Out and About: In the Spotlight in West Michigan

WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTOS |SEVEN STEPS, LLC

West Michigan has an event for every lover of performance art, whether music festivals, nationally known shows, or more intimate performances.

Those who enjoy more intimate experiences will delight in a visit to the 132-seat “listening room” at Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake.  For their Pin Drop concert series, artists and an intentionally quiet audience share a venue with exquisite acoustics, which creates a magical experience for everyone.

“A truly fantastic exchange happens every single performance,” said owner Michelle Hanks. “The artists radiate positive energy because they so enjoy performing for an attentive, appreciative audience, and the listeners return that energy.”

Grand Rapids is also home to several venues renowned for their up-close settings. The Forest Hills Fine Arts Center is recognized for superb acoustics in its 15-year-old LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) award-winning building.

The Circle Theatre at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center routinely accomplishes its mission “to deliver exceptional theatrical arts in an intimate setting.”  The Grand Rapids Civic Theater is also recognized for its top-notch entertainment.  This winter, it is presenting the very topical production of All the Way, in which Lyndon Baines Johnson finds his presidency challenged with the turbulent effort to pass the Civil Rights Act.

On a much lighter note, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, The Musical is being presented November 30-December 2 as part of a partnership between two intimate venues, the Van Singel Fine Arts Center in Byron Center and the Master Arts Theatre in Grand Rapids.

New to the stage scene is 20 Monroe Live, a venue for live music, entertainment, and special events for audiences of roughly 2,600. Opened in early 2017 and promoted as a state-of-the-art venue for live music, the December playbill includes such diverse performances as The Prince Experience (a Prince tribute band) and a concert by upcoming country music sensation Dustin Lynch.

Grand Rapids is blessed with many other large venues for sports, music, and family fun.

Located inside DeVos Place, the DeVos Performance Hall seats over 2,000 and presents touring performances on par with much larger cities and venues. This holiday season includes:

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas (December 12), the Wolverine Worldwide Holiday Pops (December 14-17), and the Old National Bank Cirque de Noel (December 21-22).

In addition to traveling national acts, DeVos Performance Hall presents performances in conjunction with four Grand Rapids arts groups: the Grand Rapids Symphony, Broadway Grand Rapids, Opera Grand Rapids, and the Grand Rapids Ballet.

This year, the ballet will take the stage several times with the classic favorite The Nutcracker, as interpreted by Chris Van Allsburg and accompanied by the Grand Rapids Symphony.

The Grand Rapids Ballet performs regularly at its own Peter Martin Wege Theatre and during various tours throughout the state – totaling over 50 performances. This holiday season it presents A Christmas Carol.

The Van Andel Arena hosts roughly 10,000 and strives to bring diverse entertainment to the community via family shows, concerts, and sporting events.

Its Christmas shows include Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s The Ghosts of Christmas Eve and Christmas with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. The remainder of the winter line-up includes such diverse performances as Katy Perry, Toby Mac, the Monster Jam Triple Threat Series, and a variety of rappers and comedians. It is also home to the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team.

Hosting similar art in Kalamazoo is the Miller Auditorium. It features seating for roughly 3,500 people and has presented events such as Riverdance and A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.

This winter, Miller Auditorium is hosting a unique holiday presentation – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (December 8), and performances of beloved classics the Wizard of Oz in January, the Sound of Music in February, and The Lion King in April.

Also in January is the Ninth Annual Winter Wheat – Wheatland Music Festival, January 13, which “celebrates local Michigan talent through music and dance,” according to its website. One of West Michigan’s premier indoor music and dancing festivals, it delivers nearly 12 hours of shows on two stages at the Intersection in Grand Rapids.  The festival features music in Cajun, Americana, Bluegrass, Latin, and Traditional styles, and dancing in Cajun, Square, and Honky-tonk methods.

Whether festivals, concerts, musicals, plays, or special events, this column cannot possibly acknowledge all of the “singular sensations.” But with so many opportunities for enjoyment, everyone is sure to find a favorite show on the stages in West Michigan.