Good Company Players celebrate 40th year

The Fresno BeeJune 22, 2013 

Christopher Gorham, star of the USA network series "Covert Affairs" — and a proud alum of Fresno's Good Company Players — is only 38 years old. (And is still the owner of a rockin' bod, as evidenced by how often he takes his shirt off on the show.)

But as far as the old noggin goes, age is catching up with Gorham — at least a little. When I ask him, as part of a big project I'm researching and writing about GCP's 40th anniversary, for specific songs or routines he remembers from his years in GCP's vaunted Junior Company, the childhood memories start to blur. He can recall a thousand little memories, he tells me, but most of them are more general impressions of the cast members and the staff members there.

Which is actually pretty typical, I'd say. Isn't that how memories work? At least they do for me. (And who am I to razz someone a decade younger than me about not being able to lock onto details of events that happened 25 years ago? I sometimes can't even remember what I wrote a month ago.)

When I sit down to think about my own memories about GCP over the past 20 or so years, they scatter-burst across my brain like a fireworks show. I remember moments, but those moments all start to blur together.

I have one advantage over Gorham, though: the handy Bee archives, which include all the reviews and features I've written since 1993 about GCP. My first review, on May 1, 1993, was of "Shirley Valentine," starring Elizabeth Fiester, at the 2nd Space Theatre. (My opening lines: "There's a little bit of Shirley Valentine in all of us. And if there isn't, there should be.") A few taps on my keyboard and there it is. Take that, chisel-chested Gorham.

Why am I interviewing him and waxing nostalgic over GCP in the first place? Wednesday marks the actual day 40 years ago the company was born. A star-studded celebration is planned at the Tower Theatre featuring lots of alumni performers, including Louise Mandrell, Fred Bologna, Clytee Ramsey and Seth Scott.

You'll learn more about my big GCP project on Wednesday, when special coverage starts in The Bee.

Which brings me to my most memorable GCP moments. I can only cover half the company's life. But, in this case, I'd say half is pretty good, right? What follows is 10 memories in no particular order:

  • The "Go-go-go Joseph" cheerleader scene in the terrific 1996 production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The red baseball caps, pompons and pennants transformed the stage into an instant pep rally. Other productions I've seen of the show might use that same cheerleader convention, but this staging of the scene set the standards for all others.
  • Josh Montgomery as Mr. Mistoffelees in the 2006 production of "CATS." In his trim little black-and-white Lycra costume, he set the bar for energy and on-stage sparkle for this production. "CATS" isn't my favorite show, but with the right attitude, it can meow quite impressively. For whatever reason, two mental images flash in my mind when someone mentions the show: the big, giant thingamajiggie ascending to the Heaviside Layer when I saw "CATS" in London — it was like watching a spaceship take off — and Montgomery flinging himself through the air on the Roger Rocka's stage.
  • Steve Souza as the Man in Chair in 2011's "The Drowsy Chaperone." In his finest GCP performance, Souza brought an emotional pull to the storyline — a doleful musical-theater lover re-enacts his favorite obscure Broadway show — that made this beautifully staged show even better. (It remains to this day my favorite GCP production ever.) There was a moment, dressed in his oversized cardigan, when Souza's hand actually shook a little as he skirted the line between reality and his imagination. In the end, his character says his favorite show "does what a musical is supposed to do. It takes you to another world and gives you a little tune to carry with you in your head for when you're feeling blue." That pretty much says it all.
  • "The Lonely Goatherd" in 2012's "The Sound of Music." Instead of using a big, fancy puppet theater as in the movie version, the Von Trapp family children took Maria's bedspread and turned it into a makeshift puppet stage, then used their dolls as the puppets. The concept gave the scene a spontaneous, homespun feel — a beautiful moment. GCP took an old classic and made it fresh and exciting.
  • In this year's terrific "Spamalot," Emily Pessano — playing an irked leading lady annoyed at being left offstage for far too long in the second act — ripped open a curtain to emerge from the Roger Rocka's kitchen. Her blowsy, full-belted rendition as the Lady of the Lake of "Diva's Lament" was a comic gem. And she kicked it off with a moment that still makes me smile: With a slightly sloshed gesture, she tried to hand her martini glass to an audience member, saying, "Here, I've had a couple of these already." Hilarious.
  • Mary Piona in 2009's poignant "The Trip to Bountiful." I can close my eyes still and see Piona as the frail Mrs. Carrie Watts, who wants nothing more than to return for a last time to the tiny Texas town where she grew up. Carrie has to sleep on the sofa in her son's home, and a moment in the show has always stayed with me: Piona padding around getting ready for bed. There was something heartfelt and tender in the way her character accepted her lot in life, but also a steely hint of determination.
  • Jarod Caitlin as Eugene in 2005's buoyant production of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." Simon has been a consistent draw at GCP over the years, and this production retained a warm, nostalgic afterglow for me. With his body sloshing full of teenage hormones and his close-knit but pestering family driving him crazy, the character of Eugene doesn't so much inform the audience as he douses it with whimsical and heartfelt details, and Caitlin's crackling characterization really clicked.
  • Ronnie Stovall and Janet Glaudé, playing characters separated by death, in the tender song "Final Prayers" in the 2002 original musical "Lyin' Up a Breeze," based on African-American tall tales, at the 2nd Space. As husband and wife they remained apart, side by side, separated by a gulf so wide they could only stare straight ahead in sorrow. But then, as the song built, they turned. Their eyes locked. They joined hands and sang the final verse to each other. Fresno State theater professor Terry Miller wrote the book and lyrics for the show, and Duane Boutté the music. It was thrilling.
  • Both casts of the "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which played a "double run" — four months — in 2010 at the 2nd Space. The acting and singing were great across the board, but for me, Sara Price and Ashley Taylor, alternating the role of the spelling-bee organizer, soared. (I saw both casts.) And Taylor Abels, as Olive, sang the heart-wrenching "I Love You Song" so tenderly I still compare it to the Broadway cast recording.
  • Call me a sucker for a good gimmick, but I fell hard for the signature Tommy Tune-influenced number "Our Favorite Son" in 2007's "Will Roger Follies." The ensemble, sitting on one long line of chairs, performed a sort of a chorus line for hands with Broadway-caliber precision. Glorious.

As I've already mentioned, I can't offer personal picks about the entirety of GCP's 40 years. But I'm hoping that theater lovers who have been around longer than me can pipe up and add their favorites from the company's first 20 years — or the last 20, because I'm sure people will have their own favorite moments. Hop on to fresnobeehive.com and voice your opinion.

In the meantime, I'll see you at the big Wednesday 40th anniversary concert. It should be quite the evening.


If you go

Good Company Players 40th Anniversary Concert,

8 p.m. Wednesday,

Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave.

gcplayers.com,

(559) 266-9494.

$55.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.

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