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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Tempest’

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The Woodward Shakespeare Festival production of “The Tempest” had a rough opening Thursday night at Woodward Park.

Very rough.

This production wasn’t ready for an audience. Awkward pauses, lethargic pacing, forgotten lines and a turgid advance through what should be an airy, magical narrative marred the evening. The production had some strong points in terms of choreography and costume and sound design, but the most important aspect of any Shakespeare play — the text — was often problematic among an array of cast members. I fear that director Julie Ann Keller got too absorbed in the movement and design of the show and didn’t make sure her actors were well versed in the fundamentals.

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Follow-up: At 90, ‘Papa Glenn’ wins best actor

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In February, I brought you the sweet story of Glenn Edwards of Porterville, who at age 90 undertook his first starring role on stage, as the cantankerous Willie in “The Sunshine Boys.” It played at Porterville’s Barn Theater.

At the theater’s recent “Hosscar” Awards — I’ll have to get the story on that name someday — Edwards took home a big prize: best lead actor. His daughter Nicki, who directed the show, writes:

In fact “The Sunshine Boys” swept the awards, I’m happy to say. The Porterville Recorder headline was “90-year-old steals Hosscar Show” & he did. Papa Glenn is very loved in our theater community, not only for his amazing stamina but his quick wit & happy nature.

Nicki reports that one of her dad’s co-stars, Denise Everhart, pictured above, won for her portrayal of the Sexy Nurse in “The Sunshine Boys.” Everhart started teasing Edwards about when he was going to marry her.

He replied: I’ll gladly marry you Tuesday for a honeymoon tonight!” (“He’s a rascal!! his daughter writes.)

Opening tonight: ‘The Tempest’

One of Shakespeare’s most magical plays, “The Tempest,” opens tonight at Woodward Park. It’s the final production in the 2014 Woodward Shakespeare Festival season. From the company:

The 10th season closes with Julie Ann Keller’s The Tempest, a magical tale of romance, vengeance and redemption. Rick Adamson plays the powerful sorcerer Prospero. Bridget Martin and Broderic Beard play the two lovers Miranda and Ferdinand. Joshua Taber and Abbygail Williams portray the fantastical spirit Ariel and the villainous creature Caliban. The production features original music composed by Emma Ferdinandi, winner of the Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s Young Composer’s Competition.

The show plays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Sept. 20 at the Festival Stage. Look for my interview with Keller in Friday’s issue of 7.

Pictured: Miranda (Bridget Martin), Ferdinand (Broderic Beard), and Prospero (Richard Adamson).

Opening tonight: ‘The Comedy of Errors’

Tonight’s opening at the 2nd Space Theatre is a first for Good Company Players: The new production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” is being done in a Commedia dell’arte style. Director J. Daniel Herring is setting the play in a town square, performed by a traveling band of actors that include many of the stock characters associated with Commedia dell’arte. From GCP:

In this merry mix-up by the Bard, two sets of identical twins are separated as children in a shipwreck – they land on far distant shores, not knowing what happened to the others. Once grown, Antipholus of Syracuse (MATTHEW RUDOLF SCHILTZ) and his servant Dromio (DANIELLE VALDIVIA) travel to Ephesus and are mistaken for their long-lost twin brothers, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus (KEN STOCKS and BRIANNE JANAE VOGT). When they meet by accident as adults, the possibilities are endless: mistaken identities, near-seductions, false arrests, and wild accusations of adultery, larceny, and insanity are flung about with wild abandon.

This is the first Shakespeare production done by Good Company since 1993′s “Twelfth Night.”

“The Comedy of Errors” continues Thursdays-Sundays through Oct. 12. Look for my interview with Herring about the show in Friday’s 7 section.

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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And now a word from Winthrop

“The Music Man” is in its closing weekend in Clovis, and I couldn’t let the occasion slip by without giving 6-year-old Jackson Estep, who plays Winthrop in the show, a moment of Beehive fame. Here’s my video:

P.S. — I wrote about Jackson and the Estep family — there are five of them all appearing in the show together — in Thursday’s Life section. It turns out they have company. Cheryl Martin writes:

You may not be aware that there is another family with 5 members in the production.  They are the Smiths.  Father Patrick, sons Michael Patrick and Tim, daughters Anna and Joy (who played Amaryllis).  What are the odds of that happening?

Think about it: Even with a cast of more than 60, the Esteps and Smiths together make up a significant percentage of “The Music Man” cast.

Weekend pick: ‘Virginia Woolf’

There are lots of theater options this weekend, but I want to give a last shout-out for Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s impressive “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” now in its final weekend at California Arts Academy’s Severance Theatre. It plays 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. From my review:

This is an exemplary production — one of the best of the year locally. Long before there were games involving hunger, George and Martha set the standard for weird, memorable and dangerous antics.

And if you’ve never seen the stage version of this acclaimed show, you owe it to yourself to see a great piece of American theater.

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Music Man’

In terms of aw-shucks family wholesomeness — the kind that seems tailor-made for good-hearted, sprawling summer community-theater productions — it’s hard to beat Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

Consider a wonderful moment in the uneven new CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre production, now in its final weekend at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre. Watch 6-year-old Jackson Estep, a few years younger than called for in the script but already possessing an impressive confidence on stage, step out as Winthrop in the “The Wells Fargo Wagon” to belt out a lisp-dominated solo. It’s just so cute you want to box up the moment in a pretty package and take it home with you, there to enjoy at your leisure when the world gets surly.

There are some good reasons, then, that CenterStage loves this time-honored show. The company last produced “The Music Man” just six years ago.

It’s only natural for me to compare the latest version with the 2008 incarnation. While the new production, directed by Scott Hancock, has some exuberant moments and performances, including Winthrop in “Wells Fargo,” and a great “Shipoopi” dance number, it’s not as accomplished as the earlier version. Sometimes it seems downright creaky.

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Opening tonight: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Now here’s a twist on the traditional “Taming of the Shrew” for you: The entire cast of the new Woodward Shakespeare Festival production, opening Thursday at Woodward Park, is made up of women actors. Aaron Spjute directs. From the company:

‘Shrew” is a comical battle of the sexes, an exploration of how men and women interact and a commentary on the roles society expects them to fill. Spjute has chosen an all-female cast in order to present an exaggerated theatrical experience. “…servants become masters, masters become servants and even the sun becomes the moon simply by being proclaimed as such,” Spjute explains. At its heart, the production challenges us to embrace the idea that we are so often much more than the labels others assign to us.

Coming Friday: excerpts from a Q&A interview with Spjute in Friday’s 7 section; and an extended interview with him on the Beehive.

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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Word sleuth: the local theater edition

How much theater is going on in Fresno this weekend and next? So much that we decided to take the titles of a bunch of local shows and turn them into their very own “Theater Sleuth” word search. It makes for a wonderful 7 cover:

Hat tip to Bee artist John Alvin, who dreamed up this cheery exercise. Here’s my 7 section theater roundup cover story.

Last night I got to see “West Side Story.” Tonight I’m dropping in on River City and “The Music Man.”

Two big plugs for continuing shows this weekend: “[title of show]“ at StageWorks Fresno (in its last weekend), and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at Artists’ Repertory Theatre (only two weekends left).

And be sure to check out Bee photographer Craig Kohlruss’ “West Side Story” photo gallery. He has some really nice images. 

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Opening tonight: ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The Music Man’

Talk about a pair of American musical theater classics: Good Company Players opens “West Side Story” tonight at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater; and CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre opens “The Music Man” at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis. They’re two slices of Americana.

Watch for our cover story in Friday’s 7 section about how you can go on a local theater binge this weekend and next.

Pictured: Above, the Jets in “West Side Story.” (Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.) Below, Eric Estep, center, is Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” (Bee photo by Eric Paul Zamora.)

THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Underpants’

There are several problems with the well-intentioned but uneven production of “The Underpants” playing at the Fresno Soap Co., but the biggest is this: a sense of scale.

Director R.S. Scott needs to dial back on the broadness of his cast member’s performances and the vigorous tone of his direction in this gentle farce about a woman in 1910 Germany who creates a scandal when she drops her underpants at a parade for the king. In a word, most of the performances are too big, especially in the intimate space of the Fresno Soap Co., formerly known as the Broken Leg Stage. Gestures, vocals and in general an overall sense of “staginess” need to be more restrained.

“The Underpants” is a production of the Curtain 5 Theatre Group and Jump Right in Productions. I’m grateful that it decided to stage this comedy, adapted by the actor Steve Martin from Carl Sterheim’s German clever farce, because it was my first time seeing it.

In the play, we meet Louise (Rhesma Meister),the young wife of a blustery Dusseldorf clerk. Her husband, Theo (Christopher Cook), is irate because she is the talk of the town for dropping her underpants at the parade. Her slightly salacious act seems to correspond with her own sexual frustrations. (Her husband says they can’t afford a baby.) Things get complicated when two men — a hypochondriac barber (Clinton Couron) and a suave and unctuous poet (Jason Andrew) show up wanting to rent a room in Louise and Theo’s flat. They aren’t so much interested in the lodgings as they are in the landlady.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

The first real dagger of the evening comes early.

“Lay off my father,” snaps Martha, aka theater’s most famous frustrated 1960s faculty wife. Leslie Martin, who brings the character in Edward Albee’s classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to life in an outstanding Artists’ Repertory Theatre production at the Severance Theatre, imbues her words to her husband with a steely, razor-sharp menace that could be the precursor to a “Game of Thrones”-style killing spree.

Up till this point the slings and arrows in this whimsically ferocious outing have been of the play-fighting variety, as we watch one of the famous sparring couples in American theater history — Martha and her professor husband, George, played with towering skill and feeling by Brad Myers — spar with each other in an evening of “fun and games.” Martha’s father is president of the small New England college at which her husband works, and even though both enjoy mocking the old man, there are lines that can be crossed.

One of the great strengths of “Virginia Woolf” is in the way it can turn dangerous on you in a split-second. I love how this production, directed by Myers, makes you feel that danger. But this is more than the story of an alcohol-fueled raging couple. The play is built on a toxic relationship, and yet Albee keeps us guessing throughout as to where these characters truly stand.

There are far wider more perilous lines than sniping about Martha’s father that are crossed later in the play, but even when things get uglier — and, oh, how ugly they get — there’s always a sense of ambiguity.

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Tonight: StageWorks Fresno cabaret

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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.

The Beehive Interview: Brad Myers talks about ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’

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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.

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Win tickets to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

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Edward Albee’s 1962 drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a great American play — and, for the first time in more than 30 years, you’ll get a chance to see it in the Fresno area. The Artists’ Repertory Theatre production, directed by Brad Myers, opens Friday at the California Arts Academy’s Severance Theatre. I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the opening weekend performances. If you win, you can choose between the 8 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday or 2 p.m. Sunday shows.

To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: What is your favorite Brad Myers-directed production from his long and illustrious tenure on the Fresno theater scene? (If you aren’t familiar enough with his body of work to answer, no worries: just say his “Assassins” at Fresno State, one of my favorites.)

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 noon 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: ‘[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

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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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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Macbeth’

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It isn’t particularly graceful. There’s no upper-crust, commune-with-the-classics feel. This isn’t the kind of show where you feel like throwing roses on the stage afterward.

But Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s brutish and drastically truncated adaptation of “Macbeth” — which dumps much of the politics and history of the famed play, along with the spectacle of “double, double, toil and trouble” — packs quite a visceral punch. It makes me think of a short, ugly fireplug of a boxer: the kind of scrappy underdog who isn’t elegant in the ring but manages to deliver some powerful and unexpected blows.

The production plays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through July 12 (no show on July 4) at the Woodward Shakespeare Festival Stage in Woodward Park.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’

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This one’s for Grandma and Grandpa.

In lesser hands, the sweetly written  “Over the River and Through the Woods” could have hardened by the end of two acts into a sticky, sentimental clump. But not with Dan Pessano at the helm. As director of this little summer gem from Good Company Players — which I highly recommend — Pessano has assembled a terrific quartet of veteran company actors playing two sets of grandparents who dote upon their smothered grandson. Then he elicited from them wonderfully warm and textured performances that never sputter into the saccharine.

That’s a pretty big accomplishment. The set-up of “Over the River,” written by Joe DiPietro, already strays big-time into aw-shucks, idealized territory. Nick (a sharp Alex Vaux) is a 27-year-old marketing executive in New York who still treks back to his hometown of Hoboken, N.J., every Sunday to have dinner with all four of his tight-knit Italian-immigrant grandparents. For someone his age to be able to claim four living grandparents is fairly remarkable. To have them live them so close together — and get along so well — is even more so.

When Nick gets a promotion that will take him to Seattle, his grandparents are devastated. They band together and gamely try to keep him in town by setting him up with a blind date (played by an assured Erica Riggs) at their weekly Sunday dinner. Their attempt at match-making provides much of the comedy. But there’s more to the play than the amusing meddling-grandparents theme. On a deeper level, this is a story about the ease with which family ties can fray in our culture.

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10 years of Woodward Shakespeare Festival

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10 years ago, a group of Shakespeare enthusiasts banded together to form an organization that enhanced the cultural life of this city. The Woodward Shakespeare Festival has had three different homes at Woodward Park, given 276 performances and played to more than 70,000 audience members.

In my story in today’s 7 section, I write about some of the significant milestones of the festival — and give a rundown on “Macbeth,” the opening production in the 10th season. Here’s a video I made about “Macbeth”:

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BANDGEEK: Sara Evans, Kings Buzzo and Murs

6-13-14Between watching the World Cup and getting your head around the dude who was mistakenly released from jail (and then killed), your weekend is spent. Unless you’re up for the dozens of live music events happening around the city, which we (once again) cull together and collate in the weekly feature we call BANDGEEEEEK!

TONIGHT:

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Donald’s New York theater week

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I recently spent a week in New York cramming in as much theater as I could. While time constraints meant it was impossible for me to see all the Tony-nominated shows — and I couldn’t get my hands on a “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” ticket without having to sell my car — I managed to see a heck of a lot. (Nine shows total, seven on Broadway and two off-Broadway). Just in time for Sunday’s Tony Awards, here’s my recap:

‘LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL’
If, like me, you’re from Fresno and are into Broadway, THIS was the must-see event of the trip. Audra McDonald is nominated for best leading actress in a play in this acclaimed production, and if she wins her sixth award on Sunday, she’ll set a record as the most Tony-winning performer ever. Plus: She’ll be the first performer to win a Tony in all four acting categories (leading actress in a play, featured actress in a play, leading actress in a musical, featured actress in a musical). So you can be sure that people from Fresno will be rooting hard for her.

It’s an incredible, indelible performance.

McDonald, to me, has one of the most instantly recognizable voices I’ve ever heard. Give me two seconds of her with almost any song and I’ll snap: “Audra.” Yet in Lanie Robertson’s 1986 play, which recounts a night of the life of Billie Holiday near the end of her life, McDonald burrows into her character with such intense authenticity (and does crazy-screwy things with her voice that completely tamps down her operatic tendencies into a bluesy twang) that I simply forgot I wasn’t in the presence of Billie Holiday herself. (I never did forget, however, that I sat directly behind Oprah Winfrey, whose own star wattage kept distracting some members of the audience. One woman on the way to the restroom in the middle of the show even leaned in from the aisle, stuck her hand in front of Winfrey’s face and waved.)

“Lady Day” turns out to be one of those experiences in which the performance far outshines the material. In lesser hands, the sad spectacle of Holiday boozing it up and crumbling before our eyes could have been tawdry and cheap, even eye-rolling. But McDonald sails clear of such travails so smoothly that it makes the characterization that much more impressive.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘New Wrinkles’

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The 26th edition of “New Wrinkles” is one of the best I’ve seen.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the annual musical revue at Fresno City College, which features performers ages 55 and older. In a culture that relentlessly (and almost psychotically) worships youth, particularly in entertainment, it’s refreshing to watch more mature performers strut their stuff with the same dedication, enthusiasm and relentless pursuit of show-biz polish as their less senior counterparts. (And why not? Younger theater people become older theater people, and the talent remains.)

This year’s production, “Rockin’ Through the Ages,” which continues through June 15, is directed with finesse and flair by David Bonetto. He steers the format in a slightly different course than the very fine productions of years past. With an emphasis on rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a tighter feel in terms of style and subject matter. The traditional “one-liner” jokes are gone, and with them some (but not all) of the show’s vaudeville feel. Gone, too, is the variety of dance styles and vocals — there’s less tap dancing, one token waltz, and no Broadway-style production numbers.

Instead we’re taken on a musical journey by a DJ (a personable and very effective Darrell Yates, who wrote the script) who “spins” the history of rock, from early days (Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens) to the almost contemporary (Katy Perry). In an impressive bit of product placement, the idea is that Yates is on the air for local radio station KYNO, which gets plugs throughout the show.

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