Move over, America: ‘CMT’s Got Talent,’ too. And lots of it.

You can win a pair of tickets to Friday’s big Children’s Musical Theaterworks fundraiser

Everyone loves a talent show, it seems, including NBC, whose “America’s Got Talent” is so ubiquitous in August that you could go into Simon Cowell-phylactic shock. And now there’s a local Fresno version vying for your attention, thanks to Children’s Musical Theaterworks. The first ever “CMT’s Got Talent” plays Friday, Aug. 17, at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

Michael Willett
Children’s Musical Theaterworks alum Michael Willett is a featured performer at “CMT’s Got Talent.” Photo / CMT

Abigail Paxton and Hannah Huyck head the CMT creative team for the show. They helped come up with Five Things to Know about the big event:

1.

Yes, the contestants are young. And talented.

“Because CMT is a children’s company, the competitors are aged 6-18 years old,” Paxton says. “They serve as reminders that at any age, talent can be cultivated with passion and perseverance to become an impressive skill.”

Continue reading “Move over, America: ‘CMT’s Got Talent,’ too. And lots of it.”

On this ‘Island,’ the dancers rule

Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of ‘Once on This Island’ is a vibrant success

The choreography. So good! I can’t write anything about the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Once On This Island” without first mentioning the wonderful dancing. Not only are Joshua Montgomery’s smooth, Caribbean-infused moves as graceful and hypnotic as a gently swaying palm tree, the dancers themselves are impressive. I love their rhythms, their physical technique, and, more than anything, their togetherness, both in movement and in spirit — they dance as if they’re part of a greater whole.

island main

“Once On This Island,” which runs through July 22 at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, is the “bigger kids” show this summer for CMT. (And, indeed, the age of the cast members spill into their early 20s.) I don’t write traditional reviews of CMT productions (other than critiquing the adult creative team), but I often share some of the things I really liked. Here are five highlights of this clever and moving production:

1.

The ambiance. From the moment you walk into the theater, the place has an island vibe. Clotheslines with vibrant fabrics criss-cross above the heads of the audience. Two friendly palm trees on either side of the stage frame the performance space. Once the play begins, Dan Aldape’s cheerful and vivid lighting design — all the colors of shaved ice and more — cast a warm glow. (Room for improvement: the use of follow spots, which clunk up what is otherwise a smooth and sophisticated design.) Aldape’s set is clever and often quite sumptuous. The market scene outside the Hotel Beauxhomme in the second act, with street vendors working their stalls, was one of my favorite tableaux.

Continue reading “On this ‘Island,’ the dancers rule”

Children’s Musical Theaterworks and Caitlyn Lopez catch ‘Island’ fever

“Once on This Island” is getting a lot of renewed attention because of an acclaimed Broadway revival. Plus: Enter to win a four-pack of tickets

Just call her Caitlyn “Island” Lopez. In her last starring role, as Sophie in the Good Company Players production of “Mamma Mia,” she got to frolic on a picturesque Greek island. Now, as Ti Moun in the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Once On This Island,” she has the chance to call a gorgeous Caribbean island in the French Antilles home.

It’s a great role for the talented young actress, who stars in a cast that ranges in age from 8 to 23. I caught up with Lopez for an interview and to ask the burning question: If she had to choose between a vacation to a Greek island vs. a Caribbean island, which would she choose?

caitlynisland
Caitlyn Lopez plays Ti Moun in the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of ‘Once on This Island.’ Photo / Dylan Reyes

Q: Tell us a little about Ti Moune, the character you play in “Once On This Island.” Is she the kind of person you’d want to be friends with?

A: Ti Moune is a curious peasant girl who longs for more. She is ambitious, brave, and compassionate. I try to surround myself with people I can look up to, and Ti Moune would absolutely be one of those people.

Q: In the musical, four gods rule the island. How do they get along with each other? Tell us about the bet that sets up narrative of the show.

A: The gods get along fairly well, other than the conflict between Erzulie, the goddess of love, and Papa Ge, the god of death. Ti Moune prays to the gods. After hearing her prayers, the gods decide to send her on a journey to prove whether death or love is stronger.

Continue reading “Children’s Musical Theaterworks and Caitlyn Lopez catch ‘Island’ fever”

Children’s Musical Theaterworks gets extension to use Memorial Auditorium through 2019

Plus: Company announces its first “CMT’s Got Talent” fundraiser. Mark your calendars for Aug. 17

memorial

Good news for Children’s Musical Theaterworks: After nearly getting kicked out of the city-owned Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium late last year because of that aging building’s safety issues, the theater company got a one-year reprieve and was allowed to stage productions there through 2018. Now it’s been granted another one-year extension on that agreement, through 2019.

CMT board president K.C. Rutiaga tells me:

The city has agreed to allow us another season, as we have shown our diligence in seeking a donor for the theater (no news on that yet). So we are working on titles for the 2019 season and will be announcing them July 13 at the opening of “Once on This Island.”

If you recall, the city agreed to let the theater company continue to use the auditorium after a careful assessment of outstanding safety issues. For example, there are restrictions on the use of the fly rails (the equipment used to move backdrops, scenery and scrims up and down) and the electrical equipment. The estimate to fix all the theater’s problems is in the $1 million range. CMT continues to court big-ticket donors for those improvements.

Continue reading “Children’s Musical Theaterworks gets extension to use Memorial Auditorium through 2019”

5 Things to love about CMT’s ‘Legally Blonde’

Children’s Musical Theaterworks is pretty in pink for just three more performances on this closing weekend of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” I saw the show Friday night, and while I don’t write full-scale reviews of CMT productions, I often share some of the things I really liked. Here are five highlights of “Legally Blonde”:

1.

Mallory Parker soars as Elle. Her stage presence as the show’s leading character — a UCLA sorority gal who follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School — is exuberant and confident. Yet Parker also finds the quiet vulnerabilities in her character. Elle grows to realize that she doesn’t have to fulfill society’s expectations of how a woman with her background and looks is supposed to behave. This tension between entitlement and yearning, when played with empathy, makes for an empowering role.

legally blonde performance
Mallory Parker stars as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

Parker’s vocals are quite good, too, from her satisfying belt in “So Much Better” to the plaintive title song, which she sings when Harvard life seems to be falling apart. More than anything, Parker sparks a connection with the audience. It’s an impressive performance.

Continue reading “5 Things to love about CMT’s ‘Legally Blonde’”

In 2018, ‘Legally Blonde’ graduates to a new era

The director of the new Children’s Musical Theaterworks production updates the show’s message of female empowerment

THEATER PREVIEW

You’re a first-time director for Children’s Musical Theaterworks, and your assignment is “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” You find out that a special guest will be dropping by six days before opening night to help your cast prepare: none other than Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role of Elle Woods on Broadway.

Are you nervous?

Well, sure, says director Vanessa Gonzalez. Who wouldn’t be? But she took it in stride.

legally blonde
The cast of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

“There was definitely a large amount of nerves that came with preparing for the master class, but the excitement of getting feedback and the BEST set of eyes for this production truly outweighed any nerves,” she says.

I caught up this week with the busy Gonzalez, who last year choreographed CMT’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She has her hands full overseeing a production with 50 cast members ages 12-20.

Q: Tell us a little about what Bundy focused on during the class.

A: Laura Bell focused on character nuances for both principal and ensemble actors throughout the show. I selected four numbers/scenes for her to watch and she then spoke with almost every actor about their characters’ motivation and specificity during the scene. She was particularly helpful with the Delta Nu girls in developing different but complementary character types.

Continue reading “In 2018, ‘Legally Blonde’ graduates to a new era”

With the original Elle Woods on hand, CMT’s ‘Blonde’ has more fun

Laura Bell Bundy, who originated the role on Broadway, drops in for a master class with the cast of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde”

The setting on Sunday evening: The stage of the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium, soon to host opening night of the Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”

The dominant color: Pink. Would you expect anything else? The multi-level set, a series of cube-like platforms stacked on top of each other, shouts “pink” in every variation.

legally blonde group
Laura Bell Bundy, center, poses with the cast of CMT’s “Legally Blonde.” Photo / Children’s Musical Theaterworks

The star attraction: None other than Laura Bell Bundy, the original “Elle Woods” in the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde.” Bundy originated the role of Amber Von Tussle in “Hairspray” and was a standby for Kristin Chenoweth in “Wicked,” and she has a couple of TV series (“Hart of Dixie” and “Anger Management”) under her belt. In recent years, she’s increased the pulse rates of Elle Woods-in-training across the country by offering youth master classes. (“It’s such an awesome honor to see young people learning the craft of musical theater,” Bundy tells the audience.)

Continue reading “With the original Elle Woods on hand, CMT’s ‘Blonde’ has more fun”

Win tickets to see Laura Bell Bundy, Broadway’s original Elle Woods

Broadway and TV star is in Fresno on Sunday to conduct a master class and give a mini-concert in advance of Children’s Musical Theaterworks’ ‘Legally Blonde’

Welcome to Fresno, Laura Bell Bundy.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell for readers out there, then you aren’t up on your “Legally Blonde” lore. Bundy was the first Elle Woods in the Broadway musical. (And hardcore theater fans know that originating a role is a very big deal, indeed.) Bundy is in town this weekend to offer a master class and mini-concert for cast members and the general public in the upcoming Children’s Musical Theaterworks production of “Legally Blonde,” which opens Friday, April 13, at the Fresno Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

LBB Poster

And you can win a pair of tickets to the mini-concert and the CMT production of “Legally Blonde” itself!

Bundy’s master class is noon-4 p.m. Sunday, April 8, at the theater. It will follow the typical format, says CMT board president K.C Rutiaga: The cast is prepared to perform scene work, group numbers, and principal solos and duets from the show with Bundy’s guidance and suggestions. The class will take place on stage with the observing non-cast members watching up close from the audience. Bundy also will do a Q&A session with the cast and audience members involving the Broadway production of “Legally Blonde,” her career, and the industry in general. Tickets are $40.

Continue reading “Win tickets to see Laura Bell Bundy, Broadway’s original Elle Woods”