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Wednesday, November 13,2013

Charlotte’s web

Celebrating 10 seasons of world-class performing arts facility

by Allan I. Ross
Six years ago, Gino Federici was on stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas performing with acclaimed tenor Andrea Bocelli before an audience of more than 15,000.

“It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever sang in front of,” says the 74-year-old crooner in his lilting Italian accent. “It was incredible.”

This Saturday, Federici, a Rat Pack-style singer who performed on the Vegas strip for 23 years, headlines the Charlotte Performing Arts Center’s 10th Anniversary Birthday Bash. Even if the event sells out, the audience will only be a fraction of that Bocelli crowd; capacity is 825. But that does nothing to keep him from gushing about the space.

“This is a world-class performing arts center,” he said. “In some ways, I see this as a step up.”

Federici moved to Grand Ledge in 2007 with his wife, Boni. Then last October, five years after giving up his show biz career in Vegas, he re-launched it in the Lansing area with an eclectic show he created: “From Italy With Love … Rat Pack Style.” For the last year he’s been developing the act, which features a litany of custom-arranged, international songs reflecting a lifetime of living throughout Europe and North America. And Saturday’s performance will mark a considerable achievement for both the artist and the space.

The Performing Arts Center is attached to Charlotte High School and serves as the cultural focal point of the city. It grew out of the community’s dedication to music.

“The Charlotte school system has a strong band program and when their auditorium closed, they were really inspired to replace it,” said Gavin Smith, director of the Performing Arts Center. “It’s wonderful to see a community come together like this for performing arts.”

Smith’s background is in theater — he has a master of fine arts in theater, design and lighting. He was part of MSU’s Wharton Center’s opening team in 1980 before he glided across campus to open the Breslin Center in 1989.

“With the basketball (program) at Breslin Center, there was a lot of drama, but no theater,” Smith deadpanned. “After working at MSU for close to 25 years I was able to take an early retirement. And Charlotte got me back into my first love.”

The $16 million Performing Arts Center was built using money raised in a 2001 bond. Linda Pray, 55, grew up in the Charlotte school system. She was a band student and has two children who were active in the program; one went on to major in tuba performance at MSU. When the auditorium closed, she got involved in the bond issue.

“We needed a place for our arts to perform — they really needed this,” Pray said.

“And I did everything I could. I went from begging for money to helping plan the dedication ceremony.”

The Charlotte Performing Arts Center opened in October 2004 and the roster has rotated between school district events and professional performance acts ever since. Smith’s former Central Michigan University classmate Jeff Daniels has made two appearances; so has Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Vicki Lawrence, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and The Lettermen. A lot of vintage stuff as well as some new to the circuit: Josh Gracin,

Bomshel, Street Corner Symphony. Like a web, Charlotte has snagged an impressive roster of talent. Next month, Grand Rapids natives The Verve Pipe will play. In January, Tom Wopat, the Artist Formerly Known as Luke Duke, appears.

“It’s great to be able to attract this level of talent to Charlotte,” Pray said. “The performing arts are so ingrained in the community.

When you attend a local band concert, you have parents, grandparents who tell stories about when they were in the band program here. And they all say they wish they had this nice of a facility.”

Smith said about half of the audiences for the professional shows come from the local community, with the other half being evenly split between greater Lansing residents and people traveling from across state, including out-of-state for concertgoers seeking some of the big names.

“Every performer who’s appeared on stage has congratulated our town on the acoustics, and several have turned off their microphones to perform a piece un-miked,” Pray said. “When you get someone really professional in here, they know it. And the audience gets a real treat.”

Federici said he hasn’t had a chance to play with the room’s sound yet, but he does have a different kind of surprise lined up for Saturday’s crowd. He performs part of each show under the guise of a character he created, Don Gino. Federici typically leaves the stage about a third of the way in, then out will stroll Don Gino for a set.

“But I’m going to make a very interesting stage entrance on Saturday, unlike any I could have done before,” Federici said. He doesn’t want to give it away, but it involves a classic 1933 Chevy sedan, a popular model in old mobster movies.

“And it’s red,” he laughs. “Just like my shoes!”

Charlotte Performing Arts Center’s 10th Anniversary Birthday Bash

Featuring Gino Federici and the Elden Kelly Orchestra 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 $20 general admission 378 State St., Charlotte (517) 541-5690, cpacpresents.com

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