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

It’s our most ambitious episode of “The Munro Review” yet! The May edition features three guest segments, including a musical song-and-dance number. (Not by me. Although that would have been a sight.)

Here’s what you can catch in this chock-full episode:

♦ Kathleen McKinley, director of the new Fresno State production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” fills us in on this ambitious and cutting-edge experience, which opens Friday, May 4. She’s joined by William Ramirez, a student in my Fresno State journalism class, who drops in to talk about our special class project covering “Streetcar” from a number of story angles. (It’ll be unveiled later this week.)

♦ Mas Masumoto tells us about the campaign to put a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot that will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno.

♦ And two very special guests from the Selma Arts Center give a preview of the upcoming “The Little Mermaid.” Maria Monreal and Joshua Plowman chat about the show and also perform.

As always, I also offer my roundup of what I’ve been covering this month online and give a sneak preview of coming May attractions. Share the link (https://youtu.be/Y2_G9Oh98zE) and enjoy!


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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (April 27)

Whether it’s cutting-edge chamber music or the classic play “The Crucible,” there are lots of options for the weekend. I’ve already filled you in on Good Company’s “The Heiress,” Jeremy Denk performing with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra in separate concerts, and the Fresno Community Chorus spring celebration of Leonard Bernstein. Here are even more choices:

‘The Crucible’

Don’t you love the poster for the new College of the Sequoias production? (Kudos to the designer.)

crucible poster

“The Crucible,” of course, is Arthur Miller’s 1953 classic play about the Salem witchcraft trials, but it can also be read as a searing allegory about McCarthyism or more generally mass hysteria in times of political unrest. The new production is set in a post-World War II small town that “feels eerily close to our own.”

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In salute to Bernstein, Fresno Community Chorus tackles ‘Chichester Psalms’ and other works

The chorus’ Master Chorale, Coro Piccolo and Quintus ensembles celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth

Leonard Bernstein, the famed conductor and composer, is getting a lot of attention in 2018. And for good reason: It’s the 100th anniversary of his birth. The Fresno Community Chorus is getting in on the celebration with a spring concert that devotes a big chunk of the program to Bernstein. It takes place 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at the Shaghoian Concert Hall.

Here’s a rundown:

The marquee piece: Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” will be performed by the Fresno Master Chorale, the chorus’ largest ensemble. The text was created with the juxtaposition of segments of Psalms (including all of Psalms 100, 23, 131, and parts of 108, 2, and 133). Most familiar, of course, is the 23rd Psalm, says conductor Anna Hamre, which starts with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

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The background: Bernstein insisted that, in depicting young King David, the solo be sung by either a countertenor or a boy. So, while there isn’t a specific familiar Bible story, there is nevertheless a tale being told. Hamre tells me: “The end of the second movement includes the fiendishly difficult section where the text translates as ‘Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?’ Within a few measures, the treble voices intone above this war-like text with the words “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Bernstein’s notes instruct the treble voices to sing that segment “blissfully unaware of threat.”

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This weekend, it’s Jeremy Denk times two

Noted pianist (and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow) performs with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra

When you have an artist with the prestige and virtuosity of pianist Jeremy Denk come to town, why not double the impact? That was the thinking of Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, which are both putting the spotlight on Denk in separate concerts this weekend.

Denk returns to the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series for an 8 p.m. performance on Friday, April 27, at Fresno State’s Concert Hall. The next evening, at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, in the same location, Denk will perform Beethoven’s famed “Emperor” piano concerto with the Fresno State orchestra.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow
Jeremy Denk performs with Keyboard Concerts and the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. Photo / © John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Denk is a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award. He’s written for The New Yorker magazine and has a popular blog. His musical collaborators have included Joshua Bell and Steven Isserliss, and his recordings have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Classical Chart.

How is Fresno lucky enough to have not one but two Denk performances?

Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts, explains that the timing was fortuitous.

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Suzanne Grażyna finds female empowerment, 19th Century-style, in ‘The Heiress’

Good Company Players presents this classic adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’ at the 2nd Space Theatre

THEATER PREVIEW

When Catherine Sloper falls for a guy, she falls hard. And that complicates her life in “The Heiress,” a new production at the 2nd Space Theatre of the 1947 Broadway play. Catherine is rich. Her new beau, Morris, isn’t. And Daddy doesn’t approve.

Though the premise might seem soapy, the inspiration isn’t. “The Heiress,” which opens Thursday, April 26, is based on the classic Henry James novel “Washington Square.” This lavish period piece might be full of 19th Century angst, but its sense of female empowerment is more than relevant today. I talked with Suzanne Grażyna, who plays Catherine, about what it’s like to play such a challenging character.

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The cast of “The Heiress” at the 2nd Space Theatre, including Suzanne Grażyna, center. Photo / Good Company Players

Q: Congratulations to you for being the heiress in “The Heiress.” It’s certainly a step up, socially speaking, from playing an insane street vendor with no teeth in last year’s “Fools.” Is it fun to play someone who is rich and, as they said back in the 19th Century, of “marriageable age”?

A: I loved playing The Yench! Those blacked out teeth were my idea, I don’t remember what gave me the idea! It IS fun to play someone so wealthy. Catherine’s costumes are the most luxurious I’ve ever worn, and as a clotheshorse in actual life, I feel like a princess. A vegan cupcake, even. Cathie’s got style.

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For classical music fans, it’s a winning weekend

Enter to win tickets to Keyboard Concerts, Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, Fresno Community Chorus and ‘Broadway on Van Ness’

Just call it the Big Ticket Giveaway.

This coming weekend is huge for the Fresno-area classical music scene. To celebrate, I’m giving tickets away to FOUR events. And you can enter all four giveaways with just one comment. Here’s what you can win:

A pair of tickets to hear acclaimed pianist Jeremy Denk perform for Fresno State’s Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series (8 p.m. Friday, April 27, Fresno State Concert Hall). His program includes Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30, Shubert’s Sonata in B-flat, and Prokofiev’s complete “Visions fugitives.”

Jeremy Denk 7
Jeremy Denk performs April 27-28 at Fresno State, first with Keyboard Concerts, then the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra.

♦ A pair of tickets to hear Denk — in a great crossover collaboration — perform Beethoven’s famed “Emperor” piano concerto with the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Thomas Loewenheim (8 p.m. Saturday, April 28, Fresno State Concert Hall). The program also includes Prokofiev’s monumental Symphony No. 5.

♦ A pair of tickets to the Fresno Community Chorus big spring concert featuring its Master Chorale and Coro Piccolo ensembles, all in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth (2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, Shaghoian Concert Hall). “Chichester Psalms,” here we come.

♦ One of two pairs of tickets to “Broadway on Van Ness,” featuring past chorus members from Fresno Grand Opera (5 p.m. Sunday, April 29, with a reception an hour beforehand, First Congregational Church). The program includes classics such as Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” to newer tunes such as a selection from “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”

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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.

legally blonde performance
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.

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