Opening weekend: ‘Guys and Dolls’ in Sanger, ‘Proof’ at 2nd Space

A reminder about two local theater openings:

♦ Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players presents “Guys and Dolls,” its fourth-ever mainstage production. This is the classic tale of Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler who bets that he can make the pious Sarah Brown his girlfriend. The score includes such favorites as “A Bushel and Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The Sanger company offers a couple of special additions to the program nightly: The BTP Jazz Combo (comprised of members of this year’s orchestra) perform Broadway and jazz standards as audiences arrive and take their seats. At 7:15 p.m., the brand new BTP Junior Company (founded through a generous grant from The Wonderful Company) will take the stage in “its debut performance presenting an original show that’s an ode to New York itself, comprised of original music and a medley of some all-time favorite songs about the city that never sleeps.”

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As FOOSA heads back to Disney Hall, composer Mason Lamb is in for a thrill

Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy will perform in Los Angeles, then return on Sunday to Fresno for a finale concert

Exactly a year ago, on this Friday morning, I hopped on a bus bound from Fresno State to the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. On board were some of the most talented young musicians I’d ever met, along with their equally talented (and renowned) teachers. This was the annual FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) pilgrimage to perform at Disney Hall. And I was lucky enough to be invited.

For these musicians, who descend on Fresno State each summer from around the world, getting to step inside Disney Hall is a treat. Getting to be part of a concert there is on an entirely different musical level. I detailed the experience in an in-depth post about the trip. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Composer Mason Lamb’s ‘Solstice’ will receive its world premiere at Disney Concert Hall.

Now the FOOSA folks are repeating the experience. The orchestra will perform Symphony No. 2 by Italian composer Alfredo Casella (1883-1947), described by the academy’s executive director, Julia Copeland, as “little known but suddenly hot,” and the always popular “Der Rosenkavalier Suite” by Richard Strauss.

Also on the program is the elegiac Kol Nidrei, by Max Bruch, performed by the great cellist Lynn Harrell. (At FOOSA, the teachers — who represent some of the nation’s finest orchestras and institutions of higher learning — perform alongside the students, adding to the thrill.) And there’s a world premiere: a piece titled “Solstice,” written for this occasion by Fresno-based composer Mason Lamb.

Related story: A Disney Hall concert for the ages: Fresno State’s FOOSA Summer Orchestra Academy takes a road trip to Los Angeles and makes beautiful music in the process (June 2017)

The Disney Hall concert is tonight (8 p.m. Friday, June 22), and I know that most of us can’t make it. But never fear: The FOOSA crew will hop back on their buses and return to Fresno for a free finale concert (7 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Peoples Church).

I caught up with Lamb, the composer, to talk about the experience of writing a piece that will receive its premiere at one of the most famous concert halls in the world. We also talked about his travels, his family, and even his “surly, unappreciative beagle.”

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Debating if you should see ‘Joseph’? Go, go, go, go!

Good Company Players brings a beloved musical favorite back to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater


If you have a pulse and are into musical theater, chances are you’ve seen the ever-popular “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” not once but multiple times. It gets done a lot. The reason is obvious: It’s tuneful, warm-hearted, silly, low-tech, has a wide range of musical styles, features an enormous cast (you can’t skimp on Jacob’s 12 sons) and is based on a Biblical story so far removed from our contemporary lives that you’d have to try really hard to find anything at which to be offended.

Tim Smith, as Joseph, enjoys his Coat of Many Colors. Photo / Good Company Players

Even though I’m a repeat (and I mean repeat) viewer, I never put up a fuss when it’s time to see another production of “Joseph.” Particularly one by Good Company Players. As I’ve written at length in the past, this is the perfect-sized show for the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Productions of “Joseph” in bigger theaters tend to get too show-biz glitzy as producers and directors try to pump up the fun but slight material. This show doesn’t need elaborate stagecraft and expensive moving scenery to impress an audience. The most important thing is the quality of the singing and acting.

Which the latest “Joseph” has in abundance.

Is it my favorite “Joseph” ever? It could be. I’m tempted greatly by my recollection of the 1996 Good Company version directed by Fred Bologna, whose “Go Go Go Joseph” first-act finale is probably my most prized “Joseph” memory. (The cheerleader moves in that number had a giddy verve and precision that remain with me to this day, though I also freely acknowledge that the mists of nostalgia might have something to do with it. Seeing a choreographed bit like that the first time is always the best.) That said, I like this current “Joseph” a lot as well. Here are 5 Favorite Things I offer from the show:

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A traditional ‘Othello’ gets jealous at Woodward Park


Under new leadership, the resilient Woodward Shakespeare Festival kicks off a new era with a compelling season-opening production of “Othello.” This slow-burn exercise in the darker side of human nature — chock full of anger, envy, misogyny, insecurity, ruthless manipulation, problematic racial politics and, of course, the famed “green-eyed monster” of jealousy — is heavy stuff. I’ve always considered the play to be a major challenge both for a theater company and the audience. This production, which continues through July 7, has its uneven spots, but it also can be quite accomplished. Here’s a rundown:

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LaVon Jean-Pierre plays the title role in “Othello.” Photo / Woodward Shakespeare Festival

The storyline: The play is one of the best known of Shakespeare’s works. The talented Othello (a commanding LaVon Jean-Pierre) is a Moorish prince in Venice. (The term “Moor” at the time was generally used to describe someone with dark skin, and the role is expected to be played by a person of color.) After eloping with the high-born Desdemona (Alexis Elisa Macedo), Othello is sent to command the Venetian army on the isle of Cyprus to defend against the invading Turks. Luckily for him, a storm destroys the Turkish fleet. Unluckily for him, his trusted lieutenant, Iago (Casey Ballard), hatches an elaborate scheme to make Othello think his wife is cheating on him. With nary a fact-checking bone in his body, Othello’s jealousy takes over.

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The ‘Lion’ gives a Fresno pre-party, and he doesn’t skimp on the invitations

Several years ago, producers of the national tour of “Wicked” held a press event at the Saroyan Theatre. It was a few months before the popular musical opened in Fresno for the first time. I was among a few dozen invited members of the media. We sat in chairs arranged right up there on the stage itself. (No need for that tiny number to sit in the cavernous auditorium.) One of the stars of the show from the current tour was on hand to sing a couple of songs, including the show-stopping “Defying Gravity.” A rep for Broadway in Fresno talked about when single tickets would go on sale. There was time for a few questions, press conference-style.

Jack Eldon, a Disney Theatricals vice president, instructs us on the aerodynamics of Julie Taymor’s gazelles. Photos / Caty Massey Perez

So you’ll understand why I was expecting pretty much the same thing on Monday evening for the introduction of “The Lion King” to the Fresno market. (It opens Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 9.) I’d glanced at the email invite and sent in my RSVP. I figured I’d breeze in, grab a seat, ask a few questions, listen to a couple of songs, and be on my way.

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Beneath the acting games, real life swells in intriguing ‘Circle Mirror Transformation’


The production: Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” is performed at the ViSTA Theater through Sunday, June 17. (Just three performances remain: 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday.) Kate McKnight directs.

The premise: The residents of a little Vermont town aren’t exactly breaking down the doors of the modest community center to take a six-week acting class there. The teacher, Marty (Aletha McFerrin Lang), has only managed to enroll four students — and one is her husband, James (Michael Harrison). But Marty presses on, running her motley group through a series of acting exercises, word games and deep-drill psychological activities that slowly begin to reveal the inner lives of the characters.

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The background: The playwright, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, made a big splash with “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which in 2009 shared the Obie Award for best new American play with “The Aliens,” also by Baker. Critics hailed the play’s spare, realistic structure, which offers lots of realistic dialogue (complete with the awkward pauses, incomplete thoughts and verbal tics that mark the way that people really speak), along with the surprisingly deep emotional shafts that it manages to burrow.

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At FOOSA’s faculty recital, the musical talent will be off the charts

The Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy at Fresno State puts the spotlight on its teachers

Classical music fans, here’s a weekend event you don’t want to miss:

The concert: FOOSA (Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy) faculty recital.

The details: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16, in the Fresno State Concert Hall. Admission is free with donations accepted.

The backstory: A faculty of acclaimed musicians gathers each June at Fresno State to teach in a vigorous and elevated musical environment. This year’s academy started Sunday, and students from around the world have been attending intense lessons and rehearsals. (And probably practicing up a storm, too.) They’re working toward a big wrap-up concert featuring students and teachers at none other than Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (8 p.m. Friday, June 22). But before that happens, a highlight of the academy’s first full weekend will be the annual faculty recital.

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As deadline looms, supporters push Fresno ‘parks and arts’ signature drive

Can Fresno’s parks/arts petition drive get enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot? Organizers are hoping a final push this weekend will put them over the top.

The proposed sales-tax increase would fund parks, arts and recreation in the City of Fresno for 30 years. A big chunk of the money would go to parks (which are desperately needed). But arts and culture would benefit greatly as well, to the tune of an estimated $4.5 million a year.

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Photo / Fresno for Parks Facebook page

Here’s a rundown on the initiative drive:

How many signatures are needed?

The required number of signatures is 10% of registered voters, so this number fluctuates a bit, according to Natasha Biasell, a Fresno for Parks spokesperson. A rough estimate is about 24,000. As with any petition drive, organizers want to get more signatures than the bare minimum in case some are invalid. (You have to be a registered voter in the city of Fresno to sign a petition. People who live in county islands aren’t eligible.)

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