From ‘School of Rock’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ more weekend theater openings for you

‘Alice’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ are also among the new titles

I’ve already told you about the opening of Woodward Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” Let’s take a look at four other weekend theater openings: “School of Rock,” “Alice,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

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Ned Schneebly (played by Jayromy Mercado), left, and Dewey Finn (Elijah Nichols) in “School of Rock.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

‘School of Rock’

Opens: Friday, Aug. 3 at the Selma Arts Center. Continues through Aug. 11.

The show: This rock musical (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes) is based on the 2003 film of the same name starring Jack Black about an out-of-work rocker who pretends to be a teacher at a prep school.

The backstory: The school-age performance rights for this Broadway musical, which is still playing in New York, were recently released, but adult-age companies will have to wait. (That’s the usual pattern.) Selma Arts Center is debuting the title with its newly founded teen theater company. The cast of 27 ranges in age from 10 to 19.

The director: Adrian Oceguera. He and Olivia Hayes, who plays the leading role of Rosalie in the show, were guests on the August episode of “The Munro Review,” produced by CMAC. You can watch the interview here:

I asked Oceguera after the show to answer a few more questions.

Q: The movie version came out before some of your cast members were born, I’m assuming. Were they familiar with the material?

Continue reading “From ‘School of Rock’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ more weekend theater openings for you”

When Lin-Manuel Miranda wishes your musical a happy closing, you know it’s something special

Before the final performance of ‘Bring It On’ at the Selma Arts Center, the cast was surprised by a message from Miranda and Broadway star Taylor Louderman

The setting: It’s Sunday afternoon before the final performance of “Bring It On: The Musical” at the Selma Arts Center. The cast, crew and creative team gather in the theater before the house opens. Among them is director Michael Flores, who has heard rumblings of some sort of “video gift” but is unprepared for what happens next.

The mood in the room: All local theater is special, but sometimes a show achieves a kind of breakthrough chemistry that elevates both those in it and the community that comes to see it. Over the past two weekends of the sold-out run, audiences have flocked to Selma for this ambitious production. This cast has bonded together, and you can feel the electricity between them.

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A screenshot of the Lin-Manuel Miranda “happy closing” video to the cast and crew of “Bring It On.” You can watch the video on Facebook.

The first surprise: The words come on the screen as the video starts: “A Message from New York City.” And then appears Taylor Louderman, currently starring in “Mean Girls” on Broadway, who originated the leading role of Campbell in the original Broadway production of “Bring It On.” “Congratulations on a fantastic run,” she says. She rattles off the first names of the members of the creative team (including Flores for making his directorial debut), then offers her best wishes to the cast and crew.

Continue reading “When Lin-Manuel Miranda wishes your musical a happy closing, you know it’s something special”

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

In the latest episode of “The Munro Review,” my monthly arts talk show produced by the Community Media Access Collaborative (CMAC), we focus on summer theater. My guests include:

• Sara Price, who sings an excerpt of the song “Children Will Listen.” Her interview focusing on this beautiful Sondheim tune, which she sings in the Good Company Players production of “Into the Woods,” is one of July’s best read stories (and I highly recommend it).

• Olivia Hayes and Adrian Oceguera talk about “School of Rock,” which opens at the Selma Arts Center on Friday, Aug. 3 as the first production of the theater’s new teen company. Hayes sings a song from the show.

• There’s also an interview segment about an original play titled “Alice,” but I received word late Monday that the production — scheduled to open Thursday, Aug. 2 — is in a state of flux because of creative differences. I’ll update the situation when I learn more.


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Line up for it: An ambitious ‘Bring It On’ soars in Selma

THEATER REVIEW

As I settled into my seat Thursday night before Selma Arts Center’s “Bring It On,” I glanced down and saw a thick line on the floor dividing the auditorium. On “my” side, the audience was seated in Jackson High School territory, one of the two rival campuses depicted in a competitive cheerleading showdown in this musical inspired by the film “Bring It On.” The green strand of Mardi Gras beads that I’d been given, now hanging around my neck, marked my assigned allegiance. The other side of the line — the “red” side — was Truman High School country. The battleground was set. The line was drawn.

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Kenzie Stafford has a star turn as Campbell in “Bring It On.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

I’ll be blunt here: When I learned that the Selma Arts Center and director/choreographer Michael Flores decided to program “Bring It On,” I wondered if the theater company had crossed a line in terms of ambition. (Indeed, one of the show’s most powerful lyrics is: “How do you know who we are unless we cross the line?”) Granted, most Broadway musicals can be scaled down, even ones with massive sets and explosive special effects. But “Bring It On” — a peppy, engaging show with some great music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt — requires a cast that doubles as a full-fledged competitive cheerleaders. We’re talking about precision routines and big stunts. You can’t fake it.

Continue reading “Line up for it: An ambitious ‘Bring It On’ soars in Selma”

How to play a cheerleader in ‘Bring It On’? For Selma cast, it meant going to camp

THEATER PREVIEW

What goes up must come down, including cheerleaders. Those impressive stunts when one of them is tossed high in the air? Thanks to physics and the concept of terminal velocity, there’s a moment when the “flyer” — that’s the cheerleader term — is at her highest, then begins her inevitable descent.

“There’s that point at the very top where it feels like you stop and can see everything, and then you start to fall,” says Lexi Hamilton, a cheer veteran.

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Truman High School has a champion cheer squad in “Bring It On.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

In the Broadway musical “Bring It On,” which the innovative Selma Arts Center is tackling with its customary gusto in a production that continues through July 29, that top-of-the-world feeling is described in eloquent terms in the song “One Perfect Moment.” (Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music, Amanda Green and Miranda the lyrics, and Jeff Whitty the book for this 2012 show.) The main character, a 17-year-old named Campbell, describes it:

Then suddenly I’m in prep for the climb and here I go
High in the air, there is a moment just before you start to fall
Live in that one moment

Continue reading “How to play a cheerleader in ‘Bring It On’? For Selma cast, it meant going to camp”

Selma Arts Center makes waves with a chipper ‘Little Mermaid’

The musical production can be inconsistent, but it’s well worth a dive.

THEATER REVIEW

Come on in — the water’s fine in Selma’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Just what will you find an undetermined number of leagues under the sea? Ariel is charming, and she and her “mer-sisters” offer sweet voices and brisk comedy. Prince Eric has the ruddy, seaworthy charm of a gung-ho master mariner. With her dialed-up-Disney-villain powerhouse vocals, Ursula the Sea Witch relishes the chance to get all twitchy-evil on us. Sebastian, always near the boiling point, frets with the best of them. Even Mr. Fussypants himself, King Triton, the clueless father who’s both too stern and too indulgent in terms of spoiling his teenage daughter — he shouldn’t let her go by herself to the mall, much less the surface! — redeems himself with a memorably regal stage presence.

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Camille Gaston is a powerhouse Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

It’s splashy fun.

Nicolette C. Andersen and Adam Chavez, co-directors of the new Selma Arts Center production, run a (mostly) tight ship in terms of creativity, production design, acting and singing. While the ambitiously staged show does have some wobbles and inconsistent moments, you (and your children) will find much to admire.

Observations from the opening-night performance I attended:

The projections are amazing. They deserve top billing here. Designer Dominic Grijalva breaks new ground locally with effects that feel as if we’re in the water with the performers. From a swirling opening storm to a spectacular dive to the murky depths of Ursula’s zip code, I found myself thoroughly entranced. My favorite part is the way Grijalva gives a stylized, boldly graphic design to the ubiquitous waves; they’re more abstract than literal, and their near constant motion gives the whole production a “be careful or you’ll get seasick” sensibility.

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

It’s our most ambitious episode of “The Munro Review” yet! The May edition features three guest segments, including a musical song-and-dance number. (Not by me. Although that would have been a sight.)

Here’s what you can catch in this chock-full episode:

♦ Kathleen McKinley, director of the new Fresno State production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” fills us in on this ambitious and cutting-edge experience, which opens Friday, May 4. She’s joined by William Ramirez, a student in my Fresno State journalism class, who drops in to talk about our special class project covering “Streetcar” from a number of story angles. (It’ll be unveiled later this week.)

♦ Mas Masumoto tells us about the campaign to put a sales-tax-increase on the November ballot that will fund parks, recreation and arts programs for 30 years in the city of Fresno.

♦ And two very special guests from the Selma Arts Center give a preview of the upcoming “The Little Mermaid.” Maria Monreal and Joshua Plowman chat about the show and also perform.

As always, I also offer my roundup of what I’ve been covering this month online and give a sneak preview of coming May attractions. Share the link (https://youtu.be/Y2_G9Oh98zE) and enjoy!


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Know the wonder of Selma’s ‘Spring Awakening’

Provocative production offers a fresh and inspired take on the 2006 Broadway musical

THEATER REVIEW

Are these the days of “Purple Summer” for the Selma Arts Center?

They very well could be. The company’s current production of “Spring Awakening” is inspired. It crackles with a sense of creative energy and cohesion that suggests art at the highest level. Even in those occasional moments when the sense of assuredness falters — whether by individual performances, creative decisions that don’t quite work or technical flaws — the overriding feeling is one of focus and intensity that gives the provocative material an added sizzle.

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Kai Di Mino, seated, plays Melchior in “Spring Awakening.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

I opened the doors of the theater after the opening-weekend performance I attended and marveled to myself: I can’t believe a production this edgy and this good is happening on sleepy High Street in downtown Selma.

Continue reading “Know the wonder of Selma’s ‘Spring Awakening’”