Stoughton Opera House: Amazing cats and big stars

Bill Livick

Ticket info

When: ‘Friends:’ Aug. 5; general public: Aug. 19
Cost: From $5 to $45
Telephone: 877-4400

The Wailin’ Jennys, who play an acoustic blend of bluegrass, folk and roots music, will make their way to the Stoughton Opera House Nov. 15-16. [Photos submitted]

The gypsy-swing band Caravan of Thieves, above, is slated to take the Stoughton Opera House stage Sept. 27. The band fuses “gypsy jazz rhythms, acoustic guitars, upright bass and violin” with “mesmerizing vocal harmonies and fantastic stories,” according to the group’s website.

Vocalist Rickie Lee Jones comes to the Stoughton Opera House Nov. 21.

What do Rickie Lee Jones, the Amazing Acro-Cats, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Roger McGuinn have in common?

They’re all scheduled to appear at the Stoughton Opera House in its 2013-14 season, which officially begins Friday, Sept. 13, when singer-songwriter Colin Hay – formerly of the Australian band Men at Work – takes the stage.

Those acts, along with about 62 more, represent a continuation of the entertainment at what has become one of the Midwest’s premiere performing arts venues.

Tickets for the new season go on sale at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 to the Friends of the Opera House and Monday, Aug. 19, to the general public. But by the later date, a few of the most popular shows may already be sold out.

Among those few will likely be singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who is scheduled to perform Nov. 21.

“She was a recommendation from an audience member,” explained events coordinator Christina Dollhausen. “Once in a while we’ll get agents who recommend musicians who are coming through the area and would be good at the Opera House, or they’ve heard of the Opera House and will seek us out.

“It was one of those,” she said. “We did a little research and were able to book her.”

“She’s actually going to be fantastic in our space,” predicted Bill Brehm, director of the Opera House.

He and Dollhausen are the driving force behind the venue, scheduling all the shows themselves and catering to the needs, desires – and sometimes egos – of the many performers who come to Stoughton.

The Opera House has gained such popularity in the past seven years that last year it sold more than 1,000 tickets the first day they went on sale.

Brehm said that volume of sales caused some technical glitches, which he believes have been rectified this year.

“I think we’ve come up with a solution that’s going to simplify things for people, and hopefully if they’re going to buy tickets online they’ll go to our website and review some of the information about how things are going to be a little bit different this year,” he said. “It should be easier.”

The shows

Brehm and Dollhausen say there is not an exact science behind whom they book to perform. But they are pleased with the outcome.

This year’s schedule reflects a diverse array of performers, talents and genres: jazz, rock, bluegrass, classical, international, folk and country.

There are bands, solo musicians, authors, comedians and thespians – even an animal act.

Some shows could be described as “campy” – comedian Emo Phillips, the Amazing Acro-Cats and the Grandmothers of Invention (a spin-off of the original band that backed Frank Zappa).

Others represent high art. Handel’s “Messiah” is being presented by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and will feature a 50-member choir. The Stoughton Chamber Singers will return to perform “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind.” And Opera for the Young will present “The Barber of Seville” in March.

Some artists are making a first appearance, some are returning after many performances here. Some are local, some national and some international.

“We looked at some of the acts we’ve had in the past that have done real well, but also that we thought had put on really good shows and that we enjoyed working with,” Brehm said. “We called them and asked if they would like to come back around. Then we also have been getting lots of recommendations from patrons and other artists, and so we look into those.

“And then of course we tap into our own musical tastes and interests,” he added, “and come up with what in the end is usually surprisingly well balanced, because while you’re putting it together you don’t quite know if it’s going to turn out the way that you would hope.”

Dollhausen said she gets “kind of excited about each and every one of them” when she looks at the list of performers.

“Bill and I put a lot of thought into each one,” she said. “There’s something new, something old, something familiar – I’m proud of it.”

More to come

Although they’ve already booked some 66 shows, Brehm and Dollhausen aren’t done for the season.

“We may be announcing an additional series of shows beyond our regular series, and maybe even some film programs,” Brehm said. “I think there’s more yet to come. I think we’ll almost certainly be adding a bluegrass series, but it’s still in the works.  We’re working with people to see if we can add another three or four shows in a bluegrass series.”

He said the Opera House now has a projector that will allow the venue to do film presentations and “we’re planning on moving in that direction a little bit.”

If last year is any indication, there will be other big names who get added to the roster late in the season, as happened last year with Lucinda Williams.

Regardless, there is plenty of talent coming to Stoughton in the next nine months.

“I’m pretty pleased with the schedule,” Brehm said.

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