Donald’s list: Weekend choices (June 23)

It’s opening weekend for the Blossom Trail Players. Plus: a new show in Oakhurst, star gazing near North Fork, cabaret night at “35MM” and the kickoff of Summer Arts.

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Put on a happy face and experience the season opening production of Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players. The Broadway classic “Bye Bye Birdie,” which spins a thinly veiled tale of an Elvis Presley-type character drafted into the military, includes such well-known songs as “Honestly Sincere,” “The Telephone Hour,” “How Lovely to be a Woman” and, of course, the iconic title tune.

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All shook up: Greg Guerra makes the girls swoon as Conrad in the Blossom Trail Players production. Photos / Madlyn Esquer

The show opens Thursday, June 22, and runs through July 1.

There are more than 40 in the cast and an orchestra of 20 — let’s hear a cheer for live musical accompaniment! — in this production directed by Brittany Zenz and choreographed by Shannon Pelletier. (Andrew Esquer is music director.)

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Elephants and martinis: All in a night at Curtain 5

Two original one-act plays get their premiere at the Fresno Soap Co.

THEATER PREVIEW

The summer theater season is heating up with the CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP’s new production of the one-act plays “The Elephant in the Room” and “Martinis and Malice” at the Fresno Soap Co. (Thank goodness the air conditioning in the theater is working again.) Here are five things to know.

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Noel Coward homage: Art and Charlene Cano play Vincent and Cynthia in Curtain 5’s “Martinis and Malice,” directed by R.S. Scott. Photo / CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP

1.

Think original. Both plays are premieres of original new works, which Curtain 5 has been delivering in abundance since its first season in 2015. Artistic director Jerry Palladino is a passionate advocate for emerging playwrights.

2.

There’s a lot of young talent out there. “The Elephant in the Room” was written by Samantha Perez, a senior at Roosevelt High School. She was one of four student playwrights who wrote original works in a 2015 student writing competition sponsored by the company for Kathryn Koch’s student playwriting class.

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‘Fools’ rush in

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux, familiar names to 2nd Space audiences, will duke it out for a change in Neil Simon’s ‘Fools’

THEATER PREVIEW

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux didn’t just fall off the Russian-novel turnip truck. They know a good theater home when they see it. The pair is often found together in shows at the 2nd Space Theatre, an example of the fiercely loyal troupe of actors often found in Good Company Players productions there.

Their latest joint adventure is Neil Simon’s “Fools,” directed by Karan Johnson, a silly 1981 offering set in 19th century Russia from the famed comic playwright. Last year they played characters who were friendly with each other in three productions at 2nd Space. Now, with “Fools,” they kick off an antagonistic streak that will continue this season with “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

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Dynamic duo: Chase Stubblefield, left, and Alex Vaux in ‘Fools’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I caught up with them via email to talk about the show and life offstage (what little there is of it).

Q: Let’s start off with a burning question, and please be honest with me: Are you two sure that you aren’t being held hostage by the folks at the 2nd Space Theatre? It seems like nearly every time I go to a show there, one or both of you are in it. They don’t chain you between shows and make you live in one of the dressing rooms, do they?

Alex: Haha, it certainly feels like I never leave there! I did escape briefly to Roger Rocka’s this season.

Chase: Living in the theater wouldn’t be so bad, I would save a lot on gas! It’s almost a full-time job especially when rehearsing and performing two shows at once. I like keeping myself busy though.

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Remembering Ted Esquivel

Actor and storyteller added to the greater Fresno cultural scene over the decades; supporters are raising funds for Storyland in his memory

Autumn Lindberg got used to being interrupted with her dad, Ted Esquivel, at the grocery store when people would come up and say they remembered a story he’d shared years ago.

That’s what happens when you’re a professional storyteller.

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Actor and storyteller: Ted Esquivel as the Player in the 1992 Good Company Players production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo / GCP

Esquivel, who died June 8 at age 62, knew what he was doing when it came to stories, his daughter remembers. His trick was to get the audience involved. In one classic tale of his, about a fox who gets his tail chopped off and has to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it back, Esquivel would divide the audience into sections and have one play, say, the river. He’d point at them from time to time and ask them to put up their hands to suggest a whooshing sound.

‘He got people so engaged that people would remember those stories years later,” Lindberg says.

Mr. Esquivel plied his trade at the aptly named (for him) Storyland in Roeding Park, as well as various elementary schools, private schools and camps, and youth parties and adult parties as Santa Claus, says longtime friend William Raines.

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Vocals [check], direction [check], worth seeing [check, check, check]

“35MM: A Musical Exhibition” soars in a daring production at the Selma Arts Center

THEATER REVIEW

In the weird and wonderful “35MM: A Musical Exhibition,” we meet Luanne, the tragic heroine of an abusive relationship that unfolds with a country western twang and a sickening sense of suspense. There’s the grumbling “Manny,” a modern-day male baby-sitter whose young charge — a fiendish, spaghetti-flinging toddler named Caralee — could claim paternity by Satan himself. At the opposite end of the theological spectrum, we’re introduced to the Seraph, an angel of a man who offers an emotional foundation of support and love for his struggling lover.

All remarkable characters, to be sure.

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Child from Hell: Miguel Gastelum, the “Manny,” sings of his young charge in “Caralee” in “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” at the Selma Arts Center. Photo / Kyle Lowe

But even more remarkable in the Selma Arts Center production is the innovative direction and fiercely committed cast. If looking ahead to a community-theater summer of well-known family musicals and familiar songs leaves you wanting a little more, “35MM” is your chance. This production is daring and occasionally brilliant, and if you want to support artists doing new and challenging things, it deserves your patronage.

How much did “35MM” affect me? I left the theater on opening night with a soaring musical-theater high. The vocals in this show are superb, and composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver’s hummable and tantalizing score wouldn’t leave me. Days later, I have such tunes as “Caralee,” “Leave Luanne,” and a gorgeous a cappella number titled “Mama Let Me In” — featuring vocals so crisp and harmonies so ferocious that I still get a chill — camping out in my brain.

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Fueling Selma’s creative fire

Risky and innovative “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” opens at the Selma Arts Center

THEATER PREVIEW

SELMA — At rare times, when you’re lucky, you walk into a space in which you feel as if you’ve catapulted into a creative epicenter. You never know exactly when or where such a moment will materialize, but it’s memorable when it does. I imagine it like being able to look over a city or region, almost as if it were a thermal map, and seeing bursts of artistic collaboration across the landscape flare like oil wells under a nighttime Texas sky.

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Inspired by photography: the cast of “35MM: A Musical Exhibition” at the Selma Arts Center. Photo / Kyle Lowe

On this Wednesday evening, just minutes before a run-through is about to begin of the little-known and fascinating 2012 show “35MM: A Musical Exhibition,” which opens Friday, I know I’m in an innovative hot spot: the Selma Arts Center.

Just consider the artists at work.

Up there on stage, with his baseball cap on backwards and bouncing in time to the music as he runs the actors through a problem area, is director Dominic Grijalva. After showing formidable directing chops in Selma productions of “In the Heights” and “Heathers,” he’s set his sights on the rarely staged “35MM,” which requires not only a keen sense of storytelling but cutting-edge video and graphic skills. Next to him on stage is Michael Flores, one of Grijalva’s longtime collaborators, who is just coming off a solid stint choreographing “Heathers” for Fresno State. In this show he’s a triple threat: co-director, choreographer and actor.

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Come for the ice cream, stay for the mustaches

A profile of the Kings Players theater company in Hanford, where the latest farce brings you murder and outrageously fake men’s facial hair

Theater road trip

HANFORD — When you watch a play at the Temple Theatre, don’t worry about sitting too far away from the stage.

“There’s a saying here that when it comes to your seats, there’s close and there’s damn close,” says John Rabe, theater manager for the 54-year-old Kings Players.

Photograph of man dressed as a priest, a dead body on the floor and a surprised inspector in the in the Kings Players production of 'Murder Me, Murder Me Not.' Photos / Kings Players
Um, there’s a body on the floor: Mike Spicer, left, Kim Spicer and Patrick J. Wilder in the Kings Players production of ‘Murder Me, Murder Me Not.’ Photos / Kings Players

Today I launch an occasional series on The Munro Review highlighting community theaters in the central San Joaquin Valley. I decided to kick off the series with the Kings Players because for all the years I’ve lived in Fresno, I’ve never caught a production in Hanford.

Here’s my overview:

The production: Playing through June 25 is the farce “Murder Me, Murder Me Not,” by William J. Springer.

The arrival: You might think your GPS messed up when you drive toward 514 E. Visalia St. because it looks like a residential neighborhood. But sure enough, there’s the Temple Theatre standing proudly next to an ordinary house.

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