Tag Archives: David Whiteley

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

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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

Two Additional Dates for Triumphant Glengarry Glen Ross @ The Gladstone

An edited version of this review was published by Apt613. Heading in to David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross one wonders if, The Avalon Studio production will compare favourably to the excellent movie version with Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin & Al Pacino. Be assured, this is no poor cousin but a relentlessly vicious and vital theatrical experience of Mamet’s world of shady salesmen and dark deeds. GGR-held_overGlengarry Highlands & Glen Ross Farms – two undesirable developments in Florida – follows 24hours in the lives of a gang of thuggish real-estate agents competing on the company leader board in a race of diminishing markets with a punishingly masochistic office manager at the helm. Prepare for profanity and to witness every unethical trick in the book in David Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece; an uncompromising ode to ethical vacuity and the desperation wrought by the art of the deal. Act1 delivers three quick-fire 2-hander scenes set in the cloying red Chinese restaurant across from the office. Shelley “the Machine” Levene (Tom Charlebois) is the aging company man facing off with the younger office-manager John Williamson (Leslie Cserepy). Levene accuses the boss of dishing out poor leads “You’re giving me fucking toilet paper.” Charlebois’ metamorphose from false bravado to sweaty, twitching desperation versus Cserepy’s taunting cocksure sadist imbued the theatre with a contagious and palpable tension. The introduction of Dave Moss (John Muggleton) and George Aaronow (Chris Ralph) alleviated the mood as Muggleton & Ralph take unethical lows to a new high with well-paced quick-talking dialogue prompting a spontaneous outburst of applause. Act 1 closes with Ricky Roma (Steve Martin) smooth talking a chance encounter with James Lingk (Dale MacEarchern) the puppet-strings fairly visible so silky is the spider web spun. Martin is slightly reminiscent of Al Pacino in this role which temporarily breaks the spell before he hits his stride. GlengarryBWCharacters established, the 2nd act concerns the investigation of the overnight office burglary of the “good leads”. The office, in complete disarray, sees Moss incandescent at the interviews being conducted by Detective Baylen (David Whiteley). John Muggleton fairly owns the stage in this brief explosive scene. Meanwhile client Lingk is swimming with sharks when faced with Roma & Levene as he tries to cancel his purchase of the day before.  And the stage is set for the final downward spiral as the production dives gleefully to its heart of darkness. Individually adept the cast work seamlessly as a team creating an evening that is sharp, ruthless and vigorous. Geoff Gruson’s direction is assured; he keeps the motley gang of character performances tight; maintaining a captivating tempo where individual performances shine without detracting from the ensemble. Glengarry Glen Ross is Mamet at his best; capturing a powerfully impotent and angry “world of men”. This revival, from dimmed lights to curtain call, fervently and competently embodies the salesmen’s maxim “Always be Closing”. Glengarry Glen Ross June 24- July 5th Now til July 12th Evenings 7:30PM, Matinees 2:30PM The Gladstone, 910 Gladstone Ave.

Prix Rideau Awards: Theatre Stars Shine Bright in Sandy Hill

Prix Rideau Awards Bate HallArticle also published on Apt613.ca
On Sunday evening a cavalcade of theatre luminaries gathered in Bates Hall, Sandy Hill to honour the brightest amongst their ranks.

warming up at the barThe Prix Rideau Awards founded in 2006 celebrates locally produced professional theatre and artists in both French and English. It is inspiring to see categories, including best male and female performers, best director, emerging artists, etc single out standout achievements in both official languages at one event.  This year’s nominations included 40 English theatre productions and 14 French language plays making for a packed hall of nominees, supporters, advocates and fans of local theatre and arts.

Annie Lefebvre keeps her head pre-show

Annie Lefebvre keeps her head pre-show

This year’s awards hosted by Tania Levy & Hugues Beaudoin-Dumouchel saw former host Annie Lefebvre literally beheaded in the show opener. Her corpse-less-head then overseeing proceedings from a table top.

The night was beautifully animated and the delivery, especially for a performing arts award show – these folks love the stage – was succinct and moved at a enjoyable pace with an engaged and bellicose audience.

Alain Chauvin & Elise Gauthier

Alain Chauvin & Elise Gauthier

Tina Goralski who won the 2013 “Derriere le Rideau/Behind the Curtain” French-language award for “A tu et A moi” delivered a particularly moving speech on the power of bilingual theatre – this from an Albertan Anglophone no less.  Brad Long taking “Outstanding Performance, Male” for “We Glow” had the crowd tittering with “the actor’s cliché” of no prepared speech.

Gabrielle Lalonde and Guest

Gabrielle Lalonde and Guest

The host’ were at one point stage-rushed for an impromptu “selfie” by a couple in the crowd. A bouquet toss was held for the “best dress” in the audience and Emily Pearlman made us well-up when, accepting “Best Director” for “Hroses”, she dedicated her win for a “play about love to the person that I’m so in love with”.

Exec Dir Matt Miwa

Exec Dir Matt Miwa

Executive Director Matt Miwa deserves a big hand for producing such a polished evening alongside the entire Prix Rideau Awards organising team and arts community for standing up for this much deserved recognition.

And the Winners Are…. PRix Rideau Award Winners 2013

Emerging Artist Award Eng: Melanie Karin
Prix d’Artiste en Emergence: Lissa Leger

Derriere le Rideau Award: David Whiteley ‘Billy Bishop’, ‘Absurd Person Singular’ & ‘ Private Lives’
Derriere le Rideau Award: Tina Goralski ‘A tu et A Moi’ Compagnie L’Atelier

Outstanding Performance, Female:  Katie Swift ‘Hroses’ Evolution Theatre
Interpretation Feminine de L’Annee: Magali Lemele ‘Je n’y suis plus’ en co-production avec Le Theatre Francaise du CNA

Outstanding Design : Al Connors (Sound) ‘Hroses’ & Brian Smith (Set) ‘God of Carnage’ Third Wall Theatre
Conception de L’Annee: Gabriel Tsampalieros (Scenographie) ‘Je N’y Suis Plus’ Magali Lemele en co-production ave Le Theatre Francaise du CNA& Melanie McNeil (Scenographie) ‘le fa le do’ Theatre Catapulte

Interpretation Masculine de L’Annee : Yves Turbide ‘Fool for Love’ Theatre des Cybeles

Outstanding Performance Male : Brad Long ‘We Glow’ Theatre 4.669

Outstanding New Creation: Emily Pearlman & Brad Long ‘We Glow’ Theatre 4.669
Nouvelle Creation de L’Annee: ‘Ik Onkar’ Theatre la Catapulte

Outstanding Direction: Emily Pearlman ‘ Hroses’ Evolution Theatre
Mise en Scene de L’Annee: Caroline Yergeau ‘Porc-Epic’ Theatre Belvedere

Production de L’Annee: ‘Ik Onkar’ Theatre la Catapulte
Production of the Year : ‘The Vibrator Play’ Same Day Theatre

The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine: Vacant House Theatre explodes on to theatre scene

Ernest stage This post also published on Apt613.ca
As the virtual curtain fell on “The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine” this tweet went out: venue is insane but the talent is undeniable. The setting in the tiny basement of the Backpacker’s Hostel on York Street is uninviting. Seating –12 max- includes dingy stained sofas and cushions on the laundry room cement floor. With the actors literally at arm’s length it all heralds an amateur evening… and then the play begins.

The 1987 work by Leah Cherniak, Robert Morgan and Martha Ross follows the downward trajectory of blissful newlyweds Ernest and Ernestine – and the simmering anger within each – as their relationship implodes in an overheated, cramped subterranean apartment.  The tale of the growing cracks between the poorly matched free-spirited Ernestine & bookish methodical Ernest is in turn funny, relate-able and charming. The anger within each is embodied in shadow actors creating a vibrant four-hander dynamic as the wedded pair strive to balance each other and their internal “partners”.

Graduates of the now defunct Ottawa Theatre School, Karina Milech (Ernestine) and Alexis Scott (the Anger in Ernestine), set up production company Vacant House Theatre six-months ago and this is their inaugural “site-specific” piece.

Joining forces with Patrick Kelly (Ernest), Nicholas Wade Fournier (The Anger in Ernest) and director David Whiteley the actors fairly glide through the 90minute production in cramped constraints. The cast transport the audience in to the claustrophobia of their poky apartment, through their interior desperation and denial and across the city from bars to bird watching with an ease and professionalism completely at odds with the venue.

Ernest and Ernestine 4

Scott, Kelly, Fournier and Milech

Milech, Scott, Kelly and Fournier are equally successful in their roles and the relationships they bring the “stage”. From Milech & Scott’s frenzied make-up to Kelly & Fournier’s meticulous broom dance all four work harmoniously together neither upstaging nor drafting. These players are relentlessly committed to their character in an environment that leaves no room for error. As close as they are to their audience without margin for a missed beat or drop in energy they embody their roles with relish throughout with strong timing, subtle inflections and wonderfully choreographed intervals.

I’m sold on this site-specific team. Catch this inaugural show and you’ll agree so long as the future performances equal the quality of Ernest & Ernestine than Vacant House is a whole lot more than a “location” gimmick.

The Anger in Ernest & Ernestine  – Vacant House Theatre
24-26 April 8PM
27 April 2PM
The Ottawa Backpackers Inn, 203 York St.