The stars at night are big and bright

StageWorks Fresno offers a fundraising night of food, drink and musical performances

StageWorks Fresno transformed the Fresno Art Museum’s sculpture garden into a Broadway cabaret Saturday night at “Theatre Under the Stars,” the non-profit company’s big annual fundraiser. I collected digital autographs of StageWorks performers and artistic personnel. For videos of some of the performances, check out my Instagram Story. Find me on Instagram at @donaldmunroarts (and follow me!).

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Donald’s list: weekend choices (May 19)

Cristobal Selamé performs at Bitwise, Bach Children’s Choir offers spring concert, and the Fresno Art Museum opens new exhibitions

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Classical guitar

Bitwise Industries is transforming the local technology industry, and it’s becoming a player in the cultural scene as well thanks to its 160-seat John W. Dodson Theater. The venue hosts Chilean classical guitar virtuoso Cristobal Selamé in a Sunday concert.

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Classical guitarist: Cristobal Selamé will play at Bitwise. Photo /

The event, which is sponsored by California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — Central Valley District, benefits the Helena Kennedy Memorial Scholarship for Fresno State dietetic and nutrition students. Selamé is Helena Kennedy’s nephew.

From the organizers:

The 21-year- old Selamé recently completed studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music under legendary Brazilian guitarist and composer Sérgio Assad, a Grammy Award winner who called his pupil an “upcoming new master.” Selamé has won a number of important classical guitar competitions and was recently accepted into the master’s program at the prestigious Academy of Music in Darmstadt, Germany, under the instruction of the world-renowned musician Tilman Hoppstock.

Sounds like a great opportunity for classical guitar fans, and it’s a worthy cause. (And no extra calories.) Details: 2 p.m. Sunday, May 21, Bitwise South Stadium. $15 in advance through Eventbrite and $17 on the day of the event if tickets remain.

Continue reading “Donald’s list: weekend choices (May 19)”

Three strikes and you’re dancing

Good Company Players choreographer Julie Lucido gets a baseball crash course in ‘Damn Yankees’

Spend any time with Dan Pessano, director of the new Good Company Players production of “Damn Yankees,” and you quickly learn about two great loves of his life: theater and baseball.

It’s no surprise, then, that Julie Lucido, the musical’s choreographer — and not a big baseball fan herself — was a little apprehensive going into the production.

Locker room talk: Jesse McCoy and the cast of ‘Damn Yankees.’ Photo / Good Company Players

“A baseball show with Dan? Yes, I was a bit nervous, especially as I tried to merge dance moves with baseball terms,” she says.

The classic musical is packed with numerous insider baseball references related not only to the 1950s, when it’s set, but also to the structure and nuances of the game, including pitching and umpire signs. Which meant an internet crash course for Lucido.

I caught up with her via Facebook messenger to talk about satisfying a baseball-loving director.

Q: Are you a big baseball fan yourself?

A: I don’t even have a favorite team, but fun fact: In high school I was a stats girl for the baseball team for a year which gave me a little introduction and kept be out of trouble after school.

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Undressing the part

National touring production of ‘Cinderella’ soars visually at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre


If only deciding what to wear to an important event were this easy.

When our heroine makes her first big transformation in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” she shifts in a flash from peasant frock to a gorgeous gown and pair of glass slippers, all thanks to a nod from her fairy godmother.

Cinderella isn’t any different “inside” now that she’s wearing that elegant dress. But fashion isn’t so much about utility as it is about making a statement about one’s position in a hierarchical society. You don’t get to go the ball if you’re dressed in rags.

Union of the crowns: Hayden Stanes, Tatyana Lubov and the company of ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.’ Photo / © Carol Rosegg

The moment, then, is important not only in terms of the storyline but also to the show’s underlying theme. And the national touring production, which opened Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre, does it in spectacular fashion.

William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costumes in the 2013 Broadway adaptation were highly praised at the time. I’d even watched on video the onstage moment when Cinderella’s dress transforms from peasant garb to exquisite garment in a matter of seconds. But to see the metamorphosis of Long’s creations live is downright thrilling, particularly the first big fairy-godmother-blessed moment, when Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov) swirls into a multi-layer white confection studded with jewels.

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Full Fresno State theater season announced

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a new faculty member, will direct ‘Lydia’

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Photo / University of Kansas

Fresno State’s theater department today announced its complete 2017-18 season — and in the process introduced its newest tenure-track faculty member to the community.

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a theater instructor and doctoral student at the University of Kansas, will direct Octavio Solis’ “Lydia” March 16-24. The other five shows in the season were previously announced, with a “TK” indicated for the performance slot that “Lydia” now fills.

From her Linked In page:

Gina Sandí-Díaz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Theatre, University of Kansas. She is also an actor, director and theatre for social change facilitator. Originally from Costa Rica, she has done extensive Applied Theatre projects in vulnerable communities including prisons, psychiatric institutions and earthquake relief areas. Her academic interests include Performance Studies, Latin American Theatre and Performance, Latin@ Theatre in the U.S. and Theatre for Social Change.

With this new hire, Fresno State appears to be putting a new emphasis on Latino theater, which is a welcome development for the theater department and the surrounding community.

The rest of the season:

Sept. 29-Oct. 7: “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” by Sam Shepard. Directed by J. Daniel Herring.

Oct. 27-Nov. 4: “Native Son,” by Nambi E. Kelley, based on the Richard Wright novel. Directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis.

Dec. 1-9: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brad Myers.

Feb. 16-24: Contemporary Dance Ensemble, Kenneth Balint, artistic director.

May 4-12: “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Kathleen McKinley.

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StageWorks star power

Annual ‘Theatre Under the Stars’ fundraiser moves to the Fresno Art Museum

It’s been a little chilly at night the past few weeks, (and how glorious that has been), but if the weather forecast holds up, Saturday is shaping up to be downright toasty. The plus side to that: It will make for a perfect outdoors evening for “Theatre Under the Stars,” the annual StageWorks Fresno fundraiser.

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A scene from last year’s ‘Theatre Under the Stars.’ Photo / StageWorks Fresno

Here’s a rundown:

The event: Now in its third year, this is StageWorks Fresno’s most important (and only) fundraiser of the year. It’s being held in the sculpture garden of the Fresno Art Museum.

The backstory: For the first two years, the event was held in the garden of Deb & David Reuland. “Having outgrown the space, we are extremely excited to be moving to the museum,” says StageWorks’ Jennifer Lewis, the company’s business manager. Last year’s event raised more than $21,000, which helped fund the 2016 season.

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For ‘Cinderella’ opening, a princess diary

Ashley Taylor (or that’s ‘Lady Ashley’ to you) offers 5 things to know about the touring Broadway musical


For many years, the Fresno-area theater community was blessed with the presence of Ashley Taylor. She was known for many things, among them: 1) her terrific voice; 2) her warm and generous stage presence; and 3) her complete and utter fixation with All Things Royal. I became aware of Ashley’s passion for princesses gradually over time — a Facebook post here, a genuflection to the Disney canon there — and knew that if I ever needed to call on someone with expertise on anything to do with tiaras, she’d be my source.

Curbside palace service: Brian Liebson, Tatyana Lubov and Arnie Rodriguez in ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.’ Photo / © Carol Rosegg

Ashley (yes, she is on a first-name basis with this blog) now lives in a land of highrise castles called Manhattan and goes to local theater there (um, Broadway) on a regular basis, but she’ll always be connected to the hamlet of Fresno’s theater scene. Which is why I asked her to help me preview the national tour of “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” which opens Tuesday, May 16, at the Saroyan Theatre. (I also asked her to give us a bonus royal update on Broadway’s new “princess hit,” the musical “Anastasia.”)

She tells me:

It’s time to break out the tiaras! I saw the show twice on Broadway and was completely enchanted (pun intended). So if you’re going, or thinking about going, here are five things to know. (No spoilers, obviously. I’m not like that).

Take it away, Ashley:

Continue reading “For ‘Cinderella’ opening, a princess diary”

An important review for Mai Der Vang

The New Yorker praises Fresno poet’s ‘Afterland,’ a piercing look at the Secret War in Laos

Let’s take a moment and revel with Fresno’s Mai Der Vang, whose poetry continues to get the kind of career-boosting national attention that could amplify her into a major voice. The latest pronouncement is a laudatory review in the New Yorker.

Critic Dan Chiasson makes Vang’s new book, the haunting and powerful “Afterland,” the leading item in a roundup of two “remarkable, virtuosic collections from young poets.” Vang’s book, published by Graywolf Press after she won the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, the nation’s most valuable first-book prize for a poet, is a complicated reflection on the “Secret War” in Laos during the Vietnam War era.

A featured spread in The New Yorker. Photo / Shane Moreman

When I interviewed Vang in April when “Afterland” was released, I asked her if the title alludes to ancestors in the Hmong perception of life after death. Or does it have to do with refugees traveling to a new home?

Her reply:

I think “Afterland” can be any place, terrain or geography in the aftermath of a crisis or conflict. It can be an individual experience or a collective experience rooted in a people’s historical memory. It certainly has to do with the after-place of the refugee, but it also has to do with the after-place of that post-war country from which the refugee has just fled. And in the obvious sense, I found myself also exploring the after-place of the spirit.

Continue reading “An important review for Mai Der Vang”