Dancing with Rage - Mary Walsh
I have no idea how old Mary Walsh is and I don't care. For once I'd like a woman's talent to be gauged not in a "for her age" category.
Mary Walsh is funny for a mid-50 year old and for someone in their mid-teens. She's quick, she's got range and she pretty much loathes Stephen Harper (but in a funny way).
Walsh improvs when cues are flubbed (both lighting and sound...multiple times) and the audience is in stiches, she kills with political zingers featuring Harper, Rob Ford and John Baird, and she's got the whole place busting a gut when she laments aging and womanhood in two clever, ovaries-to-the-wall monologues. In short: she's got moxie.
But her show is a bit of a hot mess. Walsh and Co-Director Andy Jones need to continue the finessing process so it's less...hodge podge-y and more streamlined. One moment Walsh is engaging, expressing genuine emotion through humor, the next moment she's playing for quick guffaws that are so slapsticky they belong on Saturday morning cartoons, and the moment after that we're watching a video of her playing yet another character leading a seudo-musical number on the winter streets of St. John's, Newfoundland.
But Walsh IS funny. I slapped my knee a few times during the show (my personal barometer for humour); she's instantly charming, but has enough gusto to give a quick tongue lashing if you give her the wrong lighting cue. It's a fab combo and one that I wish she'd showcased more of instead of playing for the schticky result.
DANCING WITH RAGE is playing now until March 24 at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.). For tickets call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
One of the best things about Mirvish's production of THE WIZARD OF OZ are the kids in the audience. Not only are they having the most fun in the joint (aside from maybe the Scarecrow), but very quickly I was reminded how jaded and elitest I"ve become.
Just as I rolled my eyes at the too-bright, Starlight Express rainbow that dominates the stage in Oz, I heard a girl behind me gasp "Mommy! It's so pretty!", and then when Glinda the Good Witch desceded from the sky immediately after, she was equally as thrilled, (cue gasp #2), "Mommy! She's got the biggest dress ever!"
And she was right.
The rainbow WAS pretty and Glinda DID have, basically, the biggest dress ever. When I looked at the stage again, after hearing the girl's heartfelt and judgement-free appreciation, everything on it seemed a bit brighter.
Things that were bright on either side of the rainbow, regardless of how jaded you've become, were the uniformly sharp ensemble who were crisp and precise and made every dance number killer. Jamie McKnight who plays the Scarecrow made me smile at his silliness despite my adult elitistness and Cedric Smith simply sparkles as Professor Marvel and The Wizard. I didn't watch the CBC TV show "Over the Rainbow" so I didn't know the hype surrounding Danielle Wade, but I thought she had a super voice and held her own on stage.
After hearing the young girl's gasps of glee I was reminded of my first experience with the musical CATS in which I totally and absolutely thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. I'm sure there were heaps of adults who thought Andrew Lloyd Webber was just as cheesy then as I think he is now, but my exposure to CATS was one of the key ignitors of my love of theatre and I'll always think fondly of the show becuase of that.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's "new production" of THE WIZARD OF OZ won't be the best musical you've ever seen, but it will be for someone in the audience, and since families don't seem to share in the theatrical experience that often anymore, it still makes for a worthy experience.
THE WIZARD OF OZ is on now at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.). For tix call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
Photo Credit: Josie Di Luzio,
As you enter into the auditorium of the Royal Alexandra Theatre and make your way up to the stage to take your seat for TERMINUS, the feeling of anticipation rises; you know you're in for something special.
Maybe it's bypassing the regular theatre seating and climbing to the usually verboten stage, or the S&M-esque set that creates a feeling of velocity even while completely still, or maybe its Maev Beaty who is on stage as we enter and continues to be in character as we wait, and who is literally the only actor I've seen not make this theatrical convention awkward (actor in character on stage while the audience enters = awkward for everyone involved). Or maybe it was the host of killer reviews I read before I saw the show - but, let me tell you - I was more excited for this show than I had been for any show in a looooooooong time.
And then it starts. Prose recited with the melodic lilt unique to the Irish, telling stories about good people doing bad things, that grab your attention and doesn't let it go for one tiny moment, but keeps it honed in on movements that are confined to a closet-size space, but still create the illusion of action-packed drama and atmosphere. An atmosphere that sometimes gets so intense and graphic, I had to physically look away. And, wait, it gets better because. It. Rhymes.
The cleverness of the script, the intelligence of the story, the mastery of the characters, all enhanced through verse that is not only music to the ears but invokes the frequent thoughts "He rhymed another 4 syllable word?!" and "Holy shit this is good." But these thoughts are only fleeting because it's so much more important to be in the moment experiencing the total thrill of exciting, gritty, nail-you-to-your-seat theatre and you don't want to miss a thing.
TERMINUS is on now until Dec. 16 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) Only 200 seats per show and rush tickets are available. For tickets call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
Don't miss it.
Let me start off by saying that it was a real trip seeing Kathleen Turner in person and on stage.
She's got somethin' - moxie? joie de vive? charisma? - that makes you want to watch her.
Maybe its her husky voice, or her star presence, maybe it's a combo of all of the above, but whatever it is, it works, so it's odd that a woman of her magnetism would choose HIGH as the play to strut her stuff.
Cast as a sarcastic, let's-get-real Nun, Turner is enlisted by her boss, Father Michael (Tim Altmeyer), to be the social worker to 18 year-old, drug-addicted, gay prostitute-turned-potential-pimp, Cody Randall (Evan Jonigkeit). As we soon learn, Randall's life has been a series of severe traumas and he is so mired in his quest to subdue his pain that his unpredictable addict behaviour soon becomes problematic for everyone. In her attempt to help Cody, Turner's character has to face her own struggles with sobriety and her own past pain she's tried to subdue. Crisis and tragedy ensue and, naturally, no one ends up where they thought they would.
Fortunately, I've never had to deal with an addiction, either my own or someone else's, so I can't speak with any authority on how realistic the behaviour is in HIGH, but I can't shake the feeling that playwright, Matthew Lombardo, has perhaps seen one too many episodes of "Intervention."
The melodrama bordered on cliché-territory and not in a way that worked.
Most scenes in the play were intersected by monologues Turner delivered to the audience, a device I can only guess that served to let the audience know her inner demons and feel more connected with her character. I hated them.
Turner was at her best when she was bantering with the other actors, her timing and her wit giving life to a usually predictable scene. She couldn't do that in the heavy-handed monologues; she was bogged down with the script and in metaphors that didn't really measure up.
If I sound frustrated, it's because I am. I don't know what HIGH was trying to say; I am still trying to bridge the ideas of religious faith, with addiction, with simple human connection, with death and with being high in the sky (an idea that bookends he play) and why on earth a woman as formidable as Kathleen Turner would read this script and agree to do the play.
I encourage you to see the play yourself and if you can fill me in, please do.
HIGH is playing now until May 13 (4 shows left!) at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.)
For tix call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
What does it take to create a big, shiny commercial musical success?
1. Energetic cast full of attractive people: check.
2. Huge, pumping dance numbers that noticeably elevate the auditorium's energy level: check.
3. Bang-on dancers that perform so tightly it's like they knew each other in previous lives: check.
4. Witty lyrics that are topical and relevant in both delivery and subject matter: check.
5. Decent acting that doesn't seem too "musical-y" and give you a sweet tooth - check (mostly).
6. Dynamite set that is pretty, versatile and well engineered: check (It's simple but it usually worked. *Note: projections are not included in this statement.)
7. Voices that can belt your face to the back of the auditorium: check x2.
BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL won't provoke your inner Einstein, but it does fulfill all of the above criteria, and it will leave you shaking your hips and gasping at the gravity-defying cheerleading antics.
(Cut to me saying repeatedly: "Is that SAFE?!")
It's big, it's fluffy and, yes y'all, it's fun.
Let me be clear: I don't go to the theatre for the sheer entertainment value; most of the time I want to leave the theatre analyzing the crap out of my emotional reaction to what I've just seen - particularly if it's a negative reaction - and I sometimes resent not fully using my brain in the theatre.
But BRING IT ON celebrates the carelessness and selfishness of youth, and all of the vacuous and awkward self-actualization that comes along with it. And I am OK with that.
It initiated the "If I only knew then, what I know now" psyche about high school, which made me nostalgic for a time where I wasn't so determined to be so morally high-minded and could better appreciate silliness for silly's sake.
The moral of its story isn't thought-provoking. In fact, it's a moral that should reside in everyone's common sense from the age of eight, so it's nothing new. But at least it does have a moral; one that is presented in the most current and trendy way imaginable - with hip hop, low-grade cusswords, teen angst and some killer dance moves.
Superficiality aside, the cast of BRING IT ON, seriously brought it out, and for the low price of $25, you need to bring every teen you know. Particularly those that don't see theatre often; it's a chance for them to see themselves and their peers on stage, and, for a couple of hours, perhaps not be made to feel badly about their lack of online privacy, their incessant tweeting and their preference for reality TV. They'll love it.
As for the rest of the Mirvish subscribers? Weeeeeellllll, this one's just not for them.
BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL is now playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria St.) until June 3.
For tix, call: 416-872-1212 or click here.
With the amount of hype behind the Mirvish production of WAR HORSE, the show needed to be pret-ty spectacular to live up to it. Fortunately, it is and it does.
To me, there is nothing more invigorating than a theatrical production that uses the conventions of a theatre (set, lights, props, sound and actors) to effectively tell a story. By that, I mean that the artifices of a theatre are capitalized on to not only enhance the story, but are used in the actual telling of the story so that the plot and the theatrical componants are inseperable.
WAR HORSE embraced this philosophy and I loved it.
Take the horses. Without exaggeration, I can honestly say that they are works of art, and the actors manipulating them portray the nuances of a horse with fantastic accuracy. The horses are a showstopper when they’re moving (running, jumping, etc) but it’s in the smaller, more minute movements, where the real magic happens. The ears twinge, the tail swishes, the head shakes – all incredibly life-like and always simultaneously executed by three different actors, giving the impression that in addition to sharing the same horse costume, the actors also share the same brain.
The amount of rehearsal behind this had to be exhausting. But so worth it. I felt real compassion for those horses even though I could always see the human legs underneath them.
The set = simplisity. So much so, that when I walked in, I was initially disappointed. It's a black stage with a piece of distressed-looking white material hanging half-way down the proscenium archway, looking like it’s been ripped from a book (a theme that ties in with the play). But this non-descript white material immediately became a versatile backdrop for projections to establish settings, time, action and was easily one of the more ingenious ideas in the production. A-mazing.
The props, along with the horses (which are also, arguably props) were my fav. Venues, places, town, were easily established with the slight change of props. One minute you're in a livestock auction, the next you're at a farm and the only things that changed were the placement of some sticks. (ok, and a couple more things but, really, barely anything!) It's all just so clever.
The actors, overall, were also dynamite. Although I think the lack of personal mics caused some of the actors to overcompensate for volume. Alex Furber, who plays the lead Albert, was a bit… yell-y.
I kept wondering if he’s going to sound like Brian Johnson from AC DC before the show’s run is through. The O.T.T. voicework detracted from some of the actors’ dramatic range and the heavy cheese factor of the script unfortunately compounded the melodrama effect. (How many times do we need to hear Albert dramatically yell “JOEEEEEEEYYYYYYYY!!!” to know that he loves his horse.)
But the cast is really fabulous. They work HARD throughout this show and it's evident in the precise execution of almost everything they do.
WAR HORSE is a beautifully directed play. I felt like those who created it love and appreciate the artform, and that came through in all its innovative glory. It made me proud that the cast was all-Canadian and to know that the abundance of talent on stage is homegrown. Yelling and awkward songstress entrances aside (an idea that probably worked in theory but not practice), WAR HORSE is a theatrical experience for the history books.
WAR HORSE is on now at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St. W.). For tickets click here or call: 416-872-1212. #WarHorseTO
Without realizing it, I had already decided that a lot of the theatre I was seeing was predictable. This doesn't mean that I was disapointed in what I was watching, just that I was conditioned to expect the expected. I had subconsiously created a status-quo that I didn't know was there and I was, admittedly, happy with.
But back the truck up. Mirvish's THE BLUE DRAGON and Nightwood Theatre's THE PENELOPIAD shook things up this week with their dynamo, non-predictable productions, and provided innovative, exciting works not commonly seen in the Toronto landscape.
THE PENELOPIAD by Margaret Atwood is a response to Homer's The Odyssey and tells the story of Penelope (Megan Follows) through the 20 year absence of her husband Odysses who is fighting the Trojan War. Left to raise their son and fend off hundrends of suitors, Penelope enlists the help of 12 maids in a scheme to protect her. Upon his return, Odysses ruthlessly hangs the maids and Penelope is an acessory to murder.
If this synopsis of a reimagined, ancient Greek tale with a feminist twist, doesn't peak your curiousity, I get it. But take that story and tell it with the hilariously dry wit of Margaret Atwood, add in a slew of REALLY fantastic female actors, led by the incomporable Megan Follows, include some inspired choreography by the talented Monica Dottor, and some off-the-hook directing by Nightwood's Artistic Director, Kelly Thornton, and you've got yourself a visual spectacle that even Aristotle would be proud of. The show redefined both creativity and what a theatrical production is capable of.
No, that is not an exaggeration.
The multi-faceted set, costumes, props and actors were maniuplated in so many ways that it was hard to envision what else they could do , yet it was never a surprise when they were reimagined again and again.
Part of my enjoyment of the show was that I was constantly surprised by it's ingenuity so I don't want to give much away. Just go. The likes of this won't be seen again with such a perfect storm of talent.
Nightwood has, yet again, commanded attention to the female voice through theatre in a bold, beautiful, loud and distinctly female way. And I love it.
Mirvish also opened THE BLUE DRAGON this week. The sequel to Robert LePage's THE DRAGONS' TRILOGY, originally written in the 80's. This play takes place 50 years after the original play, with the protagonist, Pierre, living in Shanghai, having a mid-life crisis and dating a new, trendy visual artist half his age. When his old friend Claire comes to visit en route to adopt a baby, their interactions and confrontations open unexpected doors to the future for all of them.
Again, if this story doesn't get you excited, it's to be expected. It didn't do much for me either.
But in typical Lepage fashion, he took this plot and created a visual extravaganza on stage akin only to other Lepage shows.
I always feel like Robert Lepage knows what a stage is capable of better than anyone else. I feel like he's got secrets about what can be done that others don't, and he pulls out his bag of tricks in ways that seem so natural that I can't believe no one had ever done it before. But no one has.
His use of projections, his all-encompassing set-designs and his use of props are so seamlessly woven into the drama of the story, it's hard to imagine the play without them and it's impossible to imagine the play done any other way. And who would want to; it's all so perfect already that anything less would be tantamount to sacrilege.
It may seem like I'm laying it on a bit thick., but I"m not. Even those who have dismissed theatre as irrelevent still get excited about a show by Robert Lepage, and THE BLUE DRAGON is a perfect example as to why. It proves, once again, that there's nothing quite like a Lepage anywhere else.
Do yourself a favour; spend the money and see these 2 shows. If you don't see anything else in 2012
I can almost excuse that. These are a great start to the year and excellent additions to your theatrical repertoire of memories. You will not see shows like this again for a very, very long time. Maybe ever.
THE PENELOPIAD is now on stage at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St.), until Jan. 29. For tix, call 416-975-8555 or click here.
THE BLUE DRAGON is now on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.), until Feb. 9
For tix, call 416-872-1212 or click here.
The touring production of HAIR, rolled into town this week and despite the vigorous choreography (summersaults while singing!), plethora of attractive people on stage and the ear-worm music that probably makes Andrew Lloyd Webber jealous, I have to wonder if HAIR is still relevant.
If the Iraq/Afghanistan invasions and international "Occupy" movements have taught us anything, it's that the anti-war and anti-establishment outrage are alive and well in present day. Contemporary hipsters and/or the granola/organic counter-culture, can arguably be compared to the hippie culture of the 70s, and drugs are still a very common part of youth society (with LSD being replaced by cocaine and speed).
So if the themes of HAIR are still active 30+ years later, why do I feel like I couldn't relate to the story?
I've never been a travelling salesman or a member of posh aristocracy, but I feel like I can relate to themes in DEATH OF A SALESMAN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST, so why do I have so much trouble with HAIR?
I think it's because I'm not sure what HAIR is supposed to be. It's a musical with catchy tunes and mostly fluffy lyrics, but it's also got a serious message of war protest and individualism that was downgraded to a supporting role subordinate to the jokes about long hair and sex.
The flaw with this is that in 2011 I'm not shocked by multiple f-bombs, nudity, inter-racial love or drug talk; Mary Louise Parker does all of that in one season of "Weeds". If you want to discuss politics and morals, don't drown it with sugary lyrics about Mick Jagger and how in love the girls are (according to HAIR, women in the 70s were primarily concerned with boys because they didn't have much else to say). I want the politics, I want the morals and I want it with the drug talk and swearing, but you can't expect me to be invested in a storyline that doesn't take the time to invest in itself.
Having said all of this, I'm happy to admit that this production is chock FULL of talent. The cast is hot in every way possible, the direction is awesome and the choreography is truly inspired.
It's a tight, fun night at the theatre and if you're a fan of the film or grew up with it (or in it), then you won't be disappointed. I just wish HAIR took itself more seriously, in both the political message, and in its humour.
Despite my cynicism I will say this: during the curtain call, I looked on stage at the once-reluctant-to-participate audience members, now singing and dancing with the cast, and then looked around at my fellow audience members who were all on their feet, clapping, and I felt a rush of internal warmth we've taken to calling "the warm fuzzies". There's at least one part of HAIR that's still relevant and always will be: Let the Sunshine In.
HAIR is playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until Dec. 31.
For tix: ticketking.com. Rush tix available for $25! Obstructed view seats though and 2/person.
Paul Gross & Kim Cattrell in Private Lives. Photo credit by Cylla von Tiedemann
When I go to the theatre I always have a few barometers to know if I"m really enjoying the show, most usually involve some kind of consistant conversation in my head about aspects of the show., the set, the acting, the direction, etc.
But with PRIVATE LIVES, I didn't think about anything. When intermission came, I couldn't recall one thought I had had during the first half of the show. Surprised I quickly analyzed why and realized it was because I was completely engaged with the action on stage.
Totally. Completely. EnPaulgrossed.
I was so present with the action unfolding on stage and with Noel Coward's excellent quips (Ex. "It doesn't suit a woman to be promiscuous!" "No, it doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous!"), that I scarcely thought about a thing.
The old woman living inside of me loves a good farce; they're hysterical and they always make me remember why I love the theatre (farces on film never work out, "Clue" being maybe the only exception). Across the board, the acting was fantastic - the right amount of seriousness and absurdity, the sets were gorgeous, creative and functional, the costumes made me want to immediately check out vintage shops in my neighbourhood, and the direction was spot-on. What more could you want?
Oft quoted Noel Coward, once said "Work is much more fun than fun". In this instance, I have to disagree. I sat in the audience, did absolutely zero work, including thinking any thoughts, and had one of the most fun nights at the theata' I've had in ages. Thank you PRIVATE LIVES for reminding me that live theatre is fun, accessible and gorgeous.
PRIVATE LIVES is playing now until October 30 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre ( 260 King St. W.) For tickets, visit www.mirvish.com/ticketking/shows/privatelives
Sarah enjoying everything there is about Hugh Jackman.
Sarah Necoloff is a theatrical layman (although she has seen two stage productions in the past week), and a Hugh Jackman aficionado. She had a few things to say about Hugh's show (on now thru Sunday at The Princess of Wales theatre!) Read on!
Hugh Jackson charmed the pants (almost literally) off the matinee audience on Saturday.
He started with "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", which I assumed was because of the matinee timeslot, and I also immediately thought it was going to be lame...but his incredible voice won me over in mere moments.
Between each musical number he told little stories and quips about himself, his family, his Hollywood fame, and a number of jokes that were both timely and Toronto based. He was humble, hilarious and totally engaging.
I believe what made all of his performances so incredible was his obvious passion for the stage – I could genuinely feel how happy it made him to perform for me.
He sang songs from a wide variety of musicals - Singing In The Rain, Guys and Dolls, and his most recent show The Boy From Oz. As well as a tribute song to his father, and another stunning performance for Australia and its Aboriginal people.
I would say that any theatre buff would a) get way more of his references than I did and b) enjoy every moment of each performance.
As an employee of the film industry it became obvious to me very quickly that Fox Pictures must own his fine ass, as the Fox logo was prominently on display during the trailer reel of Hugh Jackman films (all distributed by Fox) and the orchestra was well-versed on the Fox Pictures logo interlude. Soooooooooo it was bit of overkill for the Fox Pictures corporate placement, but I also thoroughly enjoyed his recollections of how he became the Hollywood star that he is today.
Favourite numbers? I have two: one was him performing all 8 parts of the song at the same time, as he recreated an audition in his high school play The Music Man....he turned it into a rap with a funky beat and danced as the youngin's do these days. Talented and hot.
The other wasn't performed by Hugh (we are on first name basis now) He had two backup singers with long Broadway resumes of their own...and they sung my very favourite from Rent...”Take me for what I am”. Insert shivers to spine and tears to eyes.
To sum it all up: he took my breath away with his fantastic voice and charm… and also when he removed his jacket… and again when he rolled up his sleeves… and then again, one more time, when his top button popped open....but that's just because he is delicious.
If you are fortunate enough to see him while he is here....run, don't walk.
Mirvish has just released new tickets for the remaining shows! Click here to book 'em!
Friday, July 15 at 8 PM
Saturday, July 16 at 2 PM
Saturday, July 16 at 8 PM
Sunday, July 17 at 2 PM.