A must-see ‘Drowsy Chaperone’

Good Company Players revives one of its best (and funniest) productions of the decade at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, and it’s just as good the second time around

THEATER REVIEW

As we stumble along on life’s crazy journey, let us give thanks for Jessica Sarkisian and Good Company Players. They make us laugh. A lot.

And laughing, along with loving, is what makes life worth living.

Why single out Sarkisian? Because she has the good fortune to play the title character in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the supremely silly and accomplished musical theater experience now on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. It isn’t just luck on Sarkisian’s part, of course: She brings to the role a wonderful voice, a crackling good sense of comic timing, a sardonic expression that could curdle almond milk, and an expert ability to approximate a slow-burn of low-level inebriation throughout a two-and-a-half hour show. (Either that, or she’s constantly sipping real vodka backstage.)

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She wants to show off: Emily Pessano, seated left, and Jessica Sarkisian, seated right, and the cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

When Sarkisian gets to the big finish in “As We Stumble Along,” her first-act show-stopper of an anthem, my favorite moment was an expertly rendered circular-path wobble in time to the music, rather like a drunken dosey doe. It’s as if her brassy vocals were saying “I’m sober enough not to slur my words,” but her feet were declaring, “I’m permanently buzzed.” I consider it a fairly magnificent accomplishment.

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Friday night brights

Two fun things I want to get out there in the big old digital world:mamma-mia-544

The first is a bit of interesting news from Good Company Players. The rights to “Mamma Mia” were just released, and the title will replace “Hairspray” in the 2018 season. Opening date is March 22.

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Beware those hungry poodles

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opens Thursday at Roger Rocka’s, is chock full of laughs. Here’s an appreciation

Could “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the musical-comedy romp being revived by Good Company Players, be the funniest Broadway musical ever?

There’s certainly a lot of competition in that category. “The Producers,” “The Book of Mormon,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Avenue Q” would all be on the list. But — to use an outrageously mixed metaphor — in terms of sheer number of laughs per square inch, “Chaperone” is a strong contender. In fact, it’s my underdog favorite. The musical is so stuffed with clever references, silly asides, brilliant non-sequiturs, droll social commentary and laugh-out-loud sight gags that you might miss some of the hilarity on first viewing.

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In the end, does love prevail? Laurie Pessano, as Mrs. Tottendale, and Charles Rabb, as Underling, in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

That’s why, to mark the opening of the show at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, I’ve compiled my list of funniest bits to watch and listen for in the show. (I asked some of the current cast members to jog my memory.) Spoiler alert: Some first-time audience members might not want to have any laughs previewed for them, so if you fall into that category, it’d be better to wait until after the show to read this piece and see how many you caught.
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Ain’t nothing but a hound fog

Top-notch scenic and costume design help elevate Good Company Players’ snappy “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a Sherlock Holmes mystery

THEATER REVIEW

I’m going to flout theater-criticism etiquette and tell you upfront “whodunit” in the new Good Company Players production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”:

David Pierce and Ginger Kay Lewis Reed.

Before you get huffy with me, no worries: You won’t actually find these two folks on stage, of course. (What, did you think I was going to give away the killer in this Sherlock Holmes mystery?) These theatrical wizards are the scenic and costume designers, respectively, for the show, and their names are so familiar to GCP patrons that their names are likely to fly right by when you’re perusing the program or reading a review. Perhaps behind-the-scenes artists can be too proficient at their jobs: If you keep churning out excellence, show after show, it just becomes expected.

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Deadly game: Gordon Moore, left, as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” In the background: Alex Vaux as Sir Henry and Henry Montelongo as Watson. Photo / Good Company Players

So what did Pierce and Lewis Reed “do” to deserve being singled out in the brisk and enjoyable “Hound”?

I’m not exactly sure why this GCP show is different from the dozens upon dozens of times I’ve seen their work before, but something about it makes me want to call out and take notice. Pierce’s handsome set perfectly captures the feel of a melancholy English manor house, from its jumble of tapestries, stone facings and wallpaper on the walls to the glass-doored exit leading to the mysterious (and deadly) moor beyond.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Aug. 25)

Three theater openings this weekend at Good Company Players, Selma Arts Center and River City Theatre Company

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:

Suddenly Sherlock

You’d get a little antsy, too, if you inherited a grand English estate that includes a scary beast with glowing eyes determined to chew you to a pulp. That’s the premise of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a Sherlock Holmes thriller in its opening weekend at Good Company Players. After talking with director J.J. Cobb, I offer with five things to know about the show:

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Elementary casting: Gordon Moore as Sherlock Holmes in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Photo / Good Company Players

1. For Gordon Moore fans, it’s a must-see. Moore plays Sherlock Holmes. He’s a longtime GCP veteran actor, and if you’ve seen him in enough shows, the role seems like perfect casting. Holmes, with sidekick Dr. Watson (Henry Montelongo) arrives at the estate of Sir Henry (Alex Vaux) in Devonshire, England to help solve mysterious deaths all linked to a gigantic, demonic hound. Adding to the intrigue: a set of servants with questionable loyalties and several peculiar neighbors.

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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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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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