Beware those hungry poodles

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opens Thursday at Roger Rocka’s, is chock full of laughs. Here’s an appreciation

Could “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the musical-comedy romp being revived by Good Company Players, be the funniest Broadway musical ever?

There’s certainly a lot of competition in that category. “The Producers,” “The Book of Mormon,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Avenue Q” would all be on the list. But — to use an outrageously mixed metaphor — in terms of sheer number of laughs per square inch, “Chaperone” is a strong contender. In fact, it’s my underdog favorite. The musical is so stuffed with clever references, silly asides, brilliant non-sequiturs, droll social commentary and laugh-out-loud sight gags that you might miss some of the hilarity on first viewing.

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In the end, does love prevail? Laurie Pessano, as Mrs. Tottendale, and Charles Rabb, as Underling, in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

That’s why, to mark the opening of the show at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, I’ve compiled my list of funniest bits to watch and listen for in the show. (I asked some of the current cast members to jog my memory.) Spoiler alert: Some first-time audience members might not want to have any laughs previewed for them, so if you fall into that category, it’d be better to wait until after the show to read this piece and see how many you caught.
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A hurting ‘Mother,’ 20 years later

In StageWorks Fresno’s “Mothers and Sons,” Terrence McNally revisits characters he wrote about in 1990

Joel C. Abels saw the original Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s “Mothers and Sons” a few years back, and something about the show — which is about a sharp-tongued, homophobic mother having a tense reunion with her dead son’s former lover — really stuck with him.

“ I knew it was a play that I wanted to produce — a story I wanted to tell,” Abels says.

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Tense reunion: Billy Jack Anderson, as Cal, and Amelia Ryan, as Katharine, in “Mothers and Sons.” Photo / Ron Webb, StageWorks Fresno

The StageWorks Fresno production, which opens Friday, Sept 8, at the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium, is a Fresno premiere.

I talked with Abels, who directs the production, and Amelia Ryan, who plays the mother character, to get more of a feel for the show. Here are 10 things I learned.

1. It’s a sequel, of sorts. In 1990, McNally wrote a film titled “Andre’s Mother” that was broadcast by PBS. The film is set at the Manhattan memorial service for a gay man named Andre Gerard, who died of AIDS. Katharine, his mother, who never accepted her son’s sexuality, cannot share her grief with Cal, her son’s lover.

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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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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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A mostly sure-footed ‘Fiddler’ remains solidly on the roof

CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” includes a stellar leading performance and top-notch scenic and lighting design

THEATER REVIEW

Tevye is the sun at the center of the “Fiddler on the Roof” solar system. If he doesn’t flood you with light, gravity and nurturing, all-encompassing warmth, you might as well forget it.

That’s a major reason why CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production works as well as it does. Darren Tharp, a seasoned community-theater actor making his debut as Tevye, often shines in a booming, well crafted performance as theater history’s most famous dairyman.

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To Life: A scene from CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Photo / Kyle Lowe

His “If I Were a Rich Man” is a delightful exercise in crisp comic timing. The nostalgic “Sunrise, Sunset” is heartfelt and achingly sung. Director Scott Hancock coaxes emotion and depth from this strong and nuanced actor.

I’m still not convinced that Tharp, who recently turned 40, is quite old enough to dig into Tevye as deeply as he might in the years to come, and he finds it a little harder in the second act to command the stage like he does in the first. But it’s still a notable outing.

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