StageWorks Fresno, responsible for some of Fresno's most accomplished theater in the last four years, is circling back to where it all began: the offbeat musical "[title of show]." The company kicked off its inaugural season in 2010 at the Severance Theatre with this scrappy, distinctive show about four friends writing a musical together.
Now the same production returns to a new venue: the state-of-the-art Dan Pessano Theatre in Clovis North's performing arts complex. It opens Saturday, just in time for you to rub those fireworks images out of your brain, for a three-weekend run. Here's a rundown:
What's it about? The concept of "[title of show]" is as "meta," or self-referential, as you can get: It's a show about writing a show. Two friends, Hunter (played by Daniel Rodriguez, a familiar Fresno theater name who's just returned from a stint as an apprentice with Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ky.) and Jeff (Visalia actor Steven Braswell) sit down to write a show for the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
They're joined by their good friends Susan (Melinda Parrett, who wowed Fresno audiences two years ago with her piercing performance in StageWorks Fresno's "Next to Normal") and Heidi (Taylor Abels, another Fresno theater veteran, who returns from study in New York to reprise her role from the 2010 production.) As the creation of the show haltingly moves forward, there's lots of wry self-awareness — but also some meaty digressions on struggling with self-worth, art vs. commerce and making a mark in the world. The line on stage between the "show" and the "writing of the show" is deliberately blurred.
What's up with the funny punctuation? The brackets and lower-case letters of the show's title have been the bane of copy editors ever since the show chronicled its entry in the festival. (The joke is that the creators don't know what to call their show, so they just use the blank on the application form.)
Added complexity: In the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, the four actors played themselves. (The Heidi character was played by Heidi Blickenstaff, an alum of Fresno's Good Company Players.) With the original actors no longer in the roles, their characters have remained. Thus, when Heidi talks about singing "Annie" to the hi-fi in her den, she's referring to the time she played the title role at Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater. (How's that for a local connection?)
Is the StageWorks production essentially the same as 2010? Pretty much, says Joel Abels, who is re-creating his direction. And musical director Laurie King returns to the keyboards. The change in venue will give a slightly different look to the production.
Do you have to be a musical-theater fan to get all the insider references? There might be some that slip past you, but never fear: The heart of the show is about forging ahead with your dreams — and everyone can relate to that.
"[title of show]," 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, continues through July 20 (Recommended for mature audiences onlyl), Dan Pessano Theatre in the Clovis North performing arts complex, 2770 E. International Ave. stageworksfresno.com, (559) 289-6622. $18.50-$23.50
You have two chances to win a four-pack of tickets to the Saturday or Sunday opening-weekend performances of "[title of show]" by entering the Beehive's giveaway. Entry deadline is 10 a.m. Friday.