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Monday, April 27, 2015

School No More - Brantwood - Musical Theatre Review

Brantwood: 1920-2020 - Brantwood High at Theatre Sheridan - Sheridan College - Oakville, ON
Music and Lyrics by Bram Gielen, Anika Johnson, and Britta Johnson, Created, Written and Directed by Mitchell Cushman and Julie Tepperman
Runs until May 3rd, 2015

For their final show project, the students and staff at Sheridan College's Theatre Sheridan have taken a huge ambitious project to put on a musical immersive show and while I won't put a grade to the unprofessional show, it's only unprofessional in technical pay terms and Brantwood is an amazing success to the creators, the producers and production staff, and the incredibly talented student cast that forms this thrilling and immense theatrical experience.

Welcome back to Brantwood High! As an alum, you're going to be returning on a school bus to the hallowed halls of your youth where surprises will be abound as you go back to high school.

               

When Sleep No More opened in New York after touring in several cities before, it seemed to cement the validity of the immersive theatre experience. It became a critical and commercial success and has become the professional standard for immersive theatre. (For those uninitiated, audience members wear masks and walk within the many rooms of the "McKittrick Hotel" and voyeuristically watch as Macbeth is happening in the style of Hitchcock's Rebecca, throughout the 6 floors full of intricately set decorated rooms and explore at their own leisure. It's the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure theatre and it is exciting and a thrill to the senses).

Toronto has seen some great immersive shows including Auto Show, The Gladstone Variations, Passion Play and if you notice that Julie Tepperman is the connecting factor, with the help from Mitchell Cushman on Passion Play, you'll know that this team is at the forefront of the immersive theatre experience in the Toronto theatre scene. Commissioned by Associated Dean Michael Rubinoff for a project for the senior class of the musical theatre program, Tepperman and Cushman created a project that utilizes the assets of the Sheridan students and production team but they had to up the ante by creating an immersive theatrical piece that is also a MUSICAL.

               

The premise is pretty simple, but I won't spoil the details, but the story entails the ghosts of students past from every decade of Brantwood school (using a converted former school in Oakville), where the ghosts roam the halls and we, as alums, are revisiting the space where we lived our formative teen years and rediscovering youths past (and future). When Principal Headley (from generations of Pricipal Headley's) announces the school will be closing to be turned into lofts, making this the final reunion for Brantwood High, we are invited to mourn the loss of the beloved school while reliving the past.

Add in an amazing array of catchy and clever songs from Bram Gielen, Anika Johnson and Brita Johnson, and a huge and talented student cast perfectly suited to play students, and we get a maze full of stories and characters that take us visitors through the hallways and classrooms, cafeteria and gym, the change rooms, bathrooms and janitor's closets and all the secret spaces we used to make out in high school.

If there's a "problem" with the show, it's that with about 16 stories and countless characters, with many students playing different characters in different timelines (but with a seemingly connecting theme), there's so much to take in and explore that split second decisions must be made in what you want to see. With characters moving about from classrooms to classrooms, through the halls, sometimes singing songs, often in the midst of some dramatic teen crisis, there is an overwhelming choice of stories to choose to see. Half the fun is trying to piece together the stories and characters and how they may interconnect with the scenes you end up seeing, but it also lends itself to want to return, as I did a second time 2 nights after my first visit, and I'm still itching to go back again to see more.

The students of Sheridan Theatre are an amazing roster of superb talent and without naming favourites, it can be easily said that there will be a lot of future musical theatre stars within this group.  Gielen, and the Johnson sisters are also definitely musical writers to listen for, with a brilliant opening song that sets the tone and mood from the get go. Meanwhile, Tepperman and Cushman have had fun with many of the high school stereotypes and twisted and collided the stories together, with some incredible details and fun hidden gems, aided by the impressive technical team and a stage management team that must be tightly coordinated to make the show work like clockwork (and with synchronized clocks in the entire school, you can find clues to events hidden amongst sets and props around the school!).

Brantwood is simply an tremendous effort that surpassed my expectations and while some crowd control issues could be tweaked, the show itself is simply amazing and a lot of fun and just begs for repeat viewings. Here's hoping for a transfer to a Toronto location or a remount so that more "alums" can experience what happens when there's School No More.


Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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