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

THEATER PREVIEW

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

THEATER REVIEW

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.

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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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Catch that Sunday morning fever

With a powerful performance in the leading role, Camille Gaston elevates the silly Good Company Players production of “Sister Act”

THEATER REVIEW

Camille Gaston takes us to heaven in “Sister Act,” the cheery and extravagantly disco-centric Good Company Players musical creating its own brand of nunsense at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Sometimes you just know in your soul (and ear canal) that an actor is right for a role in the first few minutes of the show, and that’s the case here: Gaston has the warmth, sass, vocal chops, comic timing and silly streak to corral the outsized role of Deloris Van Cartier, aka the “Whoopi Goldberg character,” into shape on a small stage.

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Dream sequence: Camille Gaston stars as Deloris Van Cartier in “Sister Act.” Photo / Good Company Players

The rest of the production happily trails along in Gaston’s wake, for the most part delivering a solidly feel-good, fun and tuneful musical event. The show itself as written has a much stronger first act than the second, and the opening weekend performance I attended got a little clumsy and perfunctory while wrapping up the increasingly dippy plot.

But I was still in such a glow from the shenanigans before intermission that the reservoir of goodwill kept me a fan pretty much throughout.

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Hotoda puts her mark on Fresno Philharmonic season

New music director includes five living composers in the 2017-18 season

I just received my first press release from the Fresno Philharmonic with the words “Rei Hotoda, Music Director” in big, bold letters at the top. How exciting! It means a new era has begun.

The occasion is the official announcement of the orchestra’s 2017-18 season. We already knew the outline of the season a few months ago, including guest artists and major works to be performed, but the Fresno Philharmonic waited until now to give Hotoda the chance to put her own touches on the lineup.

Rei Hotoda Portraits

One of the most impressive developments: Works by five living composers will be featured, including Fresno State’s Kenneth Froelich.

Key quotation from Hotoda: “By combining exciting and innovative works by Aaron Jay Kernis, John Adams, Kenneth Froelich, Jennifer Higdon and Tan Dun with beloved pillars of the symphonic repertoire by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Debussy, we will demonstrate how the great orchestral tradition has evolved and been enhanced by new voices from the United States and around the world. We will embrace together these extraordinary works and champion them as new staples of the classical canon.”

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Hip hop and Shakespeare at the park

Here’s a quick pick for a worthwhile mid-week event:

Fresno Pacific University and Woodward Shakespeare Festival present a Wednesday performance of the YES! (Youth Engage Shakespeare) project at the festival stage in Woodward Park.

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Ten high school students will present scenes, dances and original material from and inspired by on Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night.” A highlight will be hip hop led by Fresno Pacific senior Joy Ndombeson. The project is in its fifth year. Participants meet on the FPU campus for three weeks before going to Woodward Park for dress rehearsals and the performance.

Says project director (and FPU professor) Julia Reimer: “This is something new from the Renaissance dances of the past.”

The performance is 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, on the Woodward Shakespeare Festival Stage, near the Fort Washington entrance. Admission to the show is free. Entrance to Woodward Park is $5 per car.


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From a spark, the arts get down to business

Innovative partnership between business leaders and schools relies on a pragmatic philosophy: the arts are needed for economic survival

Here’s something to celebrate about Fresno County: Local business leaders and educators are leading the way in terms of supporting arts education in our schools.

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I got to know a lot more about the county’s innovative arts-business coalition and its SPARK! program when writing a freelance story that was posted yesterday on the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation website. The folks at Hewlett are so enamored of this program — which was originally conceived by Bob Bullwinkel at the Fresno County Office of Education and Darius Assemi of Granville Homes — that they awarded two sizable grants, totaling $280,000, to build the SPARK! program’s website and market it.

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Going beyond the genital jokes

As StageWorks Fresno opens the local premiere of “The Full Monty,” its six steelworker strippers sit down to talk about body image, gender roles and the challenges of taking off their clothes in the intimate Dan Pessano Theatre

THEATER PREVIEW

The six men who promise “The Full Monty” in the new StageWorks Fresno production are sitting in the lobby of the Dan Pessano Theatre, and there’s nary a nipple nor belly button in sight.

In just a few hours at rehearsal on  this Tuesday evening, these men will be bumping and grinding down to a state of undress that may or may not include a glimpse of what those of a Victorian sensibility might refer to as the actors’ nether regions. (We’re going to dispense with the “Will they?” or “Won’t they?” take-it-all-off tittering right at the top of this story: As an audience member, you won’t find out until the final moments of the play. And I’m not going to ruin any surprises. There will be no more coy references to that red-hot question in the words that follow.) But for now, the atmosphere is clothed and introspective.

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Let it go: James Schott plays Jerry in the StageWorks Fresno production of “The Full Monty.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Maybe stripping does that to people.

Being introspective, that is. Not the clothed part. In fact, the lack of clothes is the topic of conversation.

“I’m coming to grips with the fact that isn’t quite as easy as I thought to get down to a bunch of tighty whities in front of a bunch of people,” Aaron Pierce is saying. He plays Ethan, one of the out-of-work steelworkers in this musical adaptation of the 1997 film.

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