Tag Archives: Mat Baker

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.

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

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is back again, this time at the Massey Theatre.  The second of three local Joseph productions audiences will see this season (Footlight, RCMT, TUTS), Royal City Musical Theatre’s version promises to deliver an excellent time.

Mat Baker as the titular character in Royal City Musical Theatre's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton, musical direction by James Bryson. Starring Mat Baker (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Gateway)  as Joseph and co-starring Danny Balkwill (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS), Ken Irwin, and Jennifer Neumann (Songs for a New World, Not Another Musical).

Royal City Musical Theatre presents Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from April 8 – 24, 2010 at the Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Avenue, New Westminster.  Tickets are available online or by calling 604-521-5050.

Thoroughly Modern Millie; Gateway (Review)

Running different productions of the same musical within a relatively short period of time inevitably invites comparisons, for better or for worse.  Having seen the TUTS production of Millie half a dozen times this past summer, I’m familiar with both the strengths and the weaknesses of the book and score.  I had such high hopes for Gateway Theatre’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. On paper it shows so much promise, but ultimately falls short.

The cast of Gateway's Thoroughly Modern Millie.

There is a lot to like about this production.  Choreographer Kennith Overbey has charged the dance numbers with an intense energy that truly carries the show.  The freneticism of the love-wearied office pool as they tap out their frustrations in “Forget About the Boy,” was almost enough to make me forget some of the other flaws in this show.

Overbey makes excellent use of the incredibly strong male and female choruses.  Among the standouts are Georgia Swinton, Damon Jang, Dimitrios Stephanoy, Meagan Ekelund and Doran Satanove.  There is more than a hint of sex appeal in the alcohol-infused “The Nutty Cracker Suite,” which in less capable hands could have easily been boring and hackneyed.  That same rawness is also welcomely present in the male chorus in “Long as I’m Here with You.”

The ten-piece orchestra is at the top of its game and brings the jazzy score to life, with what seems like minimal effort.  Musical theatre companies around town should take note: cutting back on the size of pit orchestras and live accompaniment can exact a heavy toll on your show.  That richness of sound can’t be replicated by other means.

Lauren Bowler (The Producers, Arts Club) is a strong actress and singer, but doesn’t come off as terribly likeable in the title role of Millie Dillmount.  Her characterisation played like it was from a more serious show, not the one she was in.

Diana Kaarina (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) was reliably consistent in the role of Miss Dorothy, a role she honed in the US national tour of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  I found myself wishing that Kaarina had been cast as Millie here, a role she completely owned at TUTS this summer.

Denis Simpson plays wealthy socialite and songstress Muzzy Van Hossmere in what appears to be incredibly bad whiteface.  I was hoping for something special in Simpson’s two musical performances “Only in New York” and “Long as I’m Here with You,” and I was still waiting when the final curtain fell.  The fault doesn’t lie with Simpson, but with the uninspired staging consisting of simply facing the audience head-on with limited movement and singing, à la high school.

I’ve seen Simpson dance and sing enough times to know that this wasn’t a case of a director staging around a performer’s weak spots.  Whatever the reasoning behind this creative decision, the poor direction in these numbers pulled down the show’s energy.

The same barebones approach to staging also hurt the comedic number “They Don’t Know.” As the villainous Mrs. Meers, Irene Karas’ accent careered perilously close to the edge and her dragon lady was missing some needed bluster.

Mat Baker’s vocals and dancing were well-suited to the role of Jimmy Smith, but was otherwise bland and not particularly charismatic.  On the other hand, Gaelan Beatty was perfectly charming as the somewhat pompous Trevor Graydon.

Jen Darbellay’s costumes are colourful and eye-catching, though a bit more variety would have been welcome.  The scale of Drew Facey’s set properly conveys the height of the New York cityscape without dwarfing the actors.

All of the technical elements are there, but the show lacks heart.  It should be full of humour and fun, but the quick pace of this staging seems to gloss over many of the best lines and scenes.  That being said, the energetic choreography, top-notch orchestra, and strong chorus alone make Thoroughly Modern Millie worth the price of admission.

Gateway Theatre presents Thoroughly Modern Millie until January 3, 2010 at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-270-1812.

Thoroughly Modern Millie; Gateway (Upcoming show)

Thoroughly Modern Millie opens at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond this Friday.  Millie was already one of TUTS’ offerings this past summer, so it will be familiar territory for some.

Mat Baker and Lauren Bowler in Gateway Theatre's production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Having really enjoyed seeing Millie at the Malkin Bowl, I’m eager to see how this production will compare.  Starring Lauren Bowler, Mat Baker (Evil Dead, DSR), Diana Kaarina (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS), Irene Karas, Minh Ly, Raugi Yu, Gaelan Beatty, and Denis Simpson.

Directed by Simon Johnston and assistant director Natasha Nadir, musical direction by Allen Stiles, choreography by Ken Overbey, set design by Drew Facey, costume design by Jen Darbellay, lighting by Ereca Hassell, sound design by Chris Hind, stage managed by Angela Beaulieu and assistant stage manager Jamie Tait.

Gateway Theatre presents Thoroughly Modern Millie from December 10, 2009 – January 3, 2010 at the Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 604-270-1812.

Evil Dead: The Musical; Down Stage Right (Review)

In an ideal world, reviews of each show would be done completely independently of others, not by making side-by-side comparisons.  However, in the case of the two productions of Evil Dead: The Musical running so close together, that becomes almost impossible.

In last week’s review of Evil Dead: The Musical at the Vogue I panned the music and book of the show.  After seeing the second production of Evil Dead currently playing in Vancouver, I admit that I may have been unduly harsh.

What brought on this sudden change of heart?  Simply put, the Vancouver production was better acted and better sung, and that made all the difference.  Even in a campy musical, with limited character development and a bare-bones plot, acting still matters.

With essentially the same script, lyrics and music, I got an entirely different vibe from the local production.  This version just had way more fun.

Scott Walters as Ash in Down Stage Right Production's Evil Dead: The Musical.

Scott Walters as Ash in Down Stage Right Productions' Evil Dead: The Musical.

Scott Walters (We Will Rock You, Mirvish) as Ash hammed it up, giving his eyebrows the workout of their lives with his rapid-fire facial contortions.  Meghan Anderssen (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS) as Ash’s girlfriend Linda and Ian Rozylo as perpetual horndog Scotty both brought personal flourishes to their respective roles.

Local musical-theatre dynamo Jennifer Neumann (Les Misérables, Arts Club) as Ash’s younger sister Cheryl once again brought home the goods.

Meghan Gardiner in the dual-roles of Annie and Shelley was an unfortunately weak link.  Her somewhat wooden take on the ditzy Shelley might have come off as a passable interpretation, except that much of that same stiffness was also present in her portrayal of Annie.

The actors from the second story line were also not as impressive. Matthew Graham’s Ed needed to be reined in and could have benefited from some stronger direction.  Mat Baker (Les Misérables, Arts Club) as good old reliable Jake was also disappointing.  Where most of the other actors seemed to have found a comfortable groove, Baker’s portrayal was harsh and rubbed me the wrong way.

Sylvia Zaradic’s off-stage musical direction was spot-on.  She and the band consisting of Boyd Grealy, Aaron McKinney and Kelly Brown added an extra level of drama missing from their competition over at the Vogue.

Special honours go to set designer John Bessette.  While the other Evil Dead has the use of the original Toronto and off-Broadway set, Bessette’s (presumably lower-budget) design is no cheap knockoff.  In several respects, it actually worked better from a theatrical standpoint.

I did find Ken Overbey’s choreography to be somewhat underdone.  The group dance number “Do the Necronomicon” was anticlimactic and in need of some punching up.

Overall, director Mark Carter has shaped a solid production and has coaxed some life from a show that last week I was ready to toss out.

In some ways, the differences between the two productions are like night and day.  For blood, gore and special effects the Vogue production is the clear-cut winner.  But Down Stage Right Productions has given proof to the old adage that money can’t buy everything.  For pure acting, singing, comedy and heart, Evil Dead at the Norman Rothstein Theatre can’t be beat.

Evil Dead: The Musical, presented by Down Stage Right Productions, plays until November 7, 2009; 8 PM (with additional midnight shows October 30, 31 and November 6) at the Norman Rothstein Theatre, 950 West 41st Ave (at Oak). Tickets are available online now.

Evil Dead: The Musical (Upcoming show)

Evil Dead: The Musical makes its Vancouver premiere this year just in time for Halloween.  Based on the series of Evil Dead cult films, the musical version is a campy take on the horror genre.

Scott Walter as Ash in Down Stage Right's production of Evil Dead: The Musical.

Scott Walter as Ash in Down Stage Right's production of Evil Dead: The Musical.

This made-in-Canada musical has already amassed its own cult following and promises to be a great time.  I’m not overly familiar with the show, but spent this past weekend listening to the original cast recording.  Five college kids staying in a cabin during spring break encounter an ancient evil and bloody (but hilarious) mayhem ensues.

Evil Dead: The Musical is presented by Down Stage Right Productions in its 19th season.  Starring Scott Walter (We Will Rock You, Mirvish) as Ash and co-starring the talents of Meghan Anderssen (Thoroughly Modern Millie, TUTS), Mat Baker (Les Misérables, Arts Club), Meghan Gardiner, Matthew Graham, Erik Gow, Ian Rozylo and Jennifer Neumann (Songs for a New World, Not Another Musical Co-op).

Directed by Mark Carter, choreography by Ken Overbey, and musical direction by Sylvia Zaradic, Evil Dead: The Musical plays from October 29- November 7, 2009; 8 PM (with additional midnight shows October 30, 31 and November 6) at the Norman Rothstein Theatre, 950 West 41st Ave (at Oak). Tickets are available online now.