From a spark, the arts get down to business

Innovative partnership between business leaders and schools relies on a pragmatic philosophy: the arts are needed for economic survival

Here’s something to celebrate about Fresno County: Local business leaders and educators are leading the way in terms of supporting arts education in our schools.

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I got to know a lot more about the county’s innovative arts-business coalition and its SPARK! program when writing a freelance story that was posted yesterday on the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation website. The folks at Hewlett are so enamored of this program — which was originally conceived by Bob Bullwinkel at the Fresno County Office of Education and Darius Assemi of Granville Homes — that they awarded two sizable grants, totaling $280,000, to build the SPARK! program’s website and market it.

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Donald’s notes: Summer Arts, week 4

Friday’s update includes details on the free student showcases.

This is a roundup of news, reviews and notes from the fourth and final week of the CSU Summer Arts program, which is back at Fresno State after a five-year absence. I’ll be updating this post as the week progresses. If you have Summer Arts tidbits or thoughts on a performance you’d like to share, email me at For the public calendar of events, click here.

Cutting-edge technology: Students prepare for the 3-D video projection mapping showcase, 9 p.m. Friday, July 21, in the South Gym at Fresno State. Photo / Todd Sharp, CSU Summer Arts

Student showcases

One of the best (and cheapest!) things to do at Summer Arts is attend one of the free student showcases. After two weeks of intensive learning and creating, these students are anxious to show off a little. One of the highlight events is sure to be Friday’s “Video Projection Mapping in 3D Space” in the South Gym.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (June 23)

It’s opening weekend for the Blossom Trail Players. Plus: a new show in Oakhurst, star gazing near North Fork, cabaret night at “35MM” and the kickoff of Summer Arts.

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

‘Bye Bye Birdie’

Put on a happy face and experience the season opening production of Sanger’s Blossom Trail Players. The Broadway classic “Bye Bye Birdie,” which spins a thinly veiled tale of an Elvis Presley-type character drafted into the military, includes such well-known songs as “Honestly Sincere,” “The Telephone Hour,” “How Lovely to be a Woman” and, of course, the iconic title tune.

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All shook up: Greg Guerra makes the girls swoon as Conrad in the Blossom Trail Players production. Photos / Madlyn Esquer

The show opens Thursday, June 22, and runs through July 1.

There are more than 40 in the cast and an orchestra of 20 — let’s hear a cheer for live musical accompaniment! — in this production directed by Brittany Zenz and choreographed by Shannon Pelletier. (Andrew Esquer is music director.)

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Tillie’s first ArtHop

Perhaps it was the perfect weather, or the throngs of people walking up and down Fulton Street, or the fascinating artists I met at Broadway Studios, or the wading pool complete with little rubber duckies at the Jeffrey Scott Agency — last night’s ArtHop was a blast.

Or maybe it was because I took Tillie along.

Here’s my Instagram story (follow me on Instagram at @donaldmunroarts) as a recap. (In case you don’t know, you access my Instagram story by tapping my profile picture at the top of the feed. Or just Google “How do I see someone’s story on Instagram?”) Click my face below to see the video. Enjoy!


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A new Dolly? Bette on it

As Broadway revival album is released, a look at 5 versions of the title tune

Bette Midler has been wowing audiences on Broadway for weeks now in the much ballyhooed revival of “Hello, Dolly!” Now, starting today, we on the left coast get a chance to hear her sing the famed title tune on all digital platforms, including iTunes.

After listening to the new version, I decided to rank some well-known Dollys in terms of that song:

1. CAROL CHANNING: No matter who comes along, even the Divine Miss M herself, can surpass the gravelly tones of Channing, for whom “Hello, Dolly!” became her signature tune. Her rendition of the song is simply baked into my perception of the essence of Dolly Levi. I remember as a kid listening to the Channing-as-Dolly recording and thinking: “But she can’t sing!” As the years went by, I began to realize that singing for the musical theater isn’t always about technical perfection but about character and distinctiveness. Adding some loyalty points for me is the fact I got to meet Channing when she performed in Fresno years ago.

Bette Midler in Broadway’s ‘Hello, Dolly! Photo / Julieta Cervantes

2. BETTE MIDLER: Yes, it’s Bette, all right, in all her glory. But for those expecting a va-va-voom blast of Midler, the title tune comes across as more relaxed and carefree than I would have expected. Unlike Channing, whose sheer force of personality is enough to bowl the average listener over, Midler plays it more on the coy side, even a little reserved. I like her interpretation a lot.

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A blog is born

I’m here and I’m clearly passionate about continuing to cover local arts.

New platform. Newer Donald.

Welcome to The Munro Review, where I cover arts, culture and other interesting stuff in the central San Joaquin Valley. I spent the last 16 years covering local arts and culture for The Fresno Bee. Now I’m ready to take my passion for the arts to the next level.

Based on questions you’ve been asking, here’s a quick rundown to start things off:

Q: What do you plan to cover on The Munro Review?

A: I’m going to offer a curated look at the local scene with a special emphasis on theater, classical music, visual art, dance, the literary arts and anything else that strikes my fancy. I believe that advance stories about upcoming events are an important part of arts coverage because they give audience members added context in terms of relating to and connecting with artistic events. I’ll be continuing to offer a critical voice through reviews, and I will cover local arts news. I’ll throw in coverage of some of my own interests, too, including travel and books, and will likely be unleashing some Fresno-centric commentary from time to time. All this is in the early stages, but I’m excited about the possibilities ahead.

Photo / Craig Kohlruss

Q: Will other writers be contributing?

A: Maybe! I’m starting off as a one-person show, but who knows what the future holds?

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