King of the jukebox musicals

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” offers nostalgia and empowerment in a first-rate production at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre


The murmurs from the audience — what Sarah Bockel, the current star of the national tour of “Beautiful,” told me she calls the “rustle, rustle, rustle” — first surfaced on Tuesday night with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” That’s what happens in this show when people recognize the introductory bars of the best known Carole King songs. Think of it as an autonomic nervous response for folks. They can’t help but shift in their seats, bring their hands together in an almost-clap and whisper the opening words of the tune.


The best part of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which opened for an eight-performance run at the Saroyan Theatre in a well-honed, emphatic and technically gorgeous performance, is this bond between music and audience. Most of the songs by King that prompt the outward display of affection from fans come in the second act, when selections from her famed “Tapestry” album (“It’s Too Late,” “A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got a Friend”) get their big moments. But the first act, which focuses on King’s early days as a songwriter, is even more of a kick. Who remembered that she (and her husband, Gerry Goffin) were responsible for such tunes as “One Fine Day,” “Up on the Roof” and “Locomotion”?

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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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Fresno to CMT: You need to vacate Memorial Auditorium

Children’s Musical Theaterworks says it was blindsided by the city. There are conflicting versions of events

One of Fresno’s most beloved and successful theater companies found itself fighting for its very existence this morning when it learned the city-owned Veterans Memorial Auditorium where it performs will be closed for safety reasons.

Children’s Musical Theaterworks, which has performed in the theater space of the building for 17 years, was told it has to be out of the facility by Dec. 31.

Photo /

“It will put us out of business, basically,” says Judy Stene, CMT’s executive director. “I don’t really know what to do at this point.”

The bad news came on the day of the non-profit theater company’s biggest annual fundraiser. Stene made a public announcement at Saturday night’s event to the dismay of donors and supporters.

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Tuesday is ‘One Fine Day’ for Carole King fans

Broadway in Fresno brings the national tour of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” to the Saroyan. And you can win free tickets


UPDATE: Congratulations to ticket winners Timothy Savage
and Erin Adams.

ORIGINAL POST: Broadway in Fresno kicks off its 2017-18 season with its biggest production of the year. “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” which opens Tuesday, Oct. 24, will play for eight performances through Sunday, Oct. 29. That’s compared to a two-night run (most often Tuesdays and Wednesdays) for most shows in the series.

What can you glean from this? That “Beautiful” has the name recognition and broad appeal to attract thousands more people to the Saroyan Theatre than other shows in the season lineup. It’s also a Broadway-level production featuring actors who are members of Actors Equity, the professional stage union, which isn’t always the case with shows that tour through Fresno.

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Leading role: Sarah Bockel plays Carole King in “Beautiful.” Photo / Matthew Murphy

(If you haven’t yet gotten your tickets, here’s a chance to see the show for free: I’m giving away two pairs of tickets to the opening night performance. More details at the bottom of this post.)

I got to see “Beautiful” on Broadway in 2014, and I can see why it’s such a big hit: Unlike many so-called jukebox musicals that focus on one person’s music, this one has a strong, compelling storyline. We follow the young King just as she’s getting her start in the business, through the ups and downs of success and relationships, the music complements the emotional trajectory of the story. And, of course, some of those songs by the famed singer/songwriter are so well known you’ll be humming along after just a few bars.

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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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Welcome to ‘The Big Tell’

New short-film competition presents 10 mini-documentaries offering distinct views of the central San Joaquin Valley

One of this weekend’s big events is “The Big Tell” film contest (doors open 6 p.m., films start at 7, Friday, Oct. 20, Warnors Theater, 1400 Fulton St., Fresno). You’ll get the chance to see 10 winning short films that celebrate life in the central San Joaquin Valley, all screened in a festival format in a big movie theater — and complete with a red carpet.

The event is free. Tickets are not required, but you’re encouraged to RSVP by registering here.

Filmmaker Troy Ruff, whose work in “The Big Tell” is titled “59 Days of Code,” at work on another project. Photo / Central Valley Community Foundation

Here’s a rundown:

The idea: This is the inaugural “Big Tell” event, and it represents the Central Valley Community Foundation’s first major investment in the art of filmmaking. (One of the missions of the foundation is supporting the arts through grants.) “We have so many talented filmmakers in the Valley that we wanted to support them,” says Gretchen Moore, the foundation’s director of community engagement.

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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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In the ring with Joseph Rios

In his debut book of poetry, Fresno City College alum uses boxing as a literary device

Boxing is in Joseph Rios’ blood. So is poetry.

Which makes the location for the launch party celebrating “Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations,” his debut poetry book, rather appropriate.

Rios will give a reading 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at Heartbeat Boxing, 155 Van Ness Ave., Fresno.

Boxing and poetry: Joseph Rios will launch his new book Thursday. Photo / Rafael Cardenas

“It will be my first time reading from a boxing ring,” he says.

The Los Angeles resident grew up in the Fresno area and has strong ties to his hometown. The book uses an autobiographical-style central character named Josefo, a Chicano adolescent working and becoming a poet in the farm territories of Central California. In a daring stylistic move, Rios borrows the poetic language found in boxing lore and in the “Rocky” films.

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