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Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

Martin singing praises of job

One of the big hits from the fall season, “The Flash,” is hiding a secret. If there is ever a musical showdown with other TV programs, the cast would be able to put together an all-star team.

Series star Grant Gustin has an extensive musical theater background but the heavyweight musical member of the group is Jesse L. Martin. You might not be aware of his singing credentials as Martin has been playing TV detectives – first on “Law & Order” and now on “The Flash.”

He showed a little of that skill with his guest starring role on “Smash.”

But, his breakthrough came in Jonathan Larson’s Broadway musical “Rent” in 2005. He reprised the role in the feature film version of the musical.

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LISTEN: “Dreams,” the first track from Fashawn’s new EP

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As if waiting for Fashawn‘s Beary Xmas show (happening Dec. 23 at Strummer’s) wasn’t exciting enough, the Fresno rap icon has upped the ante by announcing the release “FASH-ionably Late,” a seven-song EP that drops Dec. 18.

The EP, is a collaboration with producer The Alchemist and comes in advance of the rapper’s highly-anticipated album “The Ecology,” the follow up (both chronologically and in terms of content) to 2009′s “Boy Meets World.”

“The Ecology,” will be released by Mass Appeal in early 2015. You may remember Fashawn was signed to Nas’ record label in July.

“I wanted to give my fans exactly what I wanted to put out, so if that meant waiting to push back the date to clear some records than so be it,” Fashawn says in a release. “Working with Alchemist, I get in another mode creatively that’s different than working with other producers. Just some real rap shit,” he says.

You can stream the EP’s first single, “Dreams” ft. Evidence, now, or watch a video for the song (directed by Evidence) on the jump. Warning: NSFW.

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Win tickets to this weekend’s ‘Nutcracker’

You want “Nutcracker” tickets? I have a bunch of them to give away — a whopping SIXTEEN, in fact. The Central California Ballet production, featuring a cast of 90-plus dancers made up of community members and professionals dancing the leading roles, will be performed three times this weekend at the Saroyan Theatre.

In this production, the Mouse Queen from the original “Nutcracker” is given a starring role. Here’s how the Lively Arts Foundation describes the show:

Highlights of this mesmerizing event are Jackie McConnell and Connolly Strombeck, principal dancers of the Oakland Ballet, dancing the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Returning guest artists, Ethan and Nikki White, formerly of TV’s “Live to Dance” will perform the Snow Queen and King Pas de Deux. They will also repeat the stunning Arabian divertissment which they performed in last year’s show. The coveted role of Marie will be shared by Marin Brant and Anna Lippert. Ian McFarland and Tyler Mrkaich will share the role of Fritz, Marie’s brother.

Tickets for this production normally cost $32.25-$52.25.

Here’s how the giveaway will work: I have a four-pack of tickets to give away to the 2 p.m. Saturday performance and a four-pack for the 7:30 p.m. Saturday performance. For the 2 p.m. Sunday performance, I have two four-packs — eight total — to give away to two readers.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us if you’ve ever been to “The Nutcracker” and share a memory if you’d like. Or tell us why you’d like to see it for the first time. INCLUDE YOUR PREFERENCE FOR WHICH PERFORMANCE YOU’D LIKE TO ATTEND. Winners will be selected at random. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the Will Call window at the box office. Only one entry per person, please.

Deadline to enter is 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 11. I’ll be contacting winners by email, so be sure to check yours on Thursday. If I haven’t heard from a winner by Friday morning, I reserve the right to pick another — we don’t want these tickets to go to waste.

Rules are on the jump.

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Fresno general plan update may soon get a vote, but we shouldn’t count on it

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In advance of Thursday’s public hearing on Fresno’s 2035 general plan update, please grant me this one political post.

If you care about the future growth and development of the city, you’ve no doubt been following the movement of the city’s 2035 general plan update.

The plan, which lays out the policies and procedures that will guide the city in the next two decades, went before the planning commission last night. It will get a full-on public hearing 5 p.m. Thursday and the city expects to fill the Exhibit Hall at the convention center with interested parties. If Mayor Ashley Swearengin gets her way, the plan will go before the city council at its Dec. 18 meeting.

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A poignant ‘In and Out of Shadows’

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.

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Rockin’ Memorial for Perry Hodge

As a means of follow up: Audie’s Olympic Tavern will be hosting a memorial for Perry Hodge. The guitarist/song-writer had been well known in the rock scene for decades. He died last week after battling illness.

The event will run from 4-8 p.m. Saturday and serve as an open memorial for Hodge’s friends and family. From the event Facebook page: “Please come and jam, party, and show Perry Hodge how much he and his indescribable talents were admired and loved by all.”

Elisabeth Harnois dives into death duties

There are some actors who just look like they are always having fun. That’s the feeling I get watching Elisabeth Harnois on “CSI.” Even when her character, Morgan Brody, is digging through disgusting remains of a crime scene, it always looks like the actress is enjoying the job.

“That’s because I am,” Harnois tells me at a CBS/CW/Showtime party. “Part of that is because I have a little bit of a morbid side. I’ve always loved horror.”

She got to explore that side after being cast. Many of the “CSI” actors have gone to a real morgue to observe an autopsy and Harnois wanted that experience.

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DIY: Lotion, lip balm & body spray

I  just might be the most suggestible person on the planet. If I see something or read about something, it will stick in my thinking to the point of obsession. Knowing this, I specifically avoid  stores that cram all those nifty gadgets (that nobody needs) right up against the checkout counter because I am exactly the person that buys those items. (That said, I do not regret buying that microwavable egg poacher. Much.)

Case in point: In the latest series I’m reading — set in the 1770′s — the main character drinks a lot of tea. I have never been much of a tea drinker but guess who drinks tea regularly now?

But what really got me was when the character made her own moisturizing lotion. How neat is that? Then, not a day later, I’m on Pinterest and I see some 14-year-old girl touting the benefits and ease of homemade lip balm. How neat is that? 

So when I ran out of body spray and found a recipe on the Internet, I was done for. My critical-thinking brain (the same one that decided that I would look good with pink hair that one time) was filled with dozens of thoughts, each spinning and landing like cherries a slot machine : if some time-traveling character in a piece of historical fiction  can make moisturizing lotion (clunk!) and an overly-giddy adolescent from the Internet could make lip balm (clunk!) and this recipe for body spray  is so simple (clunk!) — by golly! –I could MAKE THESE THINGS, TOO! (Ding-ding-ding-ding- Jackpot.)

The truth of the matter is that, surprisingly, my critical-thinking brain was right this time. Homemade lotion, lip balm and body spray are all very easy projects and use natural ingredients.  In fact, I actually had many of the items in my kitchen already. Better? These items would make great gifts.

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DIY: Body spray

Just about every female in my family uses body spray — a habit that, with prices ranging from $7 to $20 per bottle, has become a tad expensive. Giving my daughters their own scents was fun, but the discovery that making body spray is really simple AND inexpensive? That was a gift to myself.  

What you’ll need:

- 8 oz distilled water (MUST be distilled)
- 1 Tbsp witch hazel
- 1/8 tsp citric acid (all natural, granular substance used as a preservative)
- 30-40 drops essential oil (choose your favorite fragrance)
- empty travel-sized spray container 

Boil the water and add the citric acid, stirring occasionally until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in witch hazel and  essential oil. Put in sterilized  spray container. Voila! You have body spray. Shake before each use.  

DIY: Lip balm

It may come as a surprise that lip balm is an incredibly simple item to make, and depending on the desired consistency of your product, can be as simple as just coconut oil and  essential oil.  As coconut oil has a naturally long shelf life, there’s no need to add Vitamin E. I did anyway, because of its natural benefits.

What you’ll need:

- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp beeswax
- 1/2 tsp Vitamin E oil
- essential oil (as desired)

In a double boiler, melt the coconut oil and beeswax, stirring occasionally. Add the Vitamin E oil. Remove from heat. Stir in essential oil. Pour into sterilized containers and refrigerate until hardened.

 VARIATION: If you want to add color to your balm, simply  replace  the beeswax with pieces of a Crayola Crayon in the melting phase. No joke. Crayola Crayons add wonderful color, and are non-toxic. My colored lip balm ended up more like a tinted gloss.

DIY: Lotion

This lotion recipe is perfect for the winter months, when skin is overly dry and easily chaffed. It’s a creamy, heavier lotion, but would likely be a bit  lighter if a different oil (such as grape seed oil) is used. The almond oil gives the lotion a lovely, toasty scent, and when adding a little vanilla scent, smells like baked cookies.

What you’ll need:

- 1/2 c. almond oil (or grape seed oil)
- 2 Tbsp. beeswax
- 1/2 tsp. Vitamin E oil
- 1 Tbsp. distilled water
- 20 – 30 drops essential oil 
- small squeeze bottle

 In a double boiler, combine the almond oil and beeswax, stirring until melted. Stir in Vitamin E oil. Remove from heat. Whisk in distilled water and essential oil until blended. Store in a sterilized squeeze bottle or small container.

A first for Gary Soto: a musical

The acclaimed poet Gary Soto could rest on his literary laurels. But he agreed to a new challenge: writing a musical. In fact, when he was commissioned to write a play about the plight of the undocumented “Dreamers” (students who were raised in this country but lack citizenship), he insisted that it be a musical so it could it be “life-filled and loud.”

I chatted with Soto about the new production, “In and Out of Shadows,” for a story in Friday’s Life section. The production, which opened in San Francisco, plays 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Fresno City College Theatre. Above: I made a short video of Soto, standing in the small literary museum dedicated to him at Fresno City College, as he talks about the production.

Opening tonight: ‘Cabaret’

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.”

RIP local musician Perry Hodge

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The Fresno music scene is mourning the loss of one of its own today. Guitarist/songwriter Perry Hodge died last night, after battling an illness for the last few months.

Hodge’s name can be found in The Bee’s digital archives going back to 1989. He was a vital part of the scene, playing as both as a leader and a hired gun in bands like Lone Wolf Gang and (more recently) Rockville (and Beatleville). Earlier this year, he even played Malcolm Young (or was it Angus) for an AC/DC tribute I fronted.

While the news didn’t come as a shock (you may remember the benefit concert his friends held in his honor last month) it was still heavily felt by his closest friends and band mates. No word yet on arrangements or services. Check back for updates.

Hodge was a pro in a way that many of us musicians can only aspire to be and his absence from the scene will be felt. Vince Warner, who played with Hodge in Beatleville, posted this fitting tribute on Facebook. You can hear the song on the jump.

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Opening tonight: ‘Annie Jr.’

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.”

Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

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You could stay home and watch TV. Or …

1. Walking with Dinosaurs
Because no one’s built Jurassic Park yet.

2. Comedy with a Teaze(r).
Or, comedy at Club One.

3. The Zoo
Or, at least Zoo Lights.

4. Tuba Christmas
This is self explanatory, really.

5. “In and Out of the Shadows
Fresno poet Gary Soto is also a playwright. Fresno City College stages his musical.

And a bonus five for live-music events. Because I can:

1. Molotov
2. Sponge
3. Dance Gavin Dance
4. Fab Four
5. Jurassic Christmas

For a full (if not complete) concert list, be sure to check out The Beehive’s weekly BANDGEEK post.

For holiday-specific ideas, check out this week’s 7 Magazine cover story.

‘The Game’s’ afoot in cable spy series

There are some people who miss the Cold War – TV producers.

It was easy to come up with tales of good vs. evil when the Russians were such a continuous threat. That changed and now the makers of TV shows have to either come up with new super powers to be the bad guys or do what the makers of “The Americans” did – turn back the clock.

That’s what the makers of the BBC America series, “The Game” have done. It’s based in the high stakes world of covert espionage during the early 70s.

There’s a deadly Soviet plot called Operation Glass that will be devestating for Britian. Game begins – a stylish, character-driven spy drama that explores the lives and lies of the invisible soldiers fighting a secret war.

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Next Bond film will be ‘Spectre’

Director Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig announced that the 24th James Bond movie will be called “Spectre.” It’s scheduled to be released Nov. 6.

This takes the 007 films back to the basics that Ian Fleming set down. He created a global terrorist group known as SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence,Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE) in the Bond novels.

Along with Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear will be back for the film written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Joining the cast are Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, David Bautista and Andrew Scott.

The official James Bond Web site reveals that a cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. 

ArtHop highlights: 1821 Gallery & Studios, CMAC

In Thursday’s Life section I highlight two ArtHop stops:

Phil Bowers opens his first Fresno show in four years at 1821 Gallery & Studios. A central piece of the untitled show is the installation piece “Constellations,” which references his childhood experiences of looking at the night sky.

And the Community Media Access Collaborative is hosting the annual “Celebrate Agriculture with the Arts,” which is on tour from Madera. It’s a chance to see works from artists around the state in a variety of media. You’ll never look at walnuts the same way again.

For a complete list of ArtHop venues and artists, go to the Fresno Arts Council’s website.

Pictured: Phil Bowers and “Constellations.” Bee photo by Craig Kohlruss.

Audra update: Remembering her childhood with the Wall Street Journal

Fresno’s Audra McDonald — the history-making Tony Award champ — offers some childhood memories in a first-person account told to the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers. Here’s a great anecdote:

On the driveway, I used to hit a tennis ball against the garage door pretending to be Donna Summer ’s daughter no one knew about. On my bedroom walls, I had pictures of Broadway shows, like “Dreamgirls,” and photos of Patti LuPone. I loved her. But the best part of my room was the tiny walk-in closet. When my cousins came over, my sister would join us and we’d all put on shows. The closet was backstage, where you got ready. When the show began, you’d bust out through the doors to perform.

McDonald talks about her introduction to Good Company Players, and the article is accompanied by several early photos of her in GCP.

Pictured: Audra at 16 in a production of “Evita.” Can anyone tell me who any of the other actors in the photo are?

BANDGEEK: Fab Four, Molotov and Dance Gavin Dance

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We’ve hit the holiday season full on. Time management becomes critical, especially if you want to fit in a couple of live music events.

Lucky for you, we’ve once again done the heavy lifting and collected them for you in our handy-dandy BANDGEEK roundup.

TONIGHT:

  • The Jacktones.
    W/Jimmie O. At Fulton 55. 8:30 p.m. $6-$8. (Flier link)

  • Denitia and Sene.
    W/Gentle Jaime and Naelma. At Peeve’s Public House. 8:30 p.m. Free. All ages.

  • Arthop at Studio Itz.
    W/Fatty Cakes & the Puff Pastries, Werebear, Santa Mira and Satellite Era. At Studio Itz. 7 p.m. Free. All ages. (Flier link)

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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

    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.

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    It’s Miller time for ‘Big Hero 6′

    One of the big surprises of what’s turning out to be a very mundane Christmas film season is “Big Hero 6.” The animated Disney film has already taken in more than $170 million at the box office in the United States and another $60 million around the world.

    The film’s worthy of such attention from its stunning visuals to a strong voice cast that includes Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, Jamie Chung, Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter and T.J. Miller.

    It’s interesting Miller plays the most laid back member of the team as he brings the most energy to the interview to discuss the movie. If the Denver native – whose past work includes “How to Train Your Dragon,” “She’s Out of My League” and “Silicon Valley” – was any more excited about being part of the film, he would have needed to be sedated.

    He says this kind of energy is necessary with a movie like “Big Hero 6.”

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    Tollberry Theatre celebrates 35 years

    When Lynda Qualls helped found Tollberry Community Theatre, she never dreamed she’d be celebrating its anniversary 35 years later. But that’s the special thing about community theater: It fills a need, and it endures. The company — whose name is a combination of the Sierra foothill towns of Tollhouse and Auberry — is celebrating its birthday with a new production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” which opens Thursday at Sierra High School in Tollhouse. I highlight the company’s 35th anniversary in a story in Wednesday’s Life section. Here’s an extended interview with Qualls.

    Question: For those not familiar with the Christmas classic, tell us the plot of “Pageant.”

    Answer: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is the quintessential Christmas program that is performed in churches around the United States. The only thing different about this pageant is Mrs. Armstrong, who runs everything at the church, lands in the hospital after a fall that breaks her leg. Grace Bradley is forced to take over and direct the Christmas pageant. Grace’s son, Charlie, keeps getting his lunch stolen by Leroy Herdman, one of the school bullies. He tells Leroy he does not care if his lunch is stolen every day because he gets all the desserts he wants at Sunday School. Hearing this, Leroy tells all his brothers and sisters. This is exactly how all six of them arrive at Sunday School the day of try outs. Having the Herdmans volunteer to play the main roles does indeed make this “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”!

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    The von Trapps will return to Roger Rocka’s

    Another concert update for you: The von Trapps, a singing group made up of four grandchildren of one of the original Von Trapp Family Singers immortalized in “The Sound of Music,” was such a hit when it played at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in October that the group is returning in January.

    I interviewed Sofia von Trapp when she and her siblings made their October tour stop. I wrote

    As the granddaughter of one of the original members of the singing family whose story was immortalized in “The Sound of Music,” she and her three singing siblings — who call themselves simply The von Trapps — have found a savvy way to build on the nostalgic power of their name while offering their own contemporary musical sound.

    The group will perform 7 p.m. Jan. 26. You can order tickets online or by calling (559) 266-9494. In October, the concert sold out within three days of the announcement.