Welcome home, Audra

Along with other Fresno-area fans of Broadway star Audra McDonald, I let her know how I feel

Audra’s home. This time it’s going to be extra special.

The Broadway star (and winner of more Tony awards than anyone) today (Saturday, May 26) will get a key to the city and a street named after her. How cool is that? To top things off, she will sing for the first time with the Fresno Philharmonic in one of the highlight cultural events of the year.

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(For those who haven’t figured out by now, I’m talking about none other than Good Company Players and Roosevelt High alum Audra McDonald, known with a first-name simplicity as “Audra” to this blog and a large number of fans throughout the area.)

To mark the occasion, I wanted to do something special, too, as a welcome.

The result is “Dear Audra.” I asked my readers to write brief recollections and appreciation letters.


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Dear Audra,

I’m completely an Audra girl. I’ve seen you live three times (“Lady Day,” “Shuffle Along,” and your Modesto show) and I’ve been lucky enough to meet you when my mom and I stage-doored “Lady Day” in 2014.

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As ‘New Wrinkles’ celebrates 30 years, it’s ‘One Day More’ for a talented cast

Fresno’s acclaimed senior performing group opens ‘On the Road to Broadway’ at Fresno City College

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.

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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.

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Selma Arts Center makes waves with a chipper ‘Little Mermaid’

The musical production can be inconsistent, but it’s well worth a dive.

THEATER REVIEW

Come on in — the water’s fine in Selma’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Just what will you find an undetermined number of leagues under the sea? Ariel is charming, and she and her “mer-sisters” offer sweet voices and brisk comedy. Prince Eric has the ruddy, seaworthy charm of a gung-ho master mariner. With her dialed-up-Disney-villain powerhouse vocals, Ursula the Sea Witch relishes the chance to get all twitchy-evil on us. Sebastian, always near the boiling point, frets with the best of them. Even Mr. Fussypants himself, King Triton, the clueless father who’s both too stern and too indulgent in terms of spoiling his teenage daughter — he shouldn’t let her go by herself to the mall, much less the surface! — redeems himself with a memorably regal stage presence.

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Camille Gaston is a powerhouse Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

It’s splashy fun.

Nicolette C. Andersen and Adam Chavez, co-directors of the new Selma Arts Center production, run a (mostly) tight ship in terms of creativity, production design, acting and singing. While the ambitiously staged show does have some wobbles and inconsistent moments, you (and your children) will find much to admire.

Observations from the opening-night performance I attended:

The projections are amazing. They deserve top billing here. Designer Dominic Grijalva breaks new ground locally with effects that feel as if we’re in the water with the performers. From a swirling opening storm to a spectacular dive to the murky depths of Ursula’s zip code, I found myself thoroughly entranced. My favorite part is the way Grijalva gives a stylized, boldly graphic design to the ubiquitous waves; they’re more abstract than literal, and their near constant motion gives the whole production a “be careful or you’ll get seasick” sensibility.

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‘The Lion King’ is coming to Fresno … finally!

The Broadway in Fresno 2018-19 season also includes “Something Rotten!” and the return of “Wicked”

After years of Fresno-area theater fans whining like hyenas about the unfairness of it all, there is justice on the savanna: In six months, “The Lion King” is coming to Fresno.

The extravagant Broadway touring production, known for its fanciful puppets and elaborate, actor-inhabited animal costumes that have provided untold billable hours for the nation’s chiropractors, will open Nov. 28 at the Saroyan Theatre for a 12-day run. The show opened in New York in 1997 and is still going strong. So it took 20 years for Fresno to feel the love tonight. No wonder the wildebeests were getting restless.

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“The Lion King” opens Nov. 28 at the Saroyan Theatre. Photo / Dean van Meer, ©Disney

Season tickets go on sale online at 8 a.m. today (Monday, May 14). The announcement was embargoed until that time. You can also purchase by phone at 888-255-9363 and in person at the Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center Box Office, 700 M Street. (Hours for the box office are listed as 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and I’m not sure if it will be opening early for this sale.)

The 2018-19 Fresno Lexus Broadway In Fresno season has some other big titles as well. “Something Rotten!” — the newest title in the season — will play April 16-17, 2019. The 20th anniversary of “RENT” will play Feb. 6-7, 2019. “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I,” based on the the 2015 Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production, will play Jan 15-16.

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A charming ‘Heiress’ navigates love and money at 2nd Space

Good Company Players production is an adaptation of Henry James’ ‘Washington Square’

THEATER REVIEW

Is the matrimonial-minded Morris Townsend, with his smooth talk and good looks, every father’s nightmare? Or is he a principled and upstanding young man who only cares about marrying for love — and not a big, fat, juicy inheritance? Just what do we know of his background, his education, his propriety?

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Suzanne Grażyna, left, as Catherine, and Amelia Ryan, as Aunt Lavinia, in “The Heiress.” Photo / Good Company Players

In 2018, these questions could probably be answered in about 0.37 seconds. But in the 1850s, the era in which Henry James set his celebrated novel “Washington Square,” Ye Olde Ghoogle wasn’t available. The uncertainty of Morris’ intentions — is this guy a gold digger or not? — helps give “The Heiress,” a resilient 1947 theatrical adaptation based on the James novel, a crisp dramatic punch.

But the bigger appeal in the well-done Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre, co-directed with aplomb by Karan Johnson and Elizabeth Fiester, is the chance to watch two fascinating women characters portrayed in strong performances.

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Starting tonight, Selma is ‘Under the Sea’

Selma Arts Center opens its big production of ‘The Little Mermaid’

Calling all fishes and their friends: It’s opening night for the Selma Arts Center production of “The Little Mermaid.”

The show, which opens 7 p.m. Friday, May 11, and continues through May 26, is the musical based on the Disney film.

I featured Maria Monreal, who plays Ariel, and Joshua Plowman, who plays Prince Eric, on the May episode of “The Munro Review.” They sat down to talk with me a little about the production and then performed a musical number:

Tidbits from the interview:

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In a potent ‘Streetcar,’ Fresno State explores the Williams classic with finesse

THEATER REVIEW

Long before the #MeToo movement, audiences were perplexed by Stella, the younger sister in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” (Yes, that Stella, memorialized in one of the most famous lines in theater history.) Why, a viewer might ask, would Stella put up with her domineering husband, Stanley, whose misogynistic impulses are magnified when he drinks? Stanley can be aggressive and volatile. He considers himself “king” of his household. He sometimes belittles Stella.

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Jalen Stewart, as Stanley, and Reshma Meister (Blanche) in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Photo / Fresno State

And, worst of all, he beats her.

Yet she stays with him. Why?

In the carefully crafted and emotionally potent new Fresno State production of “Streetcar,” which runs through Saturday, May 12, I found myself wrapped up in this question more than ever. Much of the reason, I realize, has to do with the times in which we’re living. Issues of sexual harassment and assault seem ubiquitous these days. Plot points that would have sailed smoothly by audiences in the 1960s, say, can feel jarring to contemporary viewers. “Streetcar” might be a fiercely period piece, steeped in the societal attitudes and expectations of the 1940s, but you can’t help but view it through a lens of today.

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You fill in the blank: ‘Men are From …’

That whole “Mars and Venus” thing really took off, right? A one-man stage adaptation comes to the Tower Theatre on Saturday, May 12, and you can win a pair of tickets

THEATER PREVIEW

Consider this as a title: “Men Are from Pluto, Women Are from Neptune.” Not quite the same ring to it, wouldn’t you agree?

But “Mars” and “Venus” seemed to do the trick, somehow perfectly encapsulating author John Gray’s premise that most common relationship problems between the sexes can be chalked up to fundamental psychological differences between the sexes. After selling more than 50 million copies, “Men Are from Mars, Women are From Venus” has been adapted into a number of genres, including infomercials, audiotapes and videotapes, weekend seminars, theme vacations, a one-man off-Broadway show, a TV sitcom, and a proposed movie.

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Perhaps most successful is a one-man stage version that premiered in Paris in 2007 and was seen by 1 million people throughout Europe. It debuted in the U.S. in February 2013 and has been touring the country ever since. (It last played in Fresno in 2016.)


You can win a pair of tickets to Saturday’s performance of “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” (8 p.m. Saturday, May 12, Tower Theatre). To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us 1) if you’ve ever read the book; and 2) whether you ever used anything from it in a relationship. (Or, if you’re too shy to share about your personal life, just tell us why you’d like to go.) Deadline to enter is 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 9.  I’m giving away three pairs of tickets, and I’ll pick the winners at random. Please don’t enter if you won’t be able to use the tickets. I’ll be informing the winner by email, so check yours on Thursday.


The touring stage version makes a stop at the Tower Theatre for one performance only (8 p.m. Saturday, May 12). It stars Ryan Drummond, an actor, singer, juggler, mime instructor, and voiceover artist (he was the original voice of “Sonic The Hedgehog” for Sega Gaming Corp.).

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