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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

A chat with ‘Iris’

Here’s a great theater option for families: Fresno City College is opening what sounds like a charming play suitable for third graders and older.  “Still Life with Iris” is set in a fantasy world named Nocturno, where if you lose your coat you don’t know who you are because you’ve lost your memories.

I caught up with Olivia Stemler, who plays the title role, via email.

Question: What is the play about?

Answer: “Still Life with Iris” follows the story of a little girl on her quest to find home. She is joined by two friends, a pirate named Annabel Lee and young Mozart, as they search to reclaim her stolen memories.

How old is your character? Was playing someone this young a challenge? Did you do anything special to prepare?

This was such a fun process! But also a challenge. Iris is 11 years old, so it was definitely a stretch. I did a lot of heavy observing and pulled a lot of inspiration from children I interact with on a daily basis. Kids are so free and uninhibited in the way they think and interact with the world, I tried to incorporate that into my performance as much as possible.

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Fresno State flies flags at half-staff today for Philip Levine

Ever since the Feb. 14 passing of famed poet Philip Levine, I’ve been receiving calls and emails asking for details on funeral services. The short answer: No services have been announced, and there is no clear indication from the family that there will be any. From my update in today’s Fresno Bee:

The Fresno literary scene has been in something of a limbo since Levine’s death, with many people wondering about funeral services. None have been announced, and word at the university is that it appears there won’t be any.

When reached Wednesday, poet Peter Everwine, a close friend of the family, said to his knowledge there’s been no plan for a memorial at this time. “I think something may happen in the future, but Fran (Levine’s wife) has just not gotten settled enough to think about what lies ahead.”

Meanwhile, Fresno State moved ahead today by honoring Levine by putting the university’s flags at half-staff. Officials hope to pay public tribute with a ceremony or celebration marking his life i the Levine family so chooses.

A growing list of remembrances about Levine from around the world can be found on the university’s creative writing program blog.

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Pictured: Philip Levine in a 2012 photo with Vida Samiian, former dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. Bee photo / Mark Crosse

Opening tonight:’Always a Bridesmaid’

Good Company Players offers another in a series of titles at the 2nd Space Theatre from the playwriting trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. Their “Always a Bridesmaid” is described thusly:

On prom night, four young friends swear to be in each others’ weddings, no matter what. 30 years — and numerous weddings later — the well-beaten path to true love could not get any crazier. Faithful to their promise, the four friends repeatedly ride the ‘marry-go-round’, in spite of fistfights at the altar, runaway brides and, of course, horrendous bridesmaid dresses. For richer-for-poorer, in-sickness-and-in-health, these aging debutantes are determined to help each other find happiness-ever-after.

Jones, Hope and Wooten authored such past 2nd Space productions as “The Red Velvet Cake War” and “The Dixie Swim Club.”

It runs through April 19.

Clubbing on a Monday morning

What an invigorating way to kick off a work week! I had the pleasure of speaking this morning to the Fresno District of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs at the organization’s annual Federation Fair. The topic was art. (The morning included judging the work of members and high schoolers.) I talked about ArtHop, the Fresno Art Museum and my advice if you want to buy art. (Pick something that’s meaningful and personal to you, and don’t fret about the investment angle.) We also branched into my thoughts on the recent Fresno Grand Opera production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the challenges of rejuvenating downtown Fresno and even what I thought of the Oscars last night. (I don’t have cable anymore, so I didn’t watch it. I just followed Rick Bentley’s Twitter feed.) Thanks to these hard-working ladies for all they do in terms of community service — and for inviting me to speak. 

OPERA REVIEW: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Why opera?

Because under the right circumstances, when the theatrical stars align and the ingredients come together to spark the right kind of live-performance magic, opera can soar higher and louder.

The “new” Fresno Grand Opera — a partnership with Modesto’s Townsend Opera — had an auspicious debut Sunday afternoon at the Saroyan Theatre with a searing production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The direction by Brad Dalton, considered the world’s foremost stage director of Andre Previn’s 1995 adaptation of the classic Tennessee Williams play, upped the emotional ante. And a powerhouse performance in the leading role of Blanche DuBois by Carrie Hennessey — whose acting prowess brought to life a character of riveting complexity — made me pause and consider anew this well-known tale and what it has to say about women, loss and the way that life can simply unravel.

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Philip Levine, 1928-2015

UPDATE: Here’s my extended piece that ran on Page A1 of Monday’s paper.

ORIGINAL POST: Philip Levine wasn’t born in Fresno, but the Detroit native — whose poetry smelled of the sweat of hard work, the fecundity of the earth and the grease of the factory — let the city get into his nostrils. And his heart.  The Pulitzer Prize winner and former United States poet laureate died in Fresno on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the age of 87. The cause was pancreatic cancer, The New York Times reported.

When the poet came to Fresno State in 1958, the university didn’t even have a creative writing department. He helped make the poetry program nationally known, teaching there for more than 30 years, and was named a professor emeritus.

While he would go on to teach part-time at some of the most prestigious universities in the land, including New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of California at Berkeley, Levine always returned to Fresno, where he split time between a home there and in Brooklyn.

Levine wrote more than 21 collections of poetry, and in 1995 received the Pulitzer Prize for “The Simple Truth.” He won the National Book Award in 1991 for “What Work Is” and in 1980 for “Ashes: Poems New and Old.”

Critics have called him “a large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland” for his emphasis in his poems on the lives of factory workers trapped by poverty and the drudgery of the assembly line. Joyce Carol Oates once called him “a visionary of our dense, troubled, mysterious time.”

In 2011, he was named poet laureate of the United States (officially the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry), a title that came with few official duties but much distinction. There was one more major poetry honor to come: the Wallace Stevens Award in 2013, which is given annually to recognize “outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.”

When I last interviewed Levine, in 2011, to talk about his poet-laureate honor, he told me that two things stood out to him about his career:

The single greatest reward was the writing of the stuff itself, the poetry. And the second biggest one had to do with my students, mainly here at Fresno State. I had some amazing students here who went on to wonderful careers as poets. Many became very good friends of mine.

Those noted names include Larry Levis, Gary Soto, Roberta Spear, Sherley Williams, Ernesto Trejo, Luis Omar Salinas and Lawson Inada.

C.G. Hanzlicek, who for 15 years headed the Fresno Poets’  Association, in a 2009 interview called Levine the “fire-starter” of  a vibrant Fresno poetry scene.

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CONCERT REVIEW: Fresno Philharmonic’s ‘From the New World’

There’s no “America the Beautiful” on the program, but the Fresno Philharmonic’s intriguing new concert “From the New World” has a bit of a patriotic bent to it. All three pieces on the program were written by European composers who spent a chunk of time working in and inspired by the United States — and each of the three works premiered in this country. The best known, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which premiered in New York in 1893, swells with so much golden optimism and fervor for this country that you can practically see the gleaming Manhattan skyscrapers towering in the sun, perched on the edge of a country overflowing with wide open spaces, vast resources and boundless optimism. 

The other two pieces on the program, Bohuslav Martinu’s Symphony No. 6 and Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini,” might be a little harder at first to fit into the intellectually stimulating concert theme from music director Theodore Kuchar. But I could appreciate and revel in the American connections, particularly in the Martinu. I loved this piece at the Friday evening opening concert at Shaghoian Hall. Martinu was a Czech composer who fled first to France and then to the U.S. because of war. It is a tangled flurry of a piece at times, but somewhere within the bombast there is a brightness to it — a patter of optimism — that suggested to me a newly dawning day on fresh earth far from strife. The turmoil in the piece is balanced with tenderness, and the sensitivity with which Kuchar coaxed the orchestra made it seem warm and enveloping.

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New executive director at Fresno Art Museum

After nearly a year of no one in the position, the Fresno Art Museum has a new executive director: Michele Ellis Pracy, who brings 25 years of museum experience to the job. She most recently was director of the Ojai Valley Museum in Ojai, where during a five-year tenure she brought a “small-town” museum up to the level of an accreditation-worthy institution, she said.

Here’s my story, just posted online.

Opera and Philharmonic: You can do it all

It’s a huge weekend for classical music fans in Fresno. Both the Fresno Grand Opera and Fresno Philharmonic are performing: the Phil for three performances (Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinee); the opera for one performance (Sunday matinee).

The amazing thing is that these two institutions — which haven’t exactly been BFFs over the years — are actually cooperating. From Friday’s 7 section:

In a spirit of cooperation, Fresno Philharmonic Sunday ticket holders can exchange their tickets at no charge for Friday or Saturday’s performance. Also, people who have purchased tickets to either Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar Named Desire” or the Fresno Philharmonic’s “New World” can purchase tickets to the other organization’s performance this weekend at a discount (20% off single ticket prices).

“Both the Fresno Philharmonic and Fresno Grand Opera want to make sure that music lovers have every opportunity to attend both of these events this weekend,” says Stephen Wilson, executive director of the orchestra.

I have two fun previews in Friday’s 7 section: I talk with Carrie Hennessey, who plays Blanche in Fresno Grand Opera’s “Streetcar”; and the Fresno Philharmonic’s Theodore Kuchar, who chats about his “From the New World” concert.

I’ve arranged this weekend to see both productions: the orchestra tonight, and the opera on Sunday. Still to come that day: my column on Fresno Grand Opera’s new direction.

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Pictured: Dan Klempson as Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

From Visalia to Broadway, Betsy Wolfe continues to soar

In Thursday’s Life section I offer a special “mid-week” column: a conversation with former Visalian Betsy Wolfe, who in recent years has been building strong name recognition as a musical-theater actress on Broadway. (She headlines a benefit performance on Friday, Feb. 13, at the Visalia Fox Theatre.) I first saw Wolfe perform many, many years ago (in 2004) in a semi-professional staging in Visalia of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was lukewarm about the production but raved about Wolfe, who I described as having “the potential to be a professional musical-comedy star”:

Wolfe, cast as the Narrator in the oft-performed Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, charged through opening night with confidence and charisma. Tall and self-assured, with a powerful voice and adept comic timing, Wolfe managed to dole out even the silliest and campiest moments in this cheery bit of musical-theater fluff with genuine warmth. She’s a natural.

In 2006, I interviewed Wolfe in San Francisco when she was starring in the West Coast premiere of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” I kick off my Thursday column with that meeting, and then fill you in on her Broadway career, which has taken a stellar turn in recent years.

Here are some tidbits that I didn’t have room for in my column:

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Parking fees and house lights: the Saroyan doesn’t impress

In my Sunday Spotlight column I griped about my most recent encounter with the Saroyan Theatre. I focused on two issues: a 40%-plus increase in parking fees on Jan. 1 and a new house lighting system that is downright ugly.

Above, you’ll see two photos that didn’t make it into the print edition because of space. They come from Efficiency Energy, the Denver-based company that recently installed a new lighting system throughout the Fresno Convention Center. The top is the “before” pic and the bottom the “after.” It might look like a dramatic improvement in terms of overall brightness and coverage, but consider what Fresno City College lighting and sound designer Christopher Boltz told me after seeing the photos:

Those “before” pics are of a poorly maintained lighting system, Boltz says. “In almost all of the ‘before’ pictures there are burned-out fixtures, fixtures lamped with a non-matching lamp color-wise, and some of them (seeing the bad spread of light) lamped with an incorrect lamp so that it does not spread properly.” The “after” pictures seem to be improvements when it comes to overall coverage, but, Boltz says, “I would love to compare them with how the original systems looked when first installed.”

My main beef is with the “color” of the lights of the new system. They cast a bluish, harsh tone. Lighting designer Randy Garabedian, who engineered the lighting system 10 years ago at the Saroyan — and who is irked that the theater’s management didn’t seem to consult local experts before making big changes — speculates that the wrong color temperature was used. They needed to be “warmer.”

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My weekend pick: a play reading

UPDATED: I love live play readings. To me, they’re like a super-special version of listening to a book-on-CD in your car. It’s exciting that StageWorks Fresno and The New Ensemble are partnering in Sunday afternoon’s installment of the popular Hot Off the Stages play reading series. The title: “A Month in the Country” by Ivan Turgenev.

When I originally put up this post at about noon today, a different title was planned: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is a hot title on Broadway right now. But things didn’t go as planned. The rights to perform the reading were rescinded at the last minute, forcing StageWorks and The New Ensemble to scramble.

They came up with an intriguing replacement. “A Month in the Country” is currently playing to rave reviews at the Classic Stage Company in New York City (starring “Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage and “Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling). From StageWorks/New Ensemble:

Our informally staged reading of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY will feature the talents of Joel Abels, Chris Carsten, Tessa Cavaletto, Hayley Galbraith, Miguel Gastelum, Mitchell Lam Hau, Amalie Larsen, Terry Lewis, Jennifer Goettsch, Dillon Morgan and Heather Parish (as the servants!), who have all gamely stayed on for the ride!

Turgenev’s masterpiece chronicles the comic and erotic turmoil that befalls an otherwise quiet country estate when a handsome young tutor arrives to teach Natalya Petrovna’s young son. Soon Natalya is interested in a tutelage of another kind, much to the consternation of her husband and her long suffering friend, Rakitin, who is hopelessly and secretly smitten with her. It’s a beautlly nuanced meditation on the nature of unrequited love.

The play we originally scheduled, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is a terrific piece that we hope will make its way to audiences in the Central Valley soon.

The reading is 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Admission is free.

The Beehive Interview: Julian Perez gets big break as choreographer

It’s something that every theater person hopes and longs for: the out-of-the-blue phone call (or in this case a social-media message) with a juicy job offer.

That happened to Fresno’s Julian Perez, well known to audiences as an actor from shows at Roosevelt School of the Arts, Good Company Players and Fresno State. He was surprised to be contacted by big-band singer and crooner Brian Evans, who asked if Perez could choreograph his new music video starring none other than the orange-haired comedian Carrot Top. 

Perez has extensive acting and dance experience, but his choreography experience up to this new job had been limited. He choreographed “Sweet Dreams” in 2012 at Roosevelt, and “The Music Man” in 2014 for CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre. 

We caught up with Perez via Facebook to talk about the video shoot, which took place at Universal Studios Hollywood. The music video, featuring Evans’ new original song “Creature,” used the set of The Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho.”

Question: It sounds like this job just seemed to fall out of the sky for you. Walk us through what that was like.

Answer: It was very surreal. Brian Evans saw a video of some choreo I did and sought me out social media. When he messaged me on Twitter I didn’t know who he was, but after we talked and Skyped I knew it was the real deal.

I think most people have heard of Carrot Top, but I don’t know much about Brian Evans. Of course, I’m old. :) What can you tell us about him and the song “Creature”?

Brian is an extremely talented individual. He has a hit song called “At Fenway” which was inducted into the major league baseball hall of fame. He is extremely kind and humble. He has some major projects lined up ahead for this upcoming year.

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For tonight’s ArtHop, some whopping fish tales

For my ArtHop preview in Thursday’s Life section I put the focus on Julia Tanigoshi Tinker, who has fallen in love with the traditional Japanese art of gyotaku, or “fish rubbing.” The result is sort of a cross between a Facebook boast post (“I caught a fish this big!”) and a Fish Tale Reality Check (“Really, I caught a fish this big, and I’m not exaggerating!”).

Tinker, an enthusiastic fisherwoman in her own right, has a new solo exhibition at Chris Sorensen Studio. It opens 5-8 p..m. Thursday as part of ArtHop, the monthly open house of studios and galleries in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods.

While gyotaku started as a way to document fish catches, it morphed into a traditional Japanese art.

Best part: After she’s done painting her catch, she eats it for dinner.

Check out some of my other ArtHop picks in my preview.

Donald’s mailbag: You’re not football ignorant!

In my Sunday column, I offered a gently anti-Super Bowl point of view. Someone has to go against the tide, right? I confessed that at the moment of writing the column, I wasn’t even sure which team was playing the Patriots. I also wrote that during the game I’d be on the road, traveling back from a museum-filled weekend in L.A. My favorite reader comment came in the form of a “gotcha” voicemail message that went like this:

You wrote that you’d be driving back in the second quarter. Which means you know how long a quarter in football is. And that proves that you know more about football than you’re letting on.

The reader also came to the conclusion that there’s no way, given my extensive expert knowledge about the real-time length of quarters in the NFL, that I could have gone through all the pre-Super Bowl hype without knowing both teams involved.

Pretty all-or-nothing, right? Either you have a direct feed from ESPN.com connected to your brain, or you are a football teetotaler who scrunches up his fists and sings “nah-nah-nah-nah” every time someone mentions the word “concussion.”

To this I respond: Hey, I was in four years of high school marching band and three years of college marching band. One picks up quite a bit about the game sitting in the stands, just through sheer osmosis. I’m not football illiterate. You can’t be American and not know something about the game. But I steadfastly maintain that I didn’t know both teams while writing the column. (My sincere apologies to my friends at the Seattle Times.) And what did it matter in the end, anyway? The Patriots won. Now, if I can only figure out who Katy Perry is.

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.)