Category Archives: Reviews

Annie; Gateway Theatre (Upcoming show)

Dancing orphans, stray dogs and a singing billionaire return to the Metro Vancouver stage once again as Gateway Theatre presents the family favourite Annie as their 2010 Christmas musical.

Michelle Creber in Gateway Theatre's Annie. Photo by David Cooper.

The musical marks a special anniversary for Gateway. “We’re celebrating 26 years at Gateway by producing Annie, the musical we started with,” says executive and artistic director Simon Johnston. “Annie’s irrepressible optimism and hope for the future is an important message for all of us.”

Book by Thomas Meehan (The Producers), music by Charles Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie), and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Directed by Johnna Wright, musical direction by Allen Stiles, choreography by Kennith Overbey, set design by Drew Facey, and costume design by Carmen Alatorre.

Starring Michelle Creber, Timothy E. Brummund, Nora McLellan, Matt Palmer, Barbara Tomasic and Pippa Mackie. Featuring Jessie Chan, Bridget Esler, Murielle Faifman, Maria Go, Kaila Kask, Aviva Knowles, Caroline Mawhinney, Fiona McIntyre, Laura Reynolds, Colette Richardson, Makena Zimmerman, Arne Larsen, Andrea Bailey, Matthew Beairsto, Vanessa Coley-Donohue, Andrew Cownden, Xavier de Salaberry, Jeff Deglow, Cameron Dunster, Brandyn Eddy, Madelyn Kriese, Stephanie Liatopolous, Brittany Scott, and Tamara Vishniakoff.

Gateway Theatre presents Annie from December 9 – 31, 2010, at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-270-1812.

Advertisements

Seussical the Musical; Carousel Theatre (Review)

Seussical, the ambitious musical imagining of Dr. Seuss stories, opened on Broadway to great expectations almost exactly a decade ago and all signs pointed to a guaranteed hit.  Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens were fresh off of the success of their 1998 Tony-Award-winning Ragtime and the Seussian connection promised to deliver a multitude of new young fans to musical theatre.  Sadly, the show received a spate of negative reviews and was dead within six months.

The cast of Carousel Theatre's Seussical the Musical. Photo by Tim Matheson.

The show has since been rewritten and reworked several times over for touring and community productions.  Plot lines and characters have been moved, changed or scrapped altogether in some cases. The original runtime of two and a half hours has been halved into a streamlined kid-friendly 75 minutes.

Compared to the original glitzy circus-style production, director Carole Higgins’ version of Seussical has been stripped down to the basics. Luckily, all for the better.

It’s a testament to the lasting magic of Dr. Seuss’s literary creations that the barebones approach works so well.  His oeuvre was always about igniting and inspiring young minds, so it seems only fitting that imagination be an integral part of Seussical.

Gone are the high-flying aerobatics and elaborate sets. Barbara Clayden’s costumes stick to a very minimalist approach. The audience is left to imagine everything else. An arm in a grey sleeve effortlessly becomes an elephant’s trunk and the frills of a long pink coat become a bird’s tail-feathers.

The Cat in the Hat (Darren Burkett) serves as a narrator/master of ceremonies who pulls Jojo (Taylor Lintott) out of the audience and plops him straight into the thick of the action on stage. A procession of favourite Seuss characters soon follows. Horton the elephant (Josue Laboucane) is a reluctant hero who discovers the existence of an entire miniature world on a speck of dust.
Mayzie la Bird (Rebecca Talbot) struggles with the idea of being a single parent and Gertrude McFuzz (Kaylee Harwood) has issues with her body image.

Lintott, Burkett, Laboucane, Talbot and Harwood all let loose on stage and their enthusiasm shines through in spades.

In a different show, the series of loosely connected stories wouldn’t pass muster as a plot. But sewn together with the Flaherty and Ahrens score, there’s something magical about Seussical the Musical.

The kid-dominated audience on opening night was suitably impressed and the parents seemed to have fun too. And just maybe a few new young theatre fans were born.

Seussical the Musical, presented by Carousel Theatre, runs until January 1, 2011 at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St., Granville Island. Tickets are available online.

The Sound of Music; Footlight Theatre (Review)

For a show about the rise of Nazism and the pre-World War II German annexation and occupation of Austria, the characters in The Sound of Music are oddly almost always in good spirits.  With such an eminently hummable score, it’s not hard to see why.

The cast of Footlight Theatre's The Sound of Music. Photo by Paul H. Wright.

While Footlight’s production of Joseph last year was exceedingly average, director and choreographer Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau has surpassed expectations with The Sound of Music.  Lindbjerg Strelau has successfully marshaled an extremely large amateur cast into a strong cohesive production of this family classic.  Of course some of that credit must go to Rodgers and Hammerstein for crafting such a feel-good show.

Bree Greig’s voice is nearly flawless and she has the youthful and earnest young governess routine down pat.  Greig is a very likable Maria and will likely become an even more familiar face to local audiences in short order.

Steve Maddock is commanding and stern, as Captain von Trapp ought to be, though the role itself is somewhat of a bore and leaves him little room to maneuver.  On the few occasions where Maddock is allowed to sing, it left me wishing for more.

Chris Sinosich’s costuming was full of detail as usual and her job couldn’t have been easy given the large cast.

That’s not to say that the show was perfect. There were several issues that stood out. The show is fairly long (on the short side of three hours) and the many scene changes took far too long to complete and constantly interrupted the flow of the onstage action.

There also should have been more of a buildup to the Nazi threat.  The actors on stage never seem to be overly concerned with the looming Nazi occupation and so the dramatic unfurling of swastikas over the audience in the Salzburg festival scene is too much, too quickly.

The lighting problems were very noticeable and by no fault of the musicians themselves, the miking of the small orchestra gave it an overly canned feel.  Some of the music played during the monotonous scene changes ended up sounding like tinny Muzak.

But in the grand scheme of things, these seem like small quibbles;  Footlight’s The Sound of Music is a bona fide home-grown success.

The Sound of Music, presented by Footlight Theatre Company, runs until November 20, 2010, at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, 7373 MacPherson Ave, Burnaby. Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-684-2787.

What About LUV?; Down Stage Right (Review)

After a steady diet of familiar musical-theatre staples, it’s a welcome change of pace to see some lesser-known shows make their way on to the Vancouver stage.  What About LUV?, presented by Down Stage Right Productions, more than fits the bill.  The show reunites director Mark Carter , actors Scott Walters and Meghan Gardiner and much of the behind-the-scenes team from last year’s DSR production of Evil Dead: The Musical.

Neil Minor, Meghan Gardiner and Scott Walters in Down Stage Right's What About LUV?

Actors Neil Minor, Walters and Gardiner do a bang-up job in this musical adaptation of the successful Tony-winning 1964 Broadway play LUV.  The trio play neurotic and whiny New Yorkers who at various points informally vie to see which among them is the most miserable.

All of the action is set on a New York City bridge and begins when Milt (Minor) stops Harry (Walters) from killing himself after a serendipitous reunion.  The two former classmates end up tangled in a convoluted love triangle with Milt’s wife (Gardiner).  Gardiner really shines as the uptight Ellen.

What About LUV?, at times, is smart and bitingly funny.  The actors take turns being paired off in a series of musical duets and straight acting scenes, and each takes their fair share of the spotlight to showcase their respective talents.

Much of the comedy is silly in the vein of Jerry Lewis and Walters takes to it like a neurotic fish to water.  Walters’ facial contortions and his scenes with his brown paper bag alone are worth the price of admission.

The first act started a bit slow and it took a while to warm to the show’s concept.  The second act, which picks up one year after the first, is much stronger.

Choreographer Ken Overbey has filled the show with a series of inspired little moments that left the audience smiling.  John Bessette’s set is simple but effective.

Kudos to light designer Darren Hales for his artful use of lighting.  I’ve said before that I usually only notice lighting when it’s done wrong, but here I took notice several times because it was done so well.

The beauty of What About LUV? is in its simplicity. All of its elements come together into a neatly-wrapped quirky gem of a show.  This is definitely a must-see.

What About LUV?, presented by Down Stage Right Productions, runs until November 13 at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St., Granville Island.  Tickets are available online or at the door.

Grease; Broadway Across Canada (Review)

I feel it’s best for all of us if we forget the television travesty that was Grease: You’re the One That I Want.  So, I offer my sincerest apologies for bringing it up once again.  For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, the 2007 reality show had young actors and actresses competing to portray the lead roles of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski in the Broadway revival of Grease. The entire endeavour was a creative sellout and the eventual production, featuring winners Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, was largely panned by most major Broadway critics.

Brad Lawson, Marc Winski, Patrick Cragin, Patrick Joyce, and Matt Nolan perform “Greased Lightnin'.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Upon learning that the touring role of Danny Zuko was being played by Matt Nolan, a finalist from that show which shall-no-longer-be-named, I didn’t harbour much hope for the success of this show.  So, I was pleasantly surprised by his performance on the opening night of Grease at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

For most Grease fans, Danny Zuko will forever be indelibly tied with John Travolta’s film portrayal and everyone who has played Danny since must endure the inevitable comparisons.  Matt Nolan embodied the too-cool-for-school attitude of the character without trying to mimic Travolta’s mannerisms.  Nolan was extremely likable; an overgrown kid not entirely sure of himself.

The same can’t be said of Alyssa Herrera’s Sandy.  Herrera suffered from a severe lack of stage presence and she struggled to stand out from the chorus.

The secondary roles of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies were all played adequately, though none of them really delivered anything special.

Though touring shows aren’t expected to measure up to Broadway standards when it comes to sets and costumes, this production really fell short of the mark.  Some of the sets looked like hastily-painted cardboard backdrops, while the costumes in the opening looked similarly cheap.

I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing, until some of the bigger dance numbers. Joyce Chittick’s choreography was slickly executed and helped lift the show from its inauspicious beginning.

This current production also incorporates some of the more popular songs from the movie that weren’t originally part of the stage version including “Grease (Is the Word)” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Some of the grittiness and more mature bits have either been glossed over or removed entirely.  In the song “Greased Lightning”, lyrics have been changed from “the chicks will cream” to “the chicks will scream” and “pussy wagon” is now “draggin’ wagon.”  Rizzo’s second-act pregnancy scare is brushed off as no big deal.  Though, in fairness, it can be hard to remember that these twenty-something actors are all supposed to be playing teenagers.

But, no one has ever accused Grease of trying to be serious theatre.  On opening night, the theatre was laden with patrons of all ages, many of whom were avid fans of the movie.  At several junctures throughout the show, I could hear audience members singing along with their favourite songs.  The appeal of Grease isn’t in its barebones plot; it’s in the nostalgia and the catchy songs.  And on that count, Grease more than delivers.

Grease, presented by Broadway Across Canada, runs until October 31, 2010, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 600 block Hamilton St, Vancouver. Tickets are available online or by calling 604-280-4444.

The Wedding Singer; Fighting Chance (Review)

Fighting Chance Productions had been on somewhat of a lucky streak with its shows of late (Rent, Matt & Ben), but alas, all good things must come to an end.

Director Ryan Mooney hasn’t managed to replicate the success of some of his previous productions, but most of the blame here lies with the source material.  The songs (music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin), while not terrible, are largely forgettable and uninspired.

Fighting Chance Productions' The Wedding Singer.

The Wedding Singer book is stitched together haphazardly, and never quite comes together as a whole.   Where the movie was carried on the collective star power and charisma of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the stage version has chosen to rely on an endless barrage of 80s references, in the hopes that the audience won’t notice the paper-thin story.

Sandler’s trademark juvenile humour hasn’t translated well to the stage.  Many supporting characters have had their stage time expanded, but remain cringingly one-dimensional.  A grandmother who likes to talk about sex? Check. A wise-cracking gay band member? Check.  Jokes that are stretched on for far too long? Check.

Linda Noble’s portrayal of Robbie’s grandmother Rosie comes off as a badly-drawn caricature.  Noble isn’t old enough to make the naughty senior bit work for her and her delivery didn’t garner much of a reaction from the audience.

The actors made the most of what they were given to work with.  Andrew Halliwell, as wedding singer Robbie Hart, has a serviceable stage presence and rock voice which helped smooth over some of the show’s rougher edges.

On a technical note, the sound quality was spotty throughout the show and microphones cut in and out repeatedly.

Though The Wedding Singer is far from a hit, Fighting Chance deserves credit for taking chances on shows that have not yet been seen in Metro Vancouver.  Local theatre companies seem far too eager to mount the same old shows, year after year.  I’d much rather experience a flawed play, like this one, for the first time than sit through yet another showing of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, no matter how well-produced.

Fighting Chance Productions presents The Wedding Singer until May 22, 2010 at the Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery, Vancouver.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-224-8007 ext. 3

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Royal City Musical Theatre (Review)

Over 40 years after Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, it remains an incredibly popular staple of school and community theatre.  Footlight Theatre mounted a production last fall and Theatre Under the Stars will cap the trifecta with its own version this summer.

Joseph (Mat Baker) and his brothers in Royal City Musical Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

This completely sung-through show requires strong vocalists and director Valerie Easton (A Chorus Line, RCMT) has wisely cast accordingly.  Mat Baker (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Gateway) stars as Joseph and has a strong, commanding voice.  Baker shies away from some of the pop-esque stylings favoured by many other recent Josephs and succeeds because of it.  At times, Baker is still a bit wooden, but not as noticeably as he’s been in the past.

Joseph is a decidedly male-heavy show, but Jennifer Neumann (Songs for a New World, Not Another Musical) as the Narrator more than holds her own.  Neumann is a consistently strong and likable performer and here is no exception.

Danny Balkwill’s (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) turn as the Elvis-impersonating Pharaoh is less memorable, but makes up for it  later with a killer Michael Jackson-inspired vocal number.

Joseph’s brothers are a uniformly strong ensemble and deserve equal billing with the other stars of the show; Neil Aspinall, Nic Bygate, Tyson Coady, Jeff Deglow, William Hopkins, Erik Ioannidis, Mike Kovac, Myles McCarthy, Daniel Pitout, Friedrick Po, and Lucas Testini.

Proving that there really are no small parts, Tyson Coady (A New Brain, Pipedream), who also played Pharaoh’s Butler, was a definite highlight of the evening.  His lively characterization and dance steps in one of the large ensemble numbers repeatedly drew attention away from some of the centre stage principals.

Valerie Easton does double-duty as director and choreographer and really puts this troupe through its paces.  Easton uses the large cast to her advantage, choreographing the stage into a circus of movement.

This expanded and now standard version of Joseph does go on too long; there’s no reason for the gratuitous “megamix” that has been tacked on after the finale.

By no means is Joseph one of the worst things ever to grace the stage, but it’s quality as a show doesn’t match up with its unbridled popularity with audiences.  But, as far as productions go, Royal City’s is rock-solid.

Royal City Musical Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat until April 24, 2010 at the Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Avenue, New Westminster.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-521-5050.