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REVIEWS

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder

Being an ardent fan of the 1949 British black and white film Kind Hearts and Coronets, I was delighted to find that A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based on the novel that inspired the movie, was a heck of a lot more fun than the film. That’s no surprise.  
Photo: by Joan Marcus. L to R: Lesley McKinnell, Kevin Massey, John Rapson.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a sumptuously designed musical filled with some sexy 18th century costumes by Linda Cho, ingenious lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, a sensational set design by Alexander Dodge that that takes you from the slamming bedroom doors of French farce to the colorful comic book graphics and projections of Aaron Rhyne, and a cleverly adapted book by Robert L Freedman, where every murderous intent is executed with a sly grin and a character who gets the heave-ho by the ambitious ‘gentleman’ of the title. Directed by Darko Tresnjak and choreographed by Peggy Hickey, the musical plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until June 26.

The poverty stricken gentleman, Monty Navarro played by an appealingly boyish Kevin Massey, lives in a shabby Clapham flat and  has been tipped off by Miss Shingle, a sudden ‘friend’ (a bucolic looking Mary Van Arsdel with blonde curls and a beatific smile) who seems to possess all the airs of a Victorian fairy godmother, and informs him that his late mother was really a member of the aristocratic D’Ysquith family who disinherited her when she married for love - a Spaniard no less.  Monty must take his rightful place in the family, orders Miss Shingle.  The romance of it all suddenly descends into sheer despair.  Monty may have regal blood, but he has no money.

He is in love with a gorgeous blonde, the calculating Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams) who is dressed totally in pink and surrounded with the blush of tender roses, though she's anything but a blushing bride to be. She would marry Monty in a flash if he had money. In the meantime, she will marry someone who does. Of course there are eight heirs ahead of him before Monty could claim the title, and as Sibella ever so discretely hints, eight people would have to die before he did.  Suddenly, the wide-eyed boyish Monty, becomes the beady-eyed boyish Monty, and the grim reaper of the peculiar D’Ysquith family heirs, all eight of them played by the remarkable John Rapson.

Since the musical begins with the Lord Montague “Monty” D’Ysquith Navarro, writing his memoirs in jail, we get a proper blow by blow account of all the deaths in the family as the musical progresses.  At first looks what looks like misadventure to the constabulary, is actually a thrilling adventure for Monty has quite a knack for the ingenious theatricals of murder.

With the exception of a single kind relative, the senior Lord Asquith who gives Monty a job in the family banking business, the others are bumped off on by one, in succession so to speak, all brought to life and death by Rapson: the Reverend Asquith with the protruding buck teeth and lisp who falls drunkenly from the church tower where he’s giving Monty a tour (Aaron Rhyne’s Projection Design is a show in itself); Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, a podgy philanthropist who likes the fame of doing good and is lured into visiting the African jungle by Monty where she’s supposedly eaten by the cannibals; a gay bee-keeper who is stung to death, though his lively sister Phoebe (the vivacious Adrienne Eller) also falls for Monty – culminating in a  successful and happy marital union; a beefy body builder Bartholomew D’Ysquith, who is decapitated under his own barbell; the terrible actress Salome, who shoots herself with a real bullet Monty planted in her gun in a performance of Hedda Gabler; and the rake and playboy Asquith D’Ysquith who takes his mistress to a winter resort and falls through Monty’s neatly ‘designed’ ice hole.

The cream of the crop, however, is one in which almost fells Monty himself, the supposedly ‘regal dinner’ at the Highhurst Castle when Lord Aadelbert (Rapson of course) and his wife, the poisonous Lady Eugenia (Kristen Mengelkoch) give an circus side show of the most disastrous marital relationship seen on any stage. It’s both hilarious and horrific, Mengelkoch especially, demonstrating facial expressions that would frighten Dracula.

Arrested for poisoning Lord Adelbert, Monty is back where he started writing his memoirs expecting to be hanged.  He’s not (don’t act surprised), but the finale which mirrors the film version is perfect. And so is the A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which is not only terrific entertainment, but a great start to the summer theatre season. A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre to Jun 26. 300 King St. West Tickets: 416-872-1212; 1-800-513-8720; Mirvish.com.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Golda's Balcony

Golda’s Balcony is a history lesson with heart. William Gibson’s play was the second – and the most successful - in his play chronicling the life and times of indestructible 4th Prime Minister of Israel.  Tovah Feldshuh, who plays Golda Meir – has been playing Golda since it premiered off Broadway in 1973 then moved to the Helen Hayes theatre where it ran for 493 performances, making it the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history. Since then, Feldshuh, who has won a heap of awards for her portrayal of Golda including a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, has toured the across the U.S. and to London.  

The popularity of the show has never dimmed, thanks to Scott Schwartz’s sharp direction which still allows space for plenty of humor, and Feldshuh’s remarkable one-woman performance which is up close and very personal on the Greenwin Theatre’s mainstage, capturing us from the moment the lights go on to its final 90 minutes later. By that time, you’ve been through Golda’s life, her marriage, her separation, her politics, the partitioning of Palestine, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and of course the creation of the state of Israel. The latter was an ongoing personal and unrelenting commitment that affected her personal life, her marriage and her relationship with her children.

But Golda’s Balcony is as personal as it is eye-opening. The title itself is a referral to an area in Israel’s secretive Dimona Nuclear Facility where Golda went frequently to supervise the creation of the country’s Nuclear program. The builders called it “Golda’s Balcony,” though she called it “A view into hell.” The program was born after Egyptian and Syrian forces began its surprise attack on Israel, but never initiated.  

Golda, addicted to cigarettes and her telephone (her desk the only prop on the Greenwin Theatre stage) was no stranger to tough negotiating with the U.S. President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (whom she always called by his first name) with whom she finally sealed the U.S’s participation with its jet planes. While it is just one part of the actual story (the October War became one of the most notorious conflicts of the second half of the 20th century), it is the crux of the play. Golda, mourned the death of all soldiers, and one in particular that she remembered as a young boy. “More life for all means more death for some, " she says. It is a constant in the play that in a destructive war, the cost is high, and no one truly wins.

The hour and a half show is punctuated with generous shots of humor that keep the balance between Golda’s personal life and her steely perseverance in her drive for Israel’s statehood. In nagging Kissinger to get on with it, he answers tartly, prioritizing: “First of all I’m an American, secondly I’m Secretary of State, and Thirdly I’m a Jew.” To which she quickly retorts: “That’s fine, Henry, we read from right to left.”

Feldshuh dressed in a padded frumpy suit, and with a fake nose, a grey wig that looks as if it never had an actual style, thick stockings which fail to hide the Golda’s encased swollen legs and varicose veins, her sturdy oxford shoes, and her mottled complexion showing every line, this is a wonder of theatrical transmogrification.

Playwright Gibson doesn’t dwell much on Golda’s earlier life, just enough for us to marvel at how this woman who grew up in the typical Midwestern U.S. town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin after her family emigrated from Russia and then to Denver - the start of Golda’s passion with socialist Zionism and Israel – became the tough minded first female prime minister of Israel, and one of the first female heads of state in the world. William Gibson wrote several plays that have strong women at its centre, but nothing has surpassed Golda's Balcony for characterization.

Much of that is a tribute to Tovah Feldshuh's performance. This isn’t just a history lesson wrapped in a theatrical setting by William Gibson, it’s a triumph for Feldshuh who makes it come alive. Golda's Balcony runs until June 19, 2016 at The Greenwin Theatre,  Toronto Centre for the Arts – 5040 Yonge St. Tickets can be purchased by calling  1-855-985-2787 or online at www.hgjewishtheatre.com.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Incident at Vichy


When Arthur Miller’s drama Incident at Vichy opened in 1965 at the Washington Square Theatre in New York, it was neither a great critical nor a commercial success, closing only after 32 performances. But time has proved differently for Miller’s morality play about a group of Jewish men who have been gathered up by the Nazis in 1942 occupied Paris and taken to a detention room for interrogation.

The current revival of Miller's plays have hit a new high that includes the New York revival of Incident at Vichy in 2015 which followed on the heels of a resounding production of Miller's A View from the Bridge, and the current much lauded revival of The Crucible set in modern times, while Miller's post-war drama All My Sons has has been a successful addition to the Stratford Festival's current season.

What is remarkable about Incident at Vichy, is that during the ninety-minutes there’s relatively little physical action. The men talk to each other, argue, debate and ruminate, as they’re awaiting their ‘turn’ to enter a room from which few return. But like nothing of Miller’s other works, Incident in Vichy is a play where man’s humanity is examined and put on the line to prove itself.

In director Alan Dilworth’s production, anxiety hangs precariously in the air as the 9 men, from various backgrounds and walks of life, sit in a single line on a long bench in an otherwise empty room. At first, they question their own involvement.  Why are they are there?  Their documents are in order. It must be a mere “routine document check,” says Marchand (William Webster), a well-dressed business man who is a little on the pompous side and is more concerned about the business appointment he’s going to miss than what is happening now. 

But something is off. The interrogator, a well-known Nazi, Professor Hoffman, (Kevin Bundy), and his uniformed Major (Oliver Dennis) who keeps the interrogation flowing efficiently despite his own discomfort with the situation, are obviously more than organization men who are doing this to check documents. The possibility that the detainees have been picked up because they’re Jewish might have had something to do with it. It creeps into the conversation tentatively, then hangs in the still air until Lebeau (Peter Fernandes) a painter, whose anxiousness about the situation surfaces regularly, mentions that he had his nose measured by the people who picked him up and wonders if anyone else did as well. It strikes a chord.

Bayard (Gordon Hecht), a socialist and rail yard worker whose views about the common good don’t extend to the one gypsy in their mist (Meegwun Fairbrother) whom he accuses of stealing a pot, begins to tell a horrible story he heard at the yards from the railroad engineer about Jews from Toulouse being locked up inside the freight trains that are going to Poland.

Of the group, only two have little or nothing to say, an old Orthodox Jew (Robert Nasmith) who is one of the later arrivals and sits quietly, guarding a pillow he has brought with him, and a teenaged boy (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) who feels more concerned for his neighbor who asked him to pawn her ring to buy food for her family. He was doing the favor for her when he was picked up. The others will speculate - and debate.

Miller leaves it to three men who will represent the strength and the fallibilities of the group: Leduc (Stuart Hughes) a psychiatrist, who was picked up when he went out to get some medicine for his sick wife, will desperately try and fail to induce the men to overcome their captors who number far less than they do; Monceau, a demure actor (Kawa Ada) who can’t believe that any Germans could possibly ‘murder” anyone. He argues that no one is as sensitive as a German audience who treat the theatre with respect as if they are in church, and listen to every nuance; while the elegant Von Berg (Diego Matamoros), a prince with  a thousand-year-old family name who has left Austria where he demonstrated utter distaste for the Nazis, debates the vileness of their intentions with the deluded Monceau. “That is their power," he says cooly. "To do the inconceivable. It paralyzes the rest of us.”

Unlike Miller’s more dramatic works like Death of a Salesman and The Price, Incident at Vichy relies on argument, rationality, the victimization of minority groups, the forces and the definition of evil which itself depends on the complicity of those who are aware of the injustice but do nothing about it, and man’s commitment to his neighbor through personal sacrifice, the latter a force which crowns the ending of the play when Von Berg actually makes a supreme sacrifice to save Leduc’s life.

It is a play that you listen to very carefully, that has as much to say in 2016 as it did in 1965 when Miller campaigned vigorously against the Vietnam War. The superb production by Alan Dilworth for Soulpepper Theatre has been extended yet again at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts where it plays until July 2. Distillery District.  50 Tank House Lane. Tickets to Soulpepper productions are available by calling the Young Centre Box Office at 416.866.8666 or by visiting soulpepper.ca.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Kawa Ada, Oliver Dennis, Stuart Hughes.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Kinky Boots


High spirited stage musicals like Kinky Boots and Newsies are ready made for audiences who like their summers filled with feel good stories, great music and happy endings. There's something else that the two musicals have in common. Both have a book written by the amazing Harvey Fierstein, who along with being a stage, TV  and film actor, writes political editorials and children’s books. Fierstein is in good company with another musical heavyweight, pop icon composer Cyndi Lauper who won a Tony for her vibrant, pulsating score.

Photo: by Cylla Von Tiedemann. The Canadian cast of Kinky Boots.

Kinky Boots is based on the popular 2005 Miramax motion picture, and is a true story about a Northhampton England shoe factory that is on the verge of bankruptcy until it’s rescued by a surprising partnership between Charlie Price, its young straight laced owner who has inherited the business after his dad’s sudden death, and a hot drag queen.

Charlie is on the verge of marrying Nicola (Vanessa Sears),  a local girl with a brittle attitude and a penchant for expensive shoes. Nicola can’t stand the provincial Northampton and is set on a marketing job in London, taking Charlie with her. But Charlie has been indoctrinated with his dad’s love of shoes since he was knee high, and when he discovers that bankruptcy will put all his old friends out of work at the factory, he puts Vanessa on hold and hopes for a miracle.

While trying to sell the company shares In London, he rescues drag queen Lola from hoodlums harrassing her, then winds up in the cabaret where Lola (the matchless Alan Mingo Jr)  and her fleet of drag chorines called Angels, are pounding out a high stepping routine in Land of Lola. Charlie, played by Graham Scott Fleming, who looks as genteel as if he should be playing chess at Cambridge instead of rescuing drag queens, is fascinated by Lola. One of the highlights of the show is Lola trying to explain to the naïve Charlie, the difference between a drag queen and a transvestite 

Charlie realizes what Lola really needs are well- made performance boots with sky high heels that are sturdy enough to hold a grown man’s weight. He hightails it back to Northampton where he gets started on making a pair of boots to fit Lola’s needs.  When his assistant Lauren convinces him that he needs a niche market, it’s like a light bulb going off in Charlie’s head, except his interpretation of a performance boot is markedly different than Lola’s. When she shows up to pick up her new boots, she’s dismayed at the burgundy color and their lack of dazzle. “Bergundy is the color of hot water bottles,” she chides Charlie. It isn’t a big surprise when he appoints her his designer. The boots begin to be a show in themselves.

Not only does Charlie have to convince his workers to buckle down and make the kind of boots that will hold up, look good, and give Lola and the other performers the height and heft they need to wow the customers (“You are making 2 ½ foot tubular irresistible sex”!). But Charlie has another job - to be the middle man between Lola and the company’s  male co-workers, especially the boorish, rumpled Don (Daniel Williston) who resents Lola’s presence as well as his outlandish female clothing.

One of the most moving numbers in the show takes place between Charlie and Lola whose real name is Simon, and turns out to be the son of a wrestler. They realize that there is very little difference between them in not choosing to follow in their father’s footsteps with the poignant Not My Father’s Son.

Kinky Boots is a show where almost everyone ends up being a better person. Charlie finds his own level in making shoes, along with inheriting the love his father had with the business (even after a disastrous fashion show in Milan where Lola and her Angels save the day with an unforgettable runway unveiling of the new line of kinky boots); Don becomes a tolerant even likeable  person after Lola lets him win a wrestling match; Nicola gets the air and Lauren (A.J. Bridel) takes her place gladly, even though her quirky, over the top love song in the first act (The History of Wrong Guys) didn’t hold out too much hope. Best of all, the soft side of Lola emerges, the side that isn’t all spangles and stardust and like the tin woodman, he really has had a big heart (Hold Me in Your Heart).

The musical ends with of those Broadway show stoppers (Raise You Up/Just Be) that just comes within inches of raising the roof. Director/ Choreographer and Tony award winner Jerry Mitchell deserves the lion’s share of the credit for keeping the beating heart of the film alive but brilliantly adding a new dimension in giving Kinky Boots a personality all its own. Kinky Boots plays until May 15, 2016 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 Queen St. West. Tickets: 416-872-1212 or Mirvish.com. One final performance added at 7pm on May 15.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger

ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST MEMBER KYLE TAYLOR PARKER JOINS TORONTO COMPANY OF KINKY BOOTS AS ‘LOLA' BEGINNING MARCH 15, 2016 AT THE ROYAL ALEXANDRA.


The Odd Couple

When Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple had its Broadway premiere in 1965, its two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, were referred to in a press blurb as two “lovelorn men, one messy and one neat.” Life was so much simpler then.

The 1965 production directed by Mike Nichols and starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney, was a perfect contemporary comedy with Simon on the way to the top of his game – the production won 5 Tony Awards – and made the then middle-aged Matthau, a bona fide Broadway star at the ripe age of 44. The Odd Couple was about to embark on a long and happy journey, a triple threat on stage, film and television for years. The question is, can you live through all the years of seeing The Odd Couple in stage, screen and TV and not get tired of it?

Never. The Soulpepper Theatre production, it’s the third since 2008, is rock solid and still flies. Under Stuart Hughes’ direction, the show sails with all of Simon’s famous one-liners nearly as funny as they were when the original production opened. There are limits to how heartily one can still laugh at jokes like “It was linguine, now it’s garbage,” and Oscar being perplexed by Felix signing his letter FU (that’s for Felix Unger, in case you thought otherwise.) Like all well used jokes, there is a limit to them, just like having to listen to Dad or Uncle Charlie telling the same story for 50 years. What is still great about The Odd Couple is that the one-liners only serve the script, not drive it. Oscar and Felix are recognizable and very human, which is the genius of Neil Simon who based The Odd Couple on his own brother’s divorce.

In Felix’s littered Manhattan apartment, designed by Lorenzo Savoini, where green in the frig meant an entirely different thing way back when, The Odd Couple begins and ends with the men meeting for their weekly poker game at the apartment of good natured Oscar Madison (Albert Schultz). The guys are the salt of the earth, earthy and very salty – Kevin Bundy, Derek Boyes, Oliver Dennis, and John Jarvis doing the honors. All of them, except for Felix, who is unusually late, are anxious to get on with the game. When Felix finally does show up, he is a basket case, overcome with emotion because his wife of 12 years has thrown him out. Oscar, in a fit of generosity, invites him to move in with him.

Played by Diego Matamoros, Felix is vulnerable, pathetic, and a pain in the neck, his face crumpling like a balloon deflating when self-pity overcomes him. Most of the time, you can’t even like this lugubrious cry baby. You can laugh at his obsessions - and be thankful he hasn’t barged in on you. While Felix pulls his weight in Oscar’s messy apartment, tidying up, brushing, cleaning, polishing, vacuuming, spraying, even planning wholesome meals, his fastidiousness is overbearing. Soon the easy going Oscar is set to push him out the window.

There is one scene when you do tend to have some empathy for Felix. When the twittering Pigeon Sisters from the upstairs apartment – Raquel Duffy and Sarah Wilson as the irresistible bimbos – are invited to dinner, you can almost feel Felix’s pain at trying to make polite conversation out of the air, a wallflower in the corner hoping the floor will swallow him. In contrast, the happy-go-lucky Oscar is as anxious to get on with his sex life as Felix is content to wallow in his memories.  Albert Schultz’s rumpled Oscar, sloppy t-shirt, protruding stomach and baseball cap, is everyman at ease, the good life, the happily single life. Behind in his alimony, ahead in poker, the only thing Oscar doesn’t need is Felix behaving like a wife.

The barbs begin, and as in all Neil Simon plays, the repartee is priceless. No one you know may be as quick witted as Simon’s stage characters are, but at least they sound like real people who have a sense of humor. Refreshingly 1960’s in the era of live communication, when Felix and Oscar talk on the phone to their wives, they actually walk to the telephone in the living room - no cell phones, no e-mails. Communication actually took some effort way back when.  Small wonder The Odd Couple has a happy ending. The Odd Couple plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until June 11. The Young Centre for the Performing Arts. 50 Tank House Lane, Historic Distillery Area. Tickets to Soulpepper productions are available by calling the Young Centre Box Office at 416-866-866 or by visiting soulpepper.ca.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Albert Schultz, Diego Matamoros, Kevin Bundy.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Refuge


Mary Vingoe’s play Refuge, is brilliant in its timing. Vingoe’s 2013 drama about Canada’s refugee system was written two years before the Syrian refugee crisis was about to explode, journalistic fuel for our newspapers, magazines, and television. Next to the historic great migrations in the early part of the 20th century, and especially World War II which saw more than 40 million refugees in Europe alone, nothing has earned as much attention as this decade’s worldwide refugee crises.

Vingoe’s take on Canada’s refugee system is the bones of her play Refuge. Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with Amnesty International, Refuge is a moving drama that looks at the country’s complicated Immigration and Refugee Law and the people who are affected by it. Based on true events and a 2010 CBC radio documentary called Habtom’s Path by Mary Lynk which is re-enacted in intervals during the play.  The story swirls around the efforts of an indo-Canadian art curator Pamela Ross (Pamela Mala Sinha) to help in the appeal of an Eritrean man with a fake passport and no immigration documents seeking asylum after being detained by the Canadian Border Services in Halifax.

At first, Pamela’s involvement is simply being sympathetic to her friend Amleset, Ayinom’s mother, whom she’s helping to learn English. Amleset herself (Andrea Davis) has landed status, but her son Ayinom, has managed to desert the brutal Eritrean army and has escaped to Canada for refuge. She’s devastated when she learns of his detainment and knows that if he loses his appeal he will be sent back to Eritrea to be tortured and be killed. Pamela decides that it’s time to take action, and she appeals to an old acquaintance with whom she was once very close, well known Immigration lawyer Saul Ackerman (Jason Weinberg).

There is a history between them that would make a play in itself. Pamela who lost her grandparents in the bombing of the 1985 Air India crash by Sikh extremists watched her father turn into an anti-Sikh militant extremist. When Saul later defended Sikhs seeing refuge in Canada, it infuriated Pamela’s father and caused a rift between Saul and Pamela that had never been healed.

It’s a minor thread to the story but it lays the ground for how distrust and prejudice can spread like a virus, not even detected by the people who are affected. Pamela, swallowing her pride, convinces Saul that he should take-on the case, and he finally agrees. There’s a catch. In order to get Ayinom out of containment, he has to have a temporary place where he can live. Why not with Pamela and her husband?  It doesn’t go down well with Pamela who is nervous about the arrangement. She reluctantly agrees.

Ayinom is a major player we only see through the eyes of the other characters. It was a smart move on the playwright’s part. We’re never called upon to judge his qualities or his motives. The other characters do that for us. To Saul Ackman, Ayinom is a challenge, with his lack of proper papers, his fake passport, his history with a military that is renowned for human rights infringements and murder; to his close friend and his translator Mebrahtu (Rais Muoi) who is being interviewed by the CBC host of the documentary and continually prompted to say the right things by the frosty interviewer (Mary Francis Moore), Ayinom was always quiet and gentle, a good person, a good friend, who would never hurt anyone; to Pamela, he’s part of her own personal crusade but he becomes an uncomfortable presence, going to the library in the morning, coming home and staying in his bedroom, not “bothering” anyone, always to himself; to Pamela’s husband, Allan (Ryan Hollyman), Ayinom’s reticence is suspicious. “He could be a terrorist. How does any really know” he queries Pamela, who begins to have doubts herself. And then one day, Allan finds a cord cut off from its electrical head in Ayinom’ bedroom, and a momentum grows.

The CBC documentary always refers to Ayinom in the past tense, so we know the story doesn’t end well. His refugee status turned down and his deportation imminent, he commits suicide in a park by hanging himself with the cord that Allan found in the bedroom. We hope Allan discovered that hindsight can be cruel. But what we do in the same circumstances?

Kelly Thornton has directed the play and while the staging is somewhat awkward on the small stage of Tarragon theatre's Extra Space) the cast is uniformly fine, though Vingoe’s play precariously straddles the lines between a case study and a tragedy. It’s fascinating to listen to lawyer Saul Ackerman legalizing the obstacles of the case, with a pasted smile and good natured smugness that Jason Weinberg captures so well, and you can feel the mourning in Rais Muoi’s Mebrahtu as he tries desperately to emphasize Ayinom’s goodness while being ‘handled’ by the CBC interviewer. Pamela Mala Sinha’s caring Pamela Ross treads a fine line in trying to overcome her indecision about Ayinom' guilt and the shadows of her own family background, and we feel the pain of Andrea Davis’ Amieset Zerisenai’s agony as she hopelessly waits for her son to come home.

Kaitlin Hickey’s projections of an angry sea stretches clear across the back stage, less mindful of Halifax’s rising Atlantic sea level than it does of the boat people, the refugees who have perished on other shores. More than anything else, it’s a startling image that stays with us. Refuge plays until May 8 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. Tickets: , 416-531-1827 or at nightwoodtheatre.net or tarragontheatre.com For more information on Refuge or Nightwood Theatre visit nightwoodtheatre.net
Photo: by John Lauener. L to R: Pamela Mala Sinha, Andrea Davis in Refuge.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Scarberia

The recent production of Scarberia at Young People’s Theatre, has a unique history. First produced in 2012 at Britain’s York Theatre Royal TakeOver Festival in 2012, Scarberia was written by Canadian Evan Placey who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, later went to Scarborough England and researched the play through Skype and an email correspondence between young people in both places.

Young People’s Theatre is presenting it at the small Studio Theatre – a hearty walk up from the mainstage – where it almost feels a bit cramped. Intimacy is always on the side of small theatre (there’s no actual stage in The Studio) but there is a reasonable playing area and set designer Joanna Yu has created a workable set for the two teenagers who dispose of a dead body of a young woman in one Scarborough, is partially hidden in a crevice on a sea shore in another Scarborough.

The play alternates scenes between Ontario (the Scarborough Bluffs) and, Scarborough Yorkshire on the North East coast but the same actors play both places and each wear the identical de rigueur clothing for teenagers, hoodie and jeans.

While there is mounting confusion in keeping up with what shore we’re on, we can usually get a clue from the accents, though as the play goes on, more and more confusion sets in about the story line. That’s no fault of Nina Lee Aquino’s terse direction, nor the actors who by the way give powerhouse performances: Shelly Antony as Craig/Craven, Mishka Thebaud as Simon/Simion. Alejandra Simmons is Marisha, the dead girl in the crevice, and also the girl (the same name in either locale) who has innocently been caught up in gangland rivalry when she falls for the wrong person and is killed in retribution for her ‘crime.’ Simmons as Marisha alive, delivers some poetic monologues about life and love in the fast lanes of Scarborough.

At least that’s what I could make of the story, though there were some strong points made about the morality of respecting a dead body. At first, both teenagers are reluctant to tell anybody what they’ve found, afraid they will be under suspicion in her death. In the long run, they do the right thing and eventually learn something about where humanity begins. Scarberia plays until May 1 at the Young People's Theatre. Recommended for ages 14 and up. 165 Front Street East, Toronto. Tickets: | Online: youngpeoplestheatre.ca. Box Office: 416.862.2222.
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Shelly Antony, Mishka Thébaud.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


Skylight


Imagine a love story in which two people are so disparate, so ill-matched, it’s hard to see what they found in each other. Then again, it might not be that surprising since it’s the story of half the relationships in the world. British playwright David Hare has taken that very theme and done one better, making politics as much a divisible item in this relationship as personality. Combine these two themes with a healthy dose of social criticism and you have a fascinating tapestry of a disastrous love affair.

Set in the 1990’s, the era of British Premiere Margaret Thatcher’s popular capitalism, Director Larry Moss’s naturalistic approach is compounded by Debra Hanson’s working girl’s set located in East Hampton that smacks of small budget and minimum comfort. It’s just fine for the pragmatic Kyra Hollis, played by the wonderful Sarah Topham, a teacher in a local school, who has made it somewhat of a home, even though the portable heater never works properly. It’s certainly noticed by Edward Sergeant her first visitor, a hyperactive young man (Tim Dowler-Coltman) who bursts into her apartment on a bitter cold night.  He has come to tell her that since his mother passed away, his father has been acting peculiarly. Edward admonishes Kyra for running out of him and parents a few years earlier.
 
At this point, we wonder just where this is all leading.  Has Kyra been the family’s live-in, the young man’s nanny, or a social secretary? Hare leaves us in the dark for a good part of the first 20 minutes or so, until we learn that Kyra, who managed Tim’s growing restaurant business, had lived in Tim’s swanky home with his Dad and Alice, his sick mother. She was obviously close to the family.

She was also secretly Tom’s mistress and ended the affair when Alice was dying. Though Kyra was fond of Alice, there seemed to have been genuine affection here between Kyra and the young Tim -  more brotherly and sisterly -  who is about to leave her flat as quickly as he came, since his dad Tom Sergeant, a wealthy restauranteur, is about to find Kyra again, the girl who simply disappeared.

It takes a while for the rest of the story to unfold, but the emotional drive that powers it makes for some eager listening. Tom, unaware that his son has visited Kyra earlier that evening, is a self-important know-it-all man who has built his successful restaurant chain from the ground up, a fervent capitalist who can’t understand Kyra’s new found freedom, her guiding light of a profession, teaching under privileged kids in a school in the worst part of the city. His informed opinions range from telling Kyra the best way to make a sauce for the spaghetti – which we smell cooking throughout the entire first act – to how to live her life. “I’m sick of this denial of human potential,” he rages.  But Lindsay G. Merrithew plays Tom with so much affectation, it's hard to believe that anybody else’s human potential would seem to truly color his world.

Despite their mutually satisfying professional lives, each of these characters have their own emotional baggage that has weighted them down. Tom Sergeant is ridden with guilt over the death of his wife. He and Kyra, a close friend to Alice and a talented and trusted manager of one of his restaurants, had engaged in a six year love affair in the Sergeant home. When Alice, already, ill, discovered the affair, Kyra fled into the night and into a new life. Why both men have found her after such a long absence at the same time, on the same night, is one of those mysteries we must rise above.

Skylight, a reference to a room with a skylight that Tom Built for his wife as she was dying, is a panacea for his guilt. “We gave her the picture she wanted to see,” he rationalizes. It wasn’t. Faced with Kyra’s brutal honesty, Tom’s only response is “She used her death as a way of punishing me.”

Skylight is a verbal duet between two people – the teenaged son, Edward, played with a wiry nervousness by Tim Dowler-Coltman, seems only a bridge in this atonal concert of voices.  The dialogue is so exhilarating and intelligent that the swift movement of emotions generates as much movement as if the characters were engaged in an actual duel to the death. Sara Topham’s calm and self-confident Kyra, is a precise articulate note in a badinage of recriminations, self-pity and pretentiousness by Tom.

Are we surprised that they part forever with the certainty of missed emotions?  Not really. We leave the theatre with the satisfaction of having heard some brilliant semantics about life choices. And then there’s the smell of the spaghetti sauce, which doesn’t figure into any of this, but has followed us out in the night air anyway. Skylight is presented by Hidden Cove Productions and plays until July 9 at the Berkeley St. Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. Tickets through SkylightTO.com and at the Berkeley Street Theatre box office.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger.


The Summoned

"If It Can be Done, It Will Be Done," are the hallelujah words projected on the back wall of the Tarragon theatre stage as we file into our seats for the The Summoned. What is missing is "Thy Will be Done. The man who coined the words is a demi-god, a tech wizard known only by the regal name of Khan, who has gone to his just or unjust rewards as his family and cohorts are gathered ‘round to hear his will. 

That’s the easy part of the opening gambit of Fabrizio Fillipo’s sci-fi semi-comedy which plays at the Tarragon Theatre until May 29.  That the play immediately reminds you of Steve Jobs is no accident. The brilliant co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc., portrayed in the 2015 film Steve Jobs, also had a controversial relationship with his co-workers, just as Khan had.

Directed by Richard Rose, the play opens with the lot of them strung across the stage in an nondescript airport hotel waiting to hear Khan’s will, introduced by the self-important Alduous, (Fabrizio Filippo), who spends a good deal of his time showing off his technological know-how and talking about his mother, Annie (Maggie Huculak) who was Khan’s ignored right hand woman, and seemingly the real brains behind Kahn’s biggest feat, the new nanotechnologies. The discussion of the latter takes up a good part of the first act and is so mind-numbing in its technological minutae that you feel like you’ve wondered into the wrong classroom. Sorry, I mean theatre.

Back to business. Alduous and Annie own the airport hotel, and along with the other invited guests have gathered round to hear the reading, which includes Alduous’ spaced out girlfriend Isla (Rachel Cairns), a flight attendant who does a number of inexplicable athletic moves which seem to confirm her expertise at serving drinks during turbulence; legal beagle Laura (Kelli Fox), who is subject to laughing fits and was intimate with the boss while he was still partnered with Annie, and Gary (John Bourgeois), a former business partner and VP who is all about money and has since gone on to more lucrative endeavors. There is also a security guard, Quentin (Tony Nappo), who keeps deliberately smashing his phone.

Maggie Huculak’s Annie, despite her emotional scars from a business and personal relationship with the departed Khan, comes across as the most intelligent and humane character in the bunch. Of course there is that brief respite when she joins the others to take a whiff of a strange aerosol, something that Khan has concocted, that makes everyone momentarily loopy. It’s another one of the moments that makes you wonder what planetary forces have got a hold of them.

But surprise. There is an ending to the play that is otherworldly, with alternate universes and metamorphosizing and life and death phenomena, with humor and a touch of real pathos. It’s as if we’ve hopped skipped and jumped from Steve Jobs to The Twilight Zone. Forget the reading of the wills which has passed us by like a forgotten scene from a b-film. This was far more interesting, and not a nano in sight. The Summoned previews from April 20, opens April 27 and runs to May 29 in Tarragon's Mainspace. 30 Bridgman Avenue, Toronto.Tickets can be purchased by calling Tarragon Patron Services at 416.531.1827 or by visiting www.tarragontheatre.com  
Photo: by Cylla von Tiedemann. L to R: Fabrizio Filippo and John Bourgeois in The Summoned.
Reviewed by Jeniva Berger


OTTAWA
National Arts Theatre
Belles Soeurs

A  chorus of  unglamorous  women of various shapes and sizes files onto the upper level of the  proscenium arch that frames the  kitchen where Germaine Lauzon (Astrid Van Wieren) and her “soeurs” are about to  party,  pasting  one million trading stamps into those booklets, making Germaine’s dream of owning all the items in the store catalogue, a reality at last. Little does she know that her dreams will come crashing down before the performance ends. A band of five talented musicians tucked into either side of the small kitchen space raises the excitement level and carries us  beyond a traditional Broadway style of glitzy performance.

This new English language production of Tremblay’s Les Belles-soeurs, a reworking of the French musical production presented in 2010 and originallystaged as a play in 1968, is actually not far from Tremblay’s original conception of the work. True, there is music, there are lyrics in English, and the original joual which was the essence of Tremblay’s  statement about Québécois culture, has been  replaced  by lyrics in standard English. Even the ending has changed radically. Yet, it works because director René Richard Cyr,  composer Daniel Bélanger,  adaptor of the English Book and Lyrics Brian Hill, musical adaptation and additional music by Neil Bartram and the musical direction by Chris Barillaro, have collectively  reinvented a stage language that compensates  for all that has changed.  

The final scene no longer ends as it did in the play with Germaine in despair and confusion as the chorus sings OH CANADA, which suggests independence was no longer possible because the Québécois were still fighting among themselves. That ending even fuelled a debate in 1968 about the nationalistic charge of this show.

This new show is a feminist statement telling us that the women will finally take charge of  their own lives in spite of all the squabbling.  Germaine rises to the occasion declaring she will no longer be subjected to the will of the church, to the oppression of men. She and her sisters will go out on their own and make it happen.  The triumphant tone leaves the audience with a sense that all the underprivileged women of Canada are now facing a good struggle for a brighter future. The feeling of purification was immense.

In spite of a smaller cast, this musical version has maintained a vibrant chorus, inspired by  Greek theatre which is central to the author’s  work. Tremblay,a great fan of opera, constructs the play with  solos, duets, trios, quartets and quintets  already paving the way for the musical numbers that take their cues from the text. Each number has the women challenge their surroundings and revealing their struggles, but not before confessing their secret lives, as well as their ignorance,  jealousy and narrow mindedness, and their blind subservience to religion. Clearly,  the  author both hates and pities  these women so that irony, satire, irritation,  annoyance and much ridicule all combine to create an attractive mixture that holds our attention all the way through.

The quartet (originally a quintet) that roars out “It’s a dull life” (une maudite vie plate) captured the anger and the rage of these women whose lives are unbearably  monotonous. Neil Bartram’s additional music which suggests whiffs of Kurt Weil , Steven Sondheim, and a highly expressionist pounding of drums, bass notes and kitchen utensils, underscored by  the women stamping their feet, transforms their  frustration into a furious dance around the kitchen table (choreographed by Linda Garneau) that  pumped up the energy and foretold all that was to come.

The  music is not just an accompaniment  but a real partner whose creative presence establishes the emotional tone of each number, often revealing deeper  hidden tension, underscoring  the threat of the more disturbing  nuances of  meaning  that  the lyrics don’t necessary  tell us. As the creative confusion gets started and the sisters start licking stamps, each character takes to the spotlight and tells her story!

Lisa Horner as Lisette de Corval  is the guest who thinks she is superior to them all  because she has been to Paris where everything is so much more “ civilized” -  an ironic but semi-serious anti-French crack against the former colonizer -  but Mme de Corval is also  the object of local ridicule with her fancy clothes and fussy ways. Underlying that laughter however is a nasty critique of that woman who is embarrassed by her friends who are not as high class as she would like them to be, but De Corval herself is the snob and the  embarrassment. 

In the original play, De Corval speaks a strange mixture of local ‘joual’ deformed by someone who speaks what she considers to be “Parisian French!”  But since the language of the show is now standard English, her whole persona that hinged on that phony imitation of “proper French” is gone, and what appears in its place is a hilarious parody of an opera Diva.  She warbles a grand solo about how she is ashamed of this working class scum, all the while conducting the orchestra with great awkward gestures,  flirting with the audience, with the musicians,  nd maintaining her original upper class pretense that  is cut down by her inappropriate gestures and clownlike stance. Such  compensation strategies were brilliant!

Many solos that became confessional monologues where the singers, frozen under a spotlight, expressed all their hidden fears, their anguish, the frustrations, their guilt,  living in a world where church morality and small minds have oppressed them all their lives and where men make their lives unbearable. The Ode to  Bingo was perhaps the most  significant collective moment when  all the women sing their hearts out  the minute they learn that Bingo has returned to the neighbourhood. 

As the  music  rises and the choreography builds, that tribute to their favourite game becomes a wild orgiastic experience where they are all panting, screaming and  gesticulating, leaping on the table in a frenzy of emotion. Such trivia becomes their ultimate moment of excruciating pleasure which, far from a caricature, becomes both  pathetic and sadly funny. And the music brings it all to the
foreground.

There is that dramatic return of Pierrette  the fallen sister, sung by  Geneviève Leclerc. Her enormous voice ripples through the theatre, confronting the chorus of furies hovering around her, shrieking insults at the devilish creature who has dared to show her face among them. A defining moment  in the show, Leclerc’s  magnificent voice  epitomizes Pierrette’s freedom and independence  that Germaine’s daughter Linda Lauzon has been seeking since the very first scene, right until the  final  discovery  of betrayal amid the roaring laughter of the jealous  sisters. 

This musical tragedy which keeps the audience laughing all evening has maintained the literary integrity of the play, while giving contemporary musical theatre a refreshing thrust into the future.  Belles Soeurs The Musical continues until May 14 at the National Arts Centre Theatre. 54 Elgin St. Tickets: Online on the NAC’s website: www.nac-cna.ca;In person at the NAC Box Office;At all Ticketmaster outlets**By telephone 1-888-991-2787.
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, an Ottawa based theatre critic.
Photo: by Andree Lanthier. Ensemble in Belles Soeurs.


OTTAWA
The Arts Court Theatre

Woyzeck's Head

Director James Richardson's adaptation is a completely original approach to Buchner's 1879 work, Woyzeck, which at its outset was unfinished.  Richardson eliminates the whole socio-political context and locates the play inside Woyzeck’s head. The man is starving to death because he is part of an experiment where he is only allowed to eat peas. Time and memory play games with this individual and as he hallucinates, he hears strange voices, catches rapid glimpses of other people whom he believes are torturing him – including the doctors, the captain, even his wife, performed by two other actors in the show.
Photo credit: Stephanie Godin

Terrified by all that appears to be threatening him, suffering from his throbbing head, the site of his bloody hands and a sense of guilt, Andrew Moore’s Woyzeck, lashes out and shifts us back to the moment when the ultimate monstrous act of murder took hold of his mind. But we aren’t sure if it is a cruel fantasy or a real act that took place in this psychotic space where the victim/murderer  is being detained. 

Since Richardson has eliminated the exterior world and limited the action to all that is interior, the play lost a lot of its intensity, its real anguish, its anger, its deep sorrow, its suffering and we see Woyzeck reacting to his “imaginary” captors. They are  turned into robots, mechanical creatures, undefinable beings who hover around the “beast” and whose strange voices are blurry echoes and distorted sounds in his head…He is now the victim of his own hallucinations, that suggest painful jealousy, lack of sleep, grotesque relations with others`. He wants all this to stop, but it can’t if it’s all in his head.

Clearly, from a theatrical point of view, none of this horror really captures us for the whole length of the play because the text has nowhere to evolve. It is locked in Woyzeck’s head . The terrifying moments that actor Andrew Moore projects are very disturbing and we are engrossed in his performance for the first half of the show. However, the world he evokes remains within the same intensity, there is no evolution of emotion, no building up of fear that we can really sense, no ultimate loss of control, even though the text mentions the killing of his wife Marie. The emotion remains the same, the rhythms remain the same and the other characters are locked out of his head. We see the same frightened body which wanders obsessively in circles, creating monotony based on an oral text that repeats itself for an hour.

Clearly, some more creative work on the actor’s body would have been a relief here. A character subjected to hallucinations and strange voices could possibly begin to somatize his imaginary experiences in a great many ways -  if the director were well versed in the works of Grotowski, Artaudian theories or all the groups of ritual theatre (Chaikin, Julian Beck ) that explored madness on stage in the 1970s. He might have had a lot more ideas about the use of the body in space. As it was, director Richardson used Graham Price’s light design very well. It became a blaze of heat that lit up the plain walls of his “cell , the inner prison of his own psychic nightmare.

Richardson’s sound design was also very effective as were the images projected onto the walls,  but they all became repetitive and ceased to be effective after a while, They did the right thing by limiting the performance to one hour. There was nothing more in this text to justify anything longer.

James Richardson has gone through a very serious evolution as a director in the last years because of his association with the graduate MFA programme in the department of theatre at the University of Ottawa. Now, as he is working on adaptations, and new texts and textual practice has been added to his staging mix. That complicates the work of a director, especially if one is dealing with a great work of art.

This performance is a point of intersection between an inspiring text, combined with performance theories based on the Freudian elements of the psychodrama while also suggesting much more in depth corporeal research with the actors . The work is not yet over. It is a huge task which Richardson has undertaken . His effort is palpable, and laudable. His actors did what they were told but this director still appears to be in above his head. Woyzeck's Head is a production of The Third Wall Theatre Company and plays at the Arts Court Theatre until April 30. 20 Daley Avenyue Ottawa. For more information and to book advance tickets, please visit ArtsCourt.ca/TACTICS @TACTICSeries #OutOfMyHead.
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, an Ottawa based theatre critic.


OTTAWA
The National Arts Centre

Concord Floral

Concord Floral was inspired by an existing greenhouse in Vaughan (in the Toronto area) that was demolished in 2012. The rotting space somewhere in a mysterious field that emerges from Tannahill’s imagination becomes the site of an encounter among ten young people and their deep-seated obsessions. The author also mentions Boccaccio’s Decameron as another source of inspiration, and perhaps Joey’s encounter with an older man looking for sexual satisfaction could bring us back to Boccaccio’s wild dreams of frantic coupling inspired by the terror of the plague, something that Artaud discusses in his seminal text about the way the plague transformed European culture.

However, Tannahill's imagination appears to be much closer to more recent television performances such as Bitten, Twilight, Paranormal Witness or The Haunting of….., inspired by repressed obsessions, exacerbated fears deeply embedded in the troubled psyche of young people who are at war with their parents, stressed out by the violence in the world around them, and by the lack of understanding outside their own microsocieties where they find understanding, support and refuge. Even in this enclosed world of young people, the “pack” instinct rears its ugly head as the most vulnerable is subjected to great cruelty, while a spirit of guilt engulfs the group and vengeance propels the most extroverted individuals. We are clearly in the very depth of the human psyche inhabited by archetypal figures defining the basic human instincts in the world.

We are also, in the midst of a strange ritual of theatrical proportions. A rectangle in the middle of the performance space is lit with an unreal flickering bluish tinge. The set is an amalgamation of non-material substances that build a whole world of their own: light, sound, colour, shadow, all ready to engulf and feed the performers with their power. Dark human shadows collect around that rectangle as a beautiful soprano voice floats out of the shadows, singing religious tones that evoke the beginning of what could be a sacrificial ritual! The same voice is heard at the end of the performance to close the event.

All is done and when the ritual is completed and we are left in our seats, transformed by what we have just seen. The 10 bodies are in a line across the “stage”. We don’t know if we are supposed to clap or not. We almost dare not move. And then it’s over…

Tannahill and his team of directors, musicians, choreographers and  multidisciplinary artists, bring us forward to the future by daring to take us way back to the origins of human impulses that these young people, unspoiled by classical training and strict rules of acting, have contributed to this event. The team has expressed all their spontaneous desires, frustration, anger, malaise,  sadness, all harnessed l through a mixed performance process.
Besides the ritualized event, one voice (Stefanie Velichkin) speaking as “the greenhouse”, appears out of nowhere and announces that we are showing you a play within a play. It is divided by ten voices, into ten parts, an oblique reference to the Decameron which does not convince me in the slightest even if each part is represented by one of the young people in the group. The dialogues are fractured, the feelings explode, the voices spit out their own declarations with little apparent linear connection, but what emerges is a vast boiling litany of troubled words, which flow rapidly out of the mouths of these young people.

It takes a while to plug into this. Some of the actors mumbled and whispered. Often I could not understand. That was fine because the voices at times produced a background of indistinguishable youthful murmur, provoking a certain malaise and a sense of fear. The directors purposefully orchestrated fragments of sentences, bits of words that passed from one mouth to the next, creating an oratorio of youthful buzzing.

Then there appeared clearly-spoken monologues that distinguished the actors and highlighted the best voices. There was Joey (Connor McMahon) who told us his disturbing experience with an older man, or Sofie Milito, speaking in the name of Couch the victim, the bell-like voice of Sadie Laflamme-Snow, or Aurel Pressat who became the young person absorbed into the world of the fluttering bobolinks and many more. Their uncertainty propelled them into different imaginary worlds as lights flashed, shadows danced, the ghost of the disappeared one returned to haunt them all . The sound of each young voice filled the space with attempted explanations, as the momentum of the event transported the bodies of the young people, towards the sacrificial moment , which slowly came to a head. And then I felt it almost ended too soon!

Also impressive was the group choreography, the orchestration of all those voices, as it coincided with the lighting effects that transformed banal spaces (Highway 417, a field, a school room) into magical places of being. Surrealism joined ritual transformation, something almost unheard of since Artaud! This is not Lepage, it’s Tannahill. We wonder where he will lead us next time? Concord Flora plays at the National Arts Centre Studio Theatre until April 9, 2016. 53 Elgin Street Ottawa. Tickets: Online on the NAC’s website: www.nac-cna.ca; In person at the NAC Box Office; At all Ticketmaster outlets**; By telephone 1-888-991-2787**
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht, an Ottawa based freelance theatre critic.


LONDON, ON
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

The Grand Theatre

The show that closes the current season at London’s Grand Theatre was conceived at Drayton several years ago, and refined after many productions to the quality seen today.  “Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story” stars Zachary Stevenson, whose resemblance to Buddy has great resonance.  The voice and mannerisms are uncanny.  The sweet rendition of “True Love Ways” is one of the highlights of the production but the real action comes in the high energy displayed by Stevenson and a dozen other actor/musicians who When the Beechcraft crashed in that February night, 1959, I was in high school and curiously wore dark horn-rimmed glasses.  Years later, I was surprised to learn that in two years Buddy wrote a huge volume of hit music before “the day the music died”.

Alan Janes’ script is seamless and moving.  Shawn Kerwin’s design was colourful, particularly the fifties dresses that seemed to change colour under Renee Brode’ subtle lighting.  As usual Jim Neil’s sound design is solid and the audience only waits for the energetic cast to prompt a standing ovation.  This is the final mainstage production directed by Susan Ferley, who retires in September and heads into a change of career. 

Susan’s tenure as Artistic Director had its moments, but few are finer than the High School Productions in which she developed a new generation of performers, a few of which appear in Buddy.  Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane plays a singer at New York’s Apollo Theatre, delivering a foot-stomping version of “Shout” and Oscar Moreno is larger-than-life as the tragic Richie Valens.  Michael Clarke is good for comic relief and saxophone.

Just about everybody on stage doubles, but the secret weapon is Alicia Toner who plays Vi Petty the producer’s wife.  She also plays, piano, celeste, trumpet and fiddle.  .Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story runs until May 7. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Tickets: are available at www.grandtheatre.com, by phone at 519-672-8800, or at the Box Office, 471 Richmond Street.  London, Ontario.
Photo: by Klaus Andersen.
Reviewed by Ric Wellwood, a London, Ontario based freelance theatre critic.



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