I traditionally don’t do a full-fledged review of “New Wrinkles,” now in its 28th season of presenting a fully staged musical revue featuring performers ages 55 and older. Instead I put on my Kinder/Gentler critic hat, focusing on my favorite moments. But I’m changing course a little this year. First, 10 Things I really liked about the show:
The show’s first number, which sets up this year’s “Silver Screen” theme with the number “Let’s Go to the Movies.” If you had any doubts as an audience member going into this venerable Fresno tradition, never fear: From the start you realize this is no loosely staged amateur hour. The opening is precise, snappy and a visual delight: Each cast member is dressed as a movie icon, from Charlie Chaplin, Annie the orphan, “Sister Act,” Cruella de Vil to the Phantom of the Opera. There’s Darth Vader! And I don’t know my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that sure looks like one. Lots of fun.
The percussive shaker shaped like a banana wielded by Julie Saldana in the upbeat song “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King. Sometimes it’s the smallest of details that catch your attention. With a striped scarf tied jauntily around her waist, Saldana was the perfect chorus member: bright, cheery and totally in the moment. Later, Saldana would deliver a wonderful solo moment in “Pure Imagination,” but she gets bonus points for that banana.
“Saturday Night Fever.” The whole chorus attired in spectacular disco awfulness/awesomeness, with director David Bonetto’s choreography resembling a full-scale Travolta impersonation. Need I say more?
The show’s direction. Bonetto is a wiz at herding large groups of people around on stage without making it seem as if he’s herding. (I love the way he stages the “James Bond” medley, with three distinct groups of singers showcased by Christopher R. Boltz’s nifty lighting design.) Bonetto keeps the show moving briskly (most of the time), makes good use of emcee Darrell Yates’ goofy charm and deftly incorporates digital technology (including clips and stills from various movies) into the production. He also has a great sense of humor. Best running gag: a “Chariots of Fire” routine that I’ll probably be reminded me of the rest of my life every time I see a flashing-red bicycle tail light.
The Edith Piaf warble in Renata Briones’ rendition of “La Vie En Rose.” It was a beautiful moment full of emotion and vocal power, just as Edith would have wanted.
The video tributes to such “New Wrinkles” alum as Barbara Mendes, Mary Jane Cavanaugh-Fisch and Geno Ventura. It was nice to see those familiar faces. Also sweet: a chance to say goodbye to music director Dede Nibler (and husband Tim), who’s moving on after 13 years.
Ron Surabian’s golden voice and gentle stage presence in such numbers as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “One Hand, One Heart” (with a sweet Linda Hubbart). He’s a natural.
Ron Fletcher as the Monster in a wonderful tap number to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” from “Young Frankenstein.” His grunts bordered between hammy and clinically insane. As in “I’m going to run into the audience and kill you” clinically insane. Very funny.
“Climb Every Mountain,” beautifully sung by Jane Parsons. Elegant, unadorned, heartfelt and touching.
Finally, a salute to Georgie Dayton, age 81, whose riotous “I’m Tired” from “Blazing Saddles” will bring the house down every time she performs it during this long run, I guarantee. Voice, comic timing, stage presence: She’s superb. (Memo to contemporary performers today who pack so much explicit content into their songs: Sometimes good old-fashioned innuendo is much more effective.) I’d pay good money just to see a whole act of Georgie Dayton.
And now, because I think “New Wrinkles” just keeps getting better and has reached a level where it’s ready for a little serious critical reflection, a few things that I think could be improved:
1. The show is a little too long. Bonetto delivered a production last year that felt crisp and streamlined. This year, it sags a couple of times in the pacing. (Especially at the end: The natural end point of the show seems to be “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll & Hyde,” with the remaining three numbers stuck awkwardly on.) One number that could definitely go: a woman’s four-part “Dancing Queen” rendition. Sometimes it’s fun to mix up genres and tackle a song in a totally different musical style, but this anemic version practically counts as a crime against ABBA.
2. The opening segment, shot on video of Yates, the emcee, at the Tower Theatre, is a fun concept but could be tightened. (One scene is plenty.) The show needs to start with the same sort of charge you get when sitting down to watch, say, the Oscars on TV: lots of energy and excitement. This approach feels too sedate.
3. The amplification. I’ve written about this in previous years, and I realize there are technical issues involved, but I’m wondering what it will take to get a bigger sound out of the unmiked large chorus. When you have miked or amplified soloists but a chorus that sounds puny in comparison, it has an impact on the show’s energy level.
But, as I say, those are critiques that shouldn’t detract from my overall extremely positive impression of the show. This “New Wrinkles” might focus on the “Silver Screen” this year, but if it keeps going at this rate, it’ll soon be shooting for gold.
- 7:30 p.m. May 27, 28, June 3, 4, 10, and 11 and 2 p.m. May 29, June 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, and 12.
- Fresno City College Theatre, 1101 E. University Ave. in Fresno.
- Tickets are $16 and are available online at newwrinkles.com or at the Fresno City College Box Office, 1101 E. University Ave. in Fresno, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or call, 559-442-8221.
- Auditions for the show begin in September and cast members typically practice five to 10 hours a week, March through May. More information is available by calling the box office at 559-442-8221.