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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Crazy for You’

“Crazy for You” revels in the silly, that’s for sure. With its madcap plot about a gaggle of showgirls from New York traipsing off to a Nevada ghost town so they can help “put on a show,” things turn goofy fast. Add a super-value-size meal’s worth of  mistaken-identity gags and you get a lot of slapstick for your buck.

But just as the whole thing seems destined to be no more than an insubstantial giggle fest, one of the show’s classic songs by George and Ira Gershwin comes along to add some heft to the outing. When the sturdy and no-nonsense heroine, Polly (Emily Pessano), who seems like the last gal in the world to fall for a splashy theater type named Bobby Child (Greg Grannis), stops to sing a pensive ballad, it’s none other than the famed “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George and Ira Gershwin. With credentials like that, you’re starting on solid ground.

And when the energetic cast in the new Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater digs into the real meat of the show — the tap dancing — they do a sparkling job. The first-act finale, “I Got Rhythm,” choreographed by Kaye Migaki, is an explosion of sound, spectacle, flying feet and enough props to stock a Western supply store. Talk about a take-away tune for the audience to hum during intermission.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Fresno Philharmonic’s Latin dances

The setting: A packed house in the Saroyan Theatre on Sunday afternoon for a big, robust Fresno Philharmonic concert focusing on dances of Spain and Latin America. Guest conductor Jose-Luis Novo picked four pieces — a difficult task, he told the audience, out of the hours of music that could have been played —  that offered a sweep of styles, tempos and moods.

The best-known work: Ravel’s famous “Bolero,” which Novo guided with a driving, precise enthusiasm. Nice job. Alas, I am so bored of “Bolero.”

Tango time: Piazzolla’s “Tangazo” remained at arm’s length for me in terms of passion, but I appreciated the dexterity of the orchestra.

Far more pleasing: Guest soloist Charles Ramirez gave a stirring performance on guitar in Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” The second movement of this piece is well-known — you’ve heard versions in movie soundtracks and commercials — for a simple reason: The theme is lush, gorgeous and steeped in movement. It reminds me of clouds racing across a deep blue sky. Ramirez offered the requisite pyrotechnics on his guitar when called for, but it was his softer moments that really clung to me. Each carefully strummed note suggested a drop of dew welling up before finally releasing. The orchestra under Novo sounded nimble and inspired.

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Pictured: Gabriela Lena Frank in a pre-concert talk with Benjamin Boone.

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A bustling time at Fresno Art Museum openings

I dropped by the Fresno Art Museum late Friday afternoon to catch the opening of the new winter/spring exhibitions — and what a bustling scene it was. Many of the attendees were there for the museum’s big “1915-2015: Tradition, Legacy, Culture” exhibition, which in three galleries helps raise awareness of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. (There were also lots of enthusiastic folks to be found in photographer Matt Black’s gallery talk about his “From Clouds to Dust” exhibition.) One of the high points for me was getting to meet Beverly Hills art collector Joan Quinn, above right, who loaned to the Armenian show several pieces that she and her husband, Jack, own. At the same I met prominent Armenian artist Varujan Boghosian, above left, whose charming and evocative mixed-media pieces are one of the exhibition’s highlights. It turns out that Quinn — who collects more than just Armenian artists — had never met Boghosian before either, and the 88-year-old artist charmed us both with his gentle, scholarly wit and insights. My colleague Ron Orozco gave a great introduction to the Armenian show, including 10 things to do and see, in Friday’s 7 section. The shows run through April 26. Don’t miss them.  

Feel the Latin beat with the Fresno Philharmonic

Spanish-American conductor Jose-Luis Novo guest conducts the Fresno Philharmonic on Sunday in a program that will have your feet tapping — if not actually dancing in the aisles. The program, featuring four pieces based on dances from Spain and Latin America, includes Ravel’s well-known “Bolero.” It also features a piece by a living composer: Gabriela Lena Frank, whose “Three Latin American Dances” was commissioned in 2004 for the Utah Symphony. From my story in today’s 7 section:

Listen for the special effects that Frank achieves using instruments in different ways. At times the string sections strum their strings as if they’re Peruvian instruments. At other times they sound like guitars. “She uses the symphonic instruments in conventional ways, but sometimes she requires them to do things they don’t usually do, which brings a new color to the orchestration that is very interesting,” Novo says.

The concert is 3 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

With age can come money, knowledge, wisdom and a newfound grace when performing the dance we call life.

But as you get older, you lose something special: the ability to think of your future as endless. The path to come no longer stretches out as far as you can see, as it does for the young, with tantalizing (and, yes, often scary) possibilities. With age comes the knowledge that you’ve already made many of the important choices in life.

Christopher Durang’s spiffy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” given a rousing performance by Good Company Players at the 2nd Space Theatre, is quite funny, no question about it. In this good-natured homage to Anton Chekhov, Durang mashes together characters and storylines from that towering playwright’s best known works into a happy, silly melange.

You thought Chekhov was gloomy? In many ways, this present-day outing, set in a “lovely farmhouse” in Bucks County, Penn., is more like a sugar high.

There’s something more, though. Durang doesn’t push it hard, but a finely honed bittersweet sensibility gives an edge to the play that makes it all the more excellent. Vanya (played by Michael Peterson), Sonia (Joyce Anabo) and Masha (Jennifer Hurd-Peterson), three unhappy siblings, are all grappling with being at least halfway, if not more, through their life journey. And they’re all wondering if they could have done things differently.

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Donald’s Top 20 Cultural Events of 2014

Here’s my Sunday column. As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

UPDATE 01/05: Here’s a bare-bones version of my list:

1. “The Addams Family,” Good Company Players.
2. George Akina’s farewell performance in “The King and I,” Good Company Players. 
3. “Cancer Chronicles,” Chris Sorensen Studio. 
4. Sarah Chang, Fresno Philharmonic. 
5. Annette Corcoran, Fresno Art Museum. 
6. Faure Requiem, Fresno Community Chorus Master Chorale. 
7. Camille Gaston in “The Mountaintop,” StageWorks Fresno.
8. Jeannette L. Herrera at Arte Americas. 
9. The national tour of “Jersey Boys.” 
10. “Les Miserables,” Fresno Grand Opera. 
11. “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” College of the Sequoias.
12. “The Normal Heart,” StageWorks Fresno. 
13. “The Nutcracker,” Fresno Ballet Theatre and Central California Ballet.
14. Garrick Ohlsson, Keyboard Concerts. 
15. “Raw Meat and Dignity,” Fresno Dance Collective (NOCO). 
16. “The Taming of the Shrew,” Woodward Shakespeare Festival. 
17. Taylor 2 Dance Company, Tower Theatre.
18. “Turning Pages: Intersections of Books & Technology,” Fresno State’s Madden Library. 
19. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” Artists’ Repertory Theatre. 
20. Wu Man, Fresno Philharmonic.

People’s Choice: “Summer Soire,” Fresno Dance Collective (NOCO) and Fresno Philharmonic. 

For “best of” list fans, here are a couple more to peruse focusing on the local theater scene: Lorie Lewis Ham of Kings River Life magazine and Marc Gonzalez of The Road to 1,000.

Jumping for ‘Vanya’

Many thanks to Benjamin Rawls, aka The Man Without a Shirt, who appears in the new Good Company Players production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opening tonight (Jan. 2) at the 2nd Space Theatre. We asked the four leading actors to come down to the Bee photo studio as we attempted to replicate the iconic “Vanya” branding from the play’s recent Tony Award-winning run on Broadway. Rawls had to jump up and down many, many times to get the shot. Here’s the resulting photo of Joyce Anabo, left, Michael Peterson, Jennier Hurd-Peterson and Rawls, by Bee photographer Eric Paul Zamora:

And here’s the Broadway image:

Here’s your preschool-level First Quiz of the New Year, because it’s always good to ease slowly into new things: What is the significant change we made between the Good Company photo and the Broadway photo?

You can also read a rollicking interview with Jennnifer Hurd-Peterson and Michael Peterson, a real-life married couple who play siblings in the play, here.

Theater guide 2015: so many shows to see

As part of my coverage of the first new play of the 2015 theater season, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at the 2nd Space Theatre, I included (what I hope) is a comprehensive roundup of the Valley theater scene. (Remember that some companies organize their seasons using the academic calendar and haven’t yet picked their fall shows.) “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins” are very popular this year.

You can refer to my list in my roundup from today’s 7 section. I’ve also copied it here for easy reference on the Beehive.

Barn Theatre, Porterville

• “Lilies of the Field,” Jan. 16-Feb. 1

• “Greater Tuna,” March 27-April 5

• “Death of a Salesman,” May 29-June 14

Details: www.barntheater.porterville.com

Broadway in Fresno

• “Camelot,” Jan. 13-14

• “Guys and Dolls,” March 4-5

• “Alton Brown Live!”, March 17

• “Mamma Mia,” April 1-2

• “The Book of Mormon,” July 14-19

Details: www.magicspace.net/fresno

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Pictured: Christy Hathaway plays the title role in The Raisin’ Cain Players production of ‘Mary Poppins,’ opening Jan. 8 in Selma.

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What should I include on my list of the year’s top cultural events?

I’m busy putting together my Top 20 Cultural Events of the Year, which will appear in the Jan. 4 Spotlight section. This is a tough exercise, believe me. Each year I tell people that for purposes of this list, I’m use “cultural” as shorthand for “theater-classical-music-opera-visual-arts.” (Or, to be more specific: Stuff That Donald Munro Covers That He Manages To Get To.) Unless I cloned myself and refused all vacation time, there’s no way I could attend every event I’d want to. But I try to get to as many as I can.

Last year I solicited suggestions here on the Beehive and on Facebook to jog my memory. This year I want to take it one step further: I’ll publish my list, and I’ll add a “People’s Choice” award. So I’m asking readers: What were your Top 3 cultural events of 2014? I’m putting this column together on Wednesday, so get me your suggestions by Wednesday morning.

Pictured above: Camille Gaston and tony sanders (who does not capitalize his name) in the StageWorks Fresno production of “The Mountaintop.” (Consider this a sneak preview for my list.)

‘Into the Woods’ a glorious journey, ‘Annie’ a hard-knock snoozer

In my Sunday Spotlight column I put on my Broadway musical hat and got all criticky about the two big movie musical releases of the holiday season: “Into the Woods” and “Annie.”

Ah, what different verdicts. My Bee colleague Rick Bentley warned me about how mediocre “Annie” is — he even put it on his 10 Worst Movies of the Year list, calling it “one of the biggest duds since the Depression” — but I had to experience it myself. I should have heeded Rick’s advice. “Maybe,” I sang to myself halfway through the film, “the projector will break.”

“Into the Woods,” meanwhile, is a top-notch musical adaptation. (And I’m pretty picky.) By the way, the movie had a pretty great opening weekend. Interesting tidbit: Playbill.com reports that in its first weekend, “Into the Woods” has been seen by four times the amount of people than those who saw both Broadway runs combined.

Matt Black named TIME magazine’s Instagram Photographer of the Year

Exeter photographer Matt Black’s 2014 is turning out to be pretty special. Not only did he get a photo essay featured in the print edition of The New Yorker — a rare thing — but he’s now been named TIME magazine’s Instagram Photographer of the Year. Black joined the photo-sharing app in December 2013, and you can see his work here. From TIME’s recap:

“The Central Valley is this kind of vast unknown zone,” Black says. “These towns, these communities are right in the heart of the richest state in the richest country in the world. It’s halfway between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and yet, you still have conditions like these,” where poor communities are left with bad roads, dirty water, crummy schools and polluted air.

Black’s work might be new to Instagram, but the 44-year-old photographer has spent more than 20 years exploring issues of migration, farming and the environment in the area. That was never his intention, though. “When I first started in photography, my goal was to get out of the Central Valley,” he says. “But it quickly became clear to me that if I had a significant thing to say, it would be about the place I’m from.”

Talk about great timing for those of us in the central San Joaquin Valley who want to see Black’s work: His exhibition “Matt Black, From Clouds to Dust” opens Jan. 23 at the Fresno Art Museum.

Pictured: Matt Black’s “Fence post. Allensworth, CA.”

A merry time for Fresno Pacific’s Walter Saul

Some of us get a few days off for the holidays and zone out in front of the TV with Netflix.

Then there’s Fresno Pacific University music professor Walter Saul, who has been in Kiev, Ukraine, this past week listening to his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra being recorded by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine.

It’s just one of the pieces that will make up a CD on the Naxos label of Saul’s compositions. The recording sessions have featured two familiar Fresno names: Theodore Kuchar, music director of the Fresno Philharmonic; and James Buswell, the eminent violinist who wowed audiences with his rendition of the Barber Violin Concerto at the opening Fresno Philharmonic concert of the season. The Ukraine orchestra is also recording Saul’s “Rhapsody for Oboe and Orchestra,” featuring Rong-Huey Liu, the Fresno Philharmonic’s principal oboist. The 2014 piece is a meditation on the recent events in Ukraine as well as the overall history of Kiev from its founding. The other four works recorded for the CD are Saul’s “Metamorphosis” (1974), “From Life to Greater Life” (1978), “A Christmas Symphony” (1992), and “Overture for the Jubilee” (1998). 

I caught up with Saul in Kiev via email to ask about the experience of hearing his music recorded for posterity.

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The ‘Nutcracker’ tradition

There’s a lot to love about a local “Nutcracker,” from the cute-as-puppies little ones making their debut on the Saroyan stage to the artistry of the guest performers (Ethan and Nikki White offered a stunning rendition of “Arabian Coffee” at Sunday’s matinee). But one of my favorite parts is afterward, when the entire cast surges into the Saroyan lobby to meet family and friends. The smiles are wide and the camera flashes have a paparazzi feel. I grabbed a shot of the inimitable James Mullolly, who plays the coy (and very wide-hipped) Mother Ginger in the Central California Ballet production, greeting two of his Bon-Bons. What a memorable weekend for these enthusiastic dancers.

Pictured: Nozomi Bergstrom, Samantha Bergstrom, James Mullooly and Ena Wang. 

Donald’s mailbag: ‘Christmas Pageant’ a joy

Joyce Fitzgerald, who plays Mrs. Armstrong in the Good Company Players production of “The Best Christmas Pageant” ever, writes:

It was a disappointment that you did not review our production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at 2nd Space Theatre. We do not need the publicity because nearly every show is sold out. I realize that Good Company has done it several times – this is my 4th time to appear in it since 1990, but every director and cast put a different spin on the production. It truly is the best Christmas show. There are several very young actors who do an outstanding job and deserve to be recognized for their talent.

Eight year old tiny Abby Spain is fabulous as Gladys Herdman/the Angel of the Lord. She hits every mark on time and with vim and vigor. As the script says, “she isn’t big, but she’s mean and she bites”. That she does with her feisty portrayal of the youngest Herdman. She recently appeared in “The King and I” at Roger Rockas Dinner Theatre, as the king’s youngest child.

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The strength of ‘Nutcracker’

Local young men can be hard to find in community “Nutcracker” productions. It’s just a given in the dance world that for every boy who dreams of being a ballet dancer, there are dozens of eager young girls.

That’s why it was fun in my advance for this year’s Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” to put the spotlight on two strong young men with promising ballet futures. We interviewed and photographed Jorge Torrecillas, who plays the Nutcracker General, and William Davis, who plays the Mouse King. (Both also have some pivotal solo moments in the second act.) I like the photo we came up and presentation we came up with in Thursday’s Life section:

The ballet will be performed 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan.

And don’t forget the Sugar Plum Party after the Sunday matinee. Children will receive party favors, refreshments and a chance to take photos with the production’s principal dancers — all in a lavishly decorated space. Admission is $12, with no charge for accompanying parent. For tickets, call (559) 270-3212.

On the jump, check out a few more of Craig Kohlruss’ pics of these athletic young men.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Cabaret’

If the musical “Cabaret” today could meet the one from 25 years ago, I’m sure the younger would roll its eyes and (sort of) politely say, “Thanks for being such a legend. But things are different now.”

If your only exposure to the John Kander/Fred Ebb classic 1966 musical theater piece is from a community theater production from several decades ago — or, perhaps, the 1972 movie adaptation that stripped away characters and offered the title song, belted out by Liza Minnelli, as a jaunty anthem — you’re in for a few surprises. In the new Fresno State production, director J. Daniel Herring hews closely to the 1993 London and 1998 New York revivals starring Alan Cumming, who transformed the character of the Emcee (played by Joel Grey in the movie version) into a highly sexual, provocative and sometimes downright raunchy ambassador to the audience. That characterization fits the tumultuous times: With the crumbling of Germany’s Weimar Republic following World War I, as the Nazi Party assumes power, “Cabaret” captures the anything-goes atmosphere of an on-edge 1931 Berlin.

Thus, there are some moments in this production I’m fairly certain have never taken place on a Fresno State stage before. If you’re the kind who got upset at the stage version of “Jersey Boys” because of profanity (and I heard from some of you), chances are that the song “Two Ladies” — in which the Emcee gets pretty wild with both a guy and a gal (OK, let me spell it out for you: simulated sexual acts) — will make your head explode.

I like many of the choices that Herring makes in this challenging title, and the live orchestra, under the able direction of Matthew Wheeler, is first-rate. But there are also some weaknesses in terms of direction, production design and the overall impact of the ensemble. For a college production, this “Cabaret” has moments that soar, though I don’t think it reaches the same overall level of excellence as some previous Fresno State musical offerings I’ve seen.

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Win tickets to this weekend’s ‘Nutcracker’

You want “Nutcracker” tickets? I have a bunch of them to give away — a whopping SIXTEEN, in fact. The Central California Ballet production, featuring a cast of 90-plus dancers made up of community members and professionals dancing the leading roles, will be performed three times this weekend at the Saroyan Theatre.

In this production, the Mouse Queen from the original “Nutcracker” is given a starring role. Here’s how the Lively Arts Foundation describes the show:

Highlights of this mesmerizing event are Jackie McConnell and Connolly Strombeck, principal dancers of the Oakland Ballet, dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Returning guest artists, Ethan and Nikki White, formerly of TV’s “Live to Dance” will perform the Snow Queen and King Pas de Deux. They will also repeat the stunning Arabian divertissment which they performed in last year’s show. The coveted role of Marie will be shared by Marin Brant and Anna Lippert. Ian McFarland and Tyler Mrkaich will share the role of Fritz, Marie’s brother.

Tickets for this production normally cost $32.25-$52.25.

Here’s how the giveaway will work: I have a four-pack of tickets to give away to the 2 p.m. Saturday performance and a four-pack for the 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance. For the 2 p.m. Sunday performance, I have two four-packs — eight total — to give away to two readers.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever been to “The Nutcracker” and share a memory if you’d like. Or tell us why you’d like to see it for the first time. INCLUDE YOUR PREFERENCE FOR WHICH PERFORMANCE YOU’D LIKE TO ATTEND. Winners will be selected at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the Will Call window at the box office. Only one entry per person, please.

Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. I’ll be contacting winners by email, so be sure to check yours on Thursday. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Friday morning, I reserve the right to pick another — we don’t want these tickets to go to waste.

Rules are on the jump.

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A poignant ‘In and Out of Shadows’

The scene: In the musical “In and Out of Shadows,” a Filipino mother (played by Deanne Palaganas) takes a break from her job driving a car-rental shuttle bus at San Francisco International Airport. She is an undocumented immigrant with two teen-age children, who also are undocumented. For a moment, as the mother sings a sweet ballad about how the clouds in the sky have the freedom to go wherever they want, she’s taken away from the reality of a life without “papers” and the constant fear that she and her children (Alexandra Lee and Louel Senores) will be harassed by immigration authorities. The trio’s rendition of “Clouds” is filled with longing and tenacity.  

The production: Gary Soto, the nationally known poet and author from Fresno, wrote the book and lyrics for “In and Out of Shadows” for a youth theater in San Francisco. He focuses in the musical on “Dreamers,” a term for young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents (or came by themselves) from such places as Mexico, the Philippines and China at an early age and remain undocumented, stuck in a kind of limbo between two countries. 

The venue: Soto brought this San Francisco Youth Theatre production to the Fresno City College Theatre, where it played three performances over the weekend.

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A first for Gary Soto: a musical

The acclaimed poet Gary Soto could rest on his literary laurels. But he agreed to a new challenge: writing a musical. In fact, when he was commissioned to write a play about the plight of the undocumented “Dreamers” (students who were raised in this country but lack citizenship), he insisted that it be a musical so it could it be “life-filled and loud.”

I chatted with Soto about the new production, “In and Out of Shadows,” for a story in Friday’s Life section. The production, which opened in San Francisco, plays 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Fresno City College Theatre. Above: I made a short video of Soto, standing in the small literary museum dedicated to him at Fresno City College, as he talks about the production.

Opening tonight: ‘Cabaret’

A Fresno State musical is cause for celebration. (The theater department normally only produces one every two years.) J. Daniel Herring’s interpretation of “Cabaret” opens tonight (Friday, Dec. 5) for a run that extends through Dec. 13, and knowing who the director is, I’m confident it will more risque than many other versions you’ve seen.

I caught up with Matthew Rudolf Schiltz, who plays the M.C., and Aubrianne Scott, who plays Sally Bowles, for a joint interview in today’s 7 section. Referring to the Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming, Scott describes the Fresno State production:

It’s just as gritty and provocative. The story that J. Daniel is telling is not a regular song-and-dance kind of a show. This show is not meant to be fluffed; (it’s) blunt. It is meant to be seen as art imitating life, and life is not always beautiful.

I hear that ticket sales are going really well for this one, so you might want to plan ahead.

Pictured: From left, Matthew Rudolf Schiltz, Breayre Tender, Mitchell Ham Lau, Aubrianne Scott and Kindle Cowger in “Cabaret.”

Opening tonight: ‘Annie Jr.’

We need more rain, so you might not actually want the sun to come out tomorrow, but on stage it’s a different picture. Children’s Musical Theaterworks is opening “Annie Jr.” tonight (Friday, Dec. 5) at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, kicking off a run that continues through Dec. 14. With the song “New Deal for Christmas,” the musical has become a holiday favorite. You can find tickets and details here.

The show is double cast, so it’s possible if you time it correctly to get two different versions of “Tomorrow.”

Josh and I compiled a big list of holiday events for the rest of the month as the cover story in today’s 7 section. From music and theater to classical concerts and festive holiday events, there’s something for everyone.

Pictured: Allie Jeschien as Annie and Markus Johnson as Daddy Warbucks in CMT’s “Annie.”

ArtHop highlights: 1821 Gallery & Studios, CMAC

In Thursday’s Life section I highlight two ArtHop stops:

Phil Bowers opens his first Fresno show in four years at 1821 Gallery & Studios. A central piece of the untitled show is the installation piece “Constellations,” which references his childhood experiences of looking at the night sky.

And the Community Media Access Collaborative is hosting the annual “Celebrate Agriculture with the Arts,” which is on tour from Madera. It’s a chance to see works from artists around the state in a variety of media. You’ll never look at walnuts the same way again.

For a complete list of ArtHop venues and artists, go to the Fresno Arts Council’s website.

Pictured: Phil Bowers and “Constellations.” Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.

Audra update: Remembering her childhood with the Wall Street Journal

Fresno’s Audra McDonald — the history-making Tony Award champ — offers some childhood memories in a first-person account told to the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers. Here’s a great anecdote:

On the driveway, I used to hit a tennis ball against the garage door pretending to be Donna Summer ’s daughter no one knew about. On my bedroom walls, I had pictures of Broadway shows, like “Dreamgirls,” and photos of Patti LuPone. I loved her. But the best part of my room was the tiny walk-in closet. When my cousins came over, my sister would join us and we’d all put on shows. The closet was backstage, where you got ready. When the show began, you’d bust out through the doors to perform.

McDonald talks about her introduction to Good Company Players, and the article is accompanied by several early photos of her in GCP.

Pictured: Audra at 16 in a production of “Evita.” Can anyone tell me who any of the other actors in the photo are?

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

It would be easy to put on a big-city critic hunting hat, grab a high-powered rifle and slay this “Beast.”

For lovers of the classic musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of opening on Broadway, the national tour production that opened Tuesday night at the Saroyan Theatre is drastically scaled down from the original version. This current tour has gotten beaten up by some critics for its lackluster production design. And, yes, I somewhat agree: the sets are a little skimpy. The orchestra sounds a little thin. And, in the production’s weakest link, the costumes of the enchanted objects are a major disappointment.

But we have to face realities: This is no “Wicked,” with a big budget and Actors Equity union cast, that could settle into the Saroyan for a two-week run, making elaborate sets and technical tricks financially feasible. This “Beauty and the Beast” is making a two-night stand in Fresno, in and out in a flash, and by that metric, I think it’s a fairly solid outing when compared to other quick-stop professional shows.

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Tollberry Theatre celebrates 35 years

When Lynda Qualls helped found Tollberry Community Theatre, she never dreamed she’d be celebrating its anniversary 35 years later. But that’s the special thing about community theater: It fills a need, and it endures. The company — whose name is a combination of the Sierra foothill towns of Tollhouse and Auberry — is celebrating its birthday with a new production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which opens Thursday at Sierra High School in Tollhouse. I highlight the company’s 35th anniversary in a story in Wednesday’s Life section. Here’s an extended interview with Qualls.

Question: For those not familiar with the Christmas classic, tell us the plot of “Pageant.”

Answer: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is the quintessential Christmas program that is performed in churches around the United States. The only thing different about this pageant is Mrs. Armstrong, who runs everything at the church, lands in the hospital after a fall that breaks her leg. Grace Bradley is forced to take over and direct the Christmas pageant. Grace’s son, Charlie, keeps getting his lunch stolen by Leroy Herdman, one of the school bullies. He tells Leroy he does not care if his lunch is stolen every day because he gets all the desserts he wants at Sunday School. Hearing this, Leroy tells all his brothers and sisters. This is exactly how all six of them arrive at Sunday School the day of try outs. Having the Herdmans volunteer to play the main roles does indeed make this “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”!

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