10 Things to Know about Louise Mandrell and Good Company’s ‘Calamity Jane’

Welcome home, Louise.

Granted, Fresno isn’t exactly Louise Mandrell’s primary residence. Her beloved Nashville deserves those honors. But when you start adding up all the nights that Mandrell — the country-music star and enthusiastic Good Company Players guest artist now headlining “Calamity Jane” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater — has bunked down under a Fresno moon these past seven years, she’s practically an honorary citizen.

Pictured above: Ted Nunes and Louise Mandrell in ‘Calamity Jane.’ Photo: Good Company Players

In 2012, she made her debut in “Calamity Jane,” the Wild West musical inspired by the real-life frontierswoman, at GCP. Now she’s reprising the role with a cast that includes some of the familiar players who were in Deadwood — the show’s scrappy setting — the first time around. The production opens Thursday, July 18, and continues through Sept. 15.

Here are 10 Things to Know about Mandrell and the show:

1. She’s as enthusiastic about the role as ever.

I remember how excited (and a little nervous) Mandrell was when she came to Fresno in 2012 to star in the show, a pet project of hers for years. Sure, she cut her entertainment teeth in front of America as one-third of the popular series “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters,” which ran on NBC from 1980 to 1982. And she followed that fame with decades of touring and filling and selling out her own theater as she continued her country-music career.


But “Calamity Jane” was a chance for her to play a character and to have to act on stage. When I caught up with her in May for a sit-down video interview, I was impressed at how eager she is to dive back into the world of Calami

2. The show is mostly the same, but there are a few new twists.

The biggest addition: Mandrell will play the harmonica and banjo during the show. This will be in addition to the fiddle, which she played during the last run and still plans to bring out.

“When they invited me back, Laurie said I needed to bring my instruments,” she says. (Laurie Pessano, GCP’s creative director, is again directing the show.)

3. When you’re a Mandrell, you know how to work. Hard.

Take those instruments, for example. She hadn’t played the banjo for 35 years, and she’d never played the harmonica. Mandrell didn’t just want to strum a few half-hearted bars on the banjo or blow a few wincing notes on the harmonica; she wanted to sound like a pro. So she practiced.

“I put a lot of time into it,” she says. “I’ve ended up enjoying it. My dog, Bobbi, that was here last time — she’s not coming back with me — she hates the harmonica. When I played the banjo, she danced. She loved the banjo. I’m also bringing an accordion, and of course the fiddle.”

Once in town for rehearsal, she’s put in long hours as well.

“She works harder on any level than any performer I’ve ever seen, says Dan Pessano, GCP’s managing director. “It’s in the DNA — her DNA is hard work. That’s her behind-the-scenes gift to us.”

4. About one-quarter of the cast is returning from the 2012 production.

Emily Pessano, Teddy Maldonado, Dorie Sanders, Lance Casper, Chris Hanson and Dan Pessano are back. (Also, Robert Sanchez is back as stage manager.) They’re joined by a fresh crop of Deadwoodians, including Ted Nunes in the leading role of “Wild Bill” Hicock, Jane’s love interest.

(Trivia side note: Who played Wild Bill in the first GCP version? That was the talented Brian Pucheu, who moved to the Seattle area and is active in theater there.)


5. The rest of the production is very similar in terms of design.

The sets (David Pierce) and costumes (Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed) will be cozingly familiar, while the lighting (Evan Commins and Joie Adams) and projection design has gotten an upgrade.

6. Fans of Mandrell are coming from out-of-town.

“I tell you, the population of Nashville is going to be less 40 people on opening night,” Dan Pessano says.

The box office has fielded calls from fans across the country wanting to see the show.

One of those fans will be her cherished granddaughter, Larkin, who will get to see her “Mama Lou” on stage for the first time. Mandrell has spent the past several years acting as primary daycare provider for Larkin, who loves to sing and act. (Any surprise there?)

7. She likes Fresno. She really does.

Even in July.

“I now know where everything is,” she says. “The first time I was here I didn’t drive around too much, but I made sure that my name was a rental car and I could drive around and see more of this city. I love it because the people here really are friendly. This is a little bit of a cowboy town, and I fit right in.”

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8. She loves ribs.

Pssst … Know how to make Mandrell happy? Serve her you-know-what.

9. She has a special connection with GCP.

One big reason is that her manager, Clint Higham, a proud Good Company alum originally from Reedley, has been a stalwart supporter of the theater company for decades. (In 2011 he donated $250,000 in lighting and sound improvements to the theater.) Juast as in 2012, his management company is making Mandrell’s participation in the “Calamity Jane” performance possible.

Could “Calamity Jane” ever go on to other places — to, say, New York? You never know. Higham’s company has the rights, and perhaps this could be a great starring vehicle for Mandrell.

10. Finally, you might consider Mandrell an honorary Pessano.

How special is the relationship between this country music star and the Pessano family?

They’re actually bunkmates during the run of the show. Mandrell is staying at the Pessano home, and, says Dan, she’s turned out to be an ideal roommate.

“On the fourth day in she changed our sheets,” he says.

She also helps take care of the dog and has even helped out with the yard work. Now that’s what you call a good house guest.

Show info

‘Calamity Jane,’ a Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre. Continues through Sept. 16. Tickets (some including dessert or dinner) are $32-$60.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Jeanne Behnke

    Saw the show on Sunday! Excellent! Her warmth & spirit really communicate to the audience.


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