by Lynn on June 8, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following three shows were reviewed on Friday, June 8, 2012, on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: RAGTIME at the Shaw Festival; 42nd STREET at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

The Host was Rose Palmieri

1) Good Friday Morning it’s time for some theatre talk with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn. The theatre scene is hopping it seems.

Luminato begins today with all sorts of free events. I’m particularly interested in the theatre offerings. Both EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH, Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s epic opera opens at the Sony Centre.

LA BELLE ET LA BETE opens at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

PLAYING CARDS by Robert Lepage opens on Wednesday for a short run.

And of course the Shaw and Stratford Festivals have had their openings so I’m going to talk about three musicals for a change.

2) A lovely change of pace. Which three?

RAGTIME which is playing at the Shaw Festival; 42nd STREET and YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, both at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

Let’s start with RAGTIME. It’s based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow. The book of the musical RAGTIME was written by Terrence McNally—wonderful playwright. With Music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens—equally gifted.

It’s a sweeping story of America at the turn of the last century. When boats of immigrants landed in New York looking for a safe haven and a better life.

It centres around Coalhouse Walker Junior, an African American. He’s a classically trained pianist, who plays ragtime. He is successful. He is able to buy a Model T. Ford. He has a rocky relationship with a loving woman named Sarah but it’s working out.

Coalhouse and Sarah are out for a ride in the car one day when a band of bigots prevent them from driving down a road. Coalhouse senses trouble and tells Sarah to leave. He goes for the police who don’t help and while he’s gone the bigots destroy the car.

Coalhouse starts on the road to revenge. All sorts of events swirl around this main one, but it does give us the sense of a tremendous time of change.

3) How about 42nd STREET?

This is one of four musicals at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It’s the quintessential back stage musical. Don’t think Smash on TV, 42nd STREET is the original.

Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin.

It’s about putting on a Broadway show named Pretty Lady, in the Depression. The leading lady, Dorothy Brock, breaks her ankle just before the first New York preview.

There is no understudy, so Peggy Sawyer, a talented but inexperienced chorus girl, is picked to take over the lead. She must learn everything in 36 hours.

As her director says: “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star.” Can she do it? Oh the suspense!!!


It of course is based on the beloved Charles Schulz comic strip, Peanuts, about Charlie Brown and his band of friends, one of whom is his constant companion, his sleepy dog Snoopy. And it’s been adapted into a musical. The book music and lyrics are by Clark Gesner with additional music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Charlie Brown is a lovable, sweet loser. Things always go wrong for him. He’s bad at sports. He can’t fly a kite. Girls ignore him. His friend Lucy treats him badly.

But the wonderful thing about Charlie Brown is that no matter how terrible today is, he is always hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day. His resilience is impressive. His hopefulness is inspiring. We root for him all the time.

5) Three very different musicals. How did they do? RAGTIME first?

I can appreciate that a festival does musicals to attract audiences. Nothing wrong with that. But the Shaw Festival does it with a twist. They focus on the words first and I find that focus just makes the message of the musical that much bigger.

The music of course is important and musical director, Paul Sportelli does a great job on this gorgeous score. But I thought Jackie Maxwell’s clear, fluid, focused direction just made that story, soar.

And I thought the choreography of Valerie Moore captured the essence of the various groups—especially the hip-swaying, sashaying ease of Coalhouse and his friends.

This is a strong cast headed by Thom Allison as Coalhouse. Allison is glorious. He has pride and dignity. He’s almost courtly, and the man can burst your heart with his singing.

As Sarah, Alana Hibbert has a quiet grace. Sarah has had her trials, but her grace gets her through, and she too sings beautifully. As Mother, Patty Jamieson shows us a woman whose world is changing and she tries to keep up. She finds she has a mind of her own and doesn’t have to copy her husband’s opinions.

This is a terrific production of a stirring musical.

6) And now for something completely different. 42nd STREET. How was it?

As much fun as a bouquet of balloons. And just as buoyant. It was like candy floss. I love candy floss.

You have to suspend your disbelief here. We are told Dorothy Brock can’t dance so it’s suggested that she wave her arms a lot and have the chorus dance around her, thus fooling the audience into thinking she can actually dance. Enter Peggy Sawyer, the chorus kid who has to learn Dorothy’s part when she breaks her ankle. In 36 hours. And when she goes on her part is now loaded with intricate tap dancing numbers that Dorothy would not be able to do. So we have to suspend our disbelief and just go with it. Don’t look for depth. This isn’t Schopenhauer.

It’s beautifully directed by Gary Griffin. He uses the Festival Stage really well. Alex Sanchez’s choreography, especially the tap-dancing is lively, energetic, and joyful.

As Dorothy Brock, Cynthia Dale has that coolness of a leading lady who knows how to get what she wants with a tight smile and a rich boyfriend. It’s a dandy performance.

As Peggy Sawyer, Jennifer Rider-Shaw has endearing enthusiasm and knows how to hoof and sing beautifully. And I liked Sean Arbuckle as Julian Marsh, the uptight, no-nonsense director of the show within a show. You can see how much he wants and needs this to succeed.

So all in all it’s a strong cast of beautiful singers and dancers.


From the sublime to the ridiculous. One would expect a show about the sweet, innocent, perpetual ‘loser’ Charlie Brown to have charm. Like Charlie Brown, we hope for the best.

As Charlie Brown, we do have a wonderful, wide-eyed, awkward, sweet performance by Ken James Stewart. And it’s to director Donna Feore’s credit that she does have a multi-racial cast. They all work hard. They have to, to actually be seen and heard in this over-blown, overly microphoned, visually distracting production.

Almost every thing that was sweet, gentle and charming about the show has been stripped away by Feore and replaced by loudness, garishness and an overwhelming barrage of video images that are distracting. Feore’s direction is cluttered and clumsy. Her choreography is pedestrian.

Almost everyone in the talented cast of six is over the top manic with Stephen Patterson playing the usually laid-back Snoopy, as if that character is on speed. Snoopdog anyone?

You get a sense of what might have been when Charlie Brown quietly sings the lovely song, ‘Happiness’. But that comes too late at the end of the show. Then it’s reprised at the bow into a raucous, blaring rock song.

Is “hideous” too strong a word to describe this mess? I have to wonder, who is the target audience for this? No matter, miss this.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin out theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

RAGTIME continues at the Shaw Festival.

42nd STREET and ,YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN continues at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.

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