Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

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.”

An enthusiastic pitch for ‘Tarzan’

Lots of new theater in Fresno this weekend — and one big show is “Tarzan” from Children’s Musical Theaterworks. We featured the show on the cover of today’s 7 section. For my story I talked to the show’s makeup/hair designer, Adamme Sosa, who is offering his Hollywood expertise in the service of children’s theater. Here’s his pitch for the show.

This interview subject crawled into my lap

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It wasn’t your usual celebrity interview. Nick crawled into my lap. Then I rubbed her belly.

How could I resist?

In honor of the River City Theatre Company production of “Annie” at the Reedley Opera House, I decided to devote the full glory of the 7 arts section to Nick Johnson, the amiable Goldendoodle who plays Sandy. She — yes, Nick is a she, so get used to it, “Duck Dynasty” fans — graciously sat down (at my feet) for an interview at the home of her besotted human companion, Karan Johnson, who is known for her acting and directing for Good Company Players. I learned all sorts of fun things about Nick, including her favorite kind of liver treats, and what her secret “go potty” phrase is. (It is very funny, but out of respect for the American political process I decided to leave it out of my story. If you really want to know, send me an email and I’ll tell you.)

In honor of my interview with Nick, I decided to post a bunch of cute photos of her. Consider it my early Christmas present to you.

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Opening tonight


Lots of theater openings tonight:

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.

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Closing weekend for CMT’s ‘Seussical Jr.’


Because of scheduling conflicts, I didn’t get a chance to see the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Seussical Jr.” to review. But I do want to remind people that it runs through Sunday. Local theater blogger Marc Gonzalez posted a review of the show on his site The Road to 1,000.

A bonus for “Seussical Jr.” fans: photos from Bee staffer Gary Kazanjian.


Backstage Spy: ‘A Chorus Line’


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.





My word for “Grease” is OK.

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.

The production continues through Sunday at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘White Christmas’

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.

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Donald’s weekend picks

If you thought last weekend was busy, wait till you see this one. Be sure to see our full coverage in Friday’s 7, including a roundup of classical music concerts.

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]

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Donald’s weekend picks

So many things to do, so little time … besides the following, be sure to check out our mammoth list of holiday-related concerts, plays and events …

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]

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Upcoming theater

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.

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Donald’s weekend picks

Besides getting outside and taking in a festival

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]

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Donald’s weekend picks

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]


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A big theater week ahead

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The big summer theater milestones are already behind us, from “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal” to “Jekyll & Hyde.” (And, of course, “Calamity Jane” continues to pack in crowds.) But there’s another round of openings coming this week. Mark your calendars.

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.

After the jump: More openings.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Jekyll & Hyde’


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.

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Donald’s weekend picks

Besides splitting identities at “Jekyll & Hyde,” of course … And don’t forget the vacationing Mike Oz’s options that he so thoughtfully left for us in his Monday post.

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]


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Win tickets to ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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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.

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The Beehive Asks: Do you get Jekyll and Hyde mixed up?


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.

polls & surveys

Pictured: Bryce Moser as Dr. Jekyll and Isaac Ellis as Mr. Hyde in CMT’s “Jekyll & Hyde.” (Bee photo illustration by Craig Kohlruss)

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Anthony Taylor talks about the ‘Spring Awakening’ band


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.

And the Fresno theater scene is doubly blessed this month when it comes to live music: Essentially the same band for “Awakening” will pop again in StageWorks Fresno’s production of “Next to Normal,” which runs July 13-29 at the Dan Pessano Theatre.

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.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Spring Awakening’


There’s a moment you know …

… you’re at an extremely well crafted production of “Spring Awakening.”

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.)

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Donald’s weekend picks

Besides wishing Chris Sorensen a happy birthday, of course …

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:


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Win tickets to ‘Spring Awakening’


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.

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FresTube: ‘Spring Awakening’

With just two days to go until opening, anticipation is building for “Spring Awakening” at the Memorial Auditorium. Here’s the official video:

Fans of the show will notice the strategic editing of the song “Totally F—–” at the end of the clip. Make no mistake: This is NOT “The Sound of Music.”

Look for the cover story about “Spring Awakening” in Friday’s 7 section.

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!

Facebook photo of the day


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.