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Forget the movies: Here's where Tucson students can see live art on the cheap
Forget the movies:

Forget the movies: Here's where Tucson students can see live art on the cheap

Students can see a Broadway play for the price of a movie ticket.

Or a symphony concert.

Or a dance performance by a world-renown troupe, a guitar recital by four of the top classical guitarists in the world, a concert by a teenage classical pianist who could turn out to be the next Lang Lang, or Beethoven’s thundering Symphony No. 5.

As the performing arts season gets underway this month, many students in high school, Pima Community College and the University of Arizona are unaware that they can get deeply discounted tickets to a number of events .

“The cost of a movie ticket is $10 to $15 on a Saturday night. If you are a UA student with a CatCard, you can see Smokey Robinson for $15 or a Broadway musical like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ for $15,” said Mario Di Vetta, marketing manager for Broadway in Tucson and UA Presents, which share Centennial Hall on the UA campus.

“We want to encourage students at the University of Arizona to attend live theater, and the best way to do that is price point.”

Most performing arts groups have discount programs for students, both high school and college. At Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, which this season will present 17-year-old award-winning pianist Nathan Lee on Nov. 24 and a hip-and-happening percussion trio in February, students have been getting in for $10 — a third of the regular ticket price — for decades.

“There’s the hope of grooming an audience for us 20 or 30 years from now,” said James Reel, Arizona Friends president. “Students don’t have a lot of money and what money they do have is going to be spread through various budget categories. ... If you only have so much money for live entertainment per month ... there are lots of options. We want to make it as easy as we can.”

Reel said most of the students taking advantage of the discounts are in college. But even then, the numbers are not great. On average, just 10 students attend each of the group’s concerts, held at the Leo Rich Theatre downtown.

“I wish it were a lot more,” he said, noting that a patron this year donated money to launch a new youth outreach initiative aimed at students at the UA Fred Fox School of Music. The Friends will provide the school with a number of free tickets for its concerts.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra in 2016 launched its TeamTix program aimed at kids through 12th grade with funding from the Marshall Foundation. The program gives students two free tickets to TSO concerts. The program gave away 1,300 tickets in the first year and was expanded in Year 2.

The orchestra also offers half-price tickets for students with a valid ID as long as the tickets are purchased in person, and it has a student rush program that gets students a $13 seat 90 minutes before a concert. Both programs are valid for the Classics Series performances, but the discounts are not good for the orchestra’s special events, including Renee Fleming’s concert on Feb. 6.

The UA theater, dance and music schools offer a plethora of performances year-round that include student tickets. For a schedule, visit

We’ve scoured the offerings from the bigger groups this season to come up with our suggestions of shows students shouldn’t miss. Think of it this way: If after a performance you find that the symphony or a play is not your thing, you’re just out the cost of a movie ticket.

But what if you discover you really like it?

A symphony of symphonies

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra is celebrating Beethoven this season to mark the 18th century German composer’s 250th birthday. If Beethoven were alive today, he’d be considered a rock star. His music thunders and roars and rattles you to the core, with emotional depth and sheer excitement like riding a scary roller coaster that drops you 100 feet at lightening speed. Among our picks for not-miss:

Beethoven’s Fifth on Dec. 6 and 8 with TSO Music Director José Luis Gomez at the podium. He’s paired the roaring symphony famous for its ubiquitous four-note intro — da, da, da, dum! — with Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 featuring the return of award-winning pianist Sean Chen, who introduced himself to Tucson in 2015.

Or take your Valentine’s date to the Tucson Music Hall for a Beethoven two-fer Feb. 14 and 16 when the orchestra performs his sublime No. 6 “Pastorale” and equally beautiful No. 1 in C major. For tickets:

  • Look to the volunteer Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra for what will surely be one of the most exciting performances this season. The orchestra is teaming up with a handful of Tucson high school choirs and the Helios Ensemble to mount Carl Orff’s behemoth choral masterpiece “Carmina Burana.” This is literally a life-altering experience, from the opening chords to the thundering, famous song “O Fortuna” that rocker Ozzy Osbourne regularly uses as his walk-on-stage intro theme. And if you are 17 and younger, you get in free to SASO concerts held on the northwest side St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 7650 N. Paseo Del Norte. The orchestra performs the piece on Nov. 16 and 17.

Also this season, SASO is inviting artist Armando Silva to paint along while the orchestra performs Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 on March 15. Then the orchestra end its season with Beethoven’s glorious choral Symphony No. 9 on April 26, featuring the Helios Ensemble and four soloists. For tickets:

From Broadway to Motown

UA Presents and Broadway In Tucson hold hands at Centennial Hall and this season the hall is going to be rocking, and several of the shows are perfect introductions for young audiences. Here are our recommendations:

  • Go old school R&B with the venerable Smokey Robinson, who opens the UA Presents season Oct. 5 to celebrate 60 years of Motown.
  • Broadway In Tucson takes up residence in Centennial Nov. 19-24 to stage the Tony Award-winning musical “Anastasia.”
  • Another must-see is the Dec. 3–8 run of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rocker “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which tells the final weeks of Jesus Christ’s life through the eyes of Judas using music that inspired the 1960s counterculture generation.
  • Black Violin, the hip-hop/classical fusion duo who thrilled a nearly sold-out Tucson crowd in spring 2017, will take the Centennial Hall stage, 1020 E. University Blvd. on the UA campus, Jan. 30.
  • Itzhak Perlman, arguably the greatest living violinist, returns to Centennial Hall on March 1 and it really doesn’t matter what he performs, his recital is a rare opportunity to see a musician so in tune with his instrument that it’s hard to see where the man ends and the violin begins.
  • Comedian Hasan Minhaj, an alum of “The Daily Show,” is here April 18.

For UA Presents tickets: For Broadway In Tucson:

Opera, the ultimate performing arts experience

It’s always interesting watching an opera newbie sit in the audience, eyes wide open, not knowing what to expect beyond the faux opera arias that punctuated far too many cartoons from childhood.

Opera is the ultimate in live entertainment. Acting, singing, a live orchestra, brilliant stages. Yes, we will admit it takes a time or two to get used to the idea that no one talks in opera; they sing their lines. But there are powerful stories being told when the lead soprano hits that impossibly high note and you hold your breath wondering how long before she breathes.

Arizona Opera offers $20 student rush tickets for high school and college students an hour before its Mainstage performances at Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., or Red Series chamber opera performances at the Temple of Music & Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Students show up an hour before the performance and can land seats pretty much anywhere in the venue, from the balcony to the front row. Details:

Our picks for this season:

  • “Shining Brow,” the turn of the last century murder-mystery surrounding the mistress of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, on Oct. 5-6 at the Temple.
  • Puccini’s “La Boheme,” a tale of starving artists and bohemians trying to survive in 19th century Paris, is here Feb. 1 and 2.
  • The return of the contemporary Western opera “Riders of the Purple Sage,” a piece Arizona Opera commissioned and premiered in 2017 based on Zane Grey’s novel of the same name. It’s here March 7 and 8.
Up close and personal

Arizona Friends of Chamber Music is where you go for a truly intimate classical music experience. The group, which has been around since 1948, invites world-renown musicians and ensembles to perform in the 500-seat Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave.

Each winter, the group hosts the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, which includes opportunities for the public to watch the musicians rehearse.

A couple of our picks this season:

  • Seventeen-year-old piano wünderkind Nathan Lee, which some say could be the next Lang Lang, is here Nov. 24. Arizona Friends also hosted Lang Lang, the Chinese pianist with an international reputation, long before anyone knew who he was. The Korean-American Lee will perform works by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann.
  • In a nod to Beethoven, the Friends has invited a trio of renown string quartets to survey Beethoven’s extensive string quartets. Each ensemble will perform two concerts and two different Beethoven quartets each concert. First up is the St. Lawrence String Quartet on Jan. 15-16; the Shanghai Quartet Feb. 12-13; and the Jerusalem Quartet April 1-2.
  • Lineage Percussion, a young trio headed by Tucson native and UA alumnus Trevor Barroero, is the most unusual offering this season. They are here Feb. 23.


From Apartheid to Elvis

Arizona Theatre Company has $10 student tickets for all of its shows and their work is simply amazing. This season they are mounting the quintessential musical “Cabaret” Nov. 30-Dec. 29 at the Temple of Music & Art.

In January, the company goes a little political and personal with the critically acclaimed “Master Harold ... And the Boys,” which delves into the politics of race and inequality in apartheid-era South Africa. Tickets:

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.

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