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.
Good Company Players opens the two-person play “Love Letters” tonight at the 2nd Space Theatre. One interesting thing about the production is you could conceivably see it four times over its two-month run with different casts.
One of the reasons “Love Letters,” which A.R. Gurney wrote in 1988, has been such a successful title over the years is the ease with which casts can rotate in and out of the production. The play, which tells the story of a nearly 50-year relationship between a man named Andy and woman named Melissa, is related in letters and cards written to each other over the years. (Presumably if the play were contemporary, it’d have to include emails and Tweets.) When the show played both on and Off-Broadway, it featured rotating casts.
The 2nd Space production, directed by Karan Johnson, uses the same casting technique. Tessa Cavaletto and Noel Adams kick off the production with a two week run (through May 5). They’re followed by Gordon Moore and Ameila Ryan (May 9-19), Peter Allwine and Danielle Jorn (May 23-June 2) and Amalie Larsen and Chris Carsten (June 6-16). An interesting side note: two of the couples are partnered in real life, and two aren’t. I wonder if the play is harder or easier to perform if you’re performing with your real-life partner.
The famous Broadway classic “They Call the Wind Maria” — which is pronounced “Mar-eye-ah,” for all you “Paint Your Wagon” neophytes out there — is a beautiful song. Tyler Branco, who starts off the song in the nicely staged Good Company Players revival at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, offers a sweet and moving interpretation.
But I surprised myself by falling for a different tune entirely, one that hasn’t quite stood the test of time as well as a song about the wind. It’s a throwaway comic ditty titled “In Between.” The song is performed by the amiable Greg Ruud, portraying the show’s central character, Ben, a hardscrabble gold prospector always hoping for the next big strike. He’s wooing a woman named Elizabeth (a sharply played Paige Parker), an unlikely candidate for betrothal considering she’s already married to someone else. But that isn’t as big a complication as you’d think. Elizabeth is, you see, the second wife of a Mormon gentleman who moves to a Gold Rush town in which men outnumber women 400 to one. So it makes perfect sense for her practical-minded husband to auction her off — yes, sell her, as in some other lucky chap buying a wife — to the highest bidder.
And thus we’re treated to “In Between,” an ode to mediocrity sung with a twinkle by Ben, who assures Elizabeth that he might not be the bravest or richest guy in the world, but neither is he the poorest or biggest coward. The song is one of the highlights of the show, an easygoing and sparkling nod to our hard-working, frontier-savvy forebears who flocked to California for gold. “Paint Your Wagon” isn’t about big, mythic heroes. Instead it’s about the colorful “average folks” who settled these parts in a time when sleeping inside was a luxury.
It’s Maria, of course. (Pronounced Mar-eye-ah.) The Good Company Players production of the Gold Rush-era musical “Paint Your Wagon,” with music and lyrics by the beloved Lerner and Loewe, opens tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. The show’s best known tune is the beautiful “They Call the Wind Maria.” (Which kicks off with a solo by my favorite French taunter, Tyler Branco.)
We made the show our 7 cover story, so you can look for that tomorrow. Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss took some wonderful photos at the dress rehearsal. I particularly like the one above of Greg Ruud (who plays the gold prospector Ben) and Alyssa Gaynor (his daughter, Jennifer). I’ll be there tonight for a trip back to the Gold Rush.
We’re conditioned to think there’s power in numbers. Consider the five senses. A person with all five is at a distinct advantage over someone who only has four, right?
Especially if the one with four is blind and sharing a confined space with an avowed killer.
But, as we slowly learn in the suspenseful stage production of “Wait Until Dark,” directed by Denise Graziani, the math doesn’t always add up so neatly.
Key to this crisply designed — and in a few choice moments, jump-in-your-seat scary — Good Company Players production is a rousing performance by Danielle Jorn as Susy, a recently blinded woman who gets caught up in desperate power struggle with a trio of hardened criminals.
UPDATE: Welcome to readers finding my “video column” through Sunday’s Spotlight section.
ORIGINAL POST: For my upcoming Sunday column, I figured it was time to get to the bottom — heh heh, I said “bottom” — of this whole French Taunter business. If you start giggling hysterically when someone says, “Your mother is a hamster,” you’ll be right at home with my very first Beehive video interview. If not, well, you’ll likely be bewildered. But at least you get to see me look very silly as I go mano a mano with the Taunter himself, played by Tyler Branco in the Good Company Players production.
Good Company Players turns off the lights and plays the suspense card with its new production of “Wait Until Dark” at the 2nd Space Theatre. In Friday’s 7 section, I talk with Danielle Jorn, who has the plum role of a blind woman who falls into a web spun by a trio of criminals. Here’s the extended version of our interview.
Question: Briefly put, what is the plot of “Wait Until Dark”?
It follows Susy, a blind woman, who is being conned by three men that believe a doll (filled with some very expensive “contraband”) is hidden somewhere in her apartment.
How would you describe Susy, your character?
Susy is such a strong person. She hasn’t been blind her entire life. She was recently blinded in a car accident. While it has been an adjustment period for her and she does struggle with it, she hasn’t allowed it to disable her nor does she ever play the victim. She wants nothing more than to be independent and to do things on her own. In fact, you could go so far as to say she is a bit stubborn about it. She has a great sense of humor as well. I think that’s a big part of how she has gotten through losing her sight. That’s something she and I definitely have in common, we both use humor to mask any sort of struggle.
Hey. You there, audience member. I want you to listen very closely to what I’m going to say.
Your mother was a hamster.
Now let’s gauge your reaction. Did you:
1) Immediately turn to the person nearest you — whether good friend or total stranger — and without hesitation, as if by Pavlovian response, blurt out “and your father smelt of elderberries”?
2) Offer a quizzical but hearty laugh, a little lost as to the context of the line but willing to extend your comic goodwill to such an offbeat non sequitur?
3) Listen with stone-faced bewilderment, trying to grasp at anything — anything! — remotely funny about someone declaring that the woman who bore you was a Eurasian rodent with large cheek pouches and a short tail — but finding yourself unable to cough up anything but a desultory chuckle?
If you’re in the first camp, you’ll likely react to the zany and well-done new Good Company Players production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” like a starving dieter granted permission to tear into a lemon meringue pie. If you fall into the second category, I’m guessing you’ll be happy to hop aboard and raft the comic whitewaters of this very silly and engaging musical.
And if you just don’t get the whole Monty Python phenomenon — and you don’t want to get it — you might, like the famed Black Knight, rather have your limbs chopped off one by one than subject yourself to an evening featuring some of the most famous bits of the Python legacy.
1. WATCH OUT FOR FLYING COWS
On Thursday on the Beehive I told you about opening night of “Spamalot.” Well, I attended the show last night — and while my review will come early next week, let’s just say I laughed so hard during the French Taunter scene that I almost choked on my Good Company water. (And there was even a gag directed at me, which I’m not going to share so as to ruin the moment, but let’s just say I’ve never been quite so personally surprised during a performance.) Check out my cover story in Friday’s 7. Also, Bee photographer Gary Kazanjian took a bunch of great photos, which he posted in an online gallery. “Spamalot” continues at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through March 17. [Details]
It’s amazing what one line of dialogue can do to a Monty Python fan.
Try it by asking: “Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?”
If the person you ask this odd question of degenerates into hysterical giggles, and then starts to tell you all about King Arthur and his much-put-upon personal assistant, Patsy, then you know you’ve got an M.P. fan on your hands.
As Good Company Players prepares to open the local premiere Thursday of the musical “Spamalot,” we’re looking for some of those fans to share their favorite Monty Python scenarios from the movies. Is it the Killer Rabbit? The “Bring out your dead” scene? Or how about the Black Knight who shrugs away his chopped off appendages one by one?
“Spamalot” is mostly based on the classic movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” but the musical also includes bits and pieces from the entire Python oeuvre, so we’re happy to hear about any of your favorite moments. While you’re at it, tell us (if you’d like) your age, how big a fan you are and why you think the comic magic still works today. Have a funny “Monty Python” memory? Share it with us.
We’ll pick one of the submissions at random as a winner and give that person two tickets (dinner and show) to any performance of “Spamalot,” which runs through March 17 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. I’ll be contacting the winner by email, and I’ll also pick some comments to run in my story in next Friday’s issue of 7 about the opening of the show.
Only one entry per person, please. Deadline is 2 p.m. Tuesday. For rules, see the jump.
1. FRESNO GRAND OPERA’S ‘LA RONDINE’ Tonight’s opening night performance is a big deal. It marks the first time Fresno Grand Opera will attempt a fully staged performance (with lights, set and costumes) at the Shaghoian Hall. With only about 750 seats, this venue is about a third smaller than the Saroyan Theatre, where the company has staged operas for more than a decade. Fresno Grand Opera picked an intimate opera for this more intimate venue, and I’m curious to see the results. I wrote about the venue change — and checked in with lead singers Rebecca Davis and Chad A. Johnson — in my Sunday Spotlight column. And I focus on the Italian conductor Valerio Galli, pictured below, who is making his American debut, in Friday’s 7 section. [Details]
To this day, I still don’t understand how a play can be written by three people. Does one focus on the plot, another flesh out the characters and the third concentrate on the one-liners? Or does one do all the writing and the other two decide what to order for take-out?
After watching three Good Company Players productions now over a period of four years from the team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, it’s obvious that whatever the process, this trio has quite the machine going. After giving us “Dearly Beloved” in 2010 and “The Dixie Swim Club” in 2011, the latest title featured from the trio at the 2nd Space Theatre is the cheery but mostly unremarkable comedy “The Red Velvet Cake War.” (It continues Thursdays-Sundays through Feb. 24.)
With its goofy cracks about backwards Texans and inoffensive sex humor, this tale of a dysfunctional family reunion gone awry is aimed solidly at an older demographic. Hemorrhoid joke? Check. Gag about eating too many beans? Double check. A witticism about crafting? Triple check. Randy senior gentleman chasing even randier senior lady? Don’t bother with the scorecard; you’ve hit the jackpot.
The result is silly and innocuous fun that tickles a certain kind of funny bone. (As a dignified older woman sitting near me opening night said at intermission, “This is so crazy!”)
Besides, as Mike Oz put it in his own picks, hoping that no more local businesses close …
1. EXPERIENCE AN OPERA MARATHON
Everything about Berlioz’s vast “Les Troyens” is epic — including its length. The first installment of the year of the Metropolitan Opera’s popular Live in HD series clocks in at 5 hours, 45 minutes. Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Bryan Hymel and Dwayne Croft lead the cast, portraying characters from the Trojan War. It screens at 9 a.m. Saturday at Edwards. Here’s the New York Times review of the production.
I still remember the time I saw Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and I swear it must have clocked in at close to six hours including two long intermissions. It’s kind of fun to just settle back and bask in a work of such length. [Details]
UPDATE 01/04: Here’s the link to my interview in Friday’s 7 section.
ORIGINAL POST: A dysfunctional family reunion is the name of the game in the new Good Company Players production of “The Red Velvet Cake War,” which opens Thursday at the 2nd Space Theatre. This comedy is written by the trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. It’s the team responsible for “Dearly Beloved” and “The Dixie Swim Club,” which 2nd Space-goers have seen in recent years.
I’ll be featuring an interview with Jacquie Broach, pictured right, and Wendy Snyder-Crabtree, left, in Friday’s 7 section. (I’ll pass along the link when it posts.) Snyder-Crabtree explains the storyline:
This hilarious play is centered in the small town of Sweetgum, TX and follows the antics of the Verdeen family cousins – Gaynelle, Peaches, and Jimmie Wyvette, as they attempt to throw the perfect family reunion. However, things spin wildly out of control thanks to a neighbor’s Great Dane, a court appointed psychologist, a high-stakes wager that could cost Gaynelle her house and, oh yes, a tornado.
You might have to dig a little harder for cultural events this pre-Christmas weekend — but you can still find some great possibilities.
1. ENJOY A ‘MIRACLE’
The Good Company Players production of “Dad’s Christmas Miracle” at the 2nd Space Theatre has just four performances left: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. This nostalgic comedy is about a boy who has to convince his family and teacher he’s worthy of a visit from Santa. Another theater option for the weekend is the first-rate “Beehive,” which continues at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. [Details]
Besides doing “The Time Warp” with the outstanding local production of “Rocky Horror” at the Severance Theatre …
1. LISTEN TO A GREAT PIANIST
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]
Sure, it might not have quite the production values of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” but Fresno’s wacky talk show “Basically Brandon” has something the big network stars don’t: lots of local guests. This plucky, low-budget Internet-streamed show also has gobs of personality thanks to hosts Brandon Delsid and Camille Gaston, both stalwarts of the local theater scene. Tonight’s episode, which kicks off the show’s second season, airs at 10:30 p.m. at centralvalleytalk.com. The lineup looks great:
The season premiere will host a slew of local Fresno talent including cast members Danielle Behrens, Dominic Grijalva, Daniel Hernandez and Paige Parker from Good Company Players’ current production of “Singin’ in the Rain” as well as Bryce Moser, Alexis Garriott and Javier Padilla from Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s upcoming revival of “The Rocky Horror Show, Live!” Fan favorite musical guest Greg Ruud will also make an appearance with his trusty guitar. The show has undergone some revamping and has added new segments, new title cards and even a theme song!
Viewers will have a chance to win some prizes including movie tickets and and “Basically Brandon” T-shirts.
1. ENJOY A LITTLE NIGHT (OR MATINEE) MUSIC
It’s the last weekend for StageWorks Fresno’s handsome production of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Here’s my review. [Details]
It’s one of the riveting moments in American literature and cinema. When small-town lawyer Atticus Finch gives the famed speech to the jury in Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the reader or viewer should be stirred to emotional heights — and outrage.
Chris Carsten, in the role made so indelible in the beloved 1962 movie by Gregory Peck, puts his own spin on the character in this “memory play” about a black man in the 1935 Deep South falsely accused of raping a white woman. He plays his Atticus with a gentle, almost beleaguered, intensity. His closing argument doesn’t soar or thunder. He’s no outsider railing against the standards of the day. Rather, his words are those of a man who is much a part of Maycomb, Ala., as his neighbors, and who realizes that the path to change will be long and arduous.
He was heavily involved with Merced’s local theater scene, where he was a teacher, choreographer, actor and director. Robert Hypes, artistic director at Playhouse Merced, wrote in a Facebook post:
He was a person that would light up every room he was in with his laugh and smile. He was a constant reminder that Merced could be better than what newspapers all across the country were saying about our town. Instantly, recognizable whenever he stopped by local restaurants and stores, his zeal for life was contagious and left all of us feeling better about ourselves.
Good Company Players tackles the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” with a production of the stage adaptation opening Thursday at the 2nd Space Theatre. I got the chance to talk with tony sanders (who doesn’t capitalize his name), a professional actor and director appearing in the show, for a story in Thursday’s Life section. Here’s the extended interview.
Question: “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a beloved work, but it’s new to some people. Can you give a brief description of the storyline?
Answer: With Scout as our guide, we take a look at a small town in 1935 Alabama as a black man is put on trail for a crime he did not commit. Together we follow Scout’s father Atticus as he endeavors the defend Tom Robinson and to protect his family from the dangerous foes who want him to fail.
It’s best known as a book and movie. How faithful is the play to the material?
Christopher Sergel actually adapted Harper Lee’s novel twice: one version featuring an adult Jean Louise as our guide (the GCP version). The theatrical versions came after the Academy Award winning movie featuring Gregory Peck. In both variations, Sergel remains very close the original text. He wisely met with Lee (only once) to discuss the direction of the adaptation before he wrote it.
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.
The scene: Friday afternoon at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, and I’m sitting on stage with Barbara Mandrell. She’s in town to watch her sister Louise perform in the Good Company Players production of “Calamity Jane” that night, and at a pre-performance press conference, she’s giving me my own interview before meeting the local TV press. (My story ran in Saturday’s Bee.)
The dynamic: I’ve talked to Louise Mandrell more than a dozen times since the initial announcement that “Calamity Jane” was coming to Fresno, and almost every time she’s made some significant mention of her beloved big sister. This is more than just casual name dropping. Louise calls Barbara her mentor and best friend, and she still retains some of that “little sister awe” from childhood, often singing her sister’s talents both on and off the concert stage. (I now know, for example, that Barbara is a passionate gardener and a first-rate flower arranger.) Today at Good Company, I can tell Louise is a little nervous because she wants Barbara to be comfortable and for everything to so smoothly. She hovers at the periphery of the interview: bringing Barbara a Coke, asking if she’s comfortable in her chair, stepping in before the photo shoot to powder away excess shine on her forehead. It’s sweet how solicitous — and protective — Louise is. Plus, she’s just plain excited for her sister to see her in the show.