Great local music highlights a benefit concert for Mike Rhodes scholarship fund

I want to give a special shout-out for an important benefit concert on Sunday in the Fresno community. The Mike Rhodes Social Justice Scholarship Fund will help support law students at the San Joaquin College of Law who have a special interest in defending the rights of disenfranchised groups (like the homeless), and working to increase social and economic justice.


Rhodes is a towering figure in the social-justice community and founder of the Community Alliance newspaper. He was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer earlier this year. Steve Malm, Howard Watkins and others banded together to organize the event. “We are raising money for a scholarship in Mike’s name to underscore what he has given the Valley over many selfless years,” Malm says.

In an article for the Community Alliance, Rhodes writes:

Social and economic justice is a constant struggle and by supporting this event you can help move Fresno in a better direction by ensuring that law students who have an interest in these issues can graduate and help us all defend our progressive values.

The concert is 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at Fulton 55. The all-star lineup of musicians features the Richie Blue Band, the Roger Perry Band, The Hi-Desert Ramblers, Glen Delpit and Steven M Ono. The donation is $10.

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For Chlorissa Prothro in GCP’s ‘Magnolias,’ steel can be beautiful

Fresno State student finds a sense of sisterhood in the Good Company Players production of ‘Steel Magnolias’

Chlorissa Prothro, who plays Shelby in the new Good Company Players production of “Steel Magnolias,” missed the 1989 movie version when it opened. She couldn’t help it. She wouldn’t be born for seven more years.

So Prothro, a Fresno State theater major making her GCP debut, definitely marks a new generation for this beloved and oft-performed title.

Chlorissa Prothro, left, is Shelby, and Valerie Munoz is Truvy in “Steel Magnolias.” Photo / Good Company Players

I thought it’d be interesting to talk to someone in the new production who wasn’t even around when “Steel Magnolias” first made a splash. Here’s our interview:

Donald: The movie version of “Steel Magnolias,” based on the 1987 play by Robert Harling, was a big deal. All those stars in one movie! Sally Field! Shirley MacLaine! Julia Roberts! I recall especially that women in my mom’s generation were abuzz. I’m always curious how someone who missed the debut of a famous movie because they weren’t there to experience it firsthand are able to assimilate such a pop-culture milestone into their lives. Did you see the movie first on video? DVD? YouTube? (I have to ask these days.) Before you got the role of Shelby in the new Good Company production, had you ever really paid any attention to the movie?

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I’ll give ‘Some,’ but not ‘Much,’ ado about ‘Nothing’

Woodward Shakespeare Festival production continues for 2 more weekends


Woodward Shakespeare Festival is heading into its third weekend of “Much Ado About Nothing,” a youthful production at its strongest when it comes to physical comedy.

A gaggle of current and recently graduated Fresno State and Fresno City College students dominates the show. They including director Summer Session, who especially has fun doling out amusing bits involving an impish Benedick (Quincy Maxwell), the famed half of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved bickering couples. (Casey Ballard, as Beatrice, gets in some entertaining moments, too.)


I had mixed feelings about the opening-weekend performance I attended. Some thoughts:

Beach setting: Session opts to put “Much Ado” in a 1940s Long Beach setting. (The location is an unexpected choice — I associate Long Beach more with big container ships and the CSU Chancellor’s Office than a California beach vibe, but, then again, I’m not really a SoCal guy.) The beach theme does fit in nicely with the casual, lawn-chair atmosphere of the outdoor Woodward Park setting. And it helps set the tone for a funny scene in which the shirtless Claudio (James Anderson) and Don Pedro (Andrew Trevino) enact an amusing muscle-beach routine that is a nod toward their characters’ preening masculinity.

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Move over, America: ‘CMT’s Got Talent,’ too. And lots of it.

You can win a pair of tickets to Friday’s big Children’s Musical Theaterworks fundraiser

Everyone loves a talent show, it seems, including NBC, whose “America’s Got Talent” is so ubiquitous in August that you could go into Simon Cowell-phylactic shock. And now there’s a local Fresno version vying for your attention, thanks to Children’s Musical Theaterworks. The first ever “CMT’s Got Talent” plays Friday, Aug. 17, at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Michael Willett
Children’s Musical Theaterworks alum Michael Willett is a featured performer at “CMT’s Got Talent.” Photo / CMT

Abigail Paxton and Hannah Huyck head the CMT creative team for the show. They helped come up with Five Things to Know about the big event:


Yes, the contestants are young. And talented.

“Because CMT is a children’s company, the competitors are aged 6-18 years old,” Paxton says. “They serve as reminders that at any age, talent can be cultivated with passion and perseverance to become an impressive skill.”

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Opera director and singer: Offstage they’re happily engaged, onstage he’s toxic masculinity

California Opera wraps up its annual festival with ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ and ‘Trouble in Tahiti.’ Gabriel Manro and Justine Prado fill us in

The California Opera Association’s annual Summer Opera Arts & Education Festival concludes with a busy weekend highlighted by two fully staged productions at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre in Clovis.

Béla Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” will be performed 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10. And Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” will be performed 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. Admission is free, with donations accepted. (Also on the festival lineup: the popular “Doctors at the Met” performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11.)

The cast of ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’: Linda Baird, left, Gabriel Manro, Courtney Dunn, Chelsea Spoon and Julia Yu. Photo / California Opera

Two of the shining names at this year’s festival are baritone Gabriel Manro and stage director Justine Prado — who just happen to be engaged. (And what a story their engagement is. More on that in a moment.) She’s directing the two 20th century operas for the Fresno festival. I caught up with them for an email interview.

Donald: Justine, let’s start with “Trouble in Tahiti.” Did Bernstein really begin composing it on his honeymoon? (And should that have been a danger sign to his wife?)

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#MeToo as caustic comedy: Jaguar Bennett is sorry for all the abominable men out there

In a wide ranging interview, Fresno comedian talks about his pro-woman show ‘Mansplaining’ and calls himself a ‘pompous, windbag know-it-all’

Jaguar Bennett has some ′splaining to do.

“Mansplaining,” that is. Which is the name of the Fresno comedian’s next comedy show. He’s bringing back the title, originally performed at the Rogue Festival, to make some extra cash. In his words: “Earlier this summer, it suddenly occurred to me that there are people in Fresno who have never paid me a dime, and I thought to myself: How can I extract more cash from the suckers, while expending as little energy as possible? Obviously, the answer is to remount shows that I’ve already performed!” (Actually, he said that in a fake quote written exclusively for a press release, so we’ll take that statement with a grain of salt, but you get the picture.)

Jaguar Bennett performs “Mansplaining” on Saturday, Aug. 11.

Bennett, indeed, is reprising “Mansplaining” — which he describes as a male response to the #MeToo movement, from the perspective that “men have behaved abominably toward women”– as a fundraiser of sorts. He’s taking the show to Portland, and he needs drinking money. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

I asked Bennett if he’d be up for a freewheeling interview, to which he readily agreed. Fasten your seatbelts.

Q: Do you recall when someone first called you offensive? I have visions of your 2nd grade teacher calling your mom and saying, “Um, well, young Jaguar said something VERY offensive today at recess.”

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For Heidi Blickenstaff, this Friday is ‘Freaky’ — and pretty wonderful as well

The Good Company Players alum’s new Disney movie premieres Aug. 10 on the Disney Channel

When you personally know someone in a Broadway show, what’s the first thing you do when you sit down in the theater?

Open the Playbill and look for the name.

I’ve had that pleasure several times with Heidi Blickenstaff, the Fresno musical-theater dynamo who at a young age belted out “Tomorrow” for Good Company Players and kept on singing till she reached New York. By my count, I’ve tracked down Heidi’s name in Playbills for “The Full Monty,” “[title of show],” “The Little Mermaid,” “Now. Here. This” (the sequel to “[title]”) and “Something Rotten!” (Note that in four of those shows, she originated her roles.)

Heidi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff in “Freaky Friday.” Photo / Disney

But I’ll admit something: I got an even bigger jolt a few weeks go when I saw “Heidi Blickenstaff” pop up in the opening credits for the new Disney TV movie musical “Freaky Friday,” which will be released Friday, Aug. 10, on the Disney Channel. (She gets second billing, just after Cozi Zuehlsdorff, star of “Dolphin Tale,” who plays her daughter.) I’m not sure why seeing Heidi’s name on my advance video screener had such an impact. Is it because of the outsize influence of Hollywood on pop culture? Or knowing that someone I have long admired for her talent is receiving the “validation” of being captured forever on a screen?

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Will parks/art measure make it on November ballot? Fresno City Council will be seeing green

If all goes as expected on Thursday, the Fresno City Council will vote to put the Fresno for Parks sales tax measure — which includes a healthy chunk of funding for the arts — on the November ballot. Here’s what you need to know:

You’re encouraged to attend: Fresno for Parks is putting out the word for supporters to show up wearing green at the council meeting (3-5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9, at Fresno City Hall, 2600 Fresno St.) “to celebrate, support and witness the Fresno for Parks initiative take the final step in becoming a city-wide measure.”

Photo / Fresno for Parks Facebook page

The backstory: The Fresno for Parks campaign gathered more than 35,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. If approved, it will raise the sales tax ⅜ of a cent for 30 years, with the majority going to the parks system. Arts and culture would benefit greatly as well, to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year.

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