by Lorie Lewis Ham
It is that time of year again when we look back at the year of theatre that just ended–and 2017 was another amazing year in the Valley. There were way too many shows to mention them all, but here are several of the highlights!
Let’s start off with one of the Fresno premieres last year, The Full Monty, presented by StageWorks Fresno. I have to admit I wasn’t really sure what I was going to see, but I have never been disappointed by StageWorks, plus I would see Chris Mangels in anything! Boy was I glad I went! It was nothing like what I was expecting. It was sweet, moving, funny, beautiful, and crazy! Everything about this show was wonderful!
I am embarrassed to say that last year was the first time I had ever seen a show at Fresno State, but what a great first show to see. A Particle of Dread takes one of the most famous plays in history-Oedipus Rex-and gives it a modern American twist. It was a very intense play and all over the place-in a good way. Steven Weatherbee provided a passionate and nuanced portrayal of Oedipus/Otto and the torment that followed his life. And anything directed by J. Daniel Herring is guaranteed to be a winner! Another fun Fresno State show that KRL reviewed, but I sadly missed, was their production of Heathers: The Musical.
Speaking of college shows, I also saw a couple of shows at Fresno Pacific. Defying Gravity, which is a play about the Challenger tragedy (I know it sounds like it would just be sad, but it wasn’t), was extremely well done and very moving. My daughter Jessica got to play an older woman in that one. And we also saw a very fun production there of my favorite Shakespeare play Twelfth Night.
2017 was also the year I discovered The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, which is now on my list of all time favorite shows! During the summer, CMT did a production that just blew me away! I have been impressed by Ian Jones’ acting ever since I saw him in Dorian Gray in 2015, and he was absolutely amazing as Quasimodo! There also seems to be a show that more than one theatre company does each year, and last year Hunchback was the one. I saw the Selma Arts Center production in November and was once again blown away! While I had seen Thomas Hayes in many shows in the past, I had never seen him in a role as serious as that of Quasimodo–and wow, he too did an amazing job! And Terry Lewis was wonderful as the creepy villain of the show Frollo! I saw that show twice!
Reedley River City Theatre Co. has been doing more plays lately, which I think is a nice change up for them. In April, they did Over the River and Through the Woods. While many companies around here have done that show, this was the first production I had ever seen and I really liked it-it is sweet, fun, and very relatable. RCTC put on a very enjoyable production. It was directed by Ken Stocks–a new director to the RCTC stage. I have to say I had a personal fondness for the show as well–it being the first time that I had seen my husband, Larry Ham, in such a big role, and my son Joseph, whom I always enjoy seeing on stage, played Nick. Another play they took on this year was Miracle on 34th Street, which Joseph directed-this time Larry played Santa! Miracle is such a sweet story, and the show turned out really well. But don’t take my word for it, check out Terrance Mc Arthur’s reviews (linked to the show titles above).
Speaking of Christmas, two other shows I got to see this holiday season were A Christmas Carol (one of my all time favorite plays ever) presented by Good Company Players at 2nd Space, and the always fun Plaid Tidings presented by CenterStage Clovis and directed by Scott Hancock.
A couple of the Broadway Fresno shows we caught this year were Beautiful, and Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and both were wonderful! I learned so many things I didn’t know about Carole King’s very interesting life, and of course the music was great and the actress who played her, Sarah Bockel, was perfect. GGLM was hilarious and the actors did an incredible job! I would love to see a local company take on that show.
At Fresno Soap Co., where you can usually count on seeing something a little more out of the box, we reviewed their all female cast of The Tempest.
We haven’t seen much from The New Ensemble in awhile, but they came back last year with their production of Hedda Gabler. This was a show that Brooke Aiello, who played Hedda, had dreamed of doing for years, and as always, The New Ensemble did a wonderful job.
Another out of the box show was Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche-which was produced by The Motley Fools! Also with a great cast and so much fun.
Selma Arts Center also steps out of the box sometimes, and last year it was with Carrie the Musical, which our reviewer Terrance McArthur really enjoyed! They also had an excellent production of Gypsy (another show I had never seen before which is now on my favorites list of older shows), and 35MM, A Musical Exhibition, which was incredible and like nothing I had ever seen before!
Other fun productions from Good Company Players included Sister Act, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Peter and the Starcatcher, and Damn Yankees-where I got to see Terry Lewis as the Devil and he was “devilishly” fun. 2017 also saw the return of The Drowsy Chaperone at Roger Rocka’s-this time with the very talented Tim Smith in the role of Robert, and Steve Souza, Emily Pessano, and Laurie Pessano reviving their roles from the last time that GCP did the show.
In Visalia, the Visalia Players took on Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, with tall thin Sean Hopper doing a wonderful job as Buddy. The Enchanted Playhouse presented some fun productions perfect for seeing with the whole family. COS in Visalia took on another of my favorite shows, In the Heights, with the extremely talented Dominic Grijalva on stage for this one-he directed a brilliant production of the show in Selma in 2015.
StageWorks Fresno also presented a couple more amazing shows! Both Mother’s and Sons and The Christians were very thought provoking and moving-which I love in a show. I have seen Greg Ruud in many roles and he always does a good job, but his performance in The Christians was incredible! They also did Little Shop of Horrors this year, which is always a fun show.
We also enjoyed another Rogue Festival-which is coming back in March so watch for a bunch of articles and reviews-and of course the Woodward Shakespeare Festival during the summer. There was sooo much more we saw last year that I haven’t mentioned, and many we didn’t manage to see. If you love theatre, this Valley is the place for you!
Some of the many wonderful things we have to look forward to this year are the Valley premiere of the musical Memphis–which will be presented by RCTC in Reedley, Sweeney Todd on stage in Selma, Spring Awakening coming to Selma this month, and the Valley premiere of Mama Mia presented by Good Company Players at Roger Rocka’s! StageWorks Fresno will also be bringing a Valley premiere of the Tony Award winning show Fun Home, and it looks like the show happening in more than one place this year may be The Little Mermaid!
See you at the theatre in 2018! And be sure to check watch for our reviews and local actors profiles!
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.