Wednesday, February 29, 2012
THE NEVERENDING STORY
28 FEB 2012
Pictured: Adamo Ruggiero, Richard Lee
TORONTO - I’ve long suspected, on the not-so-rare occasions when politicians deride the artists and the arts, that their derision is motivated not so much by disrespect as by envy, pure and simple. After all, to rule the world, or even the smallest corner of it, a politician must either rely on brute force (which, not surprisingly often proves unpopular) or do what artists do every day — awaken the imagination of those around them. That is, of course, a subject and a theme beautifully explored in Michael Ende’s THE NEVERENDING STORY — a book that tells the story of another book, one that exists only by its power to awaken the imagination of a child.
Not surprisingly, Ende’s tale has found a broad audience in the artistic community — in the process, generating a movie back in the mid-’80s that was both memorable and successful. Now, it’s given us an appropriately inventive stageplay too, one which opened on the mainstage of Young People’s Theatre Tuesday, where it will run through March 17, with additional performances added throughout March break.
Considering the high calibre of the adaptation, it should come as no surprise to learn that it is the handiwork of David S. Craig, erstwhile artistic director of Roseneath Theatre (the show’s producers) and the imagination behind Danny, King of the Basement, which must surely rank as one of the finest pieces of theatre for young audiences Toronto has ever produced.
His tale starts in pretty contemporary fashion, as young Bastian, played by Natasha Greenblatt, prepares for school, already dreading what appears to be a regular encounter with the school bullies that plague his life. With his widowed father’s injunctions to quit being such a dreamer still ringing in his ears, young Bastian hasn’t even made it to school however, before he’s run afoul of the aforementioned bullies and is forced to take refuge in a bookstore, where, to spite the child-hating owner, he appropriates a book, which soon captures not only his attention but his imagination.
Vicariously, he shares the adventures of the heroic Atreyu (Adamo Ruggiero) and his horse (Billy Merasty) as they ride off to save the Childlike Empress (Kate Besworth) from the inexplicable malaise that is infecting her, and their world from the depredations of the Nothing, which is overtaking them all. But while young Bastian starts out as an observer, he soon discovers (as voracious young readers have since the days of Gutenberg, one suspects) that he has become part of the story that enthralls him.
In directing his own script — itself a revision of work he did in Seattle — Craig conspires with his design team (set designer Glenn Davidson, costume designer Lori Hickling and sound designer Rick Sacks) to create an alternate world that excites the imagination of a young audience while still leaving plenty of work for them to do to get involved. It’s a world of adventure, full of fanciful spiders and turtles and giants and dwarves that conspires to draw us into the story instead of simply shoving us into it.
Meanwhile, from his performers — the cast also includes Dalal Badr, Walter Borden, Richard Lee, Charlotte Moore and Derek Scott, each in a number of roles — he draws performances of the highest quality, refusing at every turn to allow anyone to talk down to his youthful audience.
In what proves to be an 85-minute treasure hunt, Craig piles on fun, creating a host of adventures, before he reveals that, on many levels, all the treasure we could ever need is stored up inside us and only needs to be unlocked so it can spill out into the world.
Monday, February 27, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
27 FEB 2012
Pictured: Gregory Prest, Evan Buliung
TORONTO - It’s the golden rule of decanting: The wine you’ve begun should never make you regret the wine you’ve finished. It’s a pretty good rule for serving up theatre too, albeit one that seems to have eluded Soulpepper’s artistic director Albert Schultz who, in the week just passed, has served up a pair of productions that only serve to make one relish the memory of earlier productions of the same plays.
The first — a resoundingly adequate production of High Life that transformed Lee MacDougall’s acclaimed black comedy from the roller coaster thrill ride it was in its première into a sedate ride on the merry-go-round. Now, he’s followed it with a lacklustre production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT that simply can’t hold a candle to the Stratford Festival’s acclaimed mid-’90s version of the same play, despite the fact that, in Diana Leblanc, the two productions share the same director. Like High Life, JOURNEY opened last week at the Young Centre, where the two plays will run in rep through the end of March.
This is a high-powered cast, at least in the Soulpepper definition, featuring real-life husband and wife (and Soulpepper founding members) Joseph Ziegler and Nancy Palk as James and Mary Tyrone. As their grown sons, Soulpepper rising star Gregory Prest plays the ailing Edmund, while Evan Buliung drops by to essay the role of the drunken Jamie. Krystin Pellerin, another Soulpepper regular, plays the long-suffering Tyrone maid, Cathleen.
As the title implies, the action here takes place over a single day, played out in the family’s ramshackle seaside summer home, where they have been recently and cautiously celebrating the matriarch’s recovery from morphine addiction. But their new-found peace is threatened by Edmund’s ill-health and a cough that can simply no longer be dismissed as a summer cold. Meanwhile, the patriarch, a fading lion of the stage, and his eldest son Jamie bicker, their rage fueled by the whiskey which they all so freely imbibe. As the lazy summer day swings out of control, old hurts, family secrets and tragic memories are aired, yet again.
Working on a superb set created by Peter Hartwell and lit by Steven Hawkins, Leblanc gets things off to a fine start as her cast claims its territory with assurance — but sadly, it doesn’t last as O’Neill’s timeless dialogue is drowned out, sometimes by sloppy diction, more often by the sound of square pegs being driven into round holes.
Off the top, while all these roles demand great actors, it simply doesn’t follow that all great actors are suited to them. For all his considerable talent, Ziegler is not right for the part of James, while Palk fails to plumb the true tragedy of Mary, content instead to recycle her jonquil scene from The Glass Menagerie. Buliung and Prest fare little better, with Prest looking far too healthy for a consumptive and Buliung stumbling into the abyss that separates playing drunk from playing a drunk.
For all its problems, Leblanc still makes it all work after a fashion and in the end, O’Neill and his masterwork carry the day. But while comparisons are indeed often odious, in cases like this they are also inevitable. And, having found nothing new to replace it, one can’t help but miss the sense of discipline and New England familial constraint that made Leblanc’s earlier production so transcendent. Despite what Thomas Wolfe had to say, perhaps it is true that you can go home again. But as this production proves — just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should.
Friday, February 24, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: SEEDS
23 FEB 2012
Pictured: Liisa Repo-Martell, Eric Peterson
TORONTO - A faith the size of a mustard seed, we are told, can move mountains. Meanwhile, a doubt the size of a canola seed might not be able to derail the goals of a multinational corporation, but it can, it seems, shake your view of the world to its very foundations and leave you pondering, in a very real sense, the meaning of life.
For proof, look no further than SEEDS, a new docu-drama by Montreal’s Annabel Soutar, currently playing at the Young Centre, where it opened Wednesday in a co-production between Crow’s Theatre and Montreal’s Porte Parole.
First, a bit of history: as a crop, canola has been around for years, although not in its present form. It started out, in fact, as rapeseed, which was grown primarily for use as an industrial lubricant, until it was transformed (and subsequently, and understandably, renamed) through the efforts of a researcher and plant breeder named Richard Downie, into the largest source of edible oil in the world. From there, it was subsequently transformed again by the manipulation of its genes, into a super-crop by the folks at Monsanto, who in making it resistant to certain pesticides, also managed to ensure higher yields for the farmers that grew it.
But where Downie had largely accomplished his part of the transformation of the crop under the aegis of various levels of government for the good of all, Monsanto’s new, improved canola was most definitely a business venture — and their efforts to protect their “invention” put them on a collision course with a Saskatchewan farmer named Percy Schmeiser.
His fight with Monsanto started when the firm found their improved genes in unlicensed plants growing on Schmeiser’s property. He claimed those plants had found their way there on their own, whereas Monsanto insisted he had somehow stolen their technology — and the ensuing dog fight made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who ruled in favour of Monsanto, while also clearing Schmeiser. But while that contretemps is the frame on which playwright Soutar stretches her canvas, what she manages to paint is a much larger picture, interspersing dramatizations of dozens of interviews with her own personal voyage into the tale, with Liisa Repo-Martell stepping into the playwright’s shoes to act as narrator.
The role of Schmeiser, meanwhile, is played (and beautifully, it might be added) by Eric Peterson, while Bruce Dinsmore, Mariah Inger, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs and Cary Lawrence team up, with a dazzling and effective disregard for race, gender and age, to bring life to a range of farmers, lawyers, scientists, reporters, publishers and holy men.
And together, under the direction of Chris Abraham, they expand the focus of the play from a balanced examination of the rights and wrongs of the conflict between a scrappy Saskatchewan farmer and multi-national conglomerate, to embrace the ethics behind the genetic engineering of crops, the dangers of untrammeled science and, finally, the meaning of life itself.
With a strong assist from set designer Julie Fox, aided and abetted at every turn by Ana Cappelluto’s lighting, Richard Feren’s sound design and Elysha Poirier’s multi-media acumen, director Abraham leads his cast confidently and sure-footedly through what in other hands could have been a dull and soporific discussion of issues, transforming it all into compelling theatre in the process.
In the end, it is, of course, still difficult to fully answer the question posed at the very top of the show: “What is Life?” But certainly, you’re likely to agree that, in this modern world, life is a lot more complicated than it’s ever been before.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: HIGH LIFE
23 FEB 2012
Pictured, L-R: Mike Ross, Michael Hanrahan,
Oliver Dennis, Diego Matamoros
TORONTO - In theatre, it’s often not so much where you’re going that counts, but rather the ride that you take to get there. All of which leads, in its way, to Soulpepper’s revival of playwright Lee MacDougall’s breakout comedy HIGH LIFE, a black-as-ink look at four drug addicts that first saw the light of stage in an acclaimed and intimate co-production of World Stage and Crow’s Theatre back in 1996, which spawned a commercial revival and a national tour.
This latest take opened Tuesday at the Young Centre under the direction of Stuart Hughes, featuring a cast that includes Diego Matamoros, Michael Hanrahan, Oliver Dennis and Mike Ross. Matamoros is cast as Dick, the group’s putative leader and the man with the plan that is going to leave them all on easy street — which, of course, to a bunch of morphine addicts like these, is in a far different part of town than most of us might recognize.
But Dick can’t pull off what he’s planned all by himself, which leads him to recruit, in order of appearance, the recently-released-from-the-slammer Bug (Hanrahan), the medically challenged Donnie (Dennis) and the smooth and youthful Billy (Ross), each of whom will bring a special skill to the caper.
Recruiting them is one thing. Keeping them from killing each other before they can rip off some bank machines in an elaborate but still crude caper, however, is quite another. It’s a task complicated at every turn by Bug — after having already participated in the ending of at least one life, he has developed a rather loose definition of what constitutes murder. And that definition could prove even more elastic, when he is forced to recall some of Donnie’s past transgressions or to consider the possibility of transgressions yet to come from the cocky young Billy, who delights in trying to pluck the stinger from the scorpion that is Bug, without drawing serious harm upon himself.
These are arguably four of the most memorably and delightfully sordid characters in the Canadian theatrical canon, operating as they do in a milieu as alien to most theatregoers as the far side of the moon. Indeed, one suspects the free-wheeling use of hypodermics on stage might have had something to do with the medical crisis that interrupted the opening night performance and from which the afflicted patron is reported to be recovering nicely.
Happily, those characters are realized in four strong performances, for all that each of the actors gets to the heart of his character in ways far different than the actors who originated the roles. And while Hughes must be credited for helping to shape those performances, he fails, finally, to fuse them into an impressive whole, thereby creating the edge-of-your-seat, waiting-for-the-grenade to explode kind of comedic tension that initially propelled HIGH LIFE into the stratosphere.
Instead of concentrating on the crazed emotional milieu in which the action occurs, he gets caught up in the setting instead, trying to gain an advantage from Lorenzo Savoini’s oddly fussy set and Steven Hawkins’ similarly overwrought lighting. Indeed, even with a cast of this calibre, Hughes even feels compelled to dress up the drug use with Paul Humphrey’s sound stylings, putting buttons on performances that frankly need none, and proving in the process that putting bells and whistles on a merry-go-round won’t turn it into a rollercoaster. It’s still an impressive ride, mind you, and it gets you where you want to go, but the ride just isn’t as thrilling as it could be.
Monday, February 20, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: BECKETT: FECK IT!
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
19 FEB 2012
Pictured: Tom Rooney, Michal Grzejszczak
It’s not quite as explosive a notion as the blending of nitro and glycerin, perhaps, but when the artists who make up the Queen Of Puddings Music Theatre Company decided to try combining the works of one of Ireland’s best known modern playwrights with music his work has inspired and the poetry of his homeland, it was clearly an idea with a theatrical charge.
And while it might be overstating things a tad to suggest that BECKETT: FECK IT! — the child of that notion — hit the stage of the Berkeley Street Theatre Friday in a presentation of Canadian Stage with a sonic boom, it made enough of a bang nonetheless that fans of both less-than-traditional Irish music and the playwright, Samuel Beckett, should stand at attention and salute.
The plays in question are lesser known, and certainly far shorter works from the man who gave the world such classics as Waiting For Godot, Happy Days and Endgame. But while his Act Without Words II, Come And Go, Play and Ohio Impromptu might not have achieved the notoriety and reach of their more fully-fleshed stage brethren, they still prove themselves worthy of attention — particularly when blended as they are with the tunes of composers Gerald Barry, Andrew Hamilton, and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in a way that simply serves to stitch them into a dramatic crazy quilt certain to provide dramatic comfort on even the coldest February night.
To handle the dramatic end of things, director Jennifer Tarver has recruited a quartet of actors — Tom Rooney, Laura Condlin, Sofia Tomic and Michal Grzejszczak — fleshing out their number as the occasion demands with the secondment of vocalist Shannon Mercer who, when not otherwise engaged, tackles the often haunting tunes that serve to bind the evening into a whole, accompanied, as often as not, by trumpeter Michael Fedyshyn, all under the musical direction of Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and John Hess.
As for the plays, they are frankly little more than mere dramatic sketches, but sketches that, as often as not, capture as much humanity and truth in their brief moments upon the stage as the minimalist lines of the best in Picasso’s sketchbooks. Keenly observed, they are simultaneously heart-breaking and amusing, pointing up the foibles of life and mankind, even while they embrace and celebrate those elements.
Working on a deceptively simple set created by Teresa Przybylski, beautifully illuminated by Kimberly Purtell, they are elegantly, but simply, staged in such a way as to put Beckett’s work in the spotlight. And while there are echoes here of Beckett’s other works — the two men in Act Without Words II seem trapped in a world that would be familiar to Godot’s Vladimir and Estragon, while the three characters in Play have much in common with Happy Days’ Winnie — they are complete in themselves.
The music too seems eerily familiar on occasion, with Mercer handling the sometimes unorthodox demands of some of the work with a commendable deftness. In fact, it is the music that impresses here, for while Mheadhra and Hess conspire to accommodate the theatrical demands of the evening without compromising on the things music, the cast, under Tarver’s direction, fails to meet the often musical demands of Beckett’s text, which regularly requires its speakers to have the same kind of breathing, diction and precision that a song demands of its singer.
Rooney makes it all look easy and, at least in Play, Condlin sings from the same songbook — but in their speaking parts, Grzejszczak and Tomic are often garbled or simply inaudible. And especially when it comes to Beckett, if you’re going to say Feck It!, then it demands to be said clearly.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
15 FEB 2012
Pictured: Jefferson Turner, Daniel Clarkson
TORONTO - In the end, it’s a show that owes more to comedic duos like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and even The Two Ronnies than it does to J.K. Rowling or even her youthful hero, Harry Potter.
Because, in the end, if one were to judge POTTED POTTER: THE UNAUTHORIZED POTTER EXPERIENCE as any sort of conventional précis of Rowling’s literary output, it would be lucky to achieve a passing grade from any but the most indulgent teacher of English Lit. But, rest assured, it would crack up the class in the process. POTTED POTTER opened in an already extended run Tuesday at the Panasonic Theatre, where it is currently slated to run through March 25.
It is the brainchild of two young British blokes — Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner — who have somehow managed to hitch their wagon to the young wizard’s wand and conjure up an international franchise of sorts, for while POTTED POTTER marks their Canadian première, they’ve already scored big in their homeland with Potted Pirates and the Olivier-nominated Potted Panto, in addition to this show (which has apparently toured to Australia and points east in 2009.)
It’s an impressive track record for everybody but Harry, it seems, for even the kids in Tuesday’s opening audience quickly figured out that the fun of this show does not grow so much from this duo’s ability to distill the essence of Harry Potter — all seven books in 70 minutes, they claim— as it does from their ability to ride the giddy waves of their own creativity.
In the grand tradition of comedic duos, there is a straight man — in this case, the more earnest and compact Turner, who for most of the show essays the role of Potter — and a cut-up — the lanky, loopy Clarkson, who will, we are told at the top of the show, essay the other 300-odd characters the seven books reveal. And while he doesn’t even come close to that number, he achieves such heights of silliness and charm with the ones he does tackle that you’re likely to lose count along about the time the evil Voldemort makes his second appearance.
While Clarkson cuts up and cracks wise, the hapless and earnest Turner tries — but not too mightily — to keep things on track and cleave to the Potter plotlines, a task that is ultimately accomplished, at least in the broadest sense of the word, with the aid of everything from flow charts to faux hip-hop. And when the action flags, as it inevitably must in these kinds of silly-bugger, jolly-hockey-sticks Fringe works, Clarkson always has the answer — and that answer is always a rousing game of quidditch, which will eventually have the entire theatre eating out of his hand, while it gives Turner a chance to demonstrate his comedic chops, as well.
With two such natural talents on his hands, director Richard Hunt hasn’t exactly shot his budget on sets (designed, such as they are, by Simon Scullion) and effects — a fact of which as much is made throughout the show as any of Rowling’s increasingly predictable plot points.
Instead, he gives his two talented performers more or less free reign, within what one suspects is some pretty rigid and family-friendly confines, and sets them loose. And if, as on opening night, things start to go wrong with everything from chocolate to sound equipment, well, so much the better. These guys have obviously been performing together and performing well for so long that such technical difficulties represent nothing more than good comedic meat into which they can sink their teeth. And, in its current state, POTTED POTTER promises to keep them dining out for quite awhile.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
MUSICAL THEATRE REVIEW: IN THE HEIGHTS
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
08 FEB 2012
TORONTO - In Buenos Aires, we recently learned, the ubiquitous “No problem,” of contemporary English conversation is replaced by the phrase “No hay drama” — or, translated literally: “There is no drama.” Ironically, it’s a phrase that almost perfectly describes the touring production of the multiple Tony Award-winning IN THE HEIGHTS that pulled into the Toronto Centre for the Arts Tuesday for a limited run, as part of Dancap’s subscription series.
Which is not to suggest, even for a moment, that the musical celebrating contemporary street life in Washington Heights — the largely Latin American enclave on Manhattan’s northern end — is devoid of plot. If anything, Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book is a trifle heavy on that end of things, sporting not just a pair of star-crossed romances, but three businesses struggling to survive in a community in the throes of gentrification, one major lottery win and a sweet old lady with a heart condition — not to mention a major power failure thrown in for good measure.
And while, in the show’s acclaimed Broadway incarnation, director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler clearly must have discovered rich veins of drama in the tale, underlined throughout, no doubt by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Latin love-in of a score, director/choreographer Michael Balderrama has failed to stake a claim on any such mettle in the touring production touching down here.
Now, admittedly, Balderrama presumably suffered more than a spot of bad luck when he had to replace his leading man, Perry Young, on the opening night of the Toronto run — but, in theatre, these things happen, and a good director prepares crackerjack understudies. And while Jeffrey Nuñez brings understated charm to his performance as shopkeeper Usnavi, he simply lacks the necessary charisma for the role, leaving one wondering what the Spanish word for “nebbish” might be. He simply doesn’t have the stuff to carry his end of the romance with the neighbourhood hottie, played by Presilah Nuñez, and he gets scant help from a sound system that transforms his apparently impressive skills at busting hip-hop rhymes into muddied exposition that is too often all but unintelligible.
And while there’s a nice, albeit low-key romantic tension between Virginia Cavaliere (as the bright-as-a-penny Nina) and Kyle Carter (as the upwardly mobile and linguistically challenged Benny), there’s never any doubt that they’ll work things out, thanks to the clichéd performances.
Meanwhile, on the street around them, everyone complains about the heat, but few manage to sizzle. Choreography that should hit the stage piping hot, or “muy caliente”, as the Spanish say, is served up with tepid precision, while major plot points — the aforementioned lottery win, shop closings and other major life changes — are passed over with an off-handedness that borders on peremptory.
There are good performances here — Robert Ramirez’s smart-mouthed Sonny and Katherine Brady’s Carla are both small but delightful bits of work — but in the main, IN THE HEIGHTS isn’t.
Ultimately, it seems its goal is to be a slice-of-life musical, capable of taking the clichéd characters of sitcoms and bad movies and transforming them into living, breathing human beings with dreams and aspirations that ultimately transcend the supposed barriers of race and even colour. And on a certain level it succeeds in creating an imitation of life. But while good art often imitates life, if it is to succeed, it has to not only imitate life, but refine it, too.
All of which means that while “no hay drama” might be a great way to approach life in Argentina’s capital, when it comes In the Heights, “No hay drama” is a big problem indeed.
THE GREAT MOUNTAIN
07 FEB 2012
Pictured: Allyson Pratt, Meegwun Fairbrother
TORONTO - There are aspects of climate change that even the scientists studying it have a tough time explaining, so it’s small wonder that when a theatre company sets out to discuss the topic with kids, a bit of simplification is in order. That said, one suspects that kids on the high end of the target audience of Red Sky Performance’s THE GREAT MOUNTAIN — produced for students, grades one through seven — might feel that the whole issue has been over-simplified by just a tad. THE GREAT MOUNTAIN launched a three-week run on the Young People’s Theatre mainstage Tuesday.
Apparently inspired by a folk tale from the First Nations of the northern plains, playwright Tracey Power spins out the story of Nuna (played by Allyson Pratt), a young girl who is being driven to distraction by a sound that apparently only she can hear. After attempting to trace the sound to its source in her city home — an attempt that brings her face-to-face with the adult rat race in quite delightful fashion — she sits down to discuss the problem with her aged Grandma Mika (played by Nicole Joy-Fraser, who also tackles several other roles in the course of the show).
Grandma Mika, for her part, recalls a similar experience when her own grandfather introduced her to the Laughing River, which flowed across the plains of her youth, fed by the snows of the great mountain, which magically seemed to know, back then, just how much snow it would take to keep the river chuckling.
Grandmother and granddaughter set off on a voyage to the Laughing River, aboard a delightfully self-important train (Meegwun Fairbrother, in one of a multitude of roles), and when they arrive at their destination, they discover that the river itself is troubled and that the sounds of sorrow that have been plaguing Nuna’s inner ear emanate from the mountain that feeds it.
Directed by Alan Dilworth with a creative assist from Sandra Laronde who also choreographed the show with Carlos Rivera, it proves to be a highly inventive staging, as the three member cast claims Jung-Hye Kim’s simple set — a small range of mountains behind a double stone circle— and makes it their own.
Pratt, for her part, turns in a performance of sometimes precociously bratty pluck, while Fairbrother anchors her in a number of quite magical and centred turns. Unfortunately, Joy-Fraser does not prove quite so adept at character shifting, which translates into an array of characters that, despite Jeff Chief’s costumes and Silvie Varone’s masking, are all marked by a certain sameness that adds little to the narrative.
And that simply underlines scripting problems with THE GREAT MOUNTAIN, for having done a crackerjack job of explaining the problem in terms simple enough to be comprehended by a young audience (even while it’s being enjoyed by older patrons), playwright Power slips from simplification to over-simplification, offering a solution to the problems plaguing river and mountain that ultimately just doesn’t seem to add up to much, despite the fact that it apparently saves the world for at least another generation.
Finally, it is almost as though there is a chapter missing between the end of Nuna’s quest and the ending of the play — and frankly, that might be the most interesting chapter of the story. THE GREAT MOUNTAIN continues through Feb. 29.
Opera Atelier aims for The Marksman
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
07 FEB 2012
TORONTO - After years of going for baroque, seems Opera Atelier is developing a romantic streak as well.
In a 2012/13 season announced Tuesday by artistic co-directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, Toronto’s baroque opera company announced that they have programmed the first Romantic Era opera in the company’s 26 year history — specifically Der Freischutz (The Marksman), composed by Carl Maria von Weber in 1821, almost a century after the baroque and classical era from which OA normally draws its works.
But fans of OA’s more traditional repertoire needn’t despair, for once Der Freischutz concludes its run this fall, OA will begin preparations to revive its beloved 2006 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in April of 2013. All performances will once again take place on the stage of the Elgin Theatre, and subscriptions, priced from $90, are currently on sale at 416-703-3767, ext. 222.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
THEATRE NEWS: NBOC season has something old, something new; musicals ring in the Mirvish season; Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour returns to the ACC in July
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
06 FEB 2012
TORONTO - The National Ballet of Canada’s 2012/13 season, announced Monday by artistic director Karen Kain, promises to be a rich blend of old favourites — some with an admittedly modern flare — and new works certain to challenge the company and delight their audience. The new season begins on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre in November, with a return engagement of Christopher Wheeldon’s acclaimed production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, created for the NBOC and England’s Royal Ballet and debuted in 2011 to critical and audience acclaim.
What is arguably the most modern full-length ballet in the company’s rep, Alice will be followed by one of its most traditional, when Giselle returns to the stage of the Four Seasons in December, setting the stage, in the process, for the company’s annual Yuletide offering of James Kudelka’s lavish version of The Nutcracker.
In March 2013, the company premiers their production of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky, a tribute to the life and work one of the greatest dancers in history, following it up with their latest take on one of the most enduring romantic tragedies in history, as Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet returns to the stage, still smouldering from the excitement it generated in its 2011 premiere, leading to sold-out performances.
The company will also take its new Romeo and Juliet on the road as part of their season, paying a visit in late January to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, before decamping for London, England, where they will dance R&J at Sadler’s Wells in April. The winter season ends with the pairing of Kudelka’s acclaimed and enduring treatment of The Four Seasons, with Crystal Pite’s Emergence.
Passion once again takes centre stage to launch the spring season, as the NBOC presents an expanded full-length version of choreographer Davide Bombana’s take on Carmen, originally premiered with the company as part of a mixed program, back in 2009.
A mixed program, comprised of Jorma Elo’s Pur ti Miro, principal dancer Guillaume Côté’s No. 24, Kudelka’s The Man In Black (premiered last year as part of the company’s tour through Western Canada) and George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, concludes the Toronto season.
TORONTO - We aren’t sure about the hills these days, but it appears as though the Mirvish theatres in Toronto will be alive with the sound of music for all of the 2012/13 season announced Monday by David Mirvish at the recently christened Ed Mirvish Theatre. In fact, Mirvish announced a subscription season comprised of six musicals, with two additional musicals tacked as bonus shows for good measure.
And while much of the heat Monday centred on the announcement that the first touring company of the Tony Award-winning production of The Book of Mormon is slated to pull into Toronto in May of 2013 for a limited run to close the new season, there was plenty of excitement for what will come before it as well. That would include the North American première of Backbeat, a musical that tells the story of “how the Beatles became the Beatles,” directed by David Leveaux. Backbeat comes to the Toronto stage, direct from London and is slated to run this summer.
It will be followed in the fall by the Tony Award-winning revival of Harvey Fierstein’s La Cage aux Folles, starring George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber under the direction of Terry Johnson, and by the stage adaptation of Sister Act, written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane, featuring music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater and direction by Jerry Zaks.
Come December, Tony Danza will be in town, helping to work the kinks out of Andrew Berman’s musical stage adaptation of Honeymoon In Vegas, featuring music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, direction by Gary Griffin and choreography by Denis Jones, before it takes on Broadway.
A new year brings a new production, direct from London, of Harold Arlen’s classic The Wizard of Oz, in an adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who also teamed up with lyricist Tim Rice to supply some additional tunes. Jeremy Sams directs, with choreography by Arlene Phillips. The show is to be cast here in Canada, and will feature a Dorothy chosen through reality-TV programming in much the same way as the earlier production of The Sound Of Music cast its Maria.
As for the bonus shows, which Mirvish subscribers can access at a discount, they will include the summer run of the Tom Hedley/Robert Cary/Robbie Roth adaptation of the movie Flashdance, directed and choreographed by local hero Sergio Trujillo, as it makes its way to Broadway, and the previously announced Theatre 20 production of Bloodless, directed by Colm Wilkinson.
Subscriptions, priced from $129 through $589, are currently available at 416-593-4225 or at mirvish.com.
On other fronts, producers of Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour have announced that their show will make its way back to Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, where it will play on July 27 and 28. Tickets are currently available to Cirque Club members at cirqueclub.com and will go on sale to the general public on Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. at ticketmaster.ca. They are priced from $50 to $250.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
OPERA REVIEW: LOVE FROM AFAR
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
03 FEB 2012
Pictured: Erin Wall
If they were being totally honest, one suspects, even the greatest supporters of modern opera would have to admit that a lot of what they love is, in fact, a bit of a study in sensory deprivation for opera’s broader audience. That is, modern operas feature scores largely devoid of traditional melody and harmony, presented in a style largely devoid of traditional theatricality.
But the Canadian Opera Company grabs that whole notion by the scruff of its neck and gives it a good shake, with its staging of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s LOVE FROM AFAR, set in the infinitely more romantic 12th century but composed in the very contemporary 21st. Co-produced with the English National Opera and Vlaamse Opera, the COC opened this production Thursday on the stage of the Four Seasons.
It is, in its way, a simple love story, complicated to some degree by the fact that the lovers — a French troubadour of noble birth and attitudes, and a ravishing countess who holds court in Tripoli — don’t even meet (and then only briefly and tragically) until the opera’s end. Their affair, if it can be called that, is inspired, then championed, by a mysterious figure known only as The Pilgrim (mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabo) who, overhearing the jaded Jaufré Rudel (baritone Russell Braun) lament the lack of loveable ladies in his life, tells the nobleman of the fair Clémence (soprano Erin Wall) who lives a lonely but irreproachable life in Tripoli. Having left Jaufré besotted, the Pilgrim then journeys to Tripoli, where she tells Clémence of a man in Aquitaine, who is so enamoured of the mere idea of her that he spends his time composing odes to her beauty — and, of course, that ensures that Clémence is hooked as well.
The Pilgrim passes on that bit of good news to the besotted Jaufré, who immediately sets sail for Tripoli — a voyage complicated by a case of terminal mal de mer that leaves him barely enough time to meet the girl of his dreams before departing for the sweet hereafter.
As librettos go, Amin Maalouf’s is a scant affair, particularly when stretched rather thinly over a canvas of almost three hours. It is driven primarily by a score that washes over its audience in almost viscous waves of atonality, spiked with and occasionally enlivened by an array of found sound. Into this aural womb, however, director Daniele Finzi Pasca injects the very latest in modern stage technology, tempering it at almost every turn with a theatricality as old as time itself.
He casts each of his characters in triplicate, leaving his three hugely talented principals to concentrate on the complex musical and emotional demands of the work, while their alter-egos create a dreamlike world around them, disappearing and reappearing in Jean Rabassé’s achingly beautiful set design, as if by magic, trailing often hauntingly gorgeous costumes designed by Kevin Pollard.
In Finzi Pasca’s world, they not only fly and spring fully formed from nowhere, but thanks to collaborations with videographer Roberto Vitalini, lighting designer Alexis Bowles (who with Finzi Pasca manages to bend light to their will) and movement consultant Julie Hamelin, they also appear to walk on water as well as under it.
In short, they create a world of wonder that not only provides a magnificent showcase for three rich and evocative voices, but in the process, they provide enough sensory engagement that the charm of Saareiaho’s seemingly spartan score is slowly revealed, assisted at every turn by the artists of the COC Orchestra, under the assured baton of Johannes Debus.
Along the way, it also injects more than a bit of sense into a world that too often seems to thrive through sensory deprivation.
Friday, February 3, 2012
CanStage announces 25th anniversary season
JOHN COULBOURN - QMI Agency
03 FEB 2012
There appears to be a lot of international and national glitter in Canadian Stage's 25th Anniversary season. But only time will tell whether that season, announced Thursday by controversial artistic director Matthew Jocelyn, will finally translate into silver at the box office or simply play-out as a season of fool's gold.
Jocelyn will launch his 2012/13 mainstage season at the Bluma Appel in October with Vancouver's Electric Company's acclaimed Tear The Curtain, written by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr and directed by Kim Collier, whose Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge so impressed Toronto audiences in 2010.
It will be followed by a limited engagement of a touring production of Political Mother, choreographed, directed and composed by Israeli Hofesh Shechter — a multi-media dance piece that has already made big waves in London and will be stopping in Toronto as part of an international tour.
Hard on the heels of Political Mother, Jocelyn re-unites Canadian stage icons Michael Ball and Fiona Reid, in Alistair Beaton's translation of Max Frisch's The Arsonists, under the direction of Morris Panych, before Jocelyn himself takes over to direct a new production of Canadian Melissa James Gibson's This — casting to be announced.
In a bow to CanStage's first production — David Mamet's Glengarry, Glen Ross — Jocelyn has programmed Mamet's Race, which takes over the Bluma in April of 2012, starring acclaimed ex-pat Canadian television star Jason Priestly. A return engagement of Compagnie Marie Chouinard, this time out, performing The Golden Mean (Live) rounds out the mainstage season.
On the more intimate Berkeley Street stage, Jocelyn presents three works by some of Canada's dynamic young companies, beginning with Company Theatre's production of Andrew Bovell's Speaking In Tongues, directed by Philip Riccio. It will be followed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop's latest production, titled Ignorance, and conclude with Crow's Theatre's production of Someone Else, a new work from Kristen Thomson, directed by Chris Abraham, starring the playwright and Tom Rooney.
The Berkeley Street space will also play host, in February of 2013, to Canadian Stage's annual Spotlight Festival, this time focusing on the nation of Japan, and featuring an array of performances from contemporary Japanese artists, like Hiroaki Umeda (Haptic and Holistic Strata), Oriza Hirata (Sayonara and I, Worker), Carlotta Ikeda (Medea) and Toshiki Okada (Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and the Farewell Speech).
A production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Richard Rose, will launch it all as CanStage's annual Dream In High Park. Jocelyn also took the opportunity to introduce Su Hutchinson who will take over the role of Canadian Stage's managing director this spring, replacing David Abel. For further information on the upcoming season, visit www.canadianstage.com.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
VISITING MR. GREEN
01 FEB 2012
Pictured: Aiden deSalaiz, Theodore Bikel
TORONTO - As he approaches the ripe old age of 88, there is little, one suspects, that anyone could teach the great Theodore Bikel about acting. But, happily, there is still plenty that this aging lion of the stage can teach the world about the profession to which he has devoted a lifetime — and happily, most of it is up there on the stage of the Jane Mallett Theatre.
Bikel, of course, is the man who famously originated the role of Baron von Trapp on stage in The Sound of Music and he delighted Toronto audiences in his solo effort, Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, when he brought it to town under the aegis of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre a few years ago. And it is under the auspices of the HGJT that Bikel returns once again to the Toronto stage, this time out in the title role of Jeff Baron’s VISITING MR. GREEN, which opened Tuesday.
It’s a play that tells a simple story. Ross Gardiner (played by Aidan deSalaiz), a 30-ish young exec on the rise, has apparently been indulging in some careless driving. So, when the play begins, Gardiner is about to pay the first of six-months worth of court-ordered weekly visits to the home of the man he almost ran down when he was behind the wheel. But his putative host, an aging Jewish widower by the name of Mr. Green, proves less than enthusiastic with the arrangement and demands to be left alone.
But though Gardiner would clearly love to oblige, there is the matter of the court order — so, slowly, over the weeks, the visits continue and a friendship of sorts evolves. The lonely old man is coaxed into a more social frame of mind while the younger learns more and more about a Jewish heritage that has heretofore been largely ignored. It’s all very predictable and sweet. Eventually, however, the two clash. As the geriatric Mr. Green recalls his late wife, his newfound fondness for his weekly visitor leads to a discussion of the virtues of matrimony and the revelation that, at least in 1996 New York, matrimony is something clearly beyond the reach of Gardiner and his gay brethren. Mr. Green’s subsequent refusal to accept Gardiner’s disclosure threatens to stifle their friendship, but instead, eventually leads to a revelation that will ultimately bring them closer together.
As plays go in this world of same sex-marriage, it’s all very “where-were-you-in-’62”-ish, despite the fact that it was written in 1996. And while one can forgive the playwright for not anticipating the advances society would make in the near future, it is harder finally to understand how he could create a gay character in 1996 New York without once mentioning AIDS, which, at that point, had come perilously close to wiping out an entire generation of gay men. It’s a little like setting a Jew down in post-war Germany without ever mentioning the Nazis.
But while the playwright takes few chances, director Jen Shuber plays it even safer as she brings the production to life on Cameron Porteous’ effective set, never challenging the hugely talented Bikel to portray his character’s hidebound bigotry as anything more than a charming quirk. As for deSalaiz, his Gardiner is delivered up in pretty white-bread fashion too, as under Shuber’s direction he soft-sells the small bit of bitchiness his character is allowed and otherwise does everything he can to make Bikel seem all the more lovable in the process. While Bikel’s Mr. Green all but wallows in cliché, de Salaiz’s Gardiner avoids it like — well, the plague.
So while Bikel indeed offers a master class in the art of acting, it finally seems to be more a demonstration of snorkeling in the sea of character acting, rather than deep sea diving.