StageWorks is bringing ‘Fun Home’ to Fresno

The company announces its 2018 season, which includes “The Fantasticks.” Plus: recaps from Good Company Players, Fresno City College and Reedley’s River City Theatre Company.

UPDATED: 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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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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Sing it, Sister Camille

Camille Gaston gets to tackle one of her dream roles in the Good Company Players production of “Sister Act.” Here are 10 Things to Know about her

THEATER PREVIEW

Camille Gaston’s raucously good voice, smart comic timing and magnetic stage presence has made her a mainstay in local musical theater. Now she’s tackling one of her dream roles: the larger-than-life Deloris Van Cartier, aka the “Whoopi Goldberg character,” in the Good Company Players production of “Sister Act.”

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Make a joyful noise: Camille Gaston, left, as Deloris in “Sister Act.” Photo / Good Company Players

Gaston can be a little on the shy side when she isn’t belting out a song in front of hundreds of audience members. (Lots of actors can be that way.) She’s not the kind to brag or tell self-aggrandizing stories. But with some gentle persistence from me, and a little bit of help from a couple of her closest friends, I’m able to compile this list of Ten Things to Know About Camille as she opens her newest show.

1.

Thirty-four. That’s the (whopping) number of local productions in which Gaston has appeared. Her first was “The Wiz” for GCP, in January 2009, and since then she’s done work at GCP, StageWorks Fresno, Fourth Wall Theater, Selma Arts Center, and a “few other companies” within the central San Joaquin Valley.

Her favorite role? “Gosh, I have so many. But, I have to say my all-time role was Camae in “The Mountaintop” with StageWorks Fresno. Talk about a character with depth and range. That was such a challenge, but I loved it!”

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2nd Space plays it smart with inane ‘Fools’

Good Company Players cast gives a rousing effort in this weak Neil Simon comedy

THEATER REVIEW

In Neil Simon’s “Fools,”a centuries-old curse turns everyone stupid in the small Ukrainian village of Kulyenchikov. Not just mildly ignorant, such as someone who sits all day watching reruns of “Arrested Development” on Netflix and can’t name the three branches of the U.S. government. We’re talking more in the realm of seriously mentally impaired, as in not knowing how to open a front door when someone knocks, or thinking the water that falls periodically from the sky (i.e., rain) is thrown upon them in buckets by the dastardly nobleman who lives up the hill.

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Student and teacher: Bailey Johnson, left, as Sophia, and Alex Vaux as Leon, in the 2nd Space Theatre production of ‘Fools.’ Photo / Good Company Players

For the first few scenes, maybe even half an hour, Simon blankets us with enough crisp one-liners to keep things amusing. But then the extended joke starts to feel as if it’s been left out on the counter too long, and a faint odor of decay starts to waft through the theater. The comic framework of the play starts feeling more and more rickety.

The saving grace of the new Good Company Players production of “Fools” at the 2nd Space Theatre is brisk direction (this summer smoothie glides by quickly) and a cast that wrings every last bit of humor out of a flawed script.

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‘Fools’ rush in

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux, familiar names to 2nd Space audiences, will duke it out for a change in Neil Simon’s ‘Fools’

THEATER PREVIEW

Chase Stubblefield and Alex Vaux didn’t just fall off the Russian-novel turnip truck. They know a good theater home when they see it. The pair is often found together in shows at the 2nd Space Theatre, an example of the fiercely loyal troupe of actors often found in Good Company Players productions there.

Their latest joint adventure is Neil Simon’s “Fools,” directed by Karan Johnson, a silly 1981 offering set in 19th century Russia from the famed comic playwright. Last year they played characters who were friendly with each other in three productions at 2nd Space. Now, with “Fools,” they kick off an antagonistic streak that will continue this season with “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

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Dynamic duo: Chase Stubblefield, left, and Alex Vaux in ‘Fools’ at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

I caught up with them via email to talk about the show and life offstage (what little there is of it).

Q: Let’s start off with a burning question, and please be honest with me: Are you two sure that you aren’t being held hostage by the folks at the 2nd Space Theatre? It seems like nearly every time I go to a show there, one or both of you are in it. They don’t chain you between shows and make you live in one of the dressing rooms, do they?

Alex: Haha, it certainly feels like I never leave there! I did escape briefly to Roger Rocka’s this season.

Chase: Living in the theater wouldn’t be so bad, I would save a lot on gas! It’s almost a full-time job especially when rehearsing and performing two shows at once. I like keeping myself busy though.

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Remembering Ted Esquivel

Actor and storyteller added to the greater Fresno cultural scene over the decades; supporters are raising funds for Storyland in his memory

Autumn Lindberg got used to being interrupted with her dad, Ted Esquivel, at the grocery store when people would come up and say they remembered a story he’d shared years ago.

That’s what happens when you’re a professional storyteller.

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Actor and storyteller: Ted Esquivel as the Player in the 1992 Good Company Players production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo / GCP

Esquivel, who died June 8 at age 62, knew what he was doing when it came to stories, his daughter remembers. His trick was to get the audience involved. In one classic tale of his, about a fox who gets his tail chopped off and has to jump through a bunch of hoops to get it back, Esquivel would divide the audience into sections and have one play, say, the river. He’d point at them from time to time and ask them to put up their hands to suggest a whooshing sound.

‘He got people so engaged that people would remember those stories years later,” Lindberg says.

Mr. Esquivel plied his trade at the aptly named (for him) Storyland in Roeding Park, as well as various elementary schools, private schools and camps, and youth parties and adult parties as Santa Claus, says longtime friend William Raines.

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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.

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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.

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