Tag Archives: Firehall Arts Centre

Smile; Awkward Stage (Upcoming show)

From the company that brought last year’s “Pick of the Fringe” 13, comes Smile, a musical and satirical take on teenage beauty pageants.  Awkward Stage Productions adds a new twist to this oft-forgotten 80s musical by using puppets to portray all of the adult characters alongside the human youth cast. The crew and musicians are youths too.

Stephanie Johannesen, Chelsea Powrie, Brenda, Erin Palm, and Jorgette Jorge in Awkward Stage's production of Smile.

Music by Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line) and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors). Directed by Cara Tench, Corwin Ferguson, and Andy Toth. Choreography by Cara Tench and musical direction by Andy Toth. Starring Julia DiSpirito, Rachael Harrison, Taylor Scott, Maiah Fujino, Katie Allinger, Brittany Gee-Moore, Jessica Wong, Paige Wise, Hailey Perkins, Isabella Halliday, Fanco Celli, Devon MacKinlay, Kai Bradbury, Kaitlyn Yott, Morgan Roff, Patrick Arnott, Jonathan Hers, Erin Palm, Chelsea Powrie, Stephanie Johannesen, Chelsey Yamasaki, Ashley Siddals, Jennifer Suttis, Lindsay Corbett, Erika Babbins, Rebecca Friessen, Brittany Scott, Neil Aspinall, Zach Wolfman, Myles McCarthy, Michelle Baynton, and Jan van Vianen.

Awkward Stage Productions presents Smile from September 8 – 18, 2011 at at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova Street, Vancouver. Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-637-6380.

Mimi (Or A Poisoner’s Comedy); Touchstone Theatre (Upcoming show)

Touchstone Theatre celebrates its 35th season with a lineup of original Canadian musicals and music theatre.  First up, is Mimi (Or A Poisoner’s Comedy)Mimi, which debuted to good reviews in Toronto last season, is billed as a comedy about a young French aristocrat who takes up poison as a hobby.

Jennifer Lines in Mimi (Or A Poisoner's Comedy). Photo by Emily Cooper.

Lyrics and music by Allen Cole, book and lyrics by Melody A. Johnson and Rick Roberts. Directed by Katrina Dunn, musical direction by Steven Greenfield. Set design by David Roberts, costumes by Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh, lighting by Gillian Wolpert.

Starring Donald Adams, Greg Armstrong-Morris, Peter Jorgensen, Jennifer Lines, Linda Quibell, and Sanders Whiting.

Mimi (Or A Poisoner’s Comedy), presented by Touchstone Theatre, runs until November 20, 2010, at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova Street, Vancouver. Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-689-0926.

13; Awkward Stage (Upcoming show)

Evan Goldman is looking forward to turning 13 and his Bar Mitzvah when his parents divorce and his mother abruptly moves him from New York City to small-town Indiana.  Evan’s subsequent quest for popularity is the basic premise of the coming-of-age musical 13.  While 13 only lasted a few months on Broadway in late 2008, the cast recording has become a favourite on my playlist.

Boasting a teenage cast, band and technical crew, 13 makes its Vancouver premiere as part of the 2010 Vancouver International Fringe Festival and is the debut production from Awkward Stage Productions Society.   Awkward Stage’s mission is to “provide real life performance and production opportunities to youth in that awkward stage of transitioning to professional theatre.”  The show has also been double-cast with a senior and junior ensemble alternating performances.

Book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years). Directed by Cara Tench and Corwin Ferguson, with musical direction by Andy Toth. Starring Zach Wolfman, Alex Lara, Kristin Bunyan, Alyssa Baker, Quinn Cartwright, Ashlee Kim, Jonathan Hers, Morgan Roff, David Cohen, Dylan Sloane, Fiona McIntyre, Julia Di Spirito, Devon MacKinlay, Eric Dunnill, Jacob Wolstencraft, Yoav Lai, Kai Bradbury, Anna Sutela, Ginny Dunnill, Caitlin Carhoun, Julie Cooper, Katie Coopersmith, Brittany Gee and Maiah Fujino.

Awkward Stage Productions presents 13 from September 9 – 19, 2010 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova Street, Vancouver. Tickets are available online.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Upcoming show)

Musicals are often adapted from other media. Movies, television shows, and even comics have provided inspiration for some of Broadway’s biggest hits (and flops).  So it’s really no stretch that the internet could eventually do the same.  Broadway West and Relephant Theatre present the Vancouver premiere of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Created and written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon and Zack Whedon, music by Joss Whedon and Jed Whedon.

Featuring Jon Lachlan Stewart, Shane Snow, Christina Hardie, Steven Greenfield, Jaclyn Rae, Anna Kuman, Kirk Smith, and Samantha Currie. Directed by Steven Greenfield, choreography by Shane Snow, and musical direction by Steven Greenfield.

Broadway West and Relephant Theatre present Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog from September 10 – 19, 2010 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova Street, Vancouver. Tickets are available online.

Debt- The Musical; Firehall (Upcoming show)

January brings us the world premiere of Debt- the Musical at the Firehall Arts Centre.  Debt is billed by its creators Leslie Mildiner and Todd Butler as a 90-minute musical satire exploring “the chaos, comedy and confusion created when the charge card creeps too high and the commercials keep saying buy-buy.”

Debt is directed by Donna Spencer, features choreography from Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, and stars Ellen Kennedy, Tom Pickett, Tracey Power, Andy Toth and Simon Webb.

The Firehall Arts Centre presents Debt- the Musical with preview performances from January 8 – 12, and opening Wednesday, January 13 – 30, 2010.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-689-0926.

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.

Piaf: Love Conquers All (Review)

My first memory of Edith Piaf was in a grade seven French immersion classroom.  Our teacher bribed us with prizes to make us memorize the words to different French language songs.  Among them were the warblings of Mme. Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”  It amused us to no end to try and mimic her distinctive sound.

Piaf: Love Conquers All is a one-woman powerhouse performance that tells Piaf’s story; from the lows of her humble beginnings to the heights of international stardom and all the joys and the sorrows that entailed.

Naomi Emmerson as Piaf speaks to the audience as if they are guests in her Parisian apartment.  It is an intimate conversation, as if between new friends, and Emmerson is very much at home in the role.

Naomi Emmerson as Edith Piaf in Piaf: Love Conquers All. Photo by Larry Auerbach.

Naomi Emmerson as Edith Piaf in Piaf: Love Conquers All. Photo by Larry Auerbach.

Emmerson is a dynamic performer and effortlessly recounts her first romantic experiences and singing for money on the streets.  The memories are often dark, but Piaf does not linger on the bad times.  She wants nothing more to be happy and she is happy when she sings.  As the show progresses, we learn that to sing, she must be in love.

Pianist Yan Li ably plays Piaf’s music to provide the backdrop to her life and when the last of the 13 songs is done, so is the story.  Along with her most famous song “La Vie En Rose,” the other 12 are beautifully rendered by Emmerson.

That the songs are in French, is no barrier to the audience.  Less important than the actual lyrics of the music, is Emmerson’s emotional delivery.  Her voice communicates that which is truly important, the humanity behind the music.

The black and white simplicity of the angled set gives the impression of an unfinished canvas, and Piaf attempts to fill in the details with the colour of her memories.  Accents of red are haphazardly placed around as well, and these elements artfully come together to finish Piaf’s account.

It’s not a fairy-tale story with a happy ending, being based in reality, but Emmerson never falls into the trap of trying to play a martyr.  She wears her flaws proudly on her sleeve, unfinished or not.  Emmerson’s portrayal is moving and true.

The search for love is definitely the theme of both the show and of Piaf’s life.  She was involved with many men, but only laid claim to loving a select few.  That her loves always seemed to end in tragedy is not relevant.  She has lived her life fully, made some terrible choices, but in the end she regrets nothing.

Piaf: Love Conquers All plays through August 2nd at the Firehall Arts CentreTickets are available online.

An Interview with Naomi Emmerson (Piaf: Love Conquers All)

The awareness of Edith Piaf’s place in the pop culture pantheon has resurged somewhat in the last few years.  That is due, largely in part, to Marion Cotillard’s  captivating performance as the troubled songbird in La Môme (La Vie En Rose), for which she won a Best Acting Oscar in 2008.

This summer, Vancouver audiences can take a more intimate look at the life of Piaf in the one-woman show Piaf: Love Conquers All.   Roger Peace’s English script  showcases 13 of Piaf’s best-known songs in the original French.

Piaf: Love Conquers All opens tonight at the Firehall Arts Centre and plays until August 2nd.  Tickets are available online.

The star of the show, Montréal-born Naomi Emmerson, has lived in the role on-and-off for the past five years, and speaks of her onstage counterpart with an odd mixture of reverence and familiarity.

Naomi Emmerson as Edith Piaf in Piaf: Love Conquers All.  Photo by Larry Auerbach.

Naomi Emmerson as Edith Piaf in Piaf: Love Conquers All. Photo by Larry Auerbach.

Q: What makes Edith Piaf so compelling?

“It depends on who you ask, but I think the character of Edith Piaf herself is extremely compelling.  Just because of her unbelievable passion towards what she did, which was to sing and to love.   She had this extreme passion for making sure, no matter what, that she could do that.  If it meant keeping herself standing so that she could do a concert for her loving fans by shooting up enough morphine to keep her pain-free then she would do that.  If it meant dating a famous person to get herself in the newspapers then she would try to do that too.”

“For me it’s always the music too.  Some of my favourite songs of hers are lyrics that she actually wrote like “La Vie En Rose”, and “Hymne à l’Amour”.  [She was] a tragic figure that, sort of like watching a train wreck, you can’t look away, it’s just too fascinating.”

Q: In what ways does your show differ from the film?

“What I’ve been told from people who’ve seen them both . . . ours is a little bit uplifting in the story.   But you will definitely recognize many of the stories [from the film, because it is her life. We touch on quite a few of the little stories but you actually get to experience it as if she’s in your living room telling you about [it].  I actually do engage the audience and talk to the audience.  You actually have this physical feeling as if you’re with Piaf, as opposed to a third-party observer on a two-dimensional screen.”

“And then of course there’s the live music, which means anything can happen.  Lyrics could be missed or the tempo could be really energetic and exciting one night.  Or I might start crying in the middle of the song because of a particular thing that’s happening in my mind as I’m doing the show.  There’s more of the immediate temporal thing that you never know what can happen because it’s not recorded.  The people in the audience are the ones who get to experience that moment. Where in a film you can return to over and over again and you can make mistakes because you can just record it.  I think this is the case in all live theatre.  The experience of going and sitting in a dark room with a bunch of other strangers and allowing yourself to be with any story, that’s told on stage in front of you, is a great experience.  For me there’s nothing like it, I love going to theatre. I love doing theatre.”


Q: Having played Piaf for so long, how has the experience changed for you?

“It just gets deeper and deeper; more clear in my body and in my feelings. Sometimes when I watch the video of the first time I did it, five years ago, there’s more of a level of superficiality.  Now, there’s just more of a comfort and a growth within it because I know it so well.  I continue to discover new things and with new audiences you discover other dynamics.”

Q: Why come to B.C. and why now?

“We wanted to expand the audience with the show and we have family who live out West.  First I thought I’d bring it to ArtSpring (Salt Spring Island, BC) and thought well we can’t really afford to just do it at ArtSpring.   We’d have to make a bigger meal out of it and I really wanted to reach the Vancouver audience. It’s a beautiful place and Vancouver, the whole area, is familiar with theatre arts.  I was so excited to see your website. I said, OMG, this is totally amazing they have their own musical theatre website. It was really cool to see that.”

“It’s a West Coast debut and so we’re really excited to see how the audiences respond in terms of the language; the French and the English.   Sometimes people will say ah, I love Piaf, and then others are like who is Piaf? So it’ll be interesting to see how many people are familiar with her.   I think the movie probably helped bring up the topic again, getting people interested again in her music.”

Q: Does the show make sense to English-speaking audiences?  Will they get the same experience as a Francophone one?

“With the songs, the poetry is so simple that a lot of times you can kind of tell what I’m saying. You can create an image in your own mind because the music itself is so well-written, so lush and full of story telling in itself.  What I have been told by the New York audiences who are basically just English-speaking, they would say ‘I don’t even know what you were saying but I was so moved.’  Through the particular scene you can kind of extrapolate what the song is about because of what’s just happened, or where Piaf is in the story or in her emotional state.  I love Brazilian music but I have no idea how to speak or understand Portuguese but I still love listening to Brazilian music.   Or Cuban music and I don’t speak Spanish.  I think it’s the music itself that can be the language.   Of course the text is all in English, people can understand that.”

Q: Has the show ever been performed completely in French?

“We are hoping to do that, in French, hopefully next year in Québec City.   We’ll see if that works.   I haven’t played it in French but it has been done in French many, many years ago by Patsy Galant in Montreal.  She did it in French one night and then English the next, [Québec] will be my first time doing it in French.”

Q: Finally, if you could play any role, in any musical, what would it be?

“A couple of years ago, I was exposed to Light in the Piazza.  It’s funny, because I would love to sing the mother role, but I don’t know that I’m quite old enough yet.  Maybe I’ll grow into that role.   [It’s] a completely different type of singing than what I do with Piaf, because that’s more of a lyric, really sort of a light opera sound.  With Piaf, I use a lot of my chest voice. Piaf sang with no holds barred.  She just kind of sang on high volume all the time. Well, she learned to use dynamics later on. [Piazza] would be a completely different role and I love the complexity of the mother trying to let go of her adult daughter.  It’s so beautiful. She’s sort of the southern belle whose husband has fallen out of love with her.”