By Randal Boutilier and Suzanne Duncan
We are in no holiday spirit as we hurry past the scores of tour buses parked in front of the Princess of Wales Theatre. Outside, a pair of gleaming, toothy grins festoon every surface – accented with candy cane colours, snowflakes, and brush scripts. As we enter the building, wafts of cologne and perfume trail through the air, as a mature crowd eagerly mill about the lobby to pore over memorabilia. Navigating the groups who are clumsily snapping selfies, we take our seats in a rapidly filling theatre. As we take a few moments to negotiate timetables for the holidays with family and friends, we suddenly ask ourselves: Why would we ever share our precious holiday prep time with a Donny & Marie Christmas in Toronto?
Donny and Marie Osmond each have five decades of entertainment experience under their belts. Their respective career paths navigate every form of recorded media – and they have been filmed ever since they were children in the early 60s. They grew up under the camera’s steady gaze, building a prolific resume that spans pop and country stardom, broadway performance, television show hosting, guest appearances, motivational speaking, and shopping network sales. Their most recent forays in entertainment have brought them back to the small screen in ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and back to the with a 6-year show run in Las Vegas. All of this experience comes to bear before our eyes and ears, as the lights dim and the curtain rises.
Dressed as elegant holiday hosts and adorned in sparkles and sequins, Donny and Marie take the stage, launching us all right into a Christmas frame-of-mind. Their broad range and significant experience come to the fore as they switch up the pace of this 2-hour variety show - complete with commercial plugs for weight loss systems, make up collections, new recordings, and charitable causes.
Performing together and independently throughout the evening, they treat the crowd to musical medleys with tastes of Motown, Broadway, opera, and YouTube pop. The second half of the evening is a little more down-tempo than the energetic first half, but it offers a space to show both Donny’s performance chops and Marie’s vocal range—and dizzying array of sparkling costumes. An on-stage live band accompanies their every change, and the lit-staircase staging and light choreography is switched up as often as their costumes.
Their faces are played back on a large video screen behind them, which gives the whole theatre a chance to see them up-close and personal. The playback screen is a bit of holiday magic – as it travels back through time to reveal glimpses of Osmond family life and their growing and evolving stardom. During their rendition of “A Little Bit of Country, A Little Bit of Rock n' Roll”, they sing along with younger versions of themselves, showing the countless times they’ve performed together in front of an audience.
You would think that longevity in the entertainment business would render these two people out-of-touch with the world around them, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be the case. There is a light and playful tone throughout evening, as Donny and Marie banter and joke with each other, sharing short behind-the-scenes stories from their careers. It turns out that opening night was Donny’s birthday, and as fans belt out happy birthday, he eagerly hopped off stage to receive gifts and mingle with the crowd, hug fans or applaud their screams of excitement.
The ease and comfort with which these two interact with their audience is warm and engaging. They are appreciative of their audience, and fan service punctuates the evening with social media giveaways and audience sing-alongs. The fans definitely bring a positive energy to the show, meeting the dazzle of these stars with their own desire to celebrate the season. When Marie takes the stage and brings up someone for a bit more of an intimate on-stage interaction, they grow under the spotlight to the eager applause of those around them.
These personal touches, more than the rapid-fire musical medleys, are what give the show a Christmas spirit. For a couple of people suffering from some holiday chill, spending a bit of Christmas with the Osmonds was a sparkly delight.
Donny and Marie Christmas in Toronto is only on until December 21! Catch the holiday sequins at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King St. W.) For tix click here.
By Jeffrey Johns
Guys. Pierre Teilhard De Chardin. A real guy. A Jesuit priest who was all “I love God!” But was also all “I love science too!”
De Chardin (played by Cyrus Lane) is the protagonist of our play. Our introduction to De Chardin comes as he lies lifeless on the floor of the stage. Until roused by a mysterious woman (played by Maev Beaty). It is revealed that De Chardin is at death’s door, but that before he goes, he has a last revelation to experience, which is why this mystery woman has appeared.
Thus are we thrown into a series of moments in De Chardin’s past, beginning with his childhood in France, and ending with a scene in the small New York apartment, which would ultimately be his last residence (at least in this mortal coil!). In each of these fictionalized vignettes based on the actual facts of De Chardin’s life, while he remains the main character, his foil’s identity, embodied in each case by Beaty, changes.
Guys, some things about this play are pretty freakin’ good.
First, it asks interesting questions about whether it is possible to reconcile science and religion, and to what extent the stories of the Bible should be taken literally. Or, you know, as metaphors.
Second, the set – a spare rectangle in the middle of the theatre, resembling a boxing ring. Where the battle between science and religion can be fought! (Or…must it be a war…could the two…co-exist?)
Third, the sound design. By placing a microphone above the stage and speakers placed at each corner of the stage, Thomas Ryder Payne creates an ethereal tone to the player’s voices that serves to accentuate De Chardin’s spiritual journey. Loved it!
And fourth (but really first) are both the role Beaty has been given and her performance of it. While Lane ably handles the title role as De Chardin, his character doesn’t really seem to be particularly conflicted. In fact, when one of the characters (Lucy!) points out to him that he travels with his head in the clouds, above the real world, I was all: “Totes” (while I nodded knowingly to myself, hand on chin).
But Beaty! Oh, Ms. Beaty! Playwright Adam Seybold gives her some meaty stuff and, in this guy’s ever so humble opinion, she kills it. I mean kills in the good sense. With only the barest of props on stage, Seybold relies on the delivery and body language of Beaty to fill in the scene around the two characters. She had me chuckling as she portrayed a young boy observing an archaeological dig in Egypt, and as a Canadian anthropologist in China. She had me enthralled as an England-educated Japanese army officer, interrogating De Chardin during World War II. (Sidebar! When she assumes an English accent, Beaty’s voice seems to assume a gravitas and timbre similar to Elven Cate Blanchett. Know what I mean? “But they were all of them…deceived…” It was pretty sweet.) She had me tearing up as the mother of a young boy aspiring to be an archaeologist, who comes to visit De Chardin as an elderly man in his New York apartment. And finally her portrayal of Lucy, the American ex-pat divorcee De Chardin meets after the church powers that be in Rome exile him to China. As we see their first encounter, she is forward, brash and exuding sexuality. Then, as we cut to the two later, now living as platonic partners, she had my heart breaking for her in just a few lines of dialogue.
The rating? Four “Metaphorical Stories That Were Not Intended By the Authors To Be Read Literally” out of Five!
THE DE CHARDIN PROJECT runs through December 14 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave.). For tix click here.
By Daniel Nyman
In 2010, Barbra Streisand published her first book. Interestingly it was not an autobiography, but a coffee table book exploring architecture and design. "My Passion for Design" showcased the entertainment legend’s Malibu estate, including a replica shopping mall which she had constructed in her basement in order to store and display all her belongings.
This tidbit of bizarre information is the seed of inspiration for BUYER & CELLAR, a funny, entertaining, and—as we are steadfastly reminded at the very beginning of the show—fictional one-man show by Jonathan Tolins, starring Christopher J. Hanke, and currently playing at the Panasonic Theatre. The play is an imagined recounting by main character, Alex More (Hanke), of his short stint as the sole employee in the Funny Girl’s private, subterranean mall.
Frequented by only Ms. Streisand herself, Alex
tells of his initial meeting with the legend, the slow development of their “friendship” and its inevitable demise.
The concept for BUYER & CELLAR is certainly an interesting one, and Tolkin manages to follow through with a narrative that both takes advantage of the absurd premise while also having some heart. After the show, I overheard a fellow audience member describe the play as candy, and I would have to agree. You do not need to be a Streisand fan to enjoy the show (although Barbra fans will probably catch many references and quips that went over my head). Regardless of your level of interest or appreciation for Streisand, there is something very satisfying in hearing about the personal, gossipy details of the private life one of the world’s most famous people, even if they are entirely fictitious.
Streisand is painted as a conflicted character having anything and everything one could imagine wanting, while simultaneously suffering from the isolation and mistrust that accompanies fame and fortune. While not a novel take on the theme of celebrity, Tolins’ script manages is bring a unique story to life, creating engaging, thoughtful characters. Similarily, Hanke’s solo performance manages to avoid the pitfalls of caricature and impersonation. With Streisand in particular, his performance finds the perfect balance between familiarity and authenticity.
At its core, BUYER & CELLAR is a great piece of storytelling. It is an imaginative, far-fetched tale that leaves you wanting it to be all true.
BUYER & CELLAR is on at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge St.) until November 30th. For tix click here.
SEXTET, a new play by Morris Panych, puts a fresh twist on the old themes of love and sex. There is still the same confusion and anxiety over the possibility of intimacy, but now, to compound the stress level, there are also open-marriages, babies and fertility issues thrown into the mix. It's a wonder anyone gets lucky ever.
Panych is a very funny and intelligent playwright, and SEXTET has the biting gusto we've come to expect from his work, but (could you sense that coming?) there were so many quips and barbs littered in the mostly short scenes, that I feel like some of the heart of the show was sacrificed for comedy lightheartedness.
The cast, led by Damien Atkins, is excellent across the board. They've got their work cut out for them in creating a naturalistic throughline in a play which seems edited together with mostly very short scenes, but they do it, and well. They're funny, they have great chemistry within any coupling, and maybe most impressive, I didn't dislike any of the characters, despite their OTT neurotic tendencies that sometimes resulted in repetition and repetition...and repetition of desire.
The 7th character in the show, and equally as strong, is Ken MacDonald's set design - you can see it in the pic above, but it's impossible to discern unless you see it action how the kitchy yet plain design helped create the atmosphere for the show while also contributing to it's comedy, and tragedy. It's great.
SEXTET is a good show - it is. Atkins is predictably funny and endearing, and finding a new spin on love, the most exhausted but compelling subject ever, is a feat in itself. Panych is on to something with this show and I think, with a pair of joke scissors, he could really hammer the message to heart that he's looking to.
SEXTET is on at the Tarragon (30 Bridgman Ave.) until December 14th. For tix click here.
By Stephanie Silva
In his director's note, Jeremy Hutton describes William Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST as "his [Shakespeare's] last great work of magic." As someone unfamiliar with Shakespeare, I can't attest to this being true. But the visuals of this show were nothing short of magical, from start to finish.
Hutton's rendition of THE TEMPEST opened with a bang, lots and lots of bangs of thunder -- as is appropriate for a tempest. At first, I found myself taken by the special effects: lightening, thunder, waves, sounds of the ship creaking. I hadn't before seen or heard anything quite like it at Hart House, with maybe the exception of last season's Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), for which Hutton was both the fight director and sound designer. My only criticism of the opening scene is that I was unable to hear the actors' voices over the sound. This, couple with Shakespeare's English, had the delivery of the dialogue lost on me. Once this ended, things got much better.
The production of this play captured my attention and held it, at times distracting me from the actual performances, which, I feel, rarely measured up to the set, lighting and sounds all around them.
The set was simple when you really looked at it. A nod, perhaps, to the minimalism of the original sets Shakespeare's plays would've seen in the early 1600s. The wooden arches at the front of the stage were ethereal and dreamy in their simplicity. Scott Gorman's carpentry was beautiful -- a perfect match to the spirits that sat perched upon them.
The spirits (the ensemble cast) were acted and styled very well: like statues, frozen, they sat still, moving only in sync with the odd creek of the ship, slinky and seductive, with ghostly skin and tattered, flowing garments. I was impressed by how still each remained throughout the duration of the play. Even during the odd comical scene (carried mostly by Paolo Santalucia as the tipsy Stephano), not one budge from these otherworldly creatures!
Amaka Umeh's performance as the airy spirit Ariel stood out for me. She was bold and gave her lines with serious vigour. Peter Higginson's Prospero was also well done. He was believable and natural in the role. No stranger to the Hart House stage, Higginson held the role of Mereia in Caligula at Hart House in 1975 -- his first of many plays there.
Overall, I enjoyed this play. Supposedly inspired by travel literature of the time, of accounts of ship wrecks off the Bermudas, Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST is a commentary on colonialism and the resulting imbalance of power. In the play, Prospero seeks to restore order, the natural balance of things, in the midst of chaos, even if it means surrendering his own ability to control the world around him. A meaningful lesson; and I think Hutton has done a wonderful job relaying Shakespeare's message.
THE TEMPEST is on at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle) until November 22. For tix, click here.
By Randal Boutilier & Suzanne Duncan
Our first foray into the world of contemporary circus brings us to the Bluma Appel Theatre for Canadian Stage’s first night of OPUS. Gone are the twinkling lights, calliope music, and popcorn of the big top. Instead the audience shuffles quietly with wine in hand to sit down and face an empty black stage.
After the lights dim, the members of the Debussy Quartet shuffle barefoot onto the stage, conjuring Shostakovich out of their stringed instruments while a member of the Circa performance troupe climbs a pair of simple ropes, dangling and plunging while the quartet approach and surround him. If this is what contemporary circus is all about, count us in!
With very simple staging and subtly detailed costume, it all looks as though we’ve stumbled upon a dress rehearsal or workshop – but this is quite intentional. When you strip all of the sensory disguises of circus performance away, you’re left to bear witness to the marvels of the human body in motion. As the troupe members tumble and pull each other by limb, moth and neck, the visual link with modern dance performance is striking. The Quartet is brought actively into the choreography as well, moving around the 14-member troupe, at times playing for them, at other times controlling them through the various movements in the evening.
The 80-minute non-intermission performance is a test of endurance for all on stage. As the evening progresses, a few more minimal props are brought out in the form of a single trapeze swing and simple hoops. Feats of strength, skill and endurance increase as the simple wardrobe of the troupe is gradually shed to reveal more of the human form. The focus is always on the feats of the body, and watching the members perform complex lifts and poses evoked many gasps and rounds of applause from the audience.
The troupe performs without the safety of a net; the Quartet without the safety of sheet music. All of this comes to a head when the troupe blindfolds the Quartet for Shostakovich’s 8th quartet and them proceed to perform around them. The string music is our only consistent sound throughout the entire evening, occasionally punctuated with a percussive drop of bodies to the stage floor. While this was one of the darker phases of the performance, the tone lightened considerably towards the final segment. The mood was also reflected in the staging, as warm lights shone on muscle, skin, and violin.
There were no pauses for applause or “Ta-Da” motions throughout the evening, which makes it seem that contemporary circus is less concerned with the response of the audience than with the performance itself. The artists on stage all feed from one another’s energy, which is highly important for an act that relies heavily on perfect timing and accurate balancing. All in all, we were witness to acts of superhuman strength without the superhero costume.
OPUS is only on for 4 more shows at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.). For tix click here.
Listen closely to Tom Stoppard's text in ARCADIA, but not so closely that you forget to pay attention to how the ideas in the text make you feel. Both the theoretical arguments, and the subsequent influence of them on your emotions, are equally as important to experience the full intent of this play.
However, it's almost impossible to live up to this task, so don't be overly hard on yourself when you're lost amidst the sea of scientifc theory and historical facts that Stoppard throws at you at a wicked pace; the sound of the words sound fab and the actors are even better, so there's always something to entertain and appreciate in the show. And really, Stoppard couldn't have thought we would all be following every word in his script anyway, he practically wrote it so we can't But the challenge to keep up is a bit of a thrill.
Mirvish is presenting the smash Shaw Festival production of ARCADIA and it is really a refreshing change of pace from their usual fare. I don't mean that to sound anti-Mirvish; I like the company a lot. I think the longevity of the company's success is admirable and it has positively affected Toronto in a heap of ways; but as I watched the show, I felt good - almost happy - that the largest, most mainstream theatre company in the city, was bringing this classic, intelligent, funny show to the masses (not discounting the mass of people who saw it at the Shaw Festival) and seemingly, the masses were loving it.
ARCADIA involves work on the part of the audience and, from what I saw, no one was put off by this at all. Perhaps it was because Eda Holmes direction was so beautifully understated but so obviously well-thought out, or because the performances were all so top-notch, it was hard to pinpoint a fav (Gray Powell as Septimus Hodge is probably it though), or because the lighting design was so pretty or that Stoppard is really that great of a playwright that he can elevate anyone to challenge their notions of the world and not be bothered that the play forgoes the pure entertainment commodity that is so common.
Or maybe it's all of the above. Ultimately, it doesn't matter though, because it's how the play made you feel and what it made you think that is important. And if that's not the mark of good theatre, than I'm not sure what is.
ARCADIA is on at the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King St. W.) until December 14th. For tix click here.
If the announcement of their 2015 season this week was an indication that Soulpepper is looking to diverge from their norm, the two shows currently gracing the stages of the Young Centre of the Performing Arts proves that the desire to shake things up, has been a part of the company’s long game much before.
SPOON RIVER is a honky-tonk musical version of the not-new-at-all Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, a text that is most likely familiar to many drama school students. Think Mumford & Sons meets Our Town and you’re getting the gist of what SPOON RIVER has to offer.
Before I continue, let me first declare my love of honky-tonk music. I love it. I’m partial to the glitz of shiny objects and a good dance beat, but there’s something soul-fulfilling about a banjo harmonizing with a harmonica - pair that with a fiddle and I’m pretty much thrilled to bits. I had high hopes for SPOON RIVER. Fortunately, some narrative confusion aside, it lived up to my expectations and filled me with the salt-of-the-earth warmth I belive it intended to.
Entering into the theatre through the backstage, you’re taken through a picture adorned hallway, a sort of yearbook of Spoon River and it’s inhabitants. You’re immersed into the town by way of an old-school funeral visitation that ends in a forested graveyard…and then you take your seat. Someone in Spoon River has died too young and while the living mourn her, the dead, get ready to welcome her to their world. They reminisce about their lives – the joys and the much more plentiful sorrows, and what ultimately led to their death. Their stories weave together to paint the picture of a small town that both takes care of it’s living-inhabitants, but can also be unusually cruel to them. Ukulele’s and guitars are plentiful, thanks to Soulpepper Wunderkind Mike Ross who composed the show in it’s entirety. Brace yourself for the beautiful and haunting number by fiddler Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Rattlesnake Choir, Jim Cuddy Band); it’s mesmerizing.
Some of the individual stories are hard to follow – both my date and I agreed on that. But we also agreed that, overall, it was one of the more beautiful shows we’ve sat through in a while and it just felt good to be there. Particularly when the banjos really went to town.
SPOON RIVER is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) until Nov. 15th , and again in March 7, 2015. For tix click here.
On stage next door is THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT, a spectacle of poetry, sound, movement and some seriously great projections.
Based on the poetry of The Four Horsemen: Rafael Barreto-Rivera; bpNichol; Paul Dutton; and Steve McCaffery, an experimental poetry group from Toronto who had their heyday approximately 30 years ago, this show is an ode to these poets and also to their innovative arrangements of text and oratory. The 4 performers on stage kill it. Supported by Kate Alton’s hot and hard (ie. difficult) choreography, the actors take on this bizarre text (if you can call it that) with an enthusiasm that is admirable. Clearly skilled dancers, the four work together to create a cacophony of sound and movement that is at times funny, endearing, sweet and/or just plain weird. I admired what they were doing – but I didn’t get it.
After reading the program and doing some online research, I think the lack of understanding is my own artistic bias/ignorance and not something to be held against the show. Art is about pushing boundaries and looking at the ordinary in abstract ways; we need that to happen to progress as a species, and also to keep conversations lively, and THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT was definitely lively.
A production of Volcano Theatre, in association with Crooked Figure Dances and Global Mechanic, THE FOUR HORSEMAN PROJECT is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) until Nov. 22. For tix click here.
By Lindsay L. Swanson
It may be November, but Hallowe’en is still at its peak in Leslieville.
“A blood-drenched, dieselpunk, gothic romance with puppets, people, and dark parlour magic”
This was not over-selling FRANKENSTEIN'S BOY.
It is a performance that frolics in fun and quirkiness, oozing creativity in set design and puppetry. Along with blood, guts and gore.
FRANKENSTEIN'S BOY has a two-person cast, with each actor (Eric Woolfe and Kimwun Perehinec) doubling down as puppeteers. Woolfe (actor, puppeteer and writer) is the quintessential narrator of the story: with a booming voice he commands the audience’s attention as he lays the backstory to Frankenstein’s assistant, Fry. Woolfe injects humour with ease, and transforms himself into each of his many characters (both human and puppet) with a fleeting moment of transition.
Let me be clear: this is not a typical puppet show. These are not puppets that dance along an elevated stage, and attempt to disguise the tell-tale puppeteer’s arm. This is a performance that blends puppetry with the movements and parts of its puppeteers. It is undeniable that Woolfe and Kimwun throw their whole selves – body and voice – into every character, human and puppet alike. What they do is physically demanding; their commitment to the characters is impressive.
The Red Sandcastle Theatre is very small. So small that it could be referred to as ‘extremely intimate’. It allows the audience a somewhat interactive role, and most definitely provides an up close and personal perspective. However, this performance could benefit from a larger space that better showcases the creativity of the puppets the set, and the casts’ talent. The two-week run of FRANKENSTEIN'S BOY is surely hard on the set and the puppets, and a little more space between the audience and set would most definitely create a less exposed vantage point.
Overall, this is a very entertaining show that would surely be a first of its kind to most audience members. For Hallowe’en enthusiasts, it is a must-see; for puppet enthusiasts, you have surely seen it already, but probably agree that it's worth a second seating.
FRANKENSTEIN'S BOY runs through November 8 at the Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen Street East). 2 more shows! For tix click here.
By Jeffrey Johns
Guys. Han van Meegeren. Dutch fella. During the Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II, he sells a painting by Vermeer to none other than high-up Nazi terrible person Hermann Goering. After the war, the sale is discovered and Meegeren is put on trial as a traitor. His defence? “Oh, that thing? That wasn’t a real Vermeer, it was a forgery.”
“Oh, yeah, Meegeren? And just how do we know it was a forgery?”
“Because…it was I who was the forger!” (Assorted gasps, murmurs and general hubbub).
And then, to prove his story, he offers to paint another “Vermeer” during his trial! And then does it! Fascinating stuff. No wonder somebody wrote a play about it!
THE BAKELITE MASTERPIECE uses this actual story as the play's backdrop but re-imagines it as Meegeren’s (Geordie Johnson) fate being in the hands of one Captain Geert Piller (Irene Poole), former resistance member, now tasked with bringing those who sold any of Holland’s art treasures for Nazi gold, to justice. It is for her that Meegeren must now recreate a Vermeer in order to win his freedom.
Guys, it’s a Tarragon show, and directed by Richard Rose. Therefore, the production is, as always, rock solid. The set design. The lighting. They do it up right.
I thought Johnson and Poole did what they could to elevate the material they were given. But it was ultimately the writing that I was not crazy about. In particular, I felt Poole had a bit of an impossible task in trying to weave Piller’s words and actions together such that some sort of actual person was revealed.
I think the writing was “too” ambitious. The conversation between the two characters canvasses (get it? “canvasses”? #arthumour) the craft of forgery, the beauty of art, the Nazi occupation, the challenges in rebuilding a country post-war, Jesus, God and the devil. It seems to me a pretty gargantuan task to connect all of those thoughts together in one 70-minute production. And, unfortunately, it didn’t happen for me here.
Plus, to be honest, there was something else I wasn’t too crazy about. A couple of times it seemed like Poole’s character was purporting not to speak just of her own thoughts but to speak determinatively of the motivations behind actions of the Dutch people postwar. In particular, of the treatment of the women who had “socialized” with Nazi soldiers during the occupation. Personally, I just get a bit squicky about attributing determinative motivations behind real occurrences.
But I will also say this. The parts about how he made his forgery were hella-interesting!
One and a Half Tulips out of Five!
THE BAKELITE MASTERPIECE is on at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave.) until November 30. For tix click here.