A return to San Luis Obispo’s enchanting Festival Mozaic

If you’re a classical music fan in the central San Joaquin Valley and have never experienced Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo County, it’s time to head for the coast. (As if you needed a good excuse, right?)

The 48th season of the acclaimed festival — which changed its name from the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival in 2008 — opens today (Tuesday, July 17) with a concert at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. The performances continue nearly every day through July 28 with a grand finale at the San Luis Obispo Mission.

Harpeth Rising Instruments1+Edited

I went last year for the first time to Festival Mozaic and loved it. And I’m making a repeat visit this year. On Thursday, I’ll hear a group called Harpeth Rising (pictured above) at the Dana Adobe Cultural Center in Nipomo. And on Saturday, I’m going back to “Baroque in the Vines” at the breathtakingly picturesque Serra Chapel in Shandon.

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Quick pick: Summer Arts, Session No. 2

The big idea: For a month, Fresno State host the annual CSU Summer Arts festival. The second of the two-week sessions kicks off today (Monday, July 16).

summerarts stage combat

The format: Read my Summer Arts overview post for a rundown. On almost every night of the week, you can attend a public performance or event featuring esteemed members of the Summer Arts faculty. The second session includes a number of literary readings from acclaimed writers. There’s also photography and TV news.

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Last chances to see 2 impressive Fresno-area musicals: ‘Fun Home’ and ‘Joseph’

Just a reminder: If you haven’t seen the following two shows, you owe it to yourself to get thee to an air-conditioned theater tonight or tomorrow afternoon:

♦ StageWorks Fresno’s “Fun Home” is stellar. Here’s my preview (I think it’s a very powerful interview) and here’s my review.

♦ Good Company Players’ “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” is likewise first-rate. Here’s my review.

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A wonderful Tim Smith is the title character in ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ Photo / Good Company Players

Remember: Netflix will always be there.


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From ‘Memphis’ to Reedley, the fight against racism must continue

River City Theatre Company offers an ambitious production of the Tony Award-winning musical

THEATER REVIEW

It’s a perfect time to reacquaint yourself with “Memphis,” the uplifting and thoughtful 2009 Broadway show focusing on how the crossover appeal of black music in the early 1950s helped weaken the race barrier in the South.

The depressing word in the previous sentence, unfortunately, is “weaken.” Nearly 70 years after the era of “Memphis,” we aren’t able to say that pervasive racism in the South (and the rest of the country) has been eliminated or even thoroughly defanged. The most optimistic spin we can take is that things are better than before. (No more segregated drinking fountains, at least.)

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‘Memphis’ continues at the Reedley Opera House through July 29. Photo / River City Theatre Company

Even more depressing: Racial issues are even more sharp-edged and glaring in 2018 than they were in 2010, when “Memphis” won the Tony Award for best musical. (If you’re into hashtags, this one would be #goingbackwardsucks.)

All this explains why the new River City Theatre Company production of “Memphis” at the Reedley Opera House — a central San Joaquin Valley community theater premiere — is a worthwhile outing. With stirring lead performances and rousing vocals, the show is inspiring.

It’s also uneven at times in terms of acting, staging and production values when compared to other community theater in the region. And there are elements of the book itself that can feel formulaic, something that was apparent in the original Broadway production. But the ambition and dedication on display at Reedley shines through.

Here’s a review rundown on the production, which continues through July 29:

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Children’s Musical Theaterworks and Caitlyn Lopez catch ‘Island’ fever

“Once on This Island” is getting a lot of renewed attention because of an acclaimed Broadway revival. Plus: Enter to win a four-pack of tickets

Just call her Caitlyn “Island” Lopez. In her last starring role, as Sophie in the Good Company Players production of “Mamma Mia,” she got to frolic on a picturesque Greek island. Now, as Ti Moun in the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Once On This Island,” she has the chance to call a gorgeous Caribbean island in the French Antilles home.

It’s a great role for the talented young actress, who stars in a cast that ranges in age from 8 to 23. I caught up with Lopez for an interview and to ask the burning question: If she had to choose between a vacation to a Greek island vs. a Caribbean island, which would she choose?

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Caitlyn Lopez plays Ti Moun in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of ‘Once on This Island.’ Photo / Dylan Reyes

Q: Tell us a little about Ti Moune, the character you play in “Once On This Island.” Is she the kind of person you’d want to be friends with?

A: Ti Moune is a curious peasant girl who longs for more. She is ambitious, brave, and compassionate. I try to surround myself with people I can look up to, and Ti Moune would absolutely be one of those people.

Q: In the musical, four gods rule the island. How do they get along with each other? Tell us about the bet that sets up narrative of the show.

A: The gods get along fairly well, other than the conflict between Erzulie, the goddess of love, and Papa Ge, the god of death. Ti Moune prays to the gods. After hearing her prayers, the gods decide to send her on a journey to prove whether death or love is stronger.

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Eclectic and inspiring lineup of new exhibitions opens at Fresno Art Museum

At the Fresno Art Museum, a new round of exhibitions is a little like Christmas: So many gifts under the tree, and they all get opened at the same time.

On Friday, the public will get the first glimpse at five new Summer/Fall exhibitions at the official opening reception, which includes featured artists talking about their shows. It’s an eclectic and inspiring lineup. “As chief curator I think about how the new exhibitions relate to, or are different from, each other,” says Michele Ellis Pracy, who is also the museum’s executive director. “I approach our galleries as living, breathing entities that will impact and enrich our visitors.”

The galleries will open to regular museum visitors 11 a.m. Saturday, July 14.

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Kay Sekimachi,’s “Three Leaf Bowls” (1996). Photo / Courtesy of the Artist and Forrest Merrill

All of the exhibitions are original to the museum, meaning that Ellis Pracy and the curatorial staff decided whom to show and then proceeded to select the work in person for exhibition. Original shows take a great deal more work than pre-packaged exhibitions that tour to various institutions, and museum staff worked on these for a year before opening.

A slender but powerful thread connects the exhibitions. “The consistent, subliminal concept that marries them is perseverance and history,” Ellis Pracy says.

I’m sure that in the coming months I will be writing about and diving more deeply into some of these exhibitions. But for starters, here’s a rundown on the lineup:

Kay Sekimachi

The exhibition: “Master Weaver: Innovations in Forms and Materials.”

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Summer Arts pick: ‘Accent Olympics’ at Fresno State

Phil Thompson, Summer Arts master of accents, says it’s likely that you, too, have a keen ear for the ways people talk differently than you — even if you don’t realize it.

Humans are at their most fundamental small-group primates with an uncanny ability to detect the slightest variations in others. It’s a helpful trait when figuring out whom to trust.

“We are very, very good at detecting outsiders,” says Thompson, a professional actor and founder of Knight-Thompson Speechwork (KTS), a skills-based approach to training actors for detailed and nuanced accent work.

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Phil Thompson will preside over “Accent Olympics” at Fresno State. Photo / Todd Sharp, Summer Arts

Which is why I think I had a small but nagging problem with Emma Thompson’s performance as Hillary Clinton in the 1998 film “Primary Colors.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on it when I watched the film for the first time, but there was something just a tiny bit “off” in her otherwise exemplary performance. She didn’t sound a bit English, but there was something too perfect and almost sterile about her American accent that rang in me a linguistic warning bell.

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An appealing ‘Proof,’ but it doesn’t quite add up at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER REVIEW

I envy people who are about to see David Auburn’s “Proof” for the first time. This smart and engrossing 2001 play, which captivated Broadway audiences (and won the Pulitzer Prize and best-play Tony Award) with its tale of high-level mathematics and debilitating mental illness, is masterfully constructed. On subsequent viewings of “Proof,” it probably isn’t possible to replicate the tension and surprise of the first go around. But while I’ve seen it several times, I find myself still admiring the way Auburn manages to mash together a nerdy, numbers-oriented mystery plot together with a moving portrayal of father-daughter interdependence and liability.

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Catherine (Bailey Johnson) and Robert (Gordon Moore) in a scene from ‘Proof’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I have some mixed thoughts and reactions after viewing the new Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre:

The relationships: Integral to “Proof” are the connections between Catherine (Bailey Johnson), the 20-something protagonist, and the three other characters in the play. Robert (Gordon Moore), her father, was a famous and troubled mathematician. (You find out very early in the play how he ended up.) Catherine, who is justly proud of her talented dad, has also worried for most of her adult life about his mental stability. It’s more than just a feeling of filial responsibility: She’s concerned that she, too, might have inherited the same tendencies. Catherine’s relationship with her much more together sister, Claire (Marikah Christine Leal), is more fraught. Claire has left Chicago, where their father taught and did his research, to make a notable life for herself in New York. Catherine feels diminished by comparison. And, finally, there’s Hal, a graduate student of Robert’s, who brings his own baggage to the proceedings: He wants to honor his mentor’s genius, but his own stalled career brings out conflicted feelings.

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