Give a growl for Good Company’s hearty ‘Into the Woods’

THEATER REVIEW

To the woman sitting at the table next to me at “Into the Woods”:

Watch out for that Wolf. He’s a crafty one.

Director Julie Lucido likes to put her actors into the audience when she stages a show at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, and her lively Good Company Players production of “Woods” is no exception. At the Sunday matinee I attended, one of the Wolves — there are two of them prowling about, either Greg Grannis or Shawn Williams, I couldn’t tell which — leapt onto the railing next to the woman and gave a growl.

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Little Red Riding Hood (played by Jessica Peters) and a Wolf stray off the path in “Into the Woods.” Photo / Good Company Players

If tromping deep into the woods created by Broadway master Stephen Sondheim is all about exploring the darker recesses of your psyche, confronting your fears and coming to terms with mortality, then this audience member had a visceral experience. Confronted with the Wolf, she yelped. And laughed. And jumped.

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In these ‘Woods,’ a teacher ponders a mighty truth: Children do listen

Good Company Players veteran Sara Price, who plays the Witch in ‘Into the Woods,’ gets philosophical in an insightful interview

THEATER PREVIEW

In Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant “Into the Woods,” whose lyrics are among the most sophisticated and insightful ever written for musical theater, the song “Children Will Listen” has always been special to me. Hearing it can make me pensive, but I also spend some time in wonderment at how insightful the words can be. What’s more, I love talking about the song with someone else who appreciates its power.

So I asked Sara Price, who plays the Witch in the new Good Company Players production (now in its opening weekend), to have a chat about “Children Will Listen,” which her character sings. Her insights on the song, and about the show — and regarding life in general! — are pretty special. I loved putting together this piece.

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Sara Price, right, plays the Witch in “Into the Woods.” Also pictured: Teddy Maldonado, left, and Emily Pessano. Photo / Good Company Players

Donald: The lyrics sometimes creep up on me unexpectedly, which I think is a sign that they’ve really burrowed their way into my brain. Do you remember the first time you heard “Children Will Listen”? What was your reaction?

Sara: I first heard the song when I was in college. I was watching the recorded Broadway version of the play starring Bernadette Peters, and that was the song I walked away from that first listen saying, “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it!” It seemed to perfectly encapsulate the underlying truth of the musical— and the truth of stories in general. I don’t know that I understood all that then, but it’s now real to me on a lived-in level.

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Debating if you should see ‘Joseph’? Go, go, go, go!

Good Company Players brings a beloved musical favorite back to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater

THEATER REVIEW

If you have a pulse and are into musical theater, chances are you’ve seen the ever-popular “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” not once but multiple times. It gets done a lot. The reason is obvious: It’s tuneful, warm-hearted, silly, low-tech, has a wide range of musical styles, features an enormous cast (you can’t skimp on Jacob’s 12 sons) and is based on a Biblical story so far removed from our contemporary lives that you’d have to try really hard to find anything at which to be offended.

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Tim Smith, as Joseph, enjoys his Coat of Many Colors. Photo / Good Company Players

Even though I’m a repeat (and I mean repeat) viewer, I never put up a fuss when it’s time to see another production of “Joseph.” Particularly one by Good Company Players. As I’ve written at length in the past, this is the perfect-sized show for the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Productions of “Joseph” in bigger theaters tend to get too show-biz glitzy as producers and directors try to pump up the fun but slight material. This show doesn’t need elaborate stagecraft and expensive moving scenery to impress an audience. The most important thing is the quality of the singing and acting.

Which the latest “Joseph” has in abundance.

Is it my favorite “Joseph” ever? It could be. I’m tempted greatly by my recollection of the 1996 Good Company version directed by Fred Bologna, whose “Go Go Go Joseph” first-act finale is probably my most prized “Joseph” memory. (The cheerleader moves in that number had a giddy verve and precision that remain with me to this day, though I also freely acknowledge that the mists of nostalgia might have something to do with it. Seeing a choreographed bit like that the first time is always the best.) That said, I like this current “Joseph” a lot as well. Here are 5 Favorite Things I offer from the show:

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Vocals soar in Good Company’s big-hearted ‘Mamma Mia’

THEATER REVIEW

“Mamma Mia,” here we go again …

And that news makes me chipper.

Fresno last got its “Mamma Mia” fix in 2015 when the third visit of a national tour rolled through, and it wasn’t at the top of its class. (Previously, much more polished national tours stopped here in 2006 and 2008.) Now Good Company Players brings us a homespun version of the title, and I’m happy to say it’s better (and a lot more intimate) than the version that most recently played the Saroyan Theatre. An energetic cast, clever design and buoyant vocals all help GCP deliver the ABBA fix that fans expect.

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Kay Wilkins and Nicholas Nunez are charming in “Mamma Mia.” Photo / Good Company Players

There were some weak spots, mostly among individual actors, in the opening-weekend performance I attended, but I’m hoping that as the run settles in, many of them will get stronger. Some observations:

The vocals soar. The best thing about this “Mamma Mia” are all those deftly performed ABBA songs, which are delivered to the audience with the layered tracks, rhythmic intricacies and percussive vocalizations that everyone expects. Vocal coach Judith Dickison whips all those parts — as many as 15 in some songs — into a pleasing ensemble. I like how the vocals seem to surround you in the intimate space of Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.

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Lay all your love on those backup vocals, because they’re one of the stars of ‘Mamma Mia’

Jacquie Broach and other members of the ensemble in the Good Company Players production play a crucial part in the show

THEATER PREVIEW

Take a chance on me, please, as I try to paint this “Mamma Mia” mental image for you in vivid detail:

It’s backstage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater during the show (now in its opening weekend). Jacquie Broach, a Good Company Players veteran and an ensemble member, is dressed like a “Greek grandma.” Think layered peasant garb meets Ninja warrior: black stockings, black shoes, black skirt, black babushka. She and her fellow ensemble members have just come offstage after singing the ABBA song “Under Attack,” which involves lots of energetic dancing around the daughter character, Sophie (Caitlyn Lopez), while she has a nightmare about her upcoming wedding. Now that they’re backstage, everyone is shucking off clothes to change for upcoming numbers, in Broach’s case the wedding scene. As she puts it, “We strip right there down to our undies.”

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Alex Figueroa and Paige Parker, center, get frisky in “Does Your Mother Know” in the new production of “Mamma Mia.” Photo / Good Company Players

Off comes her sweaty Greek garb. On goes her wedding wear: dress, jewelry, high heels.

But as all this controlled mayhem unfolds, the ensemble comes to one of its most important duties. The actors rush to one of two microphones. There, with garments dangling, they start singing the layered backup vocals for “One of Us,” performed by the mom character, Donna (Emily Pessano). To make sure they’re in sync with the recorded instrumental track and the live singing on stage, Broach gets down close to the monitor on the floor, so she can be sure to hear, and becomes a de facto conductor, pounding out the beat.

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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.

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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.

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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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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

THEATER REVIEW

“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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