5 Things to love about CMT’s ‘Legally Blonde’

Children’s Musical Theaterworks is pretty in pink for just three more performances on this closing weekend of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” I saw the show Friday night, and while I don’t write full-scale reviews of CMT productions, I often share some of the things I really liked. Here are five highlights of “Legally Blonde”:

1.

Mallory Parker soars as Elle. Her stage presence as the show’s leading character — a UCLA sorority gal who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School — is exuberant and confident. Yet Parker also finds the quiet vulnerabilities in her character. Elle grows to realize that she doesn’t have to fulfill society’s expectations of how a woman with her background and looks is supposed to behave. This tension between entitlement and yearning, when played with empathy, makes for an empowering role.

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Mallory Parker stars as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

Parker’s vocals are quite good, too, from her satisfying belt in “So Much Better” to the plaintive title song, which she sings when Harvard life seems to be falling apart. More than anything, Parker sparks a connection with the audience. It’s an impressive performance.

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Will two-thirds of Fresnans agree to pay a little extra for arts and parks?

Campaign to put a sales-tax increase on the November ballot is in full swing

Imagine a wonderland in which arts organizations get to divvy up $4.5 million annually in public funds to make their city a better place. What’s that, you say? You can’t quite dare to dream that big?

Go ahead. It’s possible.

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If community supporters have their way, a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno. Voters will have to approve it — and by a whopping 66.7 percent margin, which is a steep hill to climb. But it’s possible with a lot of organizing and hard work.

I dropped by an organizing meeting on Tuesday evening to learn more:

The scene: The meeting room at the Central Valley Community Foundation, which is helping to organize the ballot measure, was crowded with the biggest concentration of arts movers-and-shakers (and just plain enthusiasts) that I’ve ever seen.

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For LitHop 2018, the show goes on

Carmen Giménez Smith is the new headliner for the annual literary festival, which features more than 150 writers

Back for its third year, LitHop 2018 boasts more writers than ever. Fresno’s annual literary festival unfolds Saturday, May 21, with readings throughout the afternoon at various locations in the Tower District, followed by a keynote event at Fresno City College. Everything is free.

The 45-minute readings kick off at 1 p.m. and continue hourly through 6 p.m. Poetry and prose are grouped together by theme, with a little something for everyone. (There’s even a session on “Cat Poems.”) Much like the Rogue Festival, with its abbreviated performance slots and multiple venues, LitHop conveys an overwhelming sense of literary abundance. So many words to appreciate!

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Carmen Giménez Smith is the 2018 LitHop headline reader.

The festival’s executive director, Juan Luis Guzmán, phrases it well: “The interest and appreciation people have for LitHop is a testament to the refuge of the written word. Attending the event is much like pressing ‘pause’ on the white noise of the day and taking shelter in poetry and prose.”

The festival had to regroup this past week because of the national outrage du’jour that we’ve all heard too much about. (Eight stories plus an editorial and op-ed, Fresno Bee? Really?) Carmen Giménez Smith, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle award in poetry and the author of a memoir and six poetry collections, is the headline reader. She replaces Randa Jarrar.

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When Google gets it wrong: Safiya Noble exposes how search engines reinforce racism

Noble, a prominent digital-age scholar and proud Fresno State alumna, will talk about her new book on Friday, April 20

Google hadn’t even been born — much less conquered the world — when Safiya Umoja Noble was a student at Fresno State in the late 1980s and early ‘90s protesting against apartheid, arguing for social justice and pushing for racial and gender equality on campus. When she wanted to “search” for something, she did it the old-fashioned way, in the library: She thumbed through yellowed card catalogs, hunted through ghostly microfilm and perused voluminous abstracts.

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So much has changed today, of course. Google is one of the most powerful companies on the planet, impacting our lives in a significant manner. And Noble has become an integral part of the digital age herself — in an academic watchdog role. Now a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, she’s been studying Google and other Silicon Valley behemoths, all the while arguing for accountability.

Noble’s new book, “The Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” is a pointed critique of how Google and other search engines marginalize people in “erroneous, stereotypical, or even pornographic ways.” She will speak on Friday, April 20, about the book — which is drawing national attention — at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library as part of the J. Printise Womack Lecture Series.

“It’s a hot topic,” she says in a recent phone interview.

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In season’s most moving Masterworks concert, Fresno Philharmonic offers music for the soul

Music director Rei Hotoda guides the orchestra through an emotional and intellectually vibrant program

CONCERT REVIEW

I can now say I’ve played with the Fresno Philharmonic. Just call me 2nd Cellphone, 143rd Chair.

At Sunday’s concert in the Saroyan Theatre, I held my “instrument” aloft during composer Tan Dun’s spirited “Passacaglia: Secret of Wind and Birds.” For 54 seconds, as my phone chirped and sang with noises that sounded like an aviary at feeding time, I became part of the orchestra.

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Was it just a gimmick? I can see how some might feel that way. But in the context of Tan Dun’s buoyant piece, whose bevy of sound effects includes clapping, snapping and cooing by the musicians (and not just the percussionists), the audience participation felt like an integral part of the experience. In those 54 seconds, that usually unbridgeable gap between the orchestra and audience disappeared. We were in this together.

It was wonderful.

Sunday’s concert, titled “Heaven & Earth,” had a theme of mysticism and spirituality. It wasn’t just about religious or “sacred” music, mind you, though Poulenc’s “Gloria” falls into that category.

Instead, music director Rei Hotoda crafted a program that was catholic in the true sense of the “small c” version of the word. It felt encompassing. It resonated both intellectually and emotionally. It was, for me, the most moving concert I heard all season. I’m still thinking about it days later.

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As Randa Jarrar cancels her LitHop appearance, an internet storm rages

The Randa Jarrar story has been consuming a lot of media oxygen today, both locally and nationally. (If you haven’t been following the controversy, it involves statements that the Fresno State professor made on Twitter following the death of Barbara Bush.) My immediate question when the story broke: How will this affect LitHop 2018? Jarrar is scheduled as Saturday’s keynote speaker. Short answer: She’s cancelling.

My biggest concern is that the incident will overshadow the joy of LitHop and all the hard work put into it. I don’t want that to happen.

Here’s the official statement from LitHop and Fresno City College:


Fresno City College and the LitHop 2018 organizers wish to send condolences to the Bush family as we join the rest of our country in mourning the loss of our former First Lady, Barbara Bush.

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The Randa Jarrar story was covered by the Washington Post.

The headline speaker for LitHop 2018, Randa Jarrar, has informed the LitHop organizers that she will not be a participant in this weekend’s events, which included her appearance at Fresno City College Saturday evening. Fresno City College and LitHop 2018 support her decision to withdraw.

While we respect the right to free speech, even objectionable speech, Jarrar’s statements are her own and do not reflect the values of LitHop or Fresno City College. We acknowledge the severity of her statements and take very seriously the concerns expressed throughout the community. The safety of each individual, including Jarrar’s, and all members of the LitHop and Fresno City College community is our paramount concern. We do not support violence or threats on social media or elsewhere; rather, we value civil discourse and look forward to the necessary healing ahead.

LitHop 2018 events will continue as scheduled with a different headline reader to be announced soon.


Meanwhile, there are many vigorous discussions taking place today on Facebook and other platforms. Some people are schooling others in 1st Amendment protections (sometimes mistakenly). Others are blasting Fresno State for not immediately firing Jarrar. She’s being called some pretty nasty names. Others are countering with anti-Bushisms. Tempers are high. And I get it.

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UPDATE: Mr. Grijalva Goes to Washington

Musical theater fans from the Valley are rooting for the Selma connection

UPDATE 04/14: The results are in for the Musical Theatre Initiative scholarship at the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center. Dom writes from D.C.:

Hey Donald! So, as a surprise to all of us, they ended up giving away the awards last night. I did not end up winning the full scholarship, but I had an amazing time participating in the showcase. I plan to do whatever I can to attend the Open Jar program, especially after getting a taste of it this week. It was such a motivating and special experience. I also now know what it feels like to perform on one of the nation’s most prestigious stages, and I’ll cherish that forever.

Congrats, Dom, for making the West Coast (and College of the Sequoias!) proud. Now, in your short time remaining in our nation’s capital, are you going to be able to at least squeeze in that visit to Congress?

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ORIGINAL POST 04/13: Those of you who follow musical theater in the central San Joaquin Valley probably already know that Dominic Grijalva of Selma, one of our great talents, is in Washington, D.C., this week competing for national honors in the American College Theatre Festival. Dom, a Fresno State graphic design major, is representing the College of the Sequoias and one-eighth of the entire country in the Musical Theatre Initiative. He and seven other regional winners, plus two recipients of other musical theater-related awards, are singing at the Kennedy Center tonight. He will find out Saturday afternoon if he gets the big prize: a full scholarship to the Open Jar Institute, which is a week-long Broadway training program in New York this summer. Plus bragging rights, of course.

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‘Rain’ brings the ‘Beatles’ back to Fresno, this time to celebrate ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’

THEATER REVIEW

Editor’s note: I’ve seen the national tour of “Rain” before, so I thought it’d be fun to get a younger perspective of the updated version that came through town last night. Paige Gibbs is a Fresno State journalism major in my advanced editing class. Here’s her take on the Fresno tour stop. — DM

By Paige Gibbs

Yes, I wasn’t born when “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was originally released over 50 years ago.

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Kasper Gailey, 13, shows his true Beatles colors Thursday night at the Saroyan Theatre. Photo / Paige Gibbs

But “Rain,” last night’s Beatles tribute at the Saroyan Theatre, proved to me that The Beatles are still relevant and their music is stretching through the ages to generations well beyond their time.

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