News and notes from the arts beat:
‘Once’ at Saroyan
When the Broadway musical “Once” won eight Tony awards in 2012, including best musical, I knew it would eventually wind its way to Fresno. Now the second national tour (a non-union production) is making a stop in Fresno for a two-night stand beginning Tuesday.
Most people know “Once” from the acclaimed 2007 film about a Dublin busker and an immigrant woman he meets. The love story between them, which unfolds as they write and record music together, captivated audiences with its low-key charm.
The Broadway musical took that storyline and expanded the theatricality of the experience, says Liam Fennecken, a member of the show’s 12-actor ensemble. (He talked to me by phone on a tour stop in Olympia, Wash.) The most distinctive thing about the structure of the show is that the actors also serve as the onstage orchestra.
“There’s something about having all the actors play the instruments as well that adds another layer of connection with the audience,” Fennecken says.
Along with his role as Svec, one of the roommates of Girl (the unnamed woman who meets the busker), Fennecken plays percussion, guitar, mandolin and banjo.
Though he played guitar before landing a role in the tour, he had never picked up mandolin or banjo.
“You could say there was a learning curve during rehearsals,” he says with a laugh.
I ask if he thinks the stage adaptation is better than the movie. He opts for the diplomatic answer, telling me that both are great, but that he likes the way the stage production “adds a bit of theatrical flair without going over the top.”
One more thing, he adds: There’s a decent amount of foul language in the play. “Just think of it as the natural amount of cursing that Irish people do.”
“Once” is one of those shows I never got to see in New York (where I am right now seeing shows), so I’m very much looking forward to the Fresno tour. In fact, I arranged my schedule to arrive back Tuesday in time to see it. If all works out it will be eighth show in six days. Whew.
A final Levine book
The publisher Alfred A. Knopf has just published “The Last Shift,” a final collection of poetry from Philip Levine, whose notable career included a long stint as a Fresno State professor and a term as poet laureate of the United States.
The book is published in conjunction with “My Lost Poets,” a collection of Levine’s essays, speeches, and lectures.
The publisher describes “The Last Shift” as a journey by Levine through “through time and space: recalling his childhood, weaving in memories (“Go back to early April of 1949”), and beckoning us through the scenes of Andalusia and Sicily—all while never forgetting his native Detroit.”
“My Lost Poets,” meanwhile, includes his final speech as poet laureate, recounting how “as a boy he composed little speeches walking in the night woods near his house, and how he later realized these were his first poems.”
Both books are sure to be welcome additions to the collections of a legion of Levine’s colleagues, former students and fans in the Fresno area, of which there are many.
- 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
- Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St.