For Fresno State’s ‘Gentlemen of Verona,’ a rousing update

Fine acting and direction make Shakespeare’s comedy feel fresh and relevant

THEATER REVIEW

Let’s do something different and focus on the ending of Fresno State’s accomplished production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Usually critics avoid writing about the end of a play because they don’t want to give anything away. But I think I can do it without diminishing the audience’s appreciation for this well-acted and conceived comedy.

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Alyssa Benitez, left, as Julia, and Steven Weatherbee, as Proteus, in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo / Fresno State

I’ve long been a fan of well-crafted endings and feel they’re far more important than some directors give them credit for. I’m not talking necessarily about a show’s climax — that moment of highest tension when a narrative starts sparking into resolution — which is very important, of course. I’m thinking more about the final seconds of a production, when all the elements of stagecraft come together: the lighting and sound cues, the positioning of the actors, the directorial choices that coalesce to give the audience that crucial ending impression. Give us confidence and precision, and it can make a powerful impact. Give us sloppy and bland — a light cue a second out of sync, an awkwardly delivered final line, a less-than-punchy closing visual tableaux — and it can cut a production off at the knees.

Which brings me to Brad Myers and his “Verona,” a charming and deftly directed show.

Continue reading “For Fresno State’s ‘Gentlemen of Verona,’ a rousing update”

Now streaming: the December episode of ‘The Munro Review’

The third episode of my monthly half-hour arts talk show, done in collaboration with the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC), is now streaming. My guests for December:

• Carla Lippert and Shirley Winters of Central California Ballet’s upcoming weekend production of “The Nutcracker,” along with local dancer Marin Brant.

• Julie Carter, artistic director of the women’s choral ensemble Soli Deo Gloria, which performs Friday. A special treat: A group of her singers came with her to the studio to offer a beautiful tune. (My first live-to-tape musical performance on my show!)

I also offer recaps of my profiles of new Fresno Philharmonic music director Rei Hotoda and Joan Schulze, the Fresno Art Museum’s distinguished woman artist for 2017; a rundown on my news coverage of the saga of Children’s Musical Theaterworks and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium; capsule reviews and shout-outs about College of the Sequoias’ production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and Selma Arts Center’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Plus, I offer a preview of the December arts scene, including a Bob Hope tribute and the Broadway in Fresno production of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze.”

As always, thanks to my volunteer CMAC crew and producers Lisa Talley and Kyle Lowe.


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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Dec. 1)

Options on a busy weekend include “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “Just a Book Club” and the Fresno Community Concert Band

Soft rock radio stations in dental offices might call this “the most wonderful time of the year,” but there’s another truism when it comes the local cultural scene: It feels like the busiest time of the year. Especially the next two weekends, in which nearly every arts organization seems to schedule a concert or opening.

I’ve already told you about Fresno State’s production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ production of “Annie,” CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Plaid Tidings,” River City Theatre Company’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street” and the Fresno Philharmonic’s big holiday concert. (And don’t forget the final weekend for Selma Arts Center’s fine “Hunchback of Notre Dame.”) Now here are some more options for the weekend to consider:

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Double the curls in CMT’s ‘Annie’

Children’s Musical Theaterworks opens the classic musical at Veterans Memorial Auditorium

THEATER PREVIEW

For the holiday season, what’s better than one red-and-curly haired, endlessly optimistic little girl named Annie?

Try Annie times two.

Young performers Elisabeth “Ellie” Burbidge and Samantha Shaheen-Smith share the title role in the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie,” directed by Karan Johnson, which opens Friday, Dec. 1. The two Annies alternate performances. They’re both outrageously excited to get to belt out such songs as “Tomorrow” and “Maybe,” of course. Here’s a rundown on each Annie:


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One of two: Samantha Shaheen-Smith plays the title role in “Annie.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

SAMANTHA

Age: 10

School: Manchester GATE.

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Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s holiday concert

Conductor Rei Hotoda and orchestra celebrates the holidays with an acclaimed baritone soloist, the Fresno Master Chorale and more

UPDATE: Congratulations to winners Christina JG Connelly and Lisa Gluskin.

ORIGINAL POST: The Fresno Philharmonic has an appealing holiday concert planned for you this weekend. Guest artists for “Home for the Holidays” include the acclaimed baritone Jubilant Sykes, who has appeared in such venues as the Metropolitan Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Also joining conductor Rei Hotoda will be the Fresno Master Chorale, directed by Anna Hamre, and the Alta Sierra Intermediate School Chamber Choir, directed by Gail Barbour.

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Jubilant Sykes is guest soloist at “Home for the Holidays.” Photo / Fresno Philharmonic

A special treat will be Mark Standriff (who recently played Mushnik in StageWorks Fresno’s “Little Shop of Horrors”) narrating the classic “ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The concert is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Saroyan Theatre.

And guess what! I have a pair of tickets to this popular concert to give away to a reader of The Munro Review.

Continue reading “Win tickets to Fresno Philharmonic’s holiday concert”

Heading off to the big city

Fresno State opens Shakespeare’s ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’

THEATER PREVIEW

Brad Myers is a master director of Shakespeare, so it’s always a must-see event when he tackles a play by the Bard. The latest outing for the Fresno State director is the comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” which opens Friday, Dec. 1, at the university’s John Wright Theatre. Myers took time out of his busy tech week for the show to engage in a dialogue about the production.

Q: In “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” two best friends are parted when one leaves his hometown for the big city of Milan. Am I the only one who immediately thinks of high school kids wanting to get out of Fresno for San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York?

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Aaron Gomes, left, and Steven Weatherbee in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Photo / Fresno State

A: Yes, Proteus and Valentine are facing the same decisions that high school grads are facing today. One of the gents chooses to leave his hometown and head off for the big city; the other wants to stay at home because he is head-over-heels in love with his girlfriend. This is one of the many elements of the “Two Gents” storyline that makes this play very accessible for high school and university students.

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Holiday theater: previews for Santa

At CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, four talented singers tackle “Plaid Tidings,” and at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, Kris Kringle gets put on trial in “Miracle on 34th Street”

Santa is certainly busy this month, but even he needs to take a break now and then. And why not do it with live theater? In honor of The Big Red Guy, and with help from the directors, we take a look at two promising holiday-themed local openings: “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” at CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre; and “Miracle on 34th Street,” at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company:

‘FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS’

The director: Scott Hancock.

The run: just four performances over this one weekend: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30; 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, Clovis Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 808 4th St., Clovis.

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The cast of “Forever Plaid”: Kyle Dodson, Darren Tharp, Brandon Crane and Adam Kitt. Photo / CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre

The plot: “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” is a semi-sequel to the incredibly popular “Forever Plaid.” The four plaids (Adam Kitt, Darren Tharp, Brandon Crane, and Kyle Dodson) return to earth for a second time and (at first) are not quite sure why. Through song and self discovery, they realize that they are here to do the Christmas show they never got to do while they were still alive.

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Of monsters and men

Selma Arts Center offers an accomplished production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

THEATER REVIEW

He becomes a hunchback before our eyes. One instant Thomas Hayes is standing straight, tall and unblemished, and then, in a few measures of song and with a few key costume additions, including a strapped-on hump that looks as if he’s slinging on a small backback, and some smears of black makeup, we are introduced to Quasimodo.

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Powerful performance: Thomas Hayes plays Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

I like this moment of theatricality in the ambitious and sensitive new production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at the Selma Arts Center. The transformation reinforces the lyrics: “Who is the monster and who is the man?”

Indeed, who is the “monster” in this classic tale? The disfigured and physically impaired young man with a pure heart and a longing to commune with others? Or the preening and pious “man of God,” the archdeacon of none other than the great cathedral of Notre Dame, whose unbridled lust and cruelty destroys lives?

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