A Theatre Buff Reviews: It’s A Wonderful Life

Theatre Aquarius’ It’s A Wonderful Life is a superb transformation of a classic Christmas movie to the stage. Thomas M. Sharkey’s re-working of this piece comes complete with an engaging mash-up of secular songs and Christmas carols. Tunes will be sufficiently familiar, such that some theatre attendees may find themselves humming, as did the lady behind me!

It’s A Wonderful Life is a retrospective for George Bailey who has decided one Christmas eve that his family would better off if he were dead. Over the course of an evening, his guardian angel, the bumbling Clarence, is able to show George what life in Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never been born. It’s an opportunity for reflection that many of us might benefit from, and that’s probably why It’s A Wonderful Life is a movie that many families watch year after year.

The triple-threat cast for this production is strong. They act, sing, and dance with ease. With the bridge as the backdrop, the set is a creative interpretation of life in small towns — from the intimacy of living-rooms, to the commerce of offices, and the sociability of front porches. The series of suspended windows that frame the stage are used effectively to illustrate the health and well-being of a community. The period, World War II, is represented well in the costumes. I noticed details that were attended to, like a fur stole complete with head and tail, and seams in the nylon stockings.

My only regret is that I did not get to see and write about this play earlier in its schedule. If you can find the time between now and December 27th to see It’s a Wonderful Life, it will be an afternoon, or an evening, well spent.

 

 

A Theatre Buff Reviews: Cinderella

I’m not sure which pleased me more – the edgy, contemporary take on the Cinderella story, or the rapt attention of my six and a half year old seat mate. Mirvish’s Cinderella is lushly costumed, fast paced, fun and filled with humour that has a multi-generational appeal.

What’s so different about this version? Cinderella (Kaitlyn Davidson) is a modern young woman, dressed in 19th century clothing, who becomes empowered through the timely intervention of her mentor/ fairy godmother “Crazy Marie” (Liz McCartney). At court, Cinderella demonstrates the power of kindness and compassion in a culture that has come to celebrate ridicule. And with a wonderful twist on an age-old story, the handsome prince, Topher (Andy Huntington-Jones), is ‘saved’ by the humble Cinderella. I fear giving away the plot but let me just say that when Act 1 ended with Cinderella running off at midnight wearing both glass slippers, the audience gasped. The lost slipper has always been Cinderella’s calling card.

The principals play their roles with a combination of humility and gusto:

  • Cinderella and Prince Topher — gentle and well-intended
  • The Wicked Stepmother (Blair Ross) and the Prime-Minister (Blake Hammond)— nasty and scheming
  • The Fairy-Godmother — confident and capable
  • Charlotte (Amyee Garcia), a wicked step-sister — narcissistic and opportunistic
  • Gabrielle (Kimberly Fauré), a not-so-wicked step-sister —  friendly and cautious
  • Jean Michel (David Andino) — hopeful and almost revolutionary.

The staging is splendid with something always happening. There is a fairy-tale appeal to the forest, the family home, and the palace, and the set changes occur seamlessly.  The transformations of pumpkin to carriage and critters to footmen take place before the audience’s eyes. The choreography, verging at times on gymnastics is engaging. The costumes are vivid and lush. And at risk of having you catch something I could not capture, do watch closely for Cinderella’s on-stage quick changes. They are amazing, and as close to magic as the costume designer would have envisioned.

Cinderella

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music and lyrics were new to me. The original production of Cinderella had been designed as a musical for television in 1957 and showcased Julie Andrews. As a Julie Andrews fan, I would say that Kaitlyn Davidson’s voice is a good match. It’s pure and strong.  One young woman I spoke with had been expecting the music from the Disney version and was disappointed to not hear ‘Bippity-Boppity-Boo’, however it did not prevent her from enjoying the show which she found “enchanting”.

I am left with one quote from Crazy Marie aka The Fairy God-mother: “If you have a dream, then very soon thereafter you’re going to have to fight for it.” It’s a positive message for all of us, regardless of generation.

Cinderella is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre on Yonge Street until January 10, 2016.

See you at the theatre!

A Theatre Buff Reviews: Jesus Christ Superstar

If you have not yet booked tickets to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Hamilton’s Hillfield Strathallan College, then do so now. It’s outstanding ! The run is limited to three performances: Thursday December 3 and Friday December 4 beginning at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday afternoon at 2:00.

This production is far from the average high school musical. The set is a minimalist industrial space which uses the sidewalls of the auditorium for the projection of media which range from news clippings of the sights and sounds of Occupy, to text messages, Facebook likes, and vivid graphics. It’s an edgy and relevant backdrop for an age old story of love, betrayal, compassion, remorse  and resignation.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is the story told through song of the last week of Christ, from the time he enters Jerusalem until his crucifixion.  The relationships between and amongst Jesus (Adrian Felice), Judas (Michael Lewis) and Mary (Sasha Paikin) are at the forefront. Judas is portrayed as a friend who is worried about the throngs who gather around Jesus calling him the King of the Jews. He fears it could spell trouble with the Roman rulers and bring harm to Jesus and his disciples. Judas is also unsettled by, and perhaps jealous of the deepening friendship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

About the time the priests—Caiaphas (Ryan Bennett), Annas (Allie Snopek)— become alarmed by the threat that Jesus could present to their authority, Pontius Pilate (Nicholas Richardson), the Roman governor, has a dream that he will be held responsible for the death of a man from Galilee. When Jesus becomes enraged by the debauchery taking place within the Temple his fate is sealed. The priests and the angry crowd will have their way.

Jesus Christ Superstar 2.jpg

This production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is the ultimate team performance with every cast member, student stage crew/technician, teacher, and adult volunteer contributing to its success. The performances are polished; the actors have embraced their roles. The ensemble and the disciples are a capable core. They move with ease between being a riotous crowd to a rapt audience. The leads have challenging solos which they sing superbly:  Caiaphas’ slow and low bass underscores the power that he holds within the Temple;  Judas’ anger and his anguish comes forth in a raw edged tenor; Mary’s compassion is expressed with both strength and sweetness; Pilate’s torment as he determines justice is clear and measured; Herod’s (Brendan Darcel) narcissism is both campy and irreverent; and Jesus, who has a full range of emotions to express, does so with eloquence.

The costumes have the look of soft grunge and suit the production. (Look for the armbands on the disciples.) The choreography is tight, fresh and well executed. The musicians are accomplished. And the lighting/media screens are timely and effective.

It’s a superb production. I saw the dress rehearsal which was close to flawless. But why believe me? Buy a ticket and see for yourself.