And unlike Scrooge, I didn’t change my tune by the end of the Good Company Players production of “A Christmas Carol” at the 2nd Space Theatre. The show isn’t up to GCP standards.
The bright spot is Mark Norwood in the title role of Scrooge. It takes true theatrical finesse to breathe originality and presence into a cliche-prone word like “humbug,” and Norwood is more than up for the task. (You, the reader, might not feel as benevolently about my success in tossing the famed utterance into the lead sentence of this review.) His Scrooge is grumpy and sour, of course, and occasionally a bit whimsical, but he’s also a little scary, which is what this show needs if it isn’t going to descend into cloying sentimentality. Norwood gives us a dark place from which Scrooge can journey into the light, which makes his redemption worth the trip.
Or should have, if directors Max and Nicholle Debbas had given him more of a convincing world for him to inhabit.
OK, so after taking off a couple weeks, I’m back with a new round of 7 picks for 7 days – a list of fun thing to do each day Friday, Nov. 15 through Thursday, Nov. 21. This week’s picks include a hot country band live at the Save Mart Center, a touring Broadway musical at Saroyan Theatre and this month’s silent movie at the Warnors Theatre.
Anyone who’s seen the production knows that Teddy Maldonado, who plays the height-challenged Lord Farquaad, isn’t going to forget this role for a long time. He spends his time on stage in a special contraption that, well, cuts him down to size. I thought it would be interesting to conduct an exit interview with his beleaguered knees. They didn’t kneed much encouragement to spill all.
Question: Well, hello there, Teddy’s knees. I understand you’ve had a rough job these past couple of months. What has it been like helping play Lord Farquaad? Have you gotten any hazard pay?
Answer: It’s been wonderful, certainly the most action we have gotten since Teddy played catcher in little league. We have a contractual agreement with our owner, Teddy, that we receive half of the reimbursement check. We plan to use the money on matching “I survived Duloc” tattoos.
Was any chiropractic intervention required during the run? Pain killers? Bottles of tequila?
No pain killers, no cortisone shots, not even a thank you from “Lord Teddy”. So far, no extra measures have been taken regarding our comfort. We have a pending lawsuit.
As the Good Company Players production of “Shrek” enters its closing weekend, a story comes to light I want to share. It’s an example of how local theater can be, well, more than theater. Anyone’s who been in a show knows that a cast can become a family. Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to George Akina, who plays Shrek’s father and a palace guard in the show.
Akina is a community theater veteran well-known for bringing a warmth and gentleness to his roles at Children’s Musical Theaterworks and CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre. It was long one of his dreams to audition for a Good Company musical, and at the beginning of this year, now that his kids were grown and work schedules allowed, there was more time to do this. He auditioned in January and was cast as the Rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
In March, a year after a normal PSA test, George was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer that had already spread to his spine.
Scrooge in November? You bet. The new Good Company Players production of “A Christmas Carol” opens tonight at the 2nd Space Theatre. It has some great casting, including Mark Norwood — a GCP alum and artistic director of Reedley’s River City Theatre Company — in the plum role of Ebenezer Scrooge. (Something tells me this’ll be a Scrooge I won’t soon forget.) The show continues through Dec. 22. If you see it early in the run, just look at it this way: It’ll give you that much more time for Christmas shopping.
Also opening tonight: the new Fresno State production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” celebrating the play’s 75th anniversary. You can read my story on the show in Friday’s 7 section.
Pictured: Norwood, left, and Brian Freet as Jacob Marley in “A Christmas Carol.”
Somehow, some way, with a budget a fraction of a national tour, a stage smaller than a Broadway star’s dressing room, a prerecorded musical track instead of a live orchestra and a cast that works day jobs, Good Company Players manages once again to produce a show that has more dazzle and heart — not to mention more laughs — than the professional tour that came through town just months before.
With “Shrek the Musical,” GCP capitalizes on the intimate setting at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It gives us a show that connects with the audience in a way that just didn’t work for me when I saw the non-Equity national tour of the same show in April at the Saroyan Theatre.
I don’t count this 2008 musical, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, among my favorites in terms of score. Aside from a few jolly ensemble tunes and a couple of nice ballads, the music in the show doesn’t have much impact for me. (I have no interest in buying the cast recording — and this from someone who has hundreds.) The easy-going and meandering charm of the original movie seems to be replaced by a mad-dash comic sensibility that often tries too hard.
But snappy and creative direction by Denise Graziani, an inspired production design and an excellent cast all elevate the material to another level.
Just think of the Esteps. Three of them — including Mom and Dad — are in three different plays, all performing tonight. Consider the rehearsal schedules, transportation issues, line memorization marathons … let’s just say it’s going to be a busy weekend.
Shannah Estep writes:
Crazy is the operative word. We have been involved in a single show all at once but never 3 different shows, with 3 different companies, at the same time! Talk about a time-balancing act. We also have 2 children not involved in any show, so we have to think about them as we’ll. Thank God for my inlaws!!
Shannah plays a concerned mother in the first-rate “God of Carnage” at the Fresno Art Museum. Eric is one of the members of the quartet in “Forever Plaid” at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Auditorium. And daughter Emily plays Teen Fiona, Peter Pan and other ensemble roles in “Shrek” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.
On Monday, do you think they’ll all collapse?
The photo above: Eric and Shannah with daughter Lauren, left, and Emily in the 2011 Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie.”
Two local shows open tonight, making it a big weekend for theater fans:
BEING GREEN: The Fresno premiere of “Shrek the Musical,” complete with its own 16-foot dragon, opens tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. The Good Company Players production features Tyler Branco in the title role, Emily Pessano as Fiona, Christian David and Tony Sanders sharing the role of Donkey and Teddy Maldonado as Lord Farquaad. I wrote about the dragon in my Sunday Spotlight column.
GLAD TO BE PLAID: CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre opens the musical “Forever Plaid” at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The quartet is played by Peter Allwine, Darren Tharp, Eric Estep and Kyle Dodson. I have an interview with Dodson in today’s Life section. Note: This is a one-weekend run with only four performances, so it’ll be gone in a flash.
Tonight’s opening festivities for the 24th Fresno Reel Pride Festivities include an appearance by the area’s own Michael Willett, star of opening night film “GBF.” Willett is a veteran of productions with Good Company Players and Clovis West High School. The Bee’s Rick Bentley talked to Willett for a story in today’s Life section.
I love this photo of Willett with Emily Pessano in the 2007 GCP production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
“Shrek” fans, take note: The big green guy is tromping into Fresno Thursday in a Good Company Players production. For my Sunday column, I put the spotlight on the cast moving the 16-foot Dragon — designed by Chris Mangels – from GCP’s rehearsal hall to the theater. The result: a little parade for the Tower District. Bonus: I caught it on video.
We all need a little “Earnest” in our lives. I’m guessing that the strong new production of the Oscar Wilde classic “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the 2nd Space Theatre is easily the tenth time I’ve seen the show, including several professional outings, and I’m always happy to see another fine version.
“Fine” is certainly a word to use for this Good Company Players production, which delivers the silly drawing-room comedy — boasting Wilde’s famed wordplay and prickly parries at Britain’s stuffy upper classes — in a well-directed, nicely cast package. I’ve seen productions in the past of “Earnest” that felt overstuffed and somehow rounded, like plump little Victorian pillows, content to be museum pieces. Director J. Daniel Herring achieves another sensibility here: this “Earnest” feels a little sharper, more angled, brisk and athletic. And very funny.
Along with “Julius Caesar” at Woodward Park tonight (Thursday), there’s another much anticipated theater opening: Director J. Daniel Herring’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the 2nd Space Theatre. Here’s the spiel from Good Company Players:
Oscar Wilde’s wonderfully witty romantic comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, tells the tale of two wealthy young gentlemen, Algernon and Jack, who create false identities to escape their social obligations but quickly find that they must exhaust their creative resources to keep up the facade.
To add to the hilarious complications, each one falls in love with the other’s ward and each refuses to give permission to other because of their deceptive characters. Discovering that their charming true loves, Gwendolyn (TESS MIZE) and Cecily (KAYLA WEBER), seem to adore the name ‘Earnest’, Algernon (JACOB RICO) and Jack (RYAN TORRES) both lay claim to the name. Their ingenuity is stretched to the limit when Gwendolyn’s formidable mother, Lady Bracknell (PATRICIA HOFFMAN), arrives and confusion becomes the order of the day. With such stellar writing and amusing characters, it is little wonder that this play is considered by many to be the wittiest play in the English language. Directed by J. DANIEL HERRING and including performances by GORDON MOORE, HEATHER PARISH, BENJAMIN GEDDERT, and MITCHELL LAM HAU, The Importance of Being Earnest opens on Aug. 22, 2013 andruns through Oct. 13, 2013.
Great play and a very promising cast. We’ll have a story in Friday’s 7 section highlighting Hoffman’s take on the iconic Lady Bracknell.
In yesterday’s Sunday Spotlight column, I got excited about last week’s Junior Company Foundation fund-raising gala. I chose to highlight Elena Aguirre, a current member of the company, who served as artistic director of the show. I’m impressed that the entire show was conceived, directed and choreographed by current company members, the oldest of whom are 16. (Aguirre did tell me that one of the hardest things she and the members of her creative team had to do was cut numbers out of the show that just weren’t working as well as they should. that’s always one of the most difficult things an artistic director has to do.)
The photo above, taken by Max Debbas, is the group shot taken after the performance. Those in the JCF T-shirts are current company members and alumni who performed in the show, while those in street clothes are alumni members from the audience.
Here’s the link to donate to the Junior Company Foundation, a registered non-profit.
ORIGINAL POST: What better perk for Beehive readers than to offer a ticket to a sold-out event? That’s the situation with Wednesday night’s big Good Company Players’ Junior Company Foundation gala fundraiser at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. The event sold out long ago, but I have ONE ticket to give away to a lucky reader. It’s good both for the dinner and silent auction — which starts at 5 p.m. — and the performance, which begins at 7.
The evening of music and dance is entirely directed and produced by current Junior Company members. There are special alumni guests as well, including Michael Willett (pictured in a publicity photo for his film “GBF”), Annie (Lundberg) Weldon, Joe Tomasini, Joel Abels, Jenny Myers, and Teresa Hasty Hoopes.
To enter the contest, leave a comment on this post telling us what you like most about the Junior Company. Deadline is 6 p.m. Tuesday (today). One entry per person. I’ll be informing winners by email Tuesday night, so please check yours.
We first see him stomping along in the dark, making his entrance past the tables at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater as if he’s an audience member who imbibed too much iced tea and can’t wait for intermission to use the bathroom. He’s a big guy: dressed in a blocky brown pinstriped suit, his hair cropped short and slicked back, his footsteps clunky. He talks big, too: a Boston accent as thick as chowder, loud and nasally, a voice that could startle a cat. Though he’s a police detective, he doesn’t seem to have a nimble bone in his body; he’s like a bulldozer with a gun.
And then Tyler Branco, playing Lt. Frank Cioffi in the sparkling Good Company Players production of “Curtains” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater (continuing through Sept. 8), reveals his character’s love of musical theater. He turns to strike a dance pose in the song “Show People.” And suddenly he’s as light on his feet as a wispy ballerina. (Well, almost.) It’s one of those wide-smiled, goofy moments so endearing it sets the tone for the entire show.
One of the advantages of being a long-time theater critic and watching community actors grow and mature is getting to be present at the moment they offer a truly breakthrough performance. That’s the case with Branco in “Curtains,” who puts a big, comic stamp in the role of the detective tasked to solve the murder of a Broadway-bound musical’s much-loathed leading lady. Branco has offered fine supporting moments in previous GCP shows, from the blustery ex-husband in “The Wedding Singer” and the sweet-voiced crooner in “Paint Your Wagon” to the hilarious French taunter in “Spamalot.” Now, in a delightful turn in “Curtains,” he demonstrates he can carry a show.
Picture this: I’m on the 15th deck of the Grand Princess cruise ship, and we’ve just sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on the start of a 10-day Alaska cruise to celebrate my dear parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Suddenly, amidst the crisp ocean breezes and celebratory champagne, a stray work-related thought hits me. I forgot to put something in that week’s upcoming 7 section about the Reedley River City Theatre Company’s production of “Les Miserables,” opening that coming Friday. I look down at my cell phone. I still have three bars of coverage, but I know that once we’re out of range of San Francisco, I won’t be able to send an email for two days at sea unless I want to sell my car to pay the cruise line’s exorbitant wireless fees. So I tap out a message with numb fingers (it’s San Francisco Bay, after all) to my colleague Joshua Tehee, asking him to get a Reedley mention into the paper. Fingers keep slipping. Down to two bars. Almost done. One bar. I look up at the bridge. It’s receding in the distance. I hit “send.” Message delivered on the last wisps of 3G coverage. From then on, I’m enveloped in blissful days of basically being cut off from the world. I don’t think about work again.
While I was gone: I missed several theater openings. (And completely missed the StageWorks Fresno production of “Les Miserables,” which was one weekend only.) Now I’m figuring out my schedule this week to try to fit anything in. My plan is to see Good Company’s “Curtains” on Wednesday, CenterStage Clovis Community Theater’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on Thursday (it closes Saturday), StageWorks Fresno’s “Grey Gardens” on opening night Friday, and Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Inherit the Wind” on Saturday. Will I have enough stamina to make it to Reedley’s “Les Miz” on Sunday? Oh so busy!
What it comes down to with any living organism, really, is this: a fight to stay alive. There’s a reason military metaphors are used so often in conjunction with illness and disease. Antibiotics “combat” infections. Chemotherapy “battles” the bad cells. A valiant patient “fights” till the dying breath.
Perhaps one reason Dale Wasserman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the novel by Ken Kesey, retains its impact today — despite its 1960s vibe and feel — is that it so deftly captures this spirit of conflict. And it does so on several different levels. When I’ve seen other productions of the play, I focused mostly on its anti-establishment thrust, as so famously captured in the epic battle between the caustically evil Nurse Ratched, who rules over her ward at a mental institution with an iron hand, and the fight-the-power swagger of Randle P. McMurphy, the petty criminal with a temper who sees a stint in an asylum as a way to get out of hard labor. When Milos Foreman made the film version in the 1970s, he used it as a vivid commentary on the social unrest of the time.
At this new and overall nicely crafted Good Company Players production, which runs at the 2nd Space Theatre through Aug. 18, the rebel-in-society motif still comes through. But for me, an interesting — almost organic/biological — view comes into focus as well. Perhaps it’s because we live in an age in which a substantial chunk of the U.S. population downs anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs on a daily basis. Mental illness isn’t just something that happens to a select group of institutionalized unfortunates.The patients in “Cuckoo” aren’t so much zoo animals at which we gape (as we were more likely to do back in the 1960s) as regular folks unlucky enough to get sick. Yes, the treatment techniques depicted from the 1960s seem barbaric today — from indiscriminate electro-shock treatments to full-fledged frontal lobotomies. Weapons change. But the fight to survive continues.
Note: I’d hoped to post this yesterday, but it’s been a busy week.
The setting: a nearly packed Tower Theatre on Wednesday night pumped up with an audience of adoring theater fans. If you survey the population distribution of the entire planet, there are quite possibly at this point in time more people per square meter who can identify a lyric from Sondheim’s “Company” than anywhere else (unless there’s a revival of “Passion” going on somewhere).
The event: a joyous celebration of the 40th birthday of Good Company Players. Think anniversary party for your still vibrant, congo-line dancing parents crossed with a high school reunion, with a little bit of surprise party thrown in.
The emcee: None other than Dan Pessano himself. If GCP were a religion he’d be the pope, only with a less expensive wardrobe.
The program: An all-star-lineup of GCP stars from both past and present entertains the receptive audience. From Ed Burke, Fred Bologna and Clytee Ramsey to Elena Aguirre and Chelsea Newton, there’s a sense of the generations up on stage.
ORIGINAL POST: We’re pretty excited at Beehive Headquarters today. The Bee’s first ever e-book, published in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Good Company Players, is now available for $2.99 on two platforms: iBook and Vook.
And what does this mean, exactly, especially if you aren’t an expert at the whole e-book thing? No worries: We’re going to try to walk people through the e-book process these next couple of days. Here’s a mini-FAQ:
What if I have an iPhone or iPad? It’s very easy. Download the iBook app on your phone or iPad, go to the store and search by title (“The Company We Keep”), author (Donald Munro) or The Fresno Bee. You can read a sample of the book before purchasing.
What if I want to read the book on my computer? Your best bet is Vook. You can read “The Company We Keep” on your computer using a web browser. You can also download a version of the book at Vook in different formats to transfer to an e-reader such as the Kindle app.
I wanted to do something special for the 40th anniversary of Good Company Players, so I wrote a book. “The Company We Keep” is a short book — as books go. It’s only 20,000 words, while the shortest full-length book usually clocks in at around 40,000 words. But it was still a sizable undertaking for me and my Bee colleagues Kathy Mahan, Craig Kohlruss, John Alvin and Kent Gaston.
You’ll be able to download “The Company We Keep” — the first e-book from The Fresno Bee — for $2.99 on Kindle, iBook, Nook and other stores. When will it be available? Very, very soon. (It’s undergoing final revisions at our online publisher at this very moment.) What will you get when you download the book? Nine chapters tracing GCP’s 40 years through the central character of Dan Pessano. From an extended history of the company’s early days to the successes of some of its brightest stars, the book looks at the challenges of keeping a theater company afloat and asks: What’s next?
A condensed, three-part version of “The Company We Keep” will start Wednesday, the company’s official anniversary, in the print edition and is now available online. (If you want to wait for the book, I recommend taking that route, but then again, I’m biased.) There are some really fun photo galleries to browse online, one from each of GCP’s four decades, along with videos from The Bee’s Craig Kohlruss. You’ll find links to them on a special page.
In Sunday’s Spotlight section, I anticipate Wednesday’s big 40th anniversary celebration for Good Company Players — a red-carpet affair at the Tower Theatre — with 10 memories of my own about the last 20 years of GCP productions. Here’s my first one:
The “Go-go-go Joseph” cheerleader scene in the terrific 1996 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” The red baseball caps, pompons and pennants transformed the stage into an instant pep rally. Other productions I’ve seen of the show might use that same cheerleader convention, but this staging of the scene set the standards for all others.
What are your favorite GCP memories from over the years? (I’m hoping for some help here from longtime GCP-goers who especially might be able to help me with those first 20 years.) Feel free to add one, two or 10 to this post.
Valerie Munoz tackles a big role in the new Good Company Players production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which plays through Aug. 18 at the 2nd Space Theatre. Nurse Ratched is one of the classic villains — do people say villainess anymore? — of stage and screen. We catch up with her to talk about the role in a condensed interview in Friday’s issue of 7. Here’s the extended version.
Question: For those who aren’t familiar, what is the play about?
Answer: It is set in a mental institution in the 1960s. It focuses on one ward of the hospital, run by the infamous Nurse Ratched. Her iron rule of the ward is upset by the arrival of Randle P. McMurphy, a new admission who may be feigning mental illness to escape his prison sentence. He immediately challenges authority and encourages the other patients to do the same, thereby creating the conflict within the story.
How are the movie, play and book different?
One of the main differences is that the play, like the book, is told from Chief Bromden’s perspective. Therefore, the chief has many monologues in the play. Another difference is that in the iconic scene in the play where McMurphy and the other patients defy Nurse Ratched’s prohibition against watching the World Series, and instead watch an imaginary game, Nurse Ratched loses her carefully maintained self-control and comes out of the booth to scream at them all to stop. The book does a good job of explaining that this momentary loss only serves to steel her resolve further, and instead of being the win McMurphy thinks he has, it instead spells the beginning of his eventual demise.
Fred Bologna closed the chapter on a remarkable run last weekend. He directed “New Wrinkles,” the annual senior showcase revue at Fresno City College, for 10 years. His last production, “New Wrinkles Turns Silver,” marked the franchise’s 25th anniversary.
Bologna now lives in Carmel, but he hasn’t forgotten Fresno. After 40 years with Good Company Players, he plans to direct January’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which happened to be the company’s very first show back in 1973.
I caught up with Bologna for an interview before “New Wrinkles” closed, and I wanted to be sure to acknowledge his sustained contribution to Fresno’s cultural scene — not only with “Wrinkles,” but in general.
Question: Were you hesitant at all when you first took on the role of directing “New Wrinkles”?
No. I had taught elementary school for 11 years, third grade. I told the interviewing committee when they asked me why I thought I could direct a troupe of senior citizens that I had taught third graders. Working with a performing group of senior citizens would be about the same. But, I had been artistic director of the fresno balllet, taught and directed and choreographed for Roosevlt School of the Arts, Good Company Players, and many other theater organizations. I felt that I could make this work. I did get a little nervous when I discovered the first rehearsal that Tom Wright (the former director of “New Wrinkles”) and his wife showed up. They stayed for three years.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is working on some heavy themes.
You forget that some, because “Fiddler” is such a staple of musical theater and because it’s about love and marriage, and those things come with a certain amount of revelry. Add on the singing and dancing and a few well-placed one liners, and the play could easily be reduced to a kind of second-rate romantic comedy.
Good Company Players’ presentation of “Fiddler,” (which runs through July 14 at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater), doesn’t run that risk. It doesn’t dwell on the heaviness, by any means, but it doesn’t shy away from it either.
Francine and Murray Farber ask why I skipped reviewing the latest Good Company Players musical. They write:
Ever since opening night of “Fiddler on the Roof” we have been scouring the Bee and blog for your review. We are always interested in your viewpoints. We are mystified — we did see the “beard story” but we don’t count that! Is there a reason this great Roger Rocka show is being overlooked?
I did skip reviewing “Fiddler,” but it’s for a good reason: I’m in the process of putting together a big story about Good Company’s upcoming 40th anniversary. As part of that story, I’ve followed “Fiddler” from a backstage perspective — which meant I was there for load-in of the set, first tech rehearsal, opening night, etc. I felt I was too close to the production to be able to step back far enough for a critical distance.
But … the good news is that “Fiddler” will get a review, just a little later than usual. My colleague Joshua Tehee got the chance to see the show Sunday afternoon, and he will be posting a review soon.
In the meantime, I forgot to post my own contribution to this “Fiddler” production on opening weekend — The Bee’s first ever Russian Jew Beard Poll. The margin of error is three-eights of a can of shaving cream. The photo above is of Henry Montelongo, left, who plays Lazar Wolf, and Chris Hoffman, who plays Mendel, the rabbi’s son. After the jump you’ll find a photo of the Anatevka gang getting zany.