While I am trying figure out whether to care about this whole deflate-gate thing (I also heard it referred to as the much funnier ball-gate), you’ll all be checking out one of the awesome concerts happening in town this week. Right? We’ve collated them again in out weekly BANDGEEEEEEK! roundup.
With age can come money, knowledge, wisdom and a newfound grace when performing the dance we call life.
But as you get older, you lose something special: the ability to think of your future as endless. The path to come no longer stretches out as far as you can see, as it does for the young, with tantalizing (and, yes, often scary) possibilities. With age comes the knowledge that you’ve already made many of the important choices in life.
Christopher Durang’s spiffy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” given a rousing performance by Good Company Players at the 2nd Space Theatre, is quite funny, no question about it. In this good-natured homage to Anton Chekhov, Durang mashes together characters and storylines from that towering playwright’s best known works into a happy, silly melange.
You thought Chekhov was gloomy? In many ways, this present-day outing, set in a “lovely farmhouse” in Bucks County, Penn., is more like a sugar high.
There’s something more, though. Durang doesn’t push it hard, but a finely honed bittersweet sensibility gives an edge to the play that makes it all the more excellent. Vanya (played by Michael Peterson), Sonia (Joyce Anabo) and Masha (Jennifer Hurd-Peterson), three unhappy siblings, are all grappling with being at least halfway, if not more, through their life journey. And they’re all wondering if they could have done things differently.
Many thanks to Benjamin Rawls, aka The Man Without a Shirt, who appears in the new Good Company Players production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” opening tonight (Jan. 2) at the 2nd Space Theatre. We asked the four leading actors to come down to the Bee photo studio as we attempted to replicate the iconic “Vanya” branding from the play’s recent Tony Award-winning run on Broadway. Rawls had to jump up and down many, many times to get the shot. Here’s the resulting photo of Joyce Anabo, left, Michael Peterson, Jennier Hurd-Peterson and Rawls, by Bee photographer Eric Paul Zamora:
And here’s the Broadway image:
Here’s your preschool-level First Quiz of the New Year, because it’s always good to ease slowly into new things: What is the significant change we made between the Good Company photo and the Broadway photo?
You can also read a rollicking interview with Jennnifer Hurd-Peterson and Michael Peterson, a real-life married couple who play siblings in the play, here.
As part of my coverage of the first new play of the 2015 theater season, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at the 2nd Space Theatre, I included (what I hope) is a comprehensive roundup of the Valley theater scene. (Remember that some companies organize their seasons using the academic calendar and haven’t yet picked their fall shows.) “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins” are very popular this year.
If the musical “Cabaret” today could meet the one from 25 years ago, I’m sure the younger would roll its eyes and (sort of) politely say, “Thanks for being such a legend. But things are different now.”
If your only exposure to the John Kander/Fred Ebb classic 1966 musical theater piece is from a community theater production from several decades ago — or, perhaps, the 1972 movie adaptation that stripped away characters and offered the title song, belted out by Liza Minnelli, as a jaunty anthem — you’re in for a few surprises. In the new Fresno State production, director J. Daniel Herring hews closely to the 1993 London and 1998 New York revivals starring Alan Cumming, who transformed the character of the Emcee (played by Joel Grey in the movie version) into a highly sexual, provocative and sometimes downright raunchy ambassador to the audience. That characterization fits the tumultuous times: With the crumbling of Germany’s Weimar Republic following World War I, as the Nazi Party assumes power, “Cabaret” captures the anything-goes atmosphere of an on-edge 1931 Berlin.
Thus, there are some moments in this production I’m fairly certain have never taken place on a Fresno State stage before. If you’re the kind who got upset at the stage version of “Jersey Boys” because of profanity (and I heard from some of you), chances are that the song “Two Ladies” — in which the Emcee gets pretty wild with both a guy and a gal (OK, let me spell it out for you: simulated sexual acts) — will make your head explode.
I like many of the choices that Herring makes in this challenging title, and the live orchestra, under the able direction of Matthew Wheeler, is first-rate. But there are also some weaknesses in terms of direction, production design and the overall impact of the ensemble. For a college production, this “Cabaret” has moments that soar, though I don’t think it reaches the same overall level of excellence as some previous Fresno State musical offerings I’ve seen.
The scene: In the musical “In and Out of Shadows,” a Filipino mother (played by Deanne Palaganas) takes a break from her job driving a car-rental shuttle bus at San Francisco International Airport. She is an undocumented immigrant with two teen-age children, who also are undocumented. For a moment, as the mother sings a sweet ballad about how the clouds in the sky have the freedom to go wherever they want, she’s taken away from the reality of a life without “papers” and the constant fear that she and her children (Alexandra Lee and Louel Senores) will be harassed by immigration authorities. The trio’s rendition of “Clouds” is filled with longing and tenacity.
The production: Gary Soto, the nationally known poet and author from Fresno, wrote the book and lyrics for “In and Out of Shadows” for a youth theater in San Francisco. He focuses in the musical on “Dreamers,” a term for young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents (or came by themselves) from such places as Mexico, the Philippines and China at an early age and remain undocumented, stuck in a kind of limbo between two countries.
The venue: Soto brought this San Francisco Youth Theatre production to the Fresno City College Theatre, where it played three performances over the weekend.
A Fresno State musical is cause for celebration. (The theater department normally only produces one every two years.) J. Daniel Herring’s interpretation of “Cabaret” opens tonight (Friday, Dec. 5) for a run that extends through Dec. 13, and knowing who the director is, I’m confident it will more risque than many other versions you’ve seen.
I caught up with Matthew Rudolf Schiltz, who plays the M.C., and Aubrianne Scott, who plays Sally Bowles, for a joint interview in today’s 7 section. Referring to the Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming, Scott describes the Fresno State production:
It’s just as gritty and provocative. The story that J. Daniel is telling is not a regular song-and-dance kind of a show. This show is not meant to be fluffed; (it’s) blunt. It is meant to be seen as art imitating life, and life is not always beautiful.
I hear that ticket sales are going really well for this one, so you might want to plan ahead.
Pictured: From left, Matthew Rudolf Schiltz, Breayre Tender, Mitchell Ham Lau, Aubrianne Scott and Kindle Cowger in “Cabaret.”
We need more rain, so you might not actually want the sun to come out tomorrow, but on stage it’s a different picture. Children’s Musical Theaterworks is opening “Annie Jr.” tonight (Friday, Dec. 5) at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium, kicking off a run that continues through Dec. 14. With the song “New Deal for Christmas,” the musical has become a holiday favorite. You can find tickets and details here.
The show is double cast, so it’s possible if you time it correctly to get two different versions of “Tomorrow.”
Josh and I compiled a big list of holiday events for the rest of the month as the cover story in today’s 7 section. From music and theater to classical concerts and festive holiday events, there’s something for everyone.
Pictured: Allie Jeschien as Annie and Markus Johnson as Daddy Warbucks in CMT’s “Annie.”
It would be easy to put on a big-city critic hunting hat, grab a high-powered rifle and slay this “Beast.”
For lovers of the classic musical “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary of opening on Broadway, the national tour production that opened Tuesday night at the Saroyan Theatre is drastically scaled down from the original version. This current tour has gotten beaten up by some critics for its lackluster production design. And, yes, I somewhat agree: the sets are a little skimpy. The orchestra sounds a little thin. And, in the production’s weakest link, the costumes of the enchanted objects are a major disappointment.
But we have to face realities: This is no “Wicked,” with a big budget and Actors Equity union cast, that could settle into the Saroyan for a two-week run, making elaborate sets and technical tricks financially feasible. This “Beauty and the Beast” is making a two-night stand in Fresno, in and out in a flash, and by that metric, I think it’s a fairly solid outing when compared to other quick-stop professional shows.
I received a polite but semi-irate phone call a few weeks back from a reader very disappointed in the recent national tour of “Jersey Boys.” She was not aware going into the production that it would include the amount of profanity it did. Nowhere in the print advertisements for the play, she pointed out, was a movie-style content rating (such as PG, PG-13, R, etc.) provided. Nor did my advance piece about the production or my subsequent review. Wasn’t it my responsibility, she asked, to provide readers with this kind of information?
I hemmed and hawed a bit, because, frankly, the thought never crossed my mind that a Broadway musical about a bunch of New Jersey minor criminals wouldn’t include rough language. Thinking about it later, I guess I figured that anyone with a passing familiarity with popular culture would know what to expect walking into “Jersey Boys.”
Then again, sometimes I make too many assumptions because I’m so familiar with the material I cover. And the songs in the show are squeaky clean, after all.
Kate McKnight is guest directing Fresno Pacific University’s fall theater production of “Truth and Reconciliation,” a play by Etan Frankel. It’s playing off-campus at the Severance Theatre in the Tower District. I excerpted parts of our discussion in my big theater roundup in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended interview:
Question: What is the plot?
Answer: 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.
What is the play’s production history? Do you know if this is a local premiere?
Yes, it’s a Fresno premiere. It won the Willamstown Theatre Festival 2006 L. Arnold Weissberger Award, selected out of 300 nominated plays. I couldn’t find any theatre company that had done a full production except for the staged reading when it won the award. A company in British Columbia is mounting a production this winter. Starting in 2008, the playwright started writing mainly for television: “Gossip Girl,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Shameless” … Hollywood got him!
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.”
The final production of the first season of Curtain 5 Theatre Group opens tonight at the Fresno Soap Co. (formerly the Broken Leg Stage) in the Tower District.
A description from the company:
“Ashes” features two “Behavioral A” sisters who meet a few weeks following their father’s funeral with the intention of determining who will be keeping his ashes. Rebecca and her obedient husband, Tom, live in a high rise Manhattan apartment, while Bridget, a unpolished free spirit, and husband, Danny, are unemployed school teachers living in New Jersey. Danny is recovering from laser eye surgery and unable to temporarily see.
Cordiality turns into a bitter round of name-calling, then a hair-pulling knock down drag out between the two sisters. Rebecca is played by Lori Gambero, director of the Roosevelt High School of Performing Arts, Bridget is played by Tania Tran, who has been featured in every production this season except “The Underpants.” Tom is played by Mathew Vargas, who was Ben in “Ben Minus Jake,” and Danny is played by Daniel Pena, who was in “Sunrise! Sunet!” and “TMI.”
Jerry Palladino directs. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 7) and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 8), with the same schedule Nov. 21 and 22. Tickets are $10 in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com and $15 at the door.
Pictured: Lori Gambero, left, and Tania Tran in “Ashes.”
Sorry for the lateness of this post, but I was tied up all day on deadline.
The play “PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo,” which was first produced at the San Francisco International Arts Festival, makes its Fresno debut Thursday in a production partly sponsored by Fresno Building Healthy Communities. The play stars Ricardo Salinas of the performance troupe Culture Clash.
Playwright Paul S. Flores developed the title, which has traveled to New York and Los Angeles, as “a pro-active community response” to the issue of gang violence while presenting positive elements of Latino and Central American culture. It tells the story of one man’s determination, transformation and redemption as he leaves gang life and tries to reunite his family after surviving civil war, deportation, prison and street violence.
“PLACAS” continues 7:30 p.m. nightly through Saturday at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium. You can order advance tickets here.
Steeped as we are in a culture of all-consuming capitalism, I think it’s challenging for Americans to fully get where French shock-till-you-drop playwright Jean Genet was coming from. The playwright got pretty wound up — to put it mildly — about the class struggle between the overlords of society and the peons who attend their every whim. In his 1947 play “The Maids,” Genet practically froths about the indignities of human power structures. To the playwright, who spent his early years as a vagabond and petty criminal, it doesn’t matter if the mistress of the house treats her hired help with a benign-fakey warmth instead of a whip to the back — at the end of the day, she retires in comfort to her flower-strewn bedroom with couture-filled closet, and they retreat to the plain attic servants’ quarters with rough pine dresser drawers. For Genet, it only makes sense for the maids to spend their free time fantasizing about plotting the gruesome death of their employer.
Considering that most of us work for someone else, I’d imagine that if Genet were around today, he’d envision an abundance of violent role playing going on behind closed American doors.
There’s a sass and a grace to the Fresno State production of “The Maids,” which certainly falls into the category of one of the weirdest recent shows at the university in a while. (And more power to the theater department for taking it on.) Director Ruth Griffin has said she wanted to stage the show as sort of a melodrama. That choice, paired with Griffin’s natural choreographic affinity for putting movement front and center in her shows, works well in this production — up till the final third of the show. As Genet’s play spins into a semi-absurdist whirl of anger and genuine suspense, however, Griffin’s stylized direction detracts from the bewildering climax instead of enhancing it.
In 1933 France, two maids who were sisters brutally murdered their employer and her daughter.
From that real-life event, Jean Genet in 1947 crafted his provocative play “The Maids,” a feisty and (at the time) scandalous show that emerged as a scathing comment on relations between the social classes. The maids regularly indulge in a ritualized game in which they act out a revenge fantasy involving the death of their mistress. Will this be the time they play the game to its conclusion?
Fresno State theater professor Ruth Griffin is directing the Genet classic. Known for her interest in physical and avant-garde theater, Griffin is describing her production, which opens Friday, Oct. 31, as a melodrama. We caught up with her via email to talk about the show. There’s an excerpt of the interview in Friday’s section; here’s the extended version.
Question: What is “The Maids” about?
Answer: “The Maids” constellates a situation between the haves and the have-nots, the entitled and the outcasts. They are a duality that exists together. Genet was inspired by a case in the news of 1933. The Papain sisters were maids who committed two brutal and ritualistic murders, slaying their mistress and her daughter. The French intellectuals of the time interpreted the murders as a compelling symbol of class relations.
What happened in Jersey didn’t stay in Jersey. It finally made it to Fresno.
Which makes fans of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons very happy.
The central San Joaquin Valley waited a very long time indeed for the national tour of “Jersey Boys” — which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary — to get to the Saroyan Theatre. And judging from the enthusiastic reception at Tuesday’s opening night performance, I’d say there’s a lot of pent-up demand for the smooth harmonies and Garden-State-sized angst that this jukebox musical provides. Valli and his bandmates over the years churned out an amazing number of No. 1 hits, and the evening at the Saroyan floated along in a sort of nostalgic cloud of goodwill, with songs like “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man” eliciting appreciative murmurs from the audience.
This national tour features an Equity cast — the same union to which Broadway performers belong — and the depth of talent is clear from the beginning. Compared to some of the other smaller, non-Equity tours that come through Fresno, this production is clearly a rung above. (It plays through Sunday Nov. 2.)
I have an in-depth Sunday Spotlight column for Oct. 19: a look at a push by people in the Fresno community to send the Holocaust one-woman play “Janka” to New York for an off-off Broadway run. From my column:
That dream is coming together thanks to a core of Fresno-area supporters. In a move that’s quite novel in the theater world, Noga and Speace are raising the $40,000 needed to finance a run at an Off-Off-Broadway theater. To kick off the campaign, benefit performances of the show will be held Oct. 25 and 26 at the 2nd Space Theatre.
“Janka” is a remarkable story featuring remarkable people, including the title character herself — who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp while most of her family died — to Janice Noga, Janka’s daughter-in-law, who has played the role for 12 years. I’m excited to think that “Janka” could be playing at the June Havoc Theatre on West 36th Street in Manhattan next May.