Friday, May 30, 2008

Happily Ever After - My Fair Lady, Cinderella - Musical and Ballet Reviews

My Fair Lady - Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts - National Tour - Toronto, ON
Music by Frederick Loewe, Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Directed by Trevor Nunn, Choreography by Matthew Bourne

Cinderella - National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON
Choreography by James Kudelka, Music by Sergei Prokofiev

I saw two classics this week. The musical My Fair Lady, and the ballet interpretation of the beloved fairy tale Cinderella. If you're one of those people that believe My Fair Lady is one of the best (if not the best) musical ever, and think it's perfect, well then my review is going to be blasphemous to you. It's a solid production of a classic musical that I can enjoy at best, but I just fail to get excited over anything about it.

I can get excited about the National Ballet of Canada's Cinderella which was an absolute joy! While the second half of the first act was slightly tedious from too much traditional flitting around by girl ballerina's running around in circles, the rest of show, from the fun fairy tale Disney like (I mean that in a good way) opening to the second and third acts, was just a fabulously entertaining and mesmerizing dip into good old fashion storytelling much like those bedtime stories during childhood.

I saw the ballet on opening night and had the wonderful Sonia Rodriguez as Cinderella (and who apparently just had her second child last summer with Canadian Olympic Figure Skater Kurt Browning... WHAT?) and my crush Guillaume Côté as the Prince who must track her down after Cinderella leaves her sparkly ballet shoe at the ball (well, they DID have to switch it up to work for the ballet!). Rodriguez definitely had a charm about her while Côté fabulously floats in the air. (The performers rotate performances)

What makes Côté a star, other than the fact that the guy can dance like there were no gravity, is that he actually feels for the piece, and his facial expressions are subtle but impressively enhance the story. When he notices Cinderella at the ball, he has a tiny small creep up on him, quickly explaining his impressed impression for Cinderella as he's about to fall in love. It was a tiny moment, but spoke hugely and Côté excels in both the little emotional details in his acting as well as the CRAMAZING dance moves required of him.

There's also a great sequence when Côté's Prince treks around the world in search of his princess, with a nice cameo from the Hudson Bay coat.

Equally impressive are Rebekah Rimsay, who I've always noticed in every show I've seen her in this past season, and Jennifer Fournier, who sadly retires next month, playing the funny mean Step-sisters.

Both hilariously play up their roles, with Fournier acting like the snooty sister, while Rimsay is the nerdier socially awkward sister, and they EASILY convey the roles through an amazing use of their body movements. Rimsay is a particularly great actress in addition to her amazing dancing skills and she stays in character throughout the entire performance even into the final bows and even AFTER the curtain comes down. It's hilariously and she's spectacular every moment she's on stage. Her body becomes a comedic vehicle and yet knowing her performances in previous pieces, it's just one facet of her many talents.

Since this is the first season I've seen the ballet, and have quickly fallen in love with it (though i think partially due to artistic director Karen Kain's programming that seems to waiver to a slightly non-traditional modern lineup with even this Cinderella feeling more fun and fancy free than the image of dancing tutu's), it's fun to start recognizing and picking out dancers that truly catch my eye.

Even though he plays small side roles, Robert Stephen is always sharp with is movements and I truly think this kid is one to watch for. His performance in Rooster still burns in my mind, especially everytime I hear The Rolling Stones "Paint in Black" and even within an outstanding company, and despite his shorter stature, his body movements just always seemed perfect.

I'm not sure I ever saw Joseph Welbes before but he was particularly strong in the ensemble.

Keiichi Kirano and Richard Landry are always terrific in step and have strong performances.

Victoria Bertram, the character artist playing the Stepmother was hysterical, using old fashioned comedic movements (think Charlie Chaplin) to display her comic prowess. Try to notice when she starts climbing the cupboards to get her alcoholic beverage of choice! It's a neat side sequence using a funtastic set.

The touring version of My Fair Lady brought in from London has a great utilitarian set that smoothly switches from one set to another with such ease that it helps the productions pacing, in a slightly overlong musical.

So let's get this out of the way, I love the idea of Pygmalion and the basic storyline but the musical addition of Henry and Eliza falling in love always kind of creeped me out. Especially when they don't hide the age and status difference, since it's kind of important to the story (though for me, the status thing is more teacher/student than upper/lower class). I also never really bought WHY Henry would want to change Eliza because the whole bet/proving he could seems a bit weak so kind of underlines the creepiness of the elder gentlemen taking on the young street naif.

I know, it's a romantic lovely musical and I've turned it into the 6 O'Clock news item but it's just something that's just always bothered me about My Fair Lady.

The music is lovely and classic but it's exactly that. Lovely and classic and it's hard to get thrilled over it anymore.

I also find Eliza's father storyline completely useless (the whole sequence where he's about to get married is just an excuse to throw in dancing girls in the middle of the dry and dramatic section of the story) and because I don't buy Henry's intentions, I find the start a bit weird.

But once it get's going, and once we hear those famous words: "The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly In the Plains"... I became charmed by the musical all over again and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza certainly wins me over, especially during the hilarious ascot scene.

I know Henry Higgins is supposed to be a bit of a twat, only coming to terms with his own emotions later on, but I found Christopher Cazenove played the role technically right but I felt emotionally underwhelmed and not very charming. It can be a difficult role to play since he's got to be a bit of a bastard and yet still sympathetic but Cazenove could have pulled in more sympathy.

Matthew Bourne's choreography was good if unspectacular and I think I expected a bit more from him. The dancing on the trash cans was neat (if not a bit Stompish) but the sequence was too short and interesting choreography like that was too few and far between.

It was a mostly solid production that kept getting better with every scene but there were still moments that felt long, flat or dry in a musical that I find cute and likeable but never thrilling.

My Fair Lady - Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts - National Tour - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (3.5 Stars out of 5)

Cinderella - National Ballet of Canada - Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (4 Stars out of 5)

The National Ballet of Canada has a great program for those 29 and under to get $20 tickets on the day of (starting at midnight on their website) under their program DanceBreak (and when asked for promo code, it's "DANCEBREAK" which they never seem to mention).

Here are my previous reviews from visits to The National Ballet of Canada:

Rooster & Soldiers' Mass & 24 Preludes by Chopin ****
An Italian Straw Hat ****1/2
West Side Story Suite & Glass Pieces & In The Night ****1/2
The Merry Widow ****

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