Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NEWS ITEM: Something to Bragg about
30 Jun'10


It's taken awhile, but Martin Bragg, erstwhile Artistic Producer of the Canadian Stage Company has surfaced once again.

Bragg, who left CanStage in 2009 after a 17-year association, was named Tuesday as the new Executive Director of the Alberta Ballet, where he will work closely with Artistic Director Jean Grand-Maître.

Under Grand-Maître's stewardship, the company has emerged as a major bridge between contemporary music and classical ballet, building on the attention it earned with THE FIDDLE & THE DRUM — a work set to the music of Joni Mitchell — with a new production set to the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin that opened in May. Titled LOVE LIES BLEEDING, it has recently received John's approval to tour beyond Alberta's borders. A new ballet, set to the music of Sarah MacLachlan is already being planned.

Bragg, whose touring experience includes the successful international tour of THE OVERCOAT, is expected to assume his new duties in Calgary sometime in July.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

THEATRE NEWS: Dennehy to return for 2011 Stratford season
29 Jun'10


When it comes to the works of William Shakespeare, four seems to be the magic number for the Stratford Festival's artistic director, Des McAnuff. With the 2010 season well-launched and three of four planned Shakespeare productions up and running, McAnuff announced plans for the Festival's 2011 season Monday -- a season that also will include four productions of Shakespeare's work.

McAnuff will direct perhaps the best-known of the four, mounting a production of TWELFTH NIGHT in the Festival Theatre, with Brian Dennehy returning to the Festival to essay the role of Sir Toby Belch, Stephen Ouimette returning to play Sir Andrew Aguecheek, with Tom Rooney cast as Malvolio and Ben Carlson as Feste.

Meanwhile, Frank Galati will make his Festival debut, directing THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, also on the Festival stage, with Geraint Wyn Davies cast as Falstaff, Janet Wright as Mistress Quickly and Rooney as Ford.

Director Miles Potter meanwhile has been signed to direct a production of RICHARD III on the Tom Patterson stage, featuring Seana McKenna in the title role.

A production of TITUS ANDRONICUS is also planned for the Patterson stage, with director and casting to be announced. Also on the books for the Festival stage, a production of Moliere's THE MISANTHROPE, translated by Richard Wilber and directed by Brian Bedford, who will also appear in the show opposite Carlson's Alceste.

On the Avon stage, director Gary Griffin returns to direct a new production of Lerner and Loewe's classic musical, CAMELOT, featuring Wyn Davies as King Arthur. McAnuff will direct a production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical JUSES CHRIST SUPERSTAR, with Paul Nolan cast as Jesus and Chilina Kennedy as Mary Magdalene.

A new production of Galati's adaptation of John Steinbeck's THE GRAPES OF WRATH is planned for the Avon stage in addition to a production of Harold Pinter's THE HOMECOMING. Directed by Antoni Cimolino, GRAPES will featuring Kennedy as Rosasharn and Wright as Ma; while THE HOMECOMING, directed by Jennifer Tarver, will feature Dennehy and Ouimette as Max and Sam respectively.

In the Studio Theatre, Weyni Mengesha will direct a production of Michel Tremblay's HOSANNA, while Chris Abraham will return to direct the world premiere of John Mighton's THE LITTLE YEARS, commissioned by the Festival in 2008 -- at the same time it commissioned George F. Walker's KING OF THIEVES, which is slated to open later this season. A third commission from Judith Thompson is listed as "ongoing", while a fourth -- a musical by THE DROWSY CHAPERONE's Bob Martin, Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison -- was announced Monday.
THEATRE NEWS: Dora Awards spread out evenly
29 Jun'10


The quest to dominate the Dora Mavor Moore Awards ended in a four-way tie Monday night as the awards, honouring the best in Toronto Theatre, were handed out during a ceremony at the St. Lawrence Centre. When the curtain fell, there was plenty of cause for celebration in the camps of Luminato, Soulpepper, Tarragon and Theatrefront -- each of whom managed to walk off with four awards.

Luminato's wins came not only in the general theatre category where they claimed a Dora for best touring production for their presentation of Ex Machina's LIPSYNCH, but in the musical theatre division, where of the best new musical Dora went to R. Murray Schafer's THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE and the dance division where the Nederland Dans Theater's SHOOT THE MOON/WINGS OF WAX/SECOND PERSON took the Dora for best production. Luminato's fourth Dora was also in the dance division, where Richard Sacks' collaboration with a group of Red Sky musicians took earned the Dora for best original sound design/composition for their work on TONO.

Soulpepper, meanwhile, picked up three awards for their production of PARFUMÉRIE, including Best Production, Best Direction (Morris Panych), and Best Set Design (Ken MacDonald), scoring its fourth for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? when Diego Matamoros picked up the Dora for best actor, all in the general theatre division.

Tarragon also took home four awards in the general theatre division -- two for COURAGEOUS (best new play to playwright Michael Healey, best supporting actor to Maurice Dean Wint) and two for IF WE WERE BIRDS (best actress for Tara Rosling, best original sound design/composition for Thomas Ryder Payne).

Theatrefront, meanwhile, claimed its four awards in the smaller independent theatre category, all of them for their ongoing episodic production of THE MILL -- which in addition to claiming the Dora for best production, also took honours for best set design (Gillian Gallow), best costumes (Dana Osborne) and best lighting (Andrea Lundy).

Other notable wins include: Donna-Michelle St. Bernard for best new play, in the independent theatre division, for GAS GIRLS; Heidi Strauss, for best original choreography in the dance division, for a work titled 'this time'; Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People in the theatre for young audiences division for their presentation of Youtheatre's INTHIS WORLD which garnered best production honours; Birdland Theatre and Talk is Free Theatre for best production in the musical theatre division for ASSASSINS; Jeff Lillico for best actor in the musical theatre division for his performance in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and Louise Pitre for best actress in the same division for her performance in THE TOXIC AVENGER; The Canadian Opera Company and its partners for best production in the opera division for THE NIGHTINGALE AND OTHER SHORT FABLES.

Also honoured at Monday night's award ceremony were Philip Akin, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre, who received the Silver Ticket Award in recognition of his contributions to the development of Canadian Theatre and production craftsperson Lokki Ma, who received the Pauline McGibbon Award for emerging theatre artists.

For a compete list of 2010 Dora winners, visit

Monday, June 28, 2010

28 Jun'10

'Tempest' downgraded

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

STRATFORD -- In a part of Southern Ontario where inclement nature regularly carves swaths both wide and deep across the land, there is little about the storm that swept across the stage of the Festival Theatre Friday that is remarkable.

It is, of course, not just any storm - but rather the storm with which William Shakespeare launches one of his most famous works, fittingly titled THE TEMPEST -- and not surprisingly, it is a major plot device. In fact, without it, the ship carrying the King of Naples and his court, en route home after a wedding in Ethiopia, would not founder, washing all aboard up on the shore of a strange island, thus -- however circuitously -- restoring the dispossessed wizard Prospero, who rules there, to all that is rightfully his.

So, as storms go, it should be a memorable one -- particularly if you're about to introduce your audience to a Prospero played by the legendary Christopher Plummer. But sadly, most of what director Des McAnuff and his design team serve up is simply visual bombast mixed with a bit of inclement weather -- a combination that, while it gets everyone where they need to be for Shakespeare's purposes, does little in the end to set the tone for the production that follows. Which in its way serves as fair comment on this production, for as the ever-charming and affable Plummer leads us through this familiar tale of love, magic and revenge, one senses his director struggling to find a through line that will tie everything together in what should be a deeply complex tale.

First off, of course, there is that web of intrigue surrounding the shipwrecked King of Naples, played by Peter Hutt. With a court that includes Prospero's brother, pretender to his Dukedom of Milan (John Vickery), as well as the king's own too-ambitious brother (Timothy D. Stickney), it's a dangerous place, particularly when the king is distracted, mourning the apparent death of his son and heir.

Then there is the love story that springs up when Ferdinand, that selfsame son and heir, played by Gareth Potter, falls instantly in love with Prospero's only child, Miranda, played with more than just a jarring touch of Dogpatch hayseed by Trish Lindstrom.

And finally, there is the conspiracy between Prospero's slave, the monstrous Caliban (a strong turn by Dion Johnstone), and two of the shipwrecked Neopolitans - the jester Trinculo, played by Bruce Dow, having a gay old time channeling Dame Edna, and the drunken butler Stephano, overplayed by Geraint Wyn Davies. Together, this trio of miscreants plans to murder the old wizard and rule over his island kingdom in his place. All of this, of course, is not news to Plummer's Prospero, who through the use of his magical powers and with the aid of his servant spirit, Ariel (Julyana Soelistyo showing us what would happen if one of sculptor Ron Mueck's works came to life and mated with a randy Teletubby) is manipulating all of them to his own ends with affable charm.

In McAnuff's production, however, these diverse stories all seem to play out as slight comedy, with the darker threads of revenge, greed and forgiveness that Shakespeare wove so carefully through the tale all but ignored. Despite assists from a top-notch creative team, including designers Robert Brill (sets), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Michael Walton (lighting) and a gaggle of coaches, assistants and the like, McAnuff becomes so entangled in witty sleight-of-hand that he fails to notice his whole production is perilously short on the requisite depth and real magic to make it truly memorable.

Happily, there is still Plummer -- and while his Prospero will no doubt be remembered for his easy charm, his sense of humour, and the ease with which he handles the text, one can't help but feel his is a Prospero who never got THE TEMPEST he deserves.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

FEATURE INTERVIEW: Tomson Highway back from hiatus
23 Jun'10


TORONTO - If, like a lot of Toronto and Canadian theatre fans, you've been wondering whatever happened to playwright Tomson Highway, we've found the answer -- and it's all good news.

For, even though he's been off the theatrical radar for awhile, it's not so much that his once-sizzling career has hit a dead end, stopping the flow of plays like THE REZ SISTERS and DRY LIPS OUGHTA MOVE TO KAPUSKASING, but rather that he's simply opted to take a road less travelled.

"Mostly, I've been having the time of my life,' Highway says from Banff, where he's rehearsing his latest project, a hiatus from a nomadic life that sees him spend half of his year in France -- "Where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean," he explains, adding that the closest city is Barcelona. He spends the other half of the year in a cabin in the woods outside of Sudbury. And that's the problem, he explains.

"You know how artists are supposed to be riddled with drug problems or financial problems or stuff like that?" he asks with a laugh. "Well, I'm none of that stuff. I'm very much in love and I'm very happy. The way I put it to myself is: 'I'm too happy to produce.' "

Well, not entirely. He is, after all, working on another novel, which he says is about three-quarters finished And then there's the cabaret show that is the subject of our call -- a joint effort featuring Highway, singer Patricia Cano and saxophonist Christopher Plock, titled KISAGEETIN: A CABARET. It opens Thursday at the Berkeley Street Theatre, where it will run through Sunday. It's a production of Mizwe Biil Development Corporation, presented by thunderbird Centre with Denise Bolduc. For the uninitiated, kisageetin is a Cree word meaning "I love you," and you could call it a child of that happiness Highway just mentioned.

"I wrote 12 songs last summer for my partner's birthday," he says, referring to Raymond, his partner of more than two decades. "And that's what we are going to be doing -- with a lot of patter and witty repartee in between." Highway, of course, will be on keyboards ("I play the piano whenever I can," he says), while Cano, a Peruvian-born, Canadian-raised songstress -- and a good friend of his -- will take care of the vocals.

"Her father has a few drops of Inca blood," Highway deadpans, adding that because she was raised in Sudbury, "she's part Inco."

This is the second cabaret the two have done together -- the first toured internationally for eight years -- and Highway is clearly content to do many more. "She's an absolutely stunning artist," he enthuses. "I am convinced she will be (as big as) Lotte Lenya someday. "She's just worth too much to be an overnight sensation or a flash in the pan."

But in the end, the cabaret act is really a diversion. Highway is still working hard on the aforementioned novel, on his music and, of course, on raising literacy in the Native community -- a mission that has become his passion. "As recently as 30 years ago, there was no such thing as Native writers in this country," he says, still a little awestruck at what has been accomplished.

"We now have a national voice that commands worldwide attention. I'm working on things slowly," he continues. "I'm just taking my time. I've done well enough to have a good life. The wolf is not exactly at the door."

So this cabaret act is not about money. "When you have this ability, why not share it?" he asks. "We have so much to celebrate. It's such a great thing to make people laugh, to make people cry with joy, to make people happy. A writer's life is so solitary. This is the perfect antidote."

For KISEGEETIN tickets and information, call 416-468-3110.
DANCE NEWS: Alberta Ballet to tour John creation
23 Jun'10


It may not be the royal seal of approval exactly, but it's close enough for the Alberta Ballet.

Officials for the company announced yesterday that it has been given the green light by Sir Elton John to tour its $1.2 million production of LOVE LIES BLEEDING, a multi-media mixture of ballet and video inspired by and featuring the music of Sir Elton and his longtime collaborator, Bernie Taupin.

LOVE LIES BLEEDING had its world premiere in Calgary's Jubilee Auditorium in early May, and although John never made it to Calgary nor to a subsequent run in Edmonton, he was kept abreast of audience and critical response to the work and also watched video footage of the ballet, before authorizing it for a wider audience.

"I am proud of what the Alberta Ballet has created and I am looking forward to seeing this ballet live on," John said in the release announcing his approval Tuesday. "It is a strong contemporary choreography that entertains and challenges dance audiences with its new aesthetics and its powerful fusion of different art mediums. I hope it will attract thousands of new patrons to this wonderful art form."

Jean Grand-Maître, who serves as artistic director of the Alberta Ballet and also choreographed LOVE LIES BLEEDING was "ecstatic" at the news that he'll be able to expose his ballet and his company to a broader audience. "This is an exciting time for Alberta Ballet and the future seems brighter than ever, thanks to Sir Elton and Mr. Taupin," Grand-Maitre said.

No tour dates are yet available, but it is expected that the work will begin a tour next year — a tour which could well include a stop here in Toronto, possibly at the Sony Centre, which sent representatives to the Calgary première.

Monday, June 21, 2010

DANCE NEWS: Young dancer to tackle 'Onegin'
21 Jun'10


TORONTO - For the uninitiated, it may seem like no big deal that McGee Maddox, a young dancer who joined the corps de ballet at the National Ballet of Canada less than a year ago, is preparing to tackle the title role in ONEGIN this week. But ask a balletomane and you'll likely be told that it's a little like throwing a third-string quarterback into the final moments of the Super Bowl.

But if being catapulted into the spotlight has unnerved the 23-year-old dancer scheduled to perform the role of the arrogant young Russian nobleman in the matinée performance of ONEGIN, June 24, he's covering it well. "Things are going well,' Maddox says, the warm, relaxed cadences of a South Carolina childhood rolling lazily down the phone line "It's nice." Which is not to say he's blasé about things. He knows what's at stake. "I'm a very young age to be allowed to do this role," he admits, "But I feel that it suits me -- my temperament and my theatrical style. I've really made an effort to make it my own and uphold the integrity of the choreography and the story."

And it's not as if it snuck up on him. Maddox has, in fact, been drawing the spotlight since he joined the company last year after a stint with the Houston Ballet, landing a role in Balanchine's THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS in November and earning a role in choreographer Jorma Elo's PIR TI MIRO in its world premiere last month. He's performed so well, in fact, that his promotion to second soloist was announced Monday by the NBOC.

He's survived his first Canadian winter as well, although, In fairness, it was a mild one. "I heard," he says dryly. "You could have fooled me, but I heard. I went out and got one of those goose down parkas and I didn't feel like it was too much." That parka would no doubt stand out in his South Carolina home, where he says a fleece is about all you need in the winter months. But standing out in South Carolina is something he has had a lifetime to accustom himself to.

"Growing up in South Carolina and being a male dancer and growing up in a liberal family around a very conservative population definitely brought its challenges -- but no drama," he says, laughing. "I think it added a very interesting dynamic to my childhood and my high school experience." It was a world, he recalls, where "if you didn't play football, you weren't too much of anything, and I'm a huge football fan." But it never went much beyond fandom.

These days, Maddox stands 6'2" and weighs in at 190 pounds, but "I didn't always look this way," he admits. "I practised the heck out of that game, but I was always on the bench, because I'd likely get hurt." Clearly, he's thrilled to finally make it to the big game in his chosen profession.

"I feel very comfortable being myself here," he says simply. "I don't feel I have to be anybody but myself and dance the way I dance -- and that's very important to me now. I feel like, since my first show here, I've just grown so much as a solo performer. I feel I can come and do my job and not feel anxious about it."

And politics aside, he just might be ready to score one for the Gipper.
21 Jun'10

QMI Agency
Rating: 5 out of 5

In a world where it often seems there is indeed nothing new under the sun,  it is left to artists of genuine talent to show us  the same old thing in a whole new light and  fill us with wonder in the process.
 Not that the National Ballet of Canada's 1984 staging of choreographer John Cranko's ONEGIN, could ever have been considered "the same old thing."

But truth to tell, by the time  the Russian classic  was trotted out  five years ago in honour of Principal Dancer Rex Harrington's retirement — it was a ballet he had made uniquely his own, after all — it was starting to look more than  a little shopworn, for all that it still sparkled with the magic of Cranko's timeless choreography and the majesty of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's enduring music.

That was then — and baby, you should see ONEGIN now.

The NBOC stripped the wraps off what has been billed as a "glorious new design" Saturday at the Four Seasons, and it turns out that, instead of overstating the beauty of ONEGIN's new look, they just might have been underselling the wonders that designers Santo Loquasto (sets and costumes) and James F. Ingalls (lighting) have wrought.
 Visually, this production is a stunner, moving from triumph to triumph from the minute the lights come up on a gorgeous drop, designed especially for the show — a drop on which the title character's name and the epic poem by Alexander Pushkin in which that character first sprang to life, are both etched in Russian.
 In fact, as the story of the arrogant young Russian aristocrat and the young country girl who loves him progresses, this new palette  grows progressively richer, blossoming and opening up as the story moves from  the sleepy Russian backwater in which it begins (perhaps a little too rustically)  to the glittering palaces of St. Petersburg where it ends in utter heartbreak.

And, under the firm rein of Reid Anderson and Jane Bourne, who's tagged the ballet, the company not only inhabits the story's magnificent new setting, but makes it its own, as well, settling into it and serving up Cranko's choreography with a freshness and enthusiasm that is nothing short of thrilling.
 In the title role, principal dancer Jiří Jelinek makes a dazzling company debut, bringing a long and elegant line and a certain sense of arrogant detachment to the self-involved young aristocrat, Onegin, that is both mesmerizing and deliciously infuriating.

As Tatiana, the young country girl who falls passionately in love with Onegin, only to be spurned by him, Xiao Nan Yu, is a perfect foil — an innocent romantic suddenly enflamed by a passion she can barely control.
 Together, they follow the tragic arch of Pushkin's love story, turning the final scene into a pas de deux so full of passion that it threatens to spill over into a  full-out contact sport.

As Onegin's friend Lensky, and his sweetheart (and Tatiana's sister) Olga respectively, Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden are all dancing light to Onegin's darkness, rendering the tragic end of their relationship all the more heartbreaking for their excellence.
 And, in a lovely touch of continuity, a stream-lined Harrington, touched with silver,  returns once again to the NBOC stage , powerfully cast as the courtly Prince Gremin, the man who will eventually woo and win the heart that Onegin has so carelessly and thoughtlessly tossed aside.
Beautifully rendered and flawlessly cast, backed by a corps at the top of its form, the newly-designed ONEGIN isn't  merely a new look for an old ballet.
 It is nothing short of a triumph — for the company, for the individual dancers and especially for an audience that was left roaring its approval when Saturday's curtain fell.


Friday, June 18, 2010

18 June'10

‘Homage’ drums up outrage

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Most art forms can trace their origins to some form of religious worship -- and with good reason. For in the creation of art, man seems to move beyond the confines of mere existence and touches something deeper and more enduring. As a consequence, within the confines of a temple, a work of sculpture, a painting, a theatre or dance piece -- even a song -- helped to move a congregation closer to the god or gods they gathered to worship.

But once art moved outside the temple, all that changed. While artists continued -- and continue, still -- to regard their work with an almost religious reverence, the consumers of that art have come, too often, to consider it merely as decoration or entertainment.

Those two views collide in a new work titled HOMAGE, which had its Toronto debut at the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre Thursday, courtesy of the Halifax-based 2bTheatre Company, who produced it, and the folks at Luminato, who are presenting it as part of their ongoing celebration of arts and culture. Written by Anthony Black and directed by Christian Barry, HOMAGE is based on the real-life story of Ontario artist Haydn Davies, a Canadian who made an impressive name for himself in the art world, despite the fact that he came to art late in his life.

Commissioned early in his new career by Sarnia's Lambton College, his first public work, titled Homage -- an oversized tribute to Stonehenge built out of red cedar -- was the work that would bookmark his career. It earned him artistic credibility when he started out and, at least according to this play, all but broke his spirit when it was demolished without consultation after it was deemed structurally unsound 30 years later.

Set in a wooden circle which itself has faint echoes of Stonehenge, HOMAGE the theatre piece is played out simply in the round, using set pieces created by designer Peter Blackie to not only echo Davies' work, but to furnish the world the play inhabits. With Jerry Franken playing a crusty Davies, and Barbara Gordon beautifully cast as his wife Eva, HOMAGE begins with Davies' decision to walk away from a successful career in advertising to pursue art and follows him through the next 30 years. Karen Bassett, Hugo Dann, Gordon Gammie, Ann-Marie Kerr and Hugh Thompson round out a dedicated cast playing an ever-shifting array of largely two-dimensional townsfolk, business men, family members and arts administrators.

But while the purpose of HOMAGE seems to be to create a theatrical biography of the artist and his ill-fated work, more than names have been changed -- and apparently not so much to protect the innocent, but to damn them. In the world according to Black, the ill-fated artwork is conveniently commissioned not by an institution of higher learning, but by a small Ontario town looking for a way to mark the 150th anniversary of its founding. It's a small but pivotal change, for, in a drumming up outrage, few can argue that a group of small-town hicks and hockey fans makes for far more compelling theatrical villainy than the presumably educated administrators of an institution of higher learning.

Finally, when it comes to drumming up outrage over the public's mistreatment of works of art, a Luminato volunteer who not only used her cellphone twice during the opening night performance, but used it as a camera as well, provided a far more visceral argument and outraged far more patrons than this preachy little play ever could.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

17 Jun'10

'Best Before' past its expiry date

Rating: 3 out of 5

TORONTO – While it is true that theatre holds a mirror up to life, a theatre that is content to serve as a mere imitation of life would be pretty dull fare. As any teenager will tell you, life is often dull and it stands to reason that a reflection of that life would be even less exciting.

That's a point driven home in a strange, quirky little offering from Germany's Rimini Protocol that opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre Wednesday as part of the city-wide Luminato Festival. It's called BEST BEFORE and it seems to be driven by the whole notion that in a computer world filled with alternate realities, the time has come for a theatre of alternate realities as well.

To that end, an entire audience is asked to participate, avatar style, in the fast-paced life of BestLand, a computer-generated alternate reality where one is born, lives, loves and dies in the course of two hours.

Now, before you go rushing off to the Berkeley Street Theatre, it should probably be pointed out that these avatars have more in common with a pincushion or a cat-toy than with those bodacious blue creatures in the latest James Cameron flick -- and rather than flying around on rainbow-hued pterodactyls, the best the BestLand avatars can do is bounce up and down within a largely white world, controlled by a rudimentary game controller in often inexperienced hands.

But boy, can these avatars vote, which is apparently what they were created to do by Protokoll's Stefan Kaegi and Helgard Haug.
In fact, once each member of the audience has been introduced to his or her assigned avatar and given a name, a sex and a chance to work out the limitations to its range of motion, much of BEST BEFORE becomes a rudimentary exercise in participatory democracy.

Should marijuana be legal? Should heroin? Abortion?

Should there be marriage? A standing army? Guns? Taxes?

Should BestLand be a meritocracy or a welfare state?

With four civilians -- Ellen Schultz, a journalist-turned-traffic-flagger; Bob Williams, a retired politician; and Duff Armour and Brady Marks, two rather cynical refugees from the world of computer games -- to act as game masters, all these decisions are made collectively, with no protection whatsoever for the rights of the dissenting minority. Not that such concerns are likely to be of major moment to the vast majority in the house, most of whom on opening night, seemed to be having more than a bit of trouble distinguishing their particular avatar from the herd and ensuring that he or she was voting according to their wishes and not running amok, making babies with the avatar of a complete stranger.

Fortunately both Schultz and Williams prove to be natural performers, spinning out their life experiences with such charm and then linking them to the on-screen proceedings that they become as deeply connected to their audience as the game they are hosting. While Ron Samworth provides live musical accompaniment, Marks serves as a sort of stage manager, and Armour provides commentary.

There are, happily, a few simple life lessons to be learned along the way -- not the least of which is the fact that, even in an alternate reality, decisions have consequences. But in the main, it's a theatrical experience that is built largely upon a gimmick -- and while a few gimmicks can hold one's attention for a full 120 minutes, this doesn't seem to be one of them, for all of its inventiveness.
TRIBUTE: Opera great Forrester dies
17 Jun'10


One of the greatest operatic voices of her time started out as a soprano, morphed into a mezzo and soared to international stardom as a contralto.

Regardless of the vocal range, Maureen Forrester was always a proud Canadian. Forrester died Wednesday in Toronto, after a long battle with Alzheimer's, mere weeks shy of her 80th birthday.

Born one of four children in a working-class family in Montreal, Forrester as a child was too involved in helping her family make ends meet to allow music to be much more than a hobby for her, singing in the church and radio choirs, and picking up the rudiments of music theory. At age 16 and employed as a secretary, she began to take music more seriously, signing up for voice lessons at her brothers' urging.

Forrester made her professional debut at age 21, her symphony debut in Montreal in 1953 and after debuting in Toronto and Paris, made her way to the New York stage in 1956. And though she never looked back career-wise, her heart never left home as she launched what would become a stellar operatic and concert career that, at its peak, saw her perform as many as 120 times a year on stages around the world. In 1957, she converted to Judaism in order to marry violinist and conductor Daniel Kash, with whom she raised five children -- Paula (Burton), Gina (Dineen), Linda, Susan (Whaley) and Daniel. To her great regret, the couple separated in 1974.

Although her career took her all over the globe, Forrester not only managed to find her way back to Canada, but she remained resolutely Canadian as well. She famously assumed the Chair of the Canada Council for a five-year period from 1983-88, heading it up through a time when the Council's long established commitment to an arm's-length relationship between the government and arts funding was under serious threat from the ruling party of the day. Although her commitment to the Council and its goals was celebrated, it took her focus away from her career at a time, as she would later observe, when she really should have been devoting her time to performance, coaching and storing up the resources that that would see her through a comfortable retirement.

In later years she was all but buried in laurels. Forrester was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, received a Toronto Arts Award in 1988, was named to the Canadian Hall of Fame, is a member of the Juno Hall of Fame, was honoured with a star on Canada's Walk of Fame, was awarded a Ruby award as a creative artist by Opera Canada, accumulated 29 honorary doctorates and even served as chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Late in life, Forrester happily made her home at Toronto's Performing Arts Lodge, surrounded by friends and peers from the cultural community, until the ravages of her disease dictated that she be moved to a facility that could offer better care.

Maureen Forrester was born into a Canada where culture was a commodity that was most often imported and, like so many of her generation, she devoted her talent, her career and much of her life to transforming it to something we not only made here, but exported as well.

And while she deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest voices Canada has ever produced, we should never lose sight of the fact that she was a cultural pioneer as well -- one of a few people celebrated by an anonymous poet in To The Pioneers:

"For us, the heat by day, the cold by night, the inch slow progress and the heavy load," he wrote. "For them, the shade of trees that now we plant, the safe, smooth journey and the certain goal. And yet, the road is ours as never theirs; Is not great joy on us alone bestowed? For us, the master joy of pioneers. We shall not travel, but we make the road."
THEATRE NEWS: Canadian stage set
17 Jun'10


Casting for two of the shows Canadian Stage will produce as part of their 2010-11 season was announced on Wednesday by artistic and general director Matthew Jocelyn.

Headlining in Trankred Dorst's FERNANDO KRAPP WROTE ME THIS LETTER: AN ATTEMPT AT THE TRUTH, slated to open Sept. 23, at the Bluma Appel Theatre, will be Ngozi Paul, supported by Ashley Wright, Ryan Hollyman and Walter Borden.

Meanwhile Raoul Bhaneja, Fiona Byrne, Paul Fauteux, David Jansen and Sarah Wilson have all been signed to appear in Canadian Stage's production of David Greig's 'the cosmonaut's last message to the woman he once loved in the Soviet Union', which is slated to open in the Bluma, April 21, 2011.

Casting for SAINT CARMEN OF THE MAIN will be announced at a later date.
16 Jun'10

‘Africa Trilogy’ sparks hope

Rating: 5 out of 5

For centuries it's been known as the dark continent, and with every new story out of Africa, it seems to get darker as Pestilence, War, Famine and Death ride untrammeled across its breadth, leaving ethnic hatred, bad government, disease and corporate excess in their wake. But in a world where it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, Volcano Theatre lights three, in teaming up with Harbourfront Centre on a new work.

Titled THE AFRICA TRILOGY, it features, not surprisingly, three plays from three playwrights, directed by three directors and it's running at the Fleck Dance Theatre through Sunday -- a part of the ongoing Luminato Festival.

Fittingly, the first play, SHINE YOUR EYE, written by Binyavanga Wainaina, is set in Africa -- in Nigeria, to be precise -- where the young daughter of a murdered activist tries to find her way through the tragedy consuming her country, in the wake of the discovery of oil deposits that spew more curses than blessings. Under the strong direction of Volcano's Ross Manson, a cast that includes Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Karen Robinson, Dienye Waboso and Muoi Nene confronts many of the problems facing modern-day Nigeria and the forces tearing it apart and give it all a human face. Some of the accents make for rough sledding for the uninitiated, but the effort is worth it, thanks to this hugely competent cast and Manson's muscular, musical staging.

The action then moves to North America as director Liesl Tommy and her cast tackle some complex issues in Roland Schimmelpfennig's PEGGY PICKIT SEES THE FACE OF GOD. In a complex work that manages to be both highly theatrical and anti-theatrical, Schimmelpfennig reunites two couples after a long separation.

Carol (Maev Beaty) and Martin (Trey Lyford) have just returned from Africa where they've been doing medical work for the past six years, while Frank (Tony Nappo) and Liz (Jane Spidell) have stayed home and started a family. When they meet, all four of them are troubled by far more than the unknown fate of a young girl Carol and Martin took in during their Africa sojourn, who Frank and Liz then helped to support.

This is a strange, sprawling sort of work, packed so chock full of convictions and ideas that finally, no stage can contain it. And even though Tommy doesn't solve all the problems in a script that bears more than a passing, messy resemblance to Albee's VIRGINIA WOOLF -- re-written for liberals of the 21st century -- she and her talented cast (with particular kudos to the distaff) tackle it with such artistry, enthusiasm and conviction that one is prepared to forgive them for almost anything.

The evening ends with Christina Anderson's GLO, directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo, a play which splits its time between the slums of Africa and the salons of liberal New York, where people come together to try to sort out the problems plaguing Africa and her people. Through the eyes of one successful author (Dorothy A. Atabong) we see not just the reality of life in a squalid African slum, but the mantle of victimhood otherwise good-hearted people want her to wear. Milton Barnes and Araya Mengesha join Beaty, Lyford and Nene to round out the cast.

All three plays take place on the same basic, high-tech set, beautifully designed by Teresa Przybylski and lit by Bonnie Beecher, with Thomas Ryder Payne supplying the music and video projections by fettFilm.

When it comes to transforming a continent, THE AFRICA TRILOGY won't change dark into light, but somewhere in its three-and-a-half-hour span, you will see faint flickerings of hope -- real hope for a change, and not manufactured.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

15 Jun'10

Prima Donna a vanity project

Rating: 3 out of 5

PRIMA DONNA, the opera that sits pretty much at the heart of this year’s Luminato programming, is a lot of things — but most of all, it’s a stunning reminder of the fact that today’s obsession with celebrity is nothing if not a two-edged sword.

It’s a fair bet, for instance, that composer Rufus Wainwright’s first foray into the world of opera wouldn’t have attracted nearly so much attention were it not for his considerable success on the international pop music scene. And certainly, that foray wouldn’t have attracted investment from such prestigious sources as the Manchester International Festival (which debuted PRIMA DONNA at the Sadler’s Wells), Luminato (which is producing it here in Toronto) and the Melbourne International Arts Festival (where it will play this fall).

In fact, without Wainwright’s celebrity status, it’s hard to imagine he’d have even got a foot in the door at the Metropolitan Opera, where the idea for PRIMA DONNA was born — only to be tossed out with the bath water when Wainwright and Met management had a creative parting of the ways.

But all that access comes with a downside, for while many aspiring opera composers can develop and hone their skills slowly, far away from the glare of major publicity — just as Wainwright developed as a nouveau cabaret artist — he now finds himself in a position where every misstep threatens to become a face plant as he moves forward under the glare of all the attention suddenly trained on him by both the paparazzi and a not-always-welcoming opera establishment. In the heat of white-hot celebrity like this, composer and composition become all but fused, and feelings about one invariably spill over into the other. Which means that, if you’re a Wainwright fan, chances are, you’re going to love PRIMA DONNA. If you’re not, well, maybe not so much.

Featuring a libretto en français, written by Wainwright in collaboration with Bernadette Colomine, PRIMA DONNA tells the story of Regine Saint-Laurent (sung by soprano Janis Kelly), one-time reigning diva of the Paris opera world, but now fallen on hard times since her voice failed her at the height of her career. Five years on, she’s planning a comeback, egged on by her Svengali-esque butler Philipe, sung by baritone Gregory Dahl — and when a journalist/fan (tenor Colin Ainsworth) shows up, reminding the frail Regine of a lost love and threatening to push her over the edge, her maid (soprano Charlotte Ellett) tries to intervene, with no success.

There’s more than a touch of Norma Desmond ready for her high notes to the proceedings, but under Albery’s direction, it does manage to hold one’s attention, despite the fact that Wainwright’s music seems finally as darkly monochromatic as Antony McDonald’s faux silver evocation of decaying Parisian grandeur, the putative home of the failing Regine. But just as an oversized bouquet of roses serves to brighten that set, Wainwright and his performers manage to find occasional moments of great beauty to liven up a score that too often strays into dirge-like solemnity while it flirts outrageously with clichés, both theatrical and musical.

In short, it’s the kind of work that, should one stumble across it in an out-of-the-way theatre on a good night, might generate a certain enthusiasm as a promissory note on future brilliance. But on the stage of the Elgin, in the full glare of the massive attention focussed on its admittedly self-obsessed composer, it emerges as something a little too close to a vanity project.

And frankly, both Wainwright and PRIMA DONNA are a little better than that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

14 Jun'10

Rating: 5 out of 5

STRATFORD — If, as Peter Pan playwright J.M. Barrie suggests, hand clapping is the best medicine for an ailing fairy, this town is about to become a major centre for the treatment of diseases afflicting those magic folk. It’s thanks to a delightful production of PETER PAN that opened on the stage of the Avon Theatre Saturday, serving to end the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s opening week on a high note.

Director Tim Carroll fuses an excellent cast and a superb design team into a presentation certain to delight audiences. Carroll’s production also serves as a reminder to a festival that of late has been obsessed with incorporating modern stage technology into the classics, that there’s still a lot of magic left in an old bag of tricks. As one actor recently observed, “Theatre has been doing 3D for centuries.”

In a production filled with theatrical magic, Carroll and his team use very little in the way of special effects that wouldn’t have been available in 1904 when PETER PAN, OR THE BOY WHO WOULDN'T GROW UP, first saw the title character lead his band of Lost Boys onto the London stage. In the title role, Michael Therriault returns to the festival after a personal triumph in the ill-fated theatrical production of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. His is a Peter capable of delighting patrons and breaking their hearts, constantly juggling boyish bravado and vulnerability.

The production gets off to a slow start, however, despite an impressive and crowd-pleasing turn by Jay T. Schramek as Nana, the canine nurse to the darling Darling brood — Wendy played by Sara Topham, John by Paul Dunn and Michael by Stacie Steadman. But once Therriault arrives, in company with his good friend Tinkerbell, in search of a magical shadow left behind in a previous visit, the story takes off — and never slows until it ends on a note both deliriously happy and touchingly melancholic. Under Peter’s tutelage, Wendy and her brothers are whisked away to a magical land inhabited by Peter’s gang of lost boys and a band of cutthroat pirates, led by the evil Captain Hook (Tom McCamus, putting the jolly in the Jolly Roger) and his henchman Smee (Sean Cullen).

There also is a strange band of Amazons who, in a weird bit of politically correct art imitating life, have elbowed aside the Indian tribe that originally occupied their space in Barrie’s tale. Of course, adventures ensue as Peter and the Lost Boys lead the Darling brood through a strange and wonder-filled landscape, populated by dinosaurs, mermaids, pirate ships, oversized birds and one humongous crocodile, all of it created by designer Carolyn M. Smith, with an assist from Leslie Frankish. All of these adventures play out under the watchful eye of creator Barrie, played by James Kirriemuir, who inhabits one small corner of the set and seemingly controls every twist and turn of the strange plot.

There are of course volumes that can and have been written about the subtext that drives the story of PETER PAN, but Carroll seems to have realized the thing that always endears Barrie’s youthful hero to his audience is charm.

Having realized it, he makes the most of it, for it is hard to imagine a production of Peter Pan filled with more charm.
14 Jun'10

Rating: 4 out of 5

STRATFORD -- Even if one has never seen it before, one's first reaction to JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS is likely to be: "Where have I heard this music before?" And, as Stratford Shakespeare Festival audiences will discover this summer, thanks to an intimate new production of the iconic musical, that's a complex question indeed.

The work of the legendary French singer/songwriter of title (who is no longer alive or well or living in Paris) has been widely and liberally imitated and cannibalized. As a result, anyone exposed to popular music during the past half century is certain to have heard musical phrases, even entire tunes, that flowed originally from Brel's imagination. But our familiarity with Brel's music runs deeper than that, for Brel's music represents a sort of pan-European musical confluence blending the rich troubadour traditions of France, the cabaret traditions of Germany and the fado traditions of Portugal with touches of American jazz and a host of other musical influences. The music of Jacques Brel is implanted in our genes.

And as the new Stratford Festival production that opened on the Tom Patterson stage Friday proves, that creates a pretty powerful theatrical effect. Under the direction of Stafford Arima, the musical, co-conceived and translated by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, has been deconstructed and rebuilt to showcase Brel's talents for a new generation, while remaining true to the show's roots.

It also showcases the talents of a four-member cast -- Jewelle Blackman, Brent Carver, Mike Nadajewski and Nathalie Nadon -- each playing themselves in a show that is devoid of plot and character, yet completely awash in both. It's a milieu in which the hugely talented Carver is completely at home, something he demonstrates with understated elegance every time lighting designer Steven Hawkins and director Arima train the spotlight on him. As a result, however, one wishes the rest of the casting had been done to complement Carver's extraordinary and unique skill, rather than to merely showcase it.

While Blackman, Nadajewski and Nadon are talented performers, they are, by dint of a certain paucity in life and stage experience, simply not in Carver's league and replacing even just one of them with a more seasoned performer would have added untold depth to this production.

Where Carver has the ability to seemingly get himself out of the way and channel haunting songs such as Amsterdam and My Childhood, the other three players seem driven to perform them. As a result, Carver's skill has to balance not just Blackman's over-embroidered vocal style and Nadajewski's tendency to hide behind a clown, but Nadon's evocation of a banked fire that never really bursts into flame, as well.

Backed by a strong four-piece orchestra that is occasionally co-opted into the action, the performers work all aspects of the Patterson's thrust stage on a simple set created by Katherine Lubienski -- but under Arima's self-conscious direction, they only rarely seem completely at home as they work through 26 of Brel's more enduring tunes. And finally, it is those tunes that make the show a triumph for, even though he has been gone for more than 30 years, they prove that the music Jacques Brel wrote is alive and well and living in our hearts.
11 Jun'10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

STRATFORD — Eva Perón died in 1952, after suffering from cervical cancer. On the other hand, EVITA — the musical inspired by her strange and meteoric rise to the top of Argentine heap, and revived at the Stratford Festival this season — seems to be suffering from a simple irony deficiency.

Premiered in Britain in 1976, that musical — one of a series of hugely successful collaborations between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice — quickly became, under the direction of the legendary Hal Prince, a major element in the duo’s success, both in London’s West End and in subsequent Broadway and international stagings. Thirty-five years on it has made it here, in a new production directed by Gary Griffen that opened Thursday on the Avon stage. And who knows, it just might enjoy its own success, for certainly there is much in it to recommend.

Principal among its attributes is a committed performance by Chilina Kennedy in the title role, supported not just by equally strong turns from Juan Chioran (in the thankless role of Eva’s husband, dictator Juan Perón) and Josh Young (as an explosive Ché, icon of the Cuban revolution), but by a committed ensemble as well.

Kennedy is a talented performer who has carved a niche for herself on the Stratford stage in just a few seasons. While she is more suited to the character of the young and ambitious Eva, she tackles the role with such determination that she all but convinces us she is a mature, if strident, Eva too. Chioran, another major player here, tackles one of musical theatre’s more thankless roles with both dignity and integrity, leaving no doubt that the Perón story, at least from his point of view, is nothing if not a love story. And while the role of Ché has always been slightly suspect — his story and Eva Perón’s joined only by the broadest possible geographic references — Young makes it his own with an impressive passion and a simmering rage appropriate to a revolutionary who is determined to change the world.

In the show’s two other featured roles, Josie Marasco grabs the opportunity to sing one of the score’s most beautiful songs — Another Suitcase In Another Hall — and makes the most of it, while as the tango singer who launches Eva’s career, Vince Staltari hits all the wrong notes in all the right ways.

Director Griffin works well with both his cast and a technical team that includes choreographer Tracey Flye and designers Douglas Paraschuk (sets), Mara Blumenfeld (costumes), Kevin Fraser (lights) and Sean Nieuwenhuis (video projections).

Griffin approaches this ground-breaking, sung-through work with a reverence that should be reserved for a musical commissioned by the History Channel, not on a slight bit of social commentary meant to be delivered with tongue planted firmly in cheek as it sends up society’s growing obsession with fame for fame’s sake.

Whereas a scene between dueling generals was originally staged as a bizarre and childish game of musical chairs, for instance, Griffin tones down the irony by transforming it into a mere poker game. Worse, he demands that aristocrats and soldiers moving crab-like through the show en masse take themselves seriously and asks that Kennedy, in the famous balcony scene, try to sing Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina — one of the greatest nonsense songs ever written — straight from the heart. It’s a decision that, coupled with wrong-headed and shaky staging, strips the song and the iconic scene of much of its power and grandeur, and bleeds it of irony too.

So it seems EVITA is destined to suffer the same fate as that other celebrated Webber/Rice collaboration, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR; it is diminished by the same tragic voyage from ironic to iconic.
10 Jun'10

Rating 4 out of 5

STRATFORD — Like a host of directors before her, Marti Maraden doesn’t quite succeed in transforming William Shakespeare’s THE WINTER'S TALE into the “glorious summer” the playwright might have envisioned. But in a production that opened in the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre on Wednesday, she does succeed in giving her audience a remarkably satisfying reading of a play that does not often top anyone’s list of Shakespeare’s favourite works.

That she accomplishes this largely through a deep respect for the text and for her actors, and not through any high-concept grandstanding by her design team, makes her accomplishment all the more impressive — and all the more appealing.

From the top of the show — when King Leontes of Sicilia (thoughtfully played by Ben Carlson) is suddenly and all but inexplicably overcome with irrational jealousy over the friendship sprung up between his wife, Hermione (Yanna McIntosh), and his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Dan Chameroy) — Maraden puts complete faith in the playwright and in her players. Three hours later, when the high-flown tale of jealousy, child abandonment, deception, coincidence and a vengeful god has run its course, that faith yields an ending that is both heartfelt and deeply moving, for all that it’s taken a little too long to arrive. This, despite some plot twists that certainly strain credulity — or they would in the hands of a lesser cast.

But in the role of Leontes, Carlson creates a completely believable and tragic victim of a tsunami of jelaousy that washes in from parts unknown to destroy the world he has inhabited, taking with it not only his wife and children but his most treasured friendship as well. Meanwhile, as his ill-used Queen and one of his victims, McIntosh triumphs as a Hermione who refuses to be a victim, regardless of how she might be victimized, driven to forgiveness by a deep and abiding love. Ably supported by Chameroy, Sean Arbuckle, Randy Hughson, Seana McKenna and a host of others in the first act, these two talented performers set the scene for a second act that is as bright as the first is dark.

Set 16 years later, it tells the story of Perdita, the daughter born by the tragic Hermione and abandoned by Leontes to be raised by rustic shepherds — and of the love she inspires in the son and heir of the best friend cruelly spurned by her unknown father. Played by Cara Ricketts — clearly cast for more obvious attributes than her skill with the text — this is nonetheless still a Perdita capable of commanding the attention heaped upon her, not only from her besotted swain, Florizel (Ian Lake), but from her stepfather (Brian Tree) and her dim-witted step-brother (Mike Shara, in a delightfully loopy turn).

The text gives Maraden plenty with which to provide distraction on the rare occasions when things get bogged down in a muddy and too-rustic plot, and she makes full use of the character of the cut-purse Autolycus, played by Tom Rooney with off-hand and winning charm.

While Maraden may not ask her design team to pull technical rabbits out of hats, she nonetheless uses their talents to maximum effect, falling back on designer John Pennoyer’s colourful palette for effects that are sometimes witty, sometimes elegant and sometimes breathtaking. She also makes full use of Louise Guinand’s understated skill at the lighting board, further supporting her work with Todd Charlton’s sound design and the music of Marc Desormeaux as well as some elaborate folk dancing, presumably choreographed by Shona Morris.

Once again, Maraden has used text and talent to prove that while every work from the hand of a master artist may not be considered a masterpiece, there are definitely elements of a masterpiece in every work by a master artist.
NEWS ITEM: Luminato: Arts festival lights up Toronto
10 Jun'10


TORONTO - This year, Luminato will be pulling a few rabbits out of hats in the fourth edition of their city-wide celebration of arts and creativity.

But they won’t be stopping there; for while there will no doubt be more than a few bunnies caught napping in top hats in Luminato’s all-new MASTERS OF MAGIC series (running at the Panasonic Theatre from June 17-20), there’s plenty of magic on offer in the more conventional disciplines of the performing arts as well, proving that whatever the discipline, there is nothing slight about sleight of hand.

On the opera front, for instance, interest has been high in the North American premiere performances of Rufus Wainwright’s PRIMA DONNA — June 14, 16, 18 and 19 at the Elgin Theatre — since it was first added to the Luminato lineup. But that’s not the only high notes Luminato will be hitting, with an opera program that also includes the world premiere of DARK STAR REQUIEM, an oratorio composed by Andrew Staniland and featuring a libretto by Jill Battson. DARK STAR explores issues of HIV-AIDS In Africa and is produced in association with Tapestry New Opera Works and is slated to run June 11 and 12 at the Royal Conservatory.

Also on the opera front, THE INFERNAL COMEDY: CONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL KILLER is an opera-cum-monologue written and directed by Michael Sturminger and starring John Malkovich. It too runs June 11 and 12, with performances at Massey Hall. Meanwhile, on a more conventional theatre front, our own Volcano Theatre Company has been working hard with an international team of artists towards the world premiere of THE AFRICA TRILOGY, slated to play June 10-13 and June 15-20 at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

Nova Scotia’s 2b Theatre Company brings its acclaimed production of HOMAGE to the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre, June 17-19, while Germany’s Riminia Protokoll is slated to mount its ground-breaking production of BEST BEFORE in the Berkeley Street Theatre, June 16-19. On the border between the world of dance and the world of theatre, Australia’s Chunky Move will be on hand to heat things up at the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre June 11-13, as they present their acclaimed production of TWO-FACED BASTARD.

But if it’s a purer form of dance you crave, chances are it will be hard to beat the National Ballet of Canada’s night of mixed programming at the Four Seasons Centre, when it joins the Luminato lineup. They’re performing a new work by choreographer Jorma Elo in a mixed program that includes Jerome Robbins’ hugely popular WEST SIDE STORY SUITE and OPUS 19/THE DREAMER, running in Luminato, June 11-13.

On an edge more cutting than classical, the world premiere of Erika Batdorf and Company’s multidisciplinary work, titled ONE PURE LONGING: TAHIRAH'S SEARCH, promises to have fans flocking to Buddies in Bad Times June 11-14. Meanwhile, dance fans who prefer a little bit of folk with their frolic, will no doubt want to check out Syria’s Enana Dance Theatre and the North American premiere of their JULIA DOMNA, which charts the rise and fall of a Roman empress, running June 18 and 19 at the MacMillan Theatre.

Additionally, you might want to check out Coleman Lemieux & Company, who will be bringing dance to the people and people to the dance at Nelson Mandela Park Public School at 1 p.m., June 12.

And finally, if you’re searching for a banquet that promises something for every taste, take in the Waves Festival, June 19-20, as it transforms the Young Centre into a hotbed of multidisciplinary artistic innovation. Just another rabbit Luminato has managed to pull out of the hat.
9 Jun'10


Six of Canada’s most seasoned leading ladies will spend a portion of this summer telling Toronto audiences all about LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, it was announced Wednesday.

According to an announcement from the Toronto producers of the hit New York show of that name (written by Nora and Delia Ephron), Andrea Martin, Louise Pitre and Paula Brancati have been signed to star in the play’s five member cast when the show opens at the Panasonic Theatre July 16. 
They will be replaced on August 8 by Cynthia Dale, Wendy Crewson and Lauren Collins, and that trio will be featured through September 4. Casting for the other two roles will be announced later.

Karen Carpenter, who also helmed the New York production will direct the Toronto production.
For tickets and further information, call 416-872-1212.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

9 Jun'10

‘Kiss Me, Kate’ misses the mark

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

STRATFORD — When celebrated Broadway director John Doyle got the call from the Stratford Festival to come up to the wilds of Canada to direct a Cole Porter musical, he seems to have overlooked the fact that the musical in question was KISS ME, KATE — Porter’s celebrated musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

That might account for the fact that Doyle’s take on KATE, which opened on the Festival stage Tuesday, could more appropriately be titled ANYTHING GOES — which, tragically, is a reflection on Doyle’s staging rather than the celebrated Cole Porter musical of that name. In bringing KATE to life, Doyle and his team seem to have allowed very little to stand in the way of their vision. They waste precious little time and apparently even less energy in bringing the play-within-a-play envisioned by Porter and his playwrighting collaborators, Sam and Bella Spewack, to life. Instead they transform it into some sort of one-size-fits-all, play-within-a-play-within-a-concert.

“Why waste time on things like plot and character development?” Doyle seems to be asking, when there are a whole range of delicious songs such as Tom, Dick Or Harry, Too Darn Hot and So In Love to be sung — and choreographer Tracey Flye is standing by with a grab bag of great dance steps.

The script creates strong parallels in the relationship between the show’s two principals — leading man Fred Graham, played by Juan Chioran, and his ex-wife and leading lady Lilli Vanessi, played by Monica Lund — and the roles they are playing (Kate and Petruchio in a musical version of SHREW that’s trying out in Baltimore). Doyle obviously feels it’s a waste of precious resources to try to keep the two storylines separate in any way.

This is not to suggest Doyle has been wasting his time up here, so far from his Broadway home. In fact, he and his design team led by David Farley have devoted a lot of energy to transforming the Festival’s unique thrust stage into a traditional proscenium, in order to avoid all the elaborate staging problems that have so long plagued directors here. And they’ve done it, even though it’s likely to be a thankless task, particularly for anyone not seated dead centre in the theatre’s wrap-around house. Doyle’s success can surely be measured in the amount of action missed by all those foolish people in the seats to either side of dead centre. Sadly, it hasn’t left him with much time to devote to his cast, leaving his talented players to labour largely on their own, arrayed either in their underwear or costumes that seem to be the dregs from a Muppets convention.

Happily, Chioran’s experience in MAN OF LA MANCHA serves as a fallback position, while Lund seems to be relying heavily on either LA CAGE AUX FOLLES or PRISCILLA for her inspiration. In supporting roles, Chilina Kennedy finds a happy place somewhere between GUYS AND DOLLS’ Miss Adelaide and a SWEET CHARITY chorus girl, which roles inform her take on Lois Lane/Bianca. As Bill Calhoun/Lucentio, Mike Jackson channels SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. As the petty criminals who show up to menace everyone, Steve Ross and Cliff Saunders get so deeply into their roles they steal almost the whole show, although in fairness, thanks to Doyle’s touch, it amounts to little more than petty larceny.

Totally devoid of subtlety or nuance, largely unmarked in any way by the story it is trying to tell and unrestrained by any reverence for either the music or the text from which it arises, Doyle’s production nonetheless is a crowd pleaser. Unless, of course, that crowd came to see KISS ME, KATE, in which case one should just kiss that dream goodbye.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

8 Jun'10

Shakespeare classic goes surreal

Rating: 4 out of 5

STRATFORD — There’s a forest filled with dreams and dreamers, art and artifice, newly sprung to life here on the banks of the Avon River. It is, of course, the legendary Forest of Arden, as dreamed onto the stage of the Festival Theatre by set designer Debra Hanson and artistic director Des McAnuff to play host to the Stratford Festival’s latest production of AS YOU LIKE IT.

Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy launched the 2010 edition of the Stratford Festival on Monday night. And if it pays more than passing homage to the surrealist world as imagined by Magritte and Dali and their ilk, well, so much the better, for that is the very world in which director McAnuff has chosen to set it.

It is the world of the 1920s — a world where twisted and often repressive political regimes and exciting new artistic philosophies sprang up and, for a time, lived however uneasily side by side. The politics of that world are reflected in a court ruled by a Kaiser-esque Duke Frederick, played by Tom Rooney. He’s a twisted little man who has snatched his dukedom from its legitimate inheritor, his brother, and has banished that brother and his court to the Forest of Arden, where they eke out a living among the rustics.

So when Orlando (played by Paul Nolan), the much-abused youngest son of a deceased nobleman, runs afoul of the usurping Duke in his attempt to find his own fame and fortune, it is to that forest he repairs as well, there to nurture his new but unrequited love for the Duke’s niece, Rosalind (played by Andrea Runge).

So besotted is Orlando, he fails to realize that Ganymede — the young man who, with his sister, befriends Orlando and tries to help the young lover sort out his feelings for Rosalind — is in fact Rosalind in disguise. The real Rosalind has fallen from Ducal favour and fled from the court herself, in company with her cousin, Celia (played by Cara Ricketts).

This is merely the first of a bouquet of romances that flourish in this magical forest, as noble and peasant, courtier and country girl, rub shoulders in the creation of their own brave and fair new world. The loving couples include Ben Carlson’s Touchstone and Lucy Peacock’s Audrey, Rickett’s Celia and Mike Shara’s Oliver, and Ian Lake’s beautifully besotted Silvius and Dalal Badr’s under-played Phoebe. And while these lovers woo and are wooed, life unfolds in a rich tapestry under McAnuff’s direction, blending Hanson’s design with the costuming of Dana Osborne and the lighting design of Michael Walton.

Happily, this is a McAnuff visibly more at peace with the unique demands of the Festival’s thrust stage, but, on a less positive note, it is also a McAnuff still clearly in thrall to a concept that will always trump character and plot considerations. For while he weaves the music of Justin Ellington and Michael Roth into a memorable sound bed and draws fine work from many of his principals — and a supporting cast that includes Randy Hughson, Brian Tree, Sean Arbuckle, Dan Chameroy and Mike Nadajewski — McAnuff is occasionally so blinded by his forest that he can’t see his trees.

It’s the kind of single-mindedness that puts performers at risk on a slippery, satin-covered floor and distracts an audience with unnecessary reflections in glass; that can and does leave a talented artist such as Brent Carver chained to a millstone of a concept in an otherwise lovely turn as the melancholy Jacques.

Worse, in a make-believe world where, as Bacharach wrote, there’s just one thing that there is just too little of, it leaves an otherwise talented ingenue like Runge so caught up in merely speaking Rosalind’s words that she fails to get to the loving heart of one of Shakespeare’s juiciest heroines.

What this Forest needs, finally, is less concept and a bit more love, sweet love.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

DANCE REVIEW: National Ballet gets modern touch
6 Jun'10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

TORONTO – There’s a lot to be said about adding something edgy and modern to something sophisticated and classical — and as anyone who has ever been involved in a discussion about the latest addition to the Royal Ontario Museum can tell you, not all of it is positive. Sure, some people love the Crystal with a passion, but some people hate it too, and just as passionately. And the subsequent debate has brought a lot of attention to the ROM as it rages.

So with any luck, there’s going to be the same wide range of opinions flying around when Toronto balletomanes discuss the new ballet from Finnish-born choreographer Jorma Elo, premiered by the National Ballet of Canada Friday at the Four Seasons. It’s called PUR TI MIRO (loosely translated as I Adore You) and it is set to the work of Claudio Monteverdi, from whose opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea the title is drawn, as well as to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

There are, of course, more than two centuries separating the birth of the two composers but Elo and music director and conductor David Briskin join them in an all but seamless fusion that reflects similar fusions not only in the costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, but in the dancing as well.

It begins, more or less, as an evocation of the standard tutu ballet, but quickly evolves into a major showcase (as well as a major work-out) for an array of talented dancers — Sonia Rodriguez, Patrick Lavoie, Heather Ogden, Noah Long, Jenna Savella, Naoya Ebe, Stephanie Hutchison, McGee Maddox, Elena Lobsanova and Robert Stephen — all of them clearly challenged by the unconventional choreography and loving every minute of it.

Very obviously rooted in the classics, Elo’s work is nonetheless very much of today and even tomorrow, with contemporary dance moves appended at nearly every turn to a classical vocabulary. Danced at what sometimes feels an almost frantic pace, Elo’s work transforms the score from something that carries the dance to something that drives it, creating a vision that is memorable more for its unpredictability than its musicality.

Still, it serves to launch the often cooly elegant company into an evening of mixed programming that showcases in a memorable way the fact that it is not only a company that draws from ballet’s storied past but embraces the modern world with equal enthusiasm, featuring revivals of the NBOC’s productions of Jerome Robbins' OPUS 19/THE DREAMER and his WEST SIDE STORY SUITE, both of which seemingly became instant audience favourites when they debuted back in 2007.

Originally created to showcase the skill of Baryshnikov, and set to breathtaking music by Prokofiev, OPUS features a technically strong union of Rodriguez and Zdenek Konvalina, who once again demonstrates that while, as a technician, he may be the equal of the Russian master, as a showman who can command the stage he still has a long way to go.

Konvalina returns to the stage, cast as Tony to Lobsanova’s Maria in the ebullient and charming WEST SIDE STORY SUITE, a dance précis of the enduring genius Robbins unleashed on Broadway in the musical of the same name. Dancing to a melody of music by Stephen Sondheim — and sometimes singing along with it — the entire company proves to be completely at home in this brave new world. In fact, dancers like Guillaume Coté, Piotr Stanczyk, Jordana Daumec and the lovely, leggy Hutchison take the opportunity to demonstrate a thrilling fluency in dance that proves conclusively that when it comes to talent, it not only runs deep in this company, but runs wide as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

NEWS ITEM: G20 Summit dims Toronto musicals
4 Jun'10


TORONTO - Growing security and traffic concerns for the coming G20 Summit has compelled Mirvish Productions to suspend performances of its two big musicals on King St. W. for the last full week of June.

Mirvish announced Friday that both MAMMA MIA! (at the Princess of Wales) and ROCK OF AGES (at the Royal Alexandra) will shut down during the week of the summit, June 21-27 -- a time when summer tourists normally descend on downtown Toronto in droves.

The touring production of MAMMA MIA! had been scheduled to end its run at the end of that week, so final performances will now be on June 20. In a press release, the company said it had been "assured by the various levels of authority that the G20 would not impact the theatres." But as "more information has been released about the G20 preparations, and as some of this information appears to be inconclusive or contradictory, especially with regard to traffic on King Street West, Mirvish has decided it would be best and safest to suspend performances."

A Mirvish spokesman told the Sun the company stands to lose up to $2 million in ticket sales -- had all 12,000 seats for the week been sold for ROCK OF AGES, and all 16,000 for MAMMA MIA! "The theatrical adage we have always lived by is 'The show must go on,'" David Mirvish said in the release. "But in this instance -- and unprecedented instance for us, as we've always performed our shows -- we have concluded that our audiences are best served by the show not going on."

Mirvish wasn't the first Toronto theatre company to suspend performances. Factory Theatre -- located just a few blocks west of Mirvish's King Street theatres -- announced earlier in the week it will close its production of FEATURING LORETTA, the last show of its current season, a full week earlier than expected. The theatre company cited concerns "due to anticipated issues with public movement in the downtown core ... during the week of the G20 Summit."

Conversely, the National Ballet of Canada plans to carry on as planned with its staging of ONEGIN from June 19-25 at the Four Seasons Centre, at Queen and University (just outside the security zone).

It's not just the producers, of course, who will take a financial hit from the Mirvish and Factory cancellations. A spokesman for the Mirvish organization said there is also a legion of actors, stagehands and musicians who will now miss a week's pay. What's more, the cancellations are sure to hit the entire entertainment district, including restaurants, hotels and cabs.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

THEATRE NEWS: COC dominates Dora noms
2 Jun'10


When it comes to hitting the theatrical high notes in Toronto, it appears the opera is the one to beat — specifically the Canadian Opera Company. Not only did the COC dominate the opera division when nominees for the 2010 Dora Mavor Moore Awards (or Doras, as they are commonly known) were announced Wednesday, scoring a total of seven nominations out of a possible 10, but they also went on to garner a further seven nods in the general theatre division, bringing their total to an impressive 14 nominations.

That equals the 14 nods scored by Soulpepper Theatre Company and puts the COC out in front of such august theatrical companies as Tarragon Theatre (11 nominations), Necessary Angle (seven nominations) and Theatre Passe Muraille (four nominations).

Meanwhile, in the smaller independent theatre category, Theatrefront managed to score a total of seven nods, while Aluna Theatre and DVxT Theatre trailed closely with five nominations apiece and k’Now Theatre, New Harlem Productions and Volcano wracking up a total of four nods each.

In the brand new musical theatre division, Dancap took the lead with five nominations, including one in the general theatre division, while Acting Up Stage Company and BirdLand Theatre/Talk Is Free each scored a total of four nods apiece.

In the dance division, The Dietrich Group and adelheid productions earned three nominations each, while in the theatre for young audiences category, Roseneath Theatre emerged as the frontrunner with a total of three nominations.

Also announced at the same event were recipients of two other major theatrical awards. The 2010 Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award recognizing excellence and advocacy in the performing arts goes to R.H. Thomson, while the 2010 Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award for excellence in theatre, dance and opera administration goes to Tarragon Theatre’s Natasha Parsons.

The 2010 presentation of the 31st annual Dora Awards will take place June 28 at the St. Lawrence Centre, preceded by a VIP Reception at the Rosewater Supper Club and followed by an After-Party Soirée Under the Stars on Front Street.

For tickets, information and a complete list of nominees visit