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.
StageWorks Fresno’s production of “I Am My Own Wife” is a hot theater topic this week, and for good reason. When we brought Terry Lewis in for a photo shoot, I talked to him about the show for a little video presentation. (Look for a cameo of director J. Daniel Herring.)
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.
1. THE MANY FACES OF ‘I AM MY OWN WIFE’
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]
StageWorks Fresno has made its spring production date official: The Valley premiere of “I Am My Own Wife,” which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize, and the Tony awards for best play and lead actor Jefferson Mays, will run April 5-14 at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium.
The one-man show features some 40 roles, all of which will be played by local theater veteran Terry Lewis. Directing is J. Daniel Herring. I’ll be excited to see a StageWorks production in the Bonner — it’s a great intimate theater space for smaller productions.
1. JOURNEY TO THE KINGDOM OF SWEETS
For many people, it just isn’t Christmas until you’ve seen “The Nutcracker.” The Central California Ballet production features some top-notch professional talent in the leading roles, including Michaela DePrince and Taureen Green, both of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier; Aurora Frey (pictured) and David Beir, who play the Snow Queen and Snow Queen; and Courtney Boyd, who plays the Dewdrop. Don’t forget to check out my story about DePrince — she was an African orphan who became a star ballerina — in Thursday’s Life section. [Details]
1. SEE ‘ORDINARY DAYS’
It’s beautiful. There are only three performances left: 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Director Anthony Taylor’s Q&A interview is here, and my review is here. [Details]
Where can I sign up? Life is pretty sweet as a frog. And as a toad. That’s the case, at least, for the title characters in StageWorks Fresno’s “A Year with Frog and Toad,” a production at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre through Dec. 16 that unfolds with uncommon sweetness and charm.
In the world of this gentle musical, based on the children’s books by Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad live in tidy cottages in an idyllic setting, leisurely drink iced tea on picnics in the summer and slurp down hot bowls of soup in front of cozy fireplaces in the winter. They swim when it’s hot and sled when it’s cold. Even raking leaves seems fun. The neighbors — a motley crew of snails, mice, birds, turtles and lizards — are unfailingly polite. (Happily, there don’t seem to be any predators.) Most important, Frog and Toad have each other as best friends.
“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.
1. HAVE YOURSELF A ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’
Where can you get snowed on in Fresno? Best bet is Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ “White Christmas,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 15. This production is CMT’s annual community-theater offering with performers of all ages. Here’s a description from the company:
The beloved classic holiday movie comes to life onstage in this new musical sensation! Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, two iconic song-and-dance men, follow a sister act to Vermont, only to discover that the nearly-bankrupt lodge they were to perform at is owned by their former commanding general. White Christmas boasts such hits as “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” and “White Christmas” and is sure to be a Holiday treat for the whole family! All performances feature a “Snow Zone” in section “A” center seating audience members will be treated to a light snowfall. Directed by theater veteran Elizabeth Fiester, and featuring Nick Netzley, Dan Aldape, Heather Price, & Hannah Huyck. (Bee photo below by Craig Kohlruss) [Details]
As we look ahead to the end of November and early December — always one of the busiest cultural times of the year — here’s a quick glance at local theater you don’t want to miss.
This new musical from composer Adam Gwon is a last-minute addition to the schedule. I just received word today it will be staged Nov. 30-Dec. 8 by Fresno’s Organic Theater Factory at The Voice Shop. From the company’s website:
Ordinary Days tells the story of four young New Yorkers whose lives intersect as they search for fulfillment, happiness, love and cabs. Directed by Anthony Taylor and performed by Terry Lewis, Taylor Abels, Ashley Taylor and Dominic Grijalva; Adam Gwon’s vibrant score rings startlingly true to life.
The cast recording has received prominent priority on my iPod ever since I bought it. The show includes the beautiful song “I’ll Be Here,” which Audra McDonald sang at her most recent Fresno concert.
1. ENJOY A LITTLE NIGHT (OR MATINEE) MUSIC
It’s the last weekend for StageWorks Fresno’s handsome production of Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Here’s my review. [Details]
The summer night smiles on Sondheim fans — and the Fresno theater scene — in the new StageWorks Fresno production of “A Little Night Music” at the Cal Arts Severance Theatre.
A smart ensemble cast brings to life this gentle, funny and thoughtful show, which is best known for Stephen Sondheim’s most famous breakout song, “Send in the Clowns.” The happy news is that there’s a lot more to the experience beyond a tune recorded by Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand (and piped, via excruciating Muzak-version, into countless dentist waiting rooms over the decades.) The show is a whimsical outing that has a lot of life, love and heart. And it’s a chance for some of the Fresno area’s best community-theater actors to shine in the spotlight.
As for the big song, it’s tenderly delivered by an astute Amelia Ryan as Desiree Armfeldt, the headstrong Swedish actress whose middle-aged trials and tribulations form the emotional core of the play. (Set in Sweden at the turn of the century, the musical is based on the Ingmar Bergman film “Smiles of a Summer Night.”) It’s an easy song to turn into a morose dirge — or into an extended rant, as Catherine Zeta Jones did so awkwardly in the Tony Award broadcast of the recent Broadway revival.
Ryan, however, reveals both steel and tenderness when she sings “Send in the Clowns,” finding within the song’s lilting melody and astute lyrics a sense of loss, frustration and, yes, a little bit of rage. Desiree laments losing her “timing” this late in her career, a common enough human occurrence, and Ryan’s understated loss of dignity as she grapples with her feelings for her former lover, Fredrik Egerman (a strongly played Terry Lewis), is compelling.
It’s always nice for a local theater company to get some recognition from a national theater publication. That’s the case with StageWorks Fresno, whose promotional video for the recent “Next to Normal” is featured on Playbill.com in a roundup of regional productions of the show. Here’s the link to the main page of the “Screening Room” story; the Fresno
1. SLEEPWALK WITH CALIFORNIA OPERA
The major weekend event of California Opera’s festival is a fully staged production of “La Sonnambula,” with orchestra, about a heroine who sleepwalks. The role of Amina, to be sung in this production by San Francisco soprano Jamie Bonetto, is renowned for its difficulty. Other cast members include Matthew Acuff as Count Rodolfo, Donald Squillace as Elvino, Merina Amos as Lisa and Alexandra Jerinic as Teresa. Leanna Sterios-Primiani conducts. It will be performed 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. Here’s a rundown on all three weekend events from Friday’s 7 section. Pictured below: Matthew Acuff, Jamie Bonetto and Donald Squillace. (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss) [Details]
The Fresno County Office of Education has teamed up with StageWorks Fresno to put together a new youth summer theater company. STAGES Summer Youth Theatre debuts its first production, titled “Seize the Day!,” Saturday at the Fresno City College Old Administration Building Auditorium. I have an interview with director Joel Abels (who has been a very busy theater guy recently) in Friday’s issue of 7. Here’s the extended version.
Question: How did the project come to be?
Answer: The project is really the brainchild of Bob Bullwinkel and the Fresno County Office of Education. They knew that I had worked with young performers in the past and was contemplating creating some type of summer conservatory-like program. Last fall, he asked if StageWorks Fresno would like to be involved in the creation of this very unique program and I jumped at the chance. We have been working on the program design since that time. We are also fortunate to have partnered with Kim Morin and J Daniel Herring at Fresno State to write the curriculum and train our staff. And we are incredibly lucky to be working in the beautifully renovated Old Administration Building at Fresno City College and collaborating with Chris Boltz, new chair of the Theatre Department.
1. SAMPLE SOME OPERA
The California Opera Association kicks off its annual summer festival tonight with a introductory artists showcase at 7 p.m. at the Fresno Art Museum. There are three more weekend events: an “Opera Americana” youth showcase 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday; and an abridged production of “La Traviata” (with principal singers but no chorus) at 2 p.m. Sunday, all at the museum. I have a big roundup in Friday’s 7 cover story about the festival. [Details]
An added bonus: StageWorks Fresno holds its acclaimed “cabaret” tonight featuring cast members and non cast-members singing a variety of tunes. If you love musical theater, this special performance — a once-in-a-run StageWorks tradition — is a blast. A little bird tells me that there will be all sorts of surprises. And Ashley Taylor will be singing something so new it isn’t even in print yet! The show is expected to start about 10:40 or so. Tickets are $10.
The StageWorks Fresno premiere of “Next to Normal” raises the bar for well-crafted local musical productions. There are so many strong points to this beautifully staged rock opera: Stellar singing and acting in the leading roles. Superior stagecraft. Brisk direction. A killer live band.
Most important, this powerful production, which opened Friday at the Dan Pessano Theatre, does justice to the emotional intensity of the Pulitzer Prize-winning material. For those more attuned to cheery subject matter and light-hearted frivolity in their musicals, experiencing a show about a woman with bipolar depressive disorder who winds up treated with electroconvulsive (shock) therapy might be a stretch — and even a little scary. But “Next to Normal” is more than just a show about mental illness. It’s about family. It’s a towering tale of love, grief and resilience in a world in which we all, at one time or another, feel a little bit crazy.
1. GET ‘NORMAL’
It took only a little more than three years for the acclaimed show “Next to Normal” — one of only eight musicals ever to win the Pulitzer Prize — to make it from opening night on Broadway to opening night in Fresno. I wrote today’s cover story in our 7 section about the StageWorks Fresno production, which opens tonight and continues through July 29.
I still remember the day: It was 2008, I was in New York scanning the theater listings, and I was looking for an Off-Broadway show I could go see to fill out my play-going schedule. I’d be attending with a friend, and I pitched a show titled “Next to Normal.” I remember telling him, “Well, it’s a musical about a woman who gets electroconvulsive therapy.”
A little bit of a hard sell, maybe, but we went — and loved it. From there, “Next to Normal” made history. It went on to a smash Broadway run and the Pulitzer Prize.
Now it’s in Fresno, with StageWorks Fresno bringing us the local premiere. (The show did mount a national tour, but it skipped us.) “Next to Normal” opens Friday at the state-of-the-art Dan Pessano Theatre (the smaller theater that is part of the Shaghoian Hall complex at Clovis North) and runs through July 29.
I have four tickets to give away to any of the first weekend’s performances. (It plays 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.) Two Beehive commenters selected at random will win a pair of tickets each.
To enter, leave a comment on this post. If you know enough about the show, share your favorite song. Let us know in your comment which performance you’d prefer to attend.
Note: This show is for mature audiences only.
Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. If you’re a winner, you’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call. We’ll notify the winner via e-mail, so please leave a valid e-mail address and please check it by noon Friday. (We reserve the right to pick another winner if we don’t hear back from you. We had something of a bad situation with our “Spring Awakening” ticket giveaway in which the first winner I selected didn’t check his email address in time and still thought he should be a winner.) You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. No multiple entries allowed. Complete rules after the jump.
One of the joys of “Spring Awakening,” which on Thursday is starting up the second and final weekend of its impressive run at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, is the live band. There’s nothing quite like the energy experienced when you pair live actors and musicians together on stage.
I caught up with Anthony Taylor, who conducts both shows, to talk about what it’s like to bring live music to the theater experience.
Are the players the same for both productions?
Answer: Two differences. Jason Wada, my second guitar player in “Spring Awakening,” is not being used in “Next to Normal.” Also, Michael Antaramian is the keyboard player on “Next to Normal,” so Jared Eben is only doing “Spring Awakening.” Otherwise, the instrumentation is almost identical.
“Forget all about me,” Maria Callas tells us. “Ignore me. I’m invisible.”
You could no sooner ignore this performance than keep your eyes off the most gorgeous sunset you’ve ever seen.
Jacqueline Antaramian returns to her Fresno roots with a superb portrayal of Callas, the iconic opera singer, in the beautifully crafted StageWorks Fresno/Fresno Grand Opera production of “Master Class” at the Shaghoian Hall. I’m not usually the type of critic who actively exhorts people to get up off their seats and into a car headed to the theater, but this is a time for forceful imperatives: If you don’t act quickly, you’ll miss this remarkable performance. It plays just two more times: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
It’s no surprise Antaramian brings such craft and expertise to the role. After a long and distinguished career in professional regional theater — she started it all off with an acclaimed run in the Fresno State theater department — she made her way to New York. Among other roles on Broadway, she understudied Tyne Daly in the role of Callas in “Master Class.”
Fresno gets its fair share of professional theater productions — but they’re almost always of the touring musical variety. On Friday, a rare event occurs when StageWorks Fresno opens a show that has a hybrid cast of professionals and community-theater veterans. “Master Class” features actors in two leading roles direct from the Broadway production.
I wrote a big profile in Sunday’s Spotlight section of Jacqueline Antaramian, a widely respected professional actor who grew up in Fresno. She plays Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s acclaimed play about the celebrated diva, and she understudied Tyne Daly in the role on Broadway. Though she’s familiar to old-time theatergoers for her roles in Good Company Players and Fresno State productions, this will be Antaramian’s first professional performance in Fresno.
She’s joined by Brian Cali, also an understudy in the Broadway production, and by another Fresno hometown gal, Alicia O’Neill, an opera singer living in Austria, Vienna. I catch up with O’Neill in an interview in Friday’s 7 section.
There are only three performances of “Master Class” (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday) so there isn’t a lot of time for word of mouth to build. But I’ve noticed lots of buzz for the show on Facebook, particularly from members of the local theater community who have had the chance to see a preview performance. (Perhaps some of those proponents will reprise their recommendations via comments on this post.) I’m planning to see the show opening night.
What with the holidays and all, some stuff in my inbox slipped through the cracks. Here’s a digest of tidbits:
NEA HONORS: The Lively Arts Foundation landed a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s one of 162 Challenge America Fast-Track Grants awarded nationwide. From Lively Arts’ press release:
The award is to help support the Foundation’s Discover Dance Outreach presentation of Alonzo King’s LINES BALLET in “Scheherazade” at the William Saroyan Theatre, Friday evening, February 24, and will also help underwrite a contemporary ballet master class for dedicated Central Valley dancers as well as an introductory movement class in the celebrated Alonzo King idiom for interested community members who may be only recreational or casual dancers.
In addition to its internationally-celebrated interpretation of “Scheherazade” the LINES company on Feb. 24 will also perform its popular “Dust and Light;” contemporary ballet choreography to 15 classical melodies of Faith by Archangelo Corelli and Francis Poulenc.