A farewell ‘Titus Andronicus’

Woodward Shakespeare Festival tackles the bloody play about revenge in director Greg Taber’s last show as executive producer


Greg Taber, whose dedication to Woodward Shakespeare Festival over the years has heated up half a dozen Fresno theater summers, is stepping down as executive producer after he finishes the last production of the season. For that milestone he decided to direct Shakespeare’s brutal and little performed “Titus Andronicus,” with Jay Parks in the title role. I caught up with Taber, known for his commitment to theater that nourishes the intellect, to talk a little about the play, which opens Thursday, Aug. 3.

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Revenge: Rene Ponce, left, and Jay Parks, right, who plays the title role in Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Titus Andronicus.” Photo / Victor DesRoches

Q: You mention in your director’s note that most people don’t know anything about “Titus Andronicus.” As you try to generate interest in your production this summer, what’s your 30-second pitch to people about the show?

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5 picks for August ArtHop

From Kerby C. Smith’s bracing winter photography at M Street to the glory of ink pens at Bitwise, here are promising options for Thursday

One of the great things about ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods, is that it’s year-round. We don’t take the month off in Fresno just because it’s a little toasty outside. Here’s a list of five cool picks for August. ArtHop at most venues runs 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3, but check the Fresno Arts Council website for variations.

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Woman in red: Kerby C. Smith’s “Pohono Bridge.”

M Street Arts Complex

I like the way Kerby C. Smith thinks. He waits until the hottest time of the year to unveil his new exhibition of 18 images he photographed in January through March in the Yosemite Valley as the park was buried in winter’s bountiful snowfall. My guess is that your internal body temperature will go down a few degrees just looking at these crisp and creative works. (And it helps that the M Street Arts Complex galleries are air-conditioned.) I caught up with Smith to chat about “Cool in July,” which has been extended through August. The exhibition is sponsored by the Fresno Arts Council, the Chris Sorensen Studio, Electric Motor Shop, Horn Photo and Abby Pet Hospital.

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When your prom goes wrong

Selma Arts Center’s local premiere of “Carrie: The Musical” bristles with menace and power, but some aspects of the production are fumbled


The Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie: The Musical” can feel volatile and unsettled, like the charged air in an electrical storm. In many ways that’s a good thing. When your narrative is dominated by a mercilessly teased girl whose nascent telekinetic powers are sparked by rage, the last thing you want is a production that comes across as tidy and restrained.

Mommie dearest: Carly Oliver offers a viscerally charged performance as Margaret White in “Carrie: The Musical.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

A big part of this dynamic is Abigail Halpern, the 16-year-old Buchanan High School student who plays Carrie White. Her voice is wonderfully strong and rattling in its intensity, but it can also be less than fully controlled. From the moment Halpern belts out her first long, sustained solo note, I felt I was in the presence of someone who doesn’t realize her own power, which seems perfect for the role.

The show’s direction and creative design also demonstrate many of the same unsettled tendencies. Unfortunately, this isn’t as positive a quality. At the opening night performance I attended, some of the basics were fumbled: sloppy and far too lengthy transitions between scenes; inopportune choices in lighting design; a few awkwardly blocked scenes; some clunky moments in which characters seem directionless.

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Sunsets and Vivaldi

At Festival Mozaic, I get the chance to experience three beautiful concerts at three even more beautiful San Luis Obispo County locales

SHANDON — The folks at Festival Mozaic know a thing or two about good timing. As the last rays of the sun scrape over an adjacent ridge, the professional chamber orchestra before me begins the final movement of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Music spills out the open doors of the small and spectacular Serra Chapel, a Mission-style building situated high atop one of the rolling hills a few miles outside Paso Robles, and into the tiled courtyard where I’m sitting. By the time the music has ended and the 500 or so people squeezed into the space have risen to applaud, the sky has darkened to black, the stars emerged and the broiling temperature has dipped to goose-pimple cool.

Hilltop serenade: The audience at Festival Mozaic before the July 22 concert at Serra Chapel in Shandon begins. Photos / The Munro Review

It’s a glorious way to conclude a concert of classical music.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (July 28)

Options include Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo, the second weekend of California Opera’s summer festival and “Eurydice” at the Fourth Wall Theatre in Visalia.

Here’s a rundown on promising cultural events for the weekend:

Refreshing: San Luis Obispo’s Festival Mozaic continues for a second weekend through Sunday, July 30. Photo / Festival Mozaic

Festival Mozaic

Where was I last weekend? Not in boiling Fresno. A quick trip over to the cooler Central Coast for a first-time visit to San Luis Obispo County’s Festival Mozaic has turned me into a hardcore fan.

I already walked you through the nuts-and-bolts of the festival in advance of last week’s opening. And next week, I’ll share some detailed reflections on the three concerts I attended last weekend, including an unforgettable musical moment on the top of a Shandon hillside as the sun set.

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There will be blood

In the Selma Arts Center local premiere of “Carrie,” a 1970s horror tale tackles contemporary themes of fitting in and bullying


Chris Hargensen is the bad girl in “Carrie: The Musical.” The character is the evil string-puller in her high school, the alpha-female ringleader who manipulates her fellow students into participating in the most infamous prom-night stunt in horror history. Early on, in the song “The World According to Chris,” she belts out her eat-or-be-eaten philosophy of life:

Guess what, ever since the world began
Same plot, everyone’s been dumping on their fellow man
Pounding people they feel better than

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Righteous hand: Carly Oliver plays the mother in “Carrie: The Musical.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

Imani Branch, 18, who plays Chris in the new Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie,” which opens Friday in a central San Joaquin Valley premiere, was taken aback the first time she truly soaked up the cruel machinations and hurtful things said and sung by her character.

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Win tickets to Selma Arts Center’s ‘Carrie’

To get in the mood, readers submitted their own high-school prom photos.

UPDATE: Congratulations to our winners: Silvia Fisher and Michelle Olson. Plus, at the end of this post, check out the photo gallery of vintage prom pics submitted by readers.

ORIGINAL POST: Hopefully your high school prom went better than Carrie’s. Then again, the musical “Carrie” — based on the classic Stephen King novel about a girl with telekinetic powers who is picked on by her classmates — is pretty much the baseline for a prom from hell, so that isn’t saying much.

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Outsider: Abigail Halpern plays the title role in the Selma Arts Center production of “Carrie.”

Still, to get you in the high school mood, and to mark the new production of “Carrie” at the Selma Arts Center, the Munro Review is giving away two pairs of tickets for any opening weekend performance. Plus, as a winner, you’ll get two extra special perks: a backstage tour after the show AND a photo onstage with the cast.

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No half-effort for this ‘Full Monty’

StageWorks Fresno offers a robust and meaningful production of the steelworker-stripping comedy


In one of the best numbers in StageWorks Fresno’s rousing new production of “The Full Monty,” the six out-of-work (and, in varying degrees, out-of-shape) steelworkers at the center of the musical are finding it hard to get inspired for the Chippendales-style strip show they’ve agreed to put on for their friends, family, and the greater Buffalo., N.Y., area.

What gets them in sync and rhythm?

The mention of Michael Jordan.

Feeling like “Scrap”: a scene from “The Full Monty.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Yes, that Michael Jordan. The famed basketball player is immortalized in the first-act finale. Coming in this late 1990s musical, at first it seems a stuffy and dated reference. As the actors on opening night whipped themselves into a wonderful choreographic frenzy in the song “Michael Jordan’s Ball,” inspired by the sports star’s effortless moves on the court, I found myself pondering: If this sweet and funny show endures for, say, 40 years, will audiences in the future be only vaguely aware of Jordan’s legacy, the same way kids today nod politely when their elders talk about such sports heroes as Babe Ruth?

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