Two theater productions open Nov. 13 in Fresno. At Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, Good Company Players is reviving the sultry musical revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” From the company:
This smokin’ hot revue, spanning the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, features the toe- tapping, hip-swiveling, soul searing music of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The duo burst into the music industry as teenagers and launched a body of work that runs the gamut from rhythm and blues to novelty with romantic ballads, doo-wop, and rock-and-roll liberally sprinkled throughout. The score of Smokey Joe’s Cafe includes songs like “Stand By Me,” “Yakety Yak,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Kansas City,” “Trouble,” Jailhouse Rock,” “On Broadway,” “Fools Fall In Love,” “On Broadway” and a myriad of other hits.
At Severance Theatre just up the street, the Fresno Pacific University Theatre Department opens Etan Frankel’s “Truth and Reconciliation.” Director Kate McKnight explains the plot:
The play is set Cartuga, a fictitious Central American country. A young American doctor goes to the country to provide medical care for local peasants, is mistakenly associated with the CIA and is murdered. His parents are asked to return to the country three years later for a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission based on those that Bishop Tutu organized in South Africa. Instead of revenge for their son’s death they get answers and some healing.
“Smokey Joe’s” runs through Jan. 11. Details here. “Truth and Reconciliation” runs through Nov. 22. Details: (559) 453-5586.
On the jump: a photo from “Truth and Reconciliation.”
In Friday’s 7 section I have an interview with Brad Myers about Friday’s opening of Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It’s been 30 years since this classic play was seen in Fresno. Myers directs the show, which runs through July 27 at the Severance Theatre, and also stars as George, one-half of the play’s famed George-and-Martha-married-couple sparring duo.
Here’s an extended version of Myers’ interview.
Question: For those who aren’t familiar with the play, give us a brief synopsis.
Answer: George, a professor at a small university, and his wife, Martha, the daughter of the university’s president, return home after attending a faculty party at the home of Martha’s father. It is after 2 in the morning. However, Martha informs George that she has invited over a new young faculty member (Nick) and his wife (Honey). The unsuspecting couple arrives, and is introduced to the remarkable wit and sparring of the older couple. The banter between George and Martha is initially playful. However, their well-exercised games begin to cross dangerous new boundaries. Through the course of the evening, the party antics whirl out of control, careening from eruptive humor to dramatic intensity. Ultimately, George is forced to conduct a drastic and final game.
You played George when you were in graduate school at the University of Arizona. Tell us about that experience.
I remember two things most vividly about the experience. The first was working with Glenda Young, who played Martha. We spent many hours outside of rehearsal working to incorporate a rich biographical history into our portrayals. Immediately after we closed in “Virginia Woolf,” Glenda and I went into rehearsals for a local dinner theatre production of “I Do! I Do!.” I suspect there was an unintended transfer of the “Virginia Woolf” dynamic that gave that frothy musical an eerily dark undertone. Secondly, I recall Edward Albee attending one of our “Virginia Woolf” performances, followed by a talk back with the playwright. Of course, I was terrified given Mr. Albee had a reputation for being painfully blunt. However, he was very kind. Or, at least, forgiving.
If you somehow missed the rousing Artists’ Repertory Theatre production of “The Rocky Horror Show” in its recent October-November run — what were you thinking? It’s a smart, tart experience that explodes with enthusiasm. Luckily, you have a second chance. The company is bringing back “Rocky” for a five-performance encore run at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre. The production opens 8 p.m. tonight and continues through Monday with a closing New Year’s Eve performance.
This version is basically the same cast — with one well-known local theater name replacing another in a leading role. Terry Lewis will play Riff Raff, replacing Brian Pucheu, who was committed to perform in California Public Theater’s “RENT.”
Daniel Chavez Jr. does it again — and then some — with his smart, tart revival of Artists’ Repertory Theater’s “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Severance Theatre. With a production design a couple of notches higher up on the sophistication ladder from Chavez’s last go-around in 2009 with “Rocky,” an improved quality of overall vocals, and an energy level so elevated that if it were a pulse it’d be in heart-attack territory, this vibrant new production is a stellar experience.
Even before the official downbeat, the enthusiasm in the theater is palpable. Various “Phantoms” — the show’s hard-working ensemble — cavort in the Severance Theatre space, dancing and singing, enticing audience members into the mix. By the time the spiffy band (a ragin’ Nate Butler, Tim Pugsley, John Shafer, Rick Wood and Tweed Jefferson) kick things off with “Science Fiction Double Feature,” the stage is set for a vigorously fun “Rocky” experience.
My only big reservation after Friday’s opening-night performance, was alas, something I often am concerned about in the Severance space: the sound. There has to be some way to tone the volume of the percussion down. This may be a rock ‘n’ roll show, yes, but it’s also a musical, and you can’t drown out the lyrics of some songs (and even some of the other instruments) without things sounding like mush.
When Artists’ Repertory Theatre presented the stage version of “The Rocky Horror Show” in 2008 at the Severance Theatre at California Arts Academy, it was a smash success. People flocked for tickets. Now the same “Rocky” is back, with some new faces and new costumes, and it’s sure to be a big event. You can look for my cover story in Friday’s 7 section.
In the meantime, let’s give away some tickets! I’m giving two pairs of tickets to the opening weekend of “Rocky Horror” (either 8 p.m. Friday or Saturday, your choice). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite “Rocky Horror” character. I’ll select two comments at random as winners. Deadline is 3 p.m. Thursday. If you enter, please remember to check your email, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. Tickets will be available at Will Call. Complete rules are on the jump.
(Can you believe that’s Brian Pucheu, above, as Riff Raff? Quite the stretch from “Calamity Jane,” wouldn’t you say? Bee photo by Mark Crosse.)
The live jazz of saxophonist Benjamin Boone and his quartet is a fixture at the Rogue Festival. It’s popular. It’s celebrated. And all with good reason.
This band is slick.
Boone and Co. — Nye Morton on bass, David Aus on keyboards and Grammy winner Steve Mitchell on drums — manage to turn the Severence Theatre into a cool jazz club. They hop up on the stage (many Rogue shows there are on the floor), set up some tables and bring a bopping vibe to the room. All that’s missing is smoke and a cocktail waitress.
While the faces are familiar, the band creates a new show each year with new compositions. One is new as a few days ago. One is an ode to Aus’ dog. One is inspired by passed-away Tower District icon Hippie Dave. Boone calls it “weird.” I’ll call it exciting.