Category Archives: Theatre

The Sound of Music plays pitch perfect to its charms

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

The story needs little introduction, so familiar is the iconic 1965 film version of Rodger & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. So the question at last night’s packed opening was could this version begin to approach the crowd-pleasing experience associated to its famous legacy?

Sound of Music

Set in Salzberg, Austria (oddly referred to as Kaltzberg in this production) on the eve of the outbreak of World War II the two-part story is that of would-be nun Maria (Kerstin Anderson) sent away from the abbey to become governess to the 7 children of widowed naval Captain von Trapp (Ben Davis). She ignites a love of music in the singing brood and in doing so turns the head of the Captain whom she marries. The Captain, a vehement opponent to the Nazis, is commissioned to the German Navy leading to the crafty dénouement whereby the family flees the country over the Austrian alps.

The production sticks close to the film version. It is a nostalgic romp through the classics from the opening scene with Maria belting out the title number through the delightful ensemble performances of Do-Re-Mi, My Favourite Things and The Lonely Goatherd, to the show-stopping Climb Ev’ry Mountain and iconic Edelweiss.

Anderson has a beautiful voice, steady and clear throughout, doing great justice to every number though her acting is mildly stilted.  Davis as the Captain on the other hand blends a powerful and accomplished singing voice to a wonderfully all-in performance. Coming up against a role “owned” by Christopher Plummer, Davis injects it with a full-on homage to that version while making it very much his own. His masterful yet playful performance had my companion bestow him the moniker Camptain von Trapp.

Sound of Music LieslOther stand-out voices were von Trapp children Liesl (Paige Silvester) who delivers a mature and delightful “16 going on 17” and Louisa (Maria Suzanne Knasel) who we wished had more solo moments.

The production is a feast for the eyes with remarkable backdrops and sets. In particular, the wedding scene in the abbey, the sparkling chandelier overhanging the von Trapp mansion and the still-shocking flag backdrop of the music festival.

As the curtain fell on the final act the audience hopped to it’s feet proving director Jack O’Brien has understood and captured the spirit of this musical delivering a production that plays perfectly to its charms.

Broadway Across Canada presents The Sound of Music  at the National Arts Centre until April 17, 2016. For scheduling and ticket information, click here.

Getting to Room Temperature – Undercurrents 2016

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Fringe theatre by its very name explores characters and topics frequently marginalized.  Getting to Room Temperature adheres to this tradition in Arthur Milne’s one-man show recounting the struggles that accompany the decline and death of his mother Rose.

Based on Milner’s experience with his mother Rose’s death the work was inspired by her pursuit of assisted suicide when incapacitated by a lung infection in her early 90s.

Part personal story, part lecture the play follows a natural progression from childhood reflections on the “noble” death of Inuit elders once commonly believed to leave their families to die in the wild through to contemporary research on euthanasia and the repercussions of life-extending medical practices.

BoekstahlThe weighty material flows through Robert Bockstael’s seemingly effortless delivery weaving a believable humor with poignant remembrances and effective arguments. Bockstael feels familiar even intimate; a confidante who spins out his story as though at a fireside chat.

Having previously lost his father to cancer, in his early 70s, Milner balances the notion of death by illness versus death by old age. His father fights a losing battle while his mother sees science fight off what would have killed her in a previous era as her body and quality of life steeply decline.

The show is peppered with humour. Alone with his father at the time of death Bockstael comically relates all manner of trick to confirm death and, when he finally announces it to his family, “everyone looked at the nurse”. He recalls cracking bad “a guy goes to the doctor” cancer jokes to relieve the anxiety: the good news is you have cancer, the worse news is you have Alzheimer’s. Well at least it isn’t cancer. The show uses laughter throughout the production mimicking real-life coping strategies to relieve the strain of death.

Via anecdotes of hearing loss and blaring televisions to the move to a retirement home, Milner asks us to weigh-in on serious questions including the impact of incessant medical intervention, quality of life and the financial strain of eldercare telling us squarely that aging in any dignified sense requires deep pockets in Canada. Despite top-of-the-line facilities providing quality care and accommodations shadows lurk in the corners where dementia lives and is studiously avoided until it takes hold.

Bockstael asks many questions and convincingly delivers many interlocking theories on death: the search for death is not an illness, suffering is not a virtue. From a Polish-Jewish background that fled the Nazi who wiped out her remaining family are we right to require, as a society, that Rose suffer more? Are we right, as a society, to require that anyone gripped in a painful old age suffer more? Do the aged, like the terminally ill, have the right to die; this is at the very crux of the production.

This personal story cum TEDtalk raises universal questions about aging and eldercare that are provocative and timely. Milner’s work is well-time with law makers currently struggling to legislate Canada’s 2015 Supreme Court ruling on the right to assisted suicide.

Where do we go next? That is the lingering question in this journey of Getting to Room Temperature.

Getting to Room Temperature
Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave

 

Monstrous, or, the Miscegenation Advantage – Undercurrents 2016

 

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca

Mis-ceg-e-na-tion (noun): the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types.

monstrous1Sarah Waisvisz travels a murky, muddled and miss-remembered heritage in Monstrous a world premiere performance at Undercurrents that blends storytelling to dance in Waisvisz search for cultural belonging. Premiering during Black History Month this work comes at an opportune moment offering insight into the baggage carried by many North American’s in relation to cultural identity.

Monstrous explores, from mostly a personal perspective, the lost history of stolen and exiled people whose birthright was clouded by the impact of slavery, the holocaust and enforced displacement.

Born to a family of both the African and European Jewish diaspora Waivisz finds her identity inconsistently, interchangeably and assuredly defined by strangers. Straddling a range of indefinable skin tone somewhere between dark European and light African she is the “ethnic” child while her brother is the blonde “Gerber baby”. Growing up they play slave trader games and no points in guessing how the roles were divided.  As an adult strangers pronounce her identity assuredly and inconsistently: black, white, Israeli, Lebanese, Caribbean, Italian and other. The consistent repeated disassociation coupled with in-family jokes leads Waisvisc to self-diagnose herself as suffering from cultural schizophrenia.

Waisvisc dynamic energy fill the minimalist set where music, projection and dance illustrate a global trek as stories, anecdotes, lies, hearsay and research are pulled from this trunk of family history.

Africa, Europe & Martinique all figure  large in the exploration of a family’s legacy. Waivisz’s multilingual talents and her choice of French-language music serve this production well emphasizing the international scope. “Pourquoi tu n”habite pas ici tati?” gives an authenticity to this self-reflective production.

She travels to Martinique, where her parents first met, and remarkable silhouetted shadow-play on evocative projections linking sensory impacts – sound, sight, taste – with the cultural sense of self – “I want to remember everything – how do I know I will ever return”.

monstrous2Stories and research are played out through song, chalk maps and dance episodes so masterful that the room burst in to spontaneous applause. Through her performance and a vibrant selection of projections Waivisz takes us from Africa to Martinique, to Ottawa, Rotterdam, Paris, Ferney and beyond.

How do you define yourself when your cultural identity is blurred? Take a trip with Monstrous to decide.

Undercurrents
February 10-20, 2016
Arts Court
2 Daly Ave

 

 

Freezing Seasonal Theatre @The Gladstone

An edited version of this review was published by APT613.ca
Warm temperatures haven’t put a thaw on unbridled icy enthusiasm as Freezing  returns to Ottawa “Bigger, Bolder… Colder” for its second seasonal run at The Gladstone Theatre.

From the opening parody song and dance number “No business like snow business” the stage is set for a performance both professionally polished and alive with playful humour.

FreezingWill Lamond

Will Lamond delivers a devilish Hans in Freezing

Appropriately for a pantomime the show never takes itself too seriously, convivially embracing the fine tradition of on-stage slapstick coupled with audience participation. Freezing ticks all the boxes of the traditional Christmas panto; parodying an – albeit new – classic, incorporating rollicking song and dance, bringing nonsense and groaner comedy alongside current political references to the fore and including the controversial yet iconic cross-dressing pantomime dame – finely played by Constant Bernard. The dame, facing politically correct challenges, will hopefully survive as the newly-acquainted learn the form springs from the anarchic tradition of carnival subversion at the heart of good panto, but only time will tell.

Set in an icy kingdom Princess Adele (Jessica Vandenberg) is a winter sport enthusiast while sister Hanna (Émilie O’Brien), the bashful bookworm smitten, is by iceman Krisco (Chad Connell).  Matriarch Queen Gerda (Bernard) sits at the helm of this small family and though frequently at comical odds with her daughters a fine stream of girl-power permeates the piece; after all, “it’s 2015”.  Enter the devilishly mischievous Hans (Will Lamond) keen to launch a temperature control app and bring an end to winter unless he can wed Hanna or Adele. Will Hans’ evil plan see him take the hand of one of the two Princesses? With a playful talking Beaver, a subservient Troll and tornados a tap away expect the unexpected.

The audience at the weekend matinee was fully engaged and keen to participate. The crowd that day enthusiastically joined in; booing the villain, cheering the heroes and letting all know if a monster was “behind them”.  At times the unbridled energy made way for a witty adlib.

Festive costumes reinforce the kid-accessibility of the characters while timely political commentary keeps the performance up to date and adult. Musical numbers and choreography are strong and confident– even a duet with a moose is surprisingly winning.

Contemporary political humour was more refined this year; the Justin Trudeau song and dance number and transit message from Jim Watson who “feels our pain” were hilariously executed.  The production, partly funded by donations from Little Italy businesses, did away with heavy-handed plugs integrating a tremendous #ShopLocal homage in a delightfully innovative scene.

Sarah & Matt Cassidy have returned with a refreshed and winning p

FreezingMiniCritics

MiniCritics& Cast

roduction; a panto that deserves to become a new local tradition.

Don’t take my word. In closing I offer the opinions of two 7yr olds “I didn’t like it… I loved it!” and “Double awesome thumbs-up”.

Freezing
The Gladstone Theatre 910 Gladstone Ave.
until January 3, 2016
Click here for showtimes & tickets

Anne & Gilbert: The Musical – Review

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613.ca 

Anne and Gilbert - Andree Lanthier

Anne (Ellen Denny) & Gilbert (Alex Furber) Photo courtesy Andrée Lanthier

Anne & Gilbert: The Musical has swept in to Ottawa in time for the holiday season and, not being a committed Anne of Green Gables nor family-friendly-format aficionado, the challenge set was whether this piece could entertain as a one-off night at the theatre.

The story follows Lucy Maud Montgomery’s eponymous flame-haired hero in to young womanhood taking cues from the author’s later novels: Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island each novel getting its own act in Martha Irving’s smartly directed production.

Created by Nancy White, Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhause the musical follows childhood rivals Anne and Gilbert now blossomed in to great, if conflicted, friends.  All of Avonlea believes these two are meant to wed but, while Gilbert (Alex Furber) is besotted with Anne (Ellen Denny), she is haughty with overly-saccharine longings for an exotic, ideal and urbane lover.

Act 1 reacquaints the audience with Avonlea and its many iconic characters. Anne and Gilbert teach in neighbouring towns – Anne schooling her former classmates in Avonlea – and both dream of higher academic studies and broader horizons. Act 2 tracks the protagonists’ adventures to the “mainland” university of Redmond where, following Anne’s rejection of Gilbert’s proposal, the two keep a measured distance while love rivals add complication and humour to this homespun story of hesitant love.

The musical score is rousing and the live trio performing adds a superior dimension to the evening. The musical chops of some performers, most notably Denny alongside the outstanding Alison Woolridge as Marilla and the captivating Amanda LeBlanc as Philippa Gordon, far outweigh others. In the whole however the quality of the songs accompanied by the energy and vibrancy of Brittany Banks crowd-pleasing choreography, and the talent of the ensemble make this a clear musical success with a pageant of song and dance characters that evoke emotion and provide undiluted delight.

Alongside the centre-stage story are a handful of well-drawn characters including the formidable Marilla Cuthbert and Rachel Lynde (Robin Craig) who provide a sub-plot on stoicism, resilience and life choices with moving performances of “Our Duty” and the stand-out “When he was my beau”. The two characters provide grounded humour alongside frank and determined hardiness. The amusing Phillipa Gordon (Amanda Leblanc), the wealthiest student at Redmond, who seesaws between beaus fairly lit up the stage with her gleeful dynamism.  Her beaus providing great comedy relief with their Monty Pythonesque stalking about the set. Ottawa’s own Charles Douglas and David Whiteley make impactful contributions to the ensemble. The former in a comical turn as Torontonian millionaire and Anne’s love interest Royal Gardner while the ever talented Whiteley fairly stealing scenes as the bumbling fiddle-playing Ministry-student Moody MacPherson particularly in scenes alongside Leblanc’s Philippa.

Paint me entertained and charmed by this sweet Canadian classic musical tale of Anne & Gilbert.  As seasonal entertainment this family friendly musical is a clear feel-good winner where even a curmudgeon may well find themselves declaring they’re “island through and through”.

Anne & Gilbert:National Arts Centre
NAC Theatre
Dec 1-23, 2015 various times

Frankie & Johnny bring Immersive Theatre to Ottawa

Frankie and johny posterIt is with excitement and anticipation that we awaited Vacant House Theatre‘s latest production Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Following last spring’s outrageously entertaining inaugural production this company marked itself as one to watch for its talent and innovative approach to staging.

Last year’s stage was the laundry room at the Backpacker’s Hostel this season we are invited inside Frankie’s poky Manhattan apartment; ushered down a narrow back staircase to a tiny basement apartment in Sandy Hill. The audience is clustered in two rows of folding chairs in one corner as the play unfolds literally at arms length.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune follows the lunar trajectory of a first date between two greasy-spoon co-workers where a tumble in bed ignites Johnny’s (David Whiteley) feverish romantic embers countered by Frankie’s (Alexis Scott) restrained caution, accepting as she is of her current uninspiring and solitary life. Eager to return to her private world she brushes off Johnny’s declarations of love and tries to rid her apartment of this excitable stranger. Can two middle-aged world-weary souls connect and reach for the romantic moonlight reflected in the strains of Debussy’s Clair de Lune.?

Frankie and Johnny setThe sparseness of the Vacant House Theatre venue enhances the intimacy and immediacy of the “on-stage” action. There is nowhere for these actors to hide a momentary lapse of concentration not that either of them try – both Whiteley and Scott are fully committed to their characters throughout the two act performance. Tumbling naked from the bed to lie not even feet from the audience is not for the faint of heart yet Whiteley & Scott tackle the opener with such natural ease that we’re instantly enwrapped in this middle-of-the-night conversation.

As the night progresses David Whitely reveals a Johnny that is a hopeless romantic frantically clinging to the urgent need to “connect” now. His desperation for grand gestures as his temples grey verges on manic. Alexis is fierce in her resistance – rejecting this idealised view and doubting any fateful signs. Together they work beautifully to convey the letdown of a “life more ordinary” and the self-doubts that accompany mid-life spread.

The performances are tremendous – Whiteley on fine form while Scott is committedly real and beautifully vulnerable. Sadly, Terrence McNally’s work fairly screams late 80’s. Johnny’s patriarchal notion of romance veers to domineering and stalker-like in particular when Frankie insists that Johnny leave her home and he flatly refuses causing the woman behind me to murmur “this is making me very uncomfortable”. For many people today the idea of being bullied in to seizing the day may not resonate as a fairytale. And it’s an interesting segue that Frankie watches domestic abuse in the window across from her own nightly. Tying these two elements together could provide a built-in element to update this play seamlessly.

Regardless of questions the talents in this two-hander swing the balance firmly in favour of this production which delivers unique and accomplished performances and a truly immersive night out.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune
Vacant House Theatre
May 21-30th 8PM
122 Stewart St

Undercurrents – Raising the Bar

http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca 12-21 February 2015

Attendance at Undercurrents opening night was testament to Ottawa’s writing and performing talents where a boisterous and enthusiastic crowd filled the house for a trio of outstanding acts. As the festival grows year on year now extending over two weekends with more than 30 performances and an international act to boot the bar (sic)is set  high in both theatrical standards and as a shining example of how to run a event.

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Pat Gauthier in the Studio

Undercurrents delivers quality theatre in a convivial roughly-polished atmosphere proving it’s the sum of the parts that create a success. Planning to stay for only the first play it was the attention brought to the overall experience that drew me in to buy tickets and contribute to the Pay-What-You-Can (PWYC) act in the Studio (ahem bar) sandwiched between the two pay shows.

Remarks throughout the night from Festival Director Patrick Gauthier provided a welcoming, personal note to the proceedings. Gauthier’s vision and genuine enthusiasm alongside his personable approach is energising theatre in this city.

First up was Thunk!Theatre who set sail in Far & Near & Here on a serendipitous journey of self discovery with a first date thrown in for good measure. Plastic bottles haphazardly litter the set and the opening is rather choppy until Ned (Geoff McBride) and Ted (Karen Balcome) row in to each other’s lives via a notebook left in a cafe and a series of long-distance postcards. Meeting at a GPS point, Here, halfway between their respective homes of Near and Far both are at sea in more ways than one. The discarded bottles and office chairs are not only rowboats nor simply a metaphor for plastic choked oceans but as these two strangers are forced to face personal dissatisfaction head on the play moves from purposefully whimsy to become a pensive thought-provoking piece.

Air by Tottering Biped Theatre was a one-man physical performance with Trevor Copp nothing short of astonishing as he wordlessly encapsulates life after death, a stag hunt, and a man who reaches for and climbs to the stars. These brief performances set to well chosen soundtracks carried the audience easily with physical performances delivering beauty, humour and humanity.  Expecting little at the outset this act proved to be the gem of opening night.

Love + Hate by The Peptides delivers song-filled vignettes tackling the big issues of the day from corporate corruption through the polarizing effects of love and hate. The vocals of this 9-piece are fantastic, clearly a crowd pleaser, as evidenced by the packed house but the theatricality of the performances left me cold; the vocals far outstripping the Thespian routine. A straight-up concert strikes me as a more tempting proposition though I seemed to be in the minority on the night.

A glimpse of the generous spread

A glimpse of the generous spread

The curation of this event is fantastic. Across-the-road local class act resto-bar The Albion Rooms was enlisted to cater opening night and Chef Stephen La Salle outdid himself with a fantastically generous and creative spread. Most dates includes a PWYC option allowing the uninitiated to dip a toe in fringe with satisfying acts in the bar (ahem Studio). On Wednesday Feb 18th they’ve organised a free beer tasting with Dominion City sandwiched between SPIN at 19:00 and Marathon at 21:00 taking theatre accessibility to a whole new level. Ottawa’s theatres can frequently be staid seemingly forgetting that pretension is no marker of success or enjoyment.   Not so at Undercurrents where the delivery of the experience is equal to the quality of the selected pieces. Gauthier and co deliver an experience where the NAC season-ticket holder will feel as comfortable as a Sens fan. Neither precious nor pretentious Undercurrents gets it right delivering professional quality theatre alongside a proper night out.

ArtsCourt, 2 Daly Ave, Ottawa, ON
http://www.undercurrentsfestival.ca

12-21 February 2015

A “Freezing” Night of Fun

An edited version of this review was also published in Apt613.
“Freezing” at The Gladstone theatre, steers far enough from the movie echoed in the title to breed familiarity and anticipation – queue many young girls in their finest Anna and Elsa gear – while Ken MacDougall delivers an original storyline guaranteeing a unique and uproarious night out for all ages.

Freezing1Set in the troubled land of Snow Globe Queen Gerda (Gab Desmond – in a stellar cross-dressed performance) is keen to marry off Princesses Hanna (Esther Vallins) and Adele (Jessica Vandenberg) to preserve the icy kingdom. Enter Hans (Will Lamond), the winter-hating villain of the piece, who threatens endless summer if not granted a royal wedding and all measure of comical action ensues with an eager beaver, a troll with low self-esteem, a handsome ice-man, a tornado and many twists and turns.

To the unacquainted a pantomime is “British theatre traditionally performed at Christmas incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, topical references, and audience participation.”  Audience members cheer the heroes, boo the villain and in this instance some young one’s even had a hockey shoot out.

Costume and styling connect the younger audience with accessible characters while the fresh and fun writing hold that engagement. The cast is charming with particularly strong comic performances from Desmond, Lamond and Shelley Simester as Rubble the troll. The music and choreography are wholly successful as the cast deliver wonderful, rousing song and dance numbers.

Freezing’s is well-paced with seasonally whimsical moments. The music and adventure keeps kids entertained while tongue-firmly-in-cheek asides on everything from the Red Blacks to the LRT and talented performances secure adult amusement. Despite a few not altogether successful jokes, such as the 3-pigs / Senator scandal and an unfortunate commercial break in the proceedings, producers Sarah & Matt Cassidy deliver a winning panto which should well become Ottawa newest holiday tradition.

Freezing
Dec 18- Jan 4th
Evenings 7:30PM, Matinees 2:30PM
The Gladstone, 910 Gladstone Ave.

Eye Spy: Young Lady in White lights up @artscourt @tacticseries @evotheatre

A sold out opening night and rave reviews don’t stop the esteemed Counterpoint Players TACTICS’ Series from offering accessible theatre.

Today’s 2PM performance of “Young Lady in White” from local company Evolution Theatre is a Pay-What-You-Can affair at Arts Court.

The inventive play spans 76 years, from 1930-2009, from the vantage point of a young girl in an undeveloped photograph who witnesses history from her window in Germany as she awaits the return of the photographer. While war and progress unfold before her the historical context is tied to the personal struggle of her own hopes and dreams waiting to “develop”.

TACTICS’ gives local independent artists a chance to showcase their work in an affordable venue bringing quality theatre to the Ottawa stage. The TACTICS  series will run from November 2014 to April 2015 at Arts Court Theatre.

Please give generously to support the artists and to ensure PWYC theatre continues for those that cannot afford the arts.

Young Lady In White
Nov 7-15, 8PM – with 2PM matinees
20-25$
Arts Court Theatre
2 Daly Ave

Eye Spy: “The Birder” sees native son return to Ottawa Screens

Birder-quotes-b-1024x542

The Birder” premières tomorrow Thursday July 31st at Ottawa’s Mayfair Theatre on Bank St.  The comedy, currently boasting a 7.9/10 IMDB rating, sees mild-mannered bird watcher Ron (Tom Cavanagh – Ottawa born and yours truly’s brother) seek revenge after losing out as Head of Ornithology at a National Park to a younger couple.

As well as Cavanagh, The Birder heralds the return of wonderful Ontario-born actor Graham Greene, perennial comedy master Fred Willard in the role of Park President with Toronto natives Tommie-Amber Pirie and Mark Rendall who is rumoured to deliver a tremendous performance.

An Official Selection at Raindance Film Festival 2013, the Calgary International Film Festival, the Canadian Film Fest and the Los Angeles Comedy Festival The Birder promises smart wit and charm.

The Mayfair is a great choice given Tom lived as a child for  several years around the corner in Old Ottawa South on Willard St.

Tomorrow’s première will be attended by the film’s Director Theodore Bezaire, Producer Gerry Lattman and more so fly on out for a great flick with a touch of home!

The Birder
Thursday July 31st 7:00PM
The Mayfair Theatre 1074 Bank St.