Fresno Phil does ‘Star Wars’ proud

In opening concert of the season, Fresno Philharmonic offers a successful pops salute to the music of John Williams


I honestly don’t remember if I ever saw “Jaws” the movie. I’m a wimp when it comes to such things, so I suspect I didn’t. But on Saturday night, as the Fresno Philharmonic breezed through a snappy rendition of the John Williams theme to the classic 1975 movie, I still felt my pulse rate tick up a little. Through the magic of popular-culture osmosis, I have absorbed the universal dread felt when hearing the “Jaws” music. With a motif of just two notes, Williams somehow captures the feeling of floating in the ocean with just your head above water, your arms and legs obscured and vulnerable, when suddenly you think what it would be like to see a flash of fin come toward you. I’m staying on the beach, thank you.

Saroyan stormtrooper: Intermission is over, and if you don’t get back to your seat, you’ll be sorry. Photo / The Munro Review

You could say that this cultural connection to Williams’ music — even when I didn’t see the movie in question — is the key to the rousing good time I had at the orchestra’s opening concert of the season, a pops offering that highlighted some of the best known pieces by the prolific composer. Time and again as the program progressed, the mere mention of the names of the films whose themes we were about to hear prompted yips of acknowledgement and sentimental sighs. From the martial energy of “Star Wars” and optimistic heroics of “Superman” to the tender humanity of “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial,” this wasn’t just familiar music: It was a series of aural mileposts on a cultural journey. You didn’t even need to remember specific moments from these and other films or even seen them to be invited to the party; what’s important is that somehow these famous musical moments have transcended the medium for which they were designed and become part of our societal vocabulary.

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Friday night brights

Two fun things I want to get out there in the big old digital world:mamma-mia-544

The first is a bit of interesting news from Good Company Players. The rights to “Mamma Mia” were just released, and the title will replace “Hairspray” in the 2018 season. Opening date is March 22.

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Make new memories with John Williams

In its season-opening concert, the Fresno Philharmonic offers a lineup of movie music written by the “Star Wars” composer

Diana Portugal used to work for a guy with at least two distinctive qualities: He was a huge “Star Wars” fan. And he had a sense of humor.

Which is why, to this day, the Darth Vader theme in John Williams’ classic music for “Star Wars” strikes such a memory for Portugal.

Photo / Fresno Philharmonic

“I love it because at work our boss would come in and my co-workers would hum the tune,” she says. “He felt complimented by the group. We did have fun at work.”

Countless fans have had fun at many of the movies for which Williams wrote the music. Besides “Star Wars,” the composer is responsible for the eminently hummable scores for the first three “Harry Potter” films, “Superman: The Movie,” “JFK,” “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and many others.

The Fresno Philharmonic opens its 2017-18 season with a pops concert devoted to movie scores by Williams. For a ticket giveaway, The Munro Review asked readers to share the themes most memorable to them.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 15)

Options include Mexican pianist Mauricio Náder at Keyboard Concerts, poet Glover Davis at Fresno State and the opening of the Pacific Artist Series

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:

Keyboard Concerts

The Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State kicks off its season with a performance by Mexican pianist Mauricio Náder, who has performed to critical acclaim in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. This will be his second time performing for the series.

Mauricio Náder, pianist
Mexican pianist: Maurico Náder performs at Fresno State. Photo / Keyboard Concerts

Náder’s program will include works by Carrasco, Chávez, Castro, Morales, R. Halffter, Camacho, Nazareth, Águila, Gershwin and Muczynski.

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Like a star, Ryan burns white-hot in ‘Mother’

In StageWorks Fresno’s “Mothers and Sons,” Amelie Ryan gives an indelible performance, though the play itself can feel dogmatic at times


The opening moments of StageWorks Fresno’s “Mothers and Sons” are remarkable. When the lights go up, we see a man and woman standing next to each other, about as much awkward distance between them as in a police lineup, both staring straight ahead. The silence hanging between them is thick and uncomfortable, verging on excruciating. When they finally murmur some strained small talk to each other about the landmarks of the New York skyline, it becomes clear: The theater’s “fourth wall” in this production is a large picture window with a sweeping view of Central Park.

Cal and Katherine 2
Tense encounter: Amelia Ryan, left, as Katharine, and Billy Jack Anderson, as Cal in “Mothers and Sons.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

I was captivated by the non-verbals in this moment. To watch the face of Katharine, who has dropped by the apartment of her dead son’s former lover unannounced, is to see a woman struggling — and failing — to overcome the anger and sadness that is chewing up every inch of her frame. Her surprised host, Cal, obviously still stunned at the unexpected intrusion, likewise works to keep his distress in check, wanting to be polite but unable to completely cover up his exasperation.

Together, standing side by side, watching these complicated emotions flit across their faces, it’s as if with we’re being given a speeded-up, capsule version of what’s to come in this tense drama by Terrence McNally.

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Beware those hungry poodles

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opens Thursday at Roger Rocka’s, is chock full of laughs. Here’s an appreciation

Could “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the musical-comedy romp being revived by Good Company Players, be the funniest Broadway musical ever?

There’s certainly a lot of competition in that category. “The Producers,” “The Book of Mormon,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Avenue Q” would all be on the list. But — to use an outrageously mixed metaphor — in terms of sheer number of laughs per square inch, “Chaperone” is a strong contender. In fact, it’s my underdog favorite. The musical is so stuffed with clever references, silly asides, brilliant non-sequiturs, droll social commentary and laugh-out-loud sight gags that you might miss some of the hilarity on first viewing.

In the end, does love prevail? Laurie Pessano, as Mrs. Tottendale, and Charles Rabb, as Underling, in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

That’s why, to mark the opening of the show at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, I’ve compiled my list of funniest bits to watch and listen for in the show. (I asked some of the current cast members to jog my memory.) Spoiler alert: Some first-time audience members might not want to have any laughs previewed for them, so if you fall into that category, it’d be better to wait until after the show to read this piece and see how many you caught.
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