Monthly Archives: January 2010

Beyond Eden; Playhouse (Review)

In 1957, a controversial expedition including acclaimed B.C. artist Bill Reid and anthropologist Wilson Duff was sent to remove and preserve totem poles from the abandoned Haida village of Ninstints. The conflicts it generated, both externally and within, are the subject of the brand-new musical Beyond Eden.

Writer Bruce Ruddell weaves fantasy with history as he delves into the moral dilemmas faced by the expedition.  The characters have also been fictionalised; Reid is now Max Tomson (Cameron MacDuffee) and Duff is now Lewis Wilson (John Mann).

John Mann and Tom Jackson in Beyond Eden at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Wilson struggles with his desire to preserve the totem poles before they decay and are lost and his respect for the Haida beliefs and traditions.  The mixed-race Tomson is also on his own journey to recognising and reclaiming his heritage.

Mann, of Spirit of the West fame, is in fine form, vocally and dramatically.  Tom Jackson (North of 60) deftly plays the Watchman, a mystical guide intent on protecting the totem poles from Wilson’s interference.  The fallback into over-used stereotypes, which at times threatened to derail the production, is carefully tempered by the beautiful imagery.

There are some stunning visuals on display here, including a sequence of canoe lanterns floating above the heads of the audience, and luminescent totem poles given life as their projected carvings take motion.  Bretta Gerecke’s evocative set involving ramps and angled poles is flawless.

Composer Bill Henderson’s score is serviceable but mostly forgettable.  The use of traditionally-inspired Haida music by Gwaai Edenshaw, however, is seamlessly integrated and rises far above the weaker elements.

There are also some valiant efforts to incorporate basic character development to add some humanity to the history, but these fall way short of their goal.  The subplots involving Wilson’s attempts to reconnect with his son and wife are meandering at best and come off as insincere.  Jennifer Lines’ performance as Wilson’s wife is well-executed, but the character, as written, is superfluous and adds little to the production.

The musical is steeped heavily with both ambition and gravitas, which mostly serve it well.  As a historical narrative, it hits the mark; as a musical, it’s lacking.  Though the script and score could do with a major renovation, overall Beyond Eden is visually and thematically haunting.

The Vancouver Playhouse and Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad in co-production with Theatre Calgary present Beyond Eden from January 16 – February 6, 2010 at the Vancouver Playhouse, Hamilton and Dunsmuir.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-873-3311.

Advertisements

Passing Strange; PBS (Upcoming Show)

Spike Lee’s documentary film of the musical Passing Strange makes its national debut on PBS, this Wednesday, January 13, 2010.   Lee’s 135-minute documentary records some of the show’s final performances before it closed in 2008.

Passing Strange features a Tony Award-winning book by Stew, lyrics by Stew, and music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald.

The film stars original cast members Stew, Rodewald, de’Adre Aziza, Daniel Breaker, Eisa Davis, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge and Rebecca Naomi Jones.

Locally there will be multiple airings, so set your PVRS.  It plays at 6 pm and then repeats at 11:30 pm on Shaw 87 and also at 9 pm on Shaw 27.  Check your local listings.

Forbidden Broadway; Fighting Chance (Review)

Forbidden Broadway has spent more than 25 years in New York satirising the best and the worst of the Great White Way.  Fighting Chance Productions’ decision to bring a version of the popular revue to Vancouver is a curious one.

The Off-Broadway musical revue made its debut way back in 1982 and has been rewritten over the years to make room for the inclusion of newer shows.  Some of the parodies have held up better than others and I was eager to see which would be included in this incarnation and whether they would find a receptive audience here.

Aaron Lau, Cathy Wilmot and David Nicks in Forbidden Broadway.

Satire like this, demands some familiarity with the source material, and the more familiarity, the better. I needn’t have worried; the night I attended, the intimate PAL Theatre was heavily laden with local musical-theatre buffs in high spirits.  As a whole, they caught pretty much every musical reference thrown their way.

And there were a lot for them to catch.  Everything from Rent, to Les Misérables, to Hairspray.  The strongest audience reactions came for the send-ups of shows that have been seen locally recently.

The cast of five (plus a guest appearance, by the company’s artistic director) do a respectable job with some of the more difficult material.  Kudos to Andrea Bailey, Natalee Fera, Aaron Lau, David Nicks and Cathy Wilmot.  Serviceable impressions of Broadway icons can be a tall order, but they mostly deliver.

“Defying Subtlety” poked cleverly at both Wicked and Idina Menzel.  Cathy Wilmot’s lipstick-smeared Carol Channing was a humourous tribute to the legend’s longtime role as Dolly Levi.  Wilmot also does a larger-than-life Ethel Merman mocking the current trend of over-micing performers.

Also on the mark were good-natured jabs at Liza Minnelli, Bob Fosse and Stephen Sondheim, respectively.  “Into the Words” skillfully incorporated elements of Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods.

Considerably less-successful were parodies of Fiddler on the Roof, Cats and Barbra Streisand.  The weaker material dragged down the show’s pacing.   As well, at least one of the singers had difficulty projecting to the back of the venue.

Forbidden Broadway won’t be to everyone’s liking, but musical-theatre followers will welcome the chance to make light of some of their idols, if only for a night.

Fighting Chance Productions presents Forbidden Broadway from January 6 – 16, 2010 at the PAL Theatre, 581 Cardero St.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-684-2787.