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.
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.
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.
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]
Want a sneak peek of tomorrow’s 7 cover? I feature Good Company’s “Singing’ in the Rain,” which opens tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. My interview with Daniel Hernandez and Dominic Grijalva is the cover story. Here’s the extended version for people who want even more Daniel and Dominic.
Question: Most people know the story of “Singin’ in the Rain,” but for those who don’t, give us a brief synopsis.
DANIEL: Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the darlings of the silent silver screen. The “talkie” era hits Hollywood and the movie studio, Monumental Pictures, struggles to keep up with the times. Don has had many years of singing and dancing experience with his best friend Cosmo Brown so his transformation into the talkies is rather smooth. Lina, on the other hand, has trouble with the sharp tone of her voice, so Cosmo and Don decide to dub her, using the voice of an aspiring actress, Kathy Seldon, to save their movie. When the jealous Lina finds the strategy of the studio, she does not want to share the credits with Kathy and tries to force the studio to use Kathy in the shadow to dub her in other productions.
It doesn’t matter what stage it is. Louise Mandrell owns it.
With her decades of country-music experience behind her, the singer has a knack for making a moment in the spotlight seem the most important thing in the world to her. It’s all about charisma. She’s up there on stage rooting for the audience to have a good time — and you, in turn, root for her to put on a great show.
It’s long been a dream for Mandrell to try her hand at musical theater, and she gets her chance with a rollicking, boisterous and warm-hearted career debut in the Good Company Players production of “Calamity Jane” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Mandrell is no theater veteran, and there were several reminders of that fact (some mumbled lyrics, a few moments of hesitation, a missed cue) during the opening night performance. But even her missteps were endearing. Supported by a strong cast and drawing upon Laurie Pessano’s strong direction, Mandrell’s enthusiasm is infectious.
But in some ways it’s even more impressive when you can take an old classic such as “The Sound of Music” and make it fresh, exciting and, well, downright beautiful. That’s what director Dan Pessano and his stellar cast, production team and crew have done with the current production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.
I’ve seen “The Sound of Music” many, many times — both professionally and at the community-theater level — and this is my all-time favorite version.
As superlative shows usually do, this one had me from the opening moments, when the wonderful Hanna Nielsen, as Maria, sings the title song sitting alone in a mountain meadow. This isn’t a time for big vocals or grand performance — it’s a tender, solitary, intensely personal communion between conflicted young novitiate and the land she knows so well. I knew in my musical-theater gut the moment I heard Nielsen’s understated and sensitive approach to the number that there were great things to come.
I saw the show midway through the run — and there are just three weeks left of performances. It closes July 15.
—————- Pictured: John Clay Cowger, Colin Bracewell, Taryn Morgan, Kindle Cowger, Karlie Stemler, Maya Gengozian, Claira Broach and Gordon Moore in “The Sound of Music.”
One of the great things about a classic musical such as “The Sound of Music” is that no matter how many times it’s produced, there’s always a new generation of performers for whom it’s a brand new experience. The new Good Company Players production, directed by Dan Pessano, opens tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater featuring double-casts of Von Trapp siblings performing on alternating days:
Performing on Thursday evenings, Saturday evenings, and some Sunday evening performances are Kara Linkowski, Nathan Fennacy, Emily Estep, Samuel Linkowski, Chelsea Newton, Kyla Martin, and Avery Addington.
Performing on Friday evenings, Sunday matinees, and some Sunday evening performances are Claira Broach, John Clay Cowger, Kindle Cowger, Colin Clark-Bracewell, Maya Gengozian, Taryn Moran, & Karlie Stemler. (Pictured above with Gordon Moore as Uncle Max.)
Hanna Nielsen plays Maria and Eric Estep plays the Captain in the production, which continues through July 15.
1. GET ‘DIRTY’ ONE LAST TIME
The Good Company Players happy production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is in its final weekend. Peter Allwine (pictured below), Gordon Moore and Danielle Jorn give high-caliber comedic performances in this adaptation of the 1988 film. [Details]
Good Company Players is gearing up in a big way for the highlight of its season: the starring appearance of country-music star Louise Mandrell in the musical “Calamity Jane,” which opens July 19. I devoted my Sunday Spotlight column to Mandrell’s recent trip to Fresno. She came to sit in on auditions for the remaining roles in the show.
Mandrell told me that “Calamity Jane” will be the last time she performs, at least into the near future. She isn’t using the word retirement, but her husband, John Haywood, has been ill, and in recent years she’s cut back her career to spend more time with him.
“Because of my husband’s health, this is the last thing on the books,” she says of her appearance in the Good Company show. “If his health improves, that may change, but as of now, this is the last thing that is for sure.”
And who will play the role of Wild Bill Hickok, the love interest of Calamity Jane, in the show? The lucky guy is veteran Good Company actor Brian Pucheu. Mandrell told me after the casting announcement that she’s delighted to work with Pucheu, although she admits that the extreme beard that he sported during auditions — which he grew out for his first-rate portrayal of Charles Guiteau in the just-finished run of “Assassins” at Fresno State — did throw her at first. After she looked at pictures of a less-hirsute Pucheu in earlier roles for Good Company, she declared him “quite handsome.”
Photo: Mandrell, left, works with William Johnson, Brian Pucheu and Teddy Moldonado during auditions for “Calamity Jane.” On the jump: More pics and the “Calamity Jane” cast list.
You could say that today marks the first official day of Louise Mandrell’s long-term relationship with Fresno — and it’s clear she’s eager to win the city’s heart. Mandrell made headlines in December when she announced that she’ll play the title role in the Good Company Players production of “Calamity Jane,” which runs July 19-Sept. 16. This will be the first time in the company’s history that a “big name” will be brought in for a show.
The first round of auditions for the rest of the cast of “Calamity Jane” is Saturday, and as you can imagine, there’s a huge amount of interest among the local theater community. Mandrell flew in from Nashville in honor of the occasion, and this morning she embarked on a round of TV/radio appearances to drum up interest for the show. She was scheduled to meet with GCP’s designers, get a costume fitting and tour the space. This weekend, she’ll also get a tour of Fresno and see the two current GCP productions, “Grace & Glorie” at the 2nd Space Theatre and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at Roger Rocka’s, where “Calamity Jane” will be performed.
While she’s here, she’s also taking part Saturday morning in the Clovis Rodeo parade.
On Monday, Mandrell will attend the call-backs for the “Calamity Jane” auditions, where she’ll get the first chance to check out her onstage leading man, the character of Wild Bill Hickok. She’ll return to Nashville after that, but she’ll return soon for rehearsals and the nine-week run of the show.
I’ll be posting photos of Mandrell taken by GCP staff — and I plan to drop in at the callbacks to meet Mandrell in person. As the production approaches, I’ll be updating this special blog series.
1. SWING WITH THE PHILHARMONIC
From Benny Goodman’s “Bugle Call Rag” to Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing,” this collaboration between the five-member singing group Five By Design and the Fresno Philharmonic traces the history of jazz and swing starting in the late 1930s and running up to the early 1950s. I have an interview with Five By Design member Terrence Niska in Friday’s 7 section. The show is 8 p.m. Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre. [Details]
An important reminder: The current strike against the Fresno Grand Opera doesn’t affect this performance in any way. The Fresno Philharmonic is covered by a different contract with the local professional musicians union. The Philharmonic office has been receiving calls from patrons asking to clarify this since the strike began.
After seeing Moore in action in the role of Lawrence Jameson, the smooth-tongued confidence man posing as a deposed prince on the French Riviera, my answer is: Yes, I think I would.
Strong casting makes all the difference in this amiable musical, which is more memorable for its slick comic shenanigans and clever contemporary lyrics than for the music. (David Yazbek of “Full Monty” fame wrote the music and lyrics; Jeffrey Lane adapted the book from the 1988 movie starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin.) Moore is a natural in the role of Jameson, who woos wealthy women at a small French seaside town. He’s dashing without becoming a caricature of suave. In his smooth hands, women ply him with cash and jewels for the beleaguered “freedom fighters” in his conveniently unnamed tiny country.
Two other Good Company veterans complete a first-rate leading comic trio. The hard-working Peter Allwine puts an amusingly scuzzy sheen on Freddy “Buzz” Benson, a small-time huckster who shows up in town and is entranced by Jameson’s sophisticated ways. And Danielle Jorn is a gem as an American “soap queen” who promptly becomes a target of both men’s scamming ways — and eventually their affections, too.
The show continues at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through May 20.
You don’t need us to tell you it’s Valentine’s Day. You’re smart, you know that already. But what you might need is some help figuring out what to do tonight. So here’s a nice pick for the lovers out there and one for the singles. Follow your heart, Fresno!
Chief among them is Richard Ruth, whose return romp as the super-size Edna Turnblad is a stellar performance indeed. When Ruth tackled the role in the 2009 GCP production, I liked the way he gave the role — traditionally played by a man dressed as a woman — a spin all his own. I wrote there was a hint of Harvey Fierstein there, of course, but what I liked so much about Ruth’s portrayal was how straight he plays the role (so to speak): no flouncing, no vocal tricks, no mugging.
His characterization is just as good this time around — maybe even better. He might not be awash in a sea of fat padding, but Edna’s big, buoyant spirit is abundant.
Pictured: Tori Sasso and Charlene Cano in the new Good Company Players production of “Hairspray,” which runs through March 18.
1. MORE ‘HAIRSPRAY,’ PLEASE
I haven’t yet seen this return engagement from Good Company Players — I’ll be there in the audience tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater — but the original GCP production was a blast. Most of the principal cast members and director Fred Bologna return. The show is in its opening weekend. Here’s my Beehive interview with Ashley Wilkinson, who plays Tracy Turnblad. Pictured: Peter Allwine as Corny Collins.
“Hairspray” is back at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It’s easy to see why: The 2009 Good Company Players production was a big hit. Most of the principal cast members and director Fred Bologna are returning for this show, which opens tonight and runs through March 18.
I caught up with Ashley Wilkinson, who is reprising her role as Tracy Turnblad, for an opening-day story in Thursday’s Life section. Here’s the extended interview.
OK, let’s start this out in a fun way. Have you ever awakened on your back in bed after a great night’s sleep, snapped open your eyes and started singing “Good morning, Clovis”? And if you have, did you ever wish you lived in a city with three syllables?
I can’t say that I’ve woken up singing…not gonna lie, I’m not much of a morning person. But I have been known to randomly burst out into song and dance throughout the day…I mean…doesn’t everyone?
I had my say in my review, now I’ll let him have his:
Dear Mr. Munro,
Your review of Nunsensations happened to come up on my gmail and I felt I ought to respond. First of all, although you may think the Nunsense shows are running out of steam, they couldn’t be more in demand. There were 160 productions of the various shows running in the last six months! Even I am amazed (and thrilled) by the continued undiminished popularity of all of the shows. Nunsensations has been a favorite of theatregoers and has grossed several million dollars since it premiered. I’d love to send you a DVD of the television production of Nunsensations to see if you had the same opinion as you did of the local show.
There must be a reason these shows continue to sell and to gross millions of dollars. Could it be that audiences love them? My shows have saved over 100 theatres from bankruptcy and we are about to save another in northern California with Nunset Boulevard. I don’t know what your qualifications are when it comes to being a critic and I don’t know the quality of the production in Fresno. But your writing seems to express resentment that these shows are successful. Perhaps you would prefer more serious theatre even if most audiences didn’t.
Even though this anemic fifth sequel in the long-running “Nunsense” series is bolstered by some excellent singing from a quintet of strong performers in the new Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, the talented cast and veteran director Denise Graziani can’t do much to help an author whose creative fire in terms of wacky nuns is down to a last-gasp ember.
That writer would be Dan Goggin, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. His original “Nunsense” was a charming, touching and funny experience for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike — a romp that knew when to be just a touch scandalous and when to pull the sisterly heartstrings. A key to that first show was the way Goggin made sure we laughed with the nuns, not at them.
Raphi, who plays the small but pivotal role of the little dog Bruiser in the Good Company Players production of “Legally Blonde,” is a cutie. In his honor, I got a little silly in today’s 7 cover story and wrote it from Raphi’s viewpoint.
Raphi is a pet-adoption success story. Good Company is celebrating him and other rescue pets with a “Pet Adoption Day” 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave. If you have a hankering for a Chihuahua — or lots of other options — this might be your lucky day. The event is co-sponsored by GCP and the Animal Compassion Team of California. Details: (559) 301-2059.
On the jump: Check out our 7 section poster-style layout of Raphi and Emily Pessano, who plays Elle Woods in the show.