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All dressed up in Carmel

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The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, also known as The Palladium, announced plans for its Grand Opening Celebration next January 22-30 with a lot of fanfare over the weekend.

Cabaret star and Center Artistic Director Michael Feinstein was parachuted in from NYC to tinkle the ivories. "The Palladium is a one-of-a-kind concert hall," enthused the Center's executive director, Steven Libman.

This is doubtless true. Carmel is going to great expense to build a complex, including the 1,600 seat Palladium concert hall, the recently-named Tarkington proscenium theater and, for good measure, a 200-seat studio theater. Architecturally, the Palladium looks like it was lifted off the backlot at MGM. It's a brand new relic; like so many things in Carmel, an authentic replica.

But never mind. I've taken the tour and am prepared to attest that the thing is beautifully built. If the acoustics are three-quarters as good as Libman and Co. say they'll be, hearing a concert there should be quite an experience.

But how the place sounds is a question for engineers and architects. What's really at issue concerns the talent the people in charge at the Center — Feinstein? Libman? — intend to put on stage. Based on what was revealed last weekend, the answer, so far, is underwhelming.

There will be a gala concert featuring Feinstein (who else?) and trumpeter and IU alum Chris Botti. This is fine as far as it goes, but it begs a question straight from the cabaret repertoire: Is this all there is? Due to his connection to the Center (and his healthy paycheck) Feinstein seems like a gimme. And Botti is an all-too-familiar face, thanks to his numerous appearances with the ISO.

But wait, there's more — or is there? There will be "a competition" intended to provide local musicians with "opportunities" to play on "the acoustically perfect stage." H'mmm. Sounds like an excellent opportunity for some bent feelings.

A few weeks ago Libman asked Carmel's city council for $2 million to cover his first year's operating expenses. There was a little grousing, but he got most of what he wanted. It's not clear whether or not the council is resigned to having to pay similar amounts for what may be years to come. But that will be the case if the Center is unable to create a programming schedule that, through its adventurousness and audacity, actually makes the kind of news capable of enticing people here for what amount to one-of-a-kind shows. The Center's programming, in other words, needs to be more original than it's architecture.

We'll learn about what the first season will contain this Fall.

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