Donald’s notes: Constantine Pappas gets big break in ‘Phantom’

Quick updates on Miles Gaston Villanueva, the Selma Arts Center Awards, some stylish GCP housewives, Heidi Blickenstaff in ‘Freaky Friday,’ and a last word on the Fresno Philharmonic’s new music director

A roundup of stuff on the arts beat that recently caught my eye:

‘Let the Dream Begin’: A national Raoul

If you spent any time taking in the local opera scene in recent years, you knew the talented and charismatic Constantine Pappas — and probably guessed that he was going big places. From memorable roles at the California Opera Association to strong performances with Fresno State Opera Theatre as a voice major, Pappas offered a voice and dynamic stage presence that was hard to miss.

Photograph of Constantine Pappas made up as an old man and a young man.
All made up: Constantine Pappas in a recent rehearsal as Raoul (both old and young) in the national tour of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’

After a stint singing on a cruise ship and time doing some smaller stage roles, including a Connecticut run in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Pappas was set to appear in a summer production of “The Fantasticks” at Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora. Then he got the call from his agent: He’d just landed a role understudying the character of Raoul in the national tour of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

That’s a big deal. This is the same big first-tier production that toured through Fresno in 2016, complete with a redesigned massive set and impressively sized orchestra.

Continue reading “Donald’s notes: Constantine Pappas gets big break in ‘Phantom’”

Summer Arts drought officially ends

At a swanky party, Fresno arts community turns out to welcome return of a beloved summer institution

Welcome back, Summer Arts.

After five years spent cooling down in the climes of Monterey Bay, the California State University’s acclaimed summer program is back in Fresno. And I can already tell you that in terms of community reception, things are heating up. On Wednesday night a large group of supporters descended upon the Woodward Lake home of Armen and Dan Bacon to celebrate the return of the program (which kicks off June 26 and runs in two sessions through July 23) and raise money for student scholarships.

Summer Arts is an immersive session for students from all over California who get to work with world-class artists. There’s a great payoff for the community, too, in a series of public performance events.

Fresno State hosted Summer Arts for a monumental 13 years before the program scooted off to the coast, and the university was reluctant to see it go. Now that it’s back, I’m excited about covering some of the remarkable artists and students coming to Fresno.

I collected digital autographs of some of the people at the party, including key Summer Arts movers and shakers.

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Full Fresno State theater season announced

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a new faculty member, will direct ‘Lydia’

Sandi Diaz_Gina pic2
Photo / University of Kansas

Fresno State’s theater department today announced its complete 2017-18 season — and in the process introduced its newest tenure-track faculty member to the community.

Gina Sandí-Díaz, a theater instructor and doctoral student at the University of Kansas, will direct Octavio Solis’ “Lydia” March 16-24. The other five shows in the season were previously announced, with a “TK” indicated for the performance slot that “Lydia” now fills.

From her Linked In page:

Gina Sandí-Díaz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Theatre, University of Kansas. She is also an actor, director and theatre for social change facilitator. Originally from Costa Rica, she has done extensive Applied Theatre projects in vulnerable communities including prisons, psychiatric institutions and earthquake relief areas. Her academic interests include Performance Studies, Latin American Theatre and Performance, Latin@ Theatre in the U.S. and Theatre for Social Change.

With this new hire, Fresno State appears to be putting a new emphasis on Latino theater, which is a welcome development for the theater department and the surrounding community.

The rest of the season:

Sept. 29-Oct. 7: “A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations),” by Sam Shepard. Directed by J. Daniel Herring.

Oct. 27-Nov. 4: “Native Son,” by Nambi E. Kelley, based on the Richard Wright novel. Directed by Thomas-Whit Ellis.

Dec. 1-9: “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brad Myers.

Feb. 16-24: Contemporary Dance Ensemble, Kenneth Balint, artistic director.

May 4-12: “A Streetcar Named Desire,” by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Kathleen McKinley.

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Gently, with a chainsaw

Fresno State’s ‘Heathers’ offers a caustic and funny take on people just dying to get ahead


“Welcome to my candy store,” sing the Heathers, that beautiful and terrifying clique of alpha females who rule Westerberg High. Just like Skittles, these three “popular” girls are glossy, artificially colored and probably bad for you. As the reigning triumvirate at the top of Westerberg’s social hierarchy, they wield power with a ruthlessness and cunning that could make a dictator sit up and take notice.

HeathersTheMusical PhotoBy James Ramirez
A lunch tray genuflection to the ruling class in ‘Heathers the Musical.’ Photo / James Ramirez

I appreciate the candy store reference, because for me, any chance to experience “Heathers” makes me feel like a kid in one. I’m a fan both of the classic 1988 movie and the 2014 off-Broadway musical adaptation. (I already got a chance to revel in the show when Selma Arts Center offered the local stage premiere last summer.) I’m a big enough fan of the material that I’m going to laugh out loud every time I hear “Grow up, Heather, Bulimia’s so ‘87.”

Does that mean that when going into the new Fresno State production of “Heathers: The Musical,”  I would be hyper-critical? Or more forgiving?

I think a little of both. I have definite, deep-rooted views on how this audaciously dark satirical romp steeped in the zeitgeist of the late 1980s — famed for its memorable teen lingo, it’s an experience that manages to be both acerbically funny and downright grim in terms of human nature — should unfold. At the same time, I love the show so much that getting to see it with a new directorial vision is exciting in itself.

Continue reading “Gently, with a chainsaw”