‘Breaking Up’ is hard to love, but the songs are fun

Good Company Players production continues through mid-January

THEATER REVIEW

I’m pretty lukewarm about “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” the Neil Sedaka jukebox musical pulling the holiday shift at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. (It runs through Jan. 14.) On one hand, some of the singing is very good in this Good Company Players production. The comedy is often crisp and the production design is nice, especially the costumes.

_MG_9507
The cast of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.” Photo / Good Company Players

On the other hand, the storyline is absurdly dumb, but that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The narratives of most jukebox musicals are little more than flimsy excuses to string along a selection of well-known songs, in this case such Sedaka classics as “Lonely Nights,” “Where the Boys Are and “Next Door to an Angel.” Some musicals of this genre, such as “Mamma Mia” (a GCP offering coming soon to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre), manage to feel clever and accomplished when those songs come together, as if the writers figured out how to put together a complicated puzzle. Others, like “Breaking Up,” offer plots that just sort of limp along.

Here’s a quick review rundown:

Continue reading “‘Breaking Up’ is hard to love, but the songs are fun”

This ‘Annie’ orphan is all grown up

In 2001, 7-year-old Vanessa Brown played her very first stage role: one of the orphans in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie,” directed by Joel Abels.

In 2017, 21-year-old Vanessa Brown was in the audience to see the newest CMT production of “Annie,” thanks to — get this — free tickets won by her mother, Pat, from The Munro Review.

I asked mom to take a photo of her grown-up daughter at the performance so we could juxtapose then-and-now pics. All together now: Awwwww …

(The earlier photo shows the young Vanessa, left, with her friend Olivia Haagensen.)

Vanessa Brown went on to perform in or crew almost 20 CMT shows.

The Browns say they thoroughly enjoyed the show.


To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:

https://tinyletter.com/donaldfresnoarts

Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 8)

The Youth Orchestras of Fresno goes all out in its annual holiday concert, including dancers

I’ve already told you about two of this weekend’s big events: the Central California Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the Saroyan Theatre, which runs for three performances; and Soli Deo Gloria’s Christmas concert at University Presbyterian Church on Friday evening. Here are other promising options:

Youth Orchestras of Fresno

All three ensembles of the Youth Orchestras of Fresno — more than 250 musicians in all — offer a holiday concert that includes works by Sibelius, Stamitz, Dvorak, and Gounod.

youthorchestrasaroyan
The Youth Orchestras of Fresno perform in a Memorial Day weekend concert. Photo / The Munro Review

A highlight of the program: Dancers from Shirley Winters Ballet will complement the advanced Youth Philharmonic’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite:

Continue reading “Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 8)”

Audra McDonald to join Fresno Philharmonic for Memorial Day weekend concert

A hometown concert by Audra McDonald is rare — and always big news.

The Fresno Philharmonic will get that opportunity on May 26, when the Fresno-raised McDonald — who has won more Tony awards than any performer — will stop at the Saroyan Theatre on a West Coast swing of her concert tour.

Autumn de Wilde 2
Audra McDonald will perform with her hometown orchestra on May 26. Photo / ©Autumn de Wilde

Andy Einhorn, a longtime musical collaborator of McDonald’s, will conduct.

Tickets for the general public will go on sale Dec. 18 and may be purchased at www.fresnophil.org or by calling 559-261-0600. Fresno Philharmonic subscribers and donors have the opportunity to purchase tickets from Dec. 8-17. Ticket prices range from $35-$95.

Continue reading “Audra McDonald to join Fresno Philharmonic for Memorial Day weekend concert”

In appreciation of Good Company’s ‘A Christmas Carol’

Director Dan Pessano finds holiday magic in a happily streamlined version of the Dickens classic

THEATER REVIEW

Dan Pessano directs a brisk and bountiful production of “A Christmas Carol” at the 2nd Space Theatre. Ever since the show opened the first week in November, a large and holiday-spirit-filled cast has been entertaining audiences with the classic tale.

It can be hard for me to get into the Christmas mood that early in the calendar, which is probably one reason why I put off seeing the production near the beginning of the run; Thanksgiving travel plans out-of-state and lots of other theater commitments also impacted my reviewing schedule.

christmascarolnoel
Noel Adams is Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” Photo / Good Company Players

But I finally got over to see the Good Company Players production last weekend. It’s a joy. Pessano uses a bare-bones adaptation of the Dickens novel by playwright Romulus Linney to streamline and focus the show. (The running time is less than 90 minutes, including intermission.) But this just isn’t a case of slicing away text to make a shorter show. Linney condenses things, yes, but Pessano also finds his own way to make the experience feel fresh and newly insightful. (It actually reminds me of what Brad Myers at Fresno State managed to do with his crisp new production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”) The result is a production that feels sleek yet cheerily old-fashioned, a nice combination.

Continue reading “In appreciation of Good Company’s ‘A Christmas Carol’”

A mixed ‘Annie’ at CMT, but still lots of heart

Children’s Musical Theaterworks production continues through Sunday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium

THEATER REVIEW

With an all-ages cast, the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” is a hybrid of community theater and children’s theater. I don’t truly “review” children’s theater, at least in terms of finding areas of improvement needed with individual performances, but I do offer my opinions on community theater. So the review that follows is also a hybrid that blends my approaches to community and children’s productions: I offer five aspects of the show I find really strong; and a couple of areas that could use some improvement.

anniereview
Samantha Shaheen-Smith, center, shares the title role of Annie with Elizabeth Burbidge in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production. Photo / CMT

Overall, this “Annie” is not as accomplished as other CMT productions of the same title I’ve seen in the past. And it doesn’t reach the heights of some other CMT community theater productions. But there’s still a lot to like about the show:

Continue reading “A mixed ‘Annie’ at CMT, but still lots of heart”

Picks for December ArtHop

Holiday gifts are a favorite this time of year, plus two non-holiday shows at 1821 Gallery and Spectrum Art Gallery

In a time when any holiday present under the sun — including original art — can be ordered online and whisked to your home, there’s something refreshingly retro about wandering through your neighborhood gallery looking for gifts. For December ArtHop, many galleries make it possible to buy local art. My top pick of the month, then, is a compilation from the Fresno Arts Council master ArtHop list of promising places to do a little first-minute Christmas shopping:

BarbaraVanArnam_Pear and Coffee
Barbara Van Arnam’s “Pear and Coffee” at Gallery 25.

Gallery 25: A fundraiser titled the “Giving Tree” includes a symbolic representation of a tree that will have works of art of “purses” created by gallery members. The remaining part of the gallery will be a members’ exhibit.

Sorensen Studio and Galleries: The name of the game is affordable, with participating artists agreeing to feature at least one artwork for $100 or less.

Continue reading “Picks for December ArtHop”

Win tickets to ‘Annie,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and Soli Deo Gloria

In this special Three in One contest, you can enter for all three events

Do you long to get out to one of this weekend’s fun cultural performances, but your budget doesn’t allow it? Perhaps my special Three in One ticket giveaway can help.

I’m giving the following away to three notable events:

nutcracker1

• A pair of tickets to Soli Deo Gloria’s big holiday concert (7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, University Presbyterian Church), which features music from Fresno’s all-women choral ensemble. You can watch an interview with artistic director Julie Carter and hear a performance by some of the singers on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 11:20 minute mark).

• Two pairs of tickets to the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, Veterans Memorial Auditorium). You can read my preview here.

• Two pairs of family four-packs — if you’re a winner, you get four tickets — to the Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Saroyan Theatre). You can watch an interview with directors Shirley Winters and Carla Lippert and dancer Marin Brant on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 5:00 minute mark).

Continue reading “Win tickets to ‘Annie,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and Soli Deo Gloria”