As the Smith sisters sing farewell to ‘Annie,’ they’re happy for the good knocks in life

Joy, Anna and Charity Smith have relished the chance to play orphans together on stage

The Smith household in northwest Fresno is about as far away from Austria as you can get, but as I take a seat in the comfy living room, I can’t help but think of “The Sound of Music.” There are five children in the Smith family — from eldest to youngest, Michael, Tim, Anna, Joy and Charity — and they’ve all been stellar performers in Good Company Players productions over the years. If we could get Wendy (Mom) and Patrick (Dad) in the act, we’d have the Fresno version of the Von Trapp Family Singers.

Three sisters: Charity, left, Joy and Anna Smith with dog Harry in the Good Company Players production of “Annie.” Photo / Wendy Smith

But today we’re here to talk about “Annie,” which ends its successful run on Sunday, March 18, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. The three younger sisters all have significant roles in the show. Joy plays Annie herself. (In my review, I write that she “has that certain spark on stage that suggests big things to come.”) Anna, 15, is July, the streetwise older orphan, while the youngest, Charity, 8, plays Molly, the spunky scene-stealer. Even the Smith family dog, Harry, gets in on the act in the role of Sandy.

It’s been quite a hectic and fulfilling few months for all of the Smiths, but particularly for 12-year-old Joy, who has relished every red-headed moment of the run. I sat down with the three girls and their mother for a closing-weekend debriefing.

Donald: First off, I just have to ask: Why do you think there’s so musical talent in your family? Is it something in the genes?

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Don’t be a crab: Win tickets to Junior Company Foundation fundraiser

UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Charles Rabb.

ORIGINAL POST: If you love crab, this one is for you. If you love the thought of uber-talented young people getting tremendous training for musical theater, this one’s for you, too. I’m giving away a pair of tickets to the big Junior Company Foundation 4th Annual Crab Feed on Tuesday, March 6, at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.


Proceeds benefit the Junior Company and its scholarship program. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and dinner starts at 6. Tickets are $65.

To enter my giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite way to eat crab. Is it crab cakes? Crab salad? Crab smoothies? Or just good old fashioned cracked crab? (Or if you’re too shy to share your culinary tastes, just tell us what you think the Junior Company means to Fresno.)

Deadline to enter is 7 p.m. Monday, March 5. I’ll be picking the winner at random soon after, so keep a watch on your email. May the biggest crab lover win.

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Good Company serves up a Neil Simon fix with ‘Star-Spangled Girl’

Director J. Daniel Herring talks about the 2nd Space Theatre production, which runs through April 22

Sometimes you just need a little Neil Simon in your life.

Good Company Players takes us back to the 1960s with Simon’s “Star-Spangled Girl,” a period comedy that mixes laughs and politics — but in a way that’s far removed from the partisan rancor of 2018. Don’t worry: Your after-theater cocktails won’t end in fisticuffs.

Fresno State theater professor J. Daniel Herring is directing this vintage Simon experience. He took a break out of his busy schedule to chat about the show.

Paige Tucker plays Sophie Rauschmeyer in “The Star-Spangled Girl” at the 2nd Space Theatre. Photo / Good Company Players

Q: Set the scene for us. What sort of “America,” in terms of time and place, does the show take place in?

A: “The Star-Spangled Girl” takes place in the late 1960s in San Francisco at a time when the search for truth, defining patriotism and the roles of men and women in a changing world are in the daily headlines. And, just as with many 1960s television shows, like Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In,” these topics are examined in a humorous and somewhat lighthearted manner with a biting truth underscoring many of the scenes.

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GCP’s ‘Annie’ is anchored by a wonderful performer. Hint: She has red hair.

Production continues at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater through March 18


“Annie” is a joy.

Annie is a Joy.

That second sentence is not redundant.

“Annie” — a musical so sweet and sentimental that experiencing a good rendition of it can be like injecting liquid candy corn directly into your veins — gets a crisp and loving new production by Good Company Players. Director Emily Pessano knows when to turn on the charm at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater and when to steer clear of cuteness overload. Heartfelt, amusing and with just the right touch of acerbic crackle, this “Annie” feels accomplished and fresh.

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Joy Smith plays the title role in “Annie.” Photo / Good Company Players

As for Annie the 11-year-old red-haired orphan, that plucky Broadway symbol of indefatigable optimism, let me introduce you to Joy.

Joy Smith, that is. Most Annies alternate the demanding role — on Broadway they had three, and that doesn’t count understudies — but Joy handles the task by herself, thank you very much. From the moment I heard her deliver a pert and satisfying “Maybe,” the plaintive anthem of orphans everywhere, I found myself captivated by this Junior Company veteran.

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In quick and witty ‘Sense,’ Jane Austen meets the 21st Century

Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility” at the 2nd Space Theatre is a breezy adaptation


I’ve had the pleasure of watching Mary Piona and Patricia Hoffman portray many characters in 2nd Space Theatre productions over the years, but on this night they’re playing a type of role I’ve never seen them do before:


You read that correctly. In one of dozens of charming bits of theatricality you’ll encounter in the new Good Company Players production of “Sense and Sensibility,” Piona and Hoffman literally play furniture. They’re human manifestations of a late 18th Century bedroom set.

Tight-knit Dashwood family: Julia Reimer, left, as Mrs. Dashwood; Na’vauge Jackson, as Marianne, Gigi Dickerson, as Margaret; and Jessica Knotts, as Elinor.

In a comic tableau that upends the audience’s point of view, it’s as if we’re looking down from the ceiling upon the marital bed of the noxious John and Fanny Dashwood, who are staying up late figuring out new ways to treat John’s half-sisters badly. (One of the key plot points of Jane Austen’s classic tale of love and money is that after the death of their father, John inherits the whole estate while Elinor and Marianne, his wonderful sisters, get booted out of the family home.) If you’ve seen “Hairspray” on stage, you’ll recognize the visual perspective: It’s just like when a propped-up Tracy Turnblad in the opening scene is depicted lying in bed as she belts out “Good Morning Baltimore.”

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Making sense of a new ‘Sensibility’

With its new “Sense and Sensibility,” Good Company Players gives a fresh coat of paint to the Jane Austen classic

Jane Austen’s classic “Sense and Sensibility” gets a rousing and quick-moving new adaptation at Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre. How quick? Just as in the recent New York production, the furniture in the Fresno version is on rollers — which makes it all the easier to whisk the set pieces around.

Na’ Vauge Jackson, left, is Marianne, and Jessica Rose Knotts is Elinor in “Sense and Sensibility.” Photo / Good Company Players

Director Kathleen McKinley is known for her long career working with students at Fresno State, but she’s getting out into the community with this production, now in its opening weekend. I caught up with her to talk about the show.

Q: Tell us about this new adaptation.

A: Written by New York City actress Kate Hamill, this adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” premiered in 2014 to rave reviews. The play compresses the action of the book to focus on the adventures and plight of a widow and her three daughters who are left penniless due to British inheritance laws of the 1790’s. They are evicted from their manor home by a greedy daughter-in-law and must rely upon the generosity of enthusiastic, but nosey, boisterous relatives who are intent upon finding husbands for the daughters. As the Dashwood women resettle in a tiny cottage, the two older daughters, Elinor and Marianne, are thrust into the company of bachelors, both eligible and not, along with intrusive socialites both in the country and London.

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Now streaming: the January episode of ‘The Munro Review’

A special thanks to the cast of Selma Arts Center’s “Spring Awakening” for being my January guests on “The Munro Review,” produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC). I interview director Dominic Grijalva and actors Kindle Lynn Cowger and Kai DiMino about the production, which opens Jan. 26, and host two musical performances from the entire cast. They sound great. You don’t want to miss it.

Plus, I recap my coverage of Good Company’s “A Christmas Carol,” Fresno State’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” CMT’s “Annie,” Good Company’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” and Audra McDonald’s upcoming concert with the Fresno Philharmonic. And I preview Good Company’s “Sense and Sensibility” and “Annie,” tell you about a quirky little show called “Calculus: The Musical,” discuss the upcoming national tour of “Kinky Boots,” and give a shout-out to the Fresno Art Museum’s winter exhibitions.

You can watch the episode on demand on YouTube (above). And you can see it on broadcast TV on CMAC 1 (Comcast 93, AT&T 99) the following dates:

Monday, January 1 – 8:00 pm
Wednesday, January 3 – 8:00 pm
Friday, January 5 – 2:30 pm
Sunday, January 7 – 12:30 pm

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For Miranda Rae Mayo and Michael J. Willett, they’ll always be Juniors

Two illustrious alumni of Good Company Players return to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater for a performance that benefits the Junior Company Foundation

She blazes her way into your living room on NBC’s “Chicago Fire.” Last year he finished a three-season run starring in the MTV series “Faking It.” In Hollywood, these two accomplished actors are successful professionals with long lists of credits on their IMDB pages and bright futures ahead of them.

But put twentysomethings Miranda Rae Mayo and Michael J. Willett back onto the small stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater in Fresno, and it’s like they’re in elementary school once again, wearing their first names on their T-shirts.

“Everything I do moving forward is forever affected by this experience of coming home,” Miranda tells me. “It’s all about remembering where you came from. There’s this voice that kind of goes off in my head that says, ‘It’s just Fresno.’ But that’s where I’m from.”

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