A must-see ‘Drowsy Chaperone’

Good Company Players revives one of its best (and funniest) productions of the decade at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, and it’s just as good the second time around


As we stumble along on life’s crazy journey, let us give thanks for Jessica Sarkisian and Good Company Players. They make us laugh. A lot.

And laughing, along with loving, is what makes life worth living.

Why single out Sarkisian? Because she has the good fortune to play the title character in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the supremely silly and accomplished musical theater experience now on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It isn’t just luck on Sarkisian’s part, of course: She brings to the role a wonderful voice, a crackling good sense of comic timing, a sardonic expression that could curdle almond milk, and an expert ability to approximate a slow-burn of low-level inebriation throughout a two-and-a-half hour show. (Either that, or she’s constantly sipping real vodka backstage.)

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She wants to show off: Emily Pessano, seated left, and Jessica Sarkisian, seated right, and the cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

When Sarkisian gets to the big finish in “As We Stumble Along,” her first-act show-stopper of an anthem, my favorite moment was an expertly rendered circular-path wobble in time to the music, rather like a drunken dosey doe. It’s as if her brassy vocals were saying “I’m sober enough not to slur my words,” but her feet were declaring, “I’m permanently buzzed.” I consider it a fairly magnificent accomplishment.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Sept. 21)

Options include new exhibitions at the Fresno Art Museum and Armenian Museum, two chamber music concerts and a closing reception at Corridor 2122

(Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

The Fresno Art Museum has a venerable tradition: Each year a museum group called the Council of 100 selects an outstanding woman artist over the age of 60 to celebrate. The artist traditionally lives 100 miles or more away from Fresno. This year’s honor goes to a prominent Bay Area fiber artist who just had her 80th birthday. (What a way to celebrate!) The exhibition “Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80” opens with a reception on Friday, Sept. 22.

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Delicate quilting: Joan Schulze’s “Not So Long Ago.” Photo / Fresno Art Museum

There’s another exhibition opening as well: selections from the famed AIDS Memorial Quilt cared for by the NAMES Project Foundation. The show is a partnership by the museum and the Fresno County Department of Public Health.

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May the force not always be with us

Are the new security measures at Saroyan Theatre the new normal? I hope not

The Bee’s Rory Appleton has an interesting piece about something new for audience members at the Saroyan Theatre: bag checks and metal detectors. The practice is part of a larger trend of increased security at the Save Mart Center, Selland Arena and other local venues.

Appleton writes:

A series of unrelated events both in Fresno and abroad have led many of the local venues to tighten up their bag policies. Some also have added metal detectors to their entrance routines. Both are a byproduct of 2017 life, but both have led to long entrance lines for everything from rock concerts and symphony performances to San Joaquin Valley Town Hall events.

My first encounter with the Saroyan’s new security policy was the long line to get into the Fresno Philharmonic’s opening pops concert of the season on Saturday night. When I arrived at about 7:20 p.m., 10 minutes before the concert was to begin, the line to get into the south entrance stretched almost to the parking garage.

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Single tickets for ‘Kinky Boots’ go on sale Friday

Heads up for Broadway in Fresno fans who didn’t spring for season tickets:

Single tickets for the season go on sale 10 a.m. Friday. You can get them at the Fresno Convention Center Box Office or by calling Ticketmaster.

Coming to Fresno: The national tour of “Kinky Boots.”

My guess is that tickets for “Kinky Boots,” which plays Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at the Saroyan, will be in the greatest demand.

Tickets for “Beautiful” — the big-deal production of the year, with an entire week’s run —already went on sale in June. That show opens Oct. 24.

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Reel Pride says ‘Hello’ to Audra

Fresno’s annual gay and lesbian film festival opens Wednesday with an indie film starring Audra McDonald


My introduction to Michael John LaChiusa’s off-Broadway musical “Hello Again” was through Fresno’s Audra McDonald, who in 1998 included a song from the show on her first album, “Way Back to Paradise.” McDonald has always made it a point to salute and promote the work of talented young Broadway composers. I have always trusted her judgment, and for good reason: She knows a good song when she hears it.

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The Mistress and the Senator: Audra McDonald, left, and Martha Plimpton in “Hello Again.” Photo / Fresno Reel Pride

The song, titled “The Mistress of the Senator,” is distinctive, one of those numbers packed with specificity and an intricate plot, and as I followed the narrative — it’s about a confident woman having an affair with an influential lawmaker and the skill set she can bring to his political career — I would wonder about how it fit into the show for which it was written. It isn’t the kind of title that gets many community, collegiate, touring or regional productions, so I’ve never actually seen it on stage.

The best thing about the film version of “Hello Again,” which took nearly 25 years to hit the big screen, is that it is a chance to see the story for people like me: fans of smaller, more esoteric, non-mainstream musicals. I much appreciate the opportunity. And the 2017 film, which has not yet been released in regular theaters but is making a circuit of film festivals, is a very nice way to open the 28th annual Reel Pride LGBTQ+ Film Festival, considering the Audra hometown connection. This is not the kind of film that usually makes it to the neighborhood multiplex.

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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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