MERIDIAN, MS – The MSU Riley Center celebrates its 10th anniversary by announcing a Fall/Winter Performing Arts Series full of the kind of wide-ranging, top-quality entertainment that has made it a cultural icon and a powerful tool for economic development.
In September 2006, the MSU Riley Center for Education & Performing Arts opened after a three-year, $25 million renovation. The project transformed a pair of frayed but beautiful old buildings into a state-of-the-art performance, education and conference center. Historic downtown Meridian has been buzzing ever since.
At the heart of the Riley Center lies the intimate Grand Opera House, with its elegantly curved balconies and lavish décor featuring over 30 different styles of wallpaper. The 950-seat, acoustically superb theater retains the high Victorian style that charmed audiences when it first opened in 1890.
On its stage, superstars of country, rock, jazz and soul music will help the MSU Riley Center launch its second decade. Vince Gill and the Oak Ridge Boys, Melissa Etheridge and Rick Springfield, Wynton Marsalis (with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) and the magnificent Patti LaBelle have all proven themselves as both giants of their musical genres and consummate entertainers.
Two concerts will showcase the blues, born in the Delta region of Mississippi and still dear to the state’s heart. Big Head Todd and the Monsters will turn the Riley Center into the Big Head Blues Club with special guests Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Then Keb’ Mo’ will display his wry, charming stage presence, masterful guitar playing and rich, resonant voice.
Dance aficionados will love the visually stunning work of America’s hottest choreographer, Jessica Lang, and her hand-selected company, Jessica Lang Dance.
Dancing also fills “Fame – The Musical,” which follows a group of talented youngsters at New York’s High School of the Performing Arts through tribulations and triumphs.
The British-American Aquila Theatre will bring its restlessly inventive spark to a 1940s British whodunit, presenting Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Nile.”
The Fall/Winter Series features three of the Family Shows that have been a Riley Center trademark. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Live!” gives children a musical version of an award-winning animated TV series. “The Lightning Thief” is a fast-paced musical adaptation of a popular young-adult fantasy-adventure novel.
And the series concludes with a show starring one of the most mischievous and beloved figures in literature, “Dr. Seuss’ the Cat in the Hat.”
“Over these 10 wonderful years, I think the people of Meridian have come to trust us,” says Dennis Sankovich, executive director of the MSU Riley Center. “They know that we love great entertainment as much as they do, and that we work hard to bring only the best to our stage. We’re so appreciative of the continuing support of The Riley Foundation, Mississippi State University and the whole community. And we still get excited every time as we wait for that curtain to go up.”
The Riley Center offers a range of season-ticket options. Patrons can customize their own packages of shows and receive discounted prices and other perks. If subscribers lose or forget their tickets, the Box Office will issue duplicates on the spot. With a simple phone call, subscribers can also arrange to leave their tickets at the Box Office for friends, family members or clients.
Current season-ticket holders must renew by Wenesday, July 27th to retain the same seats. New season-ticket buyers can purchase full-season packages starting Monday, August 1st. A smaller “build your own package” option, which includes a discount and early seating, is available starting Monday, August 8th for those who wish to purchase tickets to three or more shows. Tickets for individual shows go on sale Monday, August 15th.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. except for Family Shows, which start at 7:00 p.m. Select shows will feature pre-show parties in the Grand Lobby, allowing patrons to socialize and enjoy refreshments as they await the evening’s entertainment.
Thursday, September 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | $80, $74
His brilliant guitar work cradles a warm tenor voice perfectly suited for either taking the lead on an aching love song or harmonizing sweetly in a duet. That’s Vince Gill, one of the most popular singers and instrumentalists in modern country music. Since his 1990 breakthrough hit, “When I Call Your Name,” Gill has sold more than 26 million albums, won 20 Grammy Awards, and picked up 18 Country Music Association awards, including two Entertainer of the Year trophies. He’s also a legendarily nice guy, with an impish stage presence that keeps the audience smiling. This is going to be a concert to remember.
For fans of: George Strait, Alan Jackson, Amy Grant (Gill’s wife)
Fame - The Musical
Friday, September 30, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | $46, $40
Exuberant, talented youngsters win their places in New York’s elite High School of Performing Arts, then grow and develop both their skills and their personalities through four years of singing, dancing, and acting. That’s the story of the original 1980 movie Fame. This stage version introduces new characters with their own unique tragedies and triumphs, as well as lots of new music and showstopping dance numbers. It retains the energy and emotional depth that make the stories and struggles of aspiring stars so compelling. And, of course, it features the rousing, iconic title song.
For fans of: the movie and TV versions of Fame, Broadway musicals, American Idol-style talent competitions
Big Head Todd and The Monsters with Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch, and Ronnie Baker Brooks
Saturday, October 15, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show 6:00 p.m. | $50, $44
Colorado-based Big Head Todd and The Monsters came to fame in 1993 with the platinum album Sister Sweetly. Lately, guitarist-singer Todd Park Mohr and his compatriots have been exploring the blues roots of their music – and bringing recognition to some of the musicians who inspire them. This concert will spotlight the songs of the great bluesman Willie Dixon. The Monsters will bring along guest performers Mud Morganfield, whose singing eerily echoes that of his father, the legendary Muddy Waters; Billy Branch, a Chicago-based blues harmonica player; and Ronnie Baker Brooks, a fiery guitarist and singer who is the son of blues great Lonnie Brooks.
For fans of: Mississippi Delta blues, old-school Chicago blues, North Mississippi Allstars
“An Evening with Keb’ Mo’ And His Band”
Friday, October 21, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show 6:00 p.m. | $50, $44
Blues singer Keb’ Mo’ keeps it real. His songs tell stories of everyday life and people we all recognize. His light-fingered guitar playing and his rich, resonant voice echo the music’s gritty Mississippi Delta roots. He’s also a long-time supporter of the Playing for Change Foundation, which seeks to create positive change through music and arts education. Mo’ has won three Grammy Awards and 11 Blues Foundation Awards. He received additional mainstream recognition when the TV comedy series Mike & Molly used his “I See Love” as its theme song. In concert, Mo’ loves to banter with his audiences. He comes across as wry and genuine – just like his music.
For fans of: Taj Mahal, Robert Cray, Susan Tedeschi
This is Memphis Rock & Soul A Soul-ute to Stax Records
Thursday, October 27, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show 6:00 p.m. | $78, $72
Known for her confessional lyrics and raspy, smoky vocals, Melissa Etheridge has remained one of America’s favorite female singer-songwriters for more than two decades. She has won Grammy Awards for “Ain’t It Heavy” and “Come to My Window” and an Academy Award for “I Need to Wake Up.” She has also successfully battled breast cancer. Her tour will feature music from her new album, Memphis Rock & Soul, which includes both original material and classic songs from the legendary soul label Stax Records. Since her first hit, “Bring Me Some Water” in 1988, she has continued to write thoughtful, truthful songs and to perform with undiminished passion.
For fans of: Lucinda Williams, Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show 6:00 p.m. | $78, $72
With a career spanning more than 50 years, Patti LaBelle still possesses one of the greatest voices in music. She rose to stardom as lead singer of the BlueBelles and later Labelle. As a solo artist, she followed up her early success with hits such as “You Are My Friend,” “If Only You Knew,” “New Attitude,” “On My Own,” and “Stir It Up.” Her wide-ranging talent has won her induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Legends Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. LaBelle is also an accomplished actress, an author, and a lifestyle entrepreneur, and was even a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Still, it all comes back to that amazing, soaring voice, which always leaves audiences astonished.
For fans of: Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner
Rick Springfield “Stripped Down”
Thursday, November 17, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | Pre-show 6:00 p.m. | $58, $52
Rick Springfield has never settled for doing just one thing. That’s probably why he remains so active, still performing 100 concerts a year and still writing new songs (he just released his 18th studio album, Rocket Science). Springfield first hit the charts with the Grammy Award-winning number one hit “Jessie’s Girl” in 1981. Simultaneously, he starred as Dr. Noah Drake on the soap opera General Hospital. More recently, he acted opposite Meryl Streep in the movie Ricki and the Flash and appeared as the creepy Dr. Pitlor in HBO’s True Detective. He wrote a best-selling memoir, Late, Late at Night, and novel, Magnificent Vibration. And on stage, he still cranks out infectious power pop with as much exuberance as ever.
For fans of: Loverboy, the Raspberries, the Romantics
Jessica Lang Dance
Thursday, December 1, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
After more than a decade as highly sought-after freelance choreographer, Jessica Lang formed her own company in 2011. It has already become one of the country’s most talked-about dance troupes, drawing rave reviews in major cities. Lang, who studied at The Juilliard School, draws equally from ballet and modern dance, and choreographs to music by both classical and contemporary composers. She uses her dancers, scenery, video projections, and other design elements to create striking, ever-changing visual compositions. This is America’s newest great dance company: expressive, energetic, and endlessly creative.
For fans of: Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, Joffrey Ballet
Oak Ridge Boys “Christmas Night Out”
Thursday, December 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m. | $58, $52
The Oak Ridge Boys will celebrate the season in their own dynamic fashion on their 27th Annual Christmas Night Out Tour. The group draws from its six best-selling Christmas CDs for nearly two hours of traditional and contemporary songs, including religious selections harking back to the quartet’s gospel roots. The Oaks revolutionized country music in the late 1970s and ’80s with a long string of hits. Lead singer Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall, baritone William Lee Golden, and bass Richard Sterban go all-out for Christmas, with special sets and a popular “rocking chair” segment that lets each of the four sit by the fireplace and share personal thoughts about the season.
For fans of: the Statler Brothers, Alabama, Larry Gatlin
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Tuesday, January 17, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $65, $59
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and its musical director, trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, carry the banner of America’s magnificent jazz legacy in all its permutations. The orchestra encompasses 15 of the world’s finest soloists and ensemble players. It performs a vast repertoire, from rare historical compositions to new works it commissions, as well as including landmark pieces associated with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, and other giants. Marsalis, always an educator, provides background information about the selections. But he keeps his comments brief. He knows that this magnificent musical legacy speaks most eloquently for itself.
For fans of: big band jazz, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live!
Thursday, January 26, 2017, 7:00 p.m. | $20, $12
The MSU Riley Center stage will become Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood in a musical stage version of the award-winning animated TV series for preschool children. Daniel Tiger is a grr-ific successor to the beloved Fred Rogers of the long-running series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He loves to share stories of friendship, help others, and celebrate new experiences. For the live show, his signature Trolley brings him and his friends, including O the Owl and Katerina Kittycat, for a visit full of singing, dancing, laughter, and gentle life lessons. Here’s your chance to answer in person when Daniel asks, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
For fans of: Sesame Street, Sid the Science Kid, Super Why!
The Lightning Thief
Friday, February 3, 2017, 7:00 p.m. | $20, $12
Percy Jackson is about to get kicked out of school, but you can’t blame him. Having monsters and gods from your Greek mythology textbook come to life and start harassing you would make it hard for anyone to study. Then Zeus, the mightiest god of all, accuses Percy of stealing his lightning bolt and gives Percy 10 days to return it. This fast-paced musical adaptation of the fantasy-adventure novel The Lightning Thief contains stage-filling action, heroic battles, and real-life concerns to which kids can relate. As usual, Theatreworks USA has created a superb touring production that’s perfect for families.
For fans of: the Percy Jackson & the Olympians books, Greek mythology, The Lord of the Rings
Murder on the Nile
Friday, February 10, 2017, 7:30 p.m. | $39, $33
It is the 1940s. A rich young lady and her penniless husband board a Nile River steamer for a honeymoon cruise. Fellow passengers include the wife’s ex-best friend, who is also the husband’s ex-fiancée, as well as several people who may not be what they seem. Dramatic plot twists and stunning revelations ensue. Beloved British mystery writer Agatha Christie adapted the play from her own 1937 novel Death on the Nile. The British-American Aquila Theatre company strikes exactly the right balance in preserving the period feel and intricate storyline while adding a layer of physicality and inventiveness that will keep contemporary audiences riveted.
For fans of: Agatha Christie, old-school murder mysteries, British theater
Dr. Seuss’ the Cat in The Hat
Friday, March 3, 2017, 7:00 p.m. | $20, $12
When that mischievous Cat in the Hat comes to play, all the kids (and their parents) yell, “Hip, hip, hooray!” While the book introduces the joys of the page, this version gives youngsters a love for the stage. Every one of the characters joins in the fun, like the cat and the fish, and Thing Two and Thing One. You will giggle and laugh at the mayhem set loose in the grand old tradition of dear Dr. Seuss. At the end, as the actors are taking their bows, you will turn to your child, and you both will say, “Wow!”
For fans of: Dr. Seuss, books for beginning readers, slapstick physical comedy