Just call it the annual July Theater Bonanza. While other cities tend to become cultural ghost towns this time of year — are you listening, San Francisco? — the Fresno area offers an abundance of options.
It's an especially good time for lovers of classic musicals, a favorite community theater choice. Today alone features local openings of the much-loved "West Side Story," "The Music Man" and "Fiddler on the Roof." But there's something for everyone these next couple of weeks, from the sassy contemporary musical "[title of show]" and searing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" to the cutting-edge "The Mountaintop," which opened on Broadway in 2011.
Bottom line: You could go to two quality shows a weekend and still not see every worthwhile production. Here's a rundown.
West Side Story
Company: Good Company Players
Venue: Roger Rocka's Dinner Theater
Director: Julie Lucido
The premise: The beloved 1957 musical, with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, transplants Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" into Manhattan's Upper West Side, where Puerto Rican and Italian immigrants boil in America's melting pot.
Leading players: Jordan Litz is Tony, the Italian kid who falls for the forbidden Maria (Natalie Nielsen), from a tight-knit Puerto Rican family. Edgar Gonzalez plays Bernardo and Marisa Sanchez is Anita.
What you should know about this production: It features an enthusiastic young cast that will be mostly new to GCP audiences. Lucido, who choreographs with Greg Grannis, emphasizes a spare, steamy evening of explosive dance and troubled romance.
The Music Man
Company: CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre
Venue: Mercedes Edwards Theatre
Director: Scott Hancock
The premise: There's trouble in River City — at least according to traveling salesman Harold Hill, who relishes the challenge of selling a townful of stubborn Iowans on the benefits of a community marching band. Meredith Wilson wrote the book, music and lyrics.
Leading players: Eric Estep plays Harold, one of the great roles in American musical theater. He doesn't know how to teach music — which makes his attempt to romance the town's prim librarian and piano teacher, Marian (Heather Price) even more interesting. Darren Tharp plays Marcellus, the reluctant sidekick, and Shannah Estep is Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn.
What you should know about this production: It's big. There are almost 70 in the cast. And the full, live orchestra should add a brassy flair to such well-known tunes as "76 Trombones" and "Till There Was You."
Fiddler on the Roof
Company: Tulare County Office of Education Theatre Company
Venue: L.J. Williams Theatre, Visalia
Director: Brian Roberts
The premise: A Jewish father of five daughters tries to maintain his Jewish religious traditions in a 1905 Russian town that is changing with the times.
Leading players: The cast, made up of students in the seventh-12th grades from Tulare County, is led by Jack O'Leary as Tevye. Rebekah Cole is Golde, Jessica Bonnar is Tzeitel, Kaley McConnaughey is Hodel and Tristan Peck is Perchik.
What you should know about this production: The classic musical, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, is celebrating its 50th anniversary of opening on Broadway.
Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Jr.
Company: Children's Musical Theaterworks
Venue: Fresno Memorial Auditorium
Director: Abigail Paxton
The premise: This stage adaptation of the book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," about a group of children who win the chance to tour England's epicenter of candy secrecy, includes well-known songs from the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," including "Pure Imagination" and "Golden Ticket." The cast is ages 6-12.
Leading players: Most roles are double-cast, including the title role of Charlie (played by Joey Gorden and Allie Jeschien). The cast of 60 includes 30 Oompah Loompahs.
What you should know about this production: The scenic crew at CMT has been working hard on the show, including building a pink candy boat and designing an inventive way to make children fly.
OPENING NEXT WEEKEND
Taming of the Shrew
Company: Woodward Shakespeare Festival
Venue: Woodward Shakespeare Festival Stage in Woodward Park
Director: Aaron Spjute
The premise: Shakespeare's comical battle of the sexes gets a major twist by featuring an all-female cast.
Leading players: Suzanne Grazyna is Petruccio, the gentleman of Verona who conducts a tumultuous courtship with Katherina (Donna Halliburton), the "shrew" of the title.
What you should know about this production: Spjute says he chose an all-female cast in order to present an exaggerated theatrical experience. "Servants become masters, masters become servants and even the sun becomes the moon simply by being proclaimed as such," he says. "At its heart, the production challenges us to embrace the idea that we are so often much more than the labels others assign to us."
StageWorks Fresno's funny, moving and smoothly staged "[title of show]," in its final weekend, is a memorable small-scale musical that shouldn't be missed. At the Dan Pessano Theatre.
Another highly recommended show: Artists' Repertory Theatre's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," in the second weekend of a three-weekend run, features blistering performances from an exceedingly strong four-person cast. At Severance Theatre.
They can't stop the beat at the Reedley Opera House. "Hairspray," staged by the Reedley River City Theatre Company, is in its second weekend of a four-weekend run.
"The Underpants," a subtly wacky adaptation of a German play by Steve Martin, is staged by Curtain 5 Theatre Group and Jump Right In Productions. The play is in its final weekend at The Fresno Soap Co. (formerly the Broken Leg Stage).
Don't forget about the charming and superbly directed "Over the River and Through the Woods," about an Italian-American man trying to wiggle out of the grasp of his clinging grandparents, at 2nd Space Theatre.