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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

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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The von Trapps will return to Roger Rocka’s

Another concert update for you: The von Trapps, a singing group made up of four grandchildren of one of the original Von Trapp Family Singers immortalized in “The Sound of Music,” was such a hit when it played at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in October that the group is returning in January.

I interviewed Sofia von Trapp when she and her siblings made their October tour stop. I wrote

As the granddaughter of one of the original members of the singing family whose story was immortalized in “The Sound of Music,” she and her three singing siblings — who call themselves simply The von Trapps — have found a savvy way to build on the nostalgic power of their name while offering their own contemporary musical sound.

The group will perform 7 p.m. Jan. 26. You can order tickets online or by calling (559) 266-9494. In October, the concert sold out within three days of the announcement.

Cirque du Soleil returns to Fresno in March

Cirque du Soleil fans, this should make your day:

“Varekai” will play the Save Mart Center for seven performances March 25-29. Here’s a description of the show:

Deep within a forest, at the summit of a volcano, exists an extraordinary world – a world where something else is possible. A world called Varekai. The story of Varekai begins as Icarus, a solitary young man, falls from the sky and lands in a lush, wondrous world called Varekai. Parachuted into the shadows of a magical forest – a kaleidoscopic world imbued with fantastical creatures – Icarus takes flight in an adventure both absurd and extraordinary.

At the edge of time, in a place of pure and undiluted possibility, begins an inspired incantation to a life rediscovered and to a newly found wonder in the mysteries of the world and the mind. The word Varekai (pronounced ver•ay•’kie) means “wherever” in the Romany language of the gypsies the universal wanderers. Directed by Dominic Champagne, this production pays tribute to the nomadic soul, to the spirit and art of the circus tradition, and to those who quest with infinite passion along the path that leads toVarekai.

Ah, that lush Cirque prose.

The franchise last played in Fresno in 2012 with the show “Dralion.” (I hope this new show has fewer clowns.)

Tickets go on sale Friday, Dec. 12 at www.cirquedusoleil.com/varekai or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Until then, the only way to get tickets is to join the free online Cirque Club.

‘Nutcracker’: a holiday tradition

Nine years ago, the Valley Performing Arts Council launched a Thanksgiving weekend tradition: a joint production of “The Nutcracker” with the Sacramento Ballet. It’ll be performed at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, and Sunday, Nov. 30 at the Saroyan Theatre.

One charming aspect of the production is the incorporation of local children in the show alongside the professionals. (The same is the case with the Central California Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 13 and 14.)  For our 7 cover story today, we asked seven of those local children to come in for a photo shoot. We didn’t use the above picture by Bee photographer Mark Crosse of Jillian Rogers, left, as Clara, and Caleigh Alday, as Fritz, in the print edition, but I wanted to be sure to share it with folks. To me, it captures the youth and vitality of “The Nutcracker” no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

The Beehive Asks: Should I give movie-style ratings to plays?

I received a polite but semi-irate phone call a few weeks back from a reader very disappointed in the recent national tour of “Jersey Boys.” She was not aware going into the production that it would include the amount of profanity it did. Nowhere in the print advertisements for the play, she pointed out, was a movie-style content rating (such as PG, PG-13, R, etc.) provided. Nor did my advance piece about the production or my subsequent review. Wasn’t it my responsibility, she asked, to provide readers with this kind of information?

I hemmed and hawed a bit, because, frankly, the thought never crossed my mind that a Broadway musical about a bunch of New Jersey minor criminals wouldn’t include rough language. Thinking about it later, I guess I figured that anyone with a passing familiarity with popular culture would know what to expect walking into “Jersey Boys.”

Then again, sometimes I make too many assumptions because I’m so familiar with the material I cover. And the songs in the show are squeaky clean, after all.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Boeing-Boeing’

Meet Robert. At first glance he seems to be someone for whom the term “quivering jelly of a man” was invented: He fidgets, stammers, stumbles, says the wrong thing and practically self-immolates when he’s talking to women. At a party, he’s the one who will trip on an end table and go head over heels off the back of the couch.

In Fresno City College’s well crafted and very silly “Boeing-Boeing,” the hapless Robert — played by an amusing Kai DiMono — pops up on an old friend’s doorstep in Paris. There, to his shock (and delight), he discovers that his friend is trying to run one of the oldest scams in the book: being engaged to three women at once.

Set in 1965, this translated French farce by Marc Camoletti straddles two decades: An old-fashioned sensibility bumps up against the more free-wheeling mores of a new generation. Bernard (an energetic Steven Weatherbee), a wealthy transplanted American, is able to pull off sleeping with three women because they’re air hostesses for different airlines.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’

When you’re lucky, you get a moment in a musical that soars into the stratosphere. The Good Company Players production of the musical revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” boasts two.

When Janet Glaudé, a veteran of more than 40 GCP shows, takes the stage to sing the reprise of the song “Fools Fall in Love,” her voice swells with such emotion and virtuosity that it’s like a comet streaking to a fiery climax. I sat riveted on opening night, so caught up in the interlude that I forgot to breathe.

Spine, meet chills.

But the surprise of the evening could be summarized in the song that comes before Glaudé’s. Isaac Brown, just 13 years old, a member of the Junior Company making his GCP mainstage debut, leads the ensemble in an exhilarating rendition of “Jailhouse Rock.”

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Big changes at Fresno Grand Opera

UPDATE 1/18: Here’s a combination story from Modesto Bee reporter Marijke Rowland and me that goes into greater detail on the departure of Ronald D. Eichman from Fresno Grand Opera and a new arrangement with Modesto’s Townsend Opera. The companies will share a new general director, Matthew Buckman, and present the same productions (same cast, sets, costumes but different choruses and orchestras), but budgets will remain separate.   

ORIGINAL POST: For the second time in less than two weeks, one of Fresno’s major cultural institutions will be undergoing a major leadership change.

Ronald D. Eichman, who has led Fresno Grand Opera for 16 years as general director, is resigning at the end of the year, opera officials announced today. Also departing is Thi Nguyen, the company’s associate director, who joined the company in 2008. Nguyen is departing to join Eichman in expanding an entertainment business venture the pair started three years ago.

Matthew Buckman, the general and artistic director at Townsend Opera in Modesto, will assume the general director’s position on Dec. 1, the Modesto Bee reports.

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UPDATED: Fresno Phil’s Theodore Kuchar to step down in 2016

UPDATED 11/14: When I received word yesterday about Theodore Kuchar stepping down, I posted right away. Then I followed up with interviews with Kuchar and Stephen Wilson, executive director of the Fresno Philharmonic. My story for today’s print and online editions includes this news:  A major concern of Kuchar’s is that he feels his role as music director has been diminished recently. Here’s the updated story.

ORIGINAL POST: I just received word from the Fresno Philharmonic that Theodore Kuchar, its acclaimed music director, will step down at the end of the 2015-16 season. By the end of his tenure, he will have completed 15 years at the helm of the orchestra.

In a press release, Kuchar says:

I am extremely proud of numerous memorable performances we have given. Many of these, such as major works of Beethoven, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Martinu, Nielsen, Revueltas, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky will always remain as standards in my memory. The collaborations with distinguished guest artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Chang, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell and many others continue to be discussed today while some of the popular initiatives such as Cirque de la Symphonie will always remain a part of our legacy.

During the past several years, the Fresno Philharmonic has also presented innovative music education initiatives, including being one of the first sites for the San Francisco Symphony’s Keeping Score program and becoming a national partner of Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in presenting Link Up: The Orchestra Sings. I have no reservation in saying that the Fresno Philharmonic and I have often delivered performances that are not typical of a regional American orchestra but those of a standard to be expected in a major musical capital.

J.D. Northway, president of the board of directors, had this to add:

We are grateful for the outstanding work Maestro Kuchar has done here in Fresno over the past thirteen seasons. The orchestra sounds better than ever. By informing us of his decision now, Maestro Kuchar has given us plenty of time to ensure a smooth transition in the artistic leadership of the Fresno Philharmonic.

This is a big deal. Kuchar’s expertise, connections (all important in the world of classical music) and — most of all — his enthusiasm have all contributed mightily to the orchestra’s recent successes. His shoes will be hard to fill.

Details on the search process for a new Fresno Philharmonic music director will be “forthcoming soon,” orchestra officials say.

More on Fresno Pacific’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’

Kate McKnight is guest directing Fresno Pacific University’s fall theater production of “Truth and Reconciliation,” a play by Etan Frankel. It’s playing off-campus at the Severance Theatre in the Tower District. I excerpted parts of our discussion in my big theater roundup in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended interview:

Question: What is the plot?

Answer: The play is set Cartuga, a fictitious Central American country. A young American doctor goes to the country to provide medical care for local peasants, is mistakenly associated with the CIA and is murdered. His parents are asked to return to the country three years later for a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission based on those that Bishop Tutu organized in South Africa. Instead of revenge for their son’s death they get answers and some healing.

What is the play’s production history? Do you know if this is a local premiere?

Yes, it’s a Fresno premiere. It won the Willamstown Theatre Festival 2006 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, selected out of 300 nominated plays. I couldn’t find any theatre company that had done a full production except for the staged reading when it won the award. A company in British Columbia is mounting a production this winter. Starting in 2008, the playwright started writing mainly for television: “Gossip Girl,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Shameless” … Hollywood got him!

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Opening tonight: ‘Company’

I don’t think I’ve ever seen College of the Sequoias theater instructor Chris Mangels direct a show written by Stephen Sondheim, but my guess is that the pair makes a pretty good combination. Mangels opens Sondheim’s “Company” tonight (Nov. 14) in a production that celebrates the dawn of the sexual revolution for the middle class. I excerpted parts of my discussion with Mangels in my Friday 7 section theater roundup. Here’s the extended version.

Is this version of “Company” based on the latest Broadway version? (I know in that production the actors played musical instruments, but I’m assuming that yours is more traditional.)

The John Doyle version from 2008 (with the actors playing their own instruments) is a really unique beast that is best left to Doyle’s aesthetic and to a very cosmopolitan audience that probably already knows the show. While I respect what he did with it, I most connect with the show as a Hal Prince originally directed it; that is, as a ‘Musical Comedy’ that gets surprisingly serious and sober-minded throughout the story. I don’t think that it needs to be made ‘darker’ or more ‘urbane’ as is often the case with recent revivals. I am embracing it as a period piece (circa 1970) and not apologizing for the glorious pop sensibilities of that original score or the surreal nature of much of the script.

What time period are you setting it in?

1970. It was the dawn of the sexual revolution in the middle class and this show really explores the ideas of that time in a unique (but still universal) way. Our set, costumes, and live orchestra are really enforcing that aesthetic and I absolutely LOVE it. I think audiences will have a blast!

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