Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Audra update: Stellar reviews for ‘Lady Day’


Another Audra McDonald opening on Broadway, another round of stellar reviews. McDonald’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” opened Sunday at the Circle in the Square theater for a limited run, and critics showered Fresno’s favorite Broadway star with raves. I liked this one from the Los Angeles Times:

When one recalls Holiday’s sublimely ruined sound at the end of her career, the period in which Lanie Robertson’s concert drama is set, one doesn’t think of McDonald’s soaring, Juilliard-burnished soprano, a gold medal voice still in its athletic prime.

But from the moment McDonald takes the microphone, a metamorphosis more striking than any in Ovid occurs. Gone is the shimmering operatic prowess that powered through “Summertime” in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” the last of McDonald’s Tony-winning performances. In its place are Holiday’s distinctive jazz timing and idiosyncratic phrasing, qualities as singular as fingerprints.

I’ve always thought that McDonald had such a distinctive voice that I could recognize her signature style in a nano-second, but, once again, she rises to the occasion.

Here’s what the New York Times has to say. has a roundup of major reviews. And has a great photo gallery from opening night, including McDonald accepting flowers, above.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” plays through June 1, so plan those New York trips soon.

Audra update


Local fans already know that Audra McDonald will be performing Friday at the L.J. Williams Theatre in Visalia. Not long after that, she will be back on Broadway. Playbill reports:

Five-time Tony Award-winning actressAudra McDonald will return to Broadway as Billie Holiday in Lanie Robertson’s play with music, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” which will begin performances March 25 at Circle in the Square.

The 1959-set play, which centers on one of Holiday’s final public appearances, takes place in Philadelphia four months before the singer’s death. The 90-minute show includes such songs as “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “When a Woman Loves a Man,” “Foolin’ Myself,” “Don’t Explain,” “Somebody’s On My Mind,” “Taint Nobody’s Bizness,” “Baby Doll” and more.

The New York Times calls the late-breaking announcement “an unexpected return to Broadway.”

For more on the Friday concert: Here’s an Audra interview from a Gannett writer that ran in the Visalia Times-Delta.

Audra McDonald is coming to Visalia

Audra McDonald fans, prepare yourself for a welcome local dose of Fresno’s most famous Broadway star. McDonald will perform Feb. 28 at the L.J. Williams Theatre in Visalia.

She last appeared locally in 2011 at Fresno’s Warnors Theatre to open the Fresno Grand Opera season. Her schedule has been packed since then, of course, including a Tony Award-winning run in “Porgy and Bess,” hosting duties on “Live from Lincoln Center” and preparing for her upcoming role as Mother Abbess in NBC’s Dec. 5 live production of “The Sound of Music.”

Tickets for the Visalia event are $30-$60 and go on sale midnight Thursday, just in time for all the Black Friday hoopla. The event is a benefit for Hands in the Community. Details:

Twitter photo of the day: Fake nuns in training

BYbxO_kIgAAJxoo (1)

A Retweet From Audra McDonald’s Twitter feed:

A buncha fake nuns at a real nunnery. @SoundofMusic cast members at Saint Walburga monastery in Elizabeth, NJ.

McDonald will be touting the advantages of mountain climbing in NBC’s upcoming live production Dec. 5 of “The Sound of Music.” She plays the Mother Abbess, who of course sings “Climb Every Mountain.”

Fres-Know: Audra shuts down Tony Awards

The award for best Tony Awards closing number goes to: Neil Patrick Harris and five-time Tony winner (and Fresnan) Audra McDonald in a reworked version of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” [Audra McDonald's Facebook]

Just a Peach: The much-loved Masumoto family’s peaches take center stage with the release Tuesday of their new book, “The Perfect Peach.” [The Bee]

Not a joke: Fresno pair featured on TLC’s “My Teen is Pregnant & So Am I.” [The Bee]

A rotten ranking:  Lots of so-called national surveys that give Fresno low rankings are a little silly. (Remember when we were declared America’s drunkest city?) But a new one from the Trust for Public Land, which lists us as the lowest ranked of the nation’s top 40 cities in terms of citywide parks systems, is just plain sobering. Politicians, are you paying attention? [Atlantic magazine]

Once upon a time: Create your own “Modern Fairytale.” [The Germ]

Signing off: CBS47 anchor and reporter Mike Scott starts his last week before retirement. [Mike Scott on Twitter]

Read more

Audra’s new album comes out Tuesday


The New York Times gives us a video sneak peek of Audra McDonald’s new album, “Go Back Home,” which comes out Tuesday. (It’s her first solo album in seven years!) McDonald invited the Times to her New York State country home, where she played Adam Guettel’s “Migratory V.” She accompanied herself on a piano that was given to her by her parents as a high school graduation present.

If you went to McDonald’s last Fresno concert, in 2011, you’ll remember she sang the same song in what became the most emotional moment in the show. I wrote at the time:

Without announcing her next song, McDonald took a seat at the piano to play and sing Adam Guettel’s “Migratory V,’ an introspective piece about the wide open sky. Afterward, she explained that she’s always wanted to overcome the fear of playing the piano in public. Her father, the noted Fresno educator Stan McDonald, used to encourage her to do that, telling her she needed to overcome that fear. He died four years ago in one of the solo experimental planes he loved to fly. “So that was for my dad,” she said.

According to her label, Nonesuch Records, many of the selections on “Go Back Home” are by composers with whom McDonald has long been associated (Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Stephen Sondheim, among others)  And McDonald continues her tradition of championing works by an emerging generation of composers, represented on this recording by Adam Gwon, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, and Will Reynolds.

Read more

Tweet of the day

Because a new album by Audra McDonald is always, always, ALWAYS a big deal:



“Go Back Home,” the fifth studio album from five-time Tony Award-winning actress Audra McDonald, will be released May 21 from Nonesuch Records. The title is inspired by the plaintive Kander and Ebb song from the Tony-nominated musical The Scottsboro Boys, which is featured on the album. The new release promises a selection of composers who figure into McDonald’s career, including Adam GuettelMichael John LaChiusa,Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and Stephen Sondheim. McDonald will also bring her voice to the work of new songwriters including Adam Gwon, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, and Will Reynolds. The album is produced by Doug Petty and has musical direction by Andy Einhorn, who conducted the ensemble.

Audra news: Will she play movie version of Aretha Franklin?


There’s long been talk about Fresno fave Audra McDonald playing Aretha Franklin in the proposed upcoming biopic about the famed singer. In 2012, the Huffington Post reported that Franklin had added McDonald to her wish list of actors contending for the role.

On Wednesday, Audra as Aretha perhaps came closer to a reality with a report in the New York Daily News that McDonald may soon take on the role.

From Broadway World’s Confidenti@l:

Franklin herself tells Confidenti@l, “We are thinking of Audra McDonald, who just won a Tony on Broadway. The question, where Audra is concerned, is whether or not she can get over into soul, not Broadway.” The singer also revealed that Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson is also being considered for the part.

What do you think? One Broadway commenter writes:

Audra can play almost anything but would hate to see her screeching in a fat suit. WRONG.

Part of me agrees, but another part thinks that McDonald is so talented she can pull it off.

Tweet of the day (Audra style)

It’s one thing to complain about an airline. But to belt it out in in the voice of a five-time Tony Award winner — well, that’s gotta hurt, Delta Airlines.


Back in the Hive


I’m back after a glorious three-week break, most of which I spent in Costa Rica. Amazing country. I dragged my camera, three lenses and tripod all over the country and was in amateur-photographer bliss. (Above, one of many tropical flower pics I took. I’ll post a selected online gallery soon.)

I was able to get off the grid — and completely out of the Fresno groove. I love our local arts scene, but it’s nice to take a break once in a while. My one regret: not getting to write about Audra McDonald’s big Tony win for “Porgy and Bess.”

Now that I’m back, I’ve been catching up. This coming weekend I plan to see “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the first show in the Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s summer season. On the arts scene, I hope you didn’t miss Mike Oz’s story about the “Occupy Zeitgeist” exhibition at Gallery 25, which continues through July 1. And I didn’t have a chance to plug my Sunday Spotlight story on the big Clement Renzi exhibition at the Fresno Art Museum, which ran after I left for vacation.

Oh, and my award for Most Annoying Letter to the Editor while I was gone is an easy pick. It was this gem from Janet Lynn Ballinger:

Congratulations to Audra McDonald and her new Tony. It amuses me that Fresno still takes credit for her. We are just fortunate that she drifted by on her way to the top. Well done!

So spending her formative years at Good Company Players and the Roosevelt School of the Arts was just drifting by?

In the meantime, I’m getting back in the groove. “Spring Awakening” opens in just a week and a half!

Fres-Know: Audra McDonald rules!

YAY FRESNO: Audra McDonald wins another Tony, makes history [The Bee]

SAD: Dad dies trying to save drowning son in Kings River. [The Bee]

COOL: Warren Armstrong in D.C. to interview President Obama. [ABC30]

SPORTS: Margie Wright’s legacy celebrated. [The Bee]

MMM BEER: A look at Fresno’s craft brew scene. [The Bee]

CROSS YOUR FINGERS: Interesting raffle from The Grizzlies. [Business Journal]

ARE YOU HUNGRY? More for the ‘Fresno Eateries to Try’ list. [The Cured Ham]

LISTEN: Local podcast jumps into that conversation too. [The View Looks Good]

ANGRY YELPER O’ THE DAY: Cracked Pepper needs e-mail reservations. [Yelp]

GOOD READ: Day trips around Central California. [The Full Moxie]

WTF FRESNO: Teens fighting and an irate mom. Not safe for humanity. [YouTube]

ValleyWho Central: Can Ryan Beatty be stopped?

The semi-finals of ValleyWho come to a close in four hours — go vote! — and despite even his own best efforts to sway his minions, rising teen pop star Ryan Beatty continues to look unstoppable. Even against local hero and literary icon William Saroyan.

On Monday, Beatty himself took to Twitter and said he was voting for Saroyan. But would his fans listen? So far, it sounds like the Team Beatty isn’t emulating its leader.


In the other matchup: I hear things are tight between Audra McDonald and Chris Colfer. Once again, it could come down to just a handful of votes, so be sure to cast yours before 8 p.m.

I’ve know at least a few people are pulling for a Saroyan-McDonald final, but what if it ends up being Colfer-Beatty, who I believe, between the two of them, have a whopping 37 years on this planet?

ValleyWho Central: Our final four is set


What was once a tournament of 64 ValleyWho contenders is now down to four: Audra McDonald, William Saroyan, Chris Colfer and Ryan Beatty. Voting is live now and runs until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The final matchup will be announced Wednesday morning and voting will last until 8 p.m. Thursday. The ultimate winner will be announced Saturday at Beehive Birthday at Rotary Playland. Remember: We hid the results for the final two rounds to keep y’all surprised.

(1) William Saroyan vs. (10) Ryan Beatty
(1) Audra McDonald vs. (1) Chris Colfer

It’s an interesting mix, I think, that will surely put generations at odds. Represented is the past (Saroyan), the present (Audra and Colfer) and the future (Beatty). Our final four is diverse in that includes an author, actors of TV and stage and a singer. We’ve got a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Tony winner, a Golden Globe winner and a teenager with 200K+ Twitter followers.

Read more

ValleyWho: The battle of 8


Voting for Round 4 — our Only 8! battle — is now open and runs until 8 p.m. Sunday. Go vote. Even if you haven’t voted before, you can still jump in with your vote. Your votes matter. Just ask the ValleyHopefuls who lost by a matter of votes in previous rounds.

Let’s analyze.

Read more

ValleyWho: OK, so now who?


As we approach tonight’s 8 p.m. deadline to vote in the ValleyWho Sweet 16 round (go here!), I thought it would be fun to ask some of the now-eliminated ValleyHopefuls who they’re supporting in the competition.

Here’s what they had to say:

STEFANI BOOROOJIAN: “Honestly, I’m pulling for Richard Kiel. What is so bizarre is that I had scheduled an interview with him the day this contest was revealed. He is so genuine and nice and was concerned about beating me. Needless to say, he squashed me. But that’s OK, I still want him to win.”

ANTHONY TAYLOR: “I’m picking Audra McDonald to win this whole thing. She doesn’t need my support, but she’s a great representative of what I believe is one of Fresno’s greatest assets: the theatre and arts scene here. Plus, she’s from the Peach Regional like me so she’s got cred there too.”

RAY APPLETON: “There is only ONE name. William Saroyan. How could it be anybody else? Really!!!!!”

Read more

ValleyWho Central: How sweet are our 16?


Voting for Round 3 — our Sweet 16 — is now open and runs until 8 p.m. Thursday. Get those votes in. If you’re new to this tournament, that’s OK. Your vote still matters. New or old, head to the bracket to vote for your faves.

Much analysis below.

Read more

ValleyWho Central: First-day buzz


With voting under way to crown our favorite local icon in The Beehive’s ValleyWho March Madness-style bracket game, mental images abound: Anthony Taylor gripping Kevin Federline in a pretty solid headlock; Ray Appleton getting his behind kicked in the ring by Jennifer Alcorn; Chris Colfer caught in a life-and-death struggle with a California Raisin.

Of course, voting continues in the ValleyWho contest’s first round through 8 p.m. Sunday, so there’s plenty of opportunity for front-runners to fade and early stumblers to come from behind. In the meantime, think of this post as a low-rent version of one of those ESPN March Madness shows (minus the generous clothing allowances for the talent) in which we offer a mix of updates, news notes, expert commentary and blatant campaigning by individual Beehivers for their favorites. Here goes:


THE VOTES: At the top of the heap are Audra McDonald in the Peach Regional (the Broadway star and No. 1 seed is crushing local pitchman Crazy Bernie with 91% of the vote) and No. 6 seed Al Radka in the Raisin Regional (the radio/TV icon is pounding annoying “Bachelorette” contestant Kasey Kahl with 90%).

Compare that to the two tightest races: Channel 30 anchor Graciela Moreno has been trading the lead all day with poet Gary Soto in the Almond Regional, while Olympic snowboarder Andy Finch is locked in a tight battle with author David Mas Masumoto in the same conference.

Read more

New York Times loves Audra in ‘Porgy and Bess’


New York Times critic Ben Brantley loved Fresno’s favorite Broadway star, Audra McDonald, in the out-of-town tryout of the new adaptation of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” that opened last fall. In his review of the Broadway production, which opened Thursday night, he went positively weak-kneed:

But suddenly an elemental force takes possession of the stage, and its tremors course through the audience.That’s the storm raging within a woman who’s tearing herself to pieces before our eyes, fighting with her infernal attraction to a man she knows she should be fleeing. For devastating theatrical impact, it’s hard to imagine any hurricane matching the tempest that is the extraordinary Audra McDonald’s Bess at the moment she is reunited with her former lover, Crown, played by Phillip Boykin.

As for the rest of the show: Brantley thinks it’s “just pretty good.” But as for Audra, she’s great. Could this be a fifth Tony award in the making?

Photo / New York Times

Ray Appleton: not his finest moment

In a strange attempt at humor that came across more like explosive ego mixed with downright boorishness, radio personality Ray Appleton really botched his introduction of Audra McDonald at her hometown concert Friday at the Warnors Theatre. After joking about being coerced into wearing a tux, the KMJ host told the audience:

It’s nice to be in a room in which there’s a native-born Fresnan more famous than me.

The response from the audience: near silence, with a few slight but detectable hisses rising up from several of the more appalled concertgoers.

What an embarrassing way to start off such a classy, elegant event. Sorry, Audra, that you had to walk on stage after that weird, tone-deaf intro.


CEK AUDRA-5.jpgTo sum it up: Audra loves Fresno. And Fresno loves Audra.

Some stars hit it big and never give their hometowns a second glance in the rear-view mirror. Audra McDonald, the four-time Tony winner and custodian of a voice that makes the knees of cranky Broadway theater critics weak and trembling, is not one of those stars. On Friday night at the Warnors Theatre, in her first Fresno concert in five years, she lavished affection on her hometown. From waxing rhapsodic about the simple act of driving down Maroa Avenue to repeated shout-outs for her beloved Good Company Players, she infused the event with an endearing, heartfelt sense of Fresno boosterism.

“I love coming back home,” she told the appreciative audience. “I will always be proud to be a Fresno girl.”

In a generous two and a half hour concert, McDonald delivered a program of Broadway songs that ran the gamut from the 1920s oldie “My Buddy” to Gabriel Kahane’s wacky “art song cycle” excerpt relying on lyrics from Craigslist. The evening wasn’t just about her gorgeous voice, which ranged from bell-like clarity in a sing-along version of “I Could Have Danced All Night” to husky sadness in George Gershwin’s “He Loves and She Loves.” McDonald has always been about finding the passion and humanity in her vocals. Sometimes she does the expected musical-theater thing by finding the character and story in a song. (And she does that “thing” so well it can be mesmerizing.) At other, rarer times, her songs become less about character and more about sheer, abstract energy, as if her voice is a big boulder picking up momentum as it tumbles down a hill. You can’t help but get caught up in the whoosh and power of it all.

Update: Much more on the jump.

Bee photo / Craig Kohlruss

Read more

Win tickets to Audra McDonald’s big Fresno concert

UPDATE:The winner has been notified. Thanks for your participation.


No name of a hometown star burns more brightly in Fresno than Audra McDonald, who continues to conquer the Broadway and concert worlds with her total package of singing and acting.

After four Tony Awards, she’s making headlines for a highly anticipated new production of “Porgy and Bess,” which begins previews in December. In the meantime, she’s embarking on an extended concert tour. On Oct. 14, that tour will bring her for a return visit to the Warnors Theatre to open the Fresno Grand Opera’s 2011-12 season. [Tickets]

Now’s your chance to win two tickets to that glittering concert, in which McDonald will sing Broadway tunes.

Just give us your thoughts on Audra in a comment on this post. Some potential approaches to take: Are you proud of how far she’s come? Do you have local memories of her when she was growing up in Fresno? What productions of hers have you seen? What did you think of her character on the TV series “Private Practice”? Of all the songs you’ve heard her sing, which is your favorite?

Some comments might be used in an upcoming story about McDonald’s appearance.

We’ll pick the winner at random from all entries received, both online and in print form. Deadline is 5 p.m. Oct. 10.

Rules are on the jump.

Photo / New York Times

Read more

Audra McDonald to star in Broadway’s ‘Porgy and Bess’


Fresno’s Audra McDonald, a Roosevelt/Good Company Players alum, is slated to star in a revamped version of the Gershwin classic “Porgy and Bess” on Broadway. The Associated Press reports:

Producers announced Wednesday that the show will begin previews on Dec. 17 at The Richard Rodgers Theatre and officially open on Jan. 12 following a pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theatre.

Originally an opera, it has been reimagined by A.R.T.’s artistic director, Diane Paulus, and features a reworked book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and new arrangements by Diedre Murray.

Here’s more detailed casting today from

Woo-hoo! Audra back on Broadway!