Audrey power

StageWorks Fresno’s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ gives us a memorable Audrey, and her namesake chews up the scenery to perfection

THEATER REVIEW

The plant steals the show in StageWorks Fresno’s chipper “Little Shop of Horrors,” which is as it should be. Carnivorous leafy life forms are a rarity in the musical theater canon, especially ones that sing and dance, and the plant is a big part of why this much-loved musical has become a community-theater staple. I envy neophyte audience members to this show who get to experience that voice — and those moves — for the first time.

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Knockout performance: Abigail Nolte, right, is a standout in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

It actually takes two actors to make Audrey II, as the mysterious plant is known, do its thing in the Fresno Art Museum’s Bonner Auditorium. Will Bishop, who voices the plant, is terrific. He brings a wry edge and an excellent singing voice to the role, paying homage both to its Motown roots while still finding his own contemporary take. And Logan Cooley, as the “body,” is spot-on in terms of the plant’s movements, connecting with and adding to Bishop’s artistic interpretation.

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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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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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Like a star, Ryan burns white-hot in ‘Mother’

In StageWorks Fresno’s “Mothers and Sons,” Amelie Ryan gives an indelible performance, though the play itself can feel dogmatic at times

THEATER REVIEW

The opening moments of StageWorks Fresno’s “Mothers and Sons” are remarkable. When the lights go up, we see a man and woman standing next to each other, about as much awkward distance between them as in a police lineup, both staring straight ahead. The silence hanging between them is thick and uncomfortable, verging on excruciating. When they finally murmur some strained small talk to each other about the landmarks of the New York skyline, it becomes clear: The theater’s “fourth wall” in this production is a large picture window with a sweeping view of Central Park.

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Tense encounter: Amelia Ryan, left, as Katharine, and Billy Jack Anderson, as Cal in “Mothers and Sons.” Photo / StageWorks Fresno

I was captivated by the non-verbals in this moment. To watch the face of Katharine, who has dropped by the apartment of her dead son’s former lover unannounced, is to see a woman struggling — and failing — to overcome the anger and sadness that is chewing up every inch of her frame. Her surprised host, Cal, obviously still stunned at the unexpected intrusion, likewise works to keep his distress in check, wanting to be polite but unable to completely cover up his exasperation.

Together, standing side by side, watching these complicated emotions flit across their faces, it’s as if with we’re being given a speeded-up, capsule version of what’s to come in this tense drama by Terrence McNally.

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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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Give a hand for Hedda

Brooke Aiello leads a consummate cast in a memorable production of Ibsen’s classic “Hedda Gabler”

THEATER REVIEW

“Let me go,” Hedda Gabler says softly, almost imperceptibly.

You might in this moment think of a cranky child trying to escape the clutches of a doting elderly relative. The truth isn’t far: In this early scene in Ibsen’s famed play, Hedda’s new aunt by marriage has dropped in unannounced on the new couple the morning after Hedda and her husband return from a six-month honeymoon. So much for a bit of time and space for Hedda to get used to her new marital digs: Here’s selfless Aunt Julia, the titaness of social respectability, wrapped up in a great swath of a formal dress and wearing a brand-new hat, barging in to make sure everyone in the household knows of her smotheringly good intentions. In a moment of forced intimacy, Aunt Julia has grabbed Hedda’s hands without permission. In Hedda’s world, that’s a no-no. And it captures, early on, a sense of the entrapment that she feels as she begins this new marriage.

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Bearing arms: Brooke Aiello is outstanding as the title character in “Hedda Gabler.” Photo / The New Ensemble

Is it any wonder that the title character in “Hedda Gabler” has a snippy side?

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‘Park’ it right here in Sonora

After years of listening to the cast album, I make the trek to Sierra Repertory Theatre for “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”

THEATER ROAD TRIP

SONORA — Sometimes I wait for years to see a show. Example: I bought the cast album of a sweet and tuneful off-Broadway offering called “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” probably close to a decade ago. I loved it. And whenever I listened, I’d idly think that at some point I’d finally get to experience an actual production.

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This side of the tracks: The cast of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Photo / Rich Miller, Sierra Repertory Theatre

Which is why I’m at Sierra Repertory Theatre at a Saturday matinee in the cozy East Sonora Theatre, all pumped up to — finally! — see “Trailer Park” the way it was meant to be.

Live.

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Revenge on the menu

An intense and cerebral “Titus Andronicus” at Woodward Shakespeare Festival skips most of the gore, to mixed results

THEATER REVIEW

How important is it for a stage production of “Titus Andronicus” to be gory?

Descriptions of recent high-profile productions in England of Shakespeare’s arguably most violent play — at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe Theatre — make it sound as if explicit brutality is the expected theatrical order of the day. These productions offered severed hands served up on silver dishes and prisoners hung upside-down with throats slit, the dripping blood collected in bowls. If you stage “Titus” without at least a few of your patrons fainting, it seems, you aren’t doing your job.

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The end is near: Joshua Taber, left, Jay Parks, Jessica Reedy and Daniel Serrano in “Titus Andronicus.”  Photo / Victor DesRoches

Director Greg Taber takes a different approach in the more restrained and introspective Woodward Shakespeare Festival production.

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