Thursday, September 29, 2011

29 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 3.5/5

TORONTO - For almost three decades, the musical CHESS has had the distinction of being one of the most popular musicals most North Americans had never seen. Composed by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and featuring lyrics and book by Tim Rice, the work has never had a completely successful commercial production here in North America, despite the fact that it ran for three years in London’s West End, back in the ’80s.

Its recorded score, on the other hand, quickly became a treasured centrepiece in a lot of musical theatre libraries, spinning off a few hits like One Night in Bangkok, I Know Him So Well and Heaven Help My Heart. And that score remains the main reason to see the new, direct-from-Great-Britain production that’s taken up residence at the Princess of Wales through Oct. 30.

Not that director/choreographer Craig Revel Horwood is content to simply recycle that original score in its entirety. He’s reworked and reshaped it instead, adding and subtracting in an effort to fuse the sprawling and disparate elements of the tale into a compelling piece of theatre. And he does add a degree of focus to a complicated tale that stretches from Italy to Bangkok in a year-long exploration of a pair of intersecting love triangles set in the world of international chess competitions at the height of the Cold War. Although it’s still handy, even necessary, to have a four-page plot summary included in the program.

It is obvious Horwood still relies mainly on the music to sell this piece, taking a page from other modern musical productions and demanding that his cast do double duty, combining the heavy demands of singing, acting and dancing with orchestral duties, backed only by a drummer and a keyboardist off-stage. Not surprisingly, Horwood and his design team (sets and costumes by Christopher Woods, video by Jack James) take most of their visual cues from the title, transforming their overcrowded stage into a chess board inhabited by a chorus arrayed as the pieces in a very adult chess game.

Into that mix, he throws the story’s protagonists — the bad boy American, Freddie Trumper (played by James Fox), the pensive Russian Anotoly Sergievsky (Tam Mutu), Trumper’s much-abused second Florence Vassy (Shona White), and Sergievsky’s wife Svetlana (Rebecca Lock). With David Erik’s strutting, bemuscled Arbiter overseeing the activities, the four principal characters become pieces in a game of love and international intrigue that rivals the game of chess itself, with Florence forsaking Freddie for Anotoly, only to be thrown over for Svetlana.

Problem is, in Horwood’s fevered vision, everything is all but smothered by a deep layer of sexuality — an in-your-face sensuality taking the place of anything even remotely resembling real intimacy. As a result, when the much-abused Florence finally gets around to singing I Know Him So Well, one knows she’s speaking only in the biblical sense. Further, thanks to Horwood’s choreographic vision — think bawdy ballet — One Night in Bangkok looks pretty much like One Night in Merano, with less clothes.

And while there is some fine work scattered throughout the two-and-a-half-hour production— Fox’s Pity the Child is particularly touching, as is Mutu’s powerful Anthem — there is so much heart-on-the-sleeve belting that the music loses much of its emotional drive and virtually all of its subtlety. It’s still CHESS, of course, but in this game the pieces seem to have been carved more with an axe than with a craftsman’s tools.

DAILY DISH: Tomson Highway in cabaret
29 SEPT/11

QMI Agency

If you've been hungering for a Tomson Highway fix, turns out you won't have to wait until the revival of The Rez Sisters opens on the Factory Theatre mainstage in November.

Factory officials have announced that Highway, one of Canada's most important playwrights and novelists, has agreed to perform a special one-night cabaret in the Studio Theatre, working with Peruvian-Canadian vocalist Patricia Cano, performing a dozen songs from The (Post) Mistress, Highway's latest play.

The evening of cabaret, with proceeds benefiting the Factory Theatre, will take place Oct 27. Tickets, priced at $150 (with a tax receipt issued for the maximum allowable amount) are available at 416-504-9971 or online at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


27 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 4/5
Pictured: Ron Kennell,
Maria Ricossa

TORONTO - Obsessed as it is with sadomasochistic role playing, Jean Genet’s THE MAIDS will never be an easy play for an audience to watch. But in a new production that hit the stage of Buddies in Bad Times last week, director Brendan Healy manages to make it so riveting that one might not even notice how squirm-inducing it can be.

Long considered a masterwork from the bad boy of 20th century French literature, THE MAIDS was inspired by the celebrated 1933 murder of a French woman at the hands of her embittered personal maids, two young sisters who claimed they had killed their abusive employer in self-defense. 
As filtered through Genet’s perspective, however, those maids — Solange and Claire — are transformed into abusers themselves, locked in a sick little game where they take turns playing an abusive mistress and her long-suffering maid.
 And despite the fact that, in the playing, the mistress of their fantasies proves far more vile than the reality presented by their actual mistress, they have nonetheless become so lost in their fantastic world that tragedy has become almost inevitable.

While Genet might have played fast and loose with the facts, in this production, working with a translation by Martin Crimp, Healy adds even more wrinkles to Genet’s troubled characters, with some compelling if unorthodox casting. Even though Genet once famously asked that all the women in his plays be played by adolescent males, Healy’s decision to cast Ron Kennell in the role of Claire, the younger of the two maids, is unorthodox, but not so much because of the actor’s gender as his appearance.
 Kennell may not look the part, but as anyone who saw the hugely talented actor in his performance in the title role of Monsieur D’eon is a Woman will tell you, the otherwise masculine Kennell exhibits an uncanny ability to inhabit female characters, rather than merely playing them. And he can do it, even when he’s arrayed in the sort of butch drag designer Julie Fox has given him for everyday apparel in this production.

As Claire’s older sister Solange, Healy has cast Diane D’Aquila (even though she could probably only hope to be cast as Claire’s mother by a director with less imagination), and it works wonderfully well — particularly as Healy further muddies the waters by giving both maids haircuts that flirt with androgyny, suggesting, in the process, that maybe Solange has a secret or two tucked away as well.
In their fantasy scenes together, with Kennell playing mistress and D’Aquila, her long-suffering maid, the two of them are riveting, even though one slowly realizes that the full extent of their depravity is boundless.

That becomes evident with the appearance of Madame, their much reviled and abused mistress. While again, the ultra feminine Maria Ricossa might not be an obvious choice for a character often played as overbearing and demanding, she’s a potent choice. 
Under Healy’s direction she is spoiled, pampered and careless, but Ricossa’s Madame is also clearly almost of another species than her two maids — a gazelle to their mules, a glorious songbird to their mudhens. As such, she has inspired an envy that has morphed into hatred as the two of them have sunk ever deeper into their games and obsessions.

But make no mistake: Set against Fox’s pretty-in-Pepto-pink set, lit by Kimberly Purtell and strongly acted throughout. THE MAIDS is still not easy viewing, but in its deconstruction of human nature, this production is never anything less than utterly compelling.

Monday, September 26, 2011

THEATRE NEWS: Blake leaving Shaw Fest
26 SEPT/11


TORONTO - After 17 years at the administrative helm of the Shaw Festival, Colleen Blake has decided to move along.

Her decision to leave the position of executive director was announced yesterday by the Festival, although Blake will remain in the position until her successor is appointed, which is expected to happen sometime early in the spring of 2012. Calling it “an enormous privilege to share the leadership of this remarkable organization,” Ms. Blake paid tribute to the entire company in announcing her departure, saying the fest is “full of dedicated and talented people who give their all on a continual basis."


26 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 4.5/5
Pictured: Kim Kattrell,
Paul Gross

TORONTO - In their day, the plays of Noel Coward were considered by many to be the ne plus ultra of sophistication, affording as they did often amusing glimpses into a world where all that glittered was indeed gold and everything, from the diamonds to the champagne, sparkled with elegance. But what to make of works like Coward’s PRIVATE LIVES, considered by many to be his most exquisitely crafted comedy, in a world where the Kardashians are cast as arbiters of elegance and, on a Jersey Shore that seems to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all that glitters is the latest Trump development?

Well, if you’re acclaimed British director Richard Eyre, you throw a few things overboard — particularly in the brittle sophistication department, broadening the innuendo and sending up the elegance with just the faintest touch of slapstick — and then go full speed ahead. While there is no way of knowing what Coward might have made of Eyre’s Broadway-bound take on PRIVATE LIVES, which opened at the Royal Alexandra Theatre Sunday, one suspects he would have embraced Eyre’s talent to amuse and enthusiastically welcomed this as a PRIVATE LIVES for our time.

As it was in its acclaimed West End edition, Eyre’s production is built around the comedic talents of Kim Cattrall, still best known as the sexually liberated Samantha on Sex and the City, despite several attempts to broaden her horizon and deepen her reputation. Cattrall is cast as gay divorcee Amanda, who on the night of her second wedding, finds herself honeymooning next door to her ex-husband, Elyot, who is also similarly occupied with his second wife. From the get go, Cattrall makes it clear that being divorced might just be the least of Amanda’s transgressions as she straddles chairs and otherwise comports herself with a delightful air of sexual anachronism, underpinned by strong comedic chops.

As Elyot, Paul Gross abandons the red serge of Due South in favour of black cashmere tuxes and silk pajamas, and while he may not wear them with the louche air of one to the manner born, he still fills them out to maximum effect, all the while demonstrating a wicked talent for comedy that, while broader than Coward demands, still serves the work without diminishing it unduly.

As Amanda and Elyot’s newly acquired and hastily abandoned spouses, Sybil and Victor, Eyre has cast Anna Madeley and Simon Paisley-Day, and while the former could (and probably should) play her character as more of a pill, the latter is note perfect, to the point that he draws some of the show’s biggest laughs with some of its least funny lines. Caroline Lena Olsson rounds out the cast, making the most of the role of Amanda’s French maid.

Eyre and his collaborators — Rob Howell on set and costumes, David Howe on lighting — have even shaken things up from a design perspective. Where designers for PRIVATE LIVES have long vied to create sets and costumes seemingly ripped from the Architectural Digests and Vogues of the day, this production places far less importance on leaving their audience in awe. The first act, set in a seaside hotel in the northwest of France, takes place on adjoining terraces that are adequate if unremarkable, which is, come to think of it, a pretty fair description of the costuming in that act as well. And when the action moves to Amanda’s Paris flat for Acts 2 and 3, sets and costumes acquire an almost tongue-in-cheek element that contributes hugely to the fun for everyone, save a few hapless gold fish.

About the only thing that Eyre hasn’t changed is the way all the best productions of Coward have always treated his text, which becomes, in the act of carelessly tossing it off, pure comic gold.

PRIVATE LIVES runs through Oct. 30.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


25 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 2.5/5

TORONTO - Sometimes, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing — but often, it doesn’t even add up to that. For instance, playwright Sarah Ruhl stumbled upon the information that vibrators were in use in the otherwise up-tight Victorian era, and rather than turning that knowledge into the punchline of a monologue on the contradictions of that famous time, crocheted it instead into a full-length play, titled, perhaps not too surprisingly, IN THE NEXT ROOM, OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY.

And, based more on the fact that it has already been nominated for a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize than on what one sees on stage at the Tarragon Theatre (where IN THE NEXT ROOM opened last week in its Canadian première in a co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre), her play is not half bad. But in the end, one expects something that isn’t half bad to be at least half good — and in this production, half good is, quite frankly, still a little beyond its reach.

Set in the upscale Victorian home of Dr. Givings (David Storch) and his wife Catherine (Trish Lindstrom), the play focuses not just on the marriage of the up-tight doctor and his nubile young wife, but on the clinic he runs in the next room — a clinic specializing in treating ‘hysteria’ through a certain mechanical intervention, only recently facilitated by the harnessing of electricity.

Already sexually frustrated and rendered insecure by her inability to nurse her new baby, Catherine is at first bewildered, then intrigued by the strange sounds that emanate from her husband’s office as he and his un-married assistant (Elizabeth Saunders) provide intimate intervention to relieve the ‘hysteric’ symptoms of patients like the fey Sabrina Daldry, played by Melody A. Johnson. And judging from their success with Mrs. Daldry, who recovers among other things her ability to play the piano, most women blossom under their care.

Not that women are the only patients the good doctor attracts. In fact, a troubled young man (Jonathan Watton) signs up for a course of treatment — men suffering from ‘hysteria’ are rare, the good doctor concedes, but this one is after all an artist. The presence of a free thinking, not to mention good looking, young man, throws the household into a tizzy that eventually involves the wet-nurse (Marci T. House), Mrs. Daldry’s husband (Ross McMillan) and something called the Chattanooga Vibrator, which soon restores the young artist to glowing health and well-being.

In writing the play, Ruhl seems to have walked a tightrope between the bizarre revelation that vibrators played a role in Victorian medicine (one can’t help but wonder what she would have made of it if she’d discovered at the same time that marijuana was sold over the counter as a treatment for asthma) and a touching story about ignorance, inhibition and the healing power of communication.

In bringing IN THE NEXT ROOM to life on David Boechler’s highly symmetrical set — one half drawing room, the other clinic, lit by Rebecca Picherack — director Richard Rose appears to struggle with the balance of the piece too, juggling largely ineffectual attempts from Storch, Lindstrom and, perhaps a little more successfully, from Johnson, to turn the piece into a sustained farce, against credible, often touching work from House and Watton, who seems to strike a perfect balance.

In the end, Rose relies far too heavily on what has become known in modern parlance as those When Harry Met Sally moments, suggesting along the way that faked orgasms might have made an appearance concurrent with the arrival of the mechanical vibrator. But as some few modern husbands and, one suspects, even more modern wives might have told him, faked orgasms might be funny — but they don’t constitute an evening of real entertainment.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

23 SEPT/11

R: 5/5

TORONTO - In a remarkable production of Orfeo ed Euridice last season for the Canadian Opera Company, director/lighting designer Robert Carsen proved he knows how to find the heart of operatic tragedy — and break it. Now, as if to underscore to hometown audiences what he has proven conclusively to the opera world at large — mainly, that his genius seems to know no bounds — he returns with a production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s IPHIGENIA IN TAURUS that, if possible, takes an audience even further into the dark heart of classic tragedy.

In a production created for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden that opened at the Four Seasons Centre Thursday, Carsen and an impressive cast take an audience so deeply into the dark nightmare of Euripides’ final chapter of the saga of the family Atreus that you might actually feel you’ve enjoyed two and a half hours of REM sleep by the time it ends.

For those a little misty on the details of Greek tragedies, this is the final installment of the story of the tragic daughter of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, whose supposed sacrifice at her father’s hands has already led her mother to murder her father, and her brother, the beloved Orestes, to then murder his mother.

Meanwhile, Iphigenia, — sung here with brilliant clarity, depth and passion by soprano Susan Graham — has not in fact been sacrificed to the goddess after all, but rather been whisked to Tauris, where, under the iron hand of Scythian King Thoas (bass-baritone Mark S. Doss in full menace mode), she serves as Priestess to Diana, sacrificing, at the King’s command, every stranger that happens into his kingdom.

And this being Greek tragedy, it’s almost inevitable that the shipwrecked Orestes (baritone Russell Braun in magnificent voice) wash up on Tauris’ shores with his best friend Pylades (tenor Joseph Kaiser in a beautifully modulated performance). Both men are sentenced by the king’s command to sacrificial death at Iphigenia’s hands, but, moved by his obvious suffering, Iphigenia decides to save Orestes despite the fact that neither of them realize the blood bond. Burdened as he is, however, with the guilt of having murdered his mother, Orestes wants to die, creating one of those theatrical Gordian knots that can only be unravelled by divine intervention.

Building on Gluck’s enduring music, served up by the COC Orchestra under the baton of an impressive Pablo Heras-Casado as much as on the strength of this impressive cast, Carsen uses a largely monochromatic palette enhanced by the rich shadows created by his evocative lighting to constantly underscore the stark horror of the story.

With the COC Chorus performing off stage, he arranges his supporting cast and a corps of highly disciplined and beautifully matched dancers in a series of ever-shifting tableaux that reflect both the physical and emotional turmoil that is unfolding on stage — Braun’s Orestes, at one point tormented beyond endurance by his conscience, actually seems to be climbing walls.

As anyone who caught Carsen’s production of Orfeo can attest, this is not a director nor a design team — Tobias Hoheisel (set and costumes), Peter Van Praet (lighting) and Philippe Giraudeau (choreography) — that deals in the extravagance of conventional operatic spectacle. So if you’re looking for pretty, give this one a pass. But if you’re hungering to experience magnificent opera on a level almost completely visceral ...

Friday, September 23, 2011


22 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 4.5/5

TORONTO - With all due respect to Shakespeare and his theories on how people arrive at greatness, there seems to come a point in every great life when how one arrived becomes secondary to how one leaves — and what they leave behind. Which leads us rather smoothly to HIS GREATNESS — a not-so-new work by Daniel MacIvor that’s finally arrived on a Toronto stage, thanks to a promising new production company.

HIS GREATNESS opened in the Factory Studio Wednesday under the aegis of the newly minted independent Artist’s Repertory Theatre — and one only has to look at the impressive set created for the work by designer Kimberly Purtell to know iART means business. And happily, the commitment to excellence doesn’t stop there.

Purtell’s set evokes an upscale Vancouver hotel room, circa 1980, temporary home to the great Tennessee Williams, who’s come to town for opening night of a local production of his now all-but-forgotten Red Devil Battery Sign. While the visit and the production are both a matter of history, the rest of this story is fiction, labeled by MacIvor as “a potentially true story about the playwright Tennessee Williams.” It is the set on the day of the opening and the day following, and Williams, well past the zenith of his career, is in pretty rough shape from the get-go, thanks to a boozy evening the night before, during which he seems to have offended pretty well everyone involved with the production.

Played with real relish by Richard Donat, the "Playwright" is a quivering mass of insecurity, clinging to the wreckage of his reputation as he floats on a sea of booze and self-indulgence wondering what hit him and where the magic has gone. Meanwhile, the “Assistant” — a one-time-lover turned nursemaid, played with characteristic nuance and polish by MacIvor himself — does his level best to throw the floundering writer a life-line, cleaning up the playwright’s messes and trying to maintain order in the increasing chaos that has become William’s life.

It is the Assistant, in fact, who, in an attempt to keep the Playwright’s demons at bay and thereby keep him on a leash of respectability, introduces the “Young Man” to the mix, a born-in-Newfoundland, reared-in-desperation rent boy played by Greg Gale. While MacIvor’s script suggests the Young Man sees his best-before date relentlessly bearing down on him, both Gale and director Edward Roy have skated over that, allowing the character’s theatrical innocence to spill over into his work-a-day world and subtly weakening the superb structure of a play that is, in fact, about three people, all who fear the best is behind them. Fortunately, the other two performers and the play itself are all strong enough to weather such minor oversights — and together MacIvor and Donat create a portrait of function-within-dysfunction that is deeply touching, richly informed with empathy and, one suspects, experience.

While there is great tragedy in the obvious and almost willful decline of a great talent who yearns to be caught once again in the pull of a creative river he himself has polluted beyond redemption, MacIvor the writer finds an equal measure of humour, balancing it all with an impressive level of humanity and compassion. And with a certain knowledge that the fruits of true greatness can never be diminished by how one arrives at greatness, or how they leave.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

THEATRE NEWS: Luminato AD announced; Gina Prize inaugurated; Mirvish tinkers with 2012 season
22 SEPT/11


Jörn Weisbrodt, most recently director of New York's Watermill Centre and executive director of RW Work Ltd. (specializing in the work of the legendary Robert Wilson), has been named the new artistic director of Toronto's Luminato Festival.

Weisbrodt, whose international connections range from New York to Berlin, Italy to Great Britain, will step into shoes vacated earlier this year by outgoing artistic director Chris Lorway, in January, 2012. Weisbrodt is credited with playing a pivotal role in the remount of Einstein on the Beach, slated to play next year's edition of Luminato.

Weisbrodt and his partner, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright — to whom he is engaged — plan to make their home in Toronto. Luminato 2012 runs from June 8-17.


The memory of late actor/playwright/director Gina Wilkinson will be honoured with a new award, designed to benefit emerging female directors. The $1,000 Gina Wilkinson Prize, which is to be presented annually, beginning in March, 2012, was funded by more than 200 contributions from across the country in the wake of Wilkinson’s untimely death from cancer less than a year ago. Nominations for the inaugural award close Dec. 1 and should be sent to Each nomination should include a letter in support of the nominee from a recognized theatre professional, as well as an acknowledgment of the nomination from the nominee and the nominee’s resumé.


David Mirvish is doing some fine tuning on his subscription season.

Although it will still play Toronto, the revival of Hair, which was slated to close the 2011/12 subscription season, has been pulled from the line-up and replaced with a production of Bring It On: The Musical, directed by the Tony Award-winning Andy Blankenbuehler and set in the world of competitive cheerleading. It features a libretto by Jeff Whitty, lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green and music by Tom Kitt. Hair, for its part, will now run outside of the subscription season at the Royal Alexandra, opening Dec. 14, after a single preview and run through Dec. 31. Scheduling difficulties were cited in the release announcing the changes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

comes to the COC from
Texas and the Met
20 SEPT/11


TORONTO - She is the toast of opera stages around the world, particularly beloved by audiences at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she makes her professional home. She’s been named “America’s favourite mezzo” by Gramophone Magazine, and a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur by the French government.

It goes without saying that one doesn’t achieve the kind of success in the opera world that mezzo soprano Susan Graham has achieved without taking it very, very seriously. So what proves most delightful in a brief phone conversation with the 51-year-old Graham, as she enjoys a romantic interlude in Los Angeles — “He’s not a singer,” is all she’ll say of the man in her life — is the fact that, while she takes her work seriously she doesn’t appear to take herself seriously at all.

That’s apparent pretty much from the get-go, as she sets out to explain just how a young New Mexico-born, Texas-raised piano student ended up rising like rich cream to the top of the opera world, earning her highest praise for her particular focus on works in the French classical canon. “I studied German,” she says of her high school days, adding with a laugh. “You think you know what you’re planning for.” Back then, mind you, Graham’s main focus was on the piano, with the vocal end of things playing a sort of second fiddle, you should pardon the expression.

“I had always been singing alongside of (the piano playing). I accompanied choirs and I was always the soprano section leader,” she recalls. And then The Sound of Music came along.

“I auditioned for the part of Maria, and I got it in my senior year of high school. I still have my script. Every time I go home to visit my mom, it is there in my closet.” And while few might have trouble connecting all the dots in a career that started with Rodgers and Hammerstein and led to Gluck and Mahler, they simply don’t understand life in smalltown Texas, Graham suspects.

“Where I come from, music theatre is as close to opera as you can get,” she says without apology. “The first opera I ever saw was a touring company that did Cosi fan tutte in my high school.” The opera that’s bringing Graham to Toronto, however, is more serious fare.

For her admittedly long-overdue debut with the Canadian Opera Company on Thursday night at the Four Seasons Centre, she’ll be revisiting a role in which she has earned great acclaim around the world, singing the title role in Christoph Willibald Gluck’s IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS. It’s a role to which Graham is drawn, she says, for its “great emotional palate.

“It’s one of those perfect combinations,” she says. “The music is so divinely expressive and it gives over to big, dramatic opportunities.There’s not a lot of joy in this opera. (Iphigenia’s) sorrow is great. Her longing is great.” All of which apparently adds to Graham’s enjoyment of the role. “If you don’t like the role, you only do it once,” she says. “I love this opera. I enjoy playing the depths of these traumatized characters. It’s a great opportunity to dig deep. It’s cheaper than an analyst’s couch, and a lot more fun.”

Besides, according to Graham, any singer would have to be crazy to pass up the opportunity to work with director Robert Carson, whose staging of ORFEO ED EURIDICE set the Toronto opera world on its ear last season.

“I’ve done Robert’s production more than any other ... I just adore him because he’s brilliant. He has a real talent for getting to the human essence of a scene, a character or an opera.” Graham sings the title role in IPHIGENIA IN TAURIS on Thursday, Sunday, Sept. 28 and Oct. 1, 4, 7 and 12, while Canadian soprano Katherine Whyte is slated to step into the role Oct. 15.

2012 Shaw season includes Ragtime revival
20 SEPT/11


TORONTO - The Shaw Festival isn’t so much shifting gears as shifting focus, considering the 2012 season announced Tuesday by Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell.

It is a season that embraces Shaw traditions, even while it breaks with them. Two works from the pen of Bernard Shaw, for whom the Festival is named, will be showcased, but neither will play on the Festival Stage — the fest’s largest theatre. Instead, the Festival Stage will play host to a revival of Ragtime, the Tony Award-winning, made-in-Toronto musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, written by Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and directed for the Shaw by Maxwell herself.

Rounding out the season on the Festival Stage will be two productions: John Guare’s His Girl Friday (adapted from Ben Hecht’s and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page, and from the Columbia Pictures movie), directed by Jim Mezon; and Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, directed by David Schurmann.

Shaw’s Misalliance has been programmed for the Royal George Stage, under the direction of Eda Holmes. It will run in rep with Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears, directed by Kate Lynch, and William Inge’s Come Back Little Sheba, under the direction of Maxwell who has directed productions of Inge’s Picnic and Bus Stop in previous seasons.

Shaw’s The Millionairess is slated for a Court House production, under the direction of Blair Williams, with productions of Githa Sowerby’s A Man and Some Women (directed by Alisa Palmer) and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (directed by stage legend Martha Henry) rounding out the Court House programming.

The annual Lunchtime offering will also play on the Court House stage, with Jay Turvey directing Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble In Tahiti.

Finally, in the intimate Studio space, Maxwell has programmed a new production of Carole Frechette’s Helen’s Necklace, translated and adapted by John Murrell. A director for this production will be announced at a later date, as will complete casting for the season.

Tickets for the 2012 Shaw season go on sale to the general public on Jan. 9.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Inside the War Horse

19 SEPT/11

QMI Agency

TORONTO - Mirvish Productions unveiled the key element — a horse name Joey, pictured above — of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s production of the award-winning play WAR HORSE at the Bell TIFF Lightbox in Toronto yesterday.

The play, which is slated for a Canadian première at the Princess of Wales Theatre in February, is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and as adapted by Nick Stafford tells the story of a horse named Joey and the young man who follows him to France, after the horse is shipped there as part of the British cavalry during the First World War.

The story is told with the help of life-sized equine puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company — established by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones in 1981. Created in Handspring’s Capetown studios, Joey and his stablemates were then animated in a series of four intensive workshops at the National’s London studios. In the photo, Joey is led on stage by handler/puppeteer David Emmings, while two other puppeteers work inside the puppet, manipulating everything from his tail to his ears.

Producer Ed Mirvish is thrilled to be bringing the Tony Åward-winning show to Toronto and says it is “a show that will do our city proud.” Single tickets for WAR HORSE go on sale Sept 26.

Friday, September 16, 2011


16 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 2.5/5

TORONTO - For a few brief and shining moments, Queen Street West seemed to be the cultural capital of the nation — at least in the city state that is Toronto. 
That was in the heady days of the early '80s, of course. Today that stretch of pavement that once seemed to be the heartbeat of a city now pulses with a different kind of life, as developers and big business mine the once legendary street of artistic dreams for commercial gold. 
But while the halcyon days of Queen West's glory may be largely gone, they are far from forgotten, as witnessed in a new site-specific theatrical event that opened Thursday, under the aegis of Theatre Passe Muraille, the theatre most closely associated with Queen West, in partnership with FIXT POINT.

Their show is titled THE TALE OF A TOWN - QUEEN WEST, and it begins in the present day, as its audience is transformed, if only for 90 minutes or so, into potential buyers for a brand new condo development christened the Champagne Flaming Feather Eco Boho Lofts. 
After a brief mime show outside the walls of the theatre without walls, the audience is then led, by a champagne-swilling, rhyming-couplet-spouting, name-dropping marketing maven through the storied streets and alleys that comprise this village within a city.

The ultimate destination, after a few stops along the way, is the newly opened show suites for this new development, located on the third floor of the building that has risen from the ashes of Duke's Cycle, transformed by designer Lindsay Anne Black, into a littered homage to the past, evoking everything from Cameron House and the Bamboo to Citytv. 
It is here we meet Jane, initially drawn to this storied strip as a young girl and finally forced out only by the creeping commercialization that has transformed it into something she no longer recognizes. 
As she shares memories of Queen West's glory days — a torrid romance with one-time rockabilly sensation Handsome Ned, a video homage of the Hummer Sisters in their glory days, an evocation of Speaker's Corner, a recollection of the Rivoli's Poetry Slams, all interspersed with flashes of the art and artists, designs and designers that once thrived in this milieu — Jane realizes those memories have, at least in part, been co-opted into part of the commercialization that has choked the life out of the street she loved.

Lisa Marie DiLiberto, who shares a creator's credit with the artistic team, also plays most of the major roles in the show, assisted by Treasa Levasseur and Adam Paolozza, both of whom, quite frankly, deserve more than a musician's credit.
 And while, under the direction of Varrick Grimes, assisted by the video design of Charles Ketchabaw and Trevor Schwellnus, they all bring tremendous enthusiasm and heart to the work, what they need is a lot more focus.

While The Tale of a Town may awaken more than a few memories for anyone who lived through Queen West's glory days, it fails to capture in any meaningful way either the magic of those moments or the full tragedy of its passing, blaming the latter rather simplistically on AIDS and Club Monaco before dismissing it all with a theatrical shrug and the recognition that while change happens, memories linger. 
Sadly, some of the most memorable moments of The Tale of a Town come from the interaction of live theatre and the life on this still vibrant stretch of urban real estate.