Friday, July 23, 2010

THEATRE NEWS: Cast updates for Stratford and 'Priscilla'
23 Jul'10


Brent Carver, Martha Henry, Lucy Peacock, Even Buliung, Gareth Potter, Andrea Runge and Cara Ricketts were all added to the Stratford Festival ensemble for the 2011 season, it was announced by Fest officials earlier this week. Festival officials also announced that Darko Tresnjak will direct the Festival's previously announced production of TITUS ANDRONICUS next season.

In other casting news, producers of PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT: THE MUSICAL announced earlier this week that Nick Adams will join the cast of the pre-Broadway production slated to open at the Princess of Wales Theatre October 26. Currently appearing in the Broadway revival of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Adams has also appeared there in A CHORUS LINE, CHICAGO, GUYS AND DOLLS and THE PIRATE QUEEN.
MUSICAL THEATRE NEWS: Fundraising, Broadway style
23 Jul'10


Cast members from Dancap's production of MISS SAIGON will play host to guests from the company of Dancap's production of THE JERSEY BOYS at a special fundraiser to benefit Gilda's Club Of Greater Toronto & DKMS Americas/One Match.

It will take place Sunday, July 25 at 8 p.m. in the Charlotte Room, 19 Charlotte St. and admission is by donation, with a suggested minimum of $20.
22 Jul'10

Rating: 4 out of 5

You just might be surprised at what you find in the closet. Certainly, Nora And Delia Ephron were -- and we're not talking about a male relative.

Just what they find is explored in a new play called LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, a play that takes women -- and those who love them -- on a sentimental journey through their closets and their memory banks in an evening of simple, often delightful theatre. LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE opened Wednesday at the Panasonic Theatre, a production of Michael Rubinoff in association with Daryl Roth.

As is often the case with good theatre, it all started out on the page -- a personal reminiscence of writer Ilene Beckerman, who originated the idea in a book intended for her children in which she sketched various outfits she had worn over the years with an accompanying narration detailing reams of other personal detail. In bringing it to the stage, the sisters Ephron have preserved Beckerman's voice (and her drawings) in the person of Gingey (short for Ginger) -- the evening's narrator and anchor, played with usual style and joyous panache by Louise Pitre.

But the Ephrons have overlaid Beckerman's voice with a chorus of other female voices -- and such voices. Andrea Martin, Mary Walsh, Sharron Matthews and Paula Brancati form a simple chorus of characters and together conspire to expose just a few of the ways a woman and her wardrobe come together. That leads, almost inevitably, of course, to the deep connection between clothing and self-esteem (or, as often as not, the lack thereof). Bras, prom dresses. wedding gowns, handbags, boots and short skirts -- even the little black dress -- are all trotted down the runway of the imagination in a show that embraces the strong connection between what one wears and how one feels.

It's often delightful and silly stuff -- Walsh's take on a bra-fitting is delirious, while Martin all but steals the show in a monologue detailing a safari through the wilds of Paris, in search of the apparently elusive Kelly bag. But it also doesn't shy from the darker corners, be it in the lushly curved Matthews response to Martin's claim that she's always been thin -- or in the deeper explorations of personal issues undertaken by Walsh and Brancati.

Under the direction of Karen Carpenter, it's all good stuff stalled just shy of greatness by a few niggling missteps, starting with Pitre's casting in the central role.

Now, right off the top, let it be said that there are very few roles the hugely talented Pitre can't tackle; but frankly, the role of a 60-year-old woman, past her prime and hiding behind long sleeves and scarves is a bit of a stretch. Add in the disconnect created by the fact that, cast as the New York-born and bred Gingey, Pitre has not been encouraged to even attempt New York speech, which further weighs her down.

Which leads to another niggling concern. Not surprisingly -- considering its off-Broadway pedigree -- this is a very New York-centric piece. But all of these talented actors have strong (and treasured) roots in Canada -- and save for a single reference to the Habs and another to a local mall, there is absolutely no attempt to recognize their roots. It's an evening of theatre that tells more than a few universal truths -- so how tough might it have been to make a few of the stories a little more universal too?

Just asking.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DANCE NEWS: Blissful pas de deux
21 Jul'10


Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté, principal dancers with the National Ballet of Canada, pose after their wedding at the Toronto Hunt Club. The two popular dancers were married Friday. The bride is a native of British Columbia while the groom grew up in Quebec. After dancing the night away, the newlyweds - the fifth married couple in the company - and their guests enjoyed a late-night snack of poutine, a fitting and fattening nod to the groom's Quebecois heritage.
THEATRE NEWS: Stratford Fest finds a Will
20 Jul'10


The 2010 season of the Stratford Festival isn't completely out from under its wraps yet, but organizers are already tinkering with the Fest's 2011 season. In an announcement late Monday, a 12th play was added to the previously announced 2011 season.

It will be a reprise of Vern Thiessen's SHAKESPEARE'S WILL, which introduces audiences to Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's widow, immediately following the celebrated playwright's death.

The new production, which will be directed by Miles Potter and star Seana McKenna, is slated to play the Studio Theatre, where it played in an earlier run in 2007.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

17 Jul'10


Liza Minnelli can relax, it seems, for it turns out that all Toronto wanted was the chance to come to the cabaret -- and as a result, Albert Schultz seems to have another winner on his hands with the Young Centre's Saturday Night Cabaret series. The line-up for the next two months of the series was announced earlier this week, with John Alcorn kicking things off at 10 p.m. tonight.

In future weeks, look for performances by Heather Bambrick (July 24), Don Francks (July 31), Adi Braun (Aug. 7), Tanika Charles (Aug. 14), Elizabeth Shepherd (Aug. 21), Luis Mario Ochoa (Aug. 28), Mary Lou Fallis (Sept. 11) and Micah Barnes (Sept. 18).

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased either at the door or by calling 416-866-8666.
16 Jul'10

Rating: 4 out of 5

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE - Whether it's simply as a quick snack or a theatrical hors d'oeuvre, chances are you're going to enjoy the tasty little dish that the Shaw Festival has cooked up as its lunchtime offering this season. Playing on the stage of the Royal George Theatre, where it opened last week, it's a tidy little one act, titled (rather appropriately, it turns out) HALF AN HOUR and it's from the pen of one J.M. Barrie, who is perhaps best remembered for spinning a little story titled PETER PAN.

And once again, Barrie seems to be playing with time, although this time out, it's turning it back that seems to intrigue him -- and not stopping it outright so that little boys never have to grow up.

Reviewed here in preview, HALF AN HOUR opens, circa 1913, when the play debuted, in the posh Park Lane drawing room of the wealthy arriviste Richard Garson, played by Peter Krantz -- and after a delightful demonstration of how to get a show running like clockwork, it quickly degenerates into a slanging match between Garson and his well-born but impoverished wife, Lady Lilian, played by Diana Donnelly. And clearly, it's not their first exchange, for it quickly develops that while Lady Lilian roundly loathes her spouse, he remains unconcerned, convinced that she cannot afford to leave him.

Then it quickly develops that he is wrong as she sets out to show him, fleeing his bed and board for a new life with an exciting adventurer (Gord Rand in a lovely turn), leaving behind only a note and some expensive trinkets her husband has given her. But fate intervenes and her new life disappears under the wheels of the mechanical revolution before it can even begin, forcing her to retrace her steps to try to reclaim her old life, which while loveless, is at least comfortable.

Under the direction of Gina Wilkinson, things get off to a shaky start -- Krantz and Donnelly could use a few lessons in venomous sparring, it seems -- but then stabilizes, thanks as much to strong performances from the principals, supported by Shaw vets like Peter Millard, Michael Ball, Norman Browning and Laurie Paton, all of whom are utterly masterful in small but pivotal roles. The only clanger here comes in the work of Jennifer Dzialoszynski, who gets so tied up delivering the perfect cadences of a lower cast dialect that would be used by her character that one can't understand most of what she is saying.

And finally, for those who enjoy the occasional theatrical peek at how the better class used to live, set designer Tyler Sainsbury offers up some nice work, ably supported by the lighting design of Kirsten Watt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

16 Jul'10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

When one considers that it took a brand new theatre to contain the theatrical juggernaut that was MISS SAIGON back in 1993 when the Claude-Michel Schönberg/Alain Boublil/Richard Maltby Jr. collaboration made its Toronto debut, one might suppose the show would have no where to go but down in any subsequent Toronto staging. But, as the song says, it ain't necessarily so -- at least not when it comes to venue.

For even though the Princess of Wales -- the theatrical showcase built to house what would go on to become a bit of a theatrical goldmine for the Mirvish organization -- remains an impressive space, it certainly doesn't dwarf Toronto's Four Seasons Centre, where a new production of MISS SAIGON took up residence Tuesday, under the aegis of Dancap Productions. Originally produced by Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, it is the first commercial musical theatre production to grace this stage, which was, of course, built primarily for opera and ballet. That said, it should be stated that, for those who remember the mega part of the mega-musical era with fondness would probably be well-advised to give this production wide berth.

Where the 1993 production of this contemporary re-telling of MADAMA BUTTERFLY seemed to boast production bells and whistles even on its bells and whistles, this new look at the work -- helmed by director/choreographer Barry Ivan -- eschews all those frills and furbelows and puts performances first. And happily, he's come up with at least three performers who not only shine in this kind of spotlight, but in fact seem to blossom under it as well.

Returning to roles they first essayed in the Toronto premiere of the work, both Ma-Anne Dionisio (cast once again as MISS's tragic heroine Kim) and Kevin Gray (reprising his Dora Award-winning performance as the opportunistic Engineer) bring added depth to roles that helped to define their careers, moving deftly through the story and unobtrusively milking every moment for maximum emotion. The Engineer, of course, serves as proprietor of the Dreamland, the Saigon brothel in which the story begins in the final days of the Vietnam War, while Kim, a refugee from the horror sweeping her country, is his latest recruit.

Their strong performances are matched at most every turn when she meets Chris (played by a powerful Aaron Ramey), the disgruntled American GI, and the two fall deeply in love. In earlier productions, Chris was most often played by a buff Broadway boy, but Ramey brings a sense of real machismo to the role, making his stolid torment as the tragedy unfolds all the more palpable.

There is, however, a considerable downside to a stripped-down production of works such as this -- one that chooses to emphasize performance over staging -- in that it underlines that this is a musical that doesn't even begin to equal its source material. There's simply not enough in Michael Anania's simple, occasionally elegant set designs or the lighting design of John McLain to disguise the quite obvious shortcomings in both book and score.

And as forgettable song follows forgettable song (all of them sounding suspiciously rayon in a hall renowned for its silken acoustics), one starts to long for something more enduring than the Velcro grip of tunes like The Last Night of the World or the acid-washed cynicism of The American Dream. Or, at the very least, for the kind of distraction that masked such faults and elevated this little musical to what was briefly considered greatness in its first go-round almost 20 years ago.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15 Jul'10

Dylan Thomas play intoxicating

Rating: 4 out of 5

STRATFORD - If you seek beyond the poetry to know the soul of a poet, chances are you will find only brief glimpses of it, tucked away in the further recesses of the soul of a very mortal man or woman. For while their verses may seem to flow from the land of the gods, poets themselves too often not only dwell in a world of flesh and blood, dirt and decay, but revel in it with inordinate glee.

Certainly, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas did -- a fact well documented in a host of biographies and in DO NOT GO GENTLE, a work created a quarter century ago by Leon Pownall, a beloved figure on the stages of the Stratford Festival. But though DO NOT GO GENTLE made only brief appearances on the Stratford stage during Pownall's lifetime, debuting under the title of 'Dylan Thomas Bach', it has returned once again to its stages, where it opened in the Studio Theatre Tuesday, for a summer run.

As when last it played a too-brief part of the Studio's inaugural season, DO NOT GO GENTLE features Geraint Wyn Davies in the role of the poet Thomas, recreating a dark and fearless performance shaped under Pownall's direction with the assistance of Dean Gabourie. And it's a mammoth task, reconciling the man who created enduring works like A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, UNDER MILK WOOD and, of course, the work that gives this play its title, with a life of often riotous excess -- a life that ended before Thomas' 40th birthday, cut short by drunken excess.

We meet Thomas, not at the zenith of his career nor at the nadir of his life, but rather in a very Catholic no-man's-land in the present day to which he has been at least theatrically consigned since his death, searching for reconciliation. In the midst of a littered office, in which a drinks tray and a full bottle of whiskey figure prominently, Wyn Davies' Thomas sets about imposing order, a task from which he is easily and quickly diverted by the full bottle on his desk.

In the next hour or so, the bottle will be emptied, and Wyn Davies' progressively drunker Thomas will share not only a snapshot of his life but a glimpse of his hell as well, with a sometimes spellbound, sometimes revolted audience. Serially, and occasionally even simultaneously poetic and profane, his impish Thomas creates dizzying towers of words and phrases and sets them down in lush landscapes of imagination, only to kick them to pieces in piques of childish glee. He evokes a childhood wrenched from his grasp by the onset of puberty and still missed, even while he revels in the excesses that were part and parcel of the transformation. He remembers with fondness the Welsh roots from which he sprung -- a mystical grandfather touched by the history of his people, a father who shared with his sickly son a deep love of Shakespeare, only to give him a flail with which to whip himself in later life. But he remembers too the women and the sex, the casual encounters and the deep loves, including his wife Caitlin, with whom he shared a stormy, drunken life. And finally, in death, he remembers the poetry -- precious jewels mined from the cesspit of his lifetime.

Ironically and despite its title, it is not Thomas' words that are likely to fill one's mind in the end, but those of another poet and writer undone by excess. For when Oscar Wilde observed that we are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars, it is more than possible that not even he suspected the depth of this gutter. Or the brightness of these stars.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

14 Jul'10

This 'Month' lost in modern times

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

If nothing else, time has proved that while morales and mores may change and evolve, human nature remains immutable.

And therein can be found both the greatest strength — and sadly, the fatal weakness — in Soulpepper's latest production — a (sort of) modern day retelling of Russian playwright Ivan Turgenev's A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY that opened Monday at the Young Centre.

A tale of love, lust and boredom in the Russian countryside, A MONTH may initially seem like pretty tame, even turgid, stuff to a modern day audience steeped in the goings-on of Desperate Houswive's and Sex And The City, but to a Russian audience of a century and a half ago, Turgenev's tale of a middle-aged woman of the aristocracy, developing an unrequited passion for her son's tutor would have been shocking stuff, violating as it did all sorts of taboos about age and sex and class. So one wonders why director Laszlo Marton (who, with Susan Coyne, adapted Andrew Mile's translation of the work for this production) has decided to set it, if somewhat haphazardly, in the present day where rather than affording any sort of insight into the characters, it just seems like another entry in the entertainment industry's ongoing game of musical beds.

That said, however, it's a decision that proves a winner for Fiona Byrne, who revisits the role of  the middle-aged Natalya with much more success in the this version than she enjoyed in the Shaw Festival's interminable Irish version of a few years ago. Here, she's a Natalya ripe and lush and clearly more than just a little undone by the physical passion that has only recently overtaken her — a passion clearly exacerbated by her own sense of a fleeting youth — and Byrne brings her to pulsating life.

However, as Belyaev, the new tutor sent to her country estate from Moscow seemingly to  awaken her passion, Jeff Lillico is up the creek without a paddle —  perhaps the only piece of sporting equipment lacking in Marton's attempt to turn his character into a modern sk8ter boy with a bizarre passion for hunting. Tricked out as part boytoy, part poolboy, Lillico's more camp councillor than a tutor, leaving the impression that his age is more like 16, rather than the 21 he claims.

Fortunately, Byrne has some help from impressive quarters elsewhere in the production. Stripped of the drunken excesses which Marton has brought to work by other Russian masters, Diego Matamoros actually does some highly credible ensemble work here as Rakitin, the man who represents a far more acceptable diversion from the tedium of Natalya's obsessive husband, played by David Storch, than a tutor drawn from the lower classes.

And as the neighbourhood doctor, Shpigelsky, Joe Ziegler manages to bring the same sense of timelessness to his performance as Byrne does to hers, sidestepping directorial myopia to serve the spirit of the play and leaving the production to sort itself out.

Sadly, in supporting roles, William Webster, Nancy Palk, Tal Gottfried, Michael Simpson and Hazel Desbarats join Storch and Lillico in the land that time seems to have forgotten — a world created by Marton and his misguided designers to resemble nothing more than a multi-purpose garage.

Mind you, their enthusiasm might have  been further dampened by Marton's fascination with water, which is sprayed, tossed, spilled and hosed all over the set throughout. Thanks as much to Marton's  strange hydrophilia as to his determination to ignore the changes in morals and mores that time has wrought, it can be said that, while this remains a great play and at least a few of the performances are mighty good, in the end, his production is simply all wet.

Monday, July 12, 2010

12 Jul'10

Fine acting makes 'Island' a treasure

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

NIAGARA-ON-THE LAKE — Although we can always dream, it remains highly unlikely that there will ever be a moratorium on plays that present the Irish as a romantic breed of charming, child-like drunks, victimized by unfeeling history.

Still, for those of us who've become heartily sick of the clichéd vision of debauched leprechauns that has been trotted out over the years to 'speak for Ireland', there's no small comfort in the fact that the Shaw Festival is prepared, every decade or so, to serve up a new production of Bernard Shaw's JOHN BULL'S OTHER ISLAND — a play in which Ireland's venerable man of letters not only confronts the clichéd stereotypes but uses them to underscore the very real problems a subjugated Ireland faced.

The John Bull of title, of course, is not a character in the play, but rather the collective face of a nation, serving to humanize Britain in the same way Johnny Canuck represents Canada, or Uncle Sam, the U.S.A. But while he is a character in the play, one could say that Tom Broadbent, an English entrepreneur with his eye on Ireland, is more or less possessed by John Bull's spirit when he sets off to visit the 'other island' of title, that being Ireland, of course.

As played by Benedict Campbell, on the Court House stage, Broadbent is the epitome of English self-satisfaction, convinced there is not a single problem on the face of this earth — Ireland included — that can't be solved by a combining his own genius with the British love of order and good government.

His business partner, Larry Doyle (played by Graeme Somerville) is somewhat less convinced, however. Born and raised in Ireland, he has forsaken her shores for a life in London, and while he values all things British, he looks at his homeland through the eyes of a pragmatist and not those of a romantic.

Together, the partners forsake London and head for back-country Ireland, where they are soon caught up in the very life Doyle left behind — a life that includes not only Nora Reilly (Severn Thompson) the woman who's waited for Doyle's return, but an entire cast of drunks and miscreants. But where Doyle sees everything as a mere continuation of the life he once knew and chose to abandon, Broadbent is not only charmed by it, but excited, seeing in Ireland's poverty and internecine political battles, a chance to secure not only a personal fortune but a future in politics as well.

Under the quietly assured direction of Christopher Newton, a strong ensemble tackles the thorny issues that long plagued the troubled and enforced union of England and Ireland, examining in the process the price paid by both sides over the centuries. Reviewed here in preview, this production also showcases uniformly fine work from Jim Mezon, Guy Bannerman, Mary Haney, Thom Marriott, David Schumann, Jonathan Widdifield, Patrick McManus and others.

Working with a simple but beautifully effective set created by William Schmuck and lit by Louise Guinand, Newton combines fine acting and carefully chosen incidental music to great effect, using Somerville's clean, crisp, no-nonsense acting style as an effective anodyne to Campbell's more richly unctuous approach, and scoring an impressive range of amusement along the way.

But, finally, this is still Shaw, and not even Newton and his impressive cast can keep the ball bouncing for the full 165-minute duration. In the final scenes, with Campbell and Mezon pouring their finest thespian tones over Shaw's dialogue like clotted cream on strawberry preserves, the arteries of Shaw's genius simply close up and the play dies a quick and merciful death. And happily, Shaw once again manages to say a lot before he says way too much.
12 Jul'10

Rating: 4 out of 5

Sometimes, it doesn't take a genius to figure things out. One doesn't head for the beach on the hottest day of the year, for instance, when one is hungry for some peace and quiet. One doesn't look to a drive-through for fine French cuisine and one doesn't go to a show called LEGALLY BLONDE: THE MUSICAL looking for anything even remotely resembling deep reflections on life.

That said, the  production that opened at the Princess of Wales Thursday has a lot going for it, for anyone who is content with entertainment that's as deep as a dime and shiny as a newly-minted penny.

For the uninitiated, this is a pretty silly tale, a story that began as novel, was transformed into a movie, and, in its most recent incarnation, has re-surfaced as this Broadway musical, created by Heather Hatch, who wrote the book, and Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, who created the music and lyrics.

It's the story of  young Elle Woods (Becky Gulsvig), a California bubblehead who heads for Harvard to become a lawyer after her college boyfriend dumps both her and her gene pool for being too shallow.

And he just might be right, because, finally, it's not a law degree that the fashion-conscious Elle is after in those hallowed halls, but rather simply another chance to prove to Warner Huntington III (Jeff McLean), the guy who ditched her, that the two of them should be together forever.

Of course, nothing goes right. Turns out ol' Warner hasn't exactly languished since he dumped our girl and his new girlfriend, played by Megan Lewis, not only knows all the right moves, she knows all the right people to boot.

What's worse, Elle discovers that people just don't take her seriously and she becomes a social and scholastic outcast. But even while things are going terribly wrong, things are, in reality, going terribly right. Elle is taken in hand by Emmett Forrest , a fellow student played with plenty of charm by D.B. Bonds, who not only knows what its like to be an outcast, but has some experience navigating the politics of law school as well.

Soon, thanks to Emmett's help, Elle is not only acing courses, she's landed a coveted position with a prestigious firm owned by her lecherous law professor, played by Michael Rupert.  And on her own time, she's made friends with a down-on-her-luck beautician, beautifully played by Natalie Joy Johnson, who's had a few man-problems of her own and is able to supply more than just a shoulder to cry on when Warner continues to spurn Elle's advances.

It's silly stuff, but under the direction of Jerry Mitchell, who also choreographed the show, a talented cast walks that fine line between taking themselves seriously and taking their play seriously with delightful and sure-footed grace. The songs may not have originated with ABBA, Queen or Styx and they may not cling like burrs to the subconscious like those of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but they do serve the story beautifully while packing a whole lot of charm and humour.

Designed with a brilliant simplicity and functionality by David Rockwell and wittily costumed by Gregg Barnes, this is a musical that is just about perfection for anyone content with nothing more than a great time.

To be sure, it's not a musical adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird — and by the time an intermission comes along, smart money will have already realized that all that's standing between the lovely Gulsvig and enduring Broadway stardom is a champion pair of adenoids — but hey , it's summer and not everybody's into the heavy lifting required for something like — say — ROCK OF AGES.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

10 Jul'10

Shaw's 'Doctor's Dilemma' sketchy

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE - Despite biblical injunctions against it -- judge not, lest ye be judged, or words to that effect -- most of us pass judgment on those with whom we share the planet on a regular basis. Indeed, in a world where the personal grows daily more public, judging others has become so popular that it's all but an international sport on a par with soccer.

But what if, in judging others, we were to be given the power of life and death over those we judged? That is, in fact, the very dilemma at the heart of THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, a 1906 play from the pen of the great Bernard Shaw that, in its day, challenged the way the world looked at doctors and the practice of medicine. A new production of THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, the fourth in the Shaw Festival's history, opened here on the stage of the Festival Theatre Friday.

Colenso Ridgeon, played here by Patrick Galligan, is the doctor in question, a medical doctor whose success in treating tuberculosis in a day before not only antibiotics, but government healthcare, has led to his recent knighting. But Sir Colenso and his friends have barely begun to celebrate his peerage when he is rather forcibly introduced to a lovely young woman with a problem.

She is Jennifer Dubedat, played here by Krista Colosimo, and she is married to a promising young artist, Louis Dubedat (Jonathan Gould), who just happens to be suffering from tuberculosis. And he will surely die without competent medical intervention of the kind Ridgeon can deliver.

But though Ridgeon is struck not only by the beauty, but by the humanity of the lovely Mrs. Dubedat, he is less than impressed with her ailing husband, a man who operates on a moral code that Ridgeon most definitely finds wanting. So, with only one space left in his treatment program, Ridgeon opts to treat an ailing professional colleague rather than the artist -- and with tragic results.

This being a Shaw play, it is of course, a talky affair, as the great man saddles up several of his favourite socio-political hobby horses and all but rides them into the ground. But for all its sermonizing, it is still a good play -- far better, in fact, than this production, reviewed here in final preview, would suggest. Sadly, under the direction of Morris Panych, with sets by Ken MacDonald and costumes by Charlotte Dean, it emerges as far less than the sum of all its parts.

That's thanks in no small part to a set that dwarfs the cast at almost every turn, overshadowing them with massive blow-ups of X-rays and tuberculosis bacilli, lest we forget this is a medical world. Worse, rather than making every effort to underscore the deep social resonance of what Krista Colosimo Shaw has to say (and perhaps feeling overburdened by a script that suggests, in this day and age, that an audience should actually care about the fate of a single artist), Panych does everything he can to diminish the playwright's arguments instead.

Not only does he encourage Galligan in the title role to reprise a performance that is rapidly becoming formulaic, he further exacerbates the imbalance he has created by encouraging Gould to wallow in a characterization of Dubedat that is, at best, sketchy and one dimensional. Meanwhile, accents from a supporting cast that includes Thom Marriott, Catherine McGregor, Michael Ball, Patrick McManus, Ric Reid and others seem to be indiscriminately applied -- with a paint knife. Worst of all, from the Rolling Stones' music with which he peppers the production to set changes that pivot around the tying of tie -- admittedly, no mean feat -- Panych telegraphs to his audience that he's not really taking this play seriously.

And if he doesn't, we can't.
10 Jul'10


It would be easy to think that the entire Fringe Festival is nothing but fun and games, if one were to look only at the number of musicals, comedies and improv shows on offer — but beware of leaping to such conclusions. If you dismiss it all as lighter than air, you risk missing some seriously good times as the 22nd edition of The Fringe: Toronto's Theatre Festival rolls toward its final weekend. Here are a few more shows on offer that are just begging to be taken seriously — and happily, a few of them deserve it.

THE WAVES, at the Factory Theatre Mainspace: While this adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel does little to convince those
that argue that Woolf's work is better read than staged of any possible error in their ways , adaptor Brenley Charkow and her ensemble nonetheless do an impressive job of staging this story of six young Brits, growing up in England between the years of 1894 and 1940.  While they all work beautifully in concert, there is particularly strong work from Andrew Bunker, Mark Crawford and Ashleigh Hendry. And even though the ensemble seems to get tangled up in a largely pointless array of accents, they put forth an impressive enough effort that one suspects a lot of people are wondering when they will have a chance to catch up with Part II of this mostly promising adaptation.

GEORGIA & LEONA, at the Factory Studio Theatre: One can't help but wonder who or what inspired these conjoined monologues
from playwright Misha Bower, who performs the role of Leona opposite director Lara Mrkoci's performance as Georgia. Joined only in time, these two damaged women talk about their lives and the things that have led them to an evening of quiet contemplation as fireworks chase away the gathering darkness of  a quiet Canada Day's evening — their memories, their hopes, their dreams and their demons all come into play and, though their ruminations apparently lead nowhere in particular, one is left  with more than just a ray of hope for their future. Ultimately, it's a  a thought-provoking interlude, time well spent with characters who don't realize how much they have to say.

LUCKY 9, at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre: Fest regular TJ Dawe comes back to the Toronto Fringe for what feels oddly
like a valedictory sail-past of sorts and once again, he offers up some unique and delightful insights . But this time, there's a more serious serious edge to it all and as Dawe free falls through a wide range of topics — the Olympics, The Wire, the family and other relationships, the work and works of Dr. Gabor Mate and something called the Enneagram, which, while fascinating, is far to complex to be explained here — one senses an new life slowly coming into focus, as a Fringe nomad slowly puts down roots. And frankly, after all the enjoyment he's given Fringe-goers over the years, it would be churlish not to wish him well, even while we wish he'd just keep on Fringe-ing forever.

PUBLIC SPEAKING, at the Helen Gardiner Phalen Theatre: Chris Craddock, one half of the dynamic duo who brought us BASH'd!, is back in the Fringe mode, with a new solo multi-character show, in which he plays everything from a dodgy new-age motivational speaker to an oddly gentle giant with a heroin problem he supports by playing an enforcer, to a jaded cop, all under the tight direction of Bradley Moss. It's all a bit of a shaggy dog story that, tells the tale of a kidnapping gone awry, incorporating sound and music from Dave Clark. And for Craddock's fans, the good news is, it all plays out in a leisurely fashion, giving a very talented performer a chance to demonstrate his skill at creating a wide range of characters — all of them perhaps just a little too over-amplified.

Friday, July 9, 2010

9 Jul'10


In this, our fourth look at some of the shows that make up the 22nd annual edition of The Fringe: Toronto's Theatre Festival, we're resorting to a sort of scattershot approach, looking at some shows we enjoyed, some we didn't and even a few that we're still trying to figure out.

THE NILE, playing at the Annex Theatre: Playwright Conor Green sets sail down what just might be the most storied river in history, to take a look at the pain and politics of modern-day Egypt, where apparently thousands of Nubians were displaced years ago to facilitate the construction of the great Aswan dam. Two Canadians, in company with a mad Russian and a waif from a land down under, find themselves drawn into a plot by two of the dispossessed, one of whom may or may not be a goddess of war, returned from ancient times, to reclaim the land for its ancient owners, smiting Egypt mightily in the process. A bit of a thriller and strong performances for a six member cast.

TO DISTRACTION, playing at the Factory Mainspace: Clearly, playwright Michael Ripley has seen the light, so he's given up texting while driving, in favour of making theatre while driving. Under the strong direction of Miriam Laurence, who obviously can direct more than traffic,  three separate car trips converge at the birthday party of a young girl — and with tragic consequences, although they most definitely aren't the consequences one is led to expect.  Ironically, however, it is the demands of the automobiles they are driving that slow the pacing, but thanks to a crackerjack cast, this one is certainly more than a walk — or a drive — in the park.

DALE BEANER AND THE TURTLE BOY, playing at the Royal St. George Auditorium: Pity the poor parents of Devon Hyland and Connor Thompson, hapless and no doubt innocent souls who have clearly unleashed a bit of demented genius on the world and now have no choice but to sit back and see where it leads. Starting in the broadcast booth of an all-star baseball game, Hyland and Thompson unleash their imaginations and take their audience on a flight of fancy that truly does defy description, although we can tell you that seeing-eye dogs are viciously murdered and over-protective parents sent-up in the ensuing mayhem. The scope of imagination at play here is delightful, and it's backed up with genuine charm every step of the way.

THE FOUR MINUTE MILE, playing at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Theatre: Playwright Kevin Morris' tale of a motivational speaker who finds himself hoist on his own petard relies a little heavily on coincidence to resolve things, but under the direction of Daniella Marchese, the three member cast  — Darryl Knight, Trevor Small and Suzette McCanny — manages to bring it to credible life.

DINOSAUR EGO, playing at Royal St. George Auditorium: Written by Alex Carter, who also stars as Nick, the 'dinosaur' at the heart of the tale, this is a look at how men look at women and in fact, how they look at each other. But though it manages to raise a few valid points, the script still needs a lot more work before its ready for prime time, and the sloppy staging and direction of Derek Gingrich and Dan Vena merely serves to underscore the fact.
THEATRE NEWS: BILLY ELLIOT tour here Jan. 28, 2011.

8 Jul'10

When the Mirvishes announced earlier this year that BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL would be the cornerstone of their 2010-2011 subscription season, they hadn't yet decided whether it would feature a touring company or one that was a little more homegrown.

Now, they've made up their minds, and in an announcement Wednesday, the Mirvish organization revealed that it will be bringing the musical's first national touring company from the U.S.A. for a run commencing Jan. 28 at the Canon Theatre. The touring company is currently performing in Chicago and is then is slated to move on to San Francisco, where it will open this September.

For tickets for the Toronto run, visit, or call 416-593-4142.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

THEATRE NEWS: Walsh joins Martin, Pitre in 'Love, Loss and What I Wore'
7 Jul'10


When the curtain goes up on LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE on July 21 at the Panasonic Theatre, comedian Mary Walsh and cabaret chanteuse Sharron Matthews will be joining Andrea Martin, Louise Pitre and Paula Brancati in the first cast of the Toronto production.

Producers announced the additional casting Tuesday at the same time they announced that Margot Kidder will join the second cast, which already includes Cynthia Dale, Wendy Crewson and Lauren Collins. The second cast takes over the show an Aug. 10.

As previously announced, LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE - adapted from the book by Ilene Beckman by Nora and Delia Ephron - begins previews at the Panasonic on July 16.
7 Jul'10


It was Shakespeare who suggested that music might be the food of love, but for people who make theatre at the Fringe, as well as those who consume it, a musical is just another way to have a good time — or so we hope. Still, it seems there just might be entirely too much time wasted on the search for the next DROWSY CHAPERONE, when really, all we should be looking for is a bit of musical theatre that's capable of transporting us, secure in the knowledge that everything else is a bonus. Mind you, be careful what you ask for, because sometimes the place that a musical takes you might not be a place you really want to go. With that in mind, here's the lowdown on a few of the high notes at this year's Fringe Festival, and a word or two on the off-key as well.

THE DUCK WIFE, playing at the Bathurst Street Theatre: Seems the folks at Inertia Productions aren't even remotely interested in being the 'next' anything, so caught up are they with leading the pack with work like this wonderfully unconventional and innovative dance/rock/opera, based on an Inuit folk tale of a young hunter who falls in love with a duck woman  — all the swans, apparently, having been snapped up by European princes. With songs and lyrics by Justin Maxwell, edited by Ted Strauss, it's a story told largely through the music of a tight, cutting-edge rock group that calls itself Grub Animal, but it is brought to life by the choreography of Jann Doan and a wickedly subversive modern dance troupe, backed by a range of haunting effects. Sure some may call it cultural appropriation, but when it's this good, it's also a microcosm of the cultural mosaic at its best.

DIE ROTEN PUNKTE - KUNST RICK, playing at the Bathurst Street Theatre: Imagine, if you will, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH in a tight punk collaboration with HANSEL UND GRETEL , with just a touch of the Katzenjammer Kids thrown in for good measure and that will give you at least an inkling of the kind of thing going on when siblings Otto and Strid Rot take to the stage as part of what is apparently a world tour. Raised in the forest by abusive relatives after the death of their parents, they fled the familial environment at just about the same time as the Berlin Wall fell and apparently they've been making their own music ever since — music that seems awfully loud but otherwise delightfully listenable. But really, the fun here comes in piecing together the siblings' backstory from tidbits dropped during their onstage banter. Subversive, often silly, quite often profane and surprisingly touching, these two provide a delightful wake-up call for those that think that THE DROWSY CHAPERONE represents the apex of musical offerings at the Fringe.

SEVEN OF US, playing at the Bathurst Street Theatre: After the success of ALTAR BOYZ and THE LAST FIVE YEARS, producer Brian Goldenberg has succumbed to the temptation to produce his own work, teaming up with playwright Jean-Paul Yovanoff to create a new musical. Working with an extensive and seemingly talented cast, he uses his own music and lyrics to drive a story of seven young people on the cusp of adulthood, all searching for direction. But under the direction of Dayna Chernoff, the whole thing emerges as more than just a bit of a yawn — trite, banal, utterly forgettable and too often off-key. The upside, if there is one, is that he didn't decide to write a show called Twelve of Us, which one suspects, just might make one's head explode.

EVERYTHING YOU EVER NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT WOMEN: FOR DUMMIES, playing at the Royal St. George Auditorium: While what they've created is not a musical per se, spoken word artists Dwayne Morgan, Tomy Berwick and Leviathan Grant face many of the same challenges composers face when it comes to incorporating their work into a stage show — and frankly, this trio needs to take this idea back to the drawing board for a retro-fit. Mostly set-up, it's good fun, in a cringe-worthy sort of way, but in the end, one spends far more time thinking that this is a show by dummies rather than for dummies. Still, it's a joy to watch and hear these talented artists play with words — and happily, they more than redeem themselves in their valedictory addresses.

Monday, July 5, 2010

5 Jul'10


Ironically, for many serious Fringe-goers, the worst thing an artist can do is offer up a show in which the artist takes his show — or his audience, for that matter — too seriously. All of which means it's a good idea when planning a Fringe show to keep a few things in mind — things like: People go to the theatre hoping for more than the chance to hear someone else's cellphone ring-tone and; If you want to produce a healthy bottom line, never lose sight of the fact that laughter can be the best medicine. Herewith, a look at a few 2010 Fringe offerings tamed squarely at tickling your funny bone.

THE SHAKESPEARE SHOW, Or How An Illiterate Son Of A Glover Became The Greatest Playwright In The World, playing at the Bathurst Street Theatre: Playwright Ryan Gladstone teams up with fellow performer Tara Travis to take a less than serious look at allegations that old Will Shakespeare was in fact merely fronting for the Earl Of Oxford, an Elizabethan nobleman who suffered from a serious case of itchy pen fingers. Although they never venture anywhere near the kind of in-depth investigative journalism the History Channel might demand, they do create enough comedic sound and fury in the laughter department that even good old Queen Bess seems royally entertained in the end. Amongst other inspired madness, look for a rendition of God Save The Queen that's almost good enough for Woodbine — and a guest appearance by the weird sisters that's truly inspired in its divine loopiness.

AOMEGA, playing at the Factory Theatre Mainspace: Right off the top, let's admit that when it comes to playing silly buggers, writer/performer Daniel Nimmo is seriously gifted. Watching him in full Peewee Herman mode, discoursing on existentialism while stage managing the aerial dogfight that's going on between the two model airplanes tethered to his body is little short of bliss for anyone who likes there theatre with a heavy dollop of fun. But though Nimmo, in collaboration with director Jack Grinhaus, seems to tap into a comedic motherlode very early on, he fails to appreciate that the old adage about leaving the audience wanting more has its limitations — and 30 minutes more is, quite frankly, stretching things.

1/4 LIFE CRISIS, playing at the Annex Theatre: Writer/performer Alison Lynne Ward has followed all the rules in this Fringe show, apparently writing about what she knows and then performing it with understated wit, grace and charm, not to mention a good measure of disarming candour as well. But in a world where even Carrie Bradshaw needs the adventures of three sidekicks to hold her audience's attention, the low lustre sheen achieved here by director Robert Sterling fails to elevate the travails of Ms Ward's life — apparently stalled in the single occupancy lane on the road to nowhere — to the level of high art. That said, one suspects that a lot of women of a certain age will have more than a few 'Ah-hah' moments, sharing her story.

MAUDE-LYNNE SELLS OUT!, playing at the Factory Studio Theatre: There's a lot that's likeable in this silly little tale of a self-obsessed Emily Bronte junkie with a weird name (played by Morgan Norwich, who co-authored the script with director Johnnie Walker) and her keyboard-playing sidekick (played by Peter Cavell). The two are holed-up in the basement of Maude-Lynne's mother's home and while preparations are underway upstairs for her sister's wedding, the two of them are making one last stab at independence by selling everything they own — and a lot of stuff they don't. But even though there's more than a bit of charm at play here, it ultimately all feels too much like an inside joke — and in theatre, when you make your audience feel like outsiders, most often the joke ends up being on you.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

3 Jul'10

QMI Agency

Ask a dozen seasoned Fringe-goers and you're likely to get 15 different answers as to how one goes about picking shows one might enjoy seeing. It's tough choosing, after all, particularly in the early going, when one can't really mine reviews or line-ups or any of the other 'traditional' indicators to see just where the gold is hidden at Fringe: Toronto Theatre Festival.

For some of us, however, it's not so much about which Fringe shows you should take in, but rather about what it is you should take into the Fringe show. Because, finally, in the Fringe Festival's 22nd edition, just like in its first, it's all about the attitude. For instance:

THE JOKER, playing at the Solo Room: Ex-pat comic Jason John Whitehead returns to Canada after a 12 year absence to share a few of the things he's learned living in the UK and travelling the world making his living as a stand-up comic — things like how to deal with overly familiar customs agents, ex-girlfriends who dump you in the middle of a volcanic eruption and the care and treatment of other people's children. Possessed of a quirky, easy charm and a genuine gift for saying the most outrageous things in the most disarmingly charming fashion, Whitehead's more than prepared to do all the work. All you have to bring is a sense of humour.

PSYCHO BITCH, playing at the Solo Room: Maybe one of the first things you need to bring to this offering is a chill-pill, for even though it appears to be a pretty honest look at one woman's very personal struggle with mental disorders, it really is a bit of a theatrical trip as writer/performer Tamara Lynn Roberts tells us how she, in company with her guardian angel Georgine, has travelled through hell and back to get in touch with and learn to live with her own personal brand of 'crazy.' Occasionally overwritten (which may or may not be symptomatic, it seems), it's beautifully performed in a strong staging by director Laura Anne Harris and is almost certain to delight anyone who believes in the restorative powers of compassion and humour. And maybe we could all benefit from getting in better touch with our own 'crazy.'

THE BLACK HEART PRINCESS, playing at the Palmerston Library: If you can't find a kid to use as an excuse to visit Fringe Kids 2010, then simply call up your inner child and make a date. Written by  Nelson Yu and K. Hillary Thomson and starring Chelsea Larkin, Kelly Barnes, Caitlin Morris-Cornfield and Laura K. MacDonald, this delightfully derivative pseudo-rap tale of a pirate, a princess, a dragon and a bit of drag nay suffer on occasion from director Ana Lorena Leija's lackadaisical pacing. But happily, it never loses sight of the fact that kids of all ages come to the theatre in search of a good time. And frankly,  on the basis of Annie Lam's costumes alone, they might want to do a subversive show or two as part of Pride celebrations, just to broaden their appeal.

HOUSE, playing at the Solo Room: Considering the fact that the show that played Thursday night seemed to have very little in common with the show described in the Fringe catalogue, the first thing one might want to pack for a trip to this show, apparently written and performed by David Lennon, is a sense of adventure.  And though it may initially seem a trifle weird (!) to be sitting in a theatre lit only by a single candle, listening to what eventually proves to be the voice of the statue David, sweet talking sculptor Michelangelo into finishing his work. But if you're prepared to hang in and go with the flow, anyone who has ever stared slack-jawed at the statue in question and marvelled at the genius of its making is almost certain to get caught up in this strange and poetic voyage into its creation.
THEATRE NEWS: JERSEY BOYS wont see you in September
2 Jul'10

JERSEY BOYS, the acclaimed musical currently running the Toronto Centre for the Arts, will close Aug. 22. That date coincides with the second anniversary of the opening of a touring production of the award-winning Broadway show in the same space.

Based on the critical and audience response to that show, Dancap Productions was inspired to mount a Toronto production, which took over from the touring company a few months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

JERSEY BOYS, the story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, welcomed its millionth customer just this week. Tickets for the remaining shows are on sale at or by calling 416-644-3665.
2 Jul'10

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In the world of Canadian theatre, JITTERS stands out on a few fronts. Not only did David French's 1979 examination of the backstage world enjoy a degree of success unusual for a Canadian play of its time, it did it as a comedy — a field which Canadian playwrights have largely chosen to pass by on their way to toil in the more arduous fields of drama.

So,naturally, on the heels of successful revivals of French's LEAVING HOME, OF THE FIELDS, LATELY and SALT-WATER MOON — three of the playwright's most successful dramas —   it was all but inevitable that Soulpepper prepare itself for an attack of the JITTERS, just for a change of pace. The new production of JITTERS opened at the Young Centre Wednesday.

Set in a fictitious Toronto theatre, JITTERS purports to document the goings-on as a small theatre company prepares to premiere a new work from a budding young playwright, played by Mike Ross.

It is titled 'The Care and Treatment of Roses' and it bears more than a passing resemblance to French's LEAVING HOME, judging from the scant bits the audience is permitted to see. In between those brief glimpses, French treats us to heaping helping of the kind of madness that ensues when you place massive egos on a collision course with destiny.

As it develops, a lot is riding on this production, for not only is 'The Care and Treatment' meant to be a comeback of sorts for its leading lady, boldly played by Diane D'Aquila, it offers a whole new range of opportunity for its entire cast, thanks to the fact that it has caught the attention of a New York producer, who is planning on attending opening night, upping the pressure significantly.

While D'Aquila's leading lady relishes a chance to return to triumph in a Broadway show, her leading man, played by C. David Johnson, is more than a little un-nerved by the thought of tackling the Great White Way after a lifetime on Canada's smaller stages.
Similarly, the director, played by Kevin Bundy and the remainder of the cast — Oliver Dennis as an incredibly insecure mamma's boy and Noah Reid as a novice hungry for his first big break — find the whole thing rather daunting too.

Meanwhile, the backstage crew — the stage manager, played by Jordan Pettle, and Abena Malika and Sarah Wilson as props master and front-of-house manager respectively — just try to do their jobs.

In spinning out the tale, French strings together stage clichés as if they were Christmas lights to dazzle his audience — and sometimes, under the real-life direction of Ted Dykstra, it works and the on-stage hysteria reaches critical mass and tips over into hilarity.

But ultimately, despite a few cogent comments on the unique nature of Canadian theatre (and some salty commentary on the nature of criticism), it is all little more than an inside joke and Dykstra and his cast take a wrong turn almost immediately. Stumbling under the weight of the verisimilitude they try to impose on the tale instead of going with its silliness, they succeed mostly in underscoring the fact that dilettantes such as these would have been unable to carve a professional career for themselves in the then-hard-scrabble world of Canadian theatre.

Ironically, that is underlined in the set designer Patrick Clark has created for Act II, an set in the backstage dressing rooms of the fictitious theatre where the play is set. On the walls  are 'autographs' of Canadian stage greats like Charmion King (who appeared in the original production), Gordon Pinsent and two Richards, Monette and Donat, amongst others — vivid reminders all, that while a life on stage has its moments of blissful silliness, it is finally dedication and professionalism and not ego that carries the day.