Monthly Archives: August 2009

Saying goodbye to summer

Over the last month, there’s been so much theatre to see and so little time.  And now it all seems to be ending.  The cheeky SHINE: A Burlesque Musical finished its two-week run at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island last weekend and we also bade adieu to the toe-tapping Thoroughly Modern Millie and Annie at Theatre Under the Stars.

At the Arts Club, the Altar Boyz are spritzing their hair with product for the last time and at Pacific Theatre, the good folks from Not Another Musical Co-op are singing the last notes of Songs For A New World this weekend.     Across the water, at the Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, comes the final curtain call for the newest object of my affection, Fighting Chance’s Rent.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

I have a rather shameful admission to make . . .  I’ve never been a giant Rent fan.  Nor a Rent fan of any other size, for that matter.  It stems from a certain stubbornness that I possess when it comes to being told what to do or what to like.  In fact, I have an aversion to jumping on to bandwagons of all kinds.  It’s that contrary quality that made me disregard the film version and pooh-pooh the various Rent soundtracks.

But now, I’ve drunk the Kool-aid and have been totally taken in by Rent.  I’ve seen it three times and would have seen it again, if it hadn’t kept selling out.

Which brings us back to the end of the summer season and the sudden onset of my musical-theatre withdrawal blues.  My current state of despair is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the fall musical season will soon be upon us.  Though, truth be told, I’m not overly enthused by this.  I’ve seen all of these latest summer shows twice and sometimes more and they’ve become familiar, like friends.  And it’s so hard to say goodbye.

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Tony winner Jason Robert Brown performing in Vancouver

I have some amazing breaking news for all Vancouver musical-theatre fans and performers.  Tony Award winning composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) will be in attendance for the Friday, August 21st showing of Songs For A New World (click here for my review) at Pacific Theatre and will also be performing a post-show concert.

For Friday the 21st only, tickets will be $65 all-inclusive; don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity!

Songs For A New World (Review)

Sometimes less really is more.  Songs For A New World, presented by Not Another Musical Co-op, is an extremely minimalist production.  It’s a small four-person cast, there is little in the way of a set, and the stories told on stage are often left up to the interpretations of the audience.  That simplicity allows the actors and Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics (Parade, The Last Five Years) to soar, and they do.

Although there is no plot, the show is bound together with overarching and entwining themes, and while the actors do not play the same characters throughout the show, they do develop and grow.  The complexities of the music and of the human experience are always at the forefront and make for a captivating experience.

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Jennifer Neumann, Jonathan Winsby, Daren Herbert and Alison MacDonald; the cast of Songs For A New World

The cast have all been seen in recent Vancouver productions.  Daren Herbert (Man 1) and Jennifer Neumann (Woman 1) played Richie and Maggie respectively in Royal City’s A Chorus Line in the spring.  Neumann also shared the stage with Alison MacDonald (Woman 2) and Jonathan Winsby (Man 2) in the recent Arts Club smash hit Les Misérables.

Herbert’s softer falsetto contrasts beautifully with Winsby’s powerful baritone and both Neumann and MacDonald are in equally fine form vocally.  Each one has the chance shows off in their solos and yet still come together to complement each other in the many harmonies.

The ever-charismatic Jonathan Winsby demonstrates his prowess as a leading man in both “The World Was Dancing” and “She Cries.”  Jennifer Neumann is fearless yet guarded in “I’m Not Afraid;” then she lets loose in her duet with Winsby, “I’d Give it All For You.”

Alison MacDonald is a bundle of neuroses threatening to jump out of an apartment window in “Just One Step” and then is a fierce and romantically-frustrated Mrs. Claus in “Surabaya Santa.”  Daren Herbert shows off in “Steam Train” and then is a dynamo of raw emotion in “King of the World.”

I find something new in Brown’s score on each and every listen, but my favourite has always been the oft-recorded “Stars and the Moon.”  Alison MacDonald embraces the song with open arms and hits all the right notes, emotionally and musically.

The ubiquitous and multi-talented Sara-Jeanne Hosie co-directs and co-choreographs with Shane Snow.  Their synchronised choreography worked well in “The Steam Train” but in other numbers, was far too distracting.  Brown’s score is piano-centric and the three piece band receives almost as much attention as the actors.  Pianist Sean Bayntun, percussionist Sam Hutchison and bassist Hugh Macdonald make beautiful music together.

Songs For A New World is a work of art and should be contemplated and savoured.  Come for both the amazing talent and the sumptuous score and you won’t be disappointed.

Songs For A New World is playing August 12th – 29th, 2009 at Pacific Theatre, located at 1440 West 12th Avenue. The show runs Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on August 22nd and 29th at 2pm.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-684-2787.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical (Review)

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical is not so much a traditional musical as it is a bawdy version of TV’s old variety shows.  Think of a cross between burlesque and an adult-only Muppet show.  The show is a reworked version of an improvised one-act, originally known as By the Seat of Our Panties, presented at the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival in 2008.

The book by Sam Dulmage and The Wet Spots is thin, but works nevertheless.  Theatre owner Shine Mionne (Cass King) and her troupe of burlesque performers are approached by a producer who promises to revitalise the ailing show with buckets of money.  Various hijinks, gags, and word-play ensue.

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Cass King as Shine Mionne in SHINE: A Burlesque Musical

The original music by first-time musical theatre writers the Wet Spots (John Woods and Cass King) has some bright spots and a tonne of potential, but isn’t given the full opportunity to shine as brightly as it should.

The female cast is full of incredibly strong personalities and they almost completely overwhelm the male contingent of the show. Michael Smith as wealthy producer Richard Suit is nowhere nearly up to the challenge of matching the stage presence or vocal abilities of his female co-stars.  Both of Smith’s songs, “When You Deal With A Suit” and “Matinee Crowd” fell unfortunate victim to his weak singing voice and weren’t given a fair airing.

The tempo of certain songs (“Everybody Wants to be A Star” and “Rocky Horror”) could also use some reworking to better steady the pace of the overall show.  There were too many slow numbers.  SHINE’s score would also be better served by the use of live music as opposed to the current pre-taped backing tracks.

None of these criticisms should take away from the overwhelming positives of SHINE.  I went in not knowing what to expect, but was completely won over.

Cass King is a natural performer and brings to life the “Perversions of Yesteryear.”  Her speaking delivery is peppered with shades of Katharine Hepburn and she periodically channels various other classic stars of the silver screen.

“Broadway Love Song” wryly spoofs a musical-theatre ballad and makes for a strong closer to the first act.

The chorus/ensemble comprised of Violet Femme, April O’Peel, Calamity Kate and Sister Madly, Keri Horton and Fairlith Harvey provide a rock-solid backing to SHINE; there’s not a single weak link in the bunch.  Choreography by April O’Peel and Melody Mangler is inspired and sinfully fun.

Gemma Isaac as an overeager grad student and Teddy Smooth as an aspiring young actor make wild and dirty magic in “The Nasty.”  Noelle Pilon as Lulu Von Doozy, the resident diva, is a force of nature and sells all of her numbers with relative ease.

SHINE is chockfull of clever moments and snappy dialogue; it will absolutely and thoroughly entertain you and leave you wanting more.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical is presented by Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society and The Wet Spots and plays from August 12-22, 2009; Wed-Sat @ 8 PM, at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island.  Tickets are available online or call 1-800-838-3006.  SHINE is an adult-oriented show which contains nudity and themes of healthy sexuality and is not suitable for those under the age of 18. Age restriction strictly enforced.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical; Opening Week

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical bills itself as ‘a tassel-twirling original musical about an infamous burlesque theatre and the family of talented misfits who try to save it from demolition… or worse, respectability’.  SHINE is the brainchild of songwriting-duo The Wet Spots and burlesque group Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society.

Usually at this point, I’d give my critical pre-perspective, but honestly, I’m not sure what to expect.  I’m definitely looking forward to seeing it and will make sure to report back. SHINE promises to combine burlesque, cabaret, and variety with catchy songs, campy jokes and plenty of bump and grind (click here to view the YouTube trailer).  I’m intrigued to see what they will deliver.

shine poster_final

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical was written and created by Cass King, John Woods and Sam Dulmage. Directed by Jen Cressey with choreography by Lauren Allen (AKA April O’Peel) and Rebecca Franklin (AKA Melody Mangler).

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical plays from August 12-22, 2009; Wed-Sat @ 8 PM, at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island.  Tickets are available online or call 1-800-838-3006.  SHINE is an adult-oriented show which contains nudity and themes of healthy sexuality and is not suitable for those under the age of 18. Age restriction strictly enforced.

Songs For A New World; Opening Week

After the success of last summer’s Ovation award-winning The World Goes ‘Round, some of its production decided to try their luck again.  Songs for a New World has been described as not fully a musical but something more than a song cycle.  While I’ve never seen it performed, I have heard most of its songs, as many have become cabaret-style standards.  Composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) has written some beautiful music and I can’t wait to see it performed by some of our extremely bright local talents.

Not Another Musical Co-op presents Songs for a New World starring Daren Herbert (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Alison MacDonald (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Jennifer Neumann (A Chorus Line, RCMT) and Jonathan Winsby (Les Misérables, Arts Club).  Directed by Shane Snow and Sara-Jeanne Hosie and musical direction by Sean Bayntun, the show runs August 12th – 29th, 2009, Wed. to Sat. at 8PM, with matinees August 22nd and 29th at 2PM. All performances are at Pacific Theatre, 12th and Hemlock. Tickets are available online or by calling 604.684.2787.

new world

Rent; Fighting Chance (Review)

The Rent phenomenon may be thirteen years old, but it shows no signs of slowing down.  Fighting Chance Productions’ version proudly continued the tradition with Thursday night’s Canadian regional theatre premiere of Rent.  Bohemia is alive and well and has taken up residence in a North Vancouver theatre.

Some theatres seem custom-built for certain shows but many others have limitations which theatre companies must work around.  I’d heard some initial concerns about the choice of Presentation House Theatre as the venue for Rent.  And to be honest, I wasn’t sure the smallish space would be a good match for the rock opera.

The closeness of the stage did make for a fundamentally different experience, but overall it was a success.  It’s readily clear, from the earnest enthusiasm permanently etched into their faces, that most of the cast members are die-hard Rent fans.  That kind of passion translates into a high-energy and vibrant production.

Trying to pick the high point of the show is near-impossible, as there are so many from which to choose.  Jonathan Larson’s music and lyrics are just as poignant as they were when they debuted off-Broadway in 1996.  Based on the Puccini opera La Boheme, Rent is the story of a group of New York starving artists who struggle while dealing with the effects of AIDS.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Fighting Chance Production's cast of Rent; Clockwise from top left, Craig Decarlo, Christine Quintana, Jacqueline Breakwell, Anton Lipovetsky, Nick Fontaine and Cesar Erba.

Jacqueline Breakwell’s Maureen is fiery hot and oozes sex appeal. My theatre companion was completely and utterly enamoured with her.  Jenn Suratos as Maureen’s current girlfriend is a great foil to Maureen’s ex-boyfriend Mark in “Tango Maureen.”

Anton Lipovetsky is boyish and likeable as Mark and Kholby Wardell drips attitude as Mark’s yuppified ex-roommate Benny.

Craig DeCarlo as Roger has a voice made for rock and easily powers through his multiple numbers. His chemistry with Christine Quintana’s sultry Mimi is somewhat hit or miss, but ultimately pulls together in the end.

Nick Fontaine’s Tom Collins and Cesar Erba’s Angel are an adorable couple, and their voices are perfectly complementary in “I’ll Cover You.”

Rielle Braid, one of the ensemble swings on the second night I saw the show, was a standout as sleazy television producer Alexi Darling.

Most of the cast’s solo vocals are strong but the show is truly at its best in the full company numbers “La Vie Boheme” and “Seasons of Love.”

There were some issues with the sound.  Some actors’ mikes were far too loud and others not loud enough. Several bits of Erba’s dialogue were lost at key moments.

One of Rent’s stronger points is that its gay characters aren’t tokens to the centre stage heterosexual romance between Mimi and Roger.  Joanne and Maureen’s onstage pairing is every bit as volatile and crazy as Maureen’s dream-inspired performance art.  Collins and Angel’s loving relationship is also given equal billing and held up as the ideal to which the others aspire.

Rent’s positive tone, amidst darker themes of poverty and the AIDS epidemic, chooses to emphasise love and living live to the fullest. It’s that message which continues to strike such a personal chord with actors and audiences alike.

Seating is general admission, so make sure you arrive early to stake out a good seat.  Both performances I attended were sold out and by opening night Fighting Chance had already added an extra week to the tail end of their run.  It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to say that Rent will be a smash hit here in Vancouver.

Ryan Mooney and Fighting Chance Productions are persistently making a name for themselves as real contenders in local theatre and Rent will only further that cause.

Fighting Chance Productions’ Rent plays through August 23rd at Presentation House Theatre.  Tickets are available online.