Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Playhouse (Review)

By whatever name you may call them, grifters, scam artists, confidence men; they’re a familiar staple of the theatre.  Think of Pirelli in Sweeney Todd, Rooster in Annie, or Harold Hill in The Music ManDirty Rotten Scoundrels follows this great tradition with an artful and comedic tribute to the art of the con.  Lawrence Jameson, a successful high-end conman, competes with two-bit scammer Freddy Benson to see who can be the first to bilk a target out of $50,000, with the loser leaving town.   The result is a ridiculous suite of harebrained and madcap schemes that translate perfectly onto the musical stage.

Josh Epstein, Elena Juatco and ensemble in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Vancouver Playhouse.

David Yazbek’s music and lyrics (The Full Monty) are fun and catchy and flow seamlessly with Jeffrey Lane’s book. The often crude and vulgar humour contrasts well with the upbeat score.  “Great Big Stuff” has Freddy longing for all the modern trappings of success including mink tracksuits and hummers in his Hummer.

Andrew Wheeler’s Lawrence Jameson is narcissistically confident and plays well off of his co-star Josh Epstein (The Producers, Arts Club).  Epstein, as Freddy Benson, is full of energy and has talent to spare but hasn’t completely made the role his own.  Too often, the character seems underdeveloped.

Elena Juatco plays the accident-prone American Soap Queen, Christine Colgate, the unwitting mark in Freddy and Lawrence’s unscrupulous bet.  Juatco is best known for making it into the top six of the second season of Canadian Idol and has since transitioned her talents to the theatre.  Her singing voice is sweet and tender but at times its thinness threatened to give way.  Ultimately it didn’t matter, as Juatco is consummately charming and radiates likeability from her first appearance to her final bow.

Gabrielle Jones, last year’s titular Drowsy Chaperone, commands attention as world-traveler Muriel Eubanks, one of Jameson’s earlier victims.  Jones is a treat as always and shines in a side story involving David Marr (The Drowsy Chaperone, Playhouse) as Andre, one of Jameson’s accomplices.  Marr’s deadpan delivery hits the mark every time.

Nathalie Marrable co-choreographs with director Max Reimer and together they’ve done a good job making full use of the talented cast; though at several junctures the staging seemed confused and unfocused.

Director Reimer can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that his follow-up to last year’s smash success The Drowsy Chaperone is a hit.  Reimer deserves considerable credit for injecting some much-needed life into the Vancouver Playhouse’s annual musical theatre productions, after a run of somewhat lacklustre shows in the years previous to his tenure.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an uproariously-funny down-and-dirty outing packed with laughs and enough charm and talent to win over even the toughest of critics.

The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels until December 27, 2009 at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, Hamilton and Dunsmuir.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-873-3311.

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White Christmas: The Musical; Arts Club (Review)

While I’m a sucker for Disney musicals, after four straight years of Beauty and the Beast as the annual Christmas musical at the Arts Club, it was time for a change.  This year’s holiday production at the Stanley is White Christmas, the 2004 nostalgia-laden stage adaptation of the 1954 Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye film.

The show’s book, by David Ives and Paul Blake, although only five years old, doesn’t stray too far from the original, nor does it attempt to insert any sort of modern sensibilities.  If you’re searching for any overarching larger themes or social messages here, don’t bother.  White Christmas is a throwback to a simpler time when pretty much any problem could be solved by simply mounting a Broadway-style revue.  Is war getting you down? Facing foreclosure and financial ruin?  Put on a show!

Monique Lund and Sara-Jeanne Hosie in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical. Photo by David Cooper.

In this instance, retired army buddies turned musical stars Phil Davis and Bob Wallace, played by Todd Talbot (Annie, TUTS) and Jeffrey Victor (Les Misérables, Arts Club), decide to help out their former commanding officer General Waverly.  Waverly, as played by Réjean Cournoyer (Les Misérables, Arts Club), has sunk all of his money into a Vermont inn and is about to lose his shirt due to unseasonably warm weather and a lack of snow to placate the tourists.

Arts Club veterans Monique Lund (Beauty and the Beast, Arts Club) and Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Les Misérables, Arts Club) are sister act Judy and Betty Haynes who join forces, professionally and romantically, with song-and-dance duo Davis and Wallace.

Talbot and Victor have better onstage chemistry together than they do with Lund and Hosie respectively, which is perhaps a more unintentionally faithful following of the buddy-musical film genre than intended.

After playing Mrs. Potts for the past four Christmases in Beauty and the Beast, Susan Anderson easily breaks into her new role as busybody Martha Watson.  Anderson takes the opportunity to show off her vocal and dance skills in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and exceeds all expectations, in what should be a supporting role.

In an already markedly strong chorus, Jak Barradell, Jeremy Lowe and Laura McNaught stand out from the pack with their energy and charisma.

This show’s strength comes shining through in the big group dance numbers including “Let Yourself Go” and “I Love a Piano.”  Valerie Easton’s choreography is a loving tribute to the old movie musicals that have long since fallen out of fashion, where dancers once hoofed and tapped energetically for the cameras, broad smiles not wavering for a single beat.

White Christmas is as warm and familiar as an old friend and seems destined to become another Arts Club holiday tradition.

Arts Club Theatre Company presents Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical until December 27, 2009 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville St.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-687-1644.

Disney’s The Lion King coming to Vancouver (Upcoming show)

Local Disney and musical-theatre fans alike will be ecstatic to hear that Tony Award-winning musical Disney’s The Lion King will finally be coming to the Vancouver stage in July, 2010.

Broadway Across Canada offerings have been relatively sparse in our city over the past few years and hopefully this announcement signals the beginning of a turnaround in the national touring productions that stop in Vancouver.

Based on the blockbuster 1994 animated film of the same name, The Lion King opened on Broadway in 1997 and promptly won a plethora of honours including six Tony Awards, eight Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle Awards, the New York Drama Critics award for Best Musical, the Evening Standard Award for the Theatrical Event of the Year, two Olivier Awards, a Theatre World Award, the Astaire Award for Outstanding Choreography, two Drama League Awards and a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

Choreography is by Garth Fagan, scenic design by Richard Hudson, costume design by Julie Taymor, and lighting design by Donald Holder.  The Lion King features an adapted book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi and a score by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor and Hans Zimmer.

Broadway Across Canada presents Disney’s The Lion King from July13– August 8, 2010, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 600 block Hamilton St, Vancouver. Ticket prices range from $26.50 to $98.50 and go on sale in March of 2010.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; Playhouse (Upcoming show)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels begins previews at the Vancouver Playhouse this Saturday with an official opening next week.

Artistic Managing Director Max Reimer hopes to continue his winning streak after last year’s hit The Drowsy Chaperone brought new life to, and with it higher expectations for, the Playhouse’s annual musical offering.

Directed by Max Reimer, with musical direction by Steve Thomas and co-choreographed by Reimer and Nathalie Marrable, the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is based on the 1988 film of the same name.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stars Josh Epstein (The Producers, Arts Club) as Freddy Benson, Andrew Wheeler as Lawrence Jameson and Elena Juatco (Canadian Idol) as Christine Colgate and an ensemble including Danny Balkwill (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS), Tyson Coady (A New Brain, Pipedream), Brennan Cuff, Kazumi Evans (West Side Story, RCMT), Gabrielle Jones (The Drowsy Chaperone, Playhouse), Kiara Leigh, David Marr (The Drowsy Chaperone, Playhouse), Katie Murphy, Jaclyn Rae, Colin Sheen and Debbie Timuss (The Drowsy Chaperone, Playhouse).

The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company presents Dirty Rotten Scoundrels from November 21- December 27, 2009 at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, Hamilton and Dunsmuir.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-873-3311.

Evil Dead just won’t die

Evil Dead: The Musical didn’t get a glowing review from this critic but nevertheless is still going strong and has added another week to their already extended run, now ending November 21, 2009.

Evil Dead: The Musical, presented by Ground Zero Theatre, Hit & Myth Productions and Keystone now plays until November 21, 2009 at the Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville St.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-280-4444.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical; Arts Club (Upcoming show)

Christmas is coming early to Vancouver this year.  The Arts Club production of White Christmas begins previews tonight and opens officially November 18th, 2009.

Based on the 1954 musical film starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen, the stage version debuted in 2004 with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake and music by Irving Berlin.

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Todd Talbot, Laura McNaught, Jeffrey Victor, Sara-Jeanne Hosie in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of White Christmas. Photo by David Cooper.

Starring Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Monique Lund (Beauty and the Beast, Arts Club), Todd Talbot (Annie, TUTS), Jeffrey Victor (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Susan Anderson (Beauty and the Beast, Arts Club), Réjean Cournoyer (Les Misérables, Arts Club), with Robert Allan, Jak Barradell (Altar Boyz, Arts Club), Darren Burkett (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Adam Charles (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Anna Kuman (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Jeremy Lowe (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Kristie Marsden (Company, Arts Club), Marianne McCord, Laura McNaught (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Keri Minty (A Chorus Line, RCMT), Shane Snow (The Full Monty, Patrick Street), Fiona Vroom, Mark Weatherley, and Rachael Withers (Les Misérables, Arts Club).

Arts Club Theatre Company presents Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical from November 24– December 27, 2009 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville St.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-687-1644.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Footlight Theatre (Review)

I’ve seen many productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat over the years; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Footlight Theatre’s production falls somewhere comfortably in the middle.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the family-friendly tuner has become extremely popular with community and school theatre groups.  Vancouver is apparently not immune to these charms, as this is the first of three Josephs gracing local stages over the coming year.

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Based on the Old Testament story, the musical follows dreamer Joseph and his brothers using various styles of music including French ballads, country, calypso and disco.

Danny Balkwill (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) as Joseph has a pop voice well-suited to the title role.  He mostly used his instrument to good effect, although in parts his riffing seemed excessive.

Bree Greig as the Narrator was off to an auspicious beginning in her Vancouver musical-theatre debut.  Her voice has a clear bell-like quality and she carried herself well amongst the large ensemble.

David Kemper’s Potiphar was a scene-stealer in his brief appearance and Brad Strelau’s Pharaoh was a credit to cheesy Elvis impersonators everywhere.

The children’s chorus sang earnestly under the capable direction of Elaine Lindbjerg and was absolutely precious.  Several young stars-in-the making were readily apparent during the children’s solo performances.

Live music can make or break a production and the band of Michael Creber, Buff Allen, Miles Black, Dave Ivaz, Kate Stewart and Rene Worst was nearly flawless.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is almost completely sung-through, and it can be difficult for some less-seasoned actors to properly define and develop their characters with little to no spoken dialogue.  This ensemble repeatedly fell into that trap and would have benefited from some stronger direction as to acting while singing.

This is Footlight’s first time in the larger 600-seat Michael J. Fox Theatre, which is double the audience space of their past venues.  Director Lalainia Lindbjerg-Strelau’s Joseph has set them off to a respectable start for what will hopefully be more successful shows down the road.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, presented by Footlight Theatre Company, plays until November 14, 2009, at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, 7373 MacPherson Ave, Burnaby.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-684-2787.