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

A special thanks to the cast of Selma Arts Center’s “Spring Awakening” for being my January guests on “The Munro Review,” produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I interview director Dominic Grijalva and actors Kindle Lynn Cowger and Kai DiMino about the production, which opens Jan. 26, and host two musical performances from the entire cast. They sound great. You don’t want to miss it.

Plus, I recap my coverage of Good Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” Fresno State’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” CMT’s “Annie,” Good Company’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and Audra McDonald’s upcoming concert with the Fresno Philharmonic. And I preview Good Company’s “Sense and Sensibility” and “Annie,” tell you about a quirky little show called “Calculus: The Musical,” discuss the upcoming national tour of “Kinky Boots,” and give a shout-out to the Fresno Art Museum’s winter exhibitions.

You can watch the episode on demand on YouTube (above). And you can see it on broadcast TV on CMAC 1 (Comcast 93, AT&T 99) the following dates:

Monday, January 1 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, January 3 – 8:00 pm
Friday, January 5 – 2:30 pm
Sunday, January 7 – 12:30 pm

To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:

Odd ‘Cirque Dreams’ leaves me in a daze

Gaudy production of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” which continues through Wednesday at the Saroyan Theatre, can’t decide if it wants to be hip, weird or dark


I don’t mean to be a Grinch, but … a standing ovation for “Cirque Dreams Holidaze”? That was the scene on opening night at the Saroyan Theatre. I offer a minority viewpoint: In terms of warranting that kind of enthusiasm, this nog was a few eggs short.


Yes, I admit there were some impressive contortions of human bodies going on in this glittery national tour, along with a lineup of appealing aerial trapeze performances. And, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed several wonderful acts (including a quick-change costume routine that left me gaping and a deft and low-key “reverse juggling” experience that involved bouncing balls off the floor instead of throwing them in the air). But, overall, this show is sort of weird and even a little creepy, culminating in perhaps the most bizarre setting of the song “O Holy Night” that I’ve ever encountered. (The production continues Wednesday for one more performance.) Here’s my categorical rundown:

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In ‘Cirque Dreams Holidaze,’ more than reindeer fly

Win a special prize package that includes tickets for opening night and dinner for two at Cosmopolitan Tavern

UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Heather Rhodes!

ORIGINAL POST: Jill Winters is scared of heights.

But that doesn’t stop the creative and music director for Cirque Dreams from tracking down performers who are most definitely unafraid of heights to appear in her shows. From thousands of audition tapes she receives each year from circus artists, Winters travels the world seeking out a select few, from Russia to Ethiopia. The aim is to recruit these stellar professionals into one of her “Cirque” shows touring the United States.

The cast of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze.”

You’ll get to see some of the best of those performers in “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” which plays Tuesday, Dec. 19, and Wednesday, Dec. 20, at the Saroyan Theatre as part of the Broadway in Fresno series. (Scroll down for a chance to enter my ticket giveaway, which includes dinner for two at Cosmopolitan Tavern and free parking for the evening.) I got the chance to chat with Winters by phone about the show. Here are Five Things to Know:

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On tap tonight at the Saroyan: 8 more murders

Comic romp ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’ continues for one more Fresno performance


There shouldn’t be anything inherently funny about watching a man run for his life from a swarm of bees. But that’s the slapstick appeal of the frothy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” which opened Tuesday, Nov. 28, at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre for a two-night run. (It plays again Wednesday evening.)

At the door: Colleen McLaughlin, Blake Price and Erin McIntyre in the national tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

I saw the original Broadway production (which won the Tony Award for best musical) starring Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham, and other than the fact that the Saroyan is probably three times the size of the original performance venue, I’m happy to say that much of the show’s chipper intimacy (and the original direction, by Darko Tresnjak) is preserved. Here’s a capsule review:

Continue reading “On tap tonight at the Saroyan: 8 more murders”

Win tickets (and dinner) to ‘Gentleman’s Guide’

Special prize package for opening night includes tickets, dinner at Cosmopolitan Tavern and parking

IMG_1842UPDATE: Our winner is Joseph Hypes of Merced. His lucky number is now 67. Special thanks to Cosmopolitan Tavern and Broadway in Fresno for making this giveaway possible.

ORIGINAL POST: Sometimes it can be hard to take a chance on a musical with which you’re not familiar. Especially a professional production — with corresponding ticket prices.

That might be the case with “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” the 2012 Tony Award winner for best musical, which opens Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Saroyan Theatre.

But what if you got to go for free?

You can read all about the show in my interview with James Taylor Odom, who plays the leading role(s) in this comic murder romp set in Edwardian England.

And you can enter my ticket giveaway, which is a special prize package: a pair of tickets to the opening night performance, dinner for two at the Cosmopolitan Tavern (conveniently located in the convention center parking lot) and free downtown parking.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite menu item at Cosmo, as the long-time Fresno restaurant is often affectionately called. (If you’ve never eaten there, that’s OK, too; pick something from the dinner menu you’d like to try.)

Deadline to enter is 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27. Winner selected at random. I’ll be notifying the winner on Monday evening, so be sure to check your email. Please don’t enter if you won’t be able to attend.

To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:


By the numbers: ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder’

James Taylor Odom, who plays 8 characters in the national tour, talks about his quickest costume change and more in the fast-paced musical

There’s nothing like a slew of Tony Award nominations to catapult a small, little known musical into the big time. Such was the enchanted fate of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” a fast-paced romp that captured Broadway’s adulation in 2014.

Without that acclaim, there’d be no way a show with little name recognition outside New York would ever tour to medium sized cities such as Fresno. But that’s the case with “Gentleman’s Guide,” part of the Broadway in Fresno series, which opens Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre for a two-night run. (This production is the second national tour of the show featuring a non-Equity cast.)

James Taylor Odom, right, plays eight characters in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

I got to see the original Broadway production, so I can tell you that this strikingly original musical (with book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak) is clever, silly and tuneful.

For a chance to win a special prize package (a pair of tickets to Fresno’s opening night performance, a meal for two at Cosmopolitan Tavern and free downtown parking), click here to enter our giveaway.

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Fresno, meet the real Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

At Sunday’s final performance of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,’ the famed composer-lyricist team was in the audience

The setting: the final Sunday evening performance of “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre.

The special audience members: In the crowd were none other than the real-life Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, famed composer-lyricist team that wrote such tunes as “Uptown” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” who are major characters in “Beautiful.”

Blast from the past: The real Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were in the Saroyan Theatre audience Sunday night for the last Fresno show of “Beautiful: The Carole King Story.” Photo / Julie Dana

Behind-the-scenes: I caught up with Fresno City College’s Julie Dana, who was in the audience, for the inside scoop. Her husband, Mike, found out early: He was playing in the pit orchestra, and the conductor told the instrumentalists there would be changes in the “bows” music at the end of the show so that Mann and Weil could be acknowledged. The cast wasn’t informed they were there beforehand.

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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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