‘Breaking Up’ is hard, but picking a favorite Neil Sedaka tune is easy

Good Company Players opens the Sedaka jukebox musical in a run that goes through Jan. 14.

When Jacob Cozzi was 8 years old, he had a crush on a girl who lived down the street.

Which explains why his favorite song in the Neil Sedaka jukebox musical “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” now in its opening weekend at Good Company Players, is the tune “Next Door to An Angel.”

“I don’t really know what she’s up to now,” says Cozzi, who in the overall scheme of things wasn’t 8 that long ago — he’s worked his way up through the GCP’s demanding Junior Company program — but is now nabbing roles in mainstage productions.

Sedaka memories: Kay Wilkins, left, Caitlyn Lopez, Tim Smith, Melanie Heyl and Nicholas Nunez in “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” Photo / Good Company Players

Wouldn’t it be cute if his crush showed up for a performance and recognized him?

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10 Things to Know About Selma Arts Center’s ‘Hunchback’

Medieval Paris is built on stage in new production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

The Selma Arts Center has recreated many settings in the world for its plays and musicals. But one of the most challenging has to be Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. That’s the main location for the company’s new offering of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which opens Friday, Nov. 17, in an ambitious production.

There’s a lot to unpack about this Disney musical featuring songs by Alan Menken, which is loosely based on the 1996 film. The title has recently been made available to community theaters. Children’s Musical Theaterworks offered the premiere youth production in July; now Selma tackles the title with an all-ages cast. I checked in with directors Dominic Grijalva and Juan Luis Guzmán, who collaborated on their answers, to come up with 10 Things You Should Know About “Hunchback.”

Terry Lewis, left, as Frollo, and Thomas Hayes, as Quasimodo, in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Photo / Selma Arts Center


The set is a biggie.

Designed by Erik and Nicolette Andersen and built by Erik Andersen and Ken Grey, the set posed many challenges.

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Star power

‘Silent Sky,’ in its final weekend at Fresno City College, offers a fascinating glimpse of a woman who made astronomical history


There’s a certain whimsy to the fact that “Silent Sky,” the delicate and meaningful new Fresno City College production about a prominent and mostly unknown woman astronomer, takes place inside at night.

Yes, there are a few matinees in the Studio Theatre, but the majority of performances are staged when the stars are just out of sight above us. When you’re sitting in the audience, it’s tempting to gaze skyward and think of those myriad bright points of light just beyond the ceiling. Many of us spend most of our time under roofs, both night and day, so it’s a chance for the theater to make us look at the world in a slightly different way.

Jessica Knotts, left, as Henrietta, and Quincy Maxwell, as Peter, in “Silent Sky.” Photo / Fresno City College

Playwright Lauren Gunderson conceives of “Silent Sky” as a thoughtful and poetic homage to Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a trailblazing astronomer who died in 1921. She was mostly forgotten to history, or at least to popular culture, which isn’t all that uncommon for scientists. (I just finished reading a fascinating book about Alexander Von Humboldt, who essentially invented the idea of ecology — and predicted global warming — and who during much of the 19th Century was the most famous man in the world after Napoleon. He’s barely remembered today.)

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A ‘Bloody’ good time

At College of the Sequoias, ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ is daring, profane and has a surprising amount to say about contemporary political times


Nearly 10 years before there was “Hamilton,” another Broadway offering plucked a pivotal and controversial figure out of American history textbooks. The show immersed him in an explosive musical score with provocative lyrics, and in the slick re-telling of his story managed to offer insights on the contemporary U.S. political scene.

That musical was “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

I will make them all bleed!
He’s So That Guy: Michael Seitz, center, as Andrew Jackson in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Photo / College of the Sequoias

A couple of weeks ago, by coincidence, I caught the national tour of “Hamilton” in Los Angeles. (Yes, finally!) The L.A production was all I expected in terms of musical impact, stagecraft and sheer theatrical presence. So when I saw the fiery new production of “Andrew Jackson” at College of the Sequoias last weekend, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast these two historical musicals. You can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison, of course; one is likely the most polished professional Broadway experience you can see these days; the other is a junior-college production that in some cases uses first-time performers. And Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics in “Hamilton” are simply breathtakingly beautiful. They deserve every superlative that has been slung their way: groundbreaking, memorable, highest artistic achievement, etc.

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Getting to know Rei Hotoda

In an extensive profile, get a glimpse behind the scenes of the busy life of the Fresno Philharmonic’s new music director

The first few rehearsals between a symphony orchestra and an unfamiliar conductor can be magical. And perhaps a little nerve-racking. Everyone’s on their best behavior. If things go well, the rehearsals can feel fresh and pitched with possibility, offering hints of great things to come. Or they can be dreary affairs, stolid and workmanlike, an exercise to simply get through and then move on to more encouraging opportunities.

They’re like a first date.

Three generations: Rei Hotoda, center, with her son, Constantine Janello, and mother, Sachiko Hotoda, in the Saroyan Theatre lobby after the conductor’s first concert as Fresno Philharmonic music director. Photo / The Munro Review

At this afternoon rehearsal in October, as Rei Hotoda stands on the podium in front of the musicians of the Fresno Philharmonic, preparing for her very first concert as the orchestra’s newly named music director, there’s little chance for the dreary option.

After all, Hotoda was notably successful during the initial wooing process — her tryout week in Fresno back in March — when she charmed players, patrons, media and audience members alike. (And, most important, members of the orchestra’s search committee, which unanimously selected her out of six highly qualified finalists.)

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Nov. 10)

Options include Keyboard Concerts, the Fresno Film Festival and Fall Dances at Fresno City College. Plus: events at Bitwise and Sequoia Symphony

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

Keyboard Concerts

This highly regarded series has brought some of the world’s most famous, seasoned pianists to Fresno. But the series is also a way to experience some of the most accomplished young talent as well.

Daniel Hsu, pianist

That’s the case with Daniel Hsu, who will perform as part of the Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. Hsu is winner of the bronze medal at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which made him an instant star. The 19-year-old Bay Area native on Friday will present a virtuoso program consisting of works by Schubert, Chopin, J.S. Bach/Busoni, Rachmaninoff, and Marc-André Hamelin’s Toccata on “L’homme armé.

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Backstage spy: When you’re frozen on stage, what’s going through your head?

As one of my favorite productions of the year reaches its final weekend, here’s a chance to go behind-the-scenes

And now, for the second and final part of our closing-week tribute to the wonderful “Drowsy Chaperone” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, we get an entire series of fun videos. This production has lots of moments when the actors have to hold their positions for long periods of time. And now, finally, we have the answer to the burning question: What do they think about?

Special thanks to Emily Pessano for being our Spy (and for her editorial comments sprinkled throughout.) There are only four more performances of this top-notch show remaining.

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Theater roundup: Andrew Jackson gets ‘Bloody,’ while Fresno City explores a ‘Silent Sky’

Weekend openings also include “And Then There Were None” at Fresno State; and “Twelfth Night” at Fresno Pacific

Before there was “Hamilton,” there was “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” (Or, as it could have been alternatively titled, “Old Hickory: The Musical.”) President Jackson might not have been one of the Founding Fathers, but the creators of “Bloody” knew back in 2008, long before “Hamilton” conquered the world, that mashing together American history and rock music could mean a big creative payoff. That’s why I’m leading off my roundup of a very busy theater weekend with a much-awaited new production at Visalia’s College of the Sequoias.

Illness as Metaphor
Let there be blood: Cheyenne Breshears as Rachel Jackson and Michael Seitz as Andrew Jackson. Photo / College of the Sequoias

College of the Sequoias

First Fresno City College and director Charles Erven broke new ground this season with a premiere production of the Broadway musical “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Now it’s time for Chris Mangels and the top-notch theater department at COS to offer another local hard-edged musical premiere.

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