CLYBOURNE PARK: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play, this title almost seems like it comes to Fresno straight from Broadway. (I got to see it in New York in 2012, and Bruce Norris’ script is sensational.) The new Fresno State production, which opens tonight at the John Wright Theatre, is the cover story in today’s 7 section. Don’t miss Bee photographer John Walker’s photo gallery of the production.
Only three performances remain of Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ very fine production of “A Chorus Line” (7:30 p.m. Friday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday). Here’s my review. We asked Sarah Waxman and Branden Gonzalez to be our “backstage spies.” A special thanks to them for such an articulate peek behind the scenes.
On one hand, the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production — the company’s annual all-ages community theater offering — includes some of the best choreographed numbers I’ve seen in a CMT show. (When the company performs the ecstatic first-act finale, “We Go Together,” which involves a flurry of hand-and-foot choreography, the precision and energy are remarkable.) There is fine singing throughout the production, including a few show-stopping moments. Vye Robinson’s scenic design and Trina Short’s costumes are strong. The live band is first-rate, with only a few balance problems. And when “Greased Lightning” makes an appearance, the car is a star. It should get its own dressing room.
On the other hand, I have some serious issues with how this production was cast, particularly the two leading roles. The lighting design doesn’t always work. While some ensemble numbers are excellent, a few — such as the iconic “Beauty School Dropout” — don’t have the impact they should. And the big climax of the show seems to just clunk into place, at least at the Saturday matinee I attended opening weekend.
Some fine solo voices — not to mention a bounteous amount of holiday cheer — are the best part of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “White Christmas,” which is finishing up a three-weekend run at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. This good-hearted adaptation of the classic 1954 film, which starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as a song-and-dance duo 10 years after World War II, is highlighted by a booming-voiced Nick Netzley in the Crosby role crooning out a series of Irving Berlin’s happy tunes, including the famed title number.
There are other aspects of this production, diligently directed by Elizabeth Fiester, that are clunky, however, including the dancing — which is a major drawback for such a dance-heavy show — and some uneven acting. The production’s scenic design (by Devin Gregory) also seems a little spare and uninspired compared to past CMT productions, though the large number of locations that has to be depicted makes this show a challenge for any design team.
“White Christmas” is CMT’s annual community theater production, meaning that the cast is all ages instead of 20 years and younger, which is the case for the company’s other shows throughout the year. As such, it’s a chance to be treated to the voices of Netzley, starring as Bob Wallace, and his on-stage partner, Dan Aldape, who plays Phil Davis, the other half of the song-and-dance team.
1. SEE ‘ORDINARY DAYS’
It’s beautiful. There are only three performances left: 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Director Anthony Taylor’s Q&A interview is here, and my review is here. [Details]
1. HAVE YOURSELF A ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’
Where can you get snowed on in Fresno? Best bet is Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ “White Christmas,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 15. This production is CMT’s annual community-theater offering with performers of all ages. Here’s a description from the company:
The beloved classic holiday movie comes to life onstage in this new musical sensation! Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, two iconic song-and-dance men, follow a sister act to Vermont, only to discover that the nearly-bankrupt lodge they were to perform at is owned by their former commanding general. White Christmas boasts such hits as “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” and “White Christmas” and is sure to be a Holiday treat for the whole family! All performances feature a “Snow Zone” in section “A” center seating audience members will be treated to a light snowfall. Directed by theater veteran Elizabeth Fiester, and featuring Nick Netzley, Dan Aldape, Heather Price, & Hannah Huyck. (Bee photo below by Craig Kohlruss) [Details]
As we look ahead to the end of November and early December — always one of the busiest cultural times of the year — here’s a quick glance at local theater you don’t want to miss.
This new musical from composer Adam Gwon is a last-minute addition to the schedule. I just received word today it will be staged Nov. 30-Dec. 8 by Fresno’s Organic Theater Factory at The Voice Shop. From the company’s website:
Ordinary Days tells the story of four young New Yorkers whose lives intersect as they search for fulfillment, happiness, love and cabs. Directed by Anthony Taylor and performed by Terry Lewis, Taylor Abels, Ashley Taylor and Dominic Grijalva; Adam Gwon’s vibrant score rings startlingly true to life.
The cast recording has received prominent priority on my iPod ever since I bought it. The show includes the beautiful song “I’ll Be Here,” which Audra McDonald sang at her most recent Fresno concert.
1. SING ALONG TO ‘HAPPINESS IS’
It’s the final weekend for the beloved musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” This Children’s Musical Theaterworks production is directed by Kyle Dodson and features CMT’s 11-to-15-year-old performers. [Details]
1. EXPERIENCE WORLD-CLASS BALLET
I can’t push this dance concert enough: It’s an incredibly big deal to line up eight dancers from the world-renowned San Francisco Ballet to perform. I write about “Ballet Stars of San Francisco,” which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre, in the cover story in Friday’s 7 section. [Details]
I put the spotlight on Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Henry V” in my Sunday column, focusing on its talented director, Adam Meredith, a familiar name to area theatergoers. (He now lives in Chicago pursuing a career in acting and directing.) The show opens Thursday. From my column:
His concept for this “Henry V” falls somewhere between solidly traditional and a little cutting-edge. You can’t escape that war is a major theme, he says, although without a pervasive ongoing national conflict, audience members will bring vastly different backgrounds to the viewing experience. (An Iraq War vet will obviously be affected differently than an American for whom armed conflict is a distant experience.)
For his Woodward Shakespeare directorial debut, Meredith’s most emphatic choice is to focus on Henry (portrayed by KSEE 24′s Matt Otstot) as both a war leader and a person — and how his weighty responsibilities impact him.
That pesky Mr. Hyde has a tendency to pop up at the most inopportune times — much to Dr. Jekyll’s chagrin.
And that’s what we’re waiting for, of course, in “Jekyll & Hyde.” It’s the battle between these two halves, the wild sloshing of yin and yang, that has attracted audiences ever since Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his 1886 novella.
It’s fun to see Bryce Moser handle the transitions in the solidly staged Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of the Frank Wildhorn musical version of “Jekyll & Hyde,” which continues through Saturday at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. As the title character(s), Moser — who alternates the role with Isaac Ellis — slips from the snooty and cerebral Henry Jekyll to the lustful and dangerous Edward Hyde with considerable dexterity. Moser’s stellar vocals and earnest acting on opening night helped anchor this show with assurance and style.
There were times watching the production, directed with finesse by Brent Moser, that I simply forgot I was watching performers aged 16-20 up there on stage. The commitment to the violent material and the overall murky, menacing tone of the show is impressive.
1. SLEEPWALK WITH CALIFORNIA OPERA
The major weekend event of California Opera’s festival is a fully staged production of “La Sonnambula,” with orchestra, about a heroine who sleepwalks. The role of Amina, to be sung in this production by San Francisco soprano Jamie Bonetto, is renowned for its difficulty. Other cast members include Matthew Acuff as Count Rodolfo, Donald Squillace as Elvino, Merina Amos as Lisa and Alexandra Jerinic as Teresa. Leanna Sterios-Primiani conducts. It will be performed 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. Here’s a rundown on all three weekend events from Friday’s 7 section. Pictured below: Matthew Acuff, Jamie Bonetto and Donald Squillace. (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss) [Details]
UPDATE 11:50 p.m.: Congratulations to our winner: Christina Morris. Thanks for playing.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Want to see the show that got so much ink in Friday’s 7 section? I have a pair of tickets to give away to opening weekend of “Jekyll & Hyde” at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. This Children’s Musical Theaterworks production plays 7:30 p.m. today (opening night), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.
You get to decide which performance you’d like to attend.
This is a quickie contest: I’ll give the tickets away to the FIFTH commenter on this post.
The winner will be notified by email, so keep checking. If I don’t hear from you within half an hour after I send a winning-confirmation e-mail, I’ll pick someone else at random. No repeat comments please. You’re ineligible if you’ve won something in the past 30 days. We won’t post any comments until we have a winner. Complete rules after the jump.
I’ve been working this week on a cover-story package for Friday’s 7 section about the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Jekyll & Hyde.” And I’m intrigued by how these two famous literary characters are remembered today.
Do we tend to get the good one mixed up with the evil one?
So I have this silly poll question to ask. Don’t look up the answer, don’t think about it, just answer. I’ll discuss more (and give the correct answer) after the jump.
One of the joys of “Spring Awakening,” which on Thursday is starting up the second and final weekend of its impressive run at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, is the live band. There’s nothing quite like the energy experienced when you pair live actors and musicians together on stage.
I caught up with Anthony Taylor, who conducts both shows, to talk about what it’s like to bring live music to the theater experience.
Are the players the same for both productions?
Answer: Two differences. Jason Wada, my second guitar player in “Spring Awakening,” is not being used in “Next to Normal.” Also, Michael Antaramian is the keyboard player on “Next to Normal,” so Jared Eben is only doing “Spring Awakening.” Otherwise, the instrumentation is almost identical.
Skyler Gray and his ravenously hard-working cast and crew make the first Fresno production of the 2007 Tony Award-winning musical into a throbbing beast of a show. True to its Broadway roots, this deeply felt production from the Underground@CMT, a wing of Children’s Musical Theaterworks, dishes up towering amounts of teen-age angst and surly youthful bravado, all steeped in a feisty rock-folk score and served up with a limb-jerking, boundary-pushing, soul-searching abandon. (It plays through July 7 at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium.)
Fans of the show might recognize my opening line above as a deliberate hint at “Spring Awakening’s” most provocative number. I saw the show at its opening Friday, and for the past few days the explosively staged “Totally F—–” has been in high-rotation mode in the screening room of my brain. (When a scene from a show replays in my mind for days after a performance, I know it’s had a big impact.)
1. GET ‘AWAKENED’
Lots of excitement over “Spring Awakening” at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. I’ll be there tonight for opening. The show runs through July 7. We give the production a big splash in today’s issue of 7:
UPDATE: We have a winner: Marc Gonzalez. Congrats, and thanks to all those who entered.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: It’s turning out to be “Spring Awakening” week here at the ‘Hive, and for good reason. This show was a powerhouse on Broadway just five short years ago, and it arrives in Fresno in what the Underground @ CMT — a wing of Children’s Musical Theaterworks — promises will be a combustible production. Here’s a sneak peek at my 7 cover story in Friday’s Bee.
I have two tickets to give away to either the Saturday matinee or Sunday evening performances this weekend. To enter, leave a comment on this post. If you know enough about the show, share your favorite song. Let us know in your comment if you’d prefer to attend the 2 p.m. Saturday show or the 7:30 p.m. Sunday show.
Note: This show is for mature audiences only.
Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. If you’re a winner, you’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call. We’ll notify the winner via e-mail, so please leave a valid e-mail address and please check it by noon Friday. (We reserve the right to pick another winner if we don’t hear back from you.) You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. No multiple entries allowed. Complete rules after the jump.
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.)
This is a terrific production poster, direct from Children’s Musical Theaterworks artistic director Skyler Gray’s Facebook page. The poster offers a perfect vibe for this upcoming show from the company’s edgy new “Underground at CMT” production arm. Love that font, too.
1. MUSIC YOU CAN SEE
The Fresno Philharmonic is offering a pops program of “photochoreography” — matching beautiful photographic images with such stalwart composers as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. I did an interview with the creator of photochoreography in Thursday’s Life section. [8 p.m. Friday at the Saroyan; details here.]
I’ve followed the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Yo, Vikings!” for several months now, from a first workshop reading in November through to auditions, the production design process, rehearsals and finally to tech week, when the new musical’s creative team visited from New York. So I’m a lot closer to the material than someone seeing the show cold.
All of which made it a delight on opening night to watch the first-ever extended version of this brisk, tuneful and endearing musical make its “world premiere” at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. (It continues through Sunday; tix here.)
From the opening moments when we meet Emma (a plucky and endearing Genevieve Becker, who alternates the role with Catriona Fray), a headstrong 5th grader with a huge imagination who has a penchant for dressing up as everything from a fox to an amoeba), this theatrical adaptation of Judith Schachner’s children’s story exudes warmth and cleverness.
I caught up with Gray for one last interview just two days before opening.
Question: It’s been a while since we caught up with you to talk about “Yo, Vikings!” Did the rehearsals go smoothly? Now that you’re in the middle of tech week, how do you feel about opening night?
Answer: Rehearsals for this production were unlike anything else I have ever experienced before. It was freeing to create the action of this piece for the first time. Josh Montgomery (the choreographer) and I had moments of trial and error, deciding what devices and staging worked best to tell this story. It was both terrifying and liberating to not have a right or wrong way to approach this story. Because we are the first to embark on this new adventure, we had limitless possibilities to create the world of the play. The cast was very willing to allow Josh and I the freedom to try things and experiment with different scenarios. The final product is the result of a great group of actors and imaginative team.
To say that I am excited about opening is an understatement! This piece has been more terrifying and exciting than anything else I have directed. We will be introducing our audiences to a new story and taking them on a brand new journey. I am sure that I can speak for the cast in saying that opening night is bound to be a night we will all never forget. The cast is ready, the designers work has paid off, and now it is time to release this piece into the world!
Above: CMT’s new promotional video for “Yo, Vikings!”