Thursday, April 29, 2010

DANCE NEWS: There's Hope for Rex
29 Apr'10


It’s official. Canada’s Prince Charming has finally met his match.

Rex Harrington — the man who, in more than two decades dancing with the National Ballet of Canada, rose to become one of the world’s foremost balletic leading men — is finally tying the knot.

His forthcoming marriage to his companion of six years, consultant Robert Hope, was announced yesterday by the NBOC, where Harrington now serves as Artist in Residence. The couple became engaged in March while visiting France, and will be married this summer.

Harrington is slated to return to the NBOC stage June 19, dancing the role of Prince Gremin in the newly designed ONEGIN, opening at the Four Seasons.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

27 Apr'10

New ‘Figaro’ sparkling, beautiful

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

As anyone who has ever enjoyed either Pierre Beaumarchais’ classic comedy or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera buffa adaptation of his play can tell you, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is not exactly a marriage made in heaven. But a MARRIAGE OF FIGARO made by Opera Atelier can come pretty close — especially if your idea of heaven is fairly dripping with beautiful music, lavish sets and gorgeous costumes.

After milking their acclaimed 1992 production of the work for all it was worth on the world stage, artistic directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg have decided to do it all over again. They stripped the wraps off a sparkling new production of the work Saturday at the Elgin. And in a champagne world where the vintage just opened should never make you regret the vintage just finished, this particular bottle of bubbly is just a hair’s breadth short of an utter triumph.

As they did in their 1992 production, OA is sticking with an English translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto — one that just may be a little earthier and certainly more contemporary than one might expect from an 18th-century work. But if the whole attitude of the playing is naughtily au courant — and it certainly is — the production itself is very much of the period.

Credit for that, at least in part, can be accorded to the sumptuous, shimmering period costuming of Martha Mann and the elegant opera-within-an-opera set design of the always formidable Gerard Gauci. But it is also thanks to the beautifully baroque staging brought to life by director Pynkoski, with a rich dollop of traditionally irreverent Commedia dell’arte used once again to bring things to a boil and sweeten the pot.

Of course, Pynkoski gets a few powerful assists in spinning out Beaumarchais’ silly tale of love, lust and skullduggery amongst the Ancien Regime — not the least of which is the Tafelmusik Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of David Fallis, brought together to put maximum charm into Mozart’s enduring score.

From a casting point of view, Pynkoski scores a coup or two as well, with baritone Phillip Addis turning in a triumph as a youthful and overly-amorous Count Almaviva. He’s paired with equally strong soprano Peggy Kriha Dye, beautifully cast as his much put-upon consort, the Countess Rosina.

Meanwhile. mezzo Wallis Giunta brings a winsome charm and a fine set of pipes to the role of Cherubino — surely opera’s most abused and amusing pants’ role — while soprano Carla Huhtanen is equal parts charm and pragmatism in the role of Susanna, lady’s maid to the Countess and putative bride in the titular marriage to the Count’s manservant.

In a lovely bit of continuity, mezzo Laura Pudwell returns to the Marcellina role she essayed back in 1992 and makes it her own, while baritones Curtis Sullivan and Vasil Garvanliev, tenor Patrick Jang and soprano Cavell Wood tackle other supporting roles with equal success.

In the end, all that’s really missing in this version of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is, sadly, a memorable Figaro. And although bass-baritone Olivier Laquerre gives it a game and often musical try, he ultimately proves too arch by half in the role of the conniving servant — who’s simply not smart enough to figure out he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. For those who saw OA’s 1992 edition of the work, it’s a familiar problem — indicating, if nothing else, that Pynkoski is probably so busy having fun with the other characters, he doesn’t notice that his Figaro simply isn’t firing on all cylinders.

And you know, in this production, that just might happen to you too.

Monday, April 26, 2010

26 Apr'10

Music allows Dutchman to soar

Rating: 4 out of 5

Despite what the headlines might have suggested in the past week or two, it seems not all aborted flights can be blamed on the excesses of a rogue volcano, hidden away someplace in the wilds of Iceland.

Case in point: The Canadian Opera Company's production of Richard Wagner's THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (otherwise known as Der Fliegende Hollander) that opened on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre Saturday.

With what appeared to be a capacity audience in their seats for a 7:30 departure, expectations were running high as conductor Johannes Debus raised his baton and launched the COC Orchestra into Wagner's enduring and magnificent score with full and well-placed confidence.

And even though a rising curtain signalled that we might be in for a bumpy ride, there was still reason for hope. After all, the steeply-raked and weathered packing crate designed by Allen Moyer in 1996 for the stage of the Hummingbird Centre has always had a certain solemn grandeur, especially in the opening scenes, and this time out, the more intimate confines of the Four Seasons seem to add to the magic of its forced perspective, if nothing else.

Besides, opera is as much or more a medium of performance as it is of setting and the pre-show buzz on these performers was particularly strong. And happily, this is a cast that, on the whole, certainly doesn't disappoint as they tear into Wagner's soaring score with magnificent skill, tracing the arc of his strange tale of despair, love and ultimate redemption with fierce passion.

With baritone Evgeny Nikitin strongly cast in the title role -- a mariner cursed to sail the seas until he can be redeemed by the faithful heart of a good woman -- soprano Julie Makerov is able to bring a beautiful sense of balance to the role of Senta, the young woman who will ultimately redeem him. Further, their performances are buttressed by some strong, even memorable work in supporting roles -- an earth shaking performance from bass Mats Almgren as Senta's father and a solid and anchored turn from tenor Robert Kunzli as Senta's long-suffering suitor Erik -- and , once again, by the committed artistry of the COC Chorus.

But as in the previous two stagings of this production, it all finally falls victim in the excesses of its design despite the quality the performers bring to it, for while Moyer's sets and costumes have a certain bleak beauty and provide an often wonderful canvas to showcase the impressive skills of lighting designer Anne Militello, that's about all they accomplish.

Certainly, they do very little to showcase either Wagner's vision of love and redemption nor the directoral vision of Christopher Alden, who seems to see the story as some sort of head-on collision between Victorian melodrama and the excesses of existential nihilism, with just a touch of Little Orphan Annie, a wee measure of St. Patrick's Day kitsch and a dash or two of Shakerism thrown in for good measure. While individual elements of the staging impress, they rarely come together to either reinforce or further the story.

And so it all ends in a bit of an artistic draw, for while , finally, THE FLYING DUTCHMAN impresses on many levels, it only ever really soars on the wings of its music.

Friday, April 23, 2010

23 Apr'10

‘Birds’ a modern twist on Greek myth

Rating: 3 out of 5

It is in the very nature of myths that they endure — their endurance fueled by at least a flicker of inextinguishable and universal humanity that burns through the ages and illuminates the human condition.

So, on a certain level, all playwright Erin Shields had to do to transform Ovid’s mythic and hugely tragic tale of Tereus, Procne and Philomela into a piece of contemporary stagecraft was fan that flicker into an open flame. Which is sort of what she has done in IF WE WERE BIRDS— a reworking of her Summerworks' triumph that opened on the Tarragon mainstage Wednesday, produced in association with Groundwater Productions.

But she hasn’t stopped there.

Under the direction of Alan Dilworth, she has brought Ovid’s horrific tale to pseudo-modern life. In the tale, Procne (Phillipa Domville) and Philomela (Tara Rosling) — daughters of Athens King Pandion (David Fox) — are driven to tragedy when Procne is given in marriage to the warrior king Tereus (Geoffrey Pounsett) as reward for services rendered to Pandion’s kingdom. And though Procne is happy in her marriage and quickly produces a son and heir for her husband, she finds that Thebes is a long, long way from Athens and she yearns for the companionship of her younger sister.

Driven by his wife’s importuning, Tereus takes time from planning his next battle to travel back to Athens to bring Philomelo back to Thebes for a visit. But on the voyage home, Tereus becomes enamoured with the innocent and beautiful Philomela — and once they make shore, he takes her — not to her sister, but to an isolated cottage where he rapes and horribly mutilates her, telling his wife her beloved sister has been lost at sea.

When Procne learns the truth, however, she rescues Philomela and they cook up a pot of revenge so horrible that all an invisible pantheon of Greek gods can do is transform all three of them into birds.

It goes without saying that this is an old tale, filled with archaic social mores and attitudes — not the least of which is the whole notion that the will to rape is something inborn in males of the species. But even though she apparently has no quibble with that old notion, Shields attempts to give it a modern twist with contemporary costumes and the introduction of a traditional Greek chorus in international guise (Barbara Gordon, Stephanie Jung, Daniela Lama, Shannon Perrault and an increasingly mannered Karen Robinson) — each of whom has been sexually brutalized in more modern conflicts.

Simply and creatively staged in complicity with designers Jung-Hye Kim (sets and costumes), Kimberly Purtell (lights) and Thomas Ryder Payne (sound), IF WE WERE BIRDS features some solid performances, most notably from Rosling and Domville, doing a wonderful job of defying their obvious maturity in the play’s opening scenes of childhood innocence. Pounsett, for his part, does his level best but sadly comes off more as an archaically armed security guard than a warrior king.

No matter, for in the end, they are all undone by a ponderous script that never really comes to modern life. While even a Tarragon audience might contain one or two people who haven’t yet realized rape as an act of war is one of mankind’s most grotesque inventions, they are the only ones likely to find illumination in this earnest endeavour.

As for the rest — only ancient Greeks are likely to pay Charon’s fare, knowing they’re bound for hell.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

22 Apr'10


Toronto audiences will see a few familiar faces on stage when Dancap Productions brings the Pittsburgh CLO’s production of MISS SAIGON to the Four Seasons Centre this summer. Dancap announced Thursday that when the curtain goes up on MISS SAIGON, not only will Ma-Anne Dionisio return to a role she played in the original Toronto production, but so too will Kevin Gray.

When Miss Saigon originally opened at the Princess of Wales back in 1993, Dionisio played Kim, while Gray was cast as the Engineer in that original production.

MISS SAIGON begins previews July 9 for a July 13 opening at the Four Seasons. For tickets and further info, visit


Four new plays have been chosen as entries in Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s inaugural edition of In the Beginning: A Jewish Playwrights Festival, running May 10-12 at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. Each of the four plays will receive a staged reading during the run of the festival and admission to each is free.

On offer: Michael Ross Albert’s PILLARS OF SALT, directed by Joel Greenberg; Ron Fromstein’s THE THREE OF US, directed by Rose Plotek; bekky O’Neill’s ZY SHTIL, directed by Jen Shuber and Darrah Teitel’s CORPUS, directed by Adam Pettle.

For further information, visit


Guillaume Cote and Zdenek Konvalina, principal dancers with the National Ballet of Canada, have collaborated on a new dance piece that’s slated to premiere at the 73rd annual Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence Italy on May 16.

Set to music composed by Cote, the work — titled IMPERMANENCE — will be performed by both dancers and combines choreography, projections and film to tell the story of one man’s life.
NEWS ITEM: Full season at Passe Muraille 2010-11
22 Apr'10


When it comes to theatre, the folks at Theatre Passe Muraille have a reputation for playing well with others. That's a rep almost certain to grow with Wednesday's announcement of their new 2010-11 season — a season in which more than half the shows on offer will be produced in association with other companies.

The new season kicks off with a Backspace production of HARD TIMES, a new adaptation of Charles Dickens' work, written and directed by Chris Earle and produced by Puppetmongers in association with TPM.

It is to be followed by the previously announced Mainstage production of THE MIDDLE PLACE, written by Andrew Kushnir, directed by Alan Dilworth and produced by TPM in collaboration with Canadian Stage.

Next up, playwright/performer Maja Ardal continues the story of Elsa, the precocious heroine of her hit show YOU FANCY YOURSELF, in a TPM Backspace production directed by Mary Francis Moore, titled THE CURE FOR EVERYTHING.

Meanwhile, TPM will team with Theatre Jones Roy to produce Anusree Roy's latest play, titled ROSHNI, directed by Thomas Morgan Jones and starring Roy and Byron Abalos, on the Mainstage.

A new year will see Haley McGee's OH MY IRMA take to the Backspace stage in a TPM production directed by Alisa Palmer, to be followed by HIGHWAY 63: THE FORT MAC SHOW, created by Director Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman, Greg Gale, Jonathan Seinen, Gerogina Beaty and Layne Coleman, in yet another TPM production in the Backspace.

Mainstage productions of MONTPARNASSE,( written by Maev Beaty and Erin Shields, directed by Andrea Donaldson and produced by Groundwater Productions in association with TPM) and THE LAST 15 SECONDS (created by Trevor Copp, Anne-Marie Donovan, Nada Homsi, Gary Kirkham, Pam Patel, Alan K. Sapp and director Majdi Bou-Matar and produced by MT Space (Kitchener/Waterloo) in association with TPM) round out the season.

Information, subscriptions and three-show passes are available at 416-504-7529 or
22 Apr'10

Holocaust tale packs life lessons

Rating: 3 out of 5

TORONTO - There's a major difference between what one puts in a suitcase and what one puts in a diary.

And though the stories they tell are both deeply touching and tragic, it is ultimately what one left in her diary and the other in her suitcase that shaped the way the world remembers the stories of Anne Frank and Hana Brady.

Anne Frank, of course, was the young Jewish girl who spent much of the Second World War in an attic in Holland, where she poured her heart into a diary that has ensured her tragic story will live forever. Young Hana Brady never had a diary -- and when she and her brother were forced to follow their Jewish parents into Nazi concentration camps, all she took with her was a suitcase that bore her name.

At the end of the war, that suitcase was empty -- and that's how it remained until it was loaned to Tokyo's Holocaust Museum, a place where the very emptiness of the suitcase seemed to haunt a group of young students who set about to fill it with memories of the girl who had carried it almost to her death. Their success in putting a face on Hana Brady has been documented in a book by Karen Levine titled HANA'S SUITCASE, which has subsequently been adapted to the stage by Emil Sher -- all of which then spawned a documentary movie. Through it all, the lost story of one young girl has been reclaimed and used to underline the tragedy of more than one million-and-a-half similar stories that remain untold.

After a successful run in the same venue a few years ago, HANA'S SUITCASE returned to the mainstage of the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre For Young People on Wednesday, once again under the stewardship of artistic director Allen MacInnes. And even though the show has been largely recast, there is a familiar ring to it -- thanks as much to Teresa Przybylski's sets and costumes and Andrea Lundy's lighting as to the story itself.

That story begins in Tokyo, shortly after the titular suitcase arrives there. It catches the attention of two eager young students (Zoe Doyle and Dale Yim) -- though it has little to tell about Hana, short of her name and the fact that she was an orphan. But with the guidance of a patient teacher (Ginger Ruriko Busch), they slowly gather details of Hana's too-brief life -- and eventually those details lead them to Hana's brother (living here in Toronto), who provides flesh to hang on the skeleton they had built.

Hana's story plays out in flashback, with a raven-haired Amy Lee oddly cast as the tow-headed Hana, Clarence Sponagle as her brother George, Eric Trask as her father and Patricia Vanstone as her mother. Richard Binsley rounds out the cast, playing numerous roles -- as do many of his castmates.

And it's compelling fare; MacInnis and his cast put a terribly earnest spin on everything, effectively ensuring everyone talks and acts like they are engaged in imparting terribly important life lessons rather than simply living their lives. Said lessons are important for audiences young and old alike to take away from the stories of folks like Hana and Anne. That they died was their tragedy and ours, but that they lived -- that's what must be remembered and treasured.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Canadian play kicks off new HGJT season
20 Apr'10


There’s an emphasis on Broadway in Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company’s latest season, announced Tuesday. However, that season — the company’s fourth — kicks off with a new Canadian play.

According to co-artistic directors David Eisner and Avery Saltzman, HGJT will launch its 2010/2011 season with a new work from Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen in a co-production with Winnipeg Jewish Theatre. Titled LENIN'S EMBALMERS, it’s slated to play the Al Green Theatre.

The Al Green will also play host to the company’s second production of the season, a one-man show based on the life of the legendary Zero Mostel. The off-Broadway hit, titled ZERO HOUR, will star Jim Brochu under the direction of Piper Laurie.

The company’s third show, TO LIFE — a celebration of life and the American Jewish theatre canon, conceived by Saltzman and Tim French — will close the season at Jane Mallett Theatre, and will feature arrangements and musical direction by Wayne Gwillim and choreography by French.

For further information and to purchase subscriptions, visit
NEWS ITEM: ‘Lion King’ to roar again in Toronto
20 Apr'10


THE LION KING is getting ready to roar back into Toronto — but not for another year.

Disney Theatrical Productions announced Monday that a touring version of THE LION KING will return for a limited five-week engagement next spring to the Princess of Wales Theatre — the same theatre where it ran for almost four years earlier last decade.

Tickets for the show, slated to run from April 19 to May 22, 2011, will be priced from $25 to $120, and will be available Nov. 29.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Fest names its new wannabe directors
17 Apr'10


The names of the 11 aspiring directors who will take part in the Stratford Festival's inaugural Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction were announced Friday. In addition to taking part in a series of master classes and lectures, each participant will serve as assistant director on one of the festival's productions this season.

They are: Sharon Bajer (assisting on TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA); Dian Marie Bridge (JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS); Darcy Evans (DANGEROUS LIAISONS); Ravi Jain (KING OF THIEVES); Thomas Morgan Jones (THE WINTER'S TALE); Ken Schwartz (PETER PAN); Andrew Shaver (FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN); Rachel Slaven (KISS ME, KATE); Lezlie Wade (AS YOU LIKE IT); Aaron Willis (EVITA); and Lee Willis (THE TEMPEST).
17 Apr'10

‘What Happens Next’ keeps us on edge

Rating: 5 out of 5

TORONTO - It may seem counterintuitive, but in the world of art, we often value most the things we cannot see. That includes the painter whose technique is all but invisible, the musician who can change our world with a single musical phrase and an actor who completely disappears into a role — all with the simple lift of an eyebrow or movement of a hand.

Daniel MacIvor has been that kind of actor for years, dazzling his fans with mercurial changes in character as he spins out elaborate and entertaining yarns that keep an audience on the edge of its seats and guessing until the very last moment.

Now, with the Toronto premiere of his latest one-man opus, titled THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT (which opened on the Berkeley Street Theatre mainstage Thursday), he seems to be moving closer to making his prodigious skill as a playwright every bit as invisible as his acting.

A Canadian Stage presentation of a Necessary Angel production, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT is yet another in a long line of one-man shows created by MacIvor, who supposedly retired from this particular genre a few years back, only to rethink it. It is also yet another collaboration with his long-time work-mate Daniel Brooks, who balances MacIvor’s writing and performing credit here with a directing and dramaturgy credit — in more ways than one.

As MacIvor’s one man shows go, there is much here that might seem familiar. But while it is in fact yet another kaleidoscope of colourful characters that use MacIvor’s body to have their say — all while leading us on a voyage full of delightful, spooky and surprising twists and turns — there’s something wildly different here as well. For while there is absolutely no discounting the fact that this is a major new work for the stage, it is almost impossible to see where MacIvor’s own voice leaves off and his playwright’s voice begins.

Certainly, as he hits the stage, entering in character through the audience, it’s almost possible to believe he’s the hyperkinetic MacIvor — running late thanks to a screw-up at the local coffee bar. And as he discusses his life — a marriage gone sour, an ongoing struggle with various addictions and a seemingly never-ending search to find or make peace within himself — it’s clear MacIvor is working with ink coloured by his own blood.

But before you can get caught up in sorting out the salacious details and separating the wheat of truth from the chaff of fiction, he’s off and running, supported at every turn by Brooks’ all-but-invisible direction and the elegantly simple design work of Kimberly Purtell (lights) and Richard Feren (sound).

And he crams a whole lot into 80 minutes, including visits with his alter-ego Warren, a jaded lawyer named Susan, an en route transsexual named Arron and a little boy named Kevin, referencing everything from The Little Mermaid and John Denver to the willful philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.

And all of it seemingly flows in an unedited, unshaped stream of consciousness common of MacIvor — so if you’ve seen his work before and it’s not to your taste, chances are THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re a fan, you might want to catch this one soon because at the rate MacIvor is going, he might soon just disappear entirely.

Friday, April 16, 2010

16 Apr'10

Play has trouble written all over it

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

“What would happen,” the publicity bumpf for a new play titled RECONCILIATION posits, “If Sky Gilbert wrote THE DRAWER BOY?”

Well, having caught the play in question in its final preview at Buddies In Bad Times, where it opened Wednesday night in a presentation by Gilbert’s Cabaret Company, one is likely to answer: “Mehh, not much.”

Now, to be clear, Gilbert’s RECONCILIATION is not simply a re-write-on-gay-themes of Michael Healey’s very popular and widely produced farm epic. Rather, it is Gilbert’s attempt to explore if not a kinder, gentler way of making theatre, then certainly a more populist, even sentimental, approach to the art form — as he clings resolutely to his particular vision of ‘queer’ culture.

So where Healey set his tale in an old farm house inhabited by two old friends, Gilbert stocks his farm home with two brothers — Blake (played by Jason Cadieux), who lives in the house in question, and Jared (played by Wes Berger) who is visiting from Toronto for the weekend. Playwright/director Gilbert quickly establishes, however, that it is not an excess of fraternal affection that has brought the two together on this occasion. Indeed, his protagonists waste little time in establishing their mutual loathing across the chasms that separate them.

Blake, it seems, is a slob, while Jared exhibits a fastidiousness that borders on the anal.

Blake is a sweatsuit sort, while Jared is quite comfortable sleeping in a suit and tie with his brief case close at hand.

Blake subsists on beer and breakfast cereal, while Jared is clearly accustomed to dining on finer stuff, such as hard liquor and sushi.

Blake keeps company with their deceased father’s ghost (played by Bruce Beaton), while Jared takes comfort in the fact that there seems to be only a ghost of a chance that his relationship will survive.

Blake works in a gravel pit and raises emus, while Jared works as a professor and raises his eyebrows at everything Blake does.

About the only thing they have in common, finally, is the fact that they are both more than a little removed from the major bulge in a sexual bell curve — and we aren’t talking simple matters of gay and straight here. In fact, Gilbert seems to find it entertaining to turn the brothers’ respective sexual orientations into a bit of a guessing game in the early part of the show and, in view of the fact that it offers some small distraction in what quickly becomes scene after scene of endless bickering, we aren’t about to spill the beans.

Eventually, as it all shakes out over two long acts, it develops that even though they both have issues of sexual intimacy, each sees his own situation as superior to the other’s. Enter dear old dad — far more the Ghost of Christmas Past than anything glimpsed by Hamlet — who sorts things out with a drunken homily or two.

Designed and lit by Andy Moro, RECONCILIATION’s set certainly goes THE DRAWER BOY one better when it comes to rusticity, although Gilbert’s performers inhabit it as if there were a convenient bar around the corner and all of rural Ontario were blessedly mosquito free.

None of which would be all that problematic, of course, if Gilbert had managed to make the brothers and their profane bickering compelling, moving or even remotely entertaining. Instead, he merely created the kind of tedium that has inspired thousands of fathers over the years to yell: “If I have to pull this car over...”

If Michael Healey had written RECONCILIATION, it probably would have been a lot more entertaining — at the very least.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Sony Centre celebrates 50 years with new iD
15 Apr'10


After two years of R&R (renos and restoration), Toronto’s erstwhile O’Keefe Centre will be ready to kick up its heels on its 50th birthday.

On Wednesday, Dan Brambilla — CEO of what is now known as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts — announced the first year of programming in the newly revitalized Front Street show palace. The year will kick off on Oct. 1, 2010 — exactly 50 years after the facility first opened its doors.

A half-century ago, it was a new production of CAMELOT that launched things in the cavernous hall — certainly, more traditional fare than what Brambilla has lined up to launch the facility in its newest incarnation.

That honour falls to a new show titled iD, a fusion of hip hop, breakdance, BMX bikes and circus disciplines created by Jeannot Painchoud and Mourad Merzouki. It will run at the Sony Oct. 1-9. But that’s just a starting point.

Also on the playbill: THE MERCHANTS OF BOLLYWOOD (Nov. 4-14), Dr. Seuss’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL (Dec. 17-Jan. 2), a week-long engagement of the Mariinsky Ballet performing SWAN LAKE (March 1-6), a Beatles homage titled 1964 ... THE TRIBUTE (opening March 24), as well as the previously announced Toronto premiere of Robert Lepage’s EONNAGATA (Nov. 18 and 19).

Also included in the list of 20 presentations announced Wednesday were visits by Liza Minnelli (Oct. 21), the Leahy Family (Nov. 24), the Canadian Tenors (Dec. 2), and a return visit from the Kodo Drummers of Japan (March 11).

In addition to the celebrated Mariinsky Ballet, dance entries include the Beijing Friendship Dance Company (Oct. 12 and 13), the Banyanhihan Philippine National Dance Company (Nov. 1), Mazowsze — Music and Dance of Poland (Nov. 20), and Stars of The 21st Century (Oct. 14).

More fancy footwork will be on display when BREAKIN' CONVENTION by the International Festival of Hip Hop Dance Theatre takes the stage on May 7, 2011.

For the younger set, FRANKLIN THE TURTLE goes to Sony on Oct. 23, while CAILLOU is slated for a visit Dec. 4. Also on the kids’ menu: the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will provide live accompaniment for two new animation productions, BARBIE AT THE SYMPHONY (Nov. 26 and 27) and Warner Bros. presents BUGS BUNNY AT THE SYMPHONY on April 9.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Orchestra will also be along for the ride in DISTANT WORLDS: MUSIC FROM FINAL FANTASY, performing tunes from video game composer Nobuo Uematsu.

A complete schedule is available at and tickets for all events go on sale Saturday at 9 a.m.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Stellar lineup for kids theatre season
13 Apr'10


The Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People is not only determined to produce some of the best kids theatre in Canada for its 45th season — it’s also willing to import the rest from around the country. In a new season announced Monday, artistic director Allen McInnis outlined ambitious plans on both fronts.

In the 2010-11 season, LKTYP will offer its own new productions of Michele Riml’s THE INVISIBLE GIRL, Robert and Willie Reale’s A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD — based on the books by Arnold Lobel — James Durham’s THE BIG LEAGUE, and a reprise of I THINK I CAN by Florence Gibson and Shawn Byfield. All shows will be presented on the company’s mainstage.

But it doesn’t stop there. The new season will also include Concrete Theatre’s production of Collin Doyle’s ROUTES; Theatre Tout a Trac’s production of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, adapted by Hugo Belanger and translated by Maureen Labonte; Hank’s Toybox Theatre’s AS YOU PUPPET in the Studio space; as well as Green Thumb Theatre’s production of Joan MacLeod’s THE SHAPE OF A GIRL, in the mainstage space.

For show combo packages and further information, contact the box office at 416-862-2222.

Monday, April 12, 2010

12 Apr'10

Blood a little too thin

Rating: 3 out of 5

In a world where the motto "Go big or go home" still holds tremendous sway, director Glynis Leyshon is swimming against the tide, serving up an intimate little production of Kevin Loring's Governor General's Literary Award-winning WHERE THE BLOOD MIXES on the stage of the Factory Theatre.

Of course, this is but the latest stop for a work re-created for the 2010 Cultural Olympiad by the Vancouver Playhouse Company and The Belfry Playhouse Revival Production in association with the Savage Society, returning to Toronto as the centrepiece of Factory's annual Performance Spring Festival after a brief visit during Luminato a few years back.

Set in a First Nation's settlement at the confluence of the Fraser and the Thompson Rivers, it tells the story of three survivors of the notorious residential school programme, and of the lingering scars they carry from the infamous abuse.

It is the story of Floyd, a one-time railway worker played by Billy Merasty, and of his drinking companion, the aptly-named Mooch, a one-time lumberjack, played by Ben Cardinal. While both men have led productive lives, these days,  their principal occupation seems to be the occasional fishing trip, interspersed with prolonged benders in the local watering whole, run by their buddy George — essayed with Cheers-like charm and wisdom by Tom McBeath.

While Floyd relies a lot on credit and on George's goodwill to keep the booze flowing, Mooch relies instead on an uncanny ability to cadge from others that has earned him his nickname. When that fails, however, he is not above stealing grocery money from his sweetheart, June (Margo Kane), a habit that has earned him more than a few slaps up along side the head from the outraged June. Both men dream of winning the big prize in George's ongoing pull-tab lottery.

Suddenly, their boozy routine is interrupted when Floyd receives a letter from his long lost daughter (Kim Harvey), taken from him by the authorities as a small child, shortly after the death of her mother.

Raised by a loving family in Vancouver, she is now a grown woman,  and she's hoping for a reunion — a reunion, that when it comes, strips away all the scars that have built up in her three elders over the years, exposing wounds that are still raw and festering, offering in the process a chance for healing to begin.

Simply sketched by the playwright, this is nonetheless a moving tale, or at least it could have been, if Leyshon and her cast had opted to go deep when they eschewed the whole notion of going big.

Although set designer Robert Lewis conspires with lighting designer Itai Erdal and projection designer Jamie Nesbitt to create a wonderfully adaptable dreamscape on which the tale can play out, Leyshon allows her cast to simply skate over the surface of the first half of the tale, switching gears so rapidly for the second half that it all but tears the transmission out of what drives the play. While she is clearly trying to sidestep the worst cliches of aboriginal people and alcohol abuse, Leyshon ultimately fails to appreciate that  by making the effects of abuse entertaining, she diminishes not just those effects, but the abuse as well.

Despite wonderful contributions from musician Jason Burnstick and visual artist Carl Stromquist, this is one artistic fusion that doesn't qualify so much as a dramedy as simply a strange beast with a sitcom head and a tragic tail, and though the simple heart of it beats strongly WHERE THE BLOOD MIXES, the rest of it is just sort of dead in the water.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

10 Apr'10

Aboriginal opera sets the bar

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

As one of the very few contemporary Aboriginal operas around, it is probably not surprising that GIIWEDIN in its world premiere doesn’t promise to elbow aside the cornerstones of traditional opera — Verdi, Mozart, Puccini, Britten, Wagner and the boys.

But what is surprising in this new production from Native Earth Performing Arts and an Indie(n) Rights Reserve is how little, in the final analysis, the dearth of First Nations’ operas has to do with making this one of the best of the genre.

Based on the production that opened Thursday on the Theatre Passe Muraille mainstage, it’s safe to say this is a benchmark other entries in the field will now have to strive to meet.

GIIWEDIN (which translates from the Anishnaabemowin/Algonquin tongue as “North Wind”) is the collaborative brainchild of librettist/ composer Spy Denomme-Welch and composer Catherine Magowan. Stretched over five decades and more, it’s the story of the ongoing collision between a white world determined to bend nature to its will and an Aboriginal world, represented by a 150-year-old woman named Noodin-Kwe (Marion Newman). A woman of wisdom and tradition, she survives on her ancestral land around Temiskaming, living in harmony with nature, as represented not only by the Weeping Forest, but by the wolves and the bears as well.

It’s an idyllic life, until it’s interrupted by the arrival of the Indian Agent (Ryan Allen) with news that a new railroad will run right through her world. The fact that he is completely ignorant of that world is demonstrated when he runs afoul of the hibernating bear Mahkwa (Catherin Carew), who returns him to Noodin-Kwe in exchange for a haunch of venison.

After a brief dalliance (hey, it’s been awhile — and even 150-year-old women get lonely), the Indian Agent goes on his way protected by a wolf pack, led by Mahigan (Nicole Joy-Fraser), leaving a pregnant Noodin-Kwe in her forest home. But though the Indian Agent tries to protect her territory, the evil Minister (played by an ailing James McLennan and sung by Martin Houseman) tracks Noodin-Kwe down and tries to drive her from her home to exorcise his own demons.

It’s a complex tale, made more so by the medical setting that brackets the proceedings and it makes for a sweeping metaphor; a people stripped of its birthright by well-meaning civil servants (the Indian Agent is casually bilingual, nicely balancing blame), betrayed by their own, lobotomized by drugs and alcohol, and finally finding hope in a new generation determined to keep its story alive.

In fact, it might just be too sweeping. Even though musical director Gregory Oh and director Maria Lamont do a fine job of fusing a score that blends First Nations’ rhythms, traditional fiddling and European influences with the strong-yet-simple collaboration of designers Camellia Koo (sets) Jackie Chau (costumes) and Michelle Ramsay (lighting) — it seems to be too much story crammed into a too-brief telling. None of which stops a committed, high-energy cast from doing its level best to bring it all to life. Most members are triple-cast, and are required to stretch their voices over several octaves to make beautiful music outside of conventional comfort zones.

And in the end, it is that determined and hardworking cast — as much as the charm of the music and the delightful earthiness and hope of the libretto — that lingers long after the curtain has fallen, and keeps the story humming in one’s mind. It may not be Wagner, but it has a certain ring to it, nonetheless.

Friday, April 9, 2010

9 Apr'10

Same old song 'n' dance

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The fact that its best-before date is but a distant memory might serve to disguise the fact that GREASE really wasn't that good a piece of musical stagecraft in the first place -- but not for long. Everything past producers have tried -- borrowing tunes composed exclusively for the movie of the same name, and casting aging rock stars, failing comics and retired figure skaters -- has done precious little to make it better.

That has not, however, convinced the latest producers that there still isn't a bit more gelt to be mined from this particular piece of musical blanc mange -- if only they can come up with another gimmick.

All of which brings us to the GREASE featuring 2006 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel, which opened Wednesday in a limited run at Toronto's Canon Theatre. Like the musical itself, the result is nothing short of predictable.

Choreographed and directed by Kathleen Marshall, this touring production not only finds precious little that's new or exciting in the time-worn and tired book, music and lyrics of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, it quite often fails to exploit the limited charms that made the show a hit in the first place.

Right off the top, the casting of Josh Franklin and Lauren Ashley Zakrin (which one can't help but note comes perilously close to rhyming with with saccharine) as romantic leads Danny and Sandy seems destined to flunk not just chemistry but biology at good old Rydell High. They not only flatline in the romance department from the moment they are introduced, but stubbornly resist any limp efforts the book or the director might make to revive it.

In the romance department, there's more of an arc to the steamy, sketchy union between the car-mad Kenickie (David Ruffin) and the tough-as-nails Rizzo (Laura D'Andre) than there is between Franklin and Zakrin, both of whom appear to have come out on the losing end of a feud with the wig department.

As for Hicks, his turn as Teen Angel does little to enliven the proceedings, despite one of the "Tastee-est" entrances going, and though he gives it a game try, his efforts to put a Soul Patrol spin on Beauty School Dropout come off looking like he's channeling Bette Midler and Jay Leno simultaneously.

Which is not to say that the evening is a total washout. Though she fails to inspire her leads in any meaningful way, Marshall finds a few charming nuggets in her supporting cast, not the least of which is Dominic Fortuna's over-the-top turn as smarmy DJ Vince Fontaine. As Doody, Jesse JP Johnson has some nice moments too, as do the aforementioned Ruffin and D'Andre.

On a technical front, while Marshall's choreography isn't likely to set the world on fire, she demonstrates a pleasant restraint, and while Derek McLane's sets and Martin Pakledinaz' costumes fall resolutely into the morass of the uninspired, Kenneth Posner's lighting shows them in the best possible shadings.

As for Hicks, fans shouldn't write him off too soon. He sheds the Teen Angel persona after curtain call, smoothly transitioning into the Hicks his fans know and love, and certainly appears far more comfortable singing one of his own songs. But if he's determined to use the Canon lobby as a point of post-show sale for his CD, management might consider opening a few of the theatre's side doors, so that those pitiful few whose life is already complete without an autographed Taylor Hicks CD can make their way home unobstructed by the adoring throngs.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Feds give $500Gs for Stratford Fest
8 Apr'10


It was a good news day at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Wednesday as the federal government loosened its purse strings and sprinkled an additional $500,000 into the Festival's coffers.

In an announcement made by Gary Schellenberger, Member of Parliament for Perth—Wellington, on behalf of Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore, the federal government pledged not only $150,000 from the Canada Arts Training fund, but an additional $350,000 from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund.

The money from the Canadian Arts Training Fund doubles the fed's contribution to artist training through the Festival's Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training and the Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction this year, while the money from the Cultural Spaces Fund is earmarked for upgrading sound and speaker systems within the Festival's three main theatres.

Friday, April 2, 2010

2 April'10

Maximum quirk, b'y

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

A BOY CALLED NEWFOUNDLAND could well do for quirky what a girl called Mary Tyler Moore did for spunky. To refresh your memory:

Long ago, in a three-channel universe far, far away, there was a spunky TV heroine named Mary Richards, (played by the aforementioned Moore.) How spunky, you ask? So relentlessly spunky was Ms Richards, in fact, that her curmudgeonly boss, played by Ed Asner, was famously forced to acknowledge that she had spunk — and then promptly told her he hated it.

By the end of A BOY CALLED NEWFOUNDLAND — a new play from Graeme Gillis that had its world premiere in the Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space on Tuesday — one suspects more than a few people will be amazed by their newly discovered but nonetheless deeply profound loathing of quirk.

Produced by Theatre Smash and directed by Ashlie Corcoran, A BOY... starts promisingly enough. With the lovely face of Vivien Endicott-Douglas (cast in the role of Evelyn), seemingly suspended in mid-air, bidding adieu, it seems, to her young swain, a boy called Newfoundland, who apparently lives far from Evelyn’s Quebecois home.

Next up, of course, we meet Newfoundland himself, played by Patrick Kwok-Choon. The charm continues, as the awkward young man struggles to come to terms with being ditched by the young lady he fell in love with at a remedial French camp in the summer just past.

Quickly, we discover many strange and quirky things about this young man, named Newfoundland Willow, not the least of which is the fact that everyone in his quirky family calls him Flounder, and that he lives in a brightly coloured home at the top of a hill somewhere in the Maritimes. We also learn he has two older sisters, the feminine and amorous Arley-Rose (played by Lara Jean Chorostecki) and the butch and belligerent Brigid (Natasha Greenblatt) — and, as siblings do, they don’t get on terribly well.

Apparently their parents do, however — so much so that mother Marianne (Martha Burns) and father Bill (Layne Coleman) support their family by publishing The Romantic Times — a niche publication devoted to affairs of the heart, both theirs and others.

But in the midst of Arley-Rose’s plans to elope with her lover, Hadley (a sweat-soaked but horny theologian played by Martin Happer), Marianne arrives home to announce that old Bill Willow has abandoned his roots and left hearth, home and family.
While the eccentric mother languishes, her equally eccentric children do their level best to get on with life and heal the rift between their dippy parents — and things just get quirkier and quirkier as the play tackles everything from turkey shoots to incest with the same vacuous and light-hearted, quirky charm.

This is, it must be added, a hugely game cast. All, with the exception of Coleman — who could stop a runaway Toyota with his leaden performance — do their level best to convince us we aren’t, in fact, about to suffocate in silliness as we sink in a quagmire of quirkiness, but are having a whole boatload of fun instead.

It all plays out on a versatile, multi-leveled set, painted in quirky rainbow hues by designer Robin Fisher, quirkily lit by Jason Hand — a set that, like the play itself, starts out with its pedal to the metal in the charm department, but soon gets all caught up in sap generated by its own quirkiness.

A BOY CALLED NEWFOUNDLAND — unlike the movie JUNO, which is obviously some sort of conceptual relative — fails to go anywhere. It chooses instead to revel in its own quirkiness in the hope that it will somehow be enough, when in fact, it is simply too, too much.

By half.

At the Tarragon Extra Space
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran
Starring the ensemble