Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Guys & Dolls’

You don’t want to sit down when the national tour of “Guys & Dolls” is rockin’ the boat. And that’s a strong sign for the production that rolled into the Saroyan Theatre Wednesday for a two-night run. One of my barometers for this classic show is how well a production carries off the famed number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” The ensemble — led by an inspired Todd Berkich as Nicely-Nicely Johnson — delivers a boisterous, heartfelt, sing-to-the-rafters experience that pays homage to the roots of the number while still giving it a more contemporary vibe.

This tour falls about in the middle in terms of overall quality of the smaller road shows that come through the Saroyan. The production design is solid for a budget-conscious show in terms of sets, costumes and lighting — and it never feels cheap or rinky-dink. (Well, except for the front title scrim that came awkwardly down after the first act and at the end of the show, jiggling like a snagged window blind.) The thing that seems smallest about the show is the orchestra, which could use a beefed-up string section.

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Opening tonight: ‘Guys & Dolls’

The national tour of the classic musical “Guys & Dolls” is making a two-night stop at the Saroyan Theatre. I got the chance to interview Todd Berkich, who plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson. From my story in Tuesday’s Life section

Todd Berkich isn’t rockin’ the boat. When you play Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the national tour of “Guys & Dolls,” which shimmies into the Saroyan Theatre on Wednesday, March 4, for a two-night run, you get the chance to sing one of the show’s great songs: “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Because that song is so well-known for exploding into a trademark gospel-style frenzy of vocals, you don’t want to mess with it too much.

The show plays 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5.

Win tickets to ‘Jersey Boys’

UPDATE 10/16: We had a robust turnout for our “Jersey Boys” giveaway with 293 total entries (including Beehive comments and mailed-in comments). Our winners are Jennifer Heintz and Susan Gilbert.

ORIGINAL POST: “Oh what a night” it will be on Oct. 28 when the national tour of “Jersey Boys” swaggers into the Saroyan Theatre for a six-day run. Broadway fans have waited for years for this big-deal jukebox musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to reach Fresno. The title is one of the highlights of the season, along with the upcoming “Book of Mormon” in July.

Here’s the exciting news for Beehive readers: Two lucky winners will each receive a pair of opening-night tickets PLUS the original Broadway cast recording CD. I’ll pick the winners randomly. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: What’s your favorite Four Seasons song? (If you’re not sure, just say “My Eyes Adored You” — it’s my favorite.)

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Thursday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Thursday, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard back from a winner by 10 a.m. next Friday (Oct. 17), I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll need to be able to pick up your tickets and CD at The Bee. Rules are on the jump.

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‘Jersey Boys’ tickets go on sale 10 a.m. Friday

Lots of people have already snagged tickets to the national tour of “Jersey Boys” — which plays Oct. 28-Nov. 2 at the Saroyan Theatre — by buying season tickets or the package deal with the Fresno Grand Opera. But if you’ve been waiting for single tickets, they go on sale 10 a.m. Friday. Good luck!

The performance schedule is Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 pm.

The Ticketmaster number is (800) 745-3000.

Prices range from $33-$103.

The greening of Elphaba


In the annals of Broadway greendom, I can now say I’ve hit a double jackpot.

Last year I got to sneak into a private dressing room backstage at the Saroyan Theatre to watch the actor playing Shrek in the national tour of “Shrek the Musical” go through the process of turning green.

I experienced the same kind of opportunity Tuesday when Bee photographer Mark Crosse and I watched perhaps the most famed green transformation on Broadway: that of Laurel Harris, who plays Elphaba, as she transitioned from normal pigmented human into the Wicked Witch of the West.

It might not be easy being Elphaba — have you ever tried belting out “Defying Gravity” in front of 2,300 people? — but thanks to veteran makeup artist Joyce McGilberry, it’s a cinch turning green. Here’s my take:

wicked 2

The first step: With Harris sitting in her chair, McGilberry — who has been with the “Wicked” tour for seven years — starts with the hands. Harris sticks hers out to be slathered with Mac makeup, the hue of which is called Landscape Green. Her neck, shoulders, face, hairline and ears follow. I retain a lingering mental image of McGilberry, who works with the brisk efficiency of a Formula One pit crew member, thoroughly swabbing Harris’ ears with enough green to cover every possible crevice. It’s like watching a toddler getting her ears washed by a stern British nanny, only in reverse.

PHOTO GALLERY‘Wicked’s’ Elphaba, Laurel Harris, gets painted green
VIDEO: Laurel Harris talks about the “greening” process
REVIEW: ‘Wicked’ remains wickedly good

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

Million Dollar Quartet

Scott Moreau, who plays a superb Johnny Cash in the national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet,” has it all in relation to the icon he’s portraying: the physical size, the carriage, the way he holds his guitar. But it’s his voice — a resplendent bass that digs down to the very bottom of what I imagine to be a very big gravel pit — that had Cash fans walking the line Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre.

His performance easily stood out for me, though I mostly remained lukewarm about the rest of the production throughout.

This jukebox musical imagines the famous afternoon of Dec. 4, 1956, when an impressive quartet — Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis — gathered in a sort of impromptu recording session at Sun Records in Memphis. As imagined in Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s version of the event, we get a little back story on each artist, mostly in terms of the relationship of each with legendary producer Sam Phillips, who served as kind of a father figure to all — and acts as narrator.

Mostly it’s the music that gets the spotlight: such well-known numbers as “Who Do You Love?” (performed by James Barry as Perkins), “Memories Are Made of This” (performed by Cody Slaughter as Presley),  “Real Wild Child” (performed by John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis) and Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

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UPDATE: Win tickets to ‘The Price is Right’ Live

UPDATE: Congrats to Lisa Ovalle, who won tickets to tonight’s performance at the Saroyan.

As for the price of a rotary-dial phone, I like this response best:


You are astute, Ray. But, sorry, no Bob Barker as host. Leading Wednesday’s festivities will be Todd Newton of E! News.

And, if you want to go with another approach regarding the price of a rotary-dial phone today: I found one on eBay for $49.95.

ORIGINAL POST: I admit I don’t get this concept at all: paying a top price of $66 (with Ticketmaster fees) to watch a live version of “The Price is Right.” But that’s what’s happening Wednesday at the Saroyan Theatre as part of the Broadway in Fresno series.

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Would you pay $32.50 (plus fees) to watch a live version of ‘The Price is Right’?


Some things, I just don’t get. To celebrate its 40th year on TV, “The Price is Right” is touring the country with a live show. If you check out the tour’s website, most of the engagements are at casinos. But there are a few “legit” theaters hosting the show, including the Saroyan. And here’s maybe the weirdest thing: The performance is sponsored by the Broadway in Fresno series. Tickets for the Sept. 18 event went on sale today.

I understand that it might be fun to attend a taping of “The Price is Right.” And I guess I could see, if you like the show enough, tromping down to the Saroyan to watch a live version. But would you pay the top ticket price ($32.50 plus fees) for the privilege?

One interesting thing: If you dig deep enough on the website or in the press materials, you discover this tidbit:

WANT TO PLAY?   NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.   Open to US legal US residents, 18 years or older.  Ticket purchase will not increase your chances of being selected to play.  For complete rules & regulations, including eligibility requirements, visit or call the venue box office.  To enter theater to watch show, a ticket purchase is required.

So it seems that you can actually participate without buying a ticket. But what do you do: Put your name in the hat, then go down to the Saroyan and wait outside the stage door to see if your name is called? I’m intrigued.

‘Wicked’ returning to Fresno in 2014


Fresno really likes its “Wicked” — so much so that producers are bringing it back. Season subscribers to Broadway in Fresno learned over the weekend learned that the hugely popular musical, which sold out a 16-performance run at the Saroyan Theatre in 2011, is returning next year. The show will run April 2-13, with performances for season subscribers blocked out for Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5. I’m sure we’ll be hearing details in the days to come on how to get tickets for the remaining performances.

The other big news: The touring production of  “Memphis the Musical” will arrive May 13 and 14, 2014. I’m very pleased that this show, which won the best-musical Tony in 2010, is making it to Fresno in a timely manner.

There are two other shows announced on the lineup: The new musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” featuring the music of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, which opened on Broadway in 2010, will play Nov. 19-20. And while a national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” isn’t exactly breaking news, the version coming Feb. 18-19 stars Sally Struthers, which gives it some kitsch value.


David Sedaris charms Fresno


“What do you know about Fresno?” an audience member called out during the designated question session following David Sedaris’ buoyant reading Thursday at the Saroyan Theatre.

“I know it’s an agricultural center, and I know it does not have a nice hotel,” said the beloved writer, who has a knack for selecting concrete details in his writings (and offhand quips) that tickle a listener in their specificity. Big laughs all around.

It’s one thing to read Sedaris’ words to yourself. But as anyone who almost crashed his or her car while laughing at the author’s now legendary recitation of “The Santaland Diaries” years ago on NPR can attest, listening to Sedaris read his work puts it on an entirely different level. And listening to him live is, well, such an extra-rich experience that it has approximately the same physiological impact as eating an entire can of frosting. (At one point in the reading last night, Sedaris had a line about “the history of frosting,” and now all I have to do is say the word to smile.)

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Win tickets to David Sedaris

SedarisYou’re interviewing David Sedaris and trying to not let on the fact you’re nervous. The guy is, after all, the rock star of authors, an NPR favorite whose books are the rage with your most literary friends. But he’s done this before and quickly sets you at ease and shares all sorts of great stuff (much of it hilarious, but unfit for the daily paper).

Sedaris will be in town on Thursday with his lecture tour, which is part of the Broadway in Fresno series.

We have tickets to share.
Just leave a comment below. Tell us which story you’d like to hear Sedaris read aloud. We’ll pick winners at random. Contest will close at 4 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday) and winners will be notified by email. No repeat entries, please. Complete rules are on the jump.

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A ‘West Side Story’ boo-boo


I’m happy to announce to “West Side Story” enthusiasts that the national touring production of “West Side Story” opening Tuesday night at the Saroyan Theatre is not playing fast and loose with the storyline. A photo caption in today’s Bee accompanying my advance interview with cast member Michelle Alves incorrectly stated that Anita, played by Alves, and Tony, played by Andres Acosta, are lovers in the show. Acosta actually plays Bernardo in the show. So, to recap: It’s Anita in love with Bernardo. And Maria in love with Tony. The world can now spin again.

To say that some “WSS” fans were a little upset is putting it mildly. At least two of my colleagues and I were taking prickly phone calls and answering annoyed emails this morning chastising us for the the mix-up. Others were more good-natured. My favorite came on my phone mail. I believe it’s the first time I’ve ever received a telephone message in song. “Anita,” the caller sings, “I just read about a girl named Anita / and suddenly I could see / how wrong a newspaper can be …”


Catching up with the weekend: ‘Rain’ and ‘Love Conquers All’


I’m still catching up with my busy weekend. (So much Kai to distract me!) There are two events I attended I want to acknowledge:

If you’d told me before going into the weekend that I’d end up liking the touring Broadway in Fresno production of “Rain,” featuring four Beatles impersonators, more than the Fresno Philharmonic’s homage to the Rat Pack, I’d have said you were floating in the sky like Lucy and her diamonds. But that’s the case. The singing in this vigorously competent show was good, the energy was high, and while I’m definitely not Beatles-obsessed, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the crowd’s reverent boisterousness.

I’m still ambivalent about tribute shows, and there’s something a little creepy to me about how the four onstage performers exactly copied mannerisms corresponding to the original footage of the Beatles projected on two big screens on either side of the stage. (“Ringo Starr’s” little head tosses and blistering grins while drumming made me think of androids taking over the planet.) But people seemed to love it.

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Donald’s weekend picks

The Fresno Philharmonic will have some fun Saturday night with its “Rat Pack: A Symphonic Celebration” at the Saroyan Theatre. Here’s my cover story in Friday’s 7 section. In it I highlight the contributions of Fresno City College to the local jazz scene, as well as check in the three Broadway veterans portraying Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Pictured below: Mike Dana, Larry Honda and Craig Von Berg of City College. (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.) [Details]


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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Dreamgirls’

There’s only one (more) night only to catch the impressive production of “Dreamgirls” at the Saroyan Theatre. Solid, soulful vocals and an upbeat energy (especially in the dynamic second act) pump up this non-Equity national tour. But the top draw for me was the fascinating and effective scenic design, which added another theatrical texture to this oft-told tale. (It plays again 7:30 tonight at the Saroyan Theatre.)

This “Dreamgirls” keeps the same time period of 1962-1975 as it tells the story of the rise to the top of the fictional Dreams, a group loosely modeled on such 1960s R&B successes as The Supremes and The Shirelles, but it updates the look and feel of the original 1981 Broadway production. Instead of using traditional backdrops and set pieces, Robin Wagner’s scenic design consists solely of a series of LED panels that rotate, glide and move up and down. Five of these screens come together to provide a top-to-bottom backdrop, while additional panels downstage closer to the audience shift from side to side, carving out the stage into smaller spaces for more intimate scenes.

The result is a bare but charged visual aesthetic that might not satisfy theater traditionalists who like to see more literal scenery. (Except for one piece of industrial-looking metal furniture, the LED panels, credited to Howard Werner, provide all the visual information other than the costumed actors.) But I think the concept works really well.

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Win tickets to ‘Dreamgirls’

UPDATE: Congrats to our winner, Steve! Thanks for playing everyone.

ORIGINAL POST: A visually reinvented national tour of “Dreamgirls” on Tuesday will make a stop at the Saroyan Theatre for a two-performance run — and the Beehive is giving away two tickets for opening night to a lucky reader.

I interviewed Charity Angel Dawson, who plays Effie White in the tour, for my cover story in Friday’s 7 section. She says the production has an updated visual look, including the use of LED screens. She calls it an “amped-up, modernized” version.

To enter the contest for the two tickets, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Effie from over the years. It could be an actress from the Broadway version, a local version or the movie. (If you can’t think of anyone, that’s OK — just say Jennifer Holliday. She’s the most obvious answer.)

Deadline to enter is 2 p.m. Monday. The winner will be chosen at random and notified via e-mail, so please leave a valid address. Only one entry per person, please. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the Saroyan’s Will Call window.

Complete rules are on the jump.

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Catching up: the next Broadway in Fresno season


The new Broadway in Fresno 2012-13 season was announced a couple of weeks ago while I was on vacation, and I’m just getting around to offering my tepid response. Two words: Ho-hum.

Here’s the season:

  • “Dreamgirls” (Jan. 8-9)
  • “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” (Feb. 8)
  • “West Side Story” (March 5-6)
  • “Shrek the Musical” (April 3-4)
  • “Lord of the Dance” (April 10)
  • David Sedaris (May 2)

The only recent title is “Shrek.” (I’m assuming the “West Side Story” tour is connected to the recent Broadway revival, but I don’t think that’s the case with “Dreamgirls.” After our “Wicked” season two years ago — when Fresno sold out a 16-performance run of the blockbuster show — I’d been hoping for at least one longer-run show a year. (I knew we’d never get “The Book of Mormon” or “War Horse” or even “Memphis” this early, but I’d been hoping to see “Jersey Boys” brought in, or maybe “The Lion King.” Or even the new “Mary Poppins.”) In terms of shorter runs, I was hoping for “American Idiot,” “HAIR” or “Billy Elliot.”

Of course, with only three Broadway titles announced — and none through the remainder of 2012 — there’s room for one or two more titles. Perhaps we’ll get an exciting last-minute addition to the schedule.

Broadway in Fresno: ‘Dreamgirls,’ ‘Shrek,’ Rain, David Sedaris and more

The schedule for the 2012-2013 Broadway in Fresno series is out, bringing some familiar titles to Saroyan Theatre. Among them: “Dreamgirls,” “Shrek: The Musical” and “West Side Story.”

As is customary with the series, there are few options that aren’t exactly theater in the traditional sense: “Lord of the Dance,” popular Beatles tribute band Rain and an evening with author/humorist David Sedaris of NPR fame. These are in addition to a July concert with Yanni that’s been on the books for months now.


So, Broadway in Fresno fans, how do you rate this lineup?

Tonight: ‘Rock of Ages’

rock of ages 3.JPG

In terms of the pedigree of the national tour — and the fact that the show is still playing on Broadway — Monday night’s opening of “Rock of Ages” is the biggest title in the 2011-12 season of Broadway in Fresno. This brash, good-natured homage to the metal rock bands of the ’80s is structured as a “jukebox” musical — one in which a group of famous songs is strung together in a light-hearted and loose storyline. (Think “Mamma Mia.”)

I have an interview with Justin Colombo, who plays the narrator, Lonny, in Monday’s Life section.

One thing exciting about this tour is that it’s been playing big cities (such as Los Angeles and Chicago) along with the medium-size cities with which Fresno usually shares such engagements. Add to that the fact that “Rock of Ages” is still playing on Broadway, and this is a hot ticket.

Concert Watch: Steve Miller Band, Huey Lewis, Morris Day and more

SMB_web.gifTable Mountain Casino’s concert lineup has seen two additions in the past two weeks — Steve Miller Band and Huey Lewis.

Miller, well known for songs such as “The Joker” and “Fly Like an Eagle,” will play at the Friant casino on July 10. Tickets don’t go on sale until May 28, but when they do, they’ll cost $25, $35 and $45.

Lewis — with his band, The News, in tow — will perform at Table Mountain on Aug. 29. Tickets cost $25-$45 and are on sale July 16.

If you’re a big fan, you might want to circle those date on the calendar because tickets for Table Mountain Casino concerts sometimes sell out quickly. Tickets for the casino’s April 17 date with Crosby, Stills & Nash sold out in a week.

Fresno is about to get a dose of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” right before Cinco De Mayo. Morris Day and The Time have been announced as headliners for the Cinco De Mega concert, organized by radio station Mega 97.9 on May 4 at Rotary Amphitheatre at Woodward Park.

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Tomorrow: ‘My Fair Lady’

spotlight carsten.JPG

Audiences at Good Company Players are familiar with Chris Carsten, who delivered standout performances in such 2nd Space productions last year as “The Crucible” and “Stalag 17.” Now Fresno area theater fans can see Carsten in the leading role of Henry Higgins in the national tour of “My Fair Lady,” which plays Wednesday and Thursday at the Saroyan Theatre.

We devoted a splashy spread to Carsten and his wife, Amalie Larsen, another well-known GCP name, in Sunday’s Spotlight section. Here’s my column.

To-Do Tonight: Get in the Christmas spirit


Christmas explodes all over your to-do list tonight, with happenings both of the music and non-music variety:

After ‘Wicked,’ Broadway in Fresno regroups


I was very grumpy a few months ago when the new Broadway in Fresno season was announced. And why not? After teasing Fresno this past season with a full-fledged Broadway-caliber show in the form of “Wicked,” the 2011-12 season was a decided letdown.

Granted, the season has improved with the addition of “Rock of Ages,” which replaces “Grease.” But it certainly doesn’t include “The Lion King,” “Jersey Boys,” or the big-daddy touring show of them all, “The Phantom of the Opera” — one of which many Broadway fans I’ve talked to were hoping for. In my Sunday Spotlight column on the subject, I write:

The blunt truth is this: “Wicked” didn’t vault Fresno into the exalted ranks of cities that get first crack at hot Broadway shows. While the success of the unprecedented 16-show run, which was a near sell-out, probably did a lot to boost the city’s chances for nabbing a blockbuster show such as “Phantom” or “Lion King” in the future, the simple fact remains that there aren’t many shows with the name recognition and pop-culture appeal to anchor a multi-week run.

Broadway in Fresno is currently in the midst of its subscription campaign. I’ve talked to at least 10 people who say they aren’t renewing their season subscriptions.

A correction: In my Sunday column, I write that Blue Man Group — which Broadway in Fresno is marketing as its “big deal” appearance — will be here for its first appearance. What I should have written is that this will be Blue Man Group’s first Saroyan Theatre appearance with the series. The show has shifted from the arena-touring circuit to more intimate theater venues. Blue Man Group played at the Save Mart Center in both 2006 and 2008.

Here’s an interesting tidbit from those Save Mart performances, too. Blue Man Group’s 2006 appearance drew 4,410 ticket buyers. In 2008, that number had dipped to 2,995 — one of the lowest attended events that year at the Save Mart. Broadway in Fresno is hoping to fill three nights of Blue Man Group at 2,300 seats a night. Granted, the venue is smaller and more conducive to the scale of the show, but it will still be a hard sell for a show that’s already been here twice.

Broadway in Fresno announces new season. Ho hum.


Here’s the 2011-12 Broadway in Fresno lineup:

  • Blue Man Group: Sept. 26-28
  • My Fair Lady: Jan. 11-12
  • Young Frankenstein: Feb. 14-15
  • Grease: March 14-15

Um, sorry. I was so bored I feel asleep at my keyboard for a moment. Let’s see … “Blue Man Group,” founded in 1987, is as old as the red hills of Georgia. “My Fair Lady” and “Grease” … let’s just all ride our dinosaurs down to the Saroyan to partake.

“Young Frankenstein” is the “hot” title of the bunch, if you could call it that. The Mel Brooks musical opened on Broadway in 2007 to mixed reviews and closed a little over a year later.

There’s a big, glaring gap on the calendar between September and January. So I’m crossing my fingers and hoping a bigger-profile fifth title is announced later.

‘Blonde,’ ‘Spamalot’ tickets on sale Friday


Single tickets for the next two shows in the Broadway in Fresno series go on sale Friday:

Both are at the Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are priced at $49.50, $39.50, $27.50. Tickets are available at the box office on 700 M Street, at Ticketmaster outlets, or by calling 800-745-3000.