Fresno, meet the real Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

At Sunday’s final performance of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,’ the famed composer-lyricist team was in the audience

The setting: the final Sunday evening performance of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre.

The special audience members: In the crowd were none other than the real-life Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, famed composer-lyricist team that wrote such tunes as “Uptown” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” who are major characters in “Beautiful.”

Blast from the past: The real Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were in the Saroyan Theatre audience Sunday night for the last Fresno show of “Beautiful: The Carole King Story.” Photo / Julie Dana

Behind-the-scenes: I caught up with Fresno City College’s Julie Dana, who was in the audience, for the inside scoop. Her husband, Mike, found out early: He was playing in the pit orchestra, and the conductor told the instrumentalists there would be changes in the “bows” music at the end of the show so that Mann and Weil could be acknowledged. The cast wasn’t informed they were there beforehand.

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Catching up with John Scalzi

The well-known science fiction writer — and former Fresno Bee movie critic — returns for a quick visit and update on his career

Earlier this month I was perusing a New York Times interview with Tom Hanks about his reading habits. I always eat these kinds of stories up. The reporter asked Hanks who his favorite novelists are.

His reply? Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Amor Towles, John Scalzi.

There was a time early in the career of Scalzi, my friend and a former Fresno Bee colleague, when I would have been stunned to see his name bandied about by beloved actors in the national press. But I’m used to it by now. Scalzi, who preceded me as movie critic at The Bee, has had great success as a science-fiction author. He’s probably best known for his book “Old Man’s War,” which kicked off a popular series. He’s won a Hugo Award, served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and writes the widely read blog Whatever.

Old friends: John Scalzi and I talk about old times and new books at Fresno’s Radisson Hotel.

He was passing through Fresno last week with his wife, Krissy, and I got the chance to hang out with him for a couple of hours. What a treat!

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New Fulton Street makes a splash

Thousands turn out Saturday to experience the newly reopened road through downtown Fresno. I spend the afternoon with Joyce Aiken, one of the Fulton Mall’s original artists

The setting: 4 p.m. Saturday, Fulton Street downtown. People throng the six-block stretch of the newly reopened street that replaces the iconic Fulton Mall. It’s the perfect late Fresno afternoon to enjoy such an occasion: reasonably warm but with a crisp hint in the air; the sky big and blue; and the sun getting into countdown position for Golden Hour, favorite of all photographers, when the soft light can make any tableau look good, much less ones that cost $20 million.

The scene: There are “pop-up” stores up and down the street, ranging from boutique clothing shops to a spiffy little temporary space occupied by the Fresno Art Museum. (Wouldn’t it be great to see a permanent downtown satellite gallery space for the museum?) Music blares, lines form for the beer garden, friends shout hello to each other. People linger in front of the restored sculptures, many of which look fresher than they have for decades. There’s water in all the fountains, too, and that, combined with the bustle of the foot traffic, gives a splash of energy and vitality to the proceedings.

My profound and original observation: The city closed down the newly reopened street for the occasion, giving us the freedom to skip the sidewalks and wander down the center of the freshly paved boulevard. But wait, I think: People walking down Fulton? Wasn’t that what they could do before the removal of the mall? Think of the irony of it all.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 20)

Here’s a roundup of promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:


All eyes on Saturday will be on the Fulton Mall — whoops, Fulton Street, and it will be a while before I can train myself to automatically say that — for the official ribbon-cutting and opening celebration. This isn’t just an event; it’s an historic occasion. I remember when I came to Fresno more than 25 years ago for my job interview, and my future boss took me to lunch at the Downtown Club, pointed in the direction of the mall, and told me, “We hope this can be revitalized soon.”

Photo / Downtown Fresno Partnership

So, decades later, change is in the air. I’m crossing my fingers.

Bethany Clough has a nice list in The Bee of pop-up stores and restaurants that will line the street for the 3 p.m. ribbon cutting at Fulton Street and Mariposa Mall. Most will be open until 10. (It’s nice to see the Fresno Art Museum on the list with a wine/shopping option.) There will be two beer gardens and three stages for live music.

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A weekend for supporting the arts

Charity events include “Toasting the Arts” at Fresno City College, the “Shinzen Stroll” at Woodward Park, and a benefit for the Lund Foundation scholarship fund

If you’re looking for a good cause to support, you won’t have any problems finding one this weekend. I’m highlighting three charity events: the annual “Toasting the Arts” dinner and celebration at Fresno City College; the “Shinzen Stroll” fundraising brunch at Woodward Park; and the Edward O. Lund Foundation’s art auction and Scotch tasting at the Mad Duck restaurant.

Here’s a rundown:

Beautiful setting: Last year’s “Toasting the Arts” event at Fresno City College.

‘Toasting the Arts’

When: 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, Fresno City College Old Administration Building courtyard.

This venerable fundraiser is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a dinner, live music and entertainment, and both live and silent auctions. Friends of the Arts (FOTA), founded in 1985, sponsors the event. Money raised provides scholarships for students in Theater Arts, Music, Dance, Fine Arts and Communication. FOTA also assists with the costs associated with Fresno City College theater, dance and music productions, literary journals and fine arts gallery events.

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A salute to this year’s Horizon Award winners

Annual honors are given by the Fresno Arts Council

In acknowledgement of Sunday’s Horizon Awards ceremony, I want to give a shout-out to each and every winner of this prestigious honor from the Fresno Arts Council. I’m familiar with all but two of the winners, and I’ll add a few comments about each of those I know. Feel free to add your own comments about the honorees and how they have impacted the community; this is one of those times when it’s fine to get a little gushy.


Citizen: Howard Watkins. It’d be hard to imagine the Fresno cultural scene without Howard and his ever-present camera on the scene, recording numerous events for posterity. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been corralled by Howard to pose for a giant group photo. His images can be accessed at his large and comprehensive Howard K. Watkins Photographic Archive, where you can view and individually download more than 160,000 historic and current photographs. I know that Howard is usually on the other side of the lens at Horizon Awards ceremonies; who will be there to take his photo?

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Heidi Blickenstaff nabs starring role in ‘Freaky Friday’ Disney movie

Today’s big news for those of us who follow All Things Blickenstaff is exciting: The Fresno favorite is going to be starring in a TV movie version of “Freaky Friday” in the role she originated in the new stage musical.


From the studio:

Actresses Heidi Blickenstaff (“The Little Mermaid” and “Something Rotten!” on Broadway and the stage production of “Freaky Friday”) and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (“Dolphin Tale,” “Liv and Maddie”) will star in an update of the American classic “Freaky Friday, a Disney Channel musical comedy set to begin production this fall for a 2018 debut as part of the Disney Channel Original Movie franchise. The movie is based on Disney Theatrical Productions stage adaptation of the celebrated novel by Mary Rodgers and Disney’s popular feature films of the same name.

Three reasons why this is wonderful:

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May the force not always be with us

Are the new security measures at Saroyan Theatre the new normal? I hope not

The Bee’s Rory Appleton has an interesting piece about something new for audience members at the Saroyan Theatre: bag checks and metal detectors. The practice is part of a larger trend of increased security at the Save Mart Center, Selland Arena and other local venues.

Appleton writes:

A series of unrelated events both in Fresno and abroad have led many of the local venues to tighten up their bag policies. Some also have added metal detectors to their entrance routines. Both are a byproduct of 2017 life, but both have led to long entrance lines for everything from rock concerts and symphony performances to San Joaquin Valley Town Hall events.

My first encounter with the Saroyan’s new security policy was the long line to get into the Fresno Philharmonic’s opening pops concert of the season on Saturday night. When I arrived at about 7:20 p.m., 10 minutes before the concert was to begin, the line to get into the south entrance stretched almost to the parking garage.

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