I’m taking a break. First stop: Prague.

The Munro Review is going on hiatus for a couple of weeks. When I return, there will be exciting changes ahead

The high-speed Intercity train to Krakow just pulled out of Praha hlavní nádraží, Prague’s main train station. As I write this post, Shane and I are watching the countryside of Czechia (which is what the Czech Republic goes by these days) fly by.  Agricultural fields dominate the foreground and stubby-treed forests are in the distance, all verdant and lush. The suburbs of Prague sprawl a lot less than they would in a similar sized American city. There are lots of buildings and then, boom, green as far as you can see. Could I fit some of that city-and-regional planning in my pocket and take it back to California?

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Catching opera the way they do it in Europe: I’m at intermission at the Prague National Opera of “Lohengrin,” a nearly five-hour Wagner opera.

All this is a roundabout way of telling you that 1) I’m 5,618 miles from Fresno right now; 2) high-speed rail can be a wonderful thing; and 3) high-speed internet is a blessing and a curse. I’ve been out of the country for the past five days. Wait, you ask, how is it that you’ve been publishing posts during that time? The answer: WordPress knows no borders.

But now, the second part of my vacation — the non-Munro Review part — begins. I’ll be gone for nearly two weeks bopping around Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. This will be my first extended absence from the site since I started it more than a year ago. (Time flies!)

My flight from Fresno meant I had to miss Audra McDonald’s big concert, to my disappointment. Just a few minutes ago, however, I posted a review of the event by my friend and former Bee colleague Doug Hoagland, who graciously agreed to give his take of the event. (Thank you, Doug!)

Continue reading “I’m taking a break. First stop: Prague.”

Audra returns home to the Saroyan in a commanding performance

CONCERT REVIEW

Editor’s note: Because I’m out of the country, I asked a friend and veteran journalist to review Audra’s show for me. Thanks, Doug!

By Doug Hoagland

Can you be a show business legend at only 47?

If you’re Audra McDonald, you can – and she is.

McDonald thrilled a sold-out audience at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre on May 26 with a soaring voice and an easy presence that made her both stunning and accessible.

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Audra McDonald on Saturday gave esteemed Fresno City College music professor Mike Dana a shout-out from the Saroyan stage.

For 90 minutes, with no breaks, McDonald performed classic and new numbers from the songbook of American musicals with the Fresno Philharmonic. She was alternately poignant, funny, self-deprecating, dramatic and commanding – always commanding.

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Welcome home, Audra

Along with other Fresno-area fans of Broadway star Audra McDonald, I let her know how I feel

Audra’s home. This time it’s going to be extra special.

The Broadway star (and winner of more Tony awards than anyone) today (Saturday, May 26) will get a key to the city and a street named after her. How cool is that? To top things off, she will sing for the first time with the Fresno Philharmonic in one of the highlight cultural events of the year.

audra street

(For those who haven’t figured out by now, I’m talking about none other than Good Company Players and Roosevelt High alum Audra McDonald, known with a first-name simplicity as “Audra” to this blog and a large number of fans throughout the area.)

To mark the occasion, I wanted to do something special, too, as a welcome.

The result is “Dear Audra.” I asked my readers to write brief recollections and appreciation letters.


Stage door

Dear Audra,

I’m completely an Audra girl. I’ve seen you live three times (“Lady Day,” “Shuffle Along,” and your Modesto show) and I’ve been lucky enough to meet you when my mom and I stage-doored “Lady Day” in 2014.

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Robert Nielsen is retiring from Fresno Community Concert Band, but not without one last ‘Bash’

After 25 years as conductor (and co-founder) of the Fresno Community Concert Band, Robert Nielsen is stepping down from the podium. He’s going out in style. “Bob’s Big Bash” — in the form of two concerts on Sunday, May 27 — promises to be a vibrant and poignant experience. There’s even a world premiere by Fresno City College’s Mike Dana (who, coincidentally, just retired). And just to give things a family spin, Irene Klug Nielsen, an accomplished flutist, will be featured soloist under her husband’s baton.

Robert Nielsen

Bob Nielsen took time to ruminate on the past 25 years and expound on the virtues of music made for the sheer love of it.

Q: Set the scene for us. It’s your very first rehearsal as conductor of the Fresno Community Concert Band. What year was it? Did they have electricity back then? (Just kidding.) Give us a sense of the time and place.

Continue reading “Robert Nielsen is retiring from Fresno Community Concert Band, but not without one last ‘Bash’”

As ‘New Wrinkles’ celebrates 30 years, it’s ‘One Day More’ for a talented cast

Fresno’s acclaimed senior performing group opens ‘On the Road to Broadway’ at Fresno City College

Who says youth is just for the young? As “New Wrinkles” celebrates its 30th year, the beloved Fresno institution — a song-and-dance extravaganza featuring performers 55 and older — is trying something new. “On the Road to Broadway” is “unlike any other we have done,” says director David Bonetto.

I caught up with Bonetto to talk about the show, which opens Thursday, May 24, at Fresno City College.

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Q: First off, David, can you believe that “New Wrinkles” has been around for 30 years now? You were just a whippersnapper when it started, right? Do you think the founders would be surprised that it’s still going strong?

A: I was young then — in fact, I was doing choreography for numerous acts (for “New Wrinkles”) back then. I opened my studio, Danceworks Unlimited, right out of high school in 1979 when I was 19 years old. Many of the ladies in the show started taking tap from me, so I would choreograph their duets and small group dances over the years. So you can say I’ve been around “New Wrinkles” for a while. I worked with both Tom Wright (the founding director) and of course Fred Bologna (who directed the show for many years). I have known Fred since I was a kid through the ballet and then I taught with him at Roosevelt High School. I think they are all proud that the legacy continues on. I speak often of the vision and dreams of Tom. Each night when we take the stage during showtime, we stop and remember those who graced the stage before us. They are never forgotten.

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Finnish pianist will offer a striking finish to Keyboard’s 2017-18 season

Keyboard Concerts closes its 2017-18 season with Juho Pohjonen, one of Finland’s most prominent musicians. He will perform a program that includes works by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Franck. The concert is 3 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at the Fresno State Concert Hall.

Juho Puhjonen, Pianist
Juho Pohjonen

Andreas Werz, artistic director of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series, is particularly excited to bring Pohjonen to Fresno.

“Last summer I heard Juho’s recital at the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, and I can say that he is truly an outstanding talent,” Werz says. “Prior to his Fresno appearance he will give a recital for the La Jolla Music Society — so once again we are in good company.”

Pohjonen has given acclaimed recitals at the major venues in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Vancouver, Detroit, La Jolla, London, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Warsaw, Hong Kong, and Antwerp.

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With ‘Dear Audra,’ a chance to tell Fresno’s beloved Broadway star how you feel

As Ms. McDonald prepares to make her debut with the Fresno Philharmonic, citizens of the United States of Audra can send their best wishes

Audra McDonald’s May 26 concert with the Fresno Philharmonic is sold out, which is no surprise. This is Audra Country. It’s sort of the same thing as Derek Carr Country, except the object of our nation-state’s affection went to Juilliard. She’s even getting part of a downtown street named after her.

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Hail to the chief: Audra McDonald returns to Fresno for a May 26 concert. Photo / New York Daily News

In order to mark Audra’s debut performance with the Fresno Philharmonic, I am putting together a little project called “Dear Audra.” In it I’d like to highlight messages of welcome from my readers to the most-winning Broadway star in Tony Award-history. These messages can be in written format (with a limit of 500 words), photography (with a limit of three), or video format (with a time limit of one minute). You can talk about your favorite Audra memory, whether from seeing her in Fresno or in the world beyond. You can tell her what you think of her latest album, “Sing Happy,” which is already available digitally and will be released on CD on May 25). You can give her a big thank-you or just welcome her back to Fresno. You can tell her what it means to have someone of her talent (and commitment to equality) hailing from the central San Joaquin Valley. Share your story! I’m sure she’d love to hear it.

I’ll put together a collection of these contributions and compile them into a nice, pretty blog post in advance of her concert. And I’ll make sure that Audra gets the link.

But you have to hurry: Deadline for submissions is 11 p.m. Monday, May 21. Send all submissions directly to my email (donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com). Questions? Feel free to email them as well.


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Selma Arts Center makes waves with a chipper ‘Little Mermaid’

The musical production can be inconsistent, but it’s well worth a dive.

THEATER REVIEW

Come on in — the water’s fine in Selma’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Just what will you find an undetermined number of leagues under the sea? Ariel is charming, and she and her “mer-sisters” offer sweet voices and brisk comedy. Prince Eric has the ruddy, seaworthy charm of a gung-ho master mariner. With her dialed-up-Disney-villain powerhouse vocals, Ursula the Sea Witch relishes the chance to get all twitchy-evil on us. Sebastian, always near the boiling point, frets with the best of them. Even Mr. Fussypants himself, King Triton, the clueless father who’s both too stern and too indulgent in terms of spoiling his teenage daughter — he shouldn’t let her go by herself to the mall, much less the surface! — redeems himself with a memorably regal stage presence.

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Camille Gaston is a powerhouse Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

It’s splashy fun.

Nicolette C. Andersen and Adam Chavez, co-directors of the new Selma Arts Center production, run a (mostly) tight ship in terms of creativity, production design, acting and singing. While the ambitiously staged show does have some wobbles and inconsistent moments, you (and your children) will find much to admire.

Observations from the opening-night performance I attended:

The projections are amazing. They deserve top billing here. Designer Dominic Grijalva breaks new ground locally with effects that feel as if we’re in the water with the performers. From a swirling opening storm to a spectacular dive to the murky depths of Ursula’s zip code, I found myself thoroughly entranced. My favorite part is the way Grijalva gives a stylized, boldly graphic design to the ubiquitous waves; they’re more abstract than literal, and their near constant motion gives the whole production a “be careful or you’ll get seasick” sensibility.

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