Tag Archives: Alison MacDonald

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; Arts Club (Upcoming show)

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is finally here in Vancouver.  I’ve been looking forward to seeing this show since it was announced last year.  This production comes direct from a reportedly successful run at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria.  Since I always avoid reading reviews, I have no idea what kind of reaction the show has already garnered.  But, I’m hoping that the Arts Club won’t disappoint.

Josh Epstein in the Arts Club production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Photo by David Cooper.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the Tony Award-winning musical comedy that follows a group of overachieving students as they vie to outspell the competition.

Music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain), book by Rachel Sheinkin and conceived by Rebecca Feldman. Starring Michael Blake, Jeremy Crittenden (Altar Boyz, Arts Club), Josh Epstein (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Vancouver Playhouse), Sara-Jeanne Hosie (White Christmas, Arts Club), Brian Linds, Alison MacDonald (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Tracy Neff, Rosie Simon, and Vincent Tong (Altar Boyz, Arts Club). Directed by Michael Shamata, musical direction by Bruce Kellett, choreography by Laura Krewski, set design by Yvan Morissette, costumes by Erin Macklem and lighting by Marsha Sibthorpe.

The Arts Club in association with The Belfry Theatre presents The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from June 17 – July 31, 2010 at the Granville Island Stage, 1585 Johnston Street, Vancouver.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-687-1644.

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Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr (Review)

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr opened the 27th season of the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday with a taste of Canadian rockabilly and country.  This bio-tuner, written by local playwright Tracey Power, unfortunately, has little to distinguish itself from the multitude of other similarly structured biographical musicals.

Everyone, even those who have never heard of Canadian country singer Lucille Starr, will recognise the underlying story.  Talented girl meets boy and they become big stars. Boy ends up being no good and drags girl down with him.  Girl overcomes the odds and makes it again on her own.

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr. photo- James Loewen

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr. Photo by James Loewen

That’s not to take away from the real-life Lucille Starr’s experiences and successes.  Starr made it big in a time when there was no Canadian music industry to speak of.  But this staged version doesn’t add anything new to an already overcrowded genre.

The first act is overly-formulaic and poorly paced.  Beverley Elliott plays Lucille as she returns to her hometown of Coquitlam for a comeback concert in 1981.  Lucille then recalls a series of loosely linked vignettes of her early days as she sings her way to fame.  Elliott does a fine job with the music but is given little opportunity to do much else beyond a few wisecracks and one-liners.

The acting and emotions are left in the hands of the versatile and always enjoyable Alison MacDonald (Songs for A New World, Not Another Musical Co-op) as the younger Lucille and Jeff Gladstone as her music partner and eventual husband Bob Regan.  MacDonald and Elliott are both accomplished singers and they easily breeze through the score.

The story is told completely through Starr’s eyes and, maybe as a result, her husband comes off as one-dimensional.  Gladstone turns on the charm but, as written, his character never quite connects with the audience.

If the show has one strength, it’s the music.  Musical director Steve Charles has successfully knit together a tight unit with musicians Jeremy Holmes and Jimmy Roy.

Luckily, the pace picks up in the second half when more attention is paid to the details and the personal emotional highs and lows of Starr’s life.  But it seems like too little too late.  Back to You, while far from a complete disaster, never ventures into anything worthwhile and is mostly ordinary and forgettable.

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr, presented by Musical Theatreworks, plays from September 30- October 10, 2009 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St.  Tickets are available by calling the box office at 604-689-0926.

Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr (Upcoming show)

The Firehall starts its 27th season with Back to You – the Life and Music of Lucille Starr.  Presented by Musical Theatreworks and written by Tracey Power (The Jungle Book), Back to You stars Beverley Elliott, Alison MacDonald (Songs for A New World, Not Another Musical Co-op) and Jeff Gladstone.

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr, photo by James Loewen

Beverley Elliott as Lucille Starr, photo by James Loewen

The musical journey of Back to You begins in 1981. Lucille Starr has come home to Coquitlam, BC to give her first solo concert in 25 years. It’s her comeback tour, in more ways than one and her nerves have peaked. The last time her hometown crowd saw her on stage, it was with their other hometown sweetheart, Bob Regan. Coming home has stirred up a lifetime of memories – from the duo’s rise in the country-music charts, her legendary solo career and international acclaim, to the loss of her voice and lengthy recovery.  Now here she is, the first night of her comeback tour, a tour that ultimately brings her back to her music, back to herself and back to you.

Directed by Barbara Tomasic, musical direction by Steve Charles, set and lighting design by April Viczko, and costumes by Barbara Clayden, Back to You plays from September 30- October 10, 2009 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St.  Tickets are available by calling the box office at 604-689-0926.

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.

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