by Lorie Lewis Ham
It is that time of year again when we look back at the year of theatre that just ended–and 2018 was another amazing year in the Valley. As usual, there were far too many shows to mention them all, but here are several of the highlights!
One of the first shows I saw in 2018 was also one of my favorite shows, Spring Awakening! I love that show, and Selma Arts Center’s production was excellent–definitely on my list of best shows of 2018. Melchior (Kai Di Mino) and Wendla (Kindle Lynn Cowger) were perfect, as was really every cast member. This is a very difficult show and you have to have a great cast to pull it off and they definitely did-with new faces I had never seen on stage before, and those I’ve enjoyed seeing often. Other cast members included Ben Deghand, Jared Serpa, Aaron Pierce, and Meg Clark.
In early March, there was the Rogue Festival where the Valley is always treated to an amazing variety of unusual and wonderful shows of all kinds! Another Rogue Festival is just around the corner. This is a must see for any lover of the arts.
Noises Off, presented by Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, was a fun show, and one I had never seen before. It was a crazy, romping, fun evening of theatre filled with familiar faces to the RCTC stage such as Matt Wiebe, Stephanie Barnett, Tidy Gill, Eric Bailey, Charlton Hughes, Larry Ham, and Bethany Houghton. And a new face, Cyndle Cee.Fresno Pacific did something a bit different last school year and presented their musical, Guys and Dolls, at the Selma Arts Center, and opened the casting up to those who were not students. It was an excellent production of an older classic show with wonderful dancing and singing. I especially enjoyed Dylan Hardcastle in the Frank Sinatra roll of Nathan Detroit, and Annelise Escobedo as his girlfriend Miss Adelaide. Their play in the fall was Falling, an amazingly moving story about autism. Parker Lewis as the autistic young adult at the center of the story was absolutely amazing!
Speaking of college shows, I also saw Picasso at the Lapin Agile for the first time at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia. It was a very interesting show and very well done.
Also at COS this year, Chris Mangels put together an amazing production of MacBeth set in modern times. I’m not always fond of Shakespeare shows set in more current time periods, but Chris Mangels is the one person who never fails to do it perfectly. And speaking of Chris Mangels, he is one of the best actors in the Valley, and was in the COS production of The Crucible (another favorite show) this year. Here is a quote from my review of that show- “Standout performances included Chris Mangels, who truly made you hate Rev. Parris; Becka Cole as Abigail, who also brought her character to life with creepy perfection; Kami Hinds, who did an excellent job portraying the very confused and conflicted character of Mary Warren; and Brooke Rogers, who made Elizabeth Proctor feel so real, and was a stark contrast to most of the other characters with the quiet calm she maintained amidst the insanity.” Also, in The Crucible and Macbeth, I saw a more serious side to Mason Garcia’s acting than I had seen before, and he was wonderful in these dramatic rolls.
StageWorks Fresno shows are always a sure bet, and this year wasn’t any different. I saw The Fantasticks for the first time and they had an awesome cast which included Joel Abels, Terry Lewis, Greg Ruud, and Steven Weatherbee (whom I loved as the Mute). It was also visually stunning and Terry Lewis’(another personal favorite who is an amazingly talented actor and singer) blew me away with his song “Try to Remember.”
Also on the StageWorks season last year was Urinetown, another show I had never seen, but despite its unusual theme I am not sure I have ever laughed so hard! They also presented the Valley premiere of the musical Fun Home, which was absolutely amazing and is up there in my favorite shows of the year! I always enjoy seeing Haley White and Terry Lewis on stage and they were incredible in this thought provoking, and very moving, show.
Speaking of Valley premieres, Memphis hit the Reedley Opera House stage this summer and is also on my list of top shows of the year. Another amazing cast, and I was especially blown away by Camille Gaston and Jonathon Wheeler in the lead roles-they were absolute perfection. Memphis is another amazing and moving show with some incredible music and RCTC definitely did a top notch job.
Another classic show to hit the local stages last year was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. This was a fun show and the Good Company Players presented a great production with a very talented and funny cast, including one of my local favorites, Tim Smith, who has an incredibly beautiful voice. Here is a quote from my review that says it best: “This musical has everything you could want in a musical-fun music, talented actors and singers, big numbers, an uplifting story, and lovely costumes.”
Another stand out performance in 2018 was that of Jimmy Haynie as transgender teen girl La Cienaga in Bring It On the Musical at the Selma Arts Center. I also got to hear Tim Smith sing again, which is always a treat.
Another favorite show of mine in 2018 was the Selma Arts Center’s production of Sweeney Todd. I love the show itself and this production was just incredible! I have to confess my son Joseph Ham directed it, but our other reviewer Terrance McArthur put it on his top favorite shows of 2018 as well. Chris Carsten as Sweeney was amazing, and Emily Guyette as Mrs. Lovett was absolutely hilarious! I always enjoy seeing Chase Stubblefield on stage, but I had never before seen him as the villain, and he was perfectly creepy as the Judge. Kai Di Mino brought new levels to the character of Toby and was absolutely adorable. Ben Deghand as Anthony, and Kindle Lynn Cowger as Johanna, were wonderful together. Who needs to go all the way to Broadway with shows of such amazing quality right here!
My theatre year ended perfectly with the Fresno State production of Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley. It was a lovely show, perfect for the entire family at Christmas time, and again another wonderful cast, which included another of my local favorites who is always amazing on stage, Ian Jones.
One sad theatre event in 2018 was the loss of Main Street Theater for the Enchanted Playhouse Theatre company in Visalia-a company that has meant a lot to me and so many others-they introduced my children to theatre. We did see one of their final productions in the building, Kelly Ventura’s one-man show of A Christmas Carol-this show may be my all time favorite show and Kelly did it justice!
Broadway Fresno once again brought many wonderful touring shows to the Valley. I was moved by Kinky Boots, laughed all the way through The Book of Mormon despite myself, and was awed by the beauty of The Lion King.
There were also many other shows that our reviewers saw and enjoyed, and many more that we weren’t able to get to, presented by the myriad of theatre companies in the area-CenterStage Clovis, Woodward Shakespeare Festival, Playhouse Merced, Kings Players, Visalia Players, CMT, and several new companies that have popped up. And there were numerous productions of The Little Mermaid.
Keep an eye on KRL to keep up with the many wonderful shows coming to our Valley in 2019!
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 11 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean. Also check out our other theatre articles and reviews in our Arts and Entertainment section.