by Lynn on October 16, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

Several horribly late mini-reviews.

Billy Elliot (the musical)

Book and lyrics by Lee Hall

Music by Elton John

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Musical director, Franklin Brasz

Orchestrations by Martin Koch

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Cast: Marion Adler

Scott Beaudin

Dan Chameroy

Colton Curtis

Nolen Dubuc

Emerson Gamble

Steve Ross

Vanessa Sears

Blythe Wilson

and others…

Donna Feore, director/choreographer is the queen of the Stratford musicals. She creates polished productions that realize the story, go like the wind and leave the audience breathless. Billy Elliot (the musical) and Little Shop of Horrors get the Feore treatment this year.

Billy Elliot (the musical—well what else would it be?)  takes place in the north of England during the miners’ strike during Margaret Thatcher’s years as Prime Minister. Money is tight for the Elliot family—Billy, his brother Tony, his father Jackie and his grandmother. Billy’s father finds the money to send him to boxing lessons every Saturday. But one day Billy blunders into Mrs. Wilkinson’s ballet class and finds he likes it. She takes him under her wing because he has talent unbeknownst to his father. The strike escalates. The money for Billy’s weekly lessons all but disappears. What to do? The dilemmas abound.

The star of this production is Nolen Dubuc as Billy. His dancing and acting abilities are astonishing. Under Donna Feore’s direction his acting is natural and his dancing is effortless and inspiring for one so young—he’s eleven. Dan Chameroy plays Billy’s father with assurance, heartache and love for his son. The story pulls at ones heartstrings and one can say that sentimentality suffuses this show. It’s hard to deny. Billy’s mother has died but he is visited by her spirit (a beautifully understated performance by Vanessa Sears). He is shown real respect and encouragement by Mrs. Wilkinson played with feistiness and attitude by Blythe Wilson. There are lovely scenes between Billy and his friend Michael who also marches to a different drummer. Michael is played by Emerson Gamble who is both sweet and endearing.

If I have a quibble it’s that scenes involving the police who come to break up picketers in the strike seem like cartoon keystone cops instead of being intimidating. The overall effect however is that we are watching a musical of a kid who does not fit into that rough community, yet that community rallies to see that he has a chance to further his dancing. Bring Kleenex.

Plays until Nov. 24, 2019. (held over to this date)



Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman

Music by Alan Menken

Based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith

Directed by choreographed by Donna Feore

Musical director, Laura Burton

Orchestrations by Robert Merkin

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Sound by Peter McBoyle

Projection design by Jamie Nesbitt

Cast: Matthew G. Brown

Dan Chameroy

Gabi Epstein

André Morin

Steve Ross

and others.

Seymour Krelborn (André Morin) is a meek, shy man who works in a flower shop. He loves Audrey (Gabi Epstein) who also works in the shop, but she has a boyfriend Orin (Dan Chameroy), a dentist who loves to inflict pain, especially on Audrey. Everybody tells her to dump him but she says she loves him.

Seymour buys a strange plant from someone and learns that the thing this odd plant loves to eat is human blood. He names the plant Audrey II after Audrey. Seymour tries to accommodate his plant’s need of blood, first giving it his own, and then branching out. The plant thrives and grows in the flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (A wonderful, kindly Steve Ross). The shop gets noticed because of the size of Audrey II. Business is booking but so is the need to fee Audrey II. The plant wants nothing short of world domination, as a plant might do. What’s to be done? There’s a lot of singing about it.

André Morin imbues Seymour with such a puppy demeanour. He is devoted to Audrey and wants nothing more than to protect her from the overly-excited, self-absorbed Orin. Seymour is kind, determined and devoted. As Audrey, Gabi Epstein is needy, insecure and deluded about Orin’s love for her. Dan Chameroy is so over-the-top as Orin, swivel hips, sucking of the dental gas he uses and loves giving pain one thinks he’s a touch too much.

The production is stylish and Audrey II is a creation to make your eyes pop thanks to Donna Feore’s concept of the production. As Audrey II’s voice Matthew G. Brown packs a lot of attitude.

But in this day and age of sensitive issues being re-examined such as abuse and bullying, I wonder if it’s not wisest to put Little Shop of Horrors away. Orin physically beats Audrey. She takes it because she thinks he loves her and she loves him. Her friends know that isn’t so and they tell her repeatedly. It’s the classic case of a person knowing she should leave him but not being able to. I know Orin get’s his comeuppance but accepting that as right just plays into the easy solution of the piece. Best to put it away.

Plays until Nov. 2, 2019.


Private Lives

Written by Noël Coward

Directed by Carey Perloff

Choreographer, Sara-Jeanne Hosie

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Christina Poddubiuk

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne

Music director, Laura Burton

Cast: Sarah Dodd

Lucy Peacock

Mike Shara

Sophia Walker

Geraint Wyn Davies

Elyot Chase (Geraint Wyn Davies) and Amanda Prynne (Lucy Peacock)  can’t live with or without one another. They tried. Really. They were married but bickered and sparred and fought and finally divorced. They both remarried younger partners. Elyot has married Sibyl (Sophia Walker) and Amanda has married Victor (Mike Shara). Both are on their honeymoon and both are at the same hotel for it, in suites next door to each other. They realize this after each couple comes out on the terrace to enjoy a cocktail and the view. And each has a fight with their spouse. When Elyot and Amanda see each other on the next door terrace they rekindle their love for each other and run away to Paris to her flat to hide and enjoy each other. They are older, sort of wiser and still they can’t live with or without each other.

Set designer Ken MacDonald puts us right in that world of money, yachts and sea. Don’t expect a straightforward set for this provocative designer. He creates the world of the play by suggesting so much about it. Large curved white structures suggest that resort they are in. The curved walls also suggest the huge yachts in the bay that are referenced. Also at the back are curved slits in the white walls with flints of blue suggesting the waves of the Mediterranean. The railings that front the suites and the ones that separate them are curved like waves. That motif is also carried over into Amanda’s stylish yet bohemian flat in Paris. Gorgeous.

In Carey Perloff’s production the age difference between the new spouses is pronounced to illuminate how suitable Elyot and Amanda are for each other and how unsuitable Elyot is for Sibyl and Amanda is for Victor.

Elyot and Amanda are irreverent, impishly funny, brash in their attitudes and demeanours. Elyot wears a peach coloured blazer and white slacks when he first enters the terrace to see the vista. Kudos to costume designer Christina Poddubiuk. It says he is confident in his skin, garish but stylish and not afraid to flaunt it. Amanda for her part enters in a flowing boldly designed frock. She too is confident in her skin and stylish as well. She’s not garish in her clothes choices but still bold. There is delicious chemistry between Lucy Peacock as Amanda and Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot. They understand the shorthand between them and their characters.

 Sibyl is in a form fitted suit that looks properly dowdy. She has a slight petulant whine and she doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour. Victor is in a three piece brown suit and tie. He is buttoned up. He talks to Amanda as if she is an impetuous child, complete with hands on his hips with “Now Mandy,” as if reprimanding a kid. He too has no sense of humour. He is all proper. Yes, perhaps Sibyl and Victor are better suited for each other but they are lousy partners for Elyot and Amanda.

Finally there is the part of Louise, Amanda’s maid n Paris. Louise is a ‘sucker part.’ It can’t fail. First of all the character has a cold so the actress playing her—the force of nature that is Sarah Dodd—has a field day sniffling, being adenoidal and sneezing. Then the character has attitude. And finally she speaks only French. When she comes into the flat in after there has been a terrible fight she lets rip with French invective etc. Sucker part. Sarah Dodd is wonderful playing her.

Carey Perloff brings off this production with aplomb.

Plays until Oct. 26, 2019.


The Execution of Lady Jane Grey



Mother’s Daughter

Written by Kate Hennig

Directed by Alan Dilworth

Designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Debashis Sinha

Cast: Beryl Bain

Jessica B. Hill

Irene Poole

Andrea Rankin

Shannon Taylor

Maria Vacratsis

Gordon Patrick White

This is the third play in Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker trilogy. The first was The Last Wife, about Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. She was formidable in seeking recognition for her two step-daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary and for being a political force in Henry’s court.

Then The Virgin Trial is about the teenage Princess Elizabeth and her various involvements. We see a political animal in the making here; how she was involved in political intrigue and was instrumental in creating it.

And now Mother’s Daughter. It’s about Mary Tudor who was not considered in the line of succession by her half-brother Edward VI because she was Catholic and he felt she might reverse all his Protestant reforms. On his death bed Edward VI chose as his heir Lady Jane Grey. Mary amassed her supporters and deposed Jane and put her in the  Tower. Jane was Queen for only nine days. While history knows Mary as “Bloody Mary” that came after the time line of Kate Hennig’s play.

In power Mary is thoughtful, weighs her decisions carefully and listens to her court of (women) advisers. But Mary is haunted by the ghost of her mother, Katherine of Aragon or Catalina for the play’s purposes.  Her mother’s ghost tries to drive Mary into doing her (her mother’s) bidding about what to do about court intrigue especially Lady Jane Grey. If she has her executed various results will happen. If she doesn’t other results will happen.

The startling painting of “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche that hangs in the National Gallery in London, England tells us what decision Mary made. The painting depicts a blind-folded Jane kneeling in front of the chopping block, the burley Archbishop of Canterbury bends over her with his arms tenderly around her for comfort, her ladies in waiting crying over there by the wall, while over here, waiting patiently, is a man in maroon tights and doublet, with the long handle of an ax resting in his palm. It’s my favourite painting in the gallery.

Kate Hennig explores the idea of politics, women in power, hard decisions and weighing the various scenarios and options in order to reach a conclusion. She has taken an historical event and given it her own interpretation and also made it contemporary. Her language is bracing, gritty, articulate and speaks to power from a woman’s perspective today. This is not a woman playing the man’s game. This is a woman playing her own game in a dangerous world.

Shannon Taylor is a formidable Mary. She’s tempered, nuanced, watchful and patient. Trying to balance what she thinks and the interference from the ghost of her mother Catalina (a wonderful, fearless Irene Poole) is to see a commanding presence in power. Alan Dilworth directs with a sensitive eye and care to detail as he has done with the other two installments.

Closed: Oct. 13, but will have another life when it plays Toronto later in the season.


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1 Marc Zwelling October 17, 2019 at 2:54 pm

Curious review of “Little Shop of Horrors.” You say, “in this day and age of sensitive issues being re-examined such as abuse and bullying…Best to put it away.”
Would you “put away” “Othello,” a classic story including misogyny with plenty of abuse and bullying? Or “A Streetcar Named Desire”?