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.
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.
Many have asked if we are doing a 30-year review show. No. I decided that five years ago they celebrated the 25-year anniversary, and it was too close to be doing the same thing. We are doing some numbers that have been done in previous shows, just out of context. And as always, there will be one song in the show that remembers those from the past.
Q: Tell us a little about the format of this year’s show. In some years, you try for a through storyline, and other times it’s more revue-style.
A: This year’s show is unlike any other we have done. There are no variety acts. We have loosely written a story that is told through the music and lyrics of each song. It has been a challenge to sing a song from the story of the lyrics and not the context of the show it came from.
The show begins at the end of the story with our cast in their final performance of the classic and iconic “ONE” from “A Chorus Line.” From there they recall the journey of how they get to, got to or almost got to Broadway. It is the final destination for each of us but more symbolic to a place we all have or had a desire to reach. Each of us is on a journey; all of us have a dream. Each of us has a story, and all of us a different outcome and expectation. The story takes us on that journey to the past. It is the most emotionally moving show the cast has ever done. In fact, we have yet to get through a rehearsal without shedding a tear and touching upon our emotions. This year I have opted to not have jokes and humorous skits, but instead focus on an emotion- driven story that becomes real for each of us. I needed a break from what is perceived to be funny at the cost of something or someone. In today’s climate, many of us hide behind humor. I wanted not to offend or poke fun to get a laugh but instead lift up and bring smiles and thoughts of gratitude and joy within each number. Yes, there are some really funny things that happen in the show but it’s not about the jokes. It’s a Broadway show, if you will.
Q: Tell me more about the format of the show.
A: There are 60-some songs. In the first half hour, there are 16 solos, duets and or trios, all telling the story of the dream to get to Broadway. The second half of Act 1 is arriving in New York City and the awe that is 42nd Street and Broadway. Act 2 begins with “Seasons of Love” from “RENT,” and the reality of time and how precious it is: a reflection of loss and encouragement and what persistence can be once you make a dream come true. The end of the show is the journey to finding our way home.
Q: What are your favorite numbers?
A: One is “Journey to the Past” from “Anastasia.” It tells the story of a person having to make choices to get to a dream — the reflection of the road they take and the dreams they never let go of. In the opening of the first act, this is what sets the story in motion. The key is hope, love and family. The cast would each tell you how this song moves them in a different way. “One Day More” brings us to the close of the first act. Vocal director Becky Sarkisian has brought a rich and vibrant sound to the cast this year. Out of context from the show “Les Miz,” it is “one day more” till they make it big on Broadway.
Review: ‘New Wrinkles 2017’
With the moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” we salute everyone who has ever been on the “New Wrinkles” stage over the last 30 years, shared a dream or celebrated an accomplishment. Lastly, the song that hits me the most is “Home,” from the show “Wonderland.” I was fortunate to see the show in New York. I have held its message close to my heart and have always said one day I am going to put this in a show. This year, Kathy Sawyer shares the words from a place of vulnerability as the cast reflects on what is really important in any dream you may have.
Q: What’s the hardest part of being director of “New Wrinkles”?
A: The pressure and expectations I put on myself. I have an incredible team backing me. The creative process is such a joy.
When I began directing five years ago, I changed the entire format for the show. I knew if I was going to bring in a new audience and continue to meet the needs of our loyal patrons, it was going to have to be entertaining, fun, and fast. Long gone are the vaudeville acts and one-liners. The show has become a production. The hardest part is time. The cast rehearses music three hours a week, and dance an hour and a half, and then we put it together starting in February.
It is a commitment for the cast, and I and want them to still enjoy life, retirement, grandkids, travel and all those things that are important to them. Through it all, it comes together.
Q: I imagine it must be tough to cut numbers close to opening, either because of time constraints or they just aren’t coming together.
A: Yes, that is tough. I had to do that last week. We also took the show and flipped numbers around because it worked better in other places. It will most likely change all the way up to the last show. One year I changed the entire show after your review and the reaction of the audience. We don’t get a preview like a normal show does. Our first audience is opening night, and we hope it works or then we change it.
Q: Is there any backstage drama with “New Wrinkles,” or has everyone outgrown that?
A: You know, for the most part, I have been blessed. I run the company like our home, with no tolerance for trivial bickering and envy or jealousies from the past. We are a family, yes — a little dysfunctional at times, but I come from a place of respect, gratitude and love. As cliche as it may sound, we start every rehearsal with a moment of gratitude. Do we have our challenges, differences and personality conflicts? Of course. We are all human. The cast is an incredibly talented and loving group of people that shares in the the same passion: to sing and dance.
Q: Who are your most seasoned cast members this year?
A: Georgie Dayton, Gabe Agao, Jim Irvine, Carol Robinson and Mike Pukish are all celebrating 20 years or more with “New Wrinkles.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: Thank you for continuing to support, enrich and promote the arts in Fresno. We are able to continue doing what we do with the help of our loyal patrons, donors and people like yourself who believe and support live theater.
Our calendar is set for Season 31 of “New Wrinkles” as we take the program year-round. The cast will take the summer off and be back in rehearsals and auditions in September. Our first new show is titled “A Little Night Music,” an intimate evening of song at Fresno City College. Last year we did our first holiday show, which we continue in December. Our second annual silent auction dinner show at Roger Rocka’s will be in February. And next year’s show is “California Dreamin’.” But till then, we are “On the Road to Broadway.”
“On the Road to Broadway: Celebrating 30 Years of New Wrinkles,” opens 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 24, Fresno City College Theatre. Runs through June 10. Tickets are $16.
To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link: