On this ‘Island,’ the dancers rule

Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of ‘Once on This Island’ is a vibrant success

The choreography. So good! I can’t write anything about the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Once On This Island” without first mentioning the wonderful dancing. Not only are Joshua Montgomery’s smooth, Caribbean-infused moves as graceful and hypnotic as a gently swaying palm tree, the dancers themselves are impressive. I love their rhythms, their physical technique, and, more than anything, their togetherness, both in movement and in spirit — they dance as if they’re part of a greater whole.

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“Once On This Island,” which runs through July 22 at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, is the “bigger kids” show this summer for CMT. (And, indeed, the age of the cast members spill into their early 20s.) I don’t write traditional reviews of CMT productions (other than critiquing the adult creative team), but I often share some of the things I really liked. Here are five highlights of this clever and moving production:

1.

The ambiance. From the moment you walk into the theater, the place has an island vibe. Clotheslines with vibrant fabrics criss-cross above the heads of the audience. Two friendly palm trees on either side of the stage frame the performance space. Once the play begins, Dan Aldape’s cheerful and vivid lighting design — all the colors of shaved ice and more — cast a warm glow. (Room for improvement: the use of follow spots, which clunk up what is otherwise a smooth and sophisticated design.) Aldape’s set is clever and often quite sumptuous. The market scene outside the Hotel Beauxhomme in the second act, with street vendors working their stalls, was one of my favorite tableaux.

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Ready to join 10,000 singers? Big Sing California is ready to soar

Fresno’s Shaghoian Hall will be connected live on Saturday with other venues across the state

In a culture in which marketing is king, we’re accustomed to hyperbole. But when it comes to Big Sing California, the organizers aren’t exaggerating. It’s big.

Billed as the “the largest free group singing event in California history,” Saturday’s 2 p.m. sing-along concert will unfold simultaneously in six venues across the state, including Fresno’s Shaghoian Hall. A live simulcast from Disney Concert Hall featuring the Los Angeles Master Chorale will be viewable on a big screen in the Shaghoian.

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This man is not singing in Fresno, obviously. But a bunch of singers will be. Photo / Big Sing California

The event’s reach will further be expanded with the concert being live-streamed on the Big Sing California website, organizers say, making it possible for people around the world to participate. Around 10,000 singers are expected to take part statewide.

More than 400 singers have signed up online for the local Fresno event. A rehearsal (not mandatory but very helpful) will be held 7 p.m. Thursday, July 20, at the Shaghoian. The Big Sing California website also features tutorial videos for people wishing to practice from home. The hall can accommodate 750 singers.

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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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