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.
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.
The current show at the Fresno City College Theatre features performers ages 55 to 82. The theme changes every year, and “Las Vegas” is a great match for these singers and dancers. David Bonetto’s direction and choreography is smooth and inspired. Darrell Yates’ original script has a nice nostalgic feel without getting maudlin. (And he also gets a starring role in terms of singing, which is very nice; my one piece of advice to Yates as actor is to tone down his performance just a notch or two in terms of enthusiasm, especially his hands.) And while the production in terms of length is just a few numbers past its optimum running time, the show is nicely paced.
‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,’ through June 11, Fresno City College Theatre. $16
As in years past, I don’t offer a regular review so much of “New Wrinkles” as an impressionistic portrait of, well, what impressed me most. Here goes:
Best sense of rhythm in the opening number: Mac McIntosh knows how to move, that’s for sure. He helps conduct this Soul Train.
Funniest way of laughing at her own jokes: Brenda Holman, playing comedian Phyllis Diller, has the self-referential snicker down cold. Put it this way: I laughed at her laughing.
Sweetest delivery of a song: a tie between Jim Irvine’s last line (a plaintive “when the dealing’s done”) in “The Gambler” and the touching rendition of “The Rose” by the Women’s Chorus.
Best dancing: the energetic steps (and brisk choreography) of “Oh What a Night,” which made me want to put on my dancing shoes if 1) I were any good at dancing; and 2) I actually owned any.
Most stirring vocals: Mike Pukish singing a beautifully felt “Love Me Tender.”
The “Burns Brightest” award for most outstanding stage energy: Jane Parsons, who winds up as the featured bride at the end of the first act and then shines in “Working My Way Back to You.”
The “Georgie on My Mind Moment” for most anticipated moment by a “New Wrinkles” veteran: Another tie. The first is, of course, when the irrepressible Georgie Dayton does her big solo number, “Funny Honey.” The second is Gabe Agao, who brings such a tender wistfulness to everything he sings.
Most likely to have fun at a party: After watching her barrel her way through “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” my guess is Renata Briones. Or maybe it was just her black mini- skirt, white blouse, turquoise scarf and sequined jacket. Nice costume choice.
Speaking of shiny stuff: In their delightful duet “Proud Mary,” Laurie Spann and Saldana (a double mention!) roll on the river wearing a pair of gowns that look as if a sequin factory exploded.
The image I can’t get out of my mind (and want to!): The “Boys” of “New Wrinkles” each putting one hand behind his head and giving us a big pelvic thrust in “Macho Man.” (One of the great skills possessed by Bonetto, the director, is knowing when to keep a number short and sweet. Thank you.)
Best legs: On the gals side, I’m picking the six traditional Las Vegas showgirls (Carole Robinson, Mary Campbell, Vicki Cluff, Linda Miller, Donna Bell and Patty Van Oosbree). And for the men, it has to be Jim “Strut His Stuff” Holman, the only male tap dancer, who in “Get Me to the Church” AND “Chapel of Love” appears in a tuxedo shirt and vest (the north of him is quite respectable) and wearing nothing beneath but dress shoes and socks with garters and white boxer shorts emblazoned with red hearts.
Best ensemble singing: the choral rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.” A hat tip to the new “New Wrinkles” vocal director, Rebecca Sarkisian.
Other creative nods: I like this year’s set design by Jeff Barrett, a nostalgic warehouse feel. Darryl Dote’s small but mighty band of musicians is first-rate. Chris Lang’s lighting design gives the requisite Vegas razzle-dazzle. And how about a mention for costume coordinator Nancy Wayne for the pieces she built for several group numbers?
Finally, to end on a slightly more serious note: I have such admiration for the performers in “New Wrinkles” and their outlook on life. In a pre-show interview, Yates noted how important it is for the show to remain optimistic, adding that no one knows how much time he or she has left on this Earth of ours. Perhaps that’s why any mention of mortality in the show can seem so touching. (Examples: “There’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done,” as the Gambler intones. And in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” the simple declaration of “I thank God I’m alive.”)
Yates chooses to end the show with the jaunty “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” of “Monty Python” fame. At the very end, as the cast merrily sings the lyric “Always look on the bright side of death,” I watched Jim Irvine make a very funny hangman’s noose. These dedicated performers are making the most out of getting older, which when you think about it is a privilege not everyone gets to attain.
No wonder I walked out of the show finding the world a brighter place. Next time I see that crazy tourist, wherever she pops up in my life, I’m giving her a big smile.
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