Monday, October 31, 2011


31 OCT/11

QMI Agency
R: 5/5
PIctured: Ted Dykstra,
Richard Greenblatt

TORONTO - Were it not for a bit of divine intervention, this is a show that could just as easily be called 2 Sticks 4 Skates, 2 Feet 4 Pointe Shoes or even 2 Snowboards 4 Feet.

While 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS may be set in the world of music, the story it tells — two kids with enough talent to carry them to the top of the class, yet not possessed of the kind of gift required to make it into the rarefied atmosphere of the big leagues — crosses all boundaries. Regardless of the field, any kid who has ever dared to dream big — and fallen short — will surely identify with this tale. The kids in question here are known simply as Ted and Richard — and just like they were back in 1996, when 2P4H first hit the stage of the Tarragon Theatre, they are played by playwright-performers Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, who have added a directorial credit to their resumé here.

After a considerable hiatus, they’ve returned to their international hit show and the roles they created 15 years ago, launching something of a valedictory tour Sunday on the stage of the Panasonic Theatre, under the Mirvish imprimatur.

Now, for those who have somehow managed to miss the show in any of its previous incarnations, a word or two on the plot is perhaps in order. Teddy and Richard are two young kids when we first meet them. They appear, almost magically, taking over and inhabiting the betuxed bodies of Dykstra and Greenblatt respectively, middle aged men, heretofore preoccupied with sending up concert pianists at the two grand pianos that dominate the stage.

And even though they’re wearing the bodies of those middle-aged men, Teddy and Richard are just a pair of normal kids who find themselves in thrall to a parental notion that learning the piano will somehow turn them into well-rounded adults. To that end, they find themselves chained to the keyboard and forced to practice, even while they’d rather be out playing with friends.

From there, we follow them through a growing love affair with the piano, proceeding from Leila Fletcher through the annual Kiwanis Music Festival (Dyksta has a wonderful meltdown here) to Conservatory exams, accompanied by a sideshow of teachers, parents and others, all brought expertly to comedic life. But as their skills develop — and it becomes more and more obvious that these are talented lads indeed — things start to grow more serious. As each contemplates a career as a pianist — Teddy in concert, Richard in jazz — and then comes face to face with the knowledge that in the face of genius, talent is only a starting point, they are forced to set those dreams aside.

As they relive their story, they team up periodically to demonstrate just how deep those talents ran, interspersing their vignettes with musical compositions from the aforementioned Fletcher to Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Billy Joel, played with impressive skill. But fingerwork notwithstanding, it is finally acting skills that drive this show.

While Greenblatt has a tendency on occasion to lay things on with a trowel — still flogging a routine about an adjudicator with an unfortunate accent that wasn’t that funny back in ’96 — both actors are superb at capturing the comedy and tragedy that marks, often simultaneously, so much of childhood. Best of all, they prove that though the dream may be gone, the music and the magic linger on. And that’s a lesson every dreamer needs.

30 OCT/11

R: 4.5/5
Pictured: Peggy Kriha Dye, Phillip Addis, Vasil Garvanliev

TORONTO - When it comes to his dealings with the bad boy of the opera world, Opera Atelier’s Marshall Pynkoski clearly didn’t waste a lot of time on psychoanalysis and the like — and chances are, that’s something that’s going to leave a lot of OA patrons tickled pink.

For, while Pynkoski’s latest production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI may be incredibly short on the darker threads of motivation that are often woven through productions of this work, it is more than redeemed by an effervescent spirit of youthful exuberance that not only makes up for any lack of the former, but serves to prove that sometimes, especially when it comes to sex, human nature is the only motivation necessary.

Opera Atelier’s new production of Mozart’s tale opened Saturday on the stage of the Elgin Theatre, where it runs through Nov. 5; and while it’s been pretty much rebuilt from the ground up since 2004 — with new designs from Gerard Gauci, OA’s master of tromp, and new, largely monochromatic costumes by Martha Mann — it is, on quite another level, simply the same old story, told as Mozart might have intended, and not coincidentally, just the way Pynkoski likes it.

Which means that it is simply a high-spirited story about a young rake — the Don of title, sung here by baritone Phillip Addis — and the swath he cuts through the beautiful young women of 17th-Century Seville, few of whom seem to be immune to his charms, as he leaves a string of broken hearts in his wake. Unquestionably, the fair Donna Anna (soprano Meghan Lindsay) is enjoying those charms thoroughly at the top of the show — at least until she’s caught in the clinch and her father (bass-baritone and OA regular, Curtis Sullivan) is killed in an ensuing duel with the Don, much to the chagrin of her loyal fiance, Don Ottavio (tenor Lawrence Wiliford).

Definitely, Donna Elvira (soprano Peggy Kriha Dye) remembers him with something more than fondness, despite the fact that the Don has had his wicked way with her and cast her aside. And certainly, the luscious young Zerlina (soprano Carla Huhtanen) can appreciate his charms, despite the fact that she’s about to be married to the loving and lovable Massetto (played by Sullivan as well) when she catches the Don’s eye and becomes his most recent prey. All of this, of course, means great fun for the Don, even while it drives his long-suffering manservant, Leporello (baritone Vasil Garvanliev) to distraction — until finally, the hell-raising Don gets his otherworldly comeuppance and meets a fate that has seemingly been cast in stone.

It’s not always easy to stage, of course. In Lorenzo de Ponte’s libretto, elements of opera buffa and opera seria are blended in such seemingly haphazard fashion that many directors have been known to get so caught up in the shifts in tone that they’ve done themselves and their productions serious harm. Pynkoski, however, simply goes for the comedy, and sails right over the opera’s darker motifs, aided at every turn by the excellence and commitment of his cast.

Taken individually, both Addis’ and Garvanliev’s performances are strong, but the measure of their excellence is in their scenes together — and while Huhtanen, Dye and Sullivan all prove equally adept at meeting the comedic demands of the script, the entire cast truly shines in facing the complex demands of Mozart’s score — a score that offers a wonderful range of duets and arias to showcase their talents. Meanwhile, conductor Stefano Montanari finds the pulse of Tafelmusik’s talented musicians and cranks it up for maximum effect, creating a Don that is nothing short of delightful.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

27 OCT/11

R: 3.5/5

TORONTO - In a world of televangelism and partisan politics, we’ve become so inured to those who insist on preaching to the converted that we almost expect it. And we can all list a number of folks who are guilty of the crime.

But now, it seems, the converted are starting to preach right back. Although “preaching” isn’t really the right world for what Yisrael Campbell (or Christopher Campbell, as he was christened in his infancy) is doing in a show he’s brought from New York to Toronto at the invitation of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre.

The show, which opened a limited run at the Jane Mallett Theatre Wednesday, is titled CIRCUMCISE ME! and, while it deals with Campbell’s long and often funny journey from booze-and-drug addled lapsed Catholic to devout Orthodox Jew and family man, there is little in the way of proselytizing involved. Instead, it emerges as one man’s journey into faith — a journey that started, Campbell suggests, when he was introduced to a little book called Exodus, a book that left the already unhappy (and clearly botanically challenged) youth dreaming of moving to Israel and “digging avocados out of the desert.”
Instead, he moved to Florida, having, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, kicked a major substance abuse problem before he was out of high school. From there, he seems to have followed the path of least resistance, which led him inevitably to Los Angeles and put him on a collision course with Judaism.

Mind you, as he tells it, he pretty much had to throw himself in front of the truck to make that collision happen — but after taking a course in the fundamentals of the religion, he was curious enough about it that he began to explore the possibilities of becoming a Jew himself. Conversion proved a complex affair, requiring him, first of all, to answer five basic and fundamental questions that required a good deal of soul searching, then progressed through the mikveh, a ritual bath and other requirements.

Inevitably, there was the question of circumcision, perhaps the most enduring manifestation of the Jewish people’s covenant with their God — and, not entirely coincidentally, a surgical procedure the mere mention of which can induce pallor and sweating in most grown men. On the plus side, Campbell, like many men of a certain age, had endured the procedure as an infant, which meant he could get by with a (relatively) simple bit of ritual bloodletting in the same area as opposed to the full monty as it were.

But while most of us can appreciate the difference between simply nicking a finger and slicing off the end of one, it was nonetheless a procedure Campbell endured not once but twice as he continually upped his commitment to Judaism, progressing from the Reformed branch to the Conservative before finally coming to rest in the Orthodox branch after he had relocated to Jerusalem. Along the way, he married his Talmud teacher, became a father and found personal peace and a strong sense of community, without ever losing his delightful sense of humour.

Directed by Sam Gold, with a video design by Aaron Rhyne that is either highly arty or simply badly focused — depending on one’s point of view — CIRCUMCISE ME! never stoops to preaching to the unconverted, even while it emerges as a bit of an inside joke on occasion. But if one listens very carefully, one hears overtones of a universal tale — one that involves faith, to be certain, but also talks meaningfully and with gentle wit about the value of personal struggle and the healing powers of belonging.

26 OCT/11

R: 4/5
Pictured: Sahr Ngaujah (centre)

TORONTO - Not surprisingly, the phrase “the hardest working man in show business” yields results in the multi-millions when Googled.

The real surprise however is that the name Sahr Ngaujah isn’t at the very top of the queue, for as anyone who has seen the touring production of FELA! — currently playing in a limited run through Nov. 6 at the Canon Theatre — can tell you, Ngaujah generates enough electricity in his performance in FELA!’s title role to light up the theatre, with more than enough left over to brighten the long road home.

For the uninitiated, FELA! is an extraordinary piece of musical theatre about the life of an extraordinary musician, specifically one Fela Anikulapa-Kuti (better known as simply Fela), the Nigerian-born father of what has become known as the Afro-beat, a distillation of traditional Yoruba music, blended with influences as diverse as jazz, funk and even chanting. But though FELA! features a compelling sampling of the artist’s music, it aims to dig a little deeper than the music — and, as often as not, it succeeds in a truly impressive fashion.

With a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones (who also directed and earned a much-deserved Tony for his choreography), FELA! is set in The Shrine — Fela’s performance home in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late 1970s. It is not, however, your standard-issue nightclub, located as it is in a seamy part of town and surrounded by soldiers assigned to keep an eye on the musician and his followers.

And though Fela dismisses those soldiers as mere mosquitoes, he’s recently learned the power of their sting, when, under orders from a corrupt government, they swarmed The Shrine and murdered his mother — an internationally recognized feminist and thinker played in flashback by a stately Melanie Marshall. It is not his first encounter with the authorities — but the death of his beloved mother has led him to believe that it is time to move on. So, when he hits the stage, Fela announces this will be his final show and that he will be leaving Nigeria — but first, he must consult the ancestors.

What follows is part history lesson, part music lesson and all party, as Ngaujah and a high energy cast recreate a night at The Shrine, filling the space with music, memories and a range of high energy dance that is certain to amaze anyone not familiar with Jones’ breathtaking gifts as a dancemaker. They also fill it with blazing colour, courtesy of designer Marina Draghici (who along with sound designer Robert Kaplowitz claimed two more Tonys for the show) and lighting designer Robert Wierzel.

Along the way, they touch lightly but tellingly on the minutia of Fela’s life, referencing a range of topics from his Christian forefathers through to his drug habits and his embrace of bigamy — he would amass 27 wives before giving up on the institution. Fela! even explores his political beliefs, underlining at the same time, with songs like Zombie, the whole notion that it is the role of the artist to expose problems, not solve them.

But mostly, FELA! is a celebration of the man and his music and while it eventually gets a little bogged down in the supernatural before abandoning either its hero or its audience — depending on one’s point of view — it remains a celebration you shouldn’t miss. This is a most happy FELA! indeed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Soulpepper announces new season;
Stratford's Twelfth Night to be filmed

25 OCT/11


Albert Schultz has broken out an impressive 12-pack to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Soulpepper Theatre — an even dozen plays to showcase not just the established talents in his company, but some of its new faces as well.

In fact, the show Soulpepper's founding artistic director has chosen to launch the new season and a new year — Ins Choi's Fringe hit, Kim's Convenience — was not only written by a member of the Soulpepper Academy, but will be directed by another (Weyni Mengesha) and feature designs and lighting by two others — Ken MacKenzie and Lorenzo Savoini, respectively.

It will be followed in February by a new production of Lee MacDougall's High Life, which premiered back in 1996. Directed by Stuart Hughes, casting will include Oliver Dennis, Diego Matamoros and Mike Ross.

February will also see director Diana Leblanc revisit Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, which she turned into the toast of Stratford's 1994 season. This time out, Leblanc will be working with a cast that includes Evan Buliung, Nancy Palk, Gregory Prest and Joseph Ziegler.

Ziegler and Palk will be front and centre again in April, as Soulpepper tackles Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You. This time out, Zeigler will direct, while Palk joins Derek Boyes, Eric Peterson and Krystin Pellerin in the cast. Come May, Schultz himself will direct David Story's Home, with casting to be announced.

Meanwhile, four productions will open at the Young Centre next July, with David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow kicking off the summer in a production directed by David Storch, starring Ari Cohen, Jordan Pettle and Sarah Wilson. It will run in rep with a production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, directed by Ted Dykstra, starring Peterson, Pettle and Kenneth Welsh.

The other two shows launching in July are Mikhail Bulgakov's The Royal Comedians (directed by Laszlo Marton and starring Matamoros, Prest and William Webster) and Arthur Miller's The Crucible (directed by Schultz and starring Hughes, Ziegler and Patricia Fagan).

Soulpepper slides into fall with a revival of their acclaimed 2010 production of Miller's Death of a Salesman, reuniting most of the original cast — Ross will take over the role of Happy, originally played by Tim Campbell — under Schultz's direction.

And finally, before they wrap up the year with Michael Shamata's evergreen production of A Christmas Carol, once again starring Ziegler, Soulpepper will feature a new production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame, starring Ziegler and Matamoros, working under the direction of Daniel Brooks, who directed an earlier SP production of the play in 1999, which also starred Matamoros.

While Schultz is particularly exited by two of the summer offerings — The Crucible and The Royal Comedians, both of which view politics through a prism of historical allegory, he's also pretty stoked, it seems, about Kim's Convenience, which he admits moves the company much closer to premiering new and original work. "This has always been the plan," he insists, "But the idea was to carve out a niche first — to become a classical repertory company."

With that accomplished to his satisfaction, he's now launching a four-part new play development project which will make Kim's Convenience the start of a bigger vision, that will eventually yield five commissioned works over the next several years "about specific communities in our city," Schultz says.

Current Soulpepper subscribers can renew today, whil new subscribers will have to wait until Nov. 15. For rates and info, call 416-866-8666 or visit


The Stratford Festival’s production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by artistic director Des McAnuff, will be the latest Fest production to be captured on film for future broadcast.

Filming of the about-to-close production is already underway and according toTuesday’s announcement the finished product, produced and directed by Barry Avrich (who also produced earlier films of Festival productions of Caesar and Cleopatra and The Tempest) is slated to be screened across Canada sometime in 2012.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

MICHAEL JACKSON: The Immortal World Tour

22 OCT/11

R: 3.5/5

Considering the maelstrom of publicity, both bad and good, that was the life of the late pop sensation Michael Jackson, it is ironic — oddly fitting, but ironic nonetheless — that in death, Jackson's memory is being honoured with, of all things, a circus.

Not just any circus, mind you. When it comes to paying tribute to the King of Pop, only the king of circuses will do. And in today's world, even though pretenders abound, few would argue that the crown of the circus world still sits securely on the brow of the Quebec-based international phenom, Cirque Du Soleil. So it is that Cirque last month launched its latest big-budget, big-everything stadium show titled Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, which pulled into Toronto's Air Canada Centre on Friday for a weekend run that ends Sunday.

And while there may be more than a degree of irony in the fact that Jackson's life is being commemorated with a circus, the show itself turns out to be a largely irony-free zone. Director Jamie King and his cast and crew focus all of Cirque's considerable genius on how best to conjure the myth, the man and his music — without inadvertently opening any portals into the much-publicized darker side of a man finally and tragically consumed by fame. But despite their best efforts, it remains an affair both haunted — in this case, by design, with a (speaking of irony) white-faced mime evoking Jackson's spirit throughout the show — and haunting, as the news from Dr. Conrad Murray's trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Jackson features prominently in the nightly news.

It is also, even by Cirque standards, a bit of an extravaganza. It mixes the very latest in stage technology with a few breathtaking feats of physical skill and precision — not to mention more than enough moonwalking and crotch grabbing to put both NASA and a passel of andrologists out of business. There is also, as is to be expected, a lot of music — all of it Jackson's, from his earliest days with the Jackson Five right through to the too-early end of his career. Sometimes it is served up under the musical direction of Greg Philliganes, featuring a strong musical ensemble. At others, it is delivered by Jackson himself, appearing posthumously on giant video screens woven into a modified thrust stage that allows Immortal to combine elements of both thrust and proscenium staging in such a way that it becomes impossible to focus attention on any one element of the show.
Woven into the fabric of musical memories that includes everything from I'll Be There to Billie Jean, Thriller and Beat It are a series of often jaw-dropping effects and circus routines. Not all of it is new, but impressive nonetheless.

But while the never-ending parade of giant puppets, robots, living statues, ghouls and ghost-like animal heads certainly add up to something visually engaging, some of the circus routines feel more imposed than integrated into Immortal's warp and weave. While the synchronized tumblers featured near the end of the show certainly seem a logical extension of the kind of coordinated movement Jackson espoused, the pole routine performed by the diminutive and supple Anna Melnikova simply doesn't fly, from a contextual point of view, even while it soars.

Finally, however, Immortal's creators simply over-reach themselves, not content to simply celebrate the talents of a very talented man. As their show assumes more and more of a messianic fervour, using images of Gandhi and Mother Theresa, it feels less and less like a tribute, and more and more like a revival meeting. That's a kind of Immortal that's tough to swallow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

THEATRE NEWS: More Stratford prods set for 2012
18 OCT/11


TORONTO - The Stratford Festival has put some more flesh on the bones of the 2012 season announced earlier this summer. According to announcements made Tuesday, the roster for the fest’s 60th season reads as follows:

After an impressive turn as Lenny in The Homecoming, Aaron Krohn returns to the Festival stage, tackling the title role of Henry V, joining Ben Carlson, Juan Chioran, Deborah Hay, Lucy Peacock and Tom Rooney in a production helmed by artistic director Des McAnuff.

Veteran thesp Geraint Wyn Davies assumes the title role in Antoni Cimolino’s production of Cymbeline, joined by Ian Lake, Cara Ricketts, E. B. Smith, John Vickery, Tom McCamus and Mike Shara.

Yanna McIntosh plays the title role in Elektra, under the direction of Thomas Moschopoulos, heading a cast that also includes Peter Hutt, Laura Condlin, Seana McKenna and Lake.

Condlin is also cast in Chris Abraham’s production of The Matchmaker, opposite McCamus, McKenna, Shara, Ricketts and Wyn Davies in a cast that also includes Sky Brandon and Andrea Runge.

Richard Binsley, Bethany Jillard, Gareth Potter and Tyrone Savage are cast in Christopher Newton’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, joining James Blendick, Carlson, Hay and Chioran.

Stephen Patterson joins the cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, along with Erica Peck, Ken James Stewart, Andrew Broderick, Amy Wallis and Kevin Yee, under the direction of Donna Feore.

Sean Arbuckle and Wallis team up with Kyle Blair and Steve Ross in Ethan McSweeny’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, while Arbuckle and Naomi Costain will play opposite Cynthia Dale in Garry Griffin’s production of 42nd Street.

John Beale joins the playwright in the world première of Daniel MacIvor’s The Best Brothers, under the direction of Dean Gabourie, while Robin Hutton, Randy Hughson, Peacock and Rooney will tackle Wanderlust, written and directed by Morris Panych.

Monday, October 17, 2011


17 OCT/11

QMI Agency
R: 5/5

Pictured: Sarah Orenstein, Jonathan Wilson

TORONTO - Imagine a snowflake trying to warn of an impending avalanche — or more appropriately, a single salt water tear attempting to raise the alarm in the encroaching waves of a killer tsunami.

That’s how activist-turned-playwright Larry Kramer must have seen himself in the early ’80s as gay men, his friends and lovers, started dying from a mysterious ailment in New York. In response, Kramer started the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which would go on to become one of the leaders in the fight against a disease we now know as AIDS. But in the process, the incandescent Kramer would alienate so many, both straight and gay, that he would be forced out of the organization he founded, just as it was beginning to have an effect.

Kramer’s struggle is documented in his 1985 play, THE NORMAL HEART, a thinly disguised autobiography initially dismissed by some as self-serving and polemical, even while it enjoyed significant success. A quarter of a century on, it certainly seems a lot less so, in a new production that opened Sunday at Buddies in Bad Times, a production of Studio 180 in association with BIBT.

Presented in the round, under the direction of Joel Greenberg, THE NORMAL HEART starts quietly, but quickly moves into edgy territory as Kramer’s doppelganger — a gay writer by the name of Ned Weeks (Jonathan Wilson) drops by a clinic run by Dr. Emma Brookner (Sarah Orenstein) to discuss a recent wave of unexplained deaths within the New York gay community. The year is 1981.

What he learns from the doctor, (aside from, in Sunday’s opening, that Mom was right about never leaving home without clean underwear), coupled with his own concerns about the promiscuity within the recently liberated gay community compels Weeks to attempt to try to raise a meaningful call to arms. But while his concern about the rising tide of illness and death proves him prescient, it also puts him at odds, when coupled with his confrontational nature, with pretty much everyone with whom he comes into contact.

And as the numbers increase, so does his frustration with the apathy within the gay community and the antipathy in the broader community. His war with the establishment, represented off-stage by then-New York mayor, Edward Koch, and onstage by his lawyer brother (played by John Bourgeois), and with his fellow gays (Paul Essiembre as the closeted Bruce Niles, Ryan Kelly as Mickey Marcus and Jonathan Seinen as Tommy Boatwright) escalates at just about the same rate as his new relationship with journalist Felix Turner, played by Jeff Miller. Not surprisingly, tragedy — personal, interpersonal and finally, global — ensues.

Greenberg has once again created a strong ensemble that includes Mark Crawford and Mark McGrinder in a handful of supporting roles. Sure, one might quibble with individual performances — the talented but ever-affable Wilson makes Weeks’ most vicious tirades almost charming, further unbalancing a script that even the playwright might admit is already self-serving.

But taken as a whole, this is a stellar company, capable of sifting through the statistics and the polemic that Kramer packs into his script and shaping it into something that feels awfully close to living history. Which is, of course, what it is. In its documentation of the early shift that carried the gay community out from a hidden role within society that was almost exclusively social/sexual into an active and activist mainstream role, THE NORMAL HEART could be considered a sort of gay Birth of a Nation. But most of all, it is just damn good theatre — the kind that can still drive you to fury even while every normal heart in the joint is clearly breaking.

THEATRE NEWS: Dancap promises 8 Toronto prods, more across Canada
17 OCT/11


TORONTO - Dancap isn’t only expanding — it’s spreading out as well.

The upstart Toronto commercial theatre company headed by impresario Aubrey Dan announced an unprecedented eight-show 2012 season Monday at the Four Seasons Centre — a season that will also see the company throw its hat into the theatre scene in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Saskatoon.

According to Dan, the company’s Toronto season, with shows slated for the stages of the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Four Seasons Centre and the Sony Centre, is slated to kick off in late December with the previously announced Canadian première of Green Day’s American Idiot at the Toronto Centre — a production that will launch the ground-breaking punk musical’s North American tour. Dan also announced that three Canadians have been cast in the show, with Jake Epstein tackling the role of Will the slacker, while Gabriel Antonacci and Talia Aaron are slated to appear as part of the chorus.

Next up on the stage of the Toronto Centre will be the Tony Award-winning In the Heights, to be followed by a touring production of Shrek The Musical in March, which will surrender the stage to the touring company of Broadway’s latest incarnation of the classic West Side Story in May.

July brings dueling Dancap musical offerings with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast holding court at the Four Seasons Centre, while Million Dollar Quartet, featuring the music of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, shakes things up at the Toronto Centre.

Dancap’s new season will also include two bonus offerings: The previously announced world première of the Broadway-bound Prince of Broadway next summer at the Four Seasons, and a musical stage version of the iconic 1983 cult classic movie A Christmas Story slated to take over the Sony Centre in December of 2012.

Prince of Broadway, of course, is a retrospective of the musical theatre career of legendary Broadway producer and director Hal Prince, who was on hand for Monday’s announcement. “It would appear that I’m ready to have something biographical done,” the nearly 84-year-old Prince quipped before revealing that, in addition to choreographer Susan Stroman, who will co-direct with Prince, the creative team will include composer Jason Robert Brown and designers Jerome Sirlin and William Ivy Long.

Prince says he will be working with a high-octane cast of 12 (to be announced later) and an orchestra of 20 or more in what he describes as “a history of what Broadway has meant to me and what I’ve done on Broadway.” Which, as his 21 Tony Awards might attest, covers a lot of territory, from West Side Story to Kiss of the Spider Woman — an almost magical career that spans 57 years. “That’s a long time to be working in the theatre,” Prince reflects, “And to be welcome in the theatre — most of the time.”

Dancap is offering three different subscription levels for the 2012 season as well as tickets for the two remaining shows in their 2011 season — The Addams Family and Memphis: The Musical. Call 416-640-0172 or visit for further information.
Dancap is broadening its theatrical horizons. And while they may not yet reach from sea to sea, they will now stretch at least from sea to shining seaway. First off, Dancap is preparing to test the theatrical waters in la belle province next spring when it brings the touring company of Shrek The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2009, to Montreal’s Place des Arts from March 13-18. Later in the year, Dancap turns its gaze westward as the touring company of Jersey Boys moves into the Jubilee Auditoriums in Calgary (June 28-July 15) and Edmonton (Aug. 15-Sept. 2) before moving on to Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Sept. 5-23) and Saskatoon’s TCU Place (Sept 26-Oct. 13),

Sunday, October 16, 2011

16 OCT/11

R: 3.5/5
Pictured: Gregory Prest, Nancy Palk

TORONTO - If his reputation had depended solely on the play GHOSTS, one suspects playwright Henrik Ibsen wouldn’t figure as prominently in the classical theatre canon as he does. For while at its heart GHOSTS confronts the same hidebound social hypocrisy that brings drama to works like Hedda Gabbler and A Doll’s House, as a play it relies so heavily on theatrical coincidence that in the end it all but collapses under the weight of the chickens that the playwright brings home to roost. That said, it is, one suspects, a slightly better work than what Soulpepper’s new production suggests. Adapted and directed by Morris Panych, GHOSTS opened at the Young Centre Friday.

Set in the library of an upscale Norwegian country home late in the 19th century, the play opens as preparations are being completed for the dedication of a new orphanage, built to honour the memory of the late Captain Alving, whose widow, played by Nancy Palk, occupies the home in which the play is set.

Those preparations are, of course, foremost in the mind of Regine, the young woman Mrs, Alving has plucked from squalor and turned into her housekeeper/companion, and the ambitious young woman is less than thrilled when her drunken father (Diego Matamoros) drops by, determined to lure her away from her comfortable life with the widow Alving. And though Regine quickly dispatches her unwelcome visitor, she finds her father’s pleas echoed by the upright Pastor Manders (Joe Ziegler), who, as financial advisor to the widow Alving, has dropped by to go over some final details, including insurance, before the new orphanage is dedicated.

Discussions between the good widow and the pastor are interrupted by the widow’s grown son, Oswald, played by Gregory Prest, who has returned to his backwater home for the dedication of his father’s memorial, having spent the last several years abroad earning a considerable reputation as an artist. But all is not as it initially seems in this seemingly tranquil house, and slowly the secrets that have too long been tucked away begin to break loose, shaking the very foundations not only of this family, but of society itself, as the festering results of spousal abuse, alcoholism, rape and even venereal disease are made manifest, with increasingly tragic results.

Working on an imposing set designed by Ken MacDonald, its numerous nooks and crannies evocatively lit by Alan Brodie, Panych attempts to make the most of this high octane cast. And while there are moments of Ibsen-eque clarity scattered throughout, in the main the interaction never quite manages to strike the right note to carry things off, undone sometimes by miscasting, at others by a translation that slips too often into contemporary argot.

Though he gives it his best effort, the normally spot-on Ziegler fails to find the right note of religious zealotry and self-satisfaction in his portrayal of the chauvinistic Manders, a problem further exacerbated by Palk’s determination to pack as much sub-text into her performance as possible. And while Prest makes an impressive, if somewhat healthy showing as the troubled Oswald, Michelle Monteith’s primly buttoned-up Regine never manifests for the audience that powerful life force which so impresses the other characters in the play.

In the end, it all adds up to a production that falls squarely into the middle range of adequate, admittedly affording a few opportunities to catch glimpses of the genius that would make Ibsen great but rarely, if ever, striking those notes that might haunt an audience after the curtain falls.

Friday, October 14, 2011

14 OCT'11

R: 3.5/5
Pictured: Rick Miller

TORONTO - When it first premiered at the Berkeley Street Theatre back in ’09, Rick Miller’s HARDSELL was frankly a bit of a tough sell too — a sprawling, often unfocused look at consumerism that suggested, forcefully and none-too-tidily, that humankind might be hardwired for excess and further, that sooner or later, in a society driven by voracious consumption, the consumer must inevitably become the consumed.

Now, two years on, HARDSELL is back on a Toronto stage, completing a three part celebration of Miller’s work that has already embraced revivals of his MacHomer and Bigger Than Jesus, launching the Factory Theatre’s mainstage season. A reworked HARDSELL, produced by WYRD and Necessary Angel, opened a limited run there Friday, where it will play through through Oct. 23.

And while it is clearly a work on which Miller and director Daniel Brooks have lavished a lot of attention in the past two years, one suspects HARDSELL has benefited as much from changing public attitudes as it has from any adjustments its admittedly talented co-creators have made to it. While Brooks and Miller have tightened Miller’s one-man, two-points-of-view rant to pull things into focus, it is still a seat-of-the-pants affair that has its audience pondering the possibility it’s going to go off the rails as often as it has them pondering the seeming inevitability we are buying ourselves into oblivion. But this is an audience far different from only two years ago, thanks to shifts in the public consciousness that have shaken many out of a torpor of self-indulgence long enough to start demanding change, no matter how small. In a world juggling the demands of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, HARDSELL could well become a rallying point for both.

That’s thanks largely to Miller’s skill at playing two characters: Himself — an in-demand, articulate and socially conscious actor determined to at least try to do the right thing — and his own evil-twin Arnie, a cynic who not only embraces the notion we are all headed for hell in a handbasket but thinks it’s going to be a fun ride to boot. Fittingly, it all starts pre-show in the lobby, with Miller (as Miller) hocking a range of artwork, CDs and the like, which of course positions him to launch seamlessly into the show as a natural extension of what he’s been doing.

As Himself, he gives a bit of a personal history that, while it manages to be simultaneously self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing, also underscores just how hard it is to be socially conscious in a modern world where even his show’s sponsor has an questionable environmental track record. Cue Arnie, who takes over Rick’s body and after making it up to resemble some sort of latter-day Joker, takes over the show as well, leading his audience on a dizzying descent into the corporate hell of capitalism, aided and abetted not only by the latest in stage technology — he even uses a microwave to zap one particularly maddening cultural icon — but by a compendium of modern day philosophers and self-help gurus, whose words are used to drive things home.

Miller, ultimately restored to control of his show, seems to have trouble articulating just what it is HARDSELL is trying to say. But an ever-growing number of people, one suspects, will agree he’s said it very well indeed. For in the end, while HARDSELL acknowledges our economic and societal future seems pretty bleak, it arrives at a conclusion many embrace today, mainly that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness — even when you’re worried about the carbon footprint of the candle.

DANCE NEWS: NBOC posts surplus
13 OCT/11


TORONTO - The artists of the National Ballet of Canada can dance into the company’s Diamond Anniversary season next month feeling as good as gold, it seems, based on figures announced Thursday at the company’s annual general meeting.

To complete her term as NBOC board chairman, Lucille Joseph was able to announce a surplus on a 2010 season that saw revenues reach $26,842,000, against expenses of $26,793,000. The resulting surplus of $49,000 reduces the company’s accumulated deficit – which two years ago sat at $694,000 – to $243,000.

Artistic director Karen Kain talked of the thrill of launching new works like Chroma, Russian Seasons and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland during the last season. “All these works were important in themselves,” she said, but staging them has also laid the groundwork for working with all of these extraordinary artists on future ballets, the first of which we will see realized this November with Alexei (Ratmansky)’s new Romeo and Juliet (opening at the Four Seasons Nov. 16 to launch the company’s 60th season).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


12 OCT/11

R: 4/5
Pictured: Julian Richings

TORONTO - It’s the reason my late grandmother always planted yellow roses by her front door, believing as she did that yellow roses spoke of friendship. She was informed by a very Victorian ethos, wherein flowers had become a language all their own. But as any visual artist will tell you, colour also has a language all its own. And so, at least, in our house, yellow became the colour of friendship.

A more in-depth study of language of colour is at the heart of an unusual but compelling evening of theatre that opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre Tuesday night, produced by Art of Time Ensemble, in association with Canadian Stage. I Send You This Cadmium Red is rooted in an ongoing real-life correspondence between two multi-talented artists, both of whom happened to be painters — specifically novelist John Berger and filmmaker John Christie. It was, however, a very specific kind of correspondence, as each of these highly articulate men took turns meditating on the hugely personal language of colour.

Their riveting correspondence, which spanned two years, was later collected and published in book form, which then became the inspiration for a radio piece commissioned for the BBC. It was at that point that a third artist became involved in their conversation, specifically composer Gavin Bryars, who, in an unobtrusive score, seemed to join these two very fluent men in their reflections to make their words and their colours take wing.

Now yet another artist has added his perspective to the ever-expanding prism of their discussion, with theatre director Daniel Brooks transforming the radio play into a piece of theatre that adds further depth and dimension to the conversation. With Julian Richings giving voice to Berger’s musings and John Fitzgerald Jay voicing those of Christie, Brooks creates an evening of intimate theatre, buoyed and underscored by the Bryars’ music, performed by four musicians under the direction of AOT’s Andrew Burashko.

It is, in its way, an evening of deep passion, as two very talented actors bring life not only to the words these men use to express their deeply held beliefs but to their friendship as well. One feels the affection of long association, implicit in the trust with which they communicate reflections both highly personal and deeply considered. Meanwhile, Bryars’ music fuses with designer Bruce Alcock’s imagery and the lighting of Glenn Davidson to cocoon the proceedings in such a way that the audience is cast, in the best possible way, as eavesdroppers on a conversation of deep artistic intimacy. Clocking in as it does at a mere 40 minutes, I Send You isn’t really a stand-alone theatre piece, despite everyone’s best efforts.

So Burashko, known for forging musical keys to unlock the world of theatre, has paired it with a work of dance set to yet another composition by Bryars — an almost hypnotic piece titled Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Presented in collaboration with Coleman Lemieux & Company, Soudain l’hiver dernier is choreographed by James Kudelka as a work for two dancers — Michael Sean Marye and Luke Garwood (who danced it on opening night), alternating with Ryan Boorne and Andrew Giday.

And while Soudain initially feels like a religious meditation, thanks to the lyrical background loop, it evolves into a touching portrait of intimate friendship, with each dancer taking a turn as the supporter or the supported, each movement linked by deep trust. Together, they make for a compelling, thought-provoking evening for anyone prepared to sit quietly and listen to what colour has to say.

THEATRE NEWS: NAC's Hinton leaving post in 2012
12 OCT/11


TORONTO - Peter Hinton, credited by many with revitalizing the English Theatre program at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, is stepping down as the NAC’s artistic director of English theatre, effective August, 2012.

Hinton’s departure was announced Wednesday by Peter Herndorf, NAC President and CEO, who praised Hinton’s abilities as both a builder and a mentor. “We will miss his passionate commitment to artists and to his audience,” Herndorf said. Hinton will program the NAC’s 2012-13 season of English theatre, prior to his departure.

THEATRE NEWS: GG's Literary Awards finalists; Mirvish/Mackintosh cast Les Miz for 2012
12 OCT/11


The finalists for the 75th anniversary edition of the Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced, chosen from a slate of 1,684 eligible books.

English language fiction finalists include David Bezmozgis's The Free World, Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues: A Novel, Marina Endicott's The Little Shadows, Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers and Alexi Zentner's Touch.

In English language non-fiction, finalists include Charles Foran's Mordecai: The Life And Times, Nathan M. Greenfield's The Damned: The Canadians at the Battle of Hong Kong and the POW Experience, 1941-45, Richard Gwyn's Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald; His Life, Our Times, Volume Two: 1867-1891, J.J. Lee's The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit, and Andrew Nikiforuk's Empire of the Beetle: How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug Are Killing North America's Great Forests.

In English language drama, the finalists include Brendan Gall's Minor Complications: Two Plays, Jonathan Garfinkel's House of Many Tongues, Erin Shield's If We Were Birds, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard's Gas Girls and Vern Thiessen's Lenin's Embalmers.

For a complete list of nominees in all categories, including French language fiction, non-fiction and drama as well as French and English poetry, translation and children's literature, text and illustration, visit

Winners in all categories will be announced Nov. 15,and awards will be presented by Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at ceremonies at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Nov. 24. Each winner receives a cash purse of $25,000.


It's not slated to open 'til next summer, but David Mirvish and Cameron Mackintosh have already begun the casting process for their Canadian 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables. All those interested in auditioning are asked to send a photo and resume, as well as a voice demo, if available, to Les Miserables Casting, 62 Ellerbeck St., Toronto, ON, M4K 2V1.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


8 OCT/11

R: 4/5
Pictured: James Gangl

In a world where personal ads long ago morphed into internet dating, and where people still search for new and more effective ways to connect on the most primal level, writer/performer James Gangl may have stumbled onto the next big thing when it comes to hooking up — a sustained stand-up routine about his struggle to get down and dirty.

But even if it succeeds, don’t look for it to change the face of theatre as we know it. While Gangl’s bright idea has the potential to leave him making out like a bandit, anyone familiar with the ADD effect that massive infusions of testosterone can have on the XY chromosome will know that conventional theatre is probably pretty safe, considering the work that’s been poured into this. 
Gangl’s show — more of an illuminated monologue, really — is called SEX, RELIGION AND OTHER HANG-UPS and, in the wake of outstanding success at this past summer’s Fringe Festival in Toronto, it opened a commercial run Thursday on the stage of Theatre Passe Muraille, where it is slated to play through Oct. 22.

At its most basic, SRAOH is a 75-minute personal ad, in which Gangl rather unconventionally attempts to further his ongoing search for Ms. Right by documenting what proves to be a rather uneventful sexual history for a man whose 20s can only be glimpsed in the rear-view mirror. 
But then, Gangl was apparently something of a late bloomer, a condition he blames on a rather passionate attachment to the tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. In his case, it was an attachment manifested by an intimate knowledge of the church’s pantheon of saints, and by a certain ambivalence toward what have come to be known in polite circles as sins of the flesh — at least those involving other people.

After setting the scene with some charmingly self-effacing chatter, Gangl’s monologue really starts to cook when the aspiring young actor, then in his mid-20s, finds himself cast in a beer commercial that involved three other young men, and three very beautiful young women, one of whom instantly captured his attention.
 Their ill-fated romance begins with an evening of pharmaceutically enhanced conversation, and from there, progresses slowly and painfully as the still socially inept young man overcomes a lifetime’s collection of inhibitions, a penchant for bad poetry and a condition best described as a holy Tourette’s syndrome.

In all, it’s pretty innocent stuff that in today’s world rarely, if ever, crosses that invisible and ever-shifting line that separates the merely risque from the truly rank. In fact, it all comes out as a sort of modern boys’ own version of a Jane Austen novel, ending with something a little more physically engaging than a mere kiss. It’s a story where candour passes for insight, proving conclusively the truth in the old axiom that tragedy plus time equals comedy.

Under the direction of Chris Gibbs, with C.J. Astronomo at the lighting board, Gangl pulls out all the stops, and he turns in a sure-footed comedic performance, rendered even more compelling by a loopy charm and an “everyman” face (to match his walk, it seems). His performance is almost certain to catch attention from the young women in his audience, without threatening the males, many of whom will recognize their own hang-ups in his story.
Like a lot of made-for-the-Fringe offerings, it may not be great theatre, but it is nonetheless, a pretty good time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

5 OCT/11

R: 4/5
Pictured: David Jansen

Beauty may indeed be only skin deep — but that is small comfort indeed for the esthetically deprived living in our shallow world. Rather than brood on our society’s preoccupation with pretty, however, both the beautiful people and their esthetically challenged kin can now laugh, if not at their own reflections, then at the reflections of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg.
Those reflections are all wrapped up in a bleakly funny play called THE UGLY ONE, currently playing in Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space where it opened Tuesday in a production by Theatre Smash.

As translated by Maja Zade, THE UGLY ONE tells the story of the unfortunate Lette (played by David Jansen), a man so physically repulsive that even his loving wife (Naomi Wright) can only bear to look him in his left eye and kiss his shoulder, rather than his lips. Still, Lette has managed to remain oblivious to his facial shortcomings — until his boss (played by Hardee T. Lineham), in an attempt to sell one of Lette’s inventions, assigns Lette’s better-looking underling (Jesse Aaron Dwyre) to be the front man.

Shattered by the revelation that his co-workers and even his wife find him something far less than attractive, Lette somewhat reluctantly consigns his fate and his face to the skills of an enterprising plastic surgeon (played by Lineham) who gives him a whole new look and, along with it, a whole new outlook. As a result, Lette is soon caught up in a whole new life that involves not only undreamed-of professional success, but sexual excess as well, culminating in a torrid affair with a 73-year-old woman (Wright) and her mollycoddled son (Dwyre). But Lette’s newfound lease on the good life is threatened when he discovers the good doctor is selling the same new face to anyone with the money to buy it.

In addition to its entertainment value, THE UGLY ONE represents a major acting challenge for every single member of the four-person ensemble, most of whom are required to slip seamlessly from one character to another, often in the same scene. That said, the greatest challenge falls, not surprisingly, on Jansen, who is required to transform himself from ‘ugly’ to ‘wildly attractive’ without the prosthetic aid, despite the fact that he is, like most of us, neither.
That he is convincing in both is testament to a committed performance from a seasoned actor who clearly knows his stuff as he highlights the inner beauty of the ugly Lette then slowly revealing the growing ugliness in the remade version.

For Lineham, the opportunity to tackle two roles in one play seems to be a romp — and he tackles both the ignorant boss and the venal surgeon with glee. Meanwhile, Wright and Dwyre move back and forth between the two characters they each play with deceptive ease and grace, deploying bursts of almost panther-like sensuality with telling effect.

In the face of Camellia Koo’s all-but-overwhelming set piece — a huge table that eats up much of the available stage space in a theatre reconfigured for runway staging — director Ashlie Corcoran creates a production that permeates the entire theatre and fairly crackles with life. 
But while Corcoran does some impressive work in folding audience into production and production into audience while still milking the script for all its incisive comedy, she runs out of steam at about precisely the same time as the playwright.

As endings go, THE UGLY ONE perhaps goes just a little too far.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

THEATRE NEWS: Six in the running for Siminovitch Prize; StratFest adds a single for TWELFTH
4 OCT/11


Six Canadian playwrights have been shortlisted for the $100,000 2011 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. They are Newfoundland’s Robert Chafe, Quebec’s Jasmine Dubé and Larry Tremblay, British Columbia’s Joan MacLeod, Saskatchewan’s Mansel Robinson and Greg MacArthur, who splits his time between Quebec and Alberta.

Currently in its 11th year, the Siminovitch Prize is named in honour of Elinore and Lou Siminovitch and is awarded in annual rotation to outstanding Canadian directors, playwrights and designers. This year’s six finalists were chosen from 23 nominated playwrights and a winner, to be announced Nov. 7 in Toronto, will be chosen by a jury chaired by Maureen Labonte.

Previous winners include director Daniel Brooks, playwrights John Mighton and Daniel MacIvor and designers Dany Lyne and Ronnie Burkett.

Meanwhile, in other theatre news, the Stratford Festival has added a single performance to the run of its current production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Des McAnuff.

Tickets for the additional performance, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. in the Festival Theatre, are available at 1-800-561-1233.

Monday, October 3, 2011


3 OCT/11

QMI Agency
R: 4/5
Pictured: Lucky Onyekachi Ejim

TORONTO - If you missed it during its 2010 Luminato run, you're being offered a second chance to catch up with Volcano Theatre's acclaimed Africa Trilogy — or at least, two-thirds of it. What started out as a rich theatrical blend of the work of three playwrights and three directors, under the title of The Africa Trilogy, has been reduced to two plays by two playwrights — rechristened Another Africa — and carefully transplanted from the Fleck Dance Theatre to the stage of the Bluma Appel, still under the Volcano imprimatur, a presentation of Canadian Stage.

Initially, the two works that survived the cut — Binyavanga Wainaina's Shine Your Eye and Roland Schimmelpfennig's Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God — were to have been joined by a third. But days before last week's opening, Deborah Asiimwe's prologue, titled The Stranger, was scrapped in favour of a simple welcome performed by the entire cast.

Under the direction of Volcano's Ross Manson, Shine Your Eye remains a highly impressive work, set in the heart of a modern day Nigeria, where the interests of multi-national oil seem at constant cross-purposes with the interests of the Nigerian people. It's the story of a single girl, Gbene Beka, who is determined to make history rather than be trapped by it. As played by Dienye Waboso, she's a firecracker determined to follow her own path, despite the best efforts of either her Nigerian mentor — a player in Internet scams — or a Canadian Internet friend who wants Beka to join her in the Great White North.

As played by Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, that mentor simply wants to capitalize on the political martyrdom of Beka's father, using her as a pawn in various nefarious financial games, Meanwhile, the Canadian friend Doreen — a lesbian financier played by Ordena Stephens-Thompson — may be only slightly more altruistic in her generosity. Using a rich blend of storytelling, music and video, Manson's assured production makes it all but impossible to remain uninvested in Beka's struggle to control her.

From Nigeria, the action then moves to contemporary North American suburbia for Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God, as two clearly upwardly mobile suburbanites, played by Tony Nappo and Kristen Thomson, welcome home a pair of old college chums, played by Maev Beaty and Tom Barnett, only recently returned from seven years of hard medical service in AIDS- and war-ravaged Africa. As the reunited foursome makes nice, it becomes obvious there are cracks in every single one of the relationships the story embraces, all of which is exacerbated by the tragedy of a single African child.

While the playwright plays fast and loose with time, rewinding and fast-forwarding as he pulls his characters out of the action for more intimate monologues, Peggy Pickit offers a less than flattering look at the ongoing interventions of the Western world, questioning just how much long-term good we can accomplish.
 While it remains a powerful commentary on the cost of charity and its ultimate worth, Liesl Tommy's production seems oddly out of balance. Stepping into a part created by Jane Spidell, the normally impressive Thomson turns in a performance that quickly becomes forced and shrill, undermining Nappo's otherwise strong work and toning down the volume on fine work from Beaty and Barnett.

Still, the works that are Another Africa may not change the way you look at African issues, but they will ensure that, when you look at those issues in the future, you'll understand that the solutions aren't simple matters of black and white.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

30 SEPT/11

QMI Agency
R: 4/5

TORONTO - As a showbiz veteran, the Canadian Opera Company’s Alexander Neef clearly recognizes that it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. And having embraced that notion, he’s apparently gone on to embrace the notion that if pleasing everyone is out of the question, garnering a passionate reaction from everyone will work just about as well.

Which is precisely why, one suspects, he has engaged director Christopher Alden to mount a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s RIGOLETTO, which took to the stage of the Four Seasons on Thursday. Alden, you may recall, is the director behind the COC’s love-it-or-hate-it take on The Flying Dutchman, wherein everyone seems to be suffering from a frightful case of debilitating mal de mer. Judging from the audience reaction when Alden took his bows on opening night, this RIGOLETTO is destined to garner the same range of reactions.

Based on Victor Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse, RIGOLETTO tells the story of a hunchback jester of that name, in the court of the corrupt Duke Of Mantua. But even while Rigoletto seemingly embraces his Duke’s wastreling ways, he’s trying to protect the innocence of his motherless young daughter, Gilda, by forcing her into an all but cloistered existence. Despite his best efforts, Rigoletto’s two worlds collide with — this being opera — tragic results for daddy, and even more tragic results for his beloved daughter.

On the plus side, this production is nothing short of a musical feast, featuring a cast led by Quinn Kelsey, a magnificently expressive baritone with a face and a voice made for tragedy, sharing the title role with Lester Lynch throughout the run. There’s also impressive work from tenor Dmitri Pittas, cast as the scandalous and licentious Duke (David Lomeli shares that role). And if soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova lacks the power in the upper ranges to make a truly impressive Gilda, a role she shares with Simone Osborne, she nonetheless packs maximum innocence and pathos into her performance.

But even though the COC Orchestra, under the increasingly assured direction of Johannes Debus, leads the opera’s singers and an impressive supporting cast through Verdi’s glorious score with sure-footed ease, this is a production that seems destined to leave a lot of patrons bemused.

For even while it is all but impossible not to embrace the beauty of Michael Levine’s set — an evocation of a Victorian-era gentlemen’s club, complete with wood panelling and coffered ceiling — it is a setting that does little or nothing to evoke the Renaissance era in which the tale is set. The intention, one suspects, is to underline the fact that in a closed little world where women and people such as Rigoletto are consigned forever to the fringes, to be used and abused at will, tragedy is more or less inevitable. But that has always been apparent in the telling of this tale.

In limiting the action to the locale of the Ducal court — or nightmarish versions thereof — and ignoring Rigoletto’s attempts to create an oasis away from it, Alden strips the story of much of its shading, dimming the horror of the violation of his tragic hero’s sanctuary and the ultimate tragedy of his loss.

In short, Alden seems to have created another opera aimed squarely at those who see opera as an entertainment from the neck up. As for those who want it to be an experience that touches the heart as well, one suspects they were the audience members who booed even while they applauded, when Alden joined the line-up at the opening-night curtain call. But, as Neef has surely noticed, there was hardly anyone who wasn’t engaged.