‘Wrinkles’ hits another jackpot

‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,’ the latest incarnation of the annual senior revue show at Fresno City College, is packed with inspiring performances

THEATER REVIEW

Watch for the crazy tourist or you might miss her.

It’s just a small role in one number in the exceedingly well put together new production of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas.” But even with 50 other cast members on stage at the same time dressed as denizens of Sin City — a motley crew of folks portraying dealers, dancers, bartenders, cab drivers, showgirls, waitresses, singers (and, yes, a nun) — Julie Saldana managed to catch my eye.

Photo of 'New Wrinkles' program with blackjack table in the background
Table play: Even the lobby for ‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas’ has a gambling theme. Photo / Darryl Dote

She’s wearing a bright pink floral dress so loud it should come with matching earplugs. And a big, goofy purple hat that practically screams, “I am the last person in the world to carry traveller’s checks.” But what really made me laugh out loud on opening night was the priceless expression on Saldana’s face. She might only be known as Crazy Tourist in a script the audience will never see, but she gives the characterization her all.

Which is one of the things I find so charming about Fresno’s annual senior revue, now in its 29th year. The commitment of these performers to the material — and to making the audience happy — is stellar. Saldana might think she was lost in the crowd, but to me, her madcap Visitor from Other Parts is a highlight. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

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Let the river of music run

The Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers an impressive program, including an appearance by violin virtuoso Vadim Gluzman, in a memorable (and crowded) Memorial Day weekend concert

CONCERT REVIEW

The Youth Philharmonic Orchestra had just finished up the first half of Sunday’s rousing Memorial Day weekend concert. I could still hear fiery tones of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto resonating in my head. Before walking into the lobby for intermission, I glanced at the stage. It was crowded with the 100 members of the ensemble, which features the oldest and most experienced players among the Youth Orchestras of Fresno’s three groups.

Impressive.

More than 300 young players crowd onto the Saroyan Theatre stage.
Spilling into the audience: Youth Orchestras of Fresno overwhelmed the Saroyan Theatre stage in a Memorial Day weekend concert. Photo / Donald Munro

When I returned after the break, there were even more players. Members of the younger Youth Symphony Orchestra and Youth Chamber Orchestra had joined in with the Youth Philharmonic musicians for the second half of the program. And because there wasn’t enough room on the stage to pack one more player in, the members of a fourth ensemble — beginning violinists with the organization’s highly successful Accent on Access program — were squeezed in front of the Saroyan Theatre’s first row on the floor of the auditorium itself. The visual effect was striking: It was as if a sea of young musicians, more than 300 total, had spilled off the stage into the audience.

Even more impressive.

That idea of a concert hall filled to the brim with future players (and, hopefully, enthusiasts) of classical music is a nice way to acknowledge what Youth Orchestras of Fresno is doing to elevate this community’s cultural scene. Even if some of these kids never go on to play in orchestras when they’re older, they will always have nostalgia for the experience of performing in top-notch ensembles.

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5 Things to Know About Vadim Gluzman’s Fresno concert

Virtuoso brings his famous violin to a May 28 concert with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno

Vadim Gluzman joins the Youth Philharmonic, the top ensemble of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno, on Sunday, May 28, to play Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in a concert titled “Coming Home.” It’s quite rare to have someone of Gluzman’s caliber play with an ensemble whose average age is 15. After getting the chance this week to chat with him by phone, here are five things to know about the violinist and the concert:

Vadim GluzmanPhoto: Marco Borggreve
Famous violin, famous violinist: Vadim Gluzman performs May 28 with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

1.

He’s a famous violinist. Gluzman has performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, London Philharmonic … the list goes on. Besides performing all over the world, he’s a prolific recording artist on the BIS label. His latest album, an all-Brahms disc, was just released this month.

Gluzman was listed among the 30 greatest violinists in Jean-Michel Molkhou’s 2014’s “Great Violinists of the Twentieth Century, Volume 2.” In a concert review, the Detroit News wrote that “Gluzman recalls the late Isaac Stern in his prime. Gluzman possesses Stern’s rare passion, his physical strength and his electrifying propensity for altering rhythms and phrases.”

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (May 26)

Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers season-ending extravaganza, the Fresno Community Concert Band celebrates Memorial Day, ‘Nights at the Plaza’ kicks off at Arte, and don’t forget ‘New Wrinkles’

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Famous violinist, famous violin

Youth Orchestras of Fresno is known for ending its seasons with a (timpani) bang, and this year is no exception. The concert “Coming Home,” which will be performed Sunday, May 28, at the Saroyan Theatre, features a professional guest artist with a big name in classical music: violinist Vadim Gluzman, the Russian-born pianist known for his many recordings and appearances with the world’s major orchestras.

Vadim GluzmanPhoto: Marco Borggreve
Violin superstar: Vadim Gluzman performs Sunday with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

I caught up with Gluzman by phone the day before he got on a plane to Fresno, and we talked about 1) why he’s coming to Fresno to perform with (very talented) students; 2) the famous Tchaikovsky concerto he’ll be playing; and 3) the equally famous violin he’ll be playing it on. You can read more here.

But Gluzman isn’t the only draw of the Sunday concert, which features three orchestras and 300 young musicians. A highlight will be a newly commissioned work titled “Coming Home” inspired by William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy.” Four Fresno State composers — Alexander Bianco, Chris Carreon, Mason Lamb, and Matthew Wheeler, working with music composition professors Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich — reference themes in Saroyan’s novel, in which home is a thinly disguised Fresno.

Boone explains the process:

The multimedia project was a collaboration between music and mass communication/journalism students. They chose a culture other than their own (Armenian, Japanese, Hmong, Hispanic, or African-American), examined their biases and interviewed people representing those cultures. The music students composed a movement for orchestra inspired by the culture, and the MCJ students selected clips from their recorded interviews for an audio montage to be used along with the composition.

The program includes Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” And the concert will close with “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez. Thomas Loewenheim conducts.

Details: 4 p.m. Sunday, May 28, Saroyan Theatre. The concert is free, but “your much-appreciated $15 or $20 (or any) donation is welcome at the door.”

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Betting on love

‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas’ includes cast members who liked the odds when it came to getting married in the famed gambling capital.

Cheryl Coddington’s son phoned her on a Sunday night and asked where she’d been all weekend.

“Brent and I got married in Las Vegas,” she replied.

“Yeah, right, like you’d do that,” she remembers him telling her. She was the ultra-organized mom, the career educator who planned everything weeks or months in advance. To skip off to Vegas without telling anyone — especially even her kids — was unthinkable.

A big group of more than 50 cast members in costume on stage at Fresno City College for New Wrinkles.
A chorus line: Members of the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas” pose before rehearsal begins. Photo / Donald Munro

Oh, she did it all right. And she’s been married nearly 17 years.

Coddington is sitting in the Green Room at Fresno City College, where she’s just slipped away from warm-ups for the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,” the latest incarnation of the long-running musical variety show featuring performers 55 and older. She’s in costume, wearing a glittery top with the words “Bingo Diva,” one of her roles in the show. Now in its 29th year, the annual production is one of the few senior showcases left in a country that used to be full of them.

In the spirit of the show’s theme, I asked Coddington, 63, a first-time “Wrinkler,” to share her Las Vegas matrimonial story with me. It was a third marriage for her new husband and the second for her. They’d been dating a long time, and the couple decided they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.” So they hopped in the car, made the six-hour drive to Las Vegas Boulevard and parked at the Chapel of the Bells.

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‘Heart’ and soul

Good Company Players production of ‘Damn Yankees’ offers a snappy fealty to the game of baseball

THEATER REVIEW

Even more people would say “The Devil made me do it” if Terry Lewis really were that Devil.

As the smooth-talking Applegate — the sharply dressed stranger never quite identified as Satan in “Damn Yankees” — Lewis is suave without seeming smarmy, duplicitous without jogging “Exorcist” memories. He offers a relaxed vibe best described as slightly wry. That sensibility is key if you’re going to pull off this big-hearted 1950s musical about baseball and soul selling more than 60 years later. You have to acknowledge the show’s aw-shucks mindset and earnest genuflections to America’s favorite pastime while not getting bogged down in it.

Four fans surround baseball great Joe Hardy, played by Tim Smith, in the Good Company Players production of 'Damn Yankees.'
Baseball groupies: Tim Smith, as Joe Hardy, enjoys the adulation of his fans in ‘Damn Yankees.’ Photo / Good Company Players

Lewis, decked out in a satiny red dinner jacket and evil looking socks, knows just how to calibrate his character to a modern sensibility without making the material seem annoyingly dated. Sure, Applegate is a bit of a boor when it comes to women. (At one point he tells an ambitious female reporter to “go home, get married, have children.”) But even when his character sounds as if he’s campaigning for an open U.S. Senate seat in the South, Lewis has a droll lilt to his voice that suggests he’s winking at the line even as he’s squeezing every last comic drop out of it.

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Restyling memories

A gorgeous new retrospective of work by Nancy Youdelman at the Fresno Art Museum captures the spectacle and solemnity of one of the Fresno area’s top artists

Near the end of Edith Wharton’s bleakly beautiful 1905 novel “The House of Mirth,” the main character — a financially struggling socialite named Lily Bart — rummages through a trunk of her old clothes. Inside are expensive dresses she wore to various elegant events when she occupied a higher rung on the social ladder. Now they are musty and forlorn.

Speaking_in_Colorsresizedsmall
Nancy Youdelman’s ‘Speaking in Colors, 2015.’ Photo / Michael Karibian

As Lily looks at the extravagant gowns, Wharton writes, the scenes in which she wore them rise vividly before her. Each one transports her, if only for a moment, somewhere other than the drudgery of the present. These aren’t just clothes; each one is like a sort of personal archaeological artifact. Wharton writes: “An association lurked in every fold: each fall of lace and gleam of embroidery was like a letter in the record of her past.”

Nancy Youdelman, one of the Fresno area’s most important and best known artists, loves that line in “The House of Mirth.” It’s one of her favorites in all literature. The quotation helps explain the way she can take a discarded dress or shoe and with a practiced eye and flash of creativity turn it into a compelling sculptural object.

One of the highlights of her long-awaited and richly deserved new retrospective at the Fresno Art Museum, titled “Fashioning a Feminist Vision,” is seeing how Youdelman’s techniques have evolved over almost 50 years. She encrusts the garments she uses — all of them second-hand, many purchased on eBay or local thrift shops — with a variety of found objects, resulting in meaningful mixed-media creations. Buttons, dried flowers, costume jewelry, broken pieces of glass and anonymous vintage photos figure prominently in her later works. She’s perfected the technique of using encaustic, a natural resin reheated on a pancake griddle, to transform flimsy fabric into works of rigidity and permanence. The pieces feel as if they could hang on museum walls for hundreds of years.

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The stars at night are big and bright

StageWorks Fresno offers a fundraising night of food, drink and musical performances

StageWorks Fresno transformed the Fresno Art Museum’s sculpture garden into a Broadway cabaret Saturday night at “Theatre Under the Stars,” the non-profit company’s big annual fundraiser. I collected digital autographs of StageWorks performers and artistic personnel. For videos of some of the performances, check out my Instagram Story. Find me on Instagram at @donaldmunroarts (and follow me!).


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