A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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My Top 20 cultural events of 2017

I offer my picks for the best of the year in theater, classical music, dance, opera and visual arts

For more than 15 years, I’ve written a year-end piece I refer to simply as my “Top 20.” The full title, I guess, would be “Donald’s Top 20 Cultural Events of the Year in the Central San Joaquin Valley.” Or, because there’s only one of me and far more offerings each year than I could ever attend (even if I went out almost every night), the most realistic way to describe this yearly endeavor would be “Donald’s Top 20 List Out Of All the Stuff He Manages To Get To.”

“Cultural” is a pretty broad term, and I have to narrow that down a bit, too: In this case think of it as shorthand for “theater-classical-music-opera-dance-poetry-visual-arts.” As in years past, I declare up front that I cover more theater events than anything else because they’re the most likely to be repeat performances, meaning that my reviews can be useful to readers trying to decide whether to go to a future show.

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

I’ve also fiddled a little this year with the structure of this list: Rather than a hodgepodge of 20 events, I’m grouping my shout-outs by three categories: theater (with 10 entries); and music/dance and visual arts (with five each).

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Now streaming: the January episode of ‘The Munro Review’

A special thanks to the cast of Selma Arts Center’s “Spring Awakening” for being my January guests on “The Munro Review,” produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I interview director Dominic Grijalva and actors Kindle Lynn Cowger and Kai DiMino about the production, which opens Jan. 26, and host two musical performances from the entire cast. They sound great. You don’t want to miss it.

Plus, I recap my coverage of Good Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” Fresno State’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” CMT’s “Annie,” Good Company’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and Audra McDonald’s upcoming concert with the Fresno Philharmonic. And I preview Good Company’s “Sense and Sensibility” and “Annie,” tell you about a quirky little show called “Calculus: The Musical,” discuss the upcoming national tour of “Kinky Boots,” and give a shout-out to the Fresno Art Museum’s winter exhibitions.

You can watch the episode on demand on YouTube (above). And you can see it on broadcast TV on CMAC 1 (Comcast 93, AT&T 99) the following dates:

Monday, January 1 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, January 3 – 8:00 pm
Friday, January 5 – 2:30 pm
Sunday, January 7 – 12:30 pm

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5 things to know about ‘Shen Yun’

As the Chinese cultural arts performance returns to Fresno the day after Christmas, here’s some background


The advertising is relentless. If this touring show’s marketing campaign were an ocean-going vessel, it’d be a dreadnaught — one of those massive warships with large-caliber guns, circa World I, that could obliterate on-shore targets miles away. The “Shen Yun” team floods a market with any means at its disposal: billboards, TV and radio, direct mail, vastly expensive wrap-around newspaper ads that easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars (and perhaps even more, in the largest markets). And “Shen Yun” seems to be everywhere — I was driving through McAllen, Texas, and, boom, there was the familiar billboard. The advertising is so pervasive, in fact, that I half expect a dancer or two to pop up at my front door and press a leaflet into my hands.


All this marketing must take a lot of money, even with the deep-pockets support of the Falun Gong movement. Which brings me to my next point:

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For Miranda Rae Mayo and Michael J. Willett, they’ll always be Juniors

Two illustrious alumni of Good Company Players return to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater for a performance that benefits the Junior Company Foundation

She blazes her way into your living room on NBC’s “Chicago Fire.” Last year he finished a three-season run starring in the MTV series “Faking It.” In Hollywood, these two accomplished actors are successful professionals with long lists of credits on their IMDB pages and bright futures ahead of them.

But put twentysomethings Miranda Rae Mayo and Michael J. Willett back onto the small stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in Fresno, and it’s like they’re in elementary school once again, wearing their first names on their T-shirts.

“Everything I do moving forward is forever affected by this experience of coming home,” Miranda tells me. “It’s all about remembering where you came from. There’s this voice that kind of goes off in my head that says, ‘It’s just Fresno.’ But that’s where I’m from.”

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Odd ‘Cirque Dreams’ leaves me in a daze

Gaudy production of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” which continues through Wednesday at the Saroyan Theatre, can’t decide if it wants to be hip, weird or dark


I don’t mean to be a Grinch, but … a standing ovation for “Cirque Dreams Holidaze”? That was the scene on opening night at the Saroyan Theatre. I offer a minority viewpoint: In terms of warranting that kind of enthusiasm, this nog was a few eggs short.


Yes, I admit there were some impressive contortions of human bodies going on in this glittery national tour, along with a lineup of appealing aerial trapeze performances. And, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed several wonderful acts (including a quick-change costume routine that left me gaping and a deft and low-key “reverse juggling” experience that involved bouncing balls off the floor instead of throwing them in the air). But, overall, this show is sort of weird and even a little creepy, culminating in perhaps the most bizarre setting of the song “O Holy Night” that I’ve ever encountered. (The production continues Wednesday for one more performance.) Here’s my categorical rundown:

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In ‘Cirque Dreams Holidaze,’ more than reindeer fly

Win a special prize package that includes tickets for opening night and dinner for two at Cosmopolitan Tavern

UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Heather Rhodes!

ORIGINAL POST: Jill Winters is scared of heights.

But that doesn’t stop the creative and music director for Cirque Dreams from tracking down performers who are most definitely unafraid of heights to appear in her shows. From thousands of audition tapes she receives each year from circus artists, Winters travels the world seeking out a select few, from Russia to Ethiopia. The aim is to recruit these stellar professionals into one of her “Cirque” shows touring the United States.

The cast of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze.”

You’ll get to see some of the best of those performers in “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” which plays Tuesday, Dec. 19, and Wednesday, Dec. 20, at the Saroyan Theatre as part of the Broadway in Fresno series. (Scroll down for a chance to enter my ticket giveaway, which includes dinner for two at Cosmopolitan Tavern and free parking for the evening.) I got the chance to chat with Winters by phone about the show. Here are Five Things to Know:

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

Weekend options include GCP holiday cheer, Playhouse Merced, an exciting look at Latinx Theatre at Arte Americas, “A Bob Hope Christmas” and “Another Night Before Christmas” at Sierra Repertory Theatre

Five picks for the weekend:

Good Company cheer

You couldn’t ask for more talented Christmas entertainers. A group of veterans from Good Company Players will perform favorite songs Saturday at Sequoia Brewing Co. in the Tower District. Join Teddy Maldonado, Shawn Williams, Tim Smith, Emily Pessano, Sara Price and Paddy Myers for a lineup of Yuletide vocals.

From left, Paddy Myers, Teddy Maldonado, Shawn Williams, Tim Smith, Emily Pessano and Sara Price.

By the way, I love the above photo. Emily and Paddy look like they’re naughty, Tim and Sara are being so nice, Teddy looks ecstatic that it’s December, and Shawn has a smile as big and white as the North Pole. The whole tableaux just seems warm and jolly.

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