Best Of Toronto Theatre 2012

Theatromania’s top 13 picks in celebration of the year to come

Ava Jane Markus in Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus (Outside The March Theatre Company).

As another eventful year of Toronto theatre comes to an end, we look back fondly at the most exciting productions of 2012. Here are our top 13 picks in alphabetical order.

1) Alligator Pie (Soulpepper): The Creation Ensemble (Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken Mackenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross) served up a boisterous slice of theatre this past fall/winter with a joyful tribute to the poems of Dennis Lee. Lucky for Lee fans, Alligator Pie returns to the stage in November/December 2013 as part of the company’s new season.

2) Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare (Theatre 20): Directed by Adam Brazier, Theatre 20′s inaugural production of Joseph Aragon’s Bloodless, a true story about two 19th century Irish serial killers, snatched our hearts at the Panasonic Theatre in October. Next up: a sure-to-be-good production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company (early 2013).

3) Clybourne Park (Studio 180): Presented by Studio 180 in association with Canadian Stage, this powerful production of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play brought the house down at the Berkeley Street Theatre last spring. The satire about race and real estate caught the attention of David Mirvish who picked it up as part of the Off-Mirvish Series (Feb 12 to March 3, 2013 at the Panasonic Theatre). Don’t miss it this time around!

4) Kim’s Convenience (Soulpepper): Set in a Regent Park Korean convenience store, Ins Choi’s debut play was the smash hit of Soulpepper’s 2012 season—a Toronto theatre success story. Directed by Weyni Mengesha, the celebrated production tours London, Port Hope and Calgary beginning in January (additional tour stops to be announced) and returns to the Yonge Centre from May 24 to June 19, 2013.

5) Miss Caledonia (Tarragon Theatre): Melody A. Johnson got top marks from audiences and critics alike in this energetic one-woman show about a country girl with dreams of winning a beauty pageant.

6) No Great Mischief (Tarragon Theatre): Based on the 1999 novel by Alistair MacLeod, this heartwrenching play about the MacDonald family, a Cape Breton-based Gaelic clan with roots in the Scottish highlands, featured outstanding performances by two of Canada’s most respected actors: R.H. Thomson and David Fox.

7) Proud (Michael Healey): From controversial to comical, Michael Healey’s politcal satire about Stephen Harper started a conversation last fall at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Directed by Miles Potter, this provocative play featured terrific performances by Healey as the stiff Prime Minister and an always-on-point Maev Beaty as a rookie MP.

8) Speaking in Tongues (Company Theatre): Australian playwright Andrew Bovell’s dramatic thriller about four marriages that fall into a mess of sex, lies and neglect got a fresh treatment this past November in a sexy new production by Company Theatre in association with Canadian Stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Featuring an all-star cast (Yanna McIntosh, Jonathan Goad, Richard Clarkin and Helene Joy), Speaking in Tongues moves to Victoria in the new year (January 22 to February 24, 2013 at The Belfry Theatre).

9) Tear The Curtain! (Electric Company Theatre/Vancouver Arts Club Theatre/Canadian Stage): Written by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr, and directed by Kim Collier, Electric Company Theatre’s visually striking film-theatre hybrid offered audiences an out-of-the-ordinary performance experience at the Bluma Appel Theatre in October.

10) Terminus (Outside The March): Directed by Mitchell Cushman, the Canadian premiere of Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus created major buzz in the local theatre scene this year. A hit at the 2012 SummerWorks Performance Festival, the show was recently picked up for the Off-Mirvish Series and performed for audiences of 200 people seated on stage at the historical Royal Alexandra Theatre. The gripping play tells three interwoven stories (performed to perfection by Maev Beaty, Ava Jane Markus and Adam Wilson) in rhyming vernacular.

11) The Arsonists (Canadian Stage): Max Frisch’s darkly funny satire got a smoking hot makeover in Canadian Stage’s 2012 production translated by Alistair Beaton and directed by Morris Panych at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Featuring original music by singer songwriter Justin Rutledge, this funny and thought-provoking show left us snapping our fingers and tapping our toes.

12) The Normal Heart (Studio 180/Buddies in Bad Times): The remount of Studio 180′s 2011 production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (in association with Buddies in Bad Times Theatre) deserves a mention as one of our favourite productions of 2012. Directed by Joel Greenberg, this devastating portrait of the rise of the AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984 features a first-rate cast in an unforgettable performance.

13) The Penelopiad (Nightwood Theatre): Margaret Atwood’s brilliant retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey from the perspective of his wife Penelope was skillfully adapted for the stage last January in an acclaimed production directed by Nightwood Theatre’s Kelly Thornton at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Megan Follows lead a powerhouse cast, including Maev Beaty, Cara Gee, Pamela Sinha, Sarah Dodd, Monica Dottor, Kelli Fox, and Patricia Hamilton—all returning to the stage with new cast members this winter (January 8 to February 10, 2013).

 

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Review: Anthony Rapp’s Without You (Mirvish)

Anthony Rapp radiates love in this powerful solo show

A Menier Chocolate Factory production
Written by and Starring Anthony Rapp
Directed by Steve Maler

Anthony Rapp in Without You at the Panasonic Theatre until Jan. 6, 2013.

Best-known for originating the role of Mark in RENT, Anthony Rapp is back on stage performing his one-man show Without You, an 80-minute musical monologue that uses the backstory of the creation of Jonathan Larson’s hit musical to launch into a personal story about the loss of his mother. Now playing at the Panasonic Theatre as part of the Off-Mirvish Series, the show is making its North American debut in Toronto before moving to New York.

Accompanied by a five-member band, Rapp takes us back to his first audition for RENT in 1993. As he talks about the show’s beginnings, we learn about his relationship with his mother, a gentle woman based in Joliet Illinois, who is battling cancer. Rapp refuses to accept her illness at first, distracted by the sudden death of Larson on the morning of RENT’s opening night off-Broadway. He takes us through the pain and shock of that day, including his memories of performing a stripped-down version of the musical for the writer’s friends and family. Of course, RENT went on to be a huge success, and a life-changing experience for Rapp, who was forced to leave the show temporarily when his mother’s health began to fail. The last part of Without You focuses on his process of letting her go.

Featuring original songs such as “Wild Bill” a Western number about his mother’s tumor, and popular tunes from RENT, including “Another Day,” “One Song Glory” and “Seasons of Love,” Without You is a touching, insightful and uplifting exploration of Rapp’s journey through grief. RENT fans in particular will not want to miss this one.

Without You runs until January 6 at the Panasonic Theatre. Visit mirvish.com for more information and to buy tickets.

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Q&A | City Voices: A Book Of Monologues By Toronto Artists

City Voices editors talk about publishing a new collection of works by Toronto artists

L to R: Anila Pant, Jenna Harris and Ronit Rubinstein. Photo by Max Telzerow.

The Toronto arts scene is bursting with talent, and now we have a book to prove it! City Voices: A Book of Monologues by Toronto Artists launches on Wednesday, December 19 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Published by Discord and Din Press, the anthology features works by a diverse array of local artists, including playwrights Jordan Tannahill, Neale Kimmel, Kat Sandler, Daniel Pagett, Jason Maghanoy and Jessica Moss. We caught up with the book’s editors Jenna Harris, Anila Pant and Ronit Rubinstein to find out more about this exciting publication (answers by Jenna Harris below).

Theatromania: Tell us about City Voices. What inspired you to self-publish this anthology?

JH: City Voices is a completely local and grassroots book project that started about a year ago and came out of a desire to create a forum with which to showcase the fierce talent this city has to offer. With cuts to arts funding and our current local government’s less-than arts-friendly approach to governance, we wanted to show that not only is Toronto’s theatre community thriving, but that as artists, we can make our own opportunities and not feel as though we need to wait patiently on the sidelines to be noticed.

City Voices features 29 monologues by 28 writers who were selected from a call for submissions in April. Among the writers we have playwrights, poets and spoken word artists at different stages of their careers, and with an age range that spans from 13 to well into their golden years.

Theatromania: How would you describe the book’s contents in a sentence or two?

JH: City Voices is a collection of monologues by an incredibly diverse group of Toronto writers, some established artists and some up-and-coming. The book offers a mix of theatrical monologues, spoken word, poetry and prose, and will expose readers to the work of some of our most interesting contemporary local writers.

Theatromania: Can you give us a few examples of how the local arts community has helped to support this initiative?

JH: The arts community has been, and continues to be, incredibly supportive of this project.  Initially when we put out the call for submissions we had theatre companies, writing groups and individual artists sharing the call, rapid-fire, via social media and through word-of-mouth.  Now, as we are about to launch this book, the same thing is happening. And the willingness by those in the arts to share information about this project and their words of encouragement and support, have been overwhelming. But I think that the biggest thrill for us has been the response from the writers themselves, not only in the sheer number that submitted, but also in their excitement over having a project like this to submit to.  This whole experience has shown us just how supportive the local arts community is, and we are so honoured to be a part of it.

Theatromania: What do you hope readers take away from City Voices?

JH: Mainly, we hope they enjoy it! The writers take us on so many unique journeys in this book, and what we want is for the readers to feel the intensity of emotions of these diverse stories. We also hope they take away a sense of the deep talent, and breadth of perspectives, that thrives in the artistic community of Toronto. And hopefully readers can discover a new writer or two whose careers they will want to follow, and whose shows and writing they’ll continue to support in the future.

Theatromania: It may be a bit too soon to ask, but do you anticipate publishing a sequel?

JH: We’ve been so wrapped up in this project that we haven’t had the time or wherewithal to plan that far into the future. But the process of putting this book together has been so rewarding, and we had so many strong submissions to choose from, that there is certainly the potential for another volume.

Book Launch Party: Wedesday, December 19 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street). Reception 7pm, readings at 8pm. Visit cityvoices.ca for more information and to buy a copy.

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Review: The Story (Theatre Columbus)

Explore the Evergreen Brickworks through the wonderful wintery lens of Theatre Columbus’ The Story

By Victoria Bégin

Presented by Theatre Columbus
Written by Martha Ross
Directed by Jennifer Brewin

Under a blanket of stars, the air is thick with the scent of pine and hot chocolate. A shepherd carrying a lantern leads a bundled up audience through a series of “stations” in a witty re-telling of the story of the nativity. With the beautiful natural landscape of the Evergreen Brickworks in the Don Valley serving as a backdrop, Theatre ColumbusThe Story is performed entirely outdoors, and features a combination of music, comedy, and history.

The story of the nativity, a Christmas tradition, is known as one of wonder and hope. The Story begins with the introduction of three wise men (Neema Bickersteth, Sanjay Talwar, Jeff Yung) clad in elaborately colourful costumes by Catherine Hahn, and carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are clearly very confused, and interact with the audience whom they believe to be from the future.

The audience follows the confused trio into the heart of the Brickworks, led by the shepherd’s lantern, where we meet the young Mary (Haley McGee) and the passionate Joseph (also played by Yung), who have just had an argument. Their comical banter endears the audience to these two characters, who are rarely portrayed as the teenagers they are.

As the production continues, King Herod (Rylan Wilkie) is introduced as an angry monarch who cannot believe that a baby is about to be born who will, as the three wise men insist, “be a new kind of king.” Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel (played to perfection by Wilkie in another role) who runs giddily down a hill wearing a white robe and a flashing, battery-operated crown to share the news that she will soon become pregnant. What ensues after this meeting is well-known as part of the nativity story, but is told in a fresh, comical way.

The Story shines in its excellent use of the Evergreen Brickworks, a community environmental centre that allows visitors an escape from the city, with Toronto’s skyline sparkling in the distance. The production takes the audience on a journey, walking as part of a group while a choir singing traditional Christmas carols is never far behind. Volunteers with flashlights stay close by throughout the show, guiding the procession through five or six different locations. Theatre Columbus’s production of The Story is a wonderful way to spend a December evening. Remember to wear mittens, scarves, boots and wool socks—hot chocolate is available just before the show begins.

The Story until December 30th at the Evergreen Brickworks. Visit theatrecolumbus.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Rating:
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Q&A | It’s A Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!

Aurora Browne and Chris Earle poke fun at our city’s 64th mayor in The National Theatre of the World’s It’s A Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!

Paul Bates as Rob Ford.

What better time to laugh at ourselves (and celebrate the trials and tribulations of our city’s hapless leader) than during the holidays. This month, Toronto’s acclaimed improv company The National Theatre of the World presents It’s A Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular!, an original musical comedy written by Matt Baram, on stage until Dec 22 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. We caught up with The Second City alumni Aurora Browne and Chris Earle (who directs the show) to find out more about this fun-filled performance.

Theatromania: Describe It’s A Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular! in a sentence or two.

CE: In a desperate attempt to win back public support, Rob Ford decides to host his very own holiday variety show. As the cast and crew frantically prepare for opening night, Ford starts to spiral out of control—sorry—continues to spiral out of control.

AB: A man is briefly in doubt about his self worth but then decides he was totally right after all. Featuring fun racist Christmas carols!

Theatromania: What inspired a holiday musical comedy about our city’s 64th mayor?

CE: A sincere desire to spread love, hope and peace throughout our wonderful city. Plus, we wanted to make fun of the most crazy-ass mayor since The Penguin took over Gotham City.

AB: Mayors are like tree ornaments: round, shiny and red.

Theatromania: We heard that Matt Baram is doing daily rewrites as things change in the news—can audiences expect a different show every night?

CE: Yes—but not because of Matt’s rewrites. Paul Bates keeps adding new jokes.

AB: It’s possible…we may have to put court transcripts to music.

Theatromania: Funniest Rob Ford moment of 2012?

CE: Please don’t make us choose—it’s too hard.

AB: The time he opened his mouth to form a sentence.

Theatromania: Does The National Theatre of the World have any New Year’s resolutions?

CE: Take over Mirvish Productions and put an end to the gravy train.

AB: Drink more water every day and more dark green leafy vegetables.

Catch Aurora Browne and Chris Earle in It’s A Wonderful Toronto: The Rob Ford Holiday Spectacular! from December 11 to 22 at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace. Visit passemuraille.on.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

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Q&A: A Christmas Carol (Soulpepper)

Meet the Cratchits: Oliver Dennis, Deborah Drakeford and their daughter Charlotte Dennis chat about Soulpepper’s beloved holiday production

The Cratchits

The Cratchits: Oliver Dennis, Charlotte Dennis and Deborah Drakeford. Photo credit by Rhys Fulton Doyle.

‘Tis the season to celebrate the longevity of Charles Dickens. This month, Toronto audiences have the chance to catch Soulpepper’s acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Michael Shamata, and starring the award-winning Joseph Ziegler as Scrooge, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. The play is cherished by many, including cast members Oliver Dennis, Deborah Drakeford and their daughter Charlotte Dennis, the lovable real-life family who portray the famous Cratchit clan on stage. Here, we chat with the three performers about their experiences working on this show.

Theatromania: Tell us about working on Michael Shamata’s production of A Christmas Carol. What has been the best part of this experience so far?

OD: It’s almost become a tradition in itself. Deb and I first worked on Michael’s adaptation 18 years ago and are working on our nineth production of it. One in New Brunswick at Theatre New Brunswick, one in London at The Grand, and this is the seventh with Soulpepper. It’s a beautiful adaptation that is very intimate and direct. The show begins with the actor playing Marley and the Ghosts (John Jarvis) welcoming the audience and setting up the story as a ghost story so already the audience is on the edge of their seats.

The best part of the experience is rather difficult to describe. It has to do with the challenges and rewards that come from revisiting a part that I have played nine times. Learning how to keep it fresh—telling the story for the first time, each time—is a valuable lesson. And, over time, peeling away the layers of actor stuff that you don’t realize that you carry with you when doing roles for the first time (things like pushing to get your character agenda across, the anxiety of being successful, ego, missing nuances, the list can go on and on). You can just settle in and think the thoughts of the character, live the part. I have been lucky to have revisited several parts over the years and it’s a very full lesson.

DD: Having the luxury and privilege of looking at this play, at this story, again is such an honour. Learning from what we’ve done in the past, I am able to continue to peel away and dive deeper and deeper into the roles. Michael’s adaptation is so beautiful, theatrical and dark. And doing it in the round keeps it immediate and intimate. Also, the other players in this piece are such a wonderful group to hang out with!

CD: I have been coming to Michael’s production of A Christmas Carol for 10 years and it has really been an honour and pleasure to have been a part of it for the past two years. Michael’s adaptation of such an iconic story is the most beautiful I have seen. Michael is such a special director, he has a way of guiding us into discovering new things about our characters. I feel very privileged to have worked with him. It has also been so wonderful to collaborate with actors who I have been watching from a very young age, and they have been so great in welcoming me into the fold.

Theatromania: Tell us a bit about each of your characters. Can you relate to them?

OD: I play Bob Cratchit and Dick Wilkins (an apprentice friend of young Ebenezer Scrooge). I think everyone knows the story of Bob. He works for very little money at the offices of Scrooge and Marley. He has a little family (four children in this production) and is married to Anna Cratchit (my real life wife Deborah Drakeford (how lucky is that!)). His son, Tiny Tim, is very ill and is very likely to die if he doesn’t get help. It is very easy to relate to Bob. He is a kind of everyman. He is taken advantage of by “the man” but still hasn’t lost his sense of gratitude for what he does have.

DD: I play two wives: Anna Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s wife (whom I have affectionately named Freda). With Cratchit, I get to play opposite my real life husband Oliver, which is very fun. Cratchit is a beautiful character: her life is difficult with raising a family on very little income and having a very ill child in Tiny Tim. She is fearful and worried and can come across as harsh because of that fear and worry. I definitely can relate to her in that constant worry—not that I live in a state of that, as she does, but my family, my children and their safety and well being and happiness is always somewhere in me. That old saying of “you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child” certainly applies. But I get to experience the lighter side of life too with Freda. She is full of hope and joy and forgiveness and takes delight in simple things: family, friends, a good game. That way of living is something I aspire to.

CD: I play Martha Cratchit and the small role of Dora during the Fezziwigs scene. Martha is the eldest daughter of Bob and Anna Cratchit (who are played by my parents which is rather exciting!). She is the eldest of four children and tries to help her struggling family as much as she can. For me she is a very relatable character in that she deeply cares about her family but it also helps that I’m raised by the same two people on stage as I am off stage.

A Christmas Carol

Joseph Ziegler and Oliver Dennis in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Theatromania: If you could play any other character in this play, who would you choose?

OD: Who wouldn’t want to play Scrooge? The journey he takes from blindness to his fellow man to his rebirth as a man who “lives with Christmas in his heart all the year long” would be a great privilege to play. Joe Ziegler’s portrayal, though, could not be improved upon, so he’s got the part sewn up.

DD: I sure would love to play those ghosts. All of them: Marley, Past, Present, Yet to Come. Yummy. But I have been observing Johnny Jarvis play those for years now and can’t imagine anyone else doing that. He is so delicious in all of them.

CD: That is a tough question, I was thinking a one person show and I’d play all of the Christmas Carol characters. I think it should be something Soulpepper should invest in… But if I did have to pick one I’d have to pick Belle. She’s such a beautiful, good hearted character that has an incredibly heartbreaking story. Her journey is something I’d love to explore.

Theatromania: What are some of your favourite holiday traditions?

OD: Well, A Christmas Carol is chief among them. Charlotte is a Christmas hound and would start playing carols in the beginning of November if I let her. We have many family traditions among ourselves and our extended family but I feel funny about sharing them as they are our traditions and might sound silly to others. We have several party traditions that we look forward to every year from some very generous hosts. Love those!

DD: We have a number of family traditions that I hold sacred and therefore will keep secret! We do the same things year after year, and what I love the most about them is that it is about spending time with each other, just the four of us. We also travel to see our families as much as possible and there are a few very special gatherings that dear friends host that definitely says “Christmas” to us!

CD: I am a Christmas fiend. I would listen to Christmas music and keep the tree up all year if I could! But I have a great family who understands my need for Christmas cheer around the house. We have a lot of wonderful traditions as well. On December 6th we celebrate Elves Day, which is sort of like an early Christmas but instead of putting out stockings we put out our shoes. And on Christmas Eve my brother and I receive a pair of pajamas from our parents to wear to bed and we watch The Grinch.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

OD: I hope the audience takes away what they came for. This is a story for which people thirst. They want to hear the story of redemption and rebirth. It uplifts them, gives them hope. You can actually sense it before the show starts. People KNOW this story, and they come anyway. Families, couples, singles. They come year after year. Why? They come to feel, with each other, as a community, the gladness of a full heart.

DD: This story is an important one. I love that Soulpepper revives it every two years because I believe that people want to see it, want to hear it, want to experience it again, want to be reminded. To watch Scrooge travel from a very dark place in his life to light, full of warmth and joy and humanity is so beautiful. No matter where we are, what we may face, there is an opportunity for all of us to view things differently, in a more positive way. And getting help in getting there (as Scrooge does through the ghosts and through the forgiveness of his nephew) is a wonderful reminder that reaching out can elevate us all.

CD: This is a beautiful show, it’s not just a fun loving Christmas show, it has real messages of humanity and love that I think people need to be reminded of from time to time, and what better time to do it than at Christmas? I hope people will share the experience and pass that message of love along to their loved ones and so on and so forth.

Catch Oliver Dennis, Deborah Drakeford and Charlotte Dennis in A Christmas Carol, on stage until December 29 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit Soulpepper.ca for more information and to buy tickets. Read our review of the 2011 production here.

Also at the Young Centre, Wednesday December 12 to Saturday December 15 is The Word Festival: celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. This year’s festival features Miriam Margolyes’ one-woman show Dickens’ Women; a marathon reading of Dickens’ classics; and, of course, Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol.

Posted by Lauren Gillett in Theatre | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review: Snow White (Ross Petty Productions)

Ross Petty’s latest holiday pantomime is the wackiest of them all

By Victoria Bégin

A Ross Petty Production
Directed by Tracey Flye

Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical

Ross Petty as the Evil Queen with other cast members in Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical, on until Jan. 5 at the Elgin Theatre.

What do an Evil Queen in drag, a collection of Rob Ford jokes, and a perfectly choreographed performance of “Gangnam Style” have in common? Nothing, except they’re all part of Ross Petty’s latest “fractured fairy tale,” Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical, now playing at the Elgin Theatre. In traditional English pantomime style, Petty’s current offering incorporates a wealth of Canadian cultural references and modern music into a beloved fairy tale, rounded out by a phenomenally talented cast.

Since 1996, Ross Petty Productions has been staging wacky fairy tales during the holiday season, and Snow White is no doubt one of the Canadian theatre producer’s wackiest. Appearing on stage in a glittery pink ballgown, Petty plays the Evil Queen to perfection, encouraging “boos” (booze) from the audience at every turn. His entourage of guards help him sing his very own theme song, LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” as he consults his mirror to see if, in fact, he is the fairest of them all.

When the audience meets Snow White (played by Melissa O’Neil), she is spending time with her woodland friends—a raccoon, a squirrel, and a pigeon—who have inspired her to want to become a veterinarian. However, the Queen has other plans, and sends her servant Infestus the Fool (played brilliantly by Eddie Glen) to fetch the young Snow White and make her pose for a photo which the queen can later use as her online dating profile picture (not quite Disney’s version of the fairy tale). Snow White refuses to be part of the Queen’s deception and flees the kingdom, venturing into a deep dark forest full of familiar fairy tale characters.

This version of Snow White is a colourful cornucopia of cultural references—jokes about the TTC, Rob Ford, and Don Cherry are strewn throughout the production. The songs are also all current hits: O’Neil’s Snow White performs Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” as part of the show. Red Riding Hood (Bryn McAuley) is a fast-talking, and texting, Valley Girl who tweets that she knows a princess when Snow White reveals who she really is. Jack (David Cotton), of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, plays the charming love interest, while Ham (Reid Janisse) is one of the “Three Little Pigs” that everyone in the audience will recognize. Graham Abbey steals the show as Bond, a character who does not fit in upon first introduction, but without whom the production would not be the same.

Ross Petty’s Snow White is a culturally relevant, extremely entertaining holiday treat that will leave the audience laughing and singing. Appropriate for all ages and tastes, it is a rare interactive theatre experience.

Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical plays until January 5 at the ElginTheatre. Visit rosspetty.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Rating:
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Review: The Other Houdini (Theatre Lab)

Robert Feetham gives a breakout performance in this hilarious one-man show

Created and performed by Robert Feetham
With direction by Lisa Marie DiLiberto, Viktor Lukawski, Jenna Mariash
Dramaturgy by Adam Paolozza
Musical direction by Cameron Michael Murray

Robert Feetham.

What if the famous escape artist Harry Houdini was just an average Joe with something to prove? Creator and performer Robert Feetham explores this alternative to greatness in his one-man show The Other Houdini, a zany tale of an aspiring stuntman, presented by the Theatre Lab at Unit 102 Theatre.

The Humber-trained Feetham (who has worked with the master clown Philippe Gaulier) flexes his physical theatre chops in this fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny staging of a series of escape acts. Directed by Lisa Marie DiLiberto, Viktor Lukawski and Jenna Mariash, with dramaturgy by Adam Paolozza and musical direction by Cameron Michael Murray, The Other Houdini is clumsy and idiotic, falling down, rolling around, bursting out of boxes and attempting sloppy, so-called death-defying stunts in the hopes of making his mother proud. The audience is often asked to participate in the action as Feetham reads minds, talks to the dead and ultimately succumbs to his own foolishness in an endearing comical performance.

At this stage, the production is still being workshopped and is need of fine-tuning, however, with a bit more practice, The Other Houdini is destined for success.

The Other Houdini runs until Dec 1 at Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street). Visit theatrelab.ca for more information and to buy tickets.

Rating:
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Q&A: Steel Guitarist Don Rooke Talks About Art Of Time Ensemble’s The Big Band Show

Need a little escape from pre-holiday planning and preparations? Art of Time Ensemble’s The Big Band Show, featuring a 25-piece big band on stage at the Harbourfront Centre’s intimate Enwave Theatre from Nov 30 to Dec 1, is just the ticket to get you in the celebratory spirit. For this latest production, Art of Time artistic director and conductor Andrew Burashko unites his classically trained ensemble with artists from other musical backgrounds to play three pieces which have never before been performed together: Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite and Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 1. The evening pays tribute to both classical and jazz music, and the relationship and history connecting the two genres. Here, we chat with steel guitarist Don Rooke about this unique seasonal offering.

Theatromania: Tell us about Art of Time Ensemble’s The Big Band Show. How did you become involved with this production?

DR: I’m involved because of the Shostakovich Jazz Suite. He wrote a section that for some reason included lap steel guitar, which is what I play. Steel guitar is now such an arcane instrument, there are only a handful of practitioners in the area, which qualified me—only as much as the others.

Theatromania: As a jazz musician (steel guitar), what excites you most about collaborating with classically trained artists?

DR: I’m actually what might be called an “alternative folk” musician, but regardless, playing with musicians of this calibre, either jazz or classical, is exciting, humbling and frightening. They can play beautifully at the drop of a hat.

For me, playing an exact and featured part, however brief, is tough because I’m used to
changing things as I go, and playing only what I feel capable of playing at the time, no more. My part in this show is not technically difficult, it’s demanding in other ways.

Theatromania: Have you learned anything new during this process?

DR: I’m reminded that there is a deep, and deeply talented, pool of musicians in this city who should all be household names. And rich!

Theatromania: The show features Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, a jazz interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s seasonal classic The Nutcracker. If you could jazzify the sound of any other composer, who would it be?

DR: I used to love a record by Fritz Kreisler. That could work. Even though they weren’t all his compositions, it was a wonderful collection of short pieces.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?

DR: That it’s possible to quickly leave the city behind, head down to the waterfront and, through Andrew Burashko’s ensemble, be transported to another era that’s magical, seasonal, and far too rarely represented. I’d love to be in the audience!

The Big Band Show runs from Nov 30 to Dec 1, 8pm, at the Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre. Visit artoftimeensemble.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Posted by Lauren Gillett in Events | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review: Ignorance (The Old Trout Puppet Workshop/Canadian Stage)

Happiness is a warm cave in The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s latest creation

Presented by Canadian Stage
An Old Trout Puppet Workshop Production

Ignorance by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Jason Stang Photography.

Misery is a uniquely human condition, we are reminded, in The Old Trout Puppet Workshop‘s Ignorance, a morbidly funny and touching look at our prehistoric ancestors now playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre. This “world wide open creation puppet show” was written with the help of anonymous contributors on The Old Trout’s website, the result of which is an arftul and entertaining examination of mankind’s ignorance through the ages—part nature documentary, part Hitchhicker’s Guide for the ice age.

Narrated by Judd Palmer, Ignorance features Nicolas Di Gaetano, Trevor Leigh and Viktor Lukawski, three skilled puppeteers clad in matching grey pyjamas, horned, grunting, howling and talking in jibberish as they manoeuvre between handling paleolithic characters, beasts, and little old men. The show moves seamlessly from cave to city using brilliant props, such as a glowing fire, a brick building, mini cars and a balloon-making conveyor machine, while images are projected onto a screen inside a giant tusk-shaped set.

Self-referential, hilarious and intentionally cruel, Ignorance pokes fun at our ability to imagine situations or worlds that we perceive to be greater than our own, causing us to feel unsatisfied with our lives as they are. It turns out, we’re making the same mistakes now as we were in ancient times, but, thanks to The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, at least we can laugh at ourselves together.

Ignorance runs until December 15 at the Berkeley Street Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.

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Review: Terminus (Outside The March/Mirvish)

Outside The March transforms the Royal Alexandra Theatre into a haunting underworld with this spellbinding production of Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus

Presented by David Mirvish
An Outside The March Production
Written by Mark O’Rowe
Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Maev Beaty as “A” in TERMINUS Off-Mirvish Series. Photo Credit: Josie Di Luzio, courtesy of Mirvish Productions.

The Off-Mirvish Second Stage Series kicked-off in style on Friday night with Outside The March’s exciting remount of Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus. The Canadian premiere of this intimately staged show was first presented at the SummerWorks Performance Festival this past August for an audience of 30 to 40 people, where theatre producer David Mirvish saw it and picked it up as part of his new indie theatre programming. Now playing at the historic Royal Alexandra Theatre, the venue seats 200 people on risers, facing out at the gorgeous beaux-arts architecture of the oldest operating legitimate theatre in North America. 

Set in the darkest corners of Dublin, O’Rowe’s lyrical script tells three interwoven stories in rhyming vernacular. The tale moves betweeen narrators: Maev Beaty as “A,” a mother with a heavy conscience who races to save a near-stranger from an anarchic band of lesbians; Ava Jane Markus as “B,” a lonely woman who finds comfort sex and love in the “arms” of a disembodied soul; and Adam Wilson as “C,” a prowling serial killer haunted by a pact with the devil.

The visceral play calls for very little in the way of design, yet Richard Feren makes the audience squirm with subtle then shocking sound that bookmarks the show. Meanwhile, Nick Blais’ simple set evokes a construction site and a pair of worm-filled wings, and the theatre itself comes alive through his brilliant lighting technique.

Director Mitchell Cushman gets exceptional performances from the cast: Beaty is a perfect blend of vulnerable and ferocious as she battles to help a woman from a most unnatural abortion, her soaring voice and stark frankness commanding our attention from the very start; Markus shines in her genuine portrayal of a sad young woman in need of love, carrying us sweetly along on her supernatural journey; and Wilson is darkly funny and sly in his violent chronicle of bloodshed and destruction. There is only one word for storytelling as good as this: Epic.

Terminus is easily the most thrilling production of the year. Don’t miss your opportunity to experience the magic on stage at the Royal Alex.

Read our interview with Outside The March co-artistic director Mitchell Cushman here.

Terminus runs until December 9. Visit Mirvish.com for more information and to buy tickets.

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Posted by Lauren Gillett in Theatre | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Review: Actors! (Cheshire Unicorn Theatre Company)

Melissa Major invites Toronto audiences inside the fold with Actors! Canadian Actors Up Close and Personal

By Victoria Bégin

Presented by Triangle Pi Productions/The Cheshire Unicorn Theatre Company
Written and directed by Melissa Major

Being an actor in the Canadian theatre industry, specifically in the city of Toronto, is both a challenging and exciting profession. A typical theatre performance features actors in different roles, portraying characters who are different than themselves. It is a rarity for a production to take down the fourth wall, bringing the audience into the lives of the actors, and allowing for a two-way interaction. The Cheshire Unicorn’s newest production, Actors! Canadian Actors Up Close and Personal, now on stage at the MAJORspace (38 Abell Street, unit 207), tears down that barrier and places two professional Canadian actors in front of an audience for an honest and inspiring discussion.

Set in an intimate studio, the production stars Tim Walker and Stephanie Seaton, two warm and engaging actors who immediately connect with the audience. The actors begin by pulling pre-written questions on small slips of paper from a vase, with their answers limited to one minute each. This is a revealing exercise which allows Walker and Seaton to illustrate their individual backgrounds and gives the audience a glimpse into their everyday lives. They also share their motivations as actors, as well as some pretty wild experiences.

Actors! consists of a panel discussion as well as a scripted performance with a twist that will leave the audience speechless. Both Walker and Seaton maintain their professionalism and wit throughout. This production is an honest look at the Canadian theatre industry, as well as theatre in general. The audience leaves feeling inspired, and with a better understanding of the human beings behind the characters seen on stage.

Actors! Canadian Actors Up Close and Personal runs until Saturday, November 24. Click here to buy tickets.

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