Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

My weekend pick: a play reading

UPDATED: I love live play readings. To me, they’re like a super-special version of listening to a book-on-CD in your car. It’s exciting that StageWorks Fresno and The New Ensemble are partnering in Sunday afternoon’s installment of the popular Hot Off the Stages play reading series. The title: “A Month in the Country” by Ivan Turgenev.

When I originally put up this post at about noon today, a different title was planned: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which is a hot title on Broadway right now. But things didn’t go as planned. The rights to perform the reading were rescinded at the last minute, forcing StageWorks and The New Ensemble to scramble.

They came up with an intriguing replacement. “A Month in the Country” is currently playing to rave reviews at the Classic Stage Company in New York City (starring “Game of Thrones’” Peter Dinklage and “Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling). From StageWorks/New Ensemble:

Our informally staged reading of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY will feature the talents of Joel Abels, Chris Carsten, Tessa Cavaletto, Hayley Galbraith, Miguel Gastelum, Mitchell Lam Hau, Amalie Larsen, Terry Lewis, Jennifer Goettsch, Dillon Morgan and Heather Parish (as the servants!), who have all gamely stayed on for the ride!

Turgenev’s masterpiece chronicles the comic and erotic turmoil that befalls an otherwise quiet country estate when a handsome young tutor arrives to teach Natalya Petrovna’s young son. Soon Natalya is interested in a tutelage of another kind, much to the consternation of her husband and her long suffering friend, Rakitin, who is hopelessly and secretly smitten with her. It’s a beautlly nuanced meditation on the nature of unrequited love.

The play we originally scheduled, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” is a terrific piece that we hope will make its way to audiences in the Central Valley soon.

The reading is 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Admission is free.

What should I include on my list of the year’s top cultural events?

I’m busy putting together my Top 20 Cultural Events of the Year, which will appear in the Jan. 4 Spotlight section. This is a tough exercise, believe me. Each year I tell people that for purposes of this list, I’m use “cultural” as shorthand for “theater-classical-music-opera-visual-arts.” (Or, to be more specific: Stuff That Donald Munro Covers That He Manages To Get To.) Unless I cloned myself and refused all vacation time, there’s no way I could attend every event I’d want to. But I try to get to as many as I can.

Last year I solicited suggestions here on the Beehive and on Facebook to jog my memory. This year I want to take it one step further: I’ll publish my list, and I’ll add a “People’s Choice” award. So I’m asking readers: What were your Top 3 cultural events of 2014? I’m putting this column together on Wednesday, so get me your suggestions by Wednesday morning.

Pictured above: Camille Gaston and tony sanders (who does not capitalize his name) in the StageWorks Fresno production of “The Mountaintop.” (Consider this a sneak preview for my list.)

Last chance: ‘The Normal Heart’

I know. Everyone’s busy. You have every intention to get out to see a limited-run play, but things get in the way. Before you know it, it’s gone.

I’m talking about StageWorks Fresno’s “The Normal Heart,” which is in its third and final weekend. I recommend catching it at the Fresno Art Museum before it closes.

Tonight’s performance has a bonus: Curtain has been pushed back to 8:30 p.m. so playgoers can attend the opening reception of the Fresno Art Museum’s series of fall exhibitions, which include “Mildred Howard: Collective Memories.” Howard is the museum’s distinguished artist for 2014. (Here’s my rundown of today’s museum activities, which begin at 4:30 p.m., from today’s 7 section.) It also plays 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Another special museum/”Normal Heart” event: On Saturday, a forum titled “Let’s Talk … HIV/AIDS in the Central Valley” will be held 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

“The Normal Heart” is about the beginning days of AIDS, and playgoers might walk away 30 years later with a false sense of complacency that the disease isn’t something about to worry about anymore. Far from it. There are new cases of HIV/AIDS every day, and education is more important than ever. Kudos to StageWorks and the museum for reminding us of that.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Normal Heart’

The injustice at the core of Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” isn’t as raw today as when the play came out in 1985. Some events depicted in Larry Kramer’s drama, set early in the AIDS crisis, had occurred just a year before. The fear, anger and throat-clutching sadness among the audience members at the New York Public Theater’s original production must have been suffocating.

But decades later, the injustice in this play — which is receiving a local premiere in a sturdy production from StageWorks Fresno — still seethes and provokes. Even with the distance of time, the choices made by media and government gatekeepers — and some in the gay community — to sweep early news about the epidemic under the rug seem perplexing and bizarre. It’s unfathomable today to think that a scare about Tylenol tampering earned a tsunami of coverage in the New York Times but that a new illness killing hundreds of New Yorkers had to fight to get to the front page. But that’s what happened.

The StageWorks production, directed with heartfelt commitment by J. Daniel Herring, immerses us in the autobiographical world of Kramer. His alter ego is Ned Weeks (played with verve and feeling by Terry Lewis), who vows to stir up a fuss when he realizes that many in the gay community are falling to a disease so new and mysterious it doesn’t have a name. Yet the organization he founds, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, is far from unified on the best approach. He continually clashes with Bruce Niles (Bob Creasy), the group’s president, who favors a less confrontational, more “establishment” approach. At the root of this conflict, Bruce — and many other gay men — object to any attempt to discourage sex in an age of newfound sexual permissiveness.

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Win tickets to ‘The Normal Heart’

StageWorks Fresno opens Larry Kramer’s searing play “The Normal Heart” Friday at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. With an acclaimed 2011 revival on Broadway and a star-studded HBO movie earlier this year, this is a hot title. Look for our 7 section cover story on Friday.

I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to any of this opening weekend’s performances. The show plays 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.  I’ll pick the winners randomly. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: Have you been to a StageWorks Fresno production before? If so, what was your favorite?

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Friday at 10, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by 2 p.m. Friday, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the theater box office. Rules are on the jump.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Mountaintop’

The view is grand from “The Mountaintop.”

The StageWorks Fresno production of Katori Hall’s provocative play about the imagined last night of Martin Luther King, Jr. is deftly staged and strongly acted. Director Joel C. Abels crafts a powerhouse production that manages to seem both taut and dreamy — a charismatic and combustible combination. 

It’s tricky to write about “The Mountaintop” because it’s one of those plays that, frankly, works better the less you know about it. (When New York Times critic Ben Brantley reviewed the show in 2011, he noted that the production’s press representatives requested that he not divulge certain key plot details.) But there are some essentials to know going in: The action takes place on the evening of April 3, 1968 in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. On the next day, King was assassinated on the motel’s balcony.

Hall’s take on what happened on that last night of his life comes purely from her literary imagination. In this two-person drama, she invents the character of Camae, a maid at the motel. Camae knocks on King’s door with room service after a long day for him in which he gave his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. What follows — their conversation and the events that unfold on a strange and stormy night — is pure conjecture.

But enough is grounded in what we know about King — his formidable strengths and all-too-human weaknesses — to give the experience a fly-on-the-wall authenticity.

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Win tickets to ‘The Mountaintop’

StageWorks Fresno on Friday opens a play that recently attracted a lot of attention when it appeared on Broadway in 2011: “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall. It’s a fictional account of the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, set in a Memphis motel room. It can be controversial to some because it presents King as a real person, not a saint. “It pushes some buttons, because people don’t want to recognize their heroes were not perfect, ” says director Joel C. Abels. (Coming Friday: excerpts from a Q&A session with Abels in the 7 section, and an extended interview on the Beehive.)

“The Mountaintop” plays at the Dan Pessano Theatre (on the campus of Clovis North High School) for just two weekends, through Aug. 3. And thanks to the Beehive, you have a chance to win a “four pack” of tickets to any of the opening weekend shows (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday). 

I’m giving away two of these four-packs, and I’ll pick the winners randomly. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: If you’d had the chance to meet Martin Luther King, Jr., what would you have asked him? (If you’d prefer not to get philosophical, you can just tell us why you’d like to see the show.) 

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Friday at 10, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by 2 p.m. Friday, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the theater box office. Rules are on the jump.

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Tonight: StageWorks Fresno cabaret


The StageWorks Fresno cabaret performance is always one of the highlights of the summer theater season. It’s your chance to see performers in the current StageWorks production, “[title of show],” strut their stuff out of character. Plus there are other musical theater guests as well, and artistic director Joel Abels promises a surprise or two at tonight’s lineup.

The cabaret is at 10 p.m. at the Dan Pessano Theatre, following tonight’s “[title of show]” performance, and it costs $10. I’m sure it will be a treat.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘[title of show]‘

My Capture

I’ve seen “[title of show]“ three times now. The first time, back in 2006,  was the original Off-Broadway version at the Vineyard Theatre. The next two times have been thanks to StageWorks Fresno, which produced this trippy, self-referential musical about two friends writing a musical first in 2010 at the Severance Theatre, and now, a new version at the Dan Pessano Theatre.

What strikes me after three viewings is this: I’m amazed how much I end up rooting for the “show within a show” to succeed.

Even though we all know the outcome even before “[title of show]” begins — this tiny production with four characters and a keyboard did make it all the way to Broadway, back in 2008 — I’ve gotten wrapped up each time in the excitement and tension of cheering the show on despite almost impossibly long odds. The show’s creators, Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, make the leap from what could be a smarmy, cloying exercise in self-indulgence (“look at us as we impishly chronicle our artistic journey!”) into something that feels bigger than two guys plus their two gal friends riding an express train to Musical Theater Geekdom. There’s a freshness of spirit, a warmth and appeal to the artist in us all, that transcends the fluff.

Director Joel Abels finds the upbeat crispness in the show while still milking it for all its warmth.

The new StageWorks Fresno production is deftly staged and beautifully sung. Still, if I were to square it off against the 2010 version in a cage match, I’d give the nod by a nose to the earlier version.

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Win tickets to ‘[title of show]‘ opening weekend


It’s been four years since StageWorks Fresno kicked off its inaugural season with “[title of show],” the trippy musical about a group of friends creating a musical. Director Joel Abels returns with a faithful recreation of his 2010 hit production, which opens 8 p.m. Saturday at the Dan Pessano Theatre at the Clovis North performing arts complex. It continues through July 20.

If you haven’t noticed, the show’s opening coincides with the 4th of July weekend  – a pretty daring time to open a show. But think how great it will be to have an event to treat out-of-town visitors to once the fireworks are behind them. Or an outing for locals to escape to (I can attest to the crispness of the Clovis North air conditioning) instead of getting barbecued outside on a searing weekend.

We’re having our own 4th of July celebration at the Beehive: I’m making it even easier for readers to get to see “[title of show.]” I have two four-packs of tickets to give away to either the 8 p.m. Saturday or 2 p.m. Sunday show this opening weekend. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: Would you rather be nine people’s favorite thing — or a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing? (Or, if you aren’t in a philosophical mood, tell us if you’d go see Paris Hilton in “The Apple Tree.” Or, if you’re sick of insider “[title of show]” references, tell us if you like Rice Krispie treats.)

Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Friday at 10, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by 2 p.m. Friday, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the theater box office. Rules are on the jump.

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Notes from the theater beat

My Capture

A roundup:

BROADWAYWORLD AWARD: Congrats to Dominic Grijalva and Mitchell Lam Hau, who picked up a 2013 BroadwayWorld San Francisco award for best scenic design for the 2013 StageWorks Fresno production of “Les Miserables.” Results were determined by an online poll.

‘JANKA’ TO AUSTRALIA: Over the years, Fresno actress Janice Noga has toured her play “Janka” around the world. Her next international gig is the Sydney Jewish Museum in February. Background on the show:

Janka Festinger grew up in Sighet and was deported to Auschwitz in May 1944. Following liberation from slave labor in Germany, she married an American soldier and immigrated to the U.S. in 1946. Shortly after her liberation, Janka wrote to an uncle, detailing a gripping eyewitness account of Auschwitz. This letter was discovered many years later and inspired Janka’s son Oscar Speace to write a play about his mother’s experiences. The family connection continues with American actress and Janka’s daughter-in-law Janice Noga performing the one-woman play. There is also a strong Australian tie to Janka’s story, as her cousins immigrated to join family members who had been imprisoned in Japanese internment camps and following their liberation had moved to Australia.

The play will be performed Feb. 11 and 16.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’


Welcome back, Frog. Welcome back, Toad.

StageWorks Fresno’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” was a superlative show when it opened last December at Severance Theatre. After a viewing of this year’s inspired  incarnation, I’m happy to report that my opinion hasn’t changed. If anything, I’m even more insistent that the show’s intimacy and impact make it a must-see for those who want to expose their children to quality theater.

Brent Moser and Joel C. Abels return as Frog and Toad, respectively, and in the careful hands of these veteran performers, the gentle warmth and clever, heartfelt insights of Arnold Lobel’s popular series of popular children’s books remain ever as delightful.

There are two cast changes from last year, but any Fresno theatergoer knows that you’re in safe hands when those names are Taylor Abels and Danielle Jorn. They play two of the three ensemble members who play the birds and other assorted animals who pop in and out of Frog and Toad’s idyllic existence. Each gets a chance to shine. (This year, for some reason, the Moles — who in their stiff fur coats have a sort of crusty, Baltic swagger — particularly tickled my funny bone.)

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Opening tonight


Lots of theater openings tonight:

CLYBOURNE PARK: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for best play, this title almost seems like it comes to Fresno straight from Broadway. (I got to see it in New York in 2012, and Bruce Norris’ script is sensational.) The new Fresno State production, which opens tonight at the John Wright Theatre, is the cover story in today’s 7 section. Don’t miss Bee photographer John Walker’s photo gallery of the production.

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Win tickets to ‘A Year With Frog and Toad’

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StageWorks Fresno brings back the thoroughly charming “A Year With Frog and Toad” for the holiday season. It’s basically the same production from last year with two new (very talented) performers in supporting roles: Taylor Abels and Danielle Jorn. Returning cast members are Joel C. Abels as Toad, Brent Moser as Frog and Cody Bianchi as the memorable Snail. From my review of last year’s show:

“Frog and Toad,” directed with a knowing hand by J. Daniel Herring, is an important title in the evolution of the genre known as Theatre for Young Audiences. Originally staged by the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, it ended up on Broadway in 2003, where it snagged a Tony nomination for Best Musical. With a cast of five adults, this family-friendly show works on several levels. It’s sure to tickle the fancy of young children, but there’s also a crisp adult appeal as it works through such themes as taking risks, trust, friendship and patience. Unlike many kid-friendly entertainments today that seem shrewdly calculated to appeal to both adults and children — all those DreamWorks and Disney movies that toss in an arch level of subtext to keep the parents from fidgeting — “Frog and Toad’s” appeal to all ages feels more organic.

The show opens Friday (Dec. 6) and runs through Dec. 22.

Here’s the giveaway: Two Beehive readers will each win two tickets to any performance in the run (with 24 hours notice). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite soup for a cold winter night. Yes, soup. Toad loves soup. And isn’t this the perfect weather for such a question?

Deadline is 10 a.m. Friday.  Please don’t enter more than once. Check your email between 10 and 10:30 a.m. Friday to see if you won, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. Complete rules on the jump.

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Take a class with Sara Gettelfinger


Yes, I have reached the point where I don’t need to double-check the spelling of Sara Gettelfinger’s last name — a sure sign that she has made a big impact on the Fresno theater scene. Many of you got to see her this past summer in StageWorks Fresno’s superb “Grey Gardens,” in which she delivered one of those superbly crafted performances that remain etched somehow on your brain long when the details have faded. Now the Broadway actress, who recently finished up a long run as Morticia in the national tour of “The Addams Family,” returns to offer two sets of master classes through StageWorks:

  • Dance Master Classes will both take place on Saturday, Oct. 26 at DanceWorks Unlimited. There are two opportunities to attend this three hour dance workshop: 9 a.m.-noon or 1-4 p.m. Performers are invited to participate in this dance workshop (limited to 20 students) that will feature choreography from the Broadway smash hits CHICAGO (9 a.m.) and THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1 p.m.). Fee is $50.
  • Musical Theatre Song Coaching Workshop. During this 5 day song-coaching workshop, Gettelfinger will work with students to craft a style that is all their own celebrating them not only as a performer but as an individual. Throughout the five days (3 hour sessions each) this limited class (20 students) includes coaching by Gettelfinger as well as auditions book consultation. This workshop will take place on Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12 & 13 from 6-9 p.m. Fee is $200.

For details, go to the StageWorks Fresno site.

And you think your family is busy?

IMG_104741755056452Just 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.”

THEATER REVIEW: ‘God of Carnage’

EPZ CARNAGE 07I lived in Alaska, and everyone there knows you don’t get between a mother moose and her baby.

As humans, we tend to think kindly of maternal fierceness, whether of the four-legged or two-legged variety. There’s something inherently touching about the instinctual urge to defend one’s offspring. We understand — and celebrate — it. We might not want to be at the receiving end of a 2,000 pound behemoth shaking her antlers at us, but even as we’re running away, a part of us is likely thinking, “Good for her.”

The biggest appeal of Yasmina Reza’s clever and subversive “God of Carnage,” which receives an accomplished new production by StageWorks Fresno, is how the playwright lulls the audience into thinking it’s simply in for an entertaining protective-parents-duke-it-out scenario.

In this modern version of a drawing room comedy, we’re introduced to two sets of parents who gather to deal with the aftermath of a dispute between their two sons. One 11-year-old hit another with a stick on a local playground, taking out a couple of teeth in the process. The two couples get together at the home of the tooth-deprived boy because it’s the “civilized” thing to do.

But it’s clear from the awkward opening moments of the play as the two couples chat — minutes filled with forced courtesy larded with distant disdain — that things aren’t going to turn out well. “How many parents standing up for their children become infantile themselves?” asks Annette (the wonderful Shannon Eizenga), mother of the offender, telegraphing the mayhem to come.

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Win tickets to ‘God of Carnage’


UPDATE: Congratulations to winners Amy Scott and Kyle Gutierrez.

ORIGINAL POST: Yasmina Reza, the acclaimed French playwright, knows her away around conflict on the stage. (Her play “Art,” the catalog of a conflict about modern art between a trio of friends, manages to seethe even as it pokes acerbic fun.) So you can imagine “God of Carnage,” the new Reza play (and winner of the 2009 Tony for Best Play) being produced by StageWorks Fresno. When two upscale couples meet together to try to resolve a playground dispute between their 11-year-old boys, the fireworks begin.

I talk with Shannon Eizenga, who plays one of the mothers in the play, for a story in today’s 7 section.

This is a short run — only two weekends — so you’ll have to plan ahead or you’ll miss it. It opens tonight at the Fresno Art Museum.

Good news for Beehive readers: I have four tickets to give away for performances next weekend. I can offer two tickets to the 2 p.m Saturday Sept. 21 matinee and two tickets to the 8 p.m. Saturday Sept. 21 evening performance. To enter, leave a comment on the Beehive post answering this question: Did you ever have a fight on the playground, and if so, did your parents get involved? Include which performance you’d like to attend — or indicate both if you’re flexible.

I’ll pick the winners at random. The deadline for entry is 3 p.m. Monday. One entry per person. I’ll be informing winners by email Monday evening, so please check yours. If you win, you’ll be able to pick your tickets up at Will Call. Rules are on the jump.

Photo: Terry Lewis as Alan Raleigh, far left, tries to pull Shannah Estep, portraying Veronica Novak, center, from her husband Michael Novak, portrayed by Chris Carsten, right. Bee photo by Eric Paul Zamora.

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Facebook photo of the day: theater gossip edition

I get bored easily when it comes to national celebrity gossip, and straight off I’ll tell you this item isn’t exactly a red-hot scoop about Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. But on the local front, I can’t resist passing on an interesting development that emerged from the recent StageWorks Fresno production of “Grey Gardens”: Sara Gettelfinger, the Broadway guest artist playing the tour de force leading roles, and Terry Lewis, who played her gay-best-friend accompanist, are now an item:


Yes, there was chemistry up there on stage, and it wasn’t just platonic. Considering that Lewis is pretty much local theater-scene royalty, I figure he deserves at least a sliver of TMZ-style coverage. His next production: the StageWorks production of “God of Carnage,” which opens Sept. 13.

Back from vacation: catching up


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!

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Notes from the theater beat

Sara Gettelfinger 1

‘GREY GARDENS’ CASTING NEWS:  Joel Abels, artistic director of StageWorks Fresno, had hoped to feature Fresno native and Broadway professional Jacqueline Antaramian, who charmed audiences in last year’s “Master Class,” in the leading role in the upcoming “Grey Gardens.” Antaramian would have made a lot of hometown fans happy, but she ended up having a scheduling conflict.

Abels found a big name to fill Antaramian’s shoes, however. Sara Gettelfinger originated the role of Young Little Edie in the original production of “Grey Gardens” Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. (Which I saw!) She’s also featured in the cast recording. Now she’ll be tackling the demanding dual roles of Big Edie in the first act and Little Edie in the second act — the roles played by Christine Ebersole in her 2006 Tony Award-winning performance.

That’s a real coup for StageWorks. Here’s Gettelfinger’s bio:

Most recently appeared as “Morticia” in the first national tour of The Addams Family. BROADWAY: “Dona Athene” in John Guare’s A FREE MAN OF COLOR at Lincoln Center. Suessical the Musical,The Boys from Syracuse, “Carla” in NINE with Antonio Banderas, “Jolene Oakes” in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels opposite John Lithgow, as well as the first national tours of FOSSE and 101 Dalmatians “Cruella De Vil”. Other NYC area credits include: “April” in Company (Helen Hayes), “Fastrada” in Pippin (Papermill Playhouse), Tenderloin and Carnival at City Center ENCORES!, Anything Goes at Lincoln Center, and “Little Edie Beale” in the world premier of Grey Gardens at Playwrights Horizons. In 2009, Sara starred as “Fastrada” in the Deaf West production of Pippin at L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum. Television:The Big C, Georgetown, Guiding Light, Ed, and Without a Trace, Film: 10 to Midnight, Sex In the City, Forbidden Love. In 2006 Sara was signed to DECCA/Universal Records with the classical-crossover trio Three Graces. Their self-titled,debut album was released in stores/online in March 2008,reaching the top 10 on the BILLBOARD/CROSSOVER Charts, followed by a world wide, critically acclaimed concert tour.

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Fresno Grand Opera announces 13-14 season. Where’s the opera?


Fresno Grand Opera announced its 2013-14 lineup to season ticket holders this week. It doesn’t feature any traditional opera. But it does promise a big local production of “Les Miserables.”

“Les Miserables” opens Jan. 17 and will play four performances at the Saroyan Theatre. This will be a local production, not the revamped national tour that has been traveling the country for a few years and is currently in Sacramento. The revamped version, which tightens the storyline and eliminates the trademark turntable, is slated to open on Broadway in March, marking a return to New York after an absence of many years.

National tours of “Les Miserables” played at the Saroyan Theatre in 1993, 1996 and 2000, but this is the first time an original production of the musical will take the stage there.

The opera’s general director, Ronald D. Eichman, said the principal members in the Fresno production have all either performed in the national tour or on Broadway, adding:

Additionally, some ensemble roles are cast with artists who have national experience, and we fully anticipate that the balance of the locally and regionally cast ensemble will deliver on a national caliber level.

Eichman calls the upcoming “Les Miserables” the largest scale production in the company’s history, financially and otherwise. “We have been anticipating this production for three years, when we were notified of the release date for the licensing to produce it,” he said.

Single-ticket prices for “Les Miserables” range from $55-$130.

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She is polite and soft-spoken. Almost nun-like. With her black boxy dress, orthopedic shoes and head scarf — plus a string of pearls, the only carefree nod to ornamentation — she moves with a determined, contemplative air. When she asks a visitor for a small donation for the museum she’s spent her life building, it is with a demure nod and a slight bow, as if the mere mention of money detracts from the greater glory of preserving history.

But make no mistake. Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf is not a pushover. There is steel within.

From our first meeting with the central character in the beautifully staged and acted production of “I Am My Own Wife” from StageWorks Fresno, it’s clear Charlotte is a survivor. In the hands of Terry Lewis, who gives the most riveting performance I’ve seen from him in numerous local theater outings, and director J. Daniel Herring, whose careful and deft touch is evident throughout this well crafted production, a perplexing and entrancing character comes to life in a rich, textured portrayal. The challenge for Lewis doesn’t stop with Charlotte, however. In this one-person show — which calls for a male actor to play a famous 20th Century transvestite — Lewis portrays all the characters, more than 40, in a tale that gently nudges us toward a deeper understanding not only of an interesting historical figure but also the nature of history itself.

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Donald’s weekend picks


We’ve done a lot of 7 cover stories in my day, but you’ve never seen a center spread like this: 40 photos of one actor, all with different expressions. Forty is the number of characters — some substantial, some conveyed in just a glance — that Terry Lewis plays in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. (Bee artist John Alvin did the design.) I had an opportunity to interview playwright Doug Wright in advance of the StageWorks Fresno production, which opens tonight. [Details]

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