Category Archives: Arts Club

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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Weekend To-See List (Aug 7-9 2009)

Yesterday was the 104th and final performance of Les Misérables at the Stanley Industrial Theatre (read about it at the Arts Club Blog).  Breaking the 100 performance mark is a huge deal for a local show and the Arts Club is definitely celebrating.

But, the summer Vancouver musical theatre is far from over, and here are my top two picks for this weekend.

1. RentThe Fighting Chance production opened last night and has already announced a week long extension.  My review of the show isn’t up yet, but clearly I liked it since I’ve put it at the top of my weekend to-see list. Playing at Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, Rent tickets are available online.

umbrellas-of-cherbourg

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is playing on the big screen this weekend.  The 1963 classic French sung-through movie starring Catherine Deneuve is a cinematic spectacle and a must-see for musical aficionados. Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour Street Aug 7-9; 6:30 Fri; 8:30 Sat, Sun.

Altar Boyz held over four more weeks; Les Misérables also extends four more shows.

I’m a huge fan of both Arts Club shows that  I’ve reviewed this summer.   Altar Boyz is a pop-heavy 90 minutes of non-stop laughs and fun and while the story of  Les Misérables is  dark and tragic, the individual and ensemble performances are excellent.  I’ve been urging you to catch them both before they close, and now there’s some good news for those who still haven’t had the chance.

actlogos

This summer’s Arts Club shows have been bringing in the crowds by the droves, and just last month Les Misérables at the Stanley Industrial Alliance was given a two-week extension until August 2nd to help accommodate their record-breaking sales.

Now the Altar Boyz, playing on the Granville Island Stage, are following suit with their own four-week holdover.  The Altar Boyz will now run until Saturday, August 29th.

Not to be outdone, Les Misérables has added another four performances to their already lengthened run.  The new additions are as follows:

Tuesday, August 4           7:30 pm

Wednesday, August 5    2 & 8 pm

Thursday, August 6         8 pm

The newly announced batch of tickets goes on sale at 10 am, Thursday, July 16th and can be purchased online or by by phone at 604-687-1644.

Les Misérables (Review)

I saw Les Misérables at the Stanley last night for a second time, and here is my review as promised.  But before that, I’d like to begin with a brief disclaimer.

I know a lot of people will vehemently disagree, but I’ll start off by saying that I’m not a huge Les Mis fan.  It doesn’t rank among my favourite musicals, and I take issue with what I consider to be some major faults (which I’ll address).   But, I also recognise that much of my animosity/indifference towards Les Misérables is due to its unwavering popularity and not because it’s actually a terrible show.

That being said, the Arts Club production of Les Misérables is not to be missed.  The Arts Club rarely disappoints, and as I’ve written before, this past season has been full of some great shows.  I’ve seen the touring version of Les Mis several times, and this one blows them all out of the water.

There isn’t a weak link to be found in this cast.  Kieran Martin Murphy (Jean Valjean) and Réjean Cournoyer (Javert) are credibly locked in a life-long battle of wills and neither wavers in their resolve.  Murphy’s plaintive “Bring Him Home” is a veritable font of emotion.

Rejean Cournoyer in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Réjean Cournoyer in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Les Mis may have some definitive lead roles in Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, but it isn’t stingy with the spotlight and gives multiple performers the chance to be showcased.  Les Misérables doesn’t have one signature song; it has a half dozen or more.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie takes on the double-edged role of Fantine, unenviable only in the inevitable comparisons between hers and YouTube sensation Susan Boyle’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”  Thankfully, Hosie’s performance is all her own and makes Boyle’s a distant memory.

Jonathan Winsby’s voice in “Do You Hear the People Sing” and “Red and Black” is in its usual powerful form and  believably communicates his character Enjolras’ charismatic convictions needed to lead the revolution.

The real revelation came to me in the beautiful singing of Rebecca Talbot’s Éponine.  During her first speaking lines I was apprehensive about her slightly rough-sounding voice.  Those concerns were completely allayed when she began to sing.  Talbot’s “On My Own” was emotional, heart-wrenching, and completely crush-worthy.

Jeffrey Victor as Marius and Kaylee Hardwood as Cosette make up the final two points with Éponine in the requisite love-triangle.  But I found myself siding with the doomed Éponine, all the more so in her dying duet with Marius “A Little Fall of Rain.”

John Mann and Nicola Lipman as the villainous Thénardiers add some much needed levity, albeit black humour, to the otherwise unending tragedies and deaths that befall almost every major character in the play.  Mann is deliciously ghoulish and Lipman is more than his match in every way.  What Lipman lacks in vocal skills, she more than makes up for with strong acting and a razor-sharp delivery.

Nicola Lipman and John Mann in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of  Les Misérables. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Nicola Lipman and John Mann in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Les Misérables was adapted into musical form from Victor Hugo’s classic French novel of the same name and has been translated into English at various time as The Miserable Ones, The Wretched, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, and The Victims.  I’m partial to The Wretched myself.

All kidding aside, Les Misérables does have a beautiful score and multiple deservedly memorable songs, which count in its favour.  On the other hand the book is long, unwieldy, short on character development, and attempts to cram far too many characters and events into one show.  The end result can be hard to follow and it’s easy to miss plot points or details that explain character histories or motivations.  The poor character development along with the über-tragic storyline makes for many missed opportunities to really flesh out some of the emotions and stories behind the show.

None of this applies to those of who have seen the show multiple times and who have probably had more than a few listens to any of the cast albums, but I wisely advise any Les Mis virgins to read the synopsis while waiting for the show to start so as not to be left confused halfway through.

My only other complaint is the small orchestra.  I understand that it’s both an economic and a logistical problem, but the epic scale of Alain Boublil’s and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music and lyrics really does require a full scale orchestra to do it justice.  Even so, Musical Director Bruce Kellett has done a great job of making the most of the six-man pit.

The Arts Club production of Les Misérables directed by Bill Millerd is the best I’ve seen and if you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t recommend it enough.  Despite my criticisms, I’ve seen it twice and I’m likely to catch it once more before it closes on August 2nd.

Les Misérables runs through August 2nd at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville Street).

Altar Boyz (Updated Review)

I know that I’d promised you my updated take on Altar Boyz last week, but I didn’t get a chance to see it again at the Granville Island Stage until this weekend.

The show has definitely accrued more polish, since when I first saw it in previews.  My original concern about missed comedic timing and line deliveries has been completely rectified.

All of the actors have settled comfortably into their roles, and are pitch-perfect, dancing machines.

David Hurwitz plays it up for laughs as the closeted Catholic Mark and balances the fine line between character and caricature.  I’m rarely comfortable with the fallback of using gays or other minorities as comic relief, but Hurwitz carries it off smoothly.  Hurwitz’s “Epiphany” had the audience cheering and I especially appreciated his over the top boy band style riffs.

The original cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Altar Boyz. Photo by David Cooper.

The original cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Altar Boyz. Photo by David Cooper.

Jeremy Crittenden (Matthew), Jak Barradell (Luke), and Geoff Stevens (Abraham) each have multiple shining moments.  Crittenden has the classic boy band idol look and plenty of onstage charisma to back it up.  His rendition of “Something About You” is a guaranteed charmer.

Barradell gives a solid performance and really shows off in his solo in “Body, Mind & Soul!”

Stevens’ “I Believe” solo is crystal clear in its simple melody and sets the stage for the inevitable happy ending.

Originally I highlighted Vincent Tong, and once again I have nothing but praise for his performance as Juan.  “La Vida Eternal” both pokes fun at the short-lived Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias Latin music trend and shows off Tong’s vocals and strong dance moves.

Whether you loved them or hated them, 90s boy bands were ubiquitous for a reason.  Yes, they were attractive to the tween and teen set and their in-formation dance steps set many a straight female and gay male fan heart aflutter.  But the icing on the carefully pre-packaged cake was the infectious music and the catchy hooks.

If comparing the Altar Boyz as a musical against standard Broadway (classic or modern), the show doesn’t really have a prayer.  No one’s going to mistake the score for Sondheim.  But as a spoof of the boy band phenomenon, the score achieves the intent of composers Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker.  Adler and Walker have crafted a score that could have easily topped the pop charts a decade ago (minus the humor-laden lyrics).

In that regard Altar Boyz hits its mark.  The songs seem to be staying with me, whether I want them to or not.

The show’s book is practically non-existent; a Christian boy band attempting to cleanse the souls of every audience member before their concert is done.  The barely-there plot really doesn’t matter though, as the show consistently entertains with strong laughs, high energy vocals and  smooth dance moves.

A big part of the show’s success should be attributed to the four-piece band under Musical Director Sasha Niechoda.  Much of the show’s energy comes directly from the live music.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s choreography is even sharper than before if possible.  There’s really no excuse to miss this show, if you haven’t already seen it.  The Arts Club has set itself a high bar to pass for next season’s musicals.  But, if past experience is any indication, they’ll do it with flying colours.

Running at 90 minutes with no intermission, Altar Boyz runs until August 1st at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston Street) in Vancouver.

Arts Club Update: Les Mis & Altar Boyz

Last week, the Arts Club announced a two-week extension to their run of Les Misérables, now ending August 2nd.

According to the Arts Club blog, it is now the highest-selling production in their 46 year history, even besting perennial favourite and previous record-holder Beauty and the Beast.

  	 Jeffrey Victor in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

Jeffrey Victor in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Les Misérables. Photo by David Cooper.

I hadn’t planned on reviewing Les Misérables for Musicals in Vancouver, largely because it opened a month before this blog even started. That’s not to say that I haven’t seen it, nor to say that I don’t harbour any strong opinions about this production or about Les Mis in general.

I’m hoping to take in another performance between now and early next week, for two reasons.  (1) I saw it in previews, and (2) I didn’t take notes and my memory isn’t what it used to be.  Scratch that, make it three reasons. (3) I’m happy for the excuse to catch Les Misérables again.

It’s also on my to-do list to catch Altar Boyz again, outside of previews.  The first time was near-perfect, and I’m anxious to see the differences a week can make.  I should have reviews and updates on both shows up by next week.  Until then, if you haven’t seen Les Mis or Altar Boyz, get your tickets fast.  You really can’t go wrong with either show.

Altar Boyz plays until August 1st at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston Street).

Les Misérables runs through August 2nd at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville Street).

Altar Boyz Preview (Review)

The Arts Club has been right on the mark with their musical productions this season, and Altar Boyz is no exception.  Previews began tonight and continue until opening night on June 24th.

The original cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Altar Boyz. Photo by David Cooper.

The original cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Altar Boyz. Photo by David Cooper.

I wasn’t familiar with the show before tonight but was quickly taken in by the clever spoofing of boy bands and Christian music. The plot does play a little thin at times but the enthusiastic audience was far too busy laughing to notice.

Matthew (Jeremy Crittenden), Mark (David Hurwitz), Luke (Jak Barradell), Juan (Vincent Tong), and Abraham (Geoff Stevens) dance and sing as a well-oiled machine with a mission to save souls.  Commanded by the Lord to gel their hair with product and gird their loins with pleather lest they skew to the detestable older demographic, the Altar Boyz are on the final show of their “Raise the Praise” concert tour.

The entire quintet of actors shines in each of their respective roles as teen heartthrobs, but I have to single out Tong for his acrobatics, both literal and vocal.  He was also extremely memorable last Christmas as LeFou in Beauty and the Beast (Arts Club).

Choreographer Sara-Jeanne Hosie (currently playing Fantine in Les Misérables) pays homage to the most memorable of cheesy boy band dance moves.  The Boyz’ dancing is crisp, clean and often downright hilarious.

I have to confess that I attended several boy band concerts in the late 90s, and I saw more than a few evocations of classic Backstreet Boys and *NSync steps on the Granville Island stage tonight.

Some of the lines delivered could use a little tightening, but the preview performance was divine and hopefully I’ll be back after the opening to see how the show improves.  It’s looking like Director Bill Millerd is going to have yet another hit on his hands.

Running at 90 minutes with no intermission, Altar Boyz runs until August 1st at the Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston Street).