Tag Archives: Musical Theatre

Footloose; Exit 22 (Upcoming show)

The 80s are back in the spotlight in North Vancouver for Exit 22’s closing show of their 2009/10 season.  Directed by Gillian Barber and starring the collective talents of Capilano U third-year musical-theatre students, Footloose is the stage adaptation of the film cult classic.

The cast of Exit 22's Footloose.

Exit 22 presents Footloose from March 25  – Apr 3, 2010 in the Performing Arts Theatre at Capilano University, 2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver, in the Birch Building. For more information, or to buy tickets, phone 604.990.7810 or email boxoffice@capilanou.ca.

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.

Remembering Pushing Daisies

A moment of silence, please, for the late and lamented television series Pushing Daisies.  The second and final season of the ABC forensic fairy tale was released to DVD last month, and I for one am already missing it.  While not a musical in the strictest sense (or even any other sense), it did borrow some of its conventions from the musical genre.

pushing daisies

In the most obvious sense, Pushing Daisies did so by casting a veritable parade of Broadway stars as both series regulars and as one-off guest stars.

Tony-winner Jim Dale (Barnum, Candide), was the voice of the always-heard but never-seen narrator.  Stage veterans Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors) played sisters Lily and Vivian Charles.  Raúl Esparza (Company, Taboo), Christopher Sieber (Spamalot, Shrek), and Wilson Cruz (Rent) also made appearances, among others.

Aside from the veritable parade of Broadway veterans, the polychromatic sets were fantastical and always imaginative.  Any one of the storybook sets could have been taken straight from the sketch pad of the theatre world’s top production designers.

In the vein of the modern musical, Pushing Daisies occasionally used songs to develop characters.  Waitress Olive Snook, as played by the incomparable Tony-winning Kristin Chenoweth, (You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Wicked) did so the most frequently.  While pining over her unrequited love Ned, Olive crooned “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (Grease) after- hours in a pie shop.  The night cleaner, Manuel, danced back-to-back with her as he polished the floor, completely unaware of his role in the melodramatic musical number.

But one of the best moments took place during a road trip, when Chenoweth and Ellen Greene sang a beautiful cover of “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”  The Daisies’ version is virtually unrecognisable from the original by alternative rock group They Might Be Giants.  The musical interlude only lasts about 30 seconds before being cut off by an ornery and bedazzled-eye-patch-wearing Swoosie Kurtz.  The full version of the song can be found, however, on iTunes.

To see the whole collection of Chenoweth’s musical-moments on Pushing Daisies, click here for the full YouTube medley.  Better yet, pick up the DVD set and watch the entire series to your heart’s content.  As the new season of television debuts to great fanfare this month, I’ll be wiping away a not-so-silent tear in memory of the often-heartbreaking and always-beautiful Pushing Daisies.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical (Review)

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical is not so much a traditional musical as it is a bawdy version of TV’s old variety shows.  Think of a cross between burlesque and an adult-only Muppet show.  The show is a reworked version of an improvised one-act, originally known as By the Seat of Our Panties, presented at the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival in 2008.

The book by Sam Dulmage and The Wet Spots is thin, but works nevertheless.  Theatre owner Shine Mionne (Cass King) and her troupe of burlesque performers are approached by a producer who promises to revitalise the ailing show with buckets of money.  Various hijinks, gags, and word-play ensue.


Cass King as Shine Mionne in SHINE: A Burlesque Musical

The original music by first-time musical theatre writers the Wet Spots (John Woods and Cass King) has some bright spots and a tonne of potential, but isn’t given the full opportunity to shine as brightly as it should.

The female cast is full of incredibly strong personalities and they almost completely overwhelm the male contingent of the show. Michael Smith as wealthy producer Richard Suit is nowhere nearly up to the challenge of matching the stage presence or vocal abilities of his female co-stars.  Both of Smith’s songs, “When You Deal With A Suit” and “Matinee Crowd” fell unfortunate victim to his weak singing voice and weren’t given a fair airing.

The tempo of certain songs (“Everybody Wants to be A Star” and “Rocky Horror”) could also use some reworking to better steady the pace of the overall show.  There were too many slow numbers.  SHINE’s score would also be better served by the use of live music as opposed to the current pre-taped backing tracks.

None of these criticisms should take away from the overwhelming positives of SHINE.  I went in not knowing what to expect, but was completely won over.

Cass King is a natural performer and brings to life the “Perversions of Yesteryear.”  Her speaking delivery is peppered with shades of Katharine Hepburn and she periodically channels various other classic stars of the silver screen.

“Broadway Love Song” wryly spoofs a musical-theatre ballad and makes for a strong closer to the first act.

The chorus/ensemble comprised of Violet Femme, April O’Peel, Calamity Kate and Sister Madly, Keri Horton and Fairlith Harvey provide a rock-solid backing to SHINE; there’s not a single weak link in the bunch.  Choreography by April O’Peel and Melody Mangler is inspired and sinfully fun.

Gemma Isaac as an overeager grad student and Teddy Smooth as an aspiring young actor make wild and dirty magic in “The Nasty.”  Noelle Pilon as Lulu Von Doozy, the resident diva, is a force of nature and sells all of her numbers with relative ease.

SHINE is chockfull of clever moments and snappy dialogue; it will absolutely and thoroughly entertain you and leave you wanting more.

SHINE: A Burlesque Musical is presented by Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society and The Wet Spots and plays from August 12-22, 2009; Wed-Sat @ 8 PM, at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St, Granville Island.  Tickets are available online or call 1-800-838-3006.  SHINE is an adult-oriented show which contains nudity and themes of healthy sexuality and is not suitable for those under the age of 18. Age restriction strictly enforced.

Interview with Sarah Rodgers (Thoroughly Modern Millie)

The air is sweltering in Vancouver this week, and I have plans to see Thoroughly Modern Millie again tonight at TUTS in Stanley Park.   I’m hoping against rational belief that this evening’s temperatures will cool to something more bearable.

If you haven’t already been to TUTS yet, go see both shows.  It’s a great pairing this season; the ever-popular and solid Annie (read my review) and the thoroughly fabulous Thoroughly Modern Millie (read my review).

Sarah Rodgers has spent the past few years directing musicals, but it’s been a while since she’s acted and sung in one.  This summer Rodgers is returning to her roots as she hams it up playing the villainous Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie at Theatre Under the Stars.  Rodgers gave us a few of her thoughts regarding her role.

Rodgers on musicals:

“I’ve been directing a lot of musicals in this city and having a ball with it and just loving it.  I’ve done the last three seasons at Gateway Theatre. I directed Emily, My Fair Lady and last year, Guys and Dolls.

But before that I have been a professional actor for over 15 years and I did perform in musicals years ago. But it’s been a while and I am just thrilled to be back on the stage, singing, (laughs) kicking up my heels.”

Danny Kim, Sarah Rodgers and Aaron Lau in TUTS production of <i>Thoroughly Modern Millie</i>.  Photo by Tim Matheson.

Danny Kim, Sarah Rodgers and Aaron Lau in TUTS' production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Rodgers on preparing for the role:

“I have to learn a Chinese accent, and in all honesty, I have to learn a very over-the-top, stereotypical, and for lack of a better word, a bad Chinese accent.  Because I play a character who thinks she’s a wonderful actor.  There’s a lovely footnote in the script that says ‘it is not important that Mrs Meers’ Chinese accent be good, but it is important that she thinks it is good (laughs).’

I worked with a student of mine [at UBC] who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Canada.  He sat down with me and I taped him and he helped me greatly with the accent.  I also had to do a lot of work.   . . . a lot of coaching and work on singing, just because I haven’t sung, myself, in many years.  So of course, I’ve been working privately on that.  Just prepping and preparing vocally.”

Rodgers on the 1967 film version of Thoroughly Modern Millie:

“I am a huge fan and I was probably not born when the movie came out.   But, they were showing it in reruns. My mother and I would watch it on the television every year.  I’m a huge fan of Mary Tyler Moore and Julie Andrews. So, I know the film inside out, love it, love it, love it!  [In the play] the character Mrs Meers is very different, which is fun for me.  I’m reinventing it and making it completely new because she doesn’t play her as an Asian woman in the film at all.  They’ve totally changed it, they’ve made it even campier and it is a crazy, crazy depiction.

But of course it’s supposed to be a real send-up on the woman and I end up going to jail, I think, for my bad accent (laughs).  Mrs. Meers ends up going to jail and the Asian sidekick gets the beautiful girl, so it all works out well in the end.”

Rodgers on playing the villain:

“I’m loving it and I would say that it’s a new venture for me as an actor.  I’m not used to playing the villains, or the old broad.  I wake up one morning and suddenly I’m playing the old broad in the show.  When did that happen?  I’ve been playing ingénues all my life (laughs), I’m used to playing the Mary Tyler Moore role. It’s a great comic role, wonderful, wonderful comic role. It’s a great character part and it’s fun being the bad guy. Who knew?”

Rodgers on Beatrice Lillie:

“From the film itself, I am a huge fan of Beatrice Lillie and a lot of people of this generation don’t know [her]. But Bea Lillie was a famous vaudevillian actress and she was also, a lot of people called her the first female comedian.  I am so honoured to be playing a Beatrice Lillie role. I’m beside myself.

There’s one thing that she does in the film which is absolutely ridiculous.  She barks at the boys. She barks at them and she says ‘shu sho, shu sho.’ Of course the first thing I wanted to know was what does ‘shu sho’ mean, because that’s the one bit of Chinese that she uses in the film. She says it quite a lot and in a way that you think she’s saying hurry up, hurry up, get going, ‘shu sho.’ And it means absolutely nothing, I found out.  , Well I put it into the show.  I do it twice in the show and that’s a treat really for the diehards.”

Tickets are still available through Tickets Tonight. Thoroughly Modern Millie plays every other night at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park at 8 pm until August 22nd.

Impresario awaits sentencing, famous friends come to his defence

Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb’s two-day sentencing hearing ended Tuesday, with Justice Mary Lou Benotto scheduled to sentence on August 5th.

Drabinsky and Gottlieb were convicted of fraud and forgery in an Ontario court in March and have been awaiting their sentences both legal-wise and in the court of public opinion.

Garth Drabinsky

Former Livent executive, Garth Drabinsky

For anyone who wasn’t paying attention to professional musical theatre in Canada through most of the 90s, Drabinsky was the driving force behind the theatre production company Livent.  In its heyday, Livent produced multiple hit musicals and had its fingers in theatres in Toronto, Chicago, New York and Vancouver.

The 1995 construction of the then-Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver was accompanied by a tidal wave of publicist-generated excitement.  Up until that point, our city had been temporary host to varying touring productions of Broadway shows, but the Ford Centre would ostensibly mean bigger-budget shows with longer runs that weren’t beholden to the economics and logistics of transporting sets.

I covered live theatre for a youth publication, at the time, and I reviewed most, if not all, of the Livent productions that came to town including Joseph, Phantom, Showboat and Sunset Boulevard.

The building formerly known as the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, now just The Centre.

The building formerly known as the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, now just The Centre in Vancouver.

That was before it all came crashing down. In August of 1998, Drabinsky and Gottlieb were forcibly removed from their offices and found themselves facing a $225 million lawsuit from Livent’s new management.

Out came the allegations of cooked-books, financial mismanagement, corporate theft, and fraud.  Gottlieb and Drabinsky were investigated by American and Canadian authorities and were eventually indicted in New York, although they never showed up in the U.S. court to face the music.

Now that the duo has been convicted in Canada and are awaiting sentencing, some notable artistic luminaries have come out to have their say as well.  For a man who, by all accounts, defrauded investors of half a billion dollars, Drabinsky seems to have no shortage of famous friends defending him

Several of those filed letters with the court in support of Drabinsky:

Actor Martha Henry, Companion of the Order of Canada, compares him to such figures as Orson Wells [sic], Donald Trump, Oscar Wilde, Harry Houdini and Conrad Black (perhaps some artistic foreshadowing?). [emphasis mine]

She continues, “I hope it’s possible to take into account Mr. Drabinsky’s very real strengths (how much poorer our mythology would be without him) and consider leniency in his sentencing.  Garth will, and should, live to flourish again.  And again, and again.  We look forward to reading about his next adventure and in many ways, we admire him and wish we all had some of his intelligence, his showmanship and his bold, risk-taking vision.”

Emmy and Tony award-winning Actor Christopher Plummer writes, “. . . [T]his is the only side of Drabinsky that I know – Garth the Optimist, the Achiever, who, lest we forget, has never ceased to stimulate the Arts and contribute to the culture of his own country with such ferocity and such conviction.”

Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow contributes, “There is a life history here of someone raising himself by his own bootstraps to the pinnacle of his profession.  That he has, after years of visionary theatrical entrepreneurship, come to this, I cannot view as anything less than a personal tragedy.”

Livent’s productions did often win critical acclaim and amassed 19 Tony awards.  And, despite the terrible things Drabinsky has been accused and convicted of, I’ll always be grateful for his support of Ragtime, one of the first musicals that really inspired my interest in the genre.


I’m not questioning Drabinsky’s influence on Canadian theatre and the arts, but he and some of his supporters seem to be living in a different world than the rest of us.  People were defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars, countless jobs were lost and who really knows how many lives were ruined by this man’s actions.

But, you wouldn’t know that from the almost hagiographic letters of support filed with the judge.  Based on those, you could be forgiven for thinking he was up for another prestigious award.

While the new revival of Ragtime (unaffiliated with Drabinsky) on Broadway is cause for celebration, where Drabinsky will be hanging his hat on its opening night in November, is still up in the air, at least until the 5th of August.

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).

The Supermusical (Review)

It’s a busy week for musicals on Granville Island.  A New Brain previewed last night, and tomorrow is the preview of Altar Boyz.  But tonight was all about the opening of The Supermusical.

The Handbagler (Angela Towndrow) is armed and dangerous.

The Handbagler (Angela Towndrow) is armed and dangerous.

The plot revolves around a city of super-heroes and super-villains who must come together to foil an extra-terrestrial plot to destroy the planet.

The Broadway Chorus uses songs from existing popular movie, TV, and stage musicals and fits them into an original script.  The tricky part is making show-specific lyrics work anew without making major changes.  This particular production borrows from fan favourites Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone and Hairspray, to mention only a few.

The best moments are in novel interpretations of well-known songs. ” A Whole New World” (Aladdin) is re-imagined by malevolent aliens viewing Earth from outer space.  “Welcome to the 60s” (Hairspray) becomes current again after some super-heroic time travel.

Extra marks go to cleverly working in the song “96,000” (In The Heights), even though many of its lyrics deal with how winning the lottery would benefit the residents of an urban multi-racial neighbourhood.

Two original songs by wife and husband team, Sarah and Gil Jaysmith are also featured, and seamlessly fit in with the rest of the catalogue.

A couple of the featured singers didn’t quite pull off some of their numbers (“Big Best Shoes” and “You Gotta Have a Gimmick”), as I strained to hear them, even from the second row.  The energy was also hit-or-miss, with some chorus members fully embracing their onstage personae and others seeming like they’d rather be somewhere else.

For ardent fans of the musical-genre, this show is worth seeing, but isn’t likely to be appreciated by the unconverted.

The Supermusical plays at 8 p.m. through June 20th at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.  To reserve tickets, call 778-322-7182.

A New Brain (Review)

William Finn and James Lapine’s A New Brain ranks highly in my musical theatre playlist and Pipedream Theatre’s production more than lives up to expectations in its Vancouver premiere.

Roger (Tyson Coady) and Gordon (Andrew Cohen) share a hospital bedside moment

Roger (Tyson Coady) and Gordon (Andrew Cohen) share a hospital bedside moment.

Save for a spattering of inaudible lyrics lost to upstage singing and some occasional overly-loud piano, Tuesday’s preview of A New Brain went off with few hitches.

It’s Finn’s semi-autobiographical story of a song-writer, Gordon Schwinn, who is hospitalized with a life-threatening illness and faces the possibility of not being able to finish the songs he dreams of writing.

Andrew Cohen more than holds his own as the lead Gordon, amid a very strong ensemble cast.  Cohen and Tyson Coady, as his lover, Roger, score some tender romantic moments in both “Just Go” and the reprise of “Sailing.”

Georgia Swinton playing multiple roles as an overly-familiar waitress and as nurse Nancy D. is a delight to watch.

Sabrina Prada as Gordon’s mother Mimi, is a stand-out, and neatly steals the spotlight in the tail half with “Throw It Out” and “Music Still Plays On.”  I can’t wait to see her again soon in more Vancouver productions.

William Finn’s score shines best in the ensemble numbers and choreographer Keri Minty (who I last saw this spring as Sheila in Royal City’s A Chorus Line) really makes the most of them in a balancing act of cohesiveness and controlled chaos.

The show runs for approximately 100 minutes with no intermission at Performance Works on Granville Island until June 21st.  Evening performances: Wed-Sat, June 17th-20, 8pm | Matinees: Sat-Sun, June 20-21, 2pm. Tickets available at http://www.ticketstonight.ca. Students: $15.00 | Adults: $20.00.

Inaugural Post

I haven’t blogged in almost a year and I’m planning on making this launch as easy as possible.  I’d hoped to be able to cover Monday night’s Jessie Awards, but I’m still a little behind schedule.  This coming week, however, there are three shows that I’m planning to see and review.

  • Tuesday is the Western Canadian premiere of  A New Brain playing at Performance Works on Granville Island.
  • Wednesday has the Broadway Chorus unleashing The Supermusical on an unsuspecting public at the Waterfront Theatre also on Granville Island.
  • And Thursday is the opening preview of the Art’s Club Altar Boyz at the Granville Island Stage.

You can look forward to more posts and notes about these shows as the week progresses.

I have high hopes for what this week of summer Vancouver musical theatre has to offer.