Text of Broadcast Reviews of five Next Stage Festival Shows

by Lynn on January 11, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following shows were reviewed Friday, January 10, 2014. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 fm. NEXT STAGE THEATRE FESTIVAL: Killer Business-The Musical, Rifles, A Misfortune, On the Other Side of the World, Jack Your Body. At Factory Theatre at various times until Jan. 19.

The guest host was Phil Taylor


Good Friday Morning. The theatre season for the new year is heating up and Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is here to sort it all out for us.

Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


What’s up for this week?


The Next Stage Theatre Festival. Last week we had the lovely Kelly Straughan, the Executive Director of the festival here to tell us about it. It’s a 12 day festival from Jan. 8-19 of 10 productions ranging from drama, musicals and dance, all performed at the Factory Theatre.

The title of the festival says it all. These productions proved themselves at other fringe festivals and are now ready to take it to the next stage in development. Sometimes it might mean honing what is already there. Or presenting the shows to prospective producers who could give it another production with more money to spend on it.

I saw five of the shows on Wednesday and Thursday and will see the rest by this Sunday. The shows I saw ranged from two musicals, one serious, the other a comedy; an adaptation of a Brecht play about the Spanish Civil War; a sobering show about Jewish refugees finding safe haven during WWII in Shanghai of all places; and finally a pumped up dance piece.


Where do you want to start?


I’ll start with the two dramas: Rifles and On the Other Side of the World. Rifles  is adapted from Berthold Brecht’s 1937 play Senora Carrar’s Rifles by  Nicolas Billon. Mr. Billon is on a roll.  He won the Governor General’s Award for drama this year for a collection of his plays. There is nothing rough hewn about his work. It’s always polished and powerful. Rifles is no different.

From the program: “In the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Senora Carrar refuses to pick sides: her husband died in combat and she’s determined to keep her two sons alive and out of the conflict. But as Franco’s army marches towards their village, her resolve is challenged.”

It’s produced by Praxis Theatre, one of the most provocative indie companies in the city. It’s directed by Michael Wheeler and he realizes the gripping drama of the piece. As Senora Carrar, Kate Hennig is formidable. This is a woman of few words but when she speaks she is quietly commanding. She is equally matched by Cyrus Lane who plays Pedro, her brother, who comes to pay her a visit to see how she is. He does have ulterior motives. She has her late husband’s rifles and Pedro wants them for the cause.

The tug of war between brother and sister in which Pedro tries to make his sister take a stand, is a large part of the gut-twisting drama of the piece. It doesn’t let up until the last second.


And On the Other Side of the World I assume is about Jewish refugees in Shanghai.


True. The play was written and directed by Brenley Charkow. It’s a huge undertaking, not the least of which is that there are 14 in the cast. That’s a lot of careful moving of traffic upon the stage. What Charkow has done in her play is created the whole teaming world in which Jews in Germany were terrified for their lives; had to leave everything instantly and go to the other side of the world literally, to Shanghai for safety. It was one of the few places that let Jews in, no questions asked.

Then they had to contend with the culture shock of this new city. The noise, smell, squalor, poverty and filth of Shanghai. They didn’t know the language. They had to find work. But they persevered.

Charkow does a nice job of creating that challenging world. I think the production at times is very busy with people charging across the stage, shifting screens creating new scenes. At times a bit much, but all in all, a fine effort in introducing us to a little known fact of Jewish refugees in China.


What do you want to talk about next?


The dance piece, Jack Your Body produced by Mix Mix Dance Collective. Emily Law and Ashley Perez had the concept, and choreographed and produced it with the input from the dancers. It’s a company of 8. We see them limbering and warming up on stage as we file in.

When the show started, one of the dancers became a kind of MC for the first piece. I must confess my heart sank because he was speaking a kind of code, underground slang I didn’t understand. There seemed to be a lot of posing as if one dancer posing was in competition with another. But then the whole piece seemed to turn the notion of gender and sensuality on its ear. Almost redefining it.

There is hip-hop; jazz; break dancing of sorts, Motown choreography that is cheeky; and even an old fashioned dance piece. But more than anything, I found it whimsical and pointed with something to say about dance, sexuality, and fun.


And now the musicals?


And now the musicals.  The first is A Misfortune and the second one is Killer Business-The Musical.

A Misfortune is composed by Scott Christian with book and lyrics by Kevin Shea and lyrics also by Wade Bogert-O’Brien. This piece is exquisite. It shimmers with simplicity, elegance and grace. Sofya is a young woman who has fallen in love with Ivan, a family friend, over the summer. He wants her to go away with him. She can’t because she’s married (and he knows that) with a young child.

Sofya’s husband is Andrey, older, stodgy, conservative. She urges Andrey to take her on vacation to get away with the suffocating situation. He refuses. Sofya is torn. She gives in to her love for Ivan but is compelled to stay in the marriage. What to do? In this compact one hour, we go through all the difficulties of the situation.  Each beautiful song, describes in the most sophisticated and appropriate lyrics, what these people are going through. Stunning.

Director Evan Tsitsias creates those desperate relationships carefully, perhaps too carefully. It seems that while Sofya is being chased good naturedly by Ivan, he never catches her. And when they are having intimate conversations, they are often separated by a great expanse of space that I think is too obvious. A quibble.

The performances are dandy: Trish Lindström as a girlish, reserved Sofya, Jordan Till as the lovesick Ivan; Réjean Cournoyer as the stodgy husband Andrey; and a bickering couple who lust after each other played by Kaylee Harwood and Adam Brazier.

A bittersweet story, beautifully told, with some of the most intelligent lyrics in a long time.


And Killer Business-The Musical?


From the sublime to the ridiculous. Killer Business-The Musical at 90 minutes is bloated, smarmy and puerile. The forgettable music was written by Rob Torr. The unfunny book was written by Ken MacDougall, Saul Segal and Rob Torr. The pedestrian lyrics were written by Rob Torr, Saul Segal and Ken MacDougall. In this case at least it proves that creation by committee doesn’t work.

Robert Graham, the musical director, banged on the amplified piano so hard that he drowned out every singer. The first thing that should be killed is the amplification on that damned piano.

It begins with a detective name Richard Gunn P.I. called ‘Dick’ for short—lots of snorting winking about that name. Dick is played by the supremely talented and witty David Keeley, the only bright spot in this blight of a show. There has been a murder in a theatre during the show and Dick is sent to investigate. He’s got all sorts of negative things to say about show business people and the theatre etc.

We see in flashback what led to the murder. A breathless producer named Tony is desperate to produce a Broadway musical.  He is busy giving orders to his harried stage-manager-swing performer, Cleo. He has to contend with a self-important leading lady who bickers with her performer husband; an alcoholic understudy who once was a star; and various mishaps back stage and during the show, entitled “Forever Young.”

Tony spends a great deal of time stopping the show, distracting us with explanations of the set by two chorus girls, then urging us to applaud their contributions. “Forever Young”  is terrible from what I can see. Tony seems to owe money to the mob but we don’t really find that out until way into the show, and we never find out why. He can’t pay them back so accidents happen back stage to scare him.

We don’t actually have a murder until three quarters of the way into the show. The whole enterprise is witless and betrays any kind of knowledge about musicals.


Perhaps it’s a spoof of musicals?


You still need a sense of humour and some sophistication to do it. Having a song in which Tony, who is Italian, sings that he wishes he was Jewish comes from no where  and isn’t funny.

It was funny in Spamalot when there was a song that said if you wanted to be successful on Broadway you needed Jews to be involved. There is a murder mystery book called “Murder the Musical” by Annette Meyers that handles the whole thing better than this mess. And if you really want a wonderful spoof of musicals, then see The Musical of Musicals The Musical.

I would think the next stage for Killer Business-The Musical is oblivion. Killer Business-The Musical—is deadly.


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




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