Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Catching up with the many endings of ‘Drood’

The Voting

I didn’t want this week to get away from me without checking in with the fun folks at the College of the Sequoias who staged such an ambitious production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” That show, if you’ll recall, has literally hundreds of different possible endings because the audience gets to vote on three different questions:

  • Who is the mysterious “Dick Datchery,” the disguised detective who shows up in the second act?
  • Who is the murderer?
  • Who should end up as the two lovers at the end of the play?

I checked in with COS’ Chris Mangels, curious how many different permutations were played out over the show’s seven-performance run:

Crisparkle and Bazzard were the most popular Datcherys and were the only ones ever selected.

We wound up getting to see every murderer except Durdles.  Reverend Crisparkle was chosen twice.

The lovers had a lot of variety.  Durdles and Puffer were chosen three times but we also got to see Puffer and Crisparkle, Rosa Bud and Durdles, and even the shocking pairing of the Landless twins (who deliver  a hilarious indictment to the audience for being so perverted as to insist that they become lovers).

We usually rehearsed two Datcheries and two murderers per night at the Dress Rehearsals to accommodate their practice but we didn’t rehearse all 39 lover combinations.  We DID make sure that we rehearsed in way that each possible lover got to go through a possible scene however, so no one was completely unprepared when chosen.  Still, a few of the selections were surprising and caught our actors off guard (like Durdles and Rosa) but they all did a great job!

Fun stuff.

Win tickets to ‘Drood’ at COS

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A big musical at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia is always cause for celebration, and I’m particularly looking forward to “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which opens Friday. I saw the original Broadway production many years ago and have always loved the music and plot, which cleverly retells Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel. Because Dickens died before solving the mystery for his readers, audiences at the musical get a chance at the end to vote for from among “five candidates for the undercover detective, seven candidates for the murderer, and a varying number of candidates who can be chosen as lovers,” Chris Mangels of COS tells me. He describes the production:

We always aim high when it comes to our production design, and this show is no different. The challenge of creating the world of an 1880 English Music Hall has been tackled by our four designers with an eye to honor the costumes and set pieces that a Victorian theatre company would utilize while maintaining some of the modern sensibilities that contemporary audiences have come to expect. We have created a brand new proscenium onstage to mimic the architectural styles that were popular in 1880′s London, and we utilize some very old-style drops and set pieces that hopefully feel like they have come out of storage in the Music Hall Royale. The dozens of costumes and wigs are also very period-specific and the actors are learning to perform the raucous musical numbers in the show while buried under corsets and layers of clothing. It has been a really wonderful challenge for all of us to tackle.

To kick off the play’s run, which goes for seven performances through March 23, I’m giving away two tickets to opening night (7:30 p.m. Friday).

To enter the contest, leave a comment on this post telling us if you think “Murder, She Wrote” will ever be turned into a Broadway musical.

Deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winner by email on Thursday evening, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Thursday morning, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick these tickets up at the box office. Rules are on the jump.

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A big (and expensive) honor for COS theater

Oberon and Fairies - Photo by Ken Weisenberger

The College of the Sequoias October production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is going places.

The production is one of eight out of 60 nominated shows from colleges and universities in the southwest region of the U.S. to be selected for presentation at the regional finals of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The event will be held February in Los Angeles.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the show in October, there will be two fund-raising January performances at COS to kick off the road to L.A.

I caught up with director Chris Mangels, who penned the adaptation, to ask him how complicated it will be to take such a big and elaborate production on the road.

When was the selection made?

I was contacted by Matt Neves, the new head of Region 8, on Saturday, December 7. I told my colleagues first, my cast second, and then we announced it to the school and on our Facebook page on Monday, December 9. Things have been hopping all over COS ever since.

Has COS ever received this honor before?

No. This is only our second year being involved with KC / ACTF. We were contacted about last year’s production of “Boeing-Boeing” potentially going to the Festival, but I had not designed the set to travel so we withdrew ourselves from consideration for the honor. It taught me that we might have a fighting chance of taking a production on the road, however, so this year we threw all our eggs in the “Midsummer” basket and designed the whole show with the potential to be loaded up and taken to LA. Luckily for us, it paid off. We are really excited!

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Brian Pucheu opens in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

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Brian Pucheu jumped at the chance to play the dual title roles in the new production of “Jekyll & Hyde” at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias, which opens tonight. And why not? It’s one of those plum theater roles in which you get to be really good and really bad, sometimes with just a few seconds to shift from one character to another.

We caught up with Pucheu, who’s well known for his many Fresno-area theater roles, to talk about the Visalia production.

Question: Have you ever played this role before? What attracted you to it?

No, I’ve not. The challenging music is what first drew me to it.

COS productions are known for impressive stagecraft. What are a couple of things that you think will stand out for audiences?

The sheer scale of the set and its clever use of its space.

Where do you think you fall on the Jekyll-and-Hyde scale: Are you mostly Jekyll and a little bit of Hyde? Or vice versa?

I believe that I walk the line between the two quite well. I am a Gemini, after all.

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Donald’s weekend picks

Besides doing “The Time Warp” with the outstanding local production of “Rocky Horror” at the Severance Theatre …

Israeli-born pianist Alon Goldstein has performed with many of the great orchestras of the world — San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony, you name it — but he’s just as well known for his solo work. He’ll perform tonight at Fresno State as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series. I had a terrific and fascinating phone conversation with Goldstein that I wrote up for Friday’s 7 section. If you’re interested in the mind of a classical pianist, check out his intriguing blog, which I reference in the story. [Details]


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I’ll gladly drive the 45 minutes to Visalia for the privilege to pee.

The College of the Sequoias theater department tackles “Urinetown,” the musical with perhaps the most unappealing title in the world, in a smoothly directed, mostly solid performance that continues through Saturday.

Boasting a couple of top-notch performances from its female leads and often creatively staged by Chris Mangels, the show —  a dystopian political allegory in which water is so rare that residents of a beleaguered city have to pay for the privilege of relieving themselves —  hits many of the high points for which it’s been known ever since a 2001 Broadway debut.  Among them: a snide, silly cynicism laced with more darkness than you’d expect; clever send-ups of the Broadway genre; and, especially, some great songs delivered well. (“But the music’s so happy,” the character of Little Sally exclaims when she’s reminded this is not a happy musical.)

That said, this production doesn’t flush with quite the ferocity it could have. There are some weaknesses.

But also a lot of strengths.

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Donald’s weekend picks

Besides tonight’s must-see concert starring that little lady with the giant voice, Kristin Chenoweth

Fresno will only be the fourth city so far to get to see the newly reborn main company of the Dance Theatre Harlem, which had to shut down in 2004 for economic reasons. The performance is 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Saroyan Theatre. I give you the whole story in Friday’s 7 cover story. [Details]

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Donald’s weekend picks

Philip Levine, our nation’s poet laureate, has been incredibly gracious with his time in Fresno recently. (He was honored in a big Fresno State shindig in January, has spoken at the Unitarian Universalist Church and last week took part in a memorable fusion of jazz and poetry with the Benjamin Boone Jazz Quartet.) Now’s your chance to hear him in a traditional talk and poetry reading.


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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Secret Garden’


The song is called “Come to My Garden.” How could I resist that call? It’s no secret the College of the Sequoias theater department puts on fine musicals, so I made a point to zip to Visalia to catch “The Secret Garden,” based on the classic tale by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

This big production features some sterling voices, impressive costumes, an ambitious scenic design and a tender fidelity to the haunting atmosphere demanded by an extremely complex storyline. While the show is not quite as polished as previous COS productions I’ve seen, there’s a lot to recommend. It continues through Sunday at the College of the Sequoias Theatre. [Details]

Pictured: Kaley McConnaughey, Ashley Taylor.

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To-Do Tonight: From DJs to ukuleles


Here’s an eclectic mix of places you may want to be this evening:

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Concert News: Jenny Lewis not visiting Visalia anymore

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UPDATE: Bad news, hipsters. Jenny Lewis announced the cancellation of a bunch of a West Coast tour dates — including the Visalia show. More info here. Bummer.

ORIGINAL POST, 9/12: Jenny Lewis — the indie rock singer who’s fronted Rilo Kiley, released solo albums and even done some acting — will make a tour stop at Visalia on Oct. 25.

She’ll play an all-ages concert on Oct. 25 at the College of Sequoias theater, which holds about 400 people. Tickets cost $15 and go on sale today at noon via Ticketweb.

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Performance added for COS’ ‘Phantom’

UPDATE 3/14: Here’s a Facebook pic posted by Erik Valencia of this afternoon’s line at COS for “Phantom” tickets for the added performance. He was worried about getting seats but got to the window in time. I’m assuming the show is long past sold-out by now. Just goes to show the popularity of the “Phantom” brand.


ORIGINAL ENTRY 3/11: Now here’s a feat to brag about in the theater world: The College of the Sequoias in Visalia sold out the entire run of “The Phantom of the Opera” more than a week before the show even opens.

(Envious artistic and executive directors of theater companies nationwide: You can pick your jaws up off all those respective floors now.)

But there’s good news for people who procrastinated. The college at 5 p.m. today announced that, after extensive negotiations with cast, crew and musicians, one performance has been added for Wednesday, March 23. Tickets will go on sale on sale Monday at 12:15 p.m.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’

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Chris Mangels’ ambitious and visually charged new production of Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” — which continues through Saturday at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia — is dark stuff, indeed.

So dark, in fact, that I somewhat regret that in my advance piece on the show in last week’s issue of 7 I so heavily emphasized the family-friendly nature of the show. True, this show lacks the specific red flags for objectionable material that might put parents on edge (explicit violence, excessive profanity, sexual situations). But I think Mangels has missed the mark if he thinks he’s made a show “that local families could see together but still maintain the type of theatricality and visceral thrill that attracts me as an artist,” as he told me.

Again, I feel this way not so much due to objectionable content but because of the production’s overall tone and demeanor: It gets bogged down in its overwhelmingly bleak world. Bradbury’s philosophical musings about mortality, childhood fears and middle-aged angst become a morass, not a platform for crisp storytelling.

Photo: Danielle Behrens, left, James Sherrill and Jenny Bettencourt in “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

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More on ‘Something Wicked’


Director Chris Mangels aims to creep us out just a little with an atmospheric production of Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia. I write about the show and include excerpts of my interview with Mangels in Friday’s issue of 7. Here’s the complete interview:

Question: Most people are familiar with the book. Tell me about the stage adaptation.

Answer: Bradbury is a fairly prolific dramatist and one of the best things about his playwrighting is how loyal he stays to his short-stories and novels when adapting them for the stage. I saw him speak about two years ago at a Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica and he said that he loves to write what is in his mind’s eye and then trust the theatrical artists to interpret it. He is surprisingly non-possessive of his own work and really has confidence in the artistic instinct. So our production is VERY loyal to the book while streamlining some of the sequences to maintain momentum. Overall, I think it is beautifully loyal to the source material, and people who love the book will hopefully really embrace the play. Best of all, Bradbury’s unique and florid prose is maintained throughout.

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