Note: I’d hoped to post this yesterday, but it’s been a busy week.
The setting: a nearly packed Tower Theatre on Wednesday night pumped up with an audience of adoring theater fans. If you survey the population distribution of the entire planet, there are quite possibly at this point in time more people per square meter who can identify a lyric from Sondheim’s “Company” than anywhere else (unless there’s a revival of “Passion” going on somewhere).
The event: a joyous celebration of the 40th birthday of Good Company Players. Think anniversary party for your still vibrant, congo-line dancing parents crossed with a high school reunion, with a little bit of surprise party thrown in.
The emcee: None other than Dan Pessano himself. If GCP were a religion he’d be the pope, only with a less expensive wardrobe.
The program: An all-star-lineup of GCP stars from both past and present entertains the receptive audience. From Ed Burke, Fred Bologna and Clytee Ramsey to Elena Aguirre and Chelsea Newton, there’s a sense of the generations up on stage.
Awesome moments: too many to list them all, of course. Among my favorites: Janice Noga belting out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy.” Ramsey, Joleen Siebert and Sara Price offering a sweeping “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” Seth Scott doing the death tap dance scene from “Sugar.” Tami Cowger and Janet Glaude belting out a duet from “Beehive.”
Funniest moments: again, lots of candidates. Gregg Grannis’ rewritten lyrics for “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon.” (“I believe that Dan Pessano’s direction and endless notes come straight from God.”) Gordon Moore, Price and Gordon Moore’s eyebrows performing “The Man With the Ginger Mustache” from “Something’s Afoot.” Teddy Maldonado, with his bushy “Fiddler on the Roof” beard, strutting his stuff in “Let It Go” from “The Full Monty.” (It’s like watching a yeshiva strip show.) And the topper: Former GCP member Robert Williams, now a physician, in a video tribute in which he wears his old Junior Company shirt (exposing a middle-aged midriff), doffs a red wig and sings “Tomorrow” from “Annie.” Hilarious.
Most touching moment: Richard Ruth, who had a recent dire health scare, singing “Strike Up the Band.” We’re sure glad you could make the show, Richard.
Star appearance: The always gracious Louise Mandrell, here all the way from Nashville, sings a gorgeous rendition of “My Secret Love,” her big number from “Calamity Jane.” She tells the audience how much she loved being in Fresno last summer, adding, “I miss you more than words.”
The surprise: The show goes a little longer than Dan Pessano, always a stickler for a fast pace and for getting the audience home as early as possible, plans. His wife, Laurie, gets up on stage and tells him, “We can’t have a 40th anniversary celebration without saying something about you.” Featured speakers include Pete Mehas, Roger Rocka, GCP benefactor Clint Higham and a slew of video testimonials, including Audra McDonald, Duane Boutee and Mark and Denise Norwood.
Best part of the evening: When Pessano retakes the stage after his surprise — he is not the type to enjoy such moments — he greets Laurie with “The Look,” his celebrated eagle-eyed expression experienced over the years by so many GCP Junior Company members guilty of a rule infraction. But could it be any other way?
The poignant finale: Pessano, in a voice husky with emotion, sings a stanza from the beloved “I’m Still Here” from “Follies.” The words are as fitting as words can be:
Good times and bum times,
I’ve seen them all and, my dear,
we’re still here.
Plush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But we’re here.
What a man. What a company. What an evening.
Photos by Eric Paul Zamora / The Fresno Bee