A fond adieu to 2017

I’ve already told you my Top 20 favorite cultural events for 2017. Now here are a couple of year-ender wrap-up lists that I can’t resist:

My favorite stories of the year

My criteria: It’s completely subjective. I just like how these stories came out. For some, it was the fun in reporting them, and for others the joy in writing them. (Note: Because of my hybrid year — working through May as the Fresno Bee’s arts reporter, and the remainder of the year in my new role at The Munro Review — you’ll find stories from both platforms.) Here they are in chronological order:

In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

In Delphi, a mysterious past provokes navel gazing: In this travel piece from Greece, I visit the strangely moody location where the famed oracles changed the ancient world.

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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

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A mixed ‘Annie’ at CMT, but still lots of heart

Children’s Musical Theaterworks production continues through Sunday at Veterans Memorial Auditorium


With an all-ages cast, the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” is a hybrid of community theater and children’s theater. I don’t truly “review” children’s theater, at least in terms of finding areas of improvement needed with individual performances, but I do offer my opinions on community theater. So the review that follows is also a hybrid that blends my approaches to community and children’s productions: I offer five aspects of the show I find really strong; and a couple of areas that could use some improvement.

Samantha Shaheen-Smith, center, shares the title role of Annie with Elizabeth Burbidge in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production. Photo / CMT

Overall, this “Annie” is not as accomplished as other CMT productions of the same title I’ve seen in the past. And it doesn’t reach the heights of some other CMT community theater productions. But there’s still a lot to like about the show:

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Win tickets to ‘Annie,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and Soli Deo Gloria

In this special Three in One contest, you can enter for all three events

Do you long to get out to one of this weekend’s fun cultural performances, but your budget doesn’t allow it? Perhaps my special Three in One ticket giveaway can help.

I’m giving the following away to three notable events:


• A pair of tickets to Soli Deo Gloria’s big holiday concert (7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, University Presbyterian Church), which features music from Fresno’s all-women choral ensemble. You can watch an interview with artistic director Julie Carter and hear a performance by some of the singers on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 11:20 minute mark).

• Two pairs of tickets to the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, Veterans Memorial Auditorium). You can read my preview here.

• Two pairs of family four-packs — if you’re a winner, you get four tickets — to the Central California Ballet production of “The Nutcracker” (for the 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the Saroyan Theatre). You can watch an interview with directors Shirley Winters and Carla Lippert and dancer Marin Brant on the latest video version of The Munro Review (interview starts at the 5:00 minute mark).

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Double the curls in CMT’s ‘Annie’

Children’s Musical Theaterworks opens the classic musical at Veterans Memorial Auditorium


For the holiday season, what’s better than one red-and-curly haired, endlessly optimistic little girl named Annie?

Try Annie times two.

Young performers Elisabeth “Ellie” Burbidge and Samantha Shaheen-Smith share the title role in the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Annie,” directed by Karan Johnson, which opens Friday, Dec. 1. The two Annies alternate performances. They’re both outrageously excited to get to belt out such songs as “Tomorrow” and “Maybe,” of course. Here’s a rundown on each Annie:

One of two: Samantha Shaheen-Smith plays the title role in “Annie.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks


Age: 10

School: Manchester GATE.

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Update: CMT will be back in Memorial Auditorium in 2018

UPDATE (Nov. 29): It’s official. Children’s Musical Theaterworks and the City of Fresno have come to an agreement that will allow the theater company to use Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 2018.

The city and the company are scheduled to announce the agreement in a 4 p.m. press conference. CMT officials are using the occasion to promote the opening of “Annie” on Friday and announce the beginning of 2018 season ticket sales.

Ready to go: the cast of “Annie.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

As my original story (see below) predicted, the agreement includes a provision in which CMT and any other groups that use the auditorium — which was assessed as having various safety hazards — faces specific restrictions on the use of the fly rails (the equipment used to move backdrops, scenery and scrims up and down) and the electrical equipment.

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Update: CMT and city hope to find solution to Memorial Auditorium safety issues

An upcoming walk-through and meeting at the Fresno theater could determine if Children’s Musical Theaterworks can stay in the venue through the 2018 season

Leaders of Children’s Musical Theaterworks are breathing a little easier as the week comes to a close. A panicky last weekend had them wondering if the longtime company was going to be out on the street after the first of the year.

The situation isn’t yet resolved, and there are still safety considerations to address at the city-owned Veterans Memorial Auditorium, where the company has performed for 17 years. But in a Wednesday meeting that both CMT and city officials describe as productive and positive, there were signs of possible short-term fixes that could mean the company would stay in its performance space for the already announced 2018 season. It depends on whether CMT can avoid using equipment and infrastructure that a new city assessment identified as unsafe.

A scene from the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” performed at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in July. Photo / CMT

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” city spokesman Mark Standriff told me by phone on Friday. “The most important thing is that the children in the shows are not subject to any danger. My number one concern is safety.”

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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 / historicfresno.org

“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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