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At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Craig Lucas
Based on the original novel “Madame Sousatzka” by Bernice Rubens
Music by David Shire
Lyrics by David Maltby, Jr.
Additional Vocal Arrangements and Music by Lebo M
Directed by Adrian Noble
Choreography by Graciela Daniele
Set by Anthony Ward
Costumes by Paul Tazewell
Lighting by Howell Binkley
Sound by Martin Levan
Projection design by Jon Driscoll
Cast: Ryan Allen
Jordan Barrow
Victoria Clark
Rebecca Eichenberger
Sara Jean Ford
Fuschia!
John Hillner
Judy Kaye
Virginia Preston
Christianne Tisdale
Nicky Wyman

The production is overproduced; over-written with too many storylines, many of which should be cut and too many extraneous songs that should also be cut. However the singing of Victoria Clark as Sousatzka, Judy Kaye as the Countess and Montego Glover as the mother, is glorious.

The Story. Sousatzka is based on the 1962 novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens and not on the 1988 film starring Shirley MacLaine. The novel is set in London. It’s about Madame Sousatzka, an eccentric Polish piano teacher and her gifted student Marcus, the son of a single mother from Eastern Europe.

But in the musical, Sousatzka, this simple story has been fiddled with to such an extent that it’s just chocking with storylines, many of which are not developed or are eye-poppingly incredible. Playwright Craig Lucas has made several changes and additions for the musical Sousatzka (I guess copyright rules prevented the producers from using the clearer title of Madame Sousatzka. Sousatzka doesn’t really tell ticket buyers much about the show).

The setting is still London but it begins in South Africa in 1976 during the uprisings against apartheid. A man named Jabulani Khenketha leads a group of black South Africans seeking justice but are shot at by the police. Several people are killed and Jabulani is sent to prison for treason. His wife Xholiswa Khenketha and their young son, Themba leave South Africa and make a dangerous journey to London (1983) and a better life. Themba is now the gifted student of Madame Sousatzka.

Over the course of the show we see Madame Sousatzka’s back story—family wiped out by the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland (1938) and there are other horrors she experiences as well. There are the back stories of the rest of the people who live in the boarding house with Madame Sousatzka; Themba is torn between his cultural attachment to South Africa and the transplanted South Africans in London and his awakening to another kind of life involving Madame Sousatzka and her odd friends. Themba becomes attached to Sarah, a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed ballerina in his school which does not go down too well with his mother. Themba is also conflicted with who he is as a person and the music he wants to follow. And of course as Themba becomes accomplished Madame Sousatzka worries that he will leave her on his way to success. Lots too digest.

The Production. In the musical world you set the tone, mood and idea of a musical in the first five minutes of the show. In the first five minutes of Sousatzka we are in Soweto, South Africa, 1976 (this is projected on the back wall of the stage) at a rally against apartheid led by Jabulani, Themba’s father. Several traditional South African songs are sung by a throng in full voice including the South African national anthem and an anti-apartheid song. (I wish there was a projected translation of the songs so we could get the full benefit of their meaning.) Police shoot; people are dead and there is a court case with three very angry prosecutors screaming their verdict as Jabulani is put in prison. There is the escape of Themba and his mother to London where most of the musical takes place, except for those scenes that go off to other places.

This musical does not know what it wants to be it’s so confused. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a rousing South Africa story—though that gets the audience ‘up’ and excited–or an otherwise ‘quiet’ ordinary story in London with some lovely ballads. .

I found Anthony Ward’s set oddly designed and often oppressive. Too often there is a backdrop that goes up a bit higher than the actors on stage that establishes where we are—Sousatzka’s flat, Xholiswa’s London flat, etc., but above that is darkness. It’s as if the actors are playing the scene in a cave.

The South Africa scenes have the benefit of an impressive rising sun etc. thanks to the projections by Jon Driscoll, but for the most part there is a sense of gloom because of the odd design by Antony Ward. Strange because he’s a fine designer.

While Craig Lucas’s book is choking with too many story-lines he has captured the deep devotion that Sousatzka has to music. Lucas has also captured her quirkiness in telling Themba how to feel the music and let it play. In Themba we get a sense of the depth of his character.

For all the problems with this show, there are some bright spots. Victoria Clark as Madame Sousatzka is a gift of an actress. She captures the eccentric oddness of Sousatzka, her confidence, her fire and in her quiet moments, her uncertainty. And she sings like a dream. Clark is a true, clear, rich soprano who knows how to interpret the heart and soul of a song. She sings the beautiful song “Music Is In You” to convey that love of music to Themba.

Clark is ably matched by Judy Kaye as the Countess, a woman with a heart of gold and a keeper of many secrets. Kaye also sings beautifully. One of the best moments is their duet on “Let Go” a beautiful song about coming to terms with knowing when to let a person in your life go on to other things. Both are glorious singers and lovely actors.

Jordan Barrow as Themba has passion and charm. You get the sense of his growing confidence and confliction of where he should be in the world. He has poise and ability to handle this tricky part. Montego Glover as his mother Xholiswa also sings beautifully and is a fine actress. She conveys the pride and stubbornness in wanting the best for her son. And she does a rousing rendition of “Song of the Child” that is thrilling, until you realise that the song is oddly placed as if it was dropped in the story like an errant piece of lint. It’s an important song and should be better placed.

But too often one wondered what was up with all those songs? The music is by David Shire. The lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. Additional music is by Lebo M who has written the rousing South Africa portion. (All have done better work elsewhere.) There are 16 songs in the first act and 17 in the second with about 16 songs taking place in South Africa. Many of them should be cut because they are sung by people we don’t know or in situations that can’t support them. It’s as if the creators are determined to beat us into submission with too many story lines and too many songs.

Adrian Noble’s direction is pedestrian at best. He shows us the individual people in Sousatzka’s house involved in their activities: a man manipulates a client (he’s an osteopath), a young woman manipulates a client, (she’s a prostitute). What’s missing is who they actually are for context. Songs are often sung full out to the audience, or speeches addressed to them but not the people the speech is meant for. So old fashioned.

Graciela Daniele’s choreography for the South African scenes is lively and acrobatic. When there are scenes in Xholiswa’s flat that is cause for more rousing singing—there are usually at least 20 people there—Daniele has them gyrating to a seductive beat.

So many people associated with this jumble of a show have done good work elsewhere. You want to ask, “What happened here? Are you too close to see you need a scissors to cut out swaths of this clutter?”

Themba might have a “Brand New Family” but that song comes from no where about people we know nothing about. Cut it.

Themba has enough on his plate to contend with besides also having to deal with a blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend ballet dancer since nothing of that relationship is developed. It’s just plopped in and it’s cheesy. Cut it. Cut the ridiculous number “All I Wanna Do (Is Go Dancin”) because it veers away from the central plot.

When Themba goes to a soiree at the home of the man who will arrange a concert for him, that is not cause for a production number of “Manders Salon” of the snotty, bigoted people invited there. The song is clever for no reason and the message of it has been handled better elsewhere in the show. Cut it.

While Judy Kaye sings “Ring One Bell” beautifully about a Christmas in Warsaw, the song comes from no where and is supported by nothing and veers away from the plot. Sorry, cut it.

And while the incredulous ending might make one think this is a happy ending it’s just another eye-rolling moment in a show full of them.

Comment. Craig Lucas’s book of Sousatzka seems like a checklist of the ills of the 20th century—apartheid, the Holocaust, rape, racism, bigotry and interracial relations to name a few—and it makes the whole enterprise seem disingenuous. It’s as if the creators were taking a basically simple story and puffing it up to look important and substantial. And it’s neither.

Sousatzka marks the return of Garth Drabinsky to theatre producing after an absence of 15 years, some of which was spent in jail because of fraud. His intention is to send this to Broadway in the fall. If Garth Drabinsky thinks this new production is Broadway material he’s 20 years out of date. This production has been kicking around on Drabinsky’s bucket list for years and in that time it doesn’t seem that he’s noticed that Broadway has changed. These over-blown, bloated productions have passed their ‘best-by-date.” Song after song is bellowed out giving a false sense of ‘tingle’ and a distinct sense of being manipulated.

There are 11 roles in Sousatzka with a stuffed cast of 48 (and many of them should be cut.) In true Drabinsky fashion all the creative people on this show are either American or British. All the speaking roles are American. Of the cast of 48 only 16 are Canadian and they are relegated to the chorus. I have seen many of those Canadians in the chorus in lead roles in shows across the country, but you won’t find that in a Garth Drabinsky show. The message is clear: Canadians aren’t good enough for a creative or speaking role in a Drabinsky show.

Sousatzka was work shopped in Toronto (where the dollar is weak) and has its only run here before it hopes to go to Broadway in the fall. I would like to think this is one case that Drabinsky will not tell us (Canadians, Torontonians) how lucky we are that this show started here.

Feh

Teatro Proscenium Limited Parnership and Sousatzka Broadway Limited Partnership present a Garth Drabinsky Production:

Opened: March 23, 2017
Closes: April 9, 2017.
Cast: 48; 4; men, 8 women and a lot of chorus.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes.

www.sousatzkamusical.com

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At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Craig Lucas
Based on the original novel “Madame Sousatzka”
Music by David Shire
Lyrics by David Maltby, Jr.
Additional Vocal Arrangements and Music by Lebo M
Directed by Adrian Noble
Choreography by Graciela Daniele
Set by Anthony Ward
Costumes by Paul Tazewell
Lighting by Howell Binkley
Sound by Martin Levan
Cast: Ryan Allen
Jordan Barrow
Victoria Clark
Rebecca Eichenberger
Sara Jean Ford
Fuschia!
John Hillner
Judy Kaye
Virginia Preston
Christianne Tisdale
Nicky Wyman

Sousatzka is about an eccentric piano teacher named Madame Sousatzka and her gifted student, Themba. The production is overproduced; over-written with too many storylines, many of which should be cut; too many extraneous songs that should also be cut. Setting it in London and South Africa with a checklist of the ills of the 20th century—apartheid, the Holocaust, rape, racism, bigotry, and interracial relations to name a few—makes the whole thing seem disingenuous.

Craig Lucas (book) David Shire (music), Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics) have all done better work elsewhere. The additional music by Lebo M is rousing.

Adrian Noble’s direction is pedestrian. I found the set (Anthony Ward) oddly designed and often oppressive. He too has done better work elsewhere. (what has happened to you people??!!)

If Garth Drabinsky thinks this production is Broadway material he’s 20 years out of date.

The saving graces are Victoria Clark as Madame Sousatzka and Judy Kaye as the Countess. Both are glorious singers and lovely actors. Jordan Barrow as Themba has passion and charm. And Montego Glover as his mother also sings beautifully and is a fine actress. I was so grateful for them.

But to the rest—feh.

Full review to follow. I will review this on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm on Friday, March 24 from 9 am to 10 am.

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At the Avon Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Directed by Gary Griffin
Musical director, Franklin Brasz
Designed by Debra Hanson
Lighting by Kevin Fraser
Projection Consultant, Brad Peterson
Sound by Peter McBoyle
Cast: Matt Alfano
Gabriel Antonacci
Sean Arbuckle
Ben Carlson
Juan Chioran
Cynthia Dale
Rosemary Dunsmore
Sara Farb
Barbara Fulton
Alexis Gordon
Ayrin Mackie
Yanna McIntosh
Stephen Patterson
Jennifer Rider-Shaw
Kimberly-Ann Truong

An uneven production (dare one say, sloppy) of Stephen Sondheim’s sublime musical, with a director more interested in moving furniture to change scenes than in helping actors desperate for direction, but with performances from Ben Carlson and Yanna McIntosh (among others) that are wonderful.

The Story. Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 musical is suggested by Ingmar Berman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. A Little Night Music takes place in Sweden at the turn of the last century. Fredrik Egerman, a middle aged lawyer, is trying to please his very young wife, Anne, with theatre tickets to a French comedy starring Désirée Armfeldt. Frederick and Anne have been married for eleven months and have not consummated the marriage because at 18, Anne is timid, afraid of sex, or perhaps sex with Fredrik. Fredrik is frustrated. Years before he married Anne he had an affair with Désirée Armfeldt. Now after the French comedy Fredrik goes to Désirée for solace, even though they haven’t seen each other for at least 14 years.

To complicate matters Fredrik’s nineteen-year-old son Henrik, from a previous marriage, is secretly in love with Anne. And there are further complications: Désirée has a very pompous dragoon as a lover—who in turn is married as well. It’s Sweden. They don’t get enough sunlight. It wrecks havoc on people’s emotions.

The Production. Five formally dressed Lieder Singers set the tone and elegance of the musical and give hints of the stories to come, but the production is marred by over-amplification. What is this penchant for microphoning both the orchestra and the cast then ramping up the sound so that you almost can’t make out the lyrics and the music sounds harsh? It’s Sondheim! If you can’t make out the lyrics and the music the point is wasted. The audience is there to listen. Trust them to do it. Cut the amplification down by half, please!

There is such a sense of clutter and busy stage business in director Gary Griffin’s disappointing production. The cast always seems to be moving and pushing set pieces from one end of the stage to the other, often for no reason or during a scene causing distraction. So many actors need guidance with their intricate characters and the director seems nowhere in attendance except for the ‘look’ of the production and even here there are eye-brow-knitting moments.

In the scene when Fredrik and Anne go the theatre to see Désirée in her play, Fredrik and Anne sit in a box stage right, watching Désirée and two characters do a scene, facing downstage, towards the audience. There is a projection at the back of the set of a multi-tiered, very ornate theatre with plush seats, facing the audience (us). The projection is in the wrong place. It’s backwards if the action of the scene is played downstage towards the audience (us). That sight of the rich theatre is what Désirée and her fellow actors on stage would see as they looked out to their audience. It’s not what we (our audience) should be looking at at the back of the set. Is no one in this production paying attention to this stuff? Does the director really care this little?

Debra Hanson’s set, with its odd smoke stacks configuration and overpowering gate and faux foliage, to quote a line from the musical: “was, to put it mildly, peculiar.” Her costumes, on the other hand, are ravishing, elegant, and fitting the time.

This difficult show requires a cast that is strong in both singing and acting; who know how to find the nuance and detail in Hugh Wheeler’s elegant (that word again) text and Sondheim’s intricate lyrics. Four actors hit the mark in spades. As Fredrik, Ben Carlson goes from strength to strength. Whether he is acting in Shakespeare or singing Sondheim, his acting is true, detailed and heartfelt. As Fredrik, Carlson shows the man’s frustration with a young wife and the longing for a former lover. This is a performance full of patience, wit, pent up emotion and courtliness. And he sings beautifully.

As Désirée, Yanna McIntosh has the sass and boldness of an actress forced to tour the country-side in second-rate productions, but still has the allure and class of an actress that can draw crowds. This Désirée is knowing, ironic, sarcastic and coy. McIntosh’s rendering of “Send in the Clowns” is wonderfully heartbreaking. McIntosh conveys Désirée’s initial yearning and disappointment when singing the song for the first time and her quiet joy when singing the reprise that it will all work out.

Juan Chioran brings out all the pomposity and arrogance of Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. He has the stature and sneer of a man who believes he deserves everything from all his women. Chioran does it with a haughty flair. You are never in doubt that he has “the vanity of a peacock (and ) the brain of a pea” in Chioran’s performance and he does it beautifully. That also carries over in his commanding singing. This is a character that is a pompous fool and totally mesmerizing because of Chioran’s playing of him.

Madam Armfeldt, Désirée’s mother, is a woman with a colourful past; who counts kings among her former lovers. As played by Rosemary Dunsmore, with an impish hauteur, Madam Armfeldt conveys the exasperation of a woman of class who laments her daughter’s messiness in her own affairs. Madam Armfeldt is watchful, all-knowing, impatient with the shoddiness of the ‘modern’ generation who come calling to her estate. Yet has the most delicious whimsy and wry humour when commenting about it all to her granddaughter. Dunsmore brings all this out with economy and the most riveting stillness.

A Little Night Music demands absolute mastery of all its actor/singers, not just four of them. What of those who are floundering and need a strong director’s hand? They seem to be out of luck here. As Anne Egerman, Alexis Gordon (so wonderful last year as Julie Jordan in Carousel) plays the flightiness and girlishness of Anne but does not go deeper to find the emotional uncertainty.

As Countess Charlotte Malcolm, Cynthia Dale is all surface and superficiality. A bright smile and the hint of a furrowed brow does not begin to plum the depths of Charlotte’s character and her conflicted emotions. While Dale hits all the notes in “Every Day A Little Death” she does not realize the emotional rawness in the song. Charlotte has a nimble wit and keen sense of humour, but again Dale ploughs through lines without seeming to know where the laugh is. Case in point: Carl-Magnus tells Charlotte of going to his mistress Désirée’s for part of his leave. He tells Charlotte of finding Fredrik Egerman there, a lawyer. Charlotte says: “What kind of lawyer? Corporation, maritime, criminal—testamentary?” Writer Hugh Wheeler shows the actress playing Charlotte where there is a pause in the list, namely, that dash. And that sets up the joke that follows the dash, namely, the word “testamentary.” Dale doesn’t pause to set up the laugh. And she mispronounces “testamentary,” which doesn’t help either. The stress in on the first syllable and not on the last. Is there nobody to help her, such as the director?

Can somebody please tell Matt Alfano who plays Frid, that Frid is a servant in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century and not someone from a borough of New York City in 2016, who seems fresh from A Chorus Line?

Sara Farb is flirty and sexually charged as Petra, a servant in the Egerman household. She knows how to take advantage of any opportunity that passes by. She belts out “The Miller’s Son” but one wishes it was less an obvious effort of a bravura performance to bite out all those challenging lyrics, and a more varied exploration of the depths of that stunning song.

Comment. Stephen Sondheim writes of the wounded heart, love in all its guises and the folly of people ruled by their emotions like no other living composer for the musical theatre. A Little Night Music is a musical as delicate as a feather on the breeze but with heightened emotions. Characters are fraught, conflicted and often emotionally fragile. It requires a delicate, but firm, directorial hand to realize the subtleties in the piece. Unfortunately it doesn’t have that in Gary Griffin. Actors desperate for guidance don’t seem to get it; a note to ‘bring the performance down a lot’ doesn’t seem to have been given; how to play a part in the time period of the musical and helping an actor find the humour and the laugh in so many lines does not seem to be important in his direction. One also wonders if musical director, Franklin Brasz helped any of the singers who needed guidance to find out what their songs meant.

I am grateful for Ben Carlson, Yanna McIntosh, Juan Chioran and Rosemary Dunsmore for giving performances that are beautifully rendered with all the nuance and shading that is necessary in realizing this difficult, elegant musical. But for the rest, sadly this production of A Little Night Music is a disappointment.

The Stratford Festival Presents:

Opened: June 21, 2016.
Closes: October 23, 2016.
Cast: 18; 7, 11 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx.

www.stratfordfestival.ca

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January, 2014

Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

By Michel Tremblay

Directed by John Van Burek

Richard McMillan played Sandra as a sashaying, coy, seductive, bitter transvestite. As the audience filled in, McMillan, as Sandra, strolled on stage wearing a floor-length satin dressing gown. He sat down at a table facing us and stared.  His middle finger made small circles on the surface of the table. He pouted at the audience. He was toying with us. The performance revealed a deep-rooted vindictiveness and sadness.

Irene Poole played Manon, a repressed, religious woman, stuck in her own disappointment. She wore a severe black suit with a long skirt. When she sat her knees were tight together and were covered by the skirt. Poole still pulled the skirt tighter down her already covered legs.

Slowly, almost without us noticing, the huge backdrop of the Virgin Mary ever so slowly came into view. Kudos to the lighting of Itai Erdal.

Light Princess

National Theatre, London, England.

Music and Lyrics by Tori Amos

Book and Lyrics by Samuel Adamson

Suggested by a story by George MacDonald.

Directed by Marianne Elliott

Designed by Rae Smith

Lighting by Paule Constable

Choreography by Steven Hoggett

Starring Rosalie Craig

Not exactly a shining moment for Tori Amos in her musical theatre debut, or for Samuel Adamson who keeps just missing in his playwriting. About a princess who is cursed to defy gravity and never really alight on the ground.

The always imaginative Steven Hoggett devised choreography-movement that had the princess floating in air, and ‘bounced’ and flipped by a group of black-clad men who were therefore to be considered invisible.  A technicolor set and striking lighting from director Marianne Elliott’s stalwart team:  Rae Smith on sets and Paule (pronounced Paulee) Constable on lighting.

Henry V

At the Noël Coward Theatre, London, England

Written by William Shakespeare (of course!)

Directed by Michael Grandage (part of his season of plays with British star actors)

Designed by Christopher Oram

Lighting by Neil Austin

Composed and sound by Adam Cork

Starring Jude Law

An unevenly acted production with Jude Law playing Henry V— the draw for this production. Mr. Law is determined to be taken seriously as an all-round commanding actor (both in film and on the stage). He didn’t blow me away but I admire his tenacity and his not being afraid to disappear into his characters and be unrecognizable.

As the all-important Chorus  (who calls “O for a muse of fire….” and sets the stage and tells us what is going to be ‘crammed within this wooden O’),  Ashley Zhangazha left a lot to be desired, starting with contained passion and  comprehension of the text. He needed a director to help him and Michael Grandage was not that person. Zhangazha was so busy flinging his arms around and seemed so delighted to be onstage that comprehension of what he was saying was flung away.

The back wall was curved like Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which is where the play was first done. But when Zhangazha came to the line “Crammed within this wooden O,” instead of flinging his arms wide to indicate the curved walls, he flung his hands down in front of him, indicating the floor. Mystifying.

Stephen Ward

At the Aldwych Theatre, London, England

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Book and Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black

Designed by Rob Howell

Lighting by Peter Mumford

Sound by Paul Groothuis

Choreography by Stephen Mear

Directed by Richard Eyre

Starring Alexander Hanson

Dr. Stephen Ward, osteopath, arranged women for his male friends in high places. He introduced John Profumo — in the British cabinet — to Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. There was a scandal. Political crisis. Stephen Ward was sacrificed. Andrew Lloyd Webber thought this would make a swell musical.

Alexander Hanson was a suave, smooth Stephen Ward. He smoked with style. He put the slow moves on women. He sang beautifully. You wanted to take a shower after spending time with the character.

Lloyd Webber repeated and repeated melody lines and songs he wanted to be the hit tunes. With all that repetition naturally the melodies stuck. The first scene took place in The Chamber of Horrors in Blackpool. A semi-circle of wax figures — a who’s who of the monsters of the 20th century were there — Hitler, Stalin, the Acid-bath murderer and Stephen Ward. Ward came out of the line of wax figures and sang that he was there on display between Hitler and the Acid-bath murderer. Only he wasn’t. He was between Hitler and Stalin. The Acid-bath murderer was waaaaay over there at the other end of the line.  I knew we were in trouble then. The show closed in four months.

Mojo

At the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, England.

Written by Jez Butterworth

Directed by Ian Rickson

Designed by Ultz

Lighting by Charles Balfour

Music by Stephen Warbeck

Sound by Simon Baker

Starring: Brendan Coyle

Rupert Grint

Tom Rhys Harries

Daniel Mays

Colin Morgan Ben Wishaw

Silver Johnny was a rock star on the club circuit in London. People went wild when he appeared. Everybody wanted to represent him. A kind of bidding war happened. Things got ugly. A guy who managed him was found in two barrels.

In setting up the scene when Johnny goes on stage, Tom Rhys Harris swiveled his hips to get in the groove; put his hands down his pants to ‘fluff’ himself up; then flung himself over a railing to jump on the stage below. Talk about a dramatic entrance. No stairs for this guy.

Brendan Coyle (a long way away from Mr. Bates on “Downton Abbey”) played the brains of one of the groups. Ben Wishaw, who usually plays slight, sensitive men, was unrecognizable as one of the toughs. A fabulous production.

Ghosts

At the Trafalgar Studios, London England

Written by Henrik Ibsen

Directed and adapted by Richard Eyre

Designed by Tim Hatley

Lighting by Peter Mumford

Sound by John Leonard.

Starring: Adam Kotz

Jack Lowden

Brian McCardie

Charlene McKenna

Lesley Manville

As Mrs. Alving, Lesley Manville was glorious. She can assume a look of sadness, despair, joy with a tinge of ‘something’ and yet never give it away. You didn’t see the last scene in her first entrance.

The design/set/lighting etc. were the other stars. Dark, forbidding walls then became slowly transparent with light as a glass wall appeared where we thought there was wood.  I love the ache of the play; the trapped, gasping characters. The sins of the father heaped down on his innocent son. That Ibsen knew his way around a woman’s heart and mind.

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

At the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, England

Written by The Goodale Brothers

From the works of P.G. Wodehouse.

Directed by Sean Foley

Designed by Alice Power

Lighting by James Farncombe

Music and sound by Ben and Max Ringham

Starring Matthew Macfadyen

Stephen Mangan

The story is impenetrable, complicated, and hilarious. Bertie Wooster, that upper-class twit, was played by the lively, toothsome Stephen Mangan. The always calm, efficient, wily Jeeves was played by a totally contained Matthew Macfadyen. With a purse of his lips, a raise of his eyebrows, and a slow pan to the audience, Macfadyen spoke volumes but said nothing.  These two actors played all the characters, both men and women, sometimes at the same time. At one point the set was changed when a hook attached to a wall of the set was then attached to a stationary bicycle and one of them peddled like mad, and the set then revolved to reveal another location. Great silliness.

Emil and the Detectives

At the National Theatre, London, England

Written by Erich Kästner

Adapted by Carl Miller

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Designed by Bunny Christie

Lighting by Lucy Carter

Movement by Aline David

Music by Paul Englishby

Sound by Ian Dickinson

Starring a cast of thousands it seems, and one of three Emils (I think I had Daniel Patten)

Emil was going to his relatives by train. His mother gave him some food for the journey and money for his relatives. A scumbag thug on the train stole the kid’s money. When  Emil arrived at his destination the word went out to all the kids in the town about the theft an the need to get it back. The kids rallied. The scumbag was caught. The whole thing looked like a film noir setting. Loved it.

This is the show I was seeing when, at intermission, Andrew told his girlfriend Emily (sitting next to me) that they would honeymoon in Venice but would live in Pasadena. Emily seemed agreeable. Then Andrew announced he wanted to get married when he was 24. That gave them 15 years to plan it all, Andrew pointed out, because he is currently nine.

Happy Days

At the Young Vic

Written by Samuel Beckett

Directed by Natalie Abrahami

Designed by Vicki Mortimer

Lighting by Paule Constable

Sound by Tom Gibbons

Movement by Joseph Alfond

Starring: David Beames

Juliet Stevenson

I saw the second or third preview. Not fair to comment. Never mind. This was one of the best productions of this hard play I have ever seen. Vickie Mortimer designed a mound of earth at the bottom of a craggy cliff. Every time the bell rang with its teeth-gritting sound, pebbles would trickle down the cliff. This takes away any mystery as to how Winnie got buried up to her waist. Even in repose, bent down over the mound, Juliet Stevenson as Winnie, looked like it was an unrestful sleep. The jollity was forced. The tenacity of Winnie was heartbreaking and impressive.

In Act II Winnie should be up to her neck in dirt. Here she wasn’t. She was up to her chin—much worse.  When Winnie screamed twice in Act II, to release tension, get rid of angst, the stones trickled more and faster. That made me heartsick. To be stuck, trapped, desperate to release a desperation by screaming, and the scream loosens pebbles that are slowly burying you. God! As Willie, Winnie’s consort, David Beames is masterful  — present but absent, trying to help and failing. The director is Natalie Abrahami. Brilliant.

 

 

 

 

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Review: SPIN

by Lynn on November 21, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written and performed by Evalyn Parry
Directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones.
Video and production design by Beth Kates
Arrangements for String Trio by Michael Holt
Also starring: Brad Hart on the Bicycle
Don Kerr on the Cello
Kathleen Kajioka on Viola
Anne Lindsay on Violin

A terrific journey on and about the bicycle, women’s emancipation and bloomers.

The Story. Evalyn Parry tells us in song and occasionally speech about the importance of the bicycle regarding women’s emancipation. She tells several stories involving 19th Century adventurers and women’s rights activists. The main story is about Annie Londonderry, who, on a dare from a man, decided to ride a bicycle around the world in 1895! She was 23, married with three children, and she left them to go on this year-long adventure.

She funded her trip by selling post cards of her on her bike and by selling advertising space on her clothes and her bike. That’s an idea that has caught on if golf pros, tennis players etc. are any indication. The selling of ads provides a different definition of ‘spin’ besides the spin of the bicycle wheels.

Parry tells how the bicycle provided freedom to those women more than 100 years ago. It was a chance to break out of the home and perhaps drudgery. The clothing proved a problem. The dresses worn at the time were layered, heavy and cumbersome when trying to ride a bicycle. And there was the corset underneath. Along comes something called “Bloomers”. They were named after Amelia Bloomer, who did not invent them—I believe that was the Egyptians. Amelia Bloomer was a writer and publishing mover and shaker at the time, and championed those billowing pants, so the nickname for the pants came from her.

The Production. Stage left is a man’s bike raised on a stand. Centre stage is a microphone and two guitars on stands. Stage right are three chairs and music stands for the string trio who wear black pants, white shirt, perhaps formal tailed jackets: Don Kerr on cello (he wears goggles as he plays), Kathleen Kajioka on viola wears a black bowler hat; Anne Linsday on violin does not wear anything out of the ordinary as far as I can tell.

When the show is about to begin, Brad Hart takes his position behind the bicycle and begins to play it—ringing the bells on the handle-bars; tapping the cross-bar and seat; stroking the fender with a brush, plucking a spoke or two; twanging on something else.

Evalyn Parry, who wrote the script and the songs, appears in what looks like a circus master of ceremonies costume—red jacket with tails, tight black pants and maroon boots: Her hair is in one braid in the back, perhaps to suggest the 1890s yet she is also firmly in the 21st century.

There are projections on the back wall as well; a circle with the word “spin” repeated in the circle then spiralled; there are projections of bicycles through the ages; pictures of feminist icons of the day: Annie Londonderry, Emilia Bloomer, Frances E. Willard.

But it’s Parry with her easy smile, sense of irony and lilting voice that tells the story in song and dialogue that draws us in. She conjures the world of women on bikes in 1895 in the song, “She Rides”. She sings of Amelia Bloomer and her crusade for fashion reform in “Amelia Bloomer Sings for Fashion Reform,” and she talks about spin in terms of biking and advertising in “World of Spin.” Her songs are articulate, literate, occasionally impish, always witty and provocative. It’s directed with understated attention by Ruth Madoc-Jones.

Comment. When Spin played at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre three years ago, it played in the smaller Tallulah’s Cabaret. Now after touring the country from east to west and top to bottom for three years, Evalyn Parry and her troop have returned to Buddies, this time playing in the larger Chamber. The play is still intimate but now plays to a larger audience.

There are a few changes. A string trio has been added and their playing gives the sense of bicycle wheels spinning and movement happening, usually accompanied by wind in one’s hair. The music of the trio is by Michael Holt. There is also an additional moving song about a relative of Annie Londonderry who has taken her own journey and thus influences Evalyn Parry on hers.

Spin is parked at parked at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for one short week and plays until Nov. 23 after which it will ride off into the sunset. By writing about women in 1895 and their sense of earned freedom with the bicycle, Parry has created a parallel comment about our own times. Spin is thoughtful, perceptive, provocative, insightful and moving. Don’t miss it.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Outspoke Productions present:

Opened: Nov. 19, 2014
Closes: Nov. 23, 2014
Cast: 2; 1 man, one woman (a trio of musicians)
Running Time: 80 minutes.

www.buddiesinbadtimes.com

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Playwright Project 2014

For the past three years Founder and Project Director Alex “Addy” Johnson and her artistic team have created a festival of one act plays devoted to one playwright. In its first year the playwright was Tennessee Williams. In the second it was Sam Shepard. This year it’s British titan Caryl Churchill.

Churchill’s work is as fascinating as it is controversial, obtuse, clear, provocative, subversive, game changing, theatre-defining and always, always challenging. The variety of subjects explored is mind-blowing. Her use of language is like no other playwright because she re-invents it and you are never in doubt as to what she means.

From April 23 to May 4, four spunky independent theatre companies will present a play each which gives a taste of Churchill’s range as a playwright. They are: A Number produced by Cart/Horse Theatre. Vinegar Tom produced by Neoteny Theatre, Drunk Enough To Say I Love You produced by Circle Snake Productions, and Three More Sleepless Nights produced by Bad Joe.

I saw two plays of the four this weekend. I’m seeing the other two this week.

A Number.

Produced by Cart/Horse Theatre. Directed by Matthew Gorman. Starring: Craig Pike and Mark Whelan.

Cloning, identity, the relationship between fathers and sons, trust and the truth. These are some of the themes playwright Caryl Churchill explores in her play A Number. Bernard(2) is upset. He has found out that he is a clone and tells his father, Salter, and that there are a number of them, and he’s not sure how many. He’s not sure if he’s the original. He’s not sure how this happened—he mentions some mad scientist. The truth is more frightening. Bernard is as confused and concerned as his father is trying to be supportive and initially hiding the truth.

Another son appears looking exactly the same but not the same, Bernard (1). He is combative, accusatory, dangerous. Salter is scrambling to explain. Is this Bernard the original? And then there is Michael who looks like the others but seems to have little interest or connection to Salter.

Fascinating. Leave it to Churchill to explore cloning in such a way that while the three (known) clones look alike, they are totally different. There is a suggestion (I’m not giving it away) that the reason for the clone was to produce an exact replica of the original. And physically they look alike. In a lovely touch both Craig Pike as all the sons (Bernard 1, 2, and Michael) have the same kind of goatee as Mark Whelan who plays Salter the father. They all wear button down shirts. But the sons are different and Pike differentiates them beautifully. Bernard 2 is confused, trusting of his father, upset of course and questioning of what happened. Bernard 1 is angry, accusatory towards Salter, aggressive in his questioning and definitely not trusting of Salter. Finally Michael is uninvolved and unconcerned in a way. This is a glitch and Salter is a stranger to him. There is a reserve and distance between this ‘son’ and that father. Whelan on the other hand shifts and reacts to each ‘son’; at first trying to hide the truth and appear uninvolved; then trying to address the accusations of Bernard 1, and then trying to see a connection to Michael.

Director Matthew Gorman has created the different attitudes and relationships with clarity and economy. There are only two chairs that are moved depending on the scene. A Number . The acting by both Pike and Whelan is compelling. The story is gripping.

Vinegar Tom

Produced by Neoteny Theatre. Directed by Carly Chamberlain. Starring: Madeleine Donahue, Sophia Fabilli, John Gordon, Lynne Griffin, Keelin Jack, Jessica Moss, Kelly Penner, Sabryn Rock.

This is Churchill’s 1976 play dealing with witch hunts in the 17th century in England. Not to be confused with Arthur Miller’s play (1953) The Crucible, which also dealt with witch hunts in Salem Massachusetts in 1692-93, Miller’s play is a metaphor for the McCarthy witch hunts in the States in 1952.

In Vinegar Tom Churchill is exploring the inequity of women through the ages right up to the time of her writing the work. Alice, a saucy, tough talking woman has a flirtation with a mysterious man. The sex is rough and quick. She is enamoured of him. He is not with her. He considers her a whore. Insults fly. He calls her a witch. That’s the attitude. Men can blithely sleep with women and not have their reputations sullied. But women can’t do the same without being called whore, tart, and base.

Margery is a dutiful, hardworking wife to Jack. He treats her with disdain because he feels guilty. He is hopelessly attracted to another. Again when the advances are rebuffed insults and threats result.

There are many references to witchcraft and frequent and hideous efforts to rid a woman of the witchcraft in them no matter the age. The torture is done by self-righteous men. The other women of the village get into the vindictive spirit so that the women charged with witchcraft are either killed or driven out of the village. In one of Churchill’s most chilling inventions, Vinegar Top is the main culprit of the witch craft in the area. Vinegar Tom is a cat and the pet of Alice’s mother.

Director Carly Chamberlain has produced a production that is swift, efficient and realizes those things in the play that make us squirm for all the right reasons. The large cast is always on stage, situated in chairs on either side of the playing area, ready for swift entrances and exists. There is also a sense of the players being witnesses to the goings on, when they aren’t in a scene, as well as participants when they are in a scene.

Misogynistic lyrics of modern day songs are projected on a back wall to bring the point home that equality of the sexes is a reality in Churchill’s world at least.

As Margery, Madeleine Donahue is dutiful to her husband Jack but pensive with him. His mind is elsewhere; he is ill-tempered and she’s trying desperately to hold on to him. As Jack, John Gordon has the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is the guilt of his obsession with another. There is his wanting revenge to get even when he’s spurned. Every second on a farm is a challenge and he never lets Margery forget it. As Alice, Sabryn Rock is flirtatious, tough, desperate and resigned to being thought lowly. As her mother Joan Lynne Griffin has a defiant streak that could frighten the toughest men. She plays up being considered a witch with speeches that are nuanced, dangerous, subtle and attacking.

Another terrific production of a play by the prickly but always provocative Caryl Churchill.

Playwright Project
From April 23 to May 4
At the Downstage
Downstairs from the Magic Oven Restaurant
798 Danforth Ave.

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The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, April 18, 2014 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM, Floyd Collins at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in Barrie, Ont. Until April 19 and Beatrice & Virgil at Factory Theatre until May 11.

The host was Phil Taylor.

(PHIL)

Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. So, what treats to you have for us this week?

(LYNN)

I have two intriguing shows that tell compelling, shattering stories.

The first is Floyd Collins, a musical based on a true story. Book by Tina Landau with Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel and additional lyrics by Tina Landau.

It’s about Floyd Collins, a man from Kentucky who dreamed of finding the perfect cave and get it ready for the public as a tourist attraction.

And Beatrice & Virgil an adaptation of author Jann Martel’s novel of the same name. It’s about the friendship and harrowing story of Beatrice who is a donkey and Virgil, a howler monkey who are friends, and what they had to endure.

(PHIL)

Let’s start with Floyd Collins. Is there much drama in a man trying to find the perfect cave?

(LYNN)

Heaps. It’s 1925. In central Kentucky. There are interconnected caves all through that area, and Floyd Collins, a cave explorer, wants to find a new entrance to these caves. He walks into the cave but then has to crawl on his stomach through passage ways, and 55 feet down he gets stuck. His lamp goes out. He’s in the dark. He dislodges a rock that falls on his left foot and then wedges against the wall. He can’t move. He’s 150 feet from the opening of the cave.

Help comes. They get him light, food and water.They try and get him out. They can’t because of the rock on his foot that is lodged tight. The press comes. A reporter named Skeets Miller, who usually covers sports, is sent to cover this story for his small paper. The story is first considered unimportant, hence the sports guy is sent.

Miller’s dispatches on the event eventually are syndicated in more than 1000 papers. (An aside, he wins the Pulitzer Prize for this). Amateur radio covers the story. It’s huge. It was like a circus atmosphere on the surface outside the cave, but not so much for Floyd Collins inside the cave. Through it all Floyd Collins was in the cave for 14 days waiting for rescue.

So the drama and tension of course is established by Tina Landau’s book depicting Floyd’s situation; the frantic efforts to free him; with the stirring, gripping music and lyrics of Adam Guettel adding to the experience.

(PHIL)

Talk about the music a bit…it seems odd subject matter for a musical.

(LYNN)

I’m not so sure. Whoda thought the rise of the Nazis in Germany would make a thrilling musical—but Cabaret does nicely. A serial killer who uses a straight razor to kill his customers becomes the musical Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.

So why not a guy stuck in a cave becoming a musical? Adam Guettel’s music and lyrics grip you by the throat. He comes by his talents honourably. His mother is Mary Rodgers, who wrote the Broadway musical Once Upon a Mattress. And his grandfather is Richard Rodgers who seems to have composed everything else on Broadway—Carousel, South Pacific, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, etc. All shows dealing with serious stories.

Guettel lulls us into the story of Floyd Collins with the beautiful song “The Ballad of Floyd Collins” which tells us who Floyd is, his hopes, dreams and ironically how he realized those dreams. The music is melodic; the lyrics are thoughtful and vivid. There are songs that depict the attitude of Floyd and his changing moods in the cave; songs that characterize what’s going on above ground both cynical and fearful. They cover a whole raft of emotions and depict the world Floyd lives in. And of course there are echoes of our world too—the hunt for glory through celebrity, for example.

(PHIL)

How do you put that story on the stage?

(LYNN)

With tremendous ingenuity and tenacity. First a background story. This production of Floyd Collins is a co-production between Patrick Street Productions in Vancouver, where the show played first, and Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. The set was put on a transport truck for the journey to Barrie. It never arrived in time for the opening night last Friday. The truck never left Vancouver and the trucking firm was not forth coming with any information as to why. When the Globe and Mail started enquiring the theatre company was informed. It was not viable to do the journey with just the containers with the set—the trucking company was hoping/waiting for another shipment of other goods to make the journey. Never happened.  So the truck never left.

The production was done with no set but a whole lot of imagination and clear, clean direction by Peter Jorgensen. Simple projections on a large screen at the back of the stage established various locations. A huge photo shows a shelf of rock underneath which is the cave entrance. A diagram shows Floyd’s location in the cave. Headlines are projected charting the gruelling two weeks of trying to get Floyd out.

As Floyd Collins, Daren Herbert, slithers, his way along the floor and with every grunt and gasp conveys the tight quarters he’s in; how trapped he is; how terrified; yet brave. It’s a dandy performance of a man who says that faith is believing in something you can’t see; who is religious, tenacious, hopeful, and eventually resigned. He also sings beautifully.

As Homer Collins, Floyd’s brother, Michael Torontow is strapping, a bit of a hot head, but totally devoted to his brother. He too sings beautifully.

As their fragile minded sister Nellie, Krystin Pellerin is a waif of a woman, innocent and delicate. The family bond between sister and brothers is strong.

Much of the rest of the cast is uneven and that tends to slow down the pace. But they all work beautifully when they sing, thanks to Jonathan Monro, the musical director, who has a strong grasp of the music and how to get the best out of his chorus of singing actors.

Floyd Collins is a gripping tale and worth a visit to Barrie.

(PHIL)

And now this odd tale of Beatrice &Virgil about a monkey and a donkey. What’s that all about?

(LYNN)

It’s based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name. It was adapted by first time playwright, Lindsay Cochrane. It begins with a letter that a celebrated author named Henry receives. Henry alludes to his hugely successful second novel that used animals to tell the story—the book is of course Martel’s The Life of Pi.

The letter is from a taxidermist also named Henry. He wants the author to come and help him with his play. The play is about two of Henry’s stuffed animals; Virgil, a red howler monkey who had his tale cut off by his murderer, and his close friend Beatrice, a donkey.

In one of their early scenes in the play within this play, Virgil and Beatrice are on a lonely road, waiting by a tree. They talk of waiting, of wanting to leave but staying. The references to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are obvious. And I’m a bit intrigued why the author, who would know such things, does not mention that in the play.

Beatrice and Virgil can’t remember what day it is. They talk of many of the days being Godless. The author sounds out the taxidermist about the background of the stuffed animals and his play. Gradually, clues emerge. It was a time in which efforts were made to get rid of people of a certain faith; in which laws were imposed against them. Beatrice and Virgil called that time “The Horrors”. While such situations can be applied to many horrors of the 20th Century, Martel is referencing The Holocaust and the Jews. And he’s using Beatrice and Virgil as his voices.

We get a shuddering feeling from the author’s questioning that the Taxidermist might have been involved. As the play moves on, the grip on the audience becomes tighter and tighter.

It ends with the author reading off several games, which are really moral dilemmas. For example after being aware of this particular horror and you got to heaven what would you say to God? This goes nicely with the reference earlier to several days being Godless.

(PHIL)

How is it as a production?

(LYNN)

The production is shattering for all the right reasons. Theatre does many things–it entertains, informs, enlivens. But it’s at its most effective when it holds a mirror up to us and shows us how we are, what we have become and where we are going. Certainly what is happening to Jews in Ukraine is a sobering reminder of how history repeats itself.

The play is sensitively adapted by Lindsay Cochrane.  Director Sarah Garton Stanley continues on that sensitive tack. There is nothing brash, loud or overbearing about the direction. She directs her actors with a steady hand guiding them with as much subtly as the text demands as the shock of it reveals itself to its stunning conclusion.

It starts with the author giving a reading/lecture about his book and how he came to meet Henry the taxidermist. The author is played by Damien Atkins. Atkins has a way of looking both bemused and moved at the same time.  There is grace in his work.  His character is quietly amused by this mysterious taxidermist and then stunned by the story and how deeply he’s sucked into it. Atkins also plays Beatrice with intriguing body language that comes clear towards the end.

As the taxidermist, Pierre Brault is blunt, matter of fact, a bit impatient, and formidable.  He also plays Virgil the howler monkey as a kind companion to Beatrice, who is overwhelmed with what they have witnessed.

So, Beatrice & Virgil starts off slowly revealing itself. Initially you wonder where the play is going but when it becomes obvious and it has you in its grip you can’t move. That’s theatre at its best. It shows us our world. And with what is going on in it at the moment, theatre and plays like Beatrice & Virgil are more important than ever. 

(PHIL)

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

Or on Twitter @slotkinletter

Floyd Collins plays at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts until April 19.

www.tift.ca

Beatrice & Virgil plays at the Factory Studio Theatre until May 11.

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The following three shows were reviewed on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING 89.5 fm, The Little Mermaid at the Elgin Theatre until Jan. 4, Venus in Fur at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until Dec. 29 and The Musical of Musicals the Musical at the Panasonic Theatre until January 5, 2014.

The guest host was Phil Taylor

(PHIL)

Good Friday morning, it’s theatre fix-time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn

(LYNN)

Hi Phil

(PHIL)

What treats do you have today?

(LYNN)

I have three which is really too many to review in a short spot, but I’m doing it because one is a remount; one is a goofy formula panto and the other is a spoof of musicals, always good for a laugh.

(PHIL)

Ok enough with the suspense. What are the shows?

(LYNN)

The first is The Little Mermaid, which gets the  Ross Petty treatment. Family fare; the yearly pantomime that fractures fairy tales.

Then the remount of the hugely successful Canadian Stage production of Venus in Fur which has been moved to a smaller venue; The Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs.

And finallyThe Musical of Musicals the Musical a Fringe Festival hit and now part of the Mirvish Productions season.

(PHIL)

Ok, let’s dive in and begin with The Little Mermaid. Is it based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale?

(LYNN)

Very loosely. The fairy tale was about a mermaid who fell in love with a prince and was willing to give up her mermaidness and soul to love the prince and live on land.

But in a Ross Petty production, there is always a local element. So Angel is a mermaid living in Toronto Harbour when she learns an evil man named Ogopogo is planning to take over the harbour, build condos and a casino and spoil the landscape and destroy their environment. She overhears a young man named Adam planning to protest the expansion; sees him; and falls in love. He sees her in the water and is smitten too.

(PHIL)

You call it a goofy, formula panto. Why?

(LYNN)

It always has the same elements: good guys we root for; a dastardly villain we love to boo; silly side-kicks; current songs that fit into the action; topical references; for the adults and lots of groaning laughs for kids and grownups too; and the audience knows exactly what it’s getting and loves it. This year it’s billed as “Ontario’s O-Fish-Al Family Musical.

(PHIL)

You’ve seen these shows over the years, how did The Little Mermaid stack up?

(LYNN)

I didn’t flip over it. I think the script by Reid Janisse is a bit flat and not as funny as it could have been. He is a writer for Second City. This show isn’t a skit.  It’s a full stage play and there is too much dead air and awkwardness in the scenes.

But the cast is first rate. As Angel, Chilina Kennedy is sweet and feisty, as you would expect a mermaid with a cause to be. Dan Chameroy, plays the hip-swaying Plumbum, a blonde-bombshell of a woman with bad makeup who has a motor-mouth and a wonderful sense of humour. And of course Ross Petty plays the dastardly evil Ogopogo, the guy we love to boo. Petty milks those boos for all their worth.

And it’s directed with real imagination by Tracy Flye who has all the mermaids on roller skates—that’s how they suggest the fluid movement. Family fun, but it needs a better writer.

(PHIL)

Tell us about the remount of Venus in Fur.

(LYNN)

Venus in Fur is by David Ives based on an 1870 novel by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch  about kinky sex, and sexual power struggles. The term Sado-masochism was named after him.

In the play, Venus in Fur a playwright named Thomas, has adapted the novel and is looking for the perfect actress to play Vanda, a sophisticated sexual adventurist. In walks a tough talking, leather-bustier-high-heeled wearing young woman who wants the part. She has a heavy Bronx-New Yawk accent. She reads for the director and turns into the sophisticated, elegant woman in Thomas’s play.

She challenges him about his play, saying it’s sexist against women. He objects. She argues back. Her talk is punctuated by thunder occasionally. Who is she? She’s no ordinary actress.

(PHIL)

It originally played in the fall at the Bluma Appel Theatre and now it’s in a smaller venue. How does that work?

(LYNN)

It works better if you ask me, which of course you are. Debra Hanson’s set is very pared down. The theatre space is spare—a table, a few chairs a divan and the back brick wall of the theatre. It gives a grungy feel to the proceedings which I think you need for the grungy work of auditioning for a tough part.

Jennifer Tarver’s direction brings out the fierce struggle between Thomas who is overpowered and toyed with by Vanda. If anything I think the acting of Carly Street as Vanda and Rick Miller as Thomas is more intense. They have a real chemistry. And while one of the characters seems overwhelmed by the other, the actors are not. It’s a wonderful pairing watching those two.

(PHIL)

And finally The Musical of Musicals The Musical. What does all that mean?

(LYNN)

This was created in 2004 in New York by Eric Rockwell (music) and Joanne Bogart (lyrics). With both of them writing the book. Hilarious and clever. While they would have loved creating their own original musical that proved too difficult. What they found easier was using their knowledge of knowing every musical that played on Broadway in the past 60 years to produce a show composed of five scenes written in the style of a different, established composer/lyricist.

So they wrote scenes in the style of Rogers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman,  Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb.

Sweet corny stuff reminiscent of Oklahoma; complex stuff like Sondheim (Sweeney Todd); golly-gosh stuff from Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly fame) the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber that sounds like Puccini (Phantom of the Opera), and the work of John Kander and Fred Ebb—Cabaret, Chicago, etc.

The central theme is that a young woman named June is unable to pay the rent and is given all manner of terrible consequences by the landlord if she doesn’t come up with the money. And she sings about it, as does the landlord and others, in the style of the musical and the song they are singing.

A Canadian version played at the Toronto Fringe Festival this past summer, for which I am never here. I am glad it’s been picked up by Mirvish Productions. It’s a loving spoof, send-up of musicals.

(PHIL)

Do you need an encyclopaedic knowledge of musicals of the 20th Century to appreciate it?

(LYNN)

No. People who are not devotes of musical theatre will appreciate the lyrics and cleverness of the writing. And people who know their musical theatre history will get a charge out of recognizing all the referenced musicals in the various styles of songs. There are a few hints in the theatre program, and lots of others that are not.

The cast of four are all talented, charming, have their tongues in their cheeks: Mark Cassius, Adrian Marchuk, Dana Jean Phoenix and Paula Wolfson.

It’s directed with a wink by Vinetta Strombergs who knows her musical literature and can assume the atmosphere and style of each musical referenced with efficiency.

Michael Mulrooney plays the piano accompaniment and narrates with a dry wit. The whole thing works a treat. But I have one caveat.  There is a 20 minute intermission for what is really a 90 minute show.

Dumb….Padding.  Get rid of it. Other than that, a treat of a show.

(PHIL)

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at www.slotkinletter.com

The Little Mermaid plays at the Elgin Theatre until January 5, 2014.

www.rosspetty.com

Venus in Fur plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs until Dec. 29, 2013

www.canadianstage.com

The Musical of Musicals The Musical at the Panasonic Theatre, until January 5, 2014.

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The following two reviews were broadcast on Friday, August 9, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: THE LIFE OF JUDE at Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace and ALZHEIMER THAT ENDS HEIMER at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. Both part of Summerworks.

 Phil Taylor was the guest host.

(PHIL)

1) Our Theatre critic Lynn Slotkin is back with her weekly theatre reviews and views of all things theatre. Hi again Lynn

 (LYNN)

Hi again Phil.

 (PHIL)

Since the Summerworks Performance Festival opened yesterday, I assume you are going to talk about some shows you saw?

 (LYNN)

I am. First let me tell you what Summerworks is. It started 23 years ago as a festival of one act plays. Over the years it’s grown from just being a theatre based festival to now adding music, live art, a performance bar, international companies etc. So it’s now called the Summerworks Performance Festival. It runs at various venues downtown, from August 8-18. I can only focus on the theatre component of which there are 42 shows.

 I saw four shows yesterday but will only talk about two of them: The Life of Jude and Alzheimer That Ends Heimer. Next week I’ll do an overview of the festival and pick the standouts of the ones I see. The schedule being what it is, I’ve only been able to slot 23.

 (PHIL)

2) Ok, let’s get to it. The Life of Jude is nothing to do with the Beatles I take it?

 (LYNN)

Nothing. The Life of Jude is a huge undertaking. It’s written by the gifted actor-writer Alex Poch-Goldin.

It boasts a cast of 21 of our leading actors. It’s directed by the equally gifted, inventive David Ferry. It’s a musical.

The story is about Jude, born after the time of Jesus, and devoted to his teachings. As he gets older and studies religion he believes that God is talking directly to him and he goes forth to spread His word.

 When Jude was a child his father was imprisoned and his mother made due by being a prostitute. She was abused by ‘customer’ (an officer) she was with and killed him. Jude’s blind faith and conviction that one must repent for ones sins leads to devastating results.

 Poch-Goldin is writing a parable and what happens when blind faith obscures moral decision making. It’s about corruption, corporate greed and all sorts of neat things that are with us today.

 Poch-Goldin’s writing is sharply funny, perceptive, and has created a raft of characters that are clearly drawn from  Teresa, Jude’s mother,  who has a desperate, moral centre that leads her to do anything to take care of her son; a lascivious magistrate with a bowel problem; to the blinkered, blind-faithed Jude who finally sees the light.

 (PHIL)

3) You obviously like the writing. How is it as a play?

 (LYNN)

Well with 21 actors it’s a huge endeavour. And one has to be impressed with the guts of this company to put it on. Poch-Goldin captures the tenacity of the people living under less than ideal conditions in a corrupt world. They are wily, often decent, and complex.

 That said, The Life of Jude could stand cutting. And clarification.  Initially we are lead to believe that Jude is simple-minded—or am I taking his declaration that he is simple, too literally. But early on he does seem simple. Then as he matures his faith becomes so unwavering and rigid that it’s scary.

 There are a lot of songs—part of it was developed at the National Theatre School in Montreal and some of the students wrote some of the music. Some of the songs don’t progress the plot or develop character. They should be cut.

 Other songs are rousing and express a belief or attitude of the people such as “Tell Me Lord” which is intoxicating and effective.

 (PHIL)

4) And how is the production?

 (LYNN)

Under David Ferry’s direction it goes like the wind. There is a lot of ground to cover and a lot of scenes to get through and Ferry leads his cast efficiently, creatively and often with vivid impressions. I must say that often his creativity too could stand some cutting.

 Poch-Goldin seems to have titled his various scenes—silence for one; poverty for another; retribution etc. Ferry finds clever ways of illuminating the title that introduces the scene; either on a curtain, or on the clothing of a character. These illuminations get in the way of the flow since the scene describes the point anyway. And sometimes they are illuminated so fast you miss seeing what it says anyway.

 But he, along with choreographer Darcy Gerhart, do capture the throb of the music as they move the cast to stomp, clap and sway.

 The cast is accomplished with Adam Kenneth Wilson leading the way as Jude. It’s a performance that captures the innocence of the young Jude and the focused, dangerously blinkered attitude of the older Jude. Nothing sways him from making decisions that will do harm to his parents because he has his faith on his side.

 As Teresa, Pamela Sinha is poised, confident and desperate. She does something wonderful that speaks volumes about Teresa’s power over men–she flicks her hair over her shoulder. Simple, effective and dangerous.

 As the Magistrate with bowel problems, Bruce Dow fairly drools over Teresa during her court case for murder, while he squirms until there is a bathroom break in the proceedings. It’s a performance of a scum bag, that makes you want to take a shower soon after.

 So The Life of Jude. I love the guts and fearlessness of the group to go big and say something important.

(PHIL)

5) And now the strangely titled Alzheimer That Ends Heimer. 

(LYNN)

Yeah, I think it’s a play on the title of All’s Well That Ends Well. At least it seems to be referenced. It’s written, composed and narrated by Jay Teitel. Yes, a musical about Dementia. 

 As the program note says: ‘Alzheimer That Ends Heimer (aka ‘Six Characters in Search of their car keys” or “Tuesdays with What’s-His-Name) is a musical about the lighter side of dementia; a cross between a Power Point presentation and “Marat-Sade”; and a love story involving a father, a son, and two hot twenty-somethings who keep losing track of who they are.”

 To Jay Teitel the playwright and director Jordan Pettle, it’s personal.  It’s about Jay Teitel’s father and Jordan Pettle’s grandfather who has disappeared into Alzheimer’s Disease.

 Teitel tells us how funny his father was/is in spite of loosing his memory—and gives illustrations which are often clever and amusing.

 He gives us an interesting history lesson. The first person to be diagnosed with the disease in the beginning of the 20th century was a 53 year old woman diagnosed by Dr. Alzheimer for which the disease is named. Because she was only 53 it was thought to be a disease of the young and not the old. Interesting.

 Then Teitel conjures his young parents by having the two previously mentioned hot twenty-somethings re-enacting their meeting, falling in love, and the encroaching dementia in the young man.

 There is also a minor goddess with a Russian accent named Dementieva (symbolism folks) to help with various revelations.

 (PHIL)

6) It sounds complicated.

 (LYNN)

Rather than complicated I found it laboured in its efforts to be funny, plodding in the storytelling especially involving the young couple, and mystifying regarding Dementieva. It’s not Six Characters in search of their car keys because there are only four characters. And what’s with the “Marat-Sade” reference. Teitel tries way too hard to be funny and he fails at it.

 I can appreciate that Teitel says that the word ‘sad’ as a description of the disease should be banned, that it’s insulting to the person with the disease. I’m sure everyone who either had a loved one with the disease or knows someone with it, will have their own ideas.

But for the purposes of the play and production, it doesn’t work. Jay Teitel as the Narrator is a big problem. He is an award winning magazine writer not an actor and it shows. His delivery is flat even a touch smarmy.  He stumbled over his own script. Timing is lost.

 I would have preferred his director Jordan Pettle to have been the narrator because he’s also a well established actor in this city. Pettle stages as best as he can but you can’t make an actor out of a person who isn’t one.

 As the young couple, Kathryn Davis and Ben Irvine have charm and warmth.  And while I think most of the songs are unnecessary, one song that Kathryn Davis sings beautifully questions what is worse, to be the one left behind, or the person who leaves. That’s a moving, appropriate song for this show.

 As Dementieva, Amy Rutherford is sassy and a breath of fresh air. She makes up for the disappointing script with inventive business.

 I can appreciate that Teitel says that while his father can’t remember what he had for lunch today, ‘he remains indelibly himself. The show is for him’.

 But is the show for the legions of people who had loved ones with the disease who disappeared in fistfuls and are now totally absent?

 (PHIL)

Ouch.

 (LYNN)

Indeed.

 (PHIL)

We look forward to your roundup next week. What else is on tap for you next week?

 (LYNN)

There are three Stratford openings: The Thrill a new one by Judith Thompson; Othello, and The Merchant of Venice.

 If there is time after the Summerworks roundup I’d love to talk about The Merchant of Venice. I’ll blog about the other two but Merchant is always good for debate.

(PHIL)

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can check Lynn’s Blog at www.slotkinletter.com

 The Life of Jude and Alzheimer That Ends Heimer continues at various times during Summerworks until August 18.

 www.summerworks.ca

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At the Citadel, 304 Parliament Street, Toronto. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Directed and Choreographed by James Kudelka. Composed by Rodney Sharman. Libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin. Set by David Gaucher. Costumes by Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell for Hoax Couture. Lighting by Simon Rossiter. Starring: (singers) Scott Belluz, Graham Thomson, Alexander Dobson, Geoffrey Sirett: (dancers): Laurence Lemieux, Claudia Moore, Christianne Ullmark, Victoria Bertram.

Produced by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. It plays until February 24.

The House of Mirth is Edith Wharton’s stunning novel of manners in New York society in the early 19th century. Beauty was prized, money was too and reputations were fragile in a society noted for gossip and bitchiness.

Beautiful Lily Bart is in the thick of it. She loves money and is looking for love as well. Keeping up appearances, travel and bridge are expensive. Debt overwhelms her. She borrows money from Trenor, friend’s husband. He will invest it for her but wants something else. Lily is not too swift in picking up the subtext. Later she is implicated in a scandal with another friend’s husband. The downward spiral because of debt, scandal and a tarnished reputation leave her ostracized and desperate. It doesn’t end well for Lily.

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie have taken on the challenge of creating a music, dance, theatre collaboration inspired by the novel. In the resulting piece essence is everything. James Kudelka, choreographer extraordinaire, not only choreographs The House of Mirth, he also directs. There is a swirl of dance activity suggesting the heady world of the rich and well dressed. Partners begin together, see someone more alluring and change partners. And Kudelka’s fine directorial eye for the subtle reaction, the side-long look, the raised eyebrow, speaks volumes about relationships, jealousy, and longing.

I can’t speak knowledgeably of composer Rodney Sharman’s music (theatre is my focus), but it too adds to that lush world of money and manners. The libretto by Alex Poch-Goldin is wonderful. Poch-Goldin is both an accomplished playwright and actor and he brings his playwright’s sensibility and his actor’s smarts to distilling Wharton’s book to its fine focus in his libretto.

In the first aria “America”, the men sing:
Lily’s aunt once said
New York frowns on those unwed
Income makes the marriage bed
It’s a table to be set
And you dare not serve the melon
Before they’ve had the consommé

In those crystalline lines he has described the notion that marriage is vital and being unwed stigmatizes you. Money is uppermost. And the archaic set of upper class etiquette, form and rules paint one as either to the manor born or déclassé. The latter is to be avoided at all cost.

Lily is desperate for a loan and goes to Trenor, (the husband of a friend) who sings “Money”, the lyrics of which are:
“I am horribly poor and very expensive
I must have a great deal of money”
Horribly poor and very expensive
The song of a woman in trouble.

Tremor is a man of the world and knows the angles. He is dashing, watchful, smart and sees an opportunity to get Lily in his power. And he’s a tenor. Lily doesn’t have a chance.

The singing is stirring from the cast of four. And the dancing as I said earlier conjures a grand world. Lily is danced by the languid, elegant Laurence Lemieux. She is lively when Lily is in her element and alluring and quite moving as she descends into despair and solitude when she is ostracized. The dancers are also accomplished. And it’s a pleasure to see Victoria Bertram dance as Aunt Peniston among other characters. Ms Bertram, long a stalwart of the National Ballet, creates the sense of the haughtiness of that class and the devastating displeasure conveyed with a simple look of distain.

David Gaucher’s set of arched curves with a chandelier suspended in the centre says “money and upper class,” as do Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell’s costumes for Hoax Culture.

The Citadel on Parliament is an unlikely place for a dance company’s studios, but its mix of wood and concrete are beautifully designed and completely inviting. I look forward to seeing more there. In the meantime, The House of Mirth is well worth a visit.

The House of Mirth plays at 304 Parliament Street until February 24.

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