Weekend update: Dominic is off to D.C., Audra gets Roosevelt High honor, and Omar croons his love of mariachi

In this post: various musings on weekend topics, including: Dominic Grijalva wins a chance to go to the Kennedy Center; Audra McDonald will have a Fresno theater named after her; some thoughts on Omar Naré’s “Nuevo Mariachi” concert on Saturday; and your chance to offer input on Fresno State’s proposed performing arts center. 

Triple threat

He directs, he designs killer graphics, he sings. Now here’s the latest accomplishment for “Spring Awakening” director Dominic Grijalva: On Saturday he won the top musical theater award at the American College Theater Festival’s regional competition in Mesa, Ariz.

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Dominic Grijalva, left, and Kaitlyn Hipwell of Weber State University after the musical theater awards at the ACTF regional musical theater competition.

Next step is the national competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in April. He also won a $600 scholarship to attend the Open Jar Musical Theatre Workshop in New York.

Grijalva, representing the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, was one of 20 finalists for the Musical Theatre Initiative Award. He sang “Satisfied” from the musical “Hamilton.” In a Facebook video taken at the event, you can hear the audience whoop at the lyrics “If I hadn’t sized him up so quickly” when he glides through a run with the finesse of one of those crazy luge people in the Olympics who fling themselves head first off the platform.


At that point in the music, did he think he’d nailed the piece?

“NO, I didn’t think I had it!” Grijalva told me via Facebook Messenger on Saturday night. “I honestly can’t remember that part because I was so focused on getting the emotion out that it just sort of came out! By the end of performance I was so into it that I lost feeling in my hands and forehead. Didn’t gain it back for a few minutes. Oh, those nerves! Not to mention, the FIERCE competition that night. I was so intimidated by everyone’s ability.”

Fresno State theater professor Brad Myers was in the audience and was impressed.

“The audience was wowed by his gutsy and personal performance,” Myers told me, also on Messenger. “Both dazzling and moving.”

Grijalva was representing COS because of his performance last year in the college’s production of “In the Heights.”

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The College of the Sequoias contingent poses at the regional American College Theater Festival in Mesa, Ariz. Front and center is Dominic Grijalva.

On Saturday night in Mesa, when the musical theater award was announced, Grijalva was sitting next to “In the Heights” director Chris Mangels.

“I felt so blessed to have been invited to attend ACTF, let alone be invited to the MTI cabaret,” Grijalva says. “I was just so thankful in that moment. When it came time for my category, however, I think I grabbed Chris’ leg and just sort of prepped for the results. The nerves were back!”

For the past few years, Grijalva has insisted he’s going to pursue a career in graphic design related in some way to the theater industry. (He designs T-shirts for “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s merchandise line. And he won a prestigious national Student Gold ADDY Award from the American Advertising Federation for a poster design he did for the Selma Arts Center.) But as a longtime observer, I keep thinking he’s going to change his mind and at least try for the acting/directing route. On Saturday, I ask him: I know you’re prepping for a behind-the-scenes theater career, but does this award make you want to do the whole “I want to be a star and win a Tony” thing?

He laughs.

“It’s so funny being in this place right now,” he says. I’m a graphic design student who has this undying passion for theater. I am more than happy to have a career in design, but I must say this honor is a bit of a motivator. Who knows? Maybe the answer is waiting out there for me in DC …”

Congrats, also, to Fresno State’s Jimmy Haynie, who also advanced to the finals in the musical theater cabaret. And Summer Session advanced to the finals of the KCACTF Regional Student Directing Competition. She directed a scene from “A Streetcar Named Desire” performed by Arium Andrews, Haynie and Alyssa Benitez.

And COS was well represented: Mangels tells me that Gio Adaoag, Caryn Cole, Kami Hinds, Schyler Mayo, Kayla Seffing, and David Sison-Lowe were part of a dance ensemble selected to learn the original Broadway choreography of “Don’t Break the Rules” from “Catch Me if You Can.” They performed in the finale of the Musical Theatre Initiative cabaret. Nate Entz won a full scholarship to CSU Summer Arts, with a focus on studying accents/dialects.

Plus, COS students Becka Cole, Caryn Cole, David Mariano Sison Lowe, Iggy Adaoag, Vanessa Bonnar, Michael Seitz, Ellie Hamar, Brenna Jared, Nate Entz, Chandler Fairfield, Nick Ray Lambert, and Jennifer Rodriguez were honored for their Devised Theatre Performance, “The Iceberg.” A Devised Performance is non-text based and involves the artists working together as an ensemble to develop a play from the ground level which addresses a prompt. This year’s prompt was “They never met a stranger.” The students were honored with an award for Most Compelling and Powerful Connection to the Prompt.


Honor for Audra

The Bee on Sunday reports that Fresno Unified is planning to name the theater at the Roosevelt School of the Arts after Audra McDonald:

Miguel Arias, Fresno Unified School District spokesman, said the idea was brought forward by school board member Cal Johnson. The board will vote on the request during its regular meeting on Wednesday.

Arias told The Bee that McDonald had graciously accepted the honor and that the district is now working with McDonald to coordinate a time for the dedication.

A logical date for that would be May 26, when McDonald performs for the first time with the Fresno Philharmonic.

Here’s Audra’s response on Twitter:

My thoughts: I think it’s great that Fresno Unified will be honoring one of its most famous alumna with the Roosevelt honor. But someone of McDonald’s caliber — she’s won more Tony Awards than anyone in history — also deserves a prominent civic honor as well beyond a high school theater. Perhaps a statue at the Saroyan? A statue in the Tower District? A statue at the corner of Palm and Shaw? Naming the Convention Center courtyard after her? Renaming Chukchansi Park for her? Renaming Fresno for her? (Welcome to Audra, Calif.) What do you think?

A night of Nuevo Mariachi

The opening number: I’m sitting in the John W. Dodson Theatre at Bitwise South Stadium, waiting for Omar Naré’s Saturday concert to begin, when I hear him singing behind me. Yes, that’s him, walking slowly down the aisle, singing “El Rey,” probably the most classic pure mariachi song, pausing at each row to shake hands with audience members. One woman seems confused. “Hello, I’m Omar Naré,” he tells her. “Nice to meet you. Yes, I’m singing!”


The musicians: Naré is joined on stage in the energetic and uplifting concert by Ismael Ramirez on guitarrón and Jorge Luis Laris on vihuela (both of whom arranged songs for the show) and Eva Scow on violin and mandolin.

The dancer: Naré’s wife, Jasmín La Carís, is featured in two graceful songs.

The program: Naré offers a mix of original songs plus covers of traditional mariachi songs. He includes, of course, his “Nuevo Mariachi” take on “Sabor a Mi,” his best known piece. The concert overall is part introduction to the Nuevo Mariachi style, which he describes as a blend of “sophisti-pop and mariachi traditions,” and part homage to the music of his boyhood.

The most touching moment: The song “Ahwak” by Abdel Halim Hafez, which Naré translated from Arabic into Spanish. He sang it in memory of Iptisam Alayoubi Natafji, his grandmother. (Naré is Mexican-Arabic in terms of ethnicity.) I love how the song’s plaintive, moody ambiance blends its Arabic influence with mariachi motifs, but also how the arrangement often keeps those two components distinct, giving each their due. Add to that Naré’s full, husky voice and gravelly vibrato, and it’s beautiful.

The jitters: Naré has a few rough spots in the concert in terms of remembering lyrics — you can really only get away with that once in a professional show — and the amplified echo is distracting. There are times, too, when Naré needs a little more vocal control at both extremes in terms of dynamics (soft and loud). When he nails those ultra-quiet moments, it’s exquisite. When he doesn’t, because of that vibrato, the pitch can tumble.

The star quality: Here’s what I like so much about Naré’s stage presence: He brings the enthusiasm of an evangelist for his music without an ounce of smarmy hard-sell. Indeed, even in his mid-30s, he still brings a boyish charm to his presentation. He wants us to hear “California” in his brand of mariachi, and we do. It’s exciting to think that in the near future, we’ll be hearing even more.

Fresno State survey

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to talk to consultants for the proposed Fresno State performing arts center. They want to reach as many local arts organizations and potential users of a new venue as they can. If your organization hasn’t already answered this survey, click here to have a chance to have your opinion heard.

The survey is open through Feb. 19.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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