All across the alien nation

With a stellar production design and pumped-up ensemble, ‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ is a stomping good time

THEATER REVIEW

Fresno City College’s incendiary production of “Green Day’s American Idiot” opens with the cast singing a raucous version of the title song. The number unfolds with thrashing choreography on a grunge-punk-industrial set pulsing with video projections and drenched in moody lighting. Near the end, one of the show’s pivotal characters, Johnny (Josh Taber), takes a flying leap and lands on a bare mattress in the middle of the stage.

It’s a sliver of a moment in a show filled with visual and aural excess, but it caught my eye.

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Visual and aural spectacle: The cast of “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Photo / Fresno City College

Why? Because it’s so playful.

Sure, there is grit and angst aplenty in this punk-rock tale of generational disaffection. How could there not be? Its characters fight for a chance to make a difference in a country that is embroiled in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), mired in economic inequality, and pandered and sold to by a relentless corporate media. Not to mention the murky torrent of alcohol and drug abuse that washes through the show like a raging river.

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Now exploding at a City College near you

‘Green Day’s American Idiot’ makes its local premiere in a hard-charging Fresno production

THEATER PREVIEW

A decade or so ago, if you’d had the chance to peek into the childhood room of 11-year-old Marcus Cardenas, you would have seen something very important to him on the wall:

A poster for the Green Day album “American Idiot.”

Not that the young Marcus really understood all the lyrics in Green Day’s passionate and political songs. He was still pretty young. But he listened ravenously to such oft-played tunes as “Holiday” and “September.”

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Three friends: Marcus Cardenas, left, Josh Taber and Dylan Hardcastle star in the new production of “Green Day’s American Idiot.” Photo / Fresno City College

Besides, kids can still pick up on the emotionality of so-called “adult” lyrics, even ones such as Cardenas, whose parents tried to shield him from the images of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were streaming into living rooms across the country via the nightly news. When Green Day, in “Holiday,” sings, “Sieg Heil to the president gasman, Bombs away is your punishment,” it’s pretty clear that it’s no love song for George W. Bush, who was in office at the time.

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StageWorks is bringing ‘Fun Home’ to Fresno

The company announces its 2018 season, which includes “The Fantasticks.” Plus: recaps from CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP, Shine! Theatre, the Selma Arts Center, College of the Sequoias, Children’s Musical Theaterworks, Good Company Players, Fresno City College, Fresno State and Reedley’s River City Theatre Company.

UPDATE 6 (Sept. 27): The CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP cancelled its production of “Frida” at the Fresno Art Museum.

UPDATE 5 (Sept. 12): I’ve added the Fresno State theater season, which originally had its own post in May, into this roundup.

UPDATE 4 (Sept. 11): I’ve added the remainder of the 2017 season for CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP.

UPDATE 3 (Sept. 4): I’ve added the 2017-18 season for Shine! Theatre.

UPDATE 2 (Aug. 28): I’ve added the 2018 season for the Selma Arts Center.

UPDATE 1 (Aug. 13): I’ve added the seasons for Children’s Musical Theaterworks and Visalia’s College of the Sequoias.

ORIGINAL POST: Stop the digital presses: StageWorks Fresno has snagged the rights to perform “Fun Home: The Musical.” The show was nominated for an impressive 12 Tony Awards in 2015 and won five, including best musical.

In “Fun Home,” composer Jeanine Tesori and writer-lyricist Lisa Kron transform the cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s popular graphic-novel memoir, subtitled “A Family Tragicomic,” into a spare and beautiful musical.

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National tour: “Fun Home” continues on the road through the end of the year. A local production opens June 29 in Fresno. Photo / “Fun Home” tour

Bechdel’s adult self is narrator, looking back at herself as a 9-year-old navigating through childhood and as a 19-year-old college freshman embracing the fact she’s lesbian.

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‘Wrinkles’ hits another jackpot

‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,’ the latest incarnation of the annual senior revue show at Fresno City College, is packed with inspiring performances

THEATER REVIEW

Watch for the crazy tourist or you might miss her.

It’s just a small role in one number in the exceedingly well put together new production of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas.” But even with 50 other cast members on stage at the same time dressed as denizens of Sin City — a motley crew of folks portraying dealers, dancers, bartenders, cab drivers, showgirls, waitresses, singers (and, yes, a nun) — Julie Saldana managed to catch my eye.

Photo of 'New Wrinkles' program with blackjack table in the background
Table play: Even the lobby for ‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas’ has a gambling theme. Photo / Darryl Dote

She’s wearing a bright pink floral dress so loud it should come with matching earplugs. And a big, goofy purple hat that practically screams, “I am the last person in the world to carry traveller’s checks.” But what really made me laugh out loud on opening night was the priceless expression on Saldana’s face. She might only be known as Crazy Tourist in a script the audience will never see, but she gives the characterization her all.

Which is one of the things I find so charming about Fresno’s annual senior revue, now in its 29th year. The commitment of these performers to the material — and to making the audience happy — is stellar. Saldana might think she was lost in the crowd, but to me, her madcap Visitor from Other Parts is a highlight. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (May 26)

Youth Orchestras of Fresno offers season-ending extravaganza, the Fresno Community Concert Band celebrates Memorial Day, ‘Nights at the Plaza’ kicks off at Arte, and don’t forget ‘New Wrinkles’

On my list for promising cultural weekend options:

Famous violinist, famous violin

Youth Orchestras of Fresno is known for ending its seasons with a (timpani) bang, and this year is no exception. The concert “Coming Home,” which will be performed Sunday, May 28, at the Saroyan Theatre, features a professional guest artist with a big name in classical music: violinist Vadim Gluzman, the Russian-born pianist known for his many recordings and appearances with the world’s major orchestras.

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Violin superstar: Vadim Gluzman performs Sunday with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Photo / Marco Borggreve

I caught up with Gluzman by phone the day before he got on a plane to Fresno, and we talked about 1) why he’s coming to Fresno to perform with (very talented) students; 2) the famous Tchaikovsky concerto he’ll be playing; and 3) the equally famous violin he’ll be playing it on. You can read more here.

But Gluzman isn’t the only draw of the Sunday concert, which features three orchestras and 300 young musicians. A highlight will be a newly commissioned work titled “Coming Home” inspired by William Saroyan’s novel “The Human Comedy.” Four Fresno State composers — Alexander Bianco, Chris Carreon, Mason Lamb, and Matthew Wheeler, working with music composition professors Benjamin Boone and Kenneth Froelich — reference themes in Saroyan’s novel, in which home is a thinly disguised Fresno.

Boone explains the process:

The multimedia project was a collaboration between music and mass communication/journalism students. They chose a culture other than their own (Armenian, Japanese, Hmong, Hispanic, or African-American), examined their biases and interviewed people representing those cultures. The music students composed a movement for orchestra inspired by the culture, and the MCJ students selected clips from their recorded interviews for an audio montage to be used along with the composition.

The program includes Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” And the concert will close with “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez. Thomas Loewenheim conducts.

Details: 4 p.m. Sunday, May 28, Saroyan Theatre. The concert is free, but “your much-appreciated $15 or $20 (or any) donation is welcome at the door.”

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Betting on love

‘New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas’ includes cast members who liked the odds when it came to getting married in the famed gambling capital.

Cheryl Coddington’s son phoned her on a Sunday night and asked where she’d been all weekend.

“Brent and I got married in Las Vegas,” she replied.

“Yeah, right, like you’d do that,” she remembers him telling her. She was the ultra-organized mom, the career educator who planned everything weeks or months in advance. To skip off to Vegas without telling anyone — especially even her kids — was unthinkable.

A big group of more than 50 cast members in costume on stage at Fresno City College for New Wrinkles.
A chorus line: Members of the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas” pose before rehearsal begins. Photo / Donald Munro

Oh, she did it all right. And she’s been married nearly 17 years.

Coddington is sitting in the Green Room at Fresno City College, where she’s just slipped away from warm-ups for the cast of “New Wrinkles: Viva Las Vegas,” the latest incarnation of the long-running musical variety show featuring performers 55 and older. She’s in costume, wearing a glittery top with the words “Bingo Diva,” one of her roles in the show. Now in its 29th year, the annual production is one of the few senior showcases left in a country that used to be full of them.

In the spirit of the show’s theme, I asked Coddington, 63, a first-time “Wrinkler,” to share her Las Vegas matrimonial story with me. It was a third marriage for her new husband and the second for her. They’d been dating a long time, and the couple decided they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.” So they hopped in the car, made the six-hour drive to Las Vegas Boulevard and parked at the Chapel of the Bells.

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