain, and the jungles of South America.

"She will bring in musicians to join her on harp and strings and percussion, then bring in a pair of tango dancers and flamenco dancers," Vogt explained. "On top of that will be black-and-white silent film projection, for a really fun evening."

Vogt has scheduled the entertainment for the Firehouse Arts Center since it opened in 2010, and he observes closely which shows are most successful. He holds a focus group each year to get feedback from customers, and he attends the Western Arts Alliance conference, which showcases available entertainment.

"We are always trying to share some new talent and expose our audiences to new experiences," he said. "We are starting off in September with a bang."

A 10-year anniversary celebration is in the works for October 2020.

Returning favorites this season include Mark Broussard, a soulful rhythm and blues singer songwriter from New Orleans, who performs Sept. 28.

"His New Orleans roots really influence his sound, and we are very excited," Vogt said. "Four years ago, he performed with a trio. This time he will be with a full band."

Greg Kihn, a rock 'n' roller from the 1980s, is also returning to perform his music and tell tales, accompanied by Robert Berry, on Nov. 23.

"He actually is going to do a 'storyteller's show,' a fun thing about his experiences in the industry," Vogt said. "He was a pretty big rock 'n' roller in the day, and he has stories about Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Ozzy Osbourne and all those guys."

The music will be "unplugged," meaning not a full band and using no amplification.

"There is a different dimension to the performance," Vogt said. "It will be his hits and more background behind it."

"Those kind of shows work well in our space because it is so intimate," he added.

The Firehouse Theater has 220 seats, which Vogt considers when booking acts.

A perfect fit, he said, will be Broadway star David Burnham celebrating the music of Tom Jones on Feb. 14.

"He's been here before with a straightforward cabaret -- Broadway show tunes -- but this is really paying tribute to the showman Tom Jones," Vogt said. "It will have more of a full band -- his last show had a piano accompaniment."

The Special Consensus is also returning Jan. 17.

"If you like bluegrass music, this is one of the best bluegrass in the country," Vogt said. "They were just honored with their second Grammy nomination last year. I'm always excited to have them back."

Vogt is also excited to try something new in March: Just before St. Patrick's Day, the Firehouse Theater will host the Real Irish Comedy Fest.

"All the comedians are coming from Ireland to share a little Irish cheer," he said. "We haven't had a good comedy show here in a while, and it's kind of a fun theme. They've been around the Bay Area for a couple of years now, but this is the first time they will be performing at the Firehouse."

Another something different is Alex Ramon, a magician who does the "Impossible," on Oct 12-13. The Firehouse Theater is a good venue to see the master of illusion up close.

Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre is presenting two shows at the Firehouse this season. "The Fantasticks," the longest running musical in the world, will be onstage Nov. 2-17. "Damn Yankees," another Broadway mega-hit, comes April 25 to May 10.

"Those will appeal to a lot of folks out there," Vogt said.

This season, the Pleasanton Youth Theater Company will be offering "Frozen Jr." from Dec. 13-22, followed by "Honk Jr." on March 20-29, at the larger Amador Theater since the casts include many children.

"'Frozen' will appeal to a lot of the youngsters in our community who have seen the movie and will want to be in the show," Vogt said.

Local offerings also take center stage at the Firehouse, including performances by teen improv Creatures of Impulse. The teens are presenting an improvised horror show dubbed "Nightmares" on Oct. 24-26; holiday shorts in "A Long Winter's Tale," on Dec. 5-6; and an Improv Face-Off from Feb. 20-22. The troupe will also present "Once Upon a Time," a totally improvised teen medieval musical, from May 14-16.

The High School Musical Collaborative is performing a variety of music during the season, including the seventh annual Holiday Youth Music Festival on Nov. 30. Auditions take place this week.

"Some shows sell better than others," Vogt said. "We do try to introduce new music and new experiences that maybe our audiences haven't heard before."

Audiences can enjoy old favorites during the holiday season. Returning are Jeff Bordes and Friends with their "New Orleans Christmas" on Dec. 14, and Will Durst and company with "The Big Fat Year-End Kiss-Off Comedy Show" on Dec. 27. The Pleasanton Community Concert Band performs its fall concert Oct. 20; the winter concert is Nov. 24, this year with Holiday Season Movie Music.

"Some audience members are more willing to take a risk or try something new -- and some prefer the tried and true," Vogt said. "I think it's important to bring in shows like Tango del Cielo, new shows for our audiences."

For complete listings of Season 10 and other activities taking place at the Firehouse Arts Center, go to www.firehousearts.org or visit the box office at 4444 Railroad Ave.

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