Review: A top-notch ‘New Wrinkles’ is a California dream all its own
There are moments of true greatness in this year’s “New Wrinkles,” subtitled “California Dreamin’,” especially in the first act. Everything comes together in the opening hour of Fresno’s premier senior musical revue. The stagecraft, acting, singing, direction and book all soar. On an emotional level, time and again I was enthralled. I felt myself floating along on a theater high.
That intensity dissipated for me just a little as the last third of the act wound down — the San Francisco section feels a couple of numbers too long, and the armed-forces appreciation number, as patriotic as it is, really feels out of place wedged in at the end — and I was never able to regain the first act’s intoxicating sense of theatrical bliss in the second. But this is still a superb production overall. These seasoned entertainers have impressive show-biz chops. And if you haven’t been to “New Wrinkles” in a few years, you will be astonished at how sharp it looks. Using sophisticated digital projections, an abundance of video and superb lighting design, the production has a professional sheen.
Here are some of my favorite bits:
• The video work in the show is terrific, with multiple secondary screens positioned as “postcards” and a huge, main screen that together provide a whirlwind of visuals. The first “big” video sets the tone. It’s one of those exhilarating IMAX-movie-type helicopter shots skimming over the top of a forest. If that doesn’t get your pulse racing, I don’t know what will. Throughout the rest of the show, the images and videos liven the experience, especially in the San Francisco earthquake sequence.
• Mac McIntosh, one of the show’s golden-toned, star singers, offers a sweet, superb rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.” I think it’s one of his best ever.
• There are, in fact, so many good solos that it’s difficult to highlight just a few. (Vocal directors Rebecca Sarkisian and Julie Dana coax top-notch performances from everyone from single singers to large ensembles.) One of the top contenders along McIntosh is Renata Briones’ gorgeous, husky twang in “Catch the Wind.” Briones’ voice is big and throaty, and her big, sweeping hand gestures add to the emotional impact.
• “Desperado,” sung by the no-sopranos-zone trio of Marty Franz, Julie Saldana and Laurie Spann, has a beautiful, rough-hewn elegance.
• Darrell Yates’ book for the show, which loosely follows a California transplant family from the Dust Bowl, is really effective this year, and his delivery as the quasi-narrator sets a nice tone.
• I really like the chipper energy of “Baila,” featuring the New Wrinkles Dancers. The skirts are hiked, the voices raised, the temperature rises.
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• Georgie Dayton’s hat, an enormous creation done in homage to the millinery excesses of “Beach Blanket Babylon,” is a crowd pleaser. The San Francisco skyline view on top of said hat includes the requisite Victorian row houses, Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, but it also boasts the Salesforce Tower, the city’s new super-skyscraper. Talk about being up to date! Dayton, a consummate performer who has been on stage for seventy-seven years, delivers yet another enchanting “Wrinkles” moment with the touching song “San Francisco.”
• My favorite dance number: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which features peppy tap dancing and a sophisticated edge.
• Kelly J. Nielsen (Jones-Scott) and Richard Nielsen are excellent featured performers in the Men’s Ensemble version of “All the Gold in California.” (Also, Chris Lang’s lighting design is particularly enchanting here.)
• Tim Fletcher’s musical direction and the small pit band he leads are highlights. The set prominently features the band, and it’s a treat to watch the precision of the musicians, particularly Fletcher on keyboards, who unintentionally becomes one of the visual focal points of the show. That’s because the large video screen is configured such that the projections appear to continually “wash” over him, which is highly appropriate in the second-act opener “California” video featuring crashing waves.
The second act lost a little luster for me, but high points include Jim Irvine’s solo “Dock of the Bay,” Jane Parsons’ “I Want to Go to Hollywood,” Laurie Spann’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the dancers in “Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”
A final thought: To me, the most moving part of this year’s “New Wrinkles” comes in the song “A Million Dreams.” At one point, the lyrics go:
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
As it happens, later that evening I watched the Junior Company Players perform at Roger Rocka’s. And I thought how touching it is that the seniors of “New Wrinkles” are just as invested in the future as the young, talented folks performing just a neighborhood away. Just by getting out there and performing for us, the cast of “New Wrinkles” brightens the lives of its fans and reminds us that you’re never too old — or young — to make the world a better place.