From ‘Memphis’ to Reedley, the fight against racism must continue

River City Theatre Company offers an ambitious production of the Tony Award-winning musical

THEATER REVIEW

It’s a perfect time to reacquaint yourself with “Memphis,” the uplifting and thoughtful 2009 Broadway show focusing on how the crossover appeal of black music in the early 1950s helped weaken the race barrier in the South.

The depressing word in the previous sentence, unfortunately, is “weaken.” Nearly 70 years after the era of “Memphis,” we aren’t able to say that pervasive racism in the South (and the rest of the country) has been eliminated or even thoroughly defanged. The most optimistic spin we can take is that things are better than before. (No more segregated drinking fountains, at least.)

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‘Memphis’ continues at the Reedley Opera House through July 29. Photo / River City Theatre Company

Even more depressing: Racial issues are even more sharp-edged and glaring in 2018 than they were in 2010, when “Memphis” won the Tony Award for best musical. (If you’re into hashtags, this one would be #goingbackwardsucks.)

All this explains why the new River City Theatre Company production of “Memphis” at the Reedley Opera House — a central San Joaquin Valley community theater premiere — is a worthwhile outing. With stirring lead performances and rousing vocals, the show is inspiring.

It’s also uneven at times in terms of acting, staging and production values when compared to other community theater in the region. And there are elements of the book itself that can feel formulaic, something that was apparent in the original Broadway production. But the ambition and dedication on display at Reedley shines through.

Here’s a review rundown on the production, which continues through July 29:

Continue reading “From ‘Memphis’ to Reedley, the fight against racism must continue”

5 things to Know about Reedley’s ‘Memphis’

The musical opens Friday, July 6, at the Reedley Opera House

THEATER PREVIEW

I got the chance to slip into a recent rehearsal of the musical “Memphis” at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company. The show’s two stars, Camille Gaston and Jonathan Wheeler, sat down beforehand for an insightful interview that was part of the July episode of the TV version of “The Munro Review.”

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Camille Gaston stars as Felicia in “Memphis” at the Reedley Opera House. Photo / River City Theatre Company

In the meantime, here are Five Things to Know about the production:

1.

It’s a central San Joaquin Valley premiere.

That fact helped Reedley director Joseph Ham nab top-notch local talent for the show, which requires a diverse cast with powerful singers and actors. Gaston, one of the best and prolific performers on the local scene, jumped at the chance to play Felicia, the aspiring singer in early 1950s Memphis who dares to break through the color barrier with her new brand of rock ‘n’ roll.

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

I’m proud of this month’s episode of “The Munro Review” on CMAC! It includes my first story shot on location. Producer Kyle Lowe and I trekked out to Reedley’s River City Theatre Company to check out a rehearsal for “Memphis: The Musical,” which opens Friday, July 6. We interviewed Camille Gaston and Jonathan Wheeler, who star in the show.

And for my second major segment, I interview “the three Alisons” (Haley White, Thani Brant and Novi Alexander) of the StageWorks Fresno production of “Fun Home.” The episode includes a performance by Novi singing “Ring of Keys.” We also taped Thani singing the show-stopping song “Changing My Major” but couldn’t use it because of time constraints. I will post the clip separately on Wednesday as a holiday bonus.


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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Feb. 23)

Options include an art song festival at Fresno State; and new theater productions in Reedley and Hanford

Here’s roundup of promising openings this weekend:

Focus on vocals

Art Song lovers, unite. Maria Briggs, a voice professor, has organized the first Fresno State Art Song Festival, which she’s calling “On Wings of Song.” The festival features a number of master classes and guest instructors. Here are three public highlights:

• On Friday, Feb. 23, Briggs offers a recital (7 p.m., Wahlberg Recital Hall).

• On Saturday, Feb. 24, there will be a student showcase recital and presentation of the “best singer” award (4 p.m., Concert Hall).

• Also on Saturday, guest faculty artist Vladimir Chernov of UCLA will give a recital (6 p.m., Concert Hall).

Briggs says that she started the festival because that while there are several opera programs locally, there is no current platform to showcase and enjoy the Art Song.

Continue reading “Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Feb. 23)”

Holiday theater: previews for Santa

At CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, four talented singers tackle “Plaid Tidings,” and at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, Kris Kringle gets put on trial in “Miracle on 34th Street”

Santa is certainly busy this month, but even he needs to take a break now and then. And why not do it with live theater? In honor of The Big Red Guy, and with help from the directors, we take a look at two promising holiday-themed local openings: “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” at CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre; and “Miracle on 34th Street,” at Reedley’s River City Theatre Company:

‘FOREVER PLAID: PLAID TIDINGS’

The director: Scott Hancock.

The run: just four performances over this one weekend: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30; 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, Clovis Veterans Memorial Auditorium, 808 4th St., Clovis.

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The cast of “Forever Plaid”: Kyle Dodson, Darren Tharp, Brandon Crane and Adam Kitt. Photo / CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre

The plot: “Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings” is a semi-sequel to the incredibly popular “Forever Plaid.” The four plaids (Adam Kitt, Darren Tharp, Brandon Crane, and Kyle Dodson) return to earth for a second time and (at first) are not quite sure why. Through song and self discovery, they realize that they are here to do the Christmas show they never got to do while they were still alive.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 12)

Options include a Fresno State lecture-recital about a memorable woman scientist, theater openings in Merced, Visalia and Reedley, and a photo exhibition about Afghanistan

Here’s a rundown on promising arts/culture picks for the weekend. (Note: I’m posting this a day earlier than usual because of a Thursday night option.)

Remembering Hypatia

Earlier this year I got to wander the streets of Alexandria, Egypt, and there I learned about a remarkable woman: Hypatia, who is said to be the first woman philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. She was renowned for her intelligence and scientific insights. But she got caught up in the religious battles of the times. Hypatia was a pagan, and she was (horribly) murdered by an angry Christian mob in the year 415 A.D.

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Hypatia’s life story is the focus of a fascinating sounding interdisciplinary lecture-recital on Friday at Fresno State. The event is an exploration of the ways in which women use their voices and are silenced in male-dominated societies.

Continue reading “Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 12)”

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.

Continue reading “Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Aug. 25)”

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.

Continue reading “StageWorks is bringing ‘Fun Home’ to Fresno”