Know the wonder of Selma’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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


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.

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‘Spring Awakening,’ meet the #MeToo movement

As the Selma Arts Center production of the provocative musical opens, the current discussion about sexual harassment casts an interesting shadow

Theater doesn’t exist in a vacuum. As a live art form, it instantly becomes part of the time in which it’s performed. Cultural context matters. A play presented five years ago might resonate quite differently in the social environment of the here and now.

Think, then, of the new Selma Arts Center production of the musical “Spring Awakening” with the present in mind. There have been many versions of this show produced since its Broadway debut in 2006, but only those opening in the past few months have been performed against the backdrop we find today: an unprecedented national discussion about sexual harassment. And add to that a broader debate about the dynamics of consent in sexual relationships.

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Hungry for information: The teens in “Spring Awakening” want to know about sex, but their parents won’t tell them. Photo / Selma Arts Center

Those who know the show are aware of a key plot point: an explicit sexual encounter between a young teen girl and a boy a few years older whom she’s known for a long time. (Note: Much of this story focuses on this plot point, so consider this a spoiler alert for what’s ahead.)

Is the encounter consensual?

Ah, that’s a tough one.

“Yes and no,” says Kindle Lynn Cowger, who plays Wendla, a naive girl of about 15 growing up in a 19th Century town in Germany.

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He’s all grown up: Dominic Grijalva muses on a special ‘Spring Awakening’

With “Spring Awakening,” this might be director Dominic Grijalva’s final opening weekend at the Selma Arts Center. Which is a sad thing for Selma, but a great opportunity for wherever his new adventures might take him. Over the last few years, the talented Grijalva has done much to raise the profile and level of productions in Selma. He’s even gotten some big-name help from a friend of his — none other than “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda — to help make “Spring Awakening” happen.

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Director Dominic Grijalva at a recent “Spring Awakening” rehearsal. Photo / Selma Arts Center

In my main preview piece about the show, I talk with Grijalva and actor Kindle Cowger about a specific theme: how the provocative sexual storyline fits in with the current #MeToo movement. But I also want to share with you some of the other interesting topics I covered with Grijalva about “Spring Awakening,” including getting down to the bottom of the story of that very famous sponsor.

Q: Books and knowledge play a fascinating role in your concept for the show. Tell me how they fit in.

A: A lot of the misfortunes that come to each character in the play steam from a lack of exposure, and some from the overwhelming presence and dictatorship-like control the grownups have over the children. In developing a concept for this production, the one image that kept coming to mind was that of a huge library where the kids felt prisoner to the rules and regulations that the adults force upon them.

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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

To subscribe to the email newsletter for The Munro Review, go to this link:

Of monsters and men

Selma Arts Center offers an accomplished production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”


He becomes a hunchback before our eyes. One instant Thomas Hayes is standing straight, tall and unblemished, and then, in a few measures of song and with a few key costume additions, including a strapped-on hump that looks as if he’s slinging on a small backback, and some smears of black makeup, we are introduced to Quasimodo.

Powerful performance: Thomas Hayes plays Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Photo / Selma Arts Center

I like this moment of theatricality in the ambitious and sensitive new production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at the Selma Arts Center. The transformation reinforces the lyrics: “Who is the monster and who is the man?”

Indeed, who is the “monster” in this classic tale? The disfigured and physically impaired young man with a pure heart and a longing to commune with others? Or the preening and pious “man of God,” the archdeacon of none other than the great cathedral of Notre Dame, whose unbridled lust and cruelty destroys lives?

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10 Things to Know About Selma Arts Center’s ‘Hunchback’

Medieval Paris is built on stage in new production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”

The Selma Arts Center has recreated many settings in the world for its plays and musicals. But one of the most challenging has to be Paris’ iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. That’s the main location for the company’s new offering of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which opens Friday, Nov. 17, in an ambitious production.

There’s a lot to unpack about this Disney musical featuring songs by Alan Menken, which is loosely based on the 1996 film. The title has recently been made available to community theaters. Children’s Musical Theaterworks offered the premiere youth production in July; now Selma tackles the title with an all-ages cast. I checked in with directors Dominic Grijalva and Juan Luis Guzmán, who collaborated on their answers, to come up with 10 Things You Should Know About “Hunchback.”

Terry Lewis, left, as Frollo, and Thomas Hayes, as Quasimodo, in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Photo / Selma Arts Center


The set is a biggie.

Designed by Erik and Nicolette Andersen and built by Erik Andersen and Ken Grey, the set posed many challenges.

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Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Oct. 20)

Here’s a roundup of promising arts/culture picks for the weekend:


All eyes on Saturday will be on the Fulton Mall — whoops, Fulton Street, and it will be a while before I can train myself to automatically say that — for the official ribbon-cutting and opening celebration. This isn’t just an event; it’s an historic occasion. I remember when I came to Fresno more than 25 years ago for my job interview, and my future boss took me to lunch at the Downtown Club, pointed in the direction of the mall, and told me, “We hope this can be revitalized soon.”

Photo / Downtown Fresno Partnership

So, decades later, change is in the air. I’m crossing my fingers.

Bethany Clough has a nice list in The Bee of pop-up stores and restaurants that will line the street for the 3 p.m. ribbon cutting at Fulton Street and Mariposa Mall. Most will be open until 10. (It’s nice to see the Fresno Art Museum on the list with a wine/shopping option.) There will be two beer gardens and three stages for live music.

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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:

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.

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