Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of Music 2012

Alright, from my previous lists, you can probably see a pattern with my music choices:
Best of Music 2011

Yah, the same people are basically on this year's list as last year. Either they're all consistent or I'm getting old and my tastes are solidifying.

Here are my picks for the Best of Music 2012: (this year only singles made my top lists. No full album made the cut)

1. David Guetta feat. Sia - "Titanium" and various covers.
David Guetta and Sia created a supremely catchy song with a solid and shiny beat, but the song is in the number one spot because it works in every type of cover version. Many many cover versions. From Kris Allen's cover, to being sung in the shower by Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow in Pitch Perfect, Chris Salvatore, Boyce Avenue, etc. etc. etc.. The song seems impenetrable. And well, dare I say it? Bulletproof. It's Titanium.

2. Hedley - "Kiss You Inside Out"
Ok, so it's totally about sex, but Jacob Hoggard and his band are now what? 4/4 of late? and Jacob and sex? Yah, of course it's a perfect fit.

3. One Direction - "Live While We're Young"
Hey, they're young and they're flaunting it, and that's okay, especially when they give us the most peppy pop song since last year's "What Makes You Beautiful" (on the 2011 list).

4. fun feat. Janelle Monáe - "We Are Young"
Technically came out in 2011, but made famous and discovered by most (including me) in 2012. An anthem for the ages.

5. Adele - "Skyfall"
The best Bond Girl in ages. Seductive, sultry, and shaken, not stirred. A Bond theme song that actually made the movie better.

Makes every movie trailer better.

7. Maroon 5 - feat. Wiz Khalifa on "Payphone" and "Daylight"
Love or hate Adam Levine, he (and his band who I would not be point out if it were only them and Adam Levine standing in a photo together) creates some damn catchy tunes (minus the incredibly catchy but annoying "One More Night" which of course, is probably the biggest hit yet).

8. Demi Lovato - "Give Your Heart A Break"
"Sonny" manages to give a heartbreaking, but boppy tune that manages to hint at Demi's darker side (that the tabloids have showed) and still being a great pop song. The raspy voice is a nice contrast to her sweet demeanor.

9. Pink - "Try"
I can't believe I'm putting Pink on my list. I find she generally puts on catchy tunes that become annoying very fast. And maybe "Try" hasn't been out long enough? But there's something far deeper and more sophisticated in this song than her usual fare, and her voice and attitude seem like a perfect fit here. And as a bonus, it doesn't hurt to feature Colt Prattes (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway) in the video.

10. Kris Allen - "The Vision of Love"
What does it take for this guy to get a mainstream hit? Another terrific song, great beat, great voice, solid pop tune, but this never got much airplay, but it'll remain on my repeat playlist.

Honourable Mentions: (in alphabetical order)

Adam Lambert - "Better Than I Know Myself"
Artists Against Bullying - "True Colors"
Big Time Rush - "Elevate"
Brad Paisley - "Southern Comfort Zone"
Conor Maynard - "Can't Say No"
Eleven Past One - "The World Is Ours"
Jesse Labelle feat. Alyssa Reid - "Heartbreak Coverup"
Kelly Clarkson - "Dark Side" and "Catch My Breath"
Luke Bryan - "Drunk On You"
Lumineers - "Hey Ho"
Mumford and Sons - "I Will Wait"
Phillip Phillips - "Home"
Zac Brown Band - "Goodbye In Her Eyes"

Undecided - Love 85% of the song. The other 15% sucks:
Rihanna - "Diamonds"
Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
Justin Bieber feat. Big Sean - "As Long As You Love Me"
Bruno Mars - "Locked Out of Heaven"
fun - "Some Nights"
muse - "Madness"

The Best of Music 2012 List in Video format: 

1. David Guetta feat. Sia - "Titanium"

2. Hedley - "Kiss You Inside Out"

3. One Direction - "Live While We're Young"

4. fun feat. Janelle Monáe - "We Are Young"

5. Adele - "Skyfall"

6. Imagine Dragons - "It's Time"

7. Maroon 5 - feat. Wiz Khalifa on "Payphone" and "Daylight"

8. Demi Lovato - "Give Your Heart A Break"

9. Pink - "Try"

10. Kris Allen - "The Vision of Love"


Best of 2012 Lists:
Best of Music 2012
Best of Television 2012
Best of Movies 2011/12

Previous Best-of Lists:
Best of 2011 Lists:

Best of 2010 Lists:

Best of 2009 Lists:

Decadeworthy - The Best of 2000-2009 Lists:

Best of 2008 Lists:

Best of 2007 Lists:

Best of 2006 Lists:

Best of 2005 Lists:

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness - Ignorance & Tribes - Play Reviews

Ignorance - Canadian Stage at Berkeley Street Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
By The Old Trout Puppet Workshop with anonymous contributors
Runs until Dec. 15th 2012

Tribes - Barrow Street Theatre - Off-Broadway, New York City, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Nina Raine, Directed by David Cromer 
Runs until Jan. 6th 2013

What if one of those Epcot Center diorama's had a sick sense of humour? Ignorance is a little show about the evolution of happiness, all the way since the caveman days, presented with some clever puppetry under the dry narration that sounds exactly like a museum presentation, but all with a clever twist. The twist is the twisted sense of humour from the folks of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop and it makes for a very sad, and sadly funny show about our human pursuit for happiness.

Using a method called Open Creation, taking in comments and suggestions from the web on their work in progress creation, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop have created a very dark, very twisted, and funny-but-awkward-because-it-is-sadly-true show that feels both slick (in a Disney way) and grounded (in a Canadian dry sense of humour way). Performed with bouncy energy (in adorable grey pajama jumpers) by Nick Di Gaetano, Viktor Lukawski, and Trevor Leigh, and wonderfully narrated by the soothing authoritative voice of Judd Palmer, Ignorance is a wonderful little show that has a morbidity that looms above the humourous tone. Parts of the storytelling could be tightened, while other moments of exploration (particularly the more modern character tales) could be slightly expanded (and milked), but at 75 minutes, the show feels right in length. Happiness is a tight play that knows its strengths and The Old Trout Puppet Workshop and its puppets and design team match it to their sickly funny story.

In Nina Raines fascinating new play Tribes, a young deaf man, Billy, who has grown up in a loving, but quirky and opinionated hearing family, finally discovers another world when he meets a young woman Sylvia, starting to go deaf herself. While he wasn't particularly unhappy with his crazy family (just as Billy's grown brother and sister both return to living at home to their aging hippie-ish parents), he begins to learn new things about himself, and the possibilities of the deaf world around him after trying to fit into the hearing world his whole life.

The Off-Broadway production, directed by David Cromer, is a brilliantly tight show in the small in-the-round Barrow Street Theatre space (in a tight set by Scott Pask), using projections (by Jeff Sugg) and sound effects (by Daniel Kluger) that often bring the audience into Billy's world space. Working with the entire theatre space, Cromer moves the play in such a fluid pacing, while giving each of the actors room to find their core characters. While there have been many cast changes, Russell Harvard (who is deaf in real life) has remained in the role of Billy, and anchors the show in a splendid and emotionally gutting performance.

The play, which is about to hit the regional theatre circuit (including being in Canadian Stage's next season), is based in the crazy-white-family genre play (which to be honest, is getting to be a little overdone), but then throws a whole different wrench with Billy, a beloved son who begins to feel the family isn't putting in as much effort to integrate Billy into the family dynamics as Billy has. While at times certain characters seem a bit too overdramatic or overdone (particularly with Billy's father, and at times with Billy's anxious brother), the core of the play is such a fascinating exploration of family dynamics that some of the superlatives can be forgiven.

At the performance I saw, Susan Pourfar as Sylvia and Mare Winningham as mother Beth gave terrifically grounded performances. It will also be interesting to see the play re-done in various stagings around the world and to see how the dynamics may change with different casts, particularly in the role of Billy.

One side note about Tribes, is that it is almost the opposite story of a storyline in the wonderful family drama Switched At Birth (on abcFamily) and if either story interests you, it's worth taking a look at the other show for a beautifully balanced look at being deaf in modern America.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Time After Time - The Little Years - Theatre Review

The Little Years - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Written by John Mighton, Directed by Chris Abraham
Runs until Dec. 16th 2012

Kate's a smart, socially awkward teenage girl with an exceptional understanding and interest in mathematics, particularly in association with time. Too bad she herself lived in the wrong time, in the mid 20th century Canada, where girls are born to be secretaries, nurses and housewives. Spanning decades, the play traces the small words and actions that can have rippling effects on the lives that surround and include Kate.

The beautifully written play The Little Years is a fascinating account of multiple lives where the course of time and expectations take their toll. As directed by Chris Abraham, on a beautifully simple and sparse set by Julie Fox (who also does wonders with the multiple decade spanning costumes) that reconfigures the Tarragon Theatre in an open space. With a terrific lighting design by Kimberly Purtell, and composition and sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne, the production elements heighten the dramatic layers within the play, helping Abraham produce an extremely fluid piece of theatrical art.

Bethany Jillard and Irene Poole share the stage as Kate in different phases of Kate's life, with both turning in solid and heartbreaking performances that have a unity and believability of playing the same character. Chick Reid is irritatingly perfect as Kate's irritatingly perfectionist of a mother, who is stuck in her mid 20th century thinking, and with her tiny criticisms of Kate, and her lavish words for her unseen (but ever felt) brother William, sets Kate upon an unfulfilled and unrealized life despite her clear intelligence.

While brother William leads a successful but busy life, his wife Grace, (a sensational Pamela Sinha) is a far more progressive woman of the era, and willing to push boundaries, and lovingly tries to help and push Kate along the way, though usually with little success. Grace's own life, entangled by her own limits of boundary pushing in the ennui of the suburban life she has somehow found herself in, takes a plot of its own.

The rest of the cast are great in smaller roles, but it is really Jillard and Poole with Sinha who ground the play with a soul against the intellectual discussions of time and place, all under the haunting words of Reid's mother. While I'm still unsure of my thoughts on the taut ending, everything leading up to it was heartfelt and fascinating, in a production that keeps the contemplative play moving at a brisk place. The sound effects/score almost becomes a narrative voice to the play, while Purtell's lighting design helps focus (literally) the multiple characters in their entangled lives.

First seen at Stratford, it is wonderful that Tarragon has brought this beautiful production to Toronto, with most of the cast intact! Such a fascinating piece of theatre.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hot and Bothered - The Arsonists & Murder Ballad - Theatre Reviews

The Arsonists - Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Max Frisch, In a New Translation by Alistair Beaton, Original Music by Jason Rutledge
Directed by Morris Panych
Runs until Dec. 9th 2012

Murder Ballad - Manhattan Theatre Club in the Studio at Stage II in New York City Center - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Juliana Nash, Conceived, Book, and Lyrics by Julia Jordan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Runs until Dec. 16th 2012

Other than Tyler Perry shows, Pantomimes and the current production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is it ever proper to yell at the characters on stage? Because The Arsonists and Murder Ballad certainly make a case for it. In both shows, symbolic characters do stupid things and you want to yell at them like you would want to at a horror film.

Two cautionary tales, both told with the simplest of plots, using music to add a level of excitement in productions staged on cool-looking sets. The effectiveness of the shows seem to only match the levels of absurdity and clarity in the satire in two new productions, one, a revised revival at Canadian Stage Company, and another, a new musical from the Manhattan Theatre Club in the small Studio space at New York City Centre.

The Arsonists is an absurd little piece that is so simple in concept that it could easily burn up in the wrong hands. While it is labeled as a farce, this is not a laugh-out-loud type of piece, with the humour only pointing to more chilling facts, and beautifully underlying the allegorical nature of the piece. Written after the Nazi's rise and Switzerland's neutral stance, the play is about a man named Biederman who takes in two strangers who are obviously arsonists who have been burning down the town. All while Biederman tries to keep his wife calm, while remaining polite, despite the eye-rolling warnings from his maid.

On a beautifully imposing set by Ken MacDonald, with lighting by Jason Hand, director Morris Panych keeps the impending doom at bay while Biederman deludes himself that things are all fine. With new added music by Jason Rutledge (who performs it himself with his band), a new added layer of the narrative commentary (and ironic humour) is added to the already twisted tale, a cautionary tale about recognizing and speaking up in times of danger.

Sheila McCarthy is perfectly sly and exhaustively annoyed as the maid. A seemingly smaller role for the accomplished actress but her sharp performance only underlines the importance of that character.

Wonderfully befuddled, Michael Ball's Biederman, "everyman", is a strong anchor as the centre of the absurdist piece. Fiona Reid works perfectly as the thorn in his side as he tries to deal with the outside interlopers.

As the titled arsonists, Shawn Wright's calming demeanor and wily moustache makes for the perfect sinister culprit, just staying on the right side of the fine line from being a cartoon villain. Dan Chameroy is a little less convincing, but probably only because of all my wonderful memories of him playing the protagonists, so I'm less convinced he can be that evil.

From the bold set, to the dynamic music, this new production of The Arsonists manages to turn the predictable story into a chilling warning, and while there are moments that wane, and the laughs are muddled from the impending doom of the story, the show works wonderfully as an absurd allegory.

Over in New York, a less successful, but boldly told story is rocking out the Studio at City Centre. Murder Ballad can be seen as an exciting, refreshing new musical, but the actual show misses the mark despite a talented cast that throws themselves (sometimes literally) into their performances, while glimmers of clever commentary shows itself in the lyrics, albeit mostly too late in a great final song.

The story is simple. A hot and heavy couple in the East Village break-up, and the woman moves on by meeting a loving nerd, marries, moves to Upper Manhattan, has a child, and lives the upper-middle class dream. As ennui sets in, she's rekindled with her old lover. Jealousy rages and someone is murdered. Unfortunately, most of the show is played so straight and serious that when the moment of wit and the cautionary allegory comes to light near the end, it is too late to care about these characters. There's too much time spent on certain spans of the story, which in itself has little surprise.

Despite the best efforts from Rebecca Naomi Jones (always excellent, Passing Strange, American Idiot) as the sumptuous narrator, the show tries to ooze sex appeal but comes off with very little passion and a certain coldness, partly because the story seems at odds with its bar setting that puts some of its audience members in the middle of a realistic looking (and working) low Rent bar. It doesn't help that the story is basically the tale if Mimi decided to go with Mark instead of Roger, and jealousy and revenged ensued. The story spends way too much time in certain set ups and life in yuppie domestic bliss, all while we see the characters dancing on a grungy pool table in a dingy bar.

Karen Olivo (Tony winner from West Side Story) is terrific and believable as the woman who moves from the cool hip life to a far calmer lifestyle with a man who wears glasses and reads books, but the framework and lyrics don't allow for much more depth, though Olivo tries hard.

Will Swenson and John Ellison Conlee sound great and do what they can with their etched out characters but poor Swenson has to make do with a character whose motivations are thinner than his character in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The music by Juliana Nash has a thrilling beat and ease of melody at first, until it starts getting into a monotonous ennui (much like the yuppie couple) and only comes alive again in the final song that throws the entire musical into a different satirical spin, an inspiration missing from the previous 80 min. proceedings.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Child's Play - Cinderella (A RATical Retelling) & Alligator Pie - Theatre Reviews

Cinderella (A RATical Retelling) - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Mike Kenny, Original Music by Jason Jestadt
Directed by Allen MacInnis
Runs until Dec. 30th 2012, Review Based on the first preview.

Alligator Pie - Soulpepper at Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts - *** (out of 5 stars)
Based on the book by Dennis Lee, Created by Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross.
Runs until Dec. 2nd 2012. Returns in the 2013 season.

Is theatre created specifically for children required to take into account their supposed lack of attention spans? Or is that just condescending to kids whom we tend to label as ADD as soon as their mind wanders? Two new shows geared towards young audiences have opened in Toronto and while one tends to be a jumpy, slightly scattered show that one would think would be perfect for the short attention spans of its audience, it's the slightly longer, more patient play that seems to have kept the kids from agitating in their seats. Both shows have their charms, but I guess being an adult, my view of the shows may already be skewed.

Cinderella (A RATical Retelling), a new spin on the classic tale with the rats acting as a chorus of narrators, is a delightful holiday show for YPT that does not dumb down the emotions and tone for the kids' sake.

The cast is a stellar group of some of Toronto's best actors, including Dmitry Chepovetsky (A Midsummer's Night Dream), Elodie Gillette (Shaw Festival), and Deanne deGruijter, and they throw themselves into their roles (as rats) with the same aplomb they would a Shakespearean play, giving this Cinderella the heft of an epic drama but with the silliness of a family friendly show. Amy Lee, better known as half of Morro and Jasp, is absolutely hysterical as a rat and one of the evil stepsisters, while she's matched in comedic prowess by Richard Lee (A Midsummer's Night Dream, Other People), who has some truly laugh-out-loud moments while switching characters and switching accents.

With a looming set by Robin Fisher, the stage at YPT has never looked bigger or more epic, almost operatic. Perfect to bring us down into the world of these narrator rats, who befriended Cinderella and name her for being on the ground covered in cinder ashes. A dark but evocative lighting design by Lesley Wilkinson and some intricate and clever costumes by Fisher, might at first seem a bit dour and brown, but manage to work perfectly with the tone of the show, directed by Allen MacInnis in a way that does not condescend to its younger audience base.

Former Canadian Idol contestant Steffi DiDomenicantonio, who was a revelation on the Spring Awakening North American tour, is absolutely delightful here in the title role. With a beautiful singing voice, and with an emotional presence that is affecting but not overdramatic, Steffi D keeps the role grounded in an honesty that centres the production and avoids drawing bold strokes for the young audiences sake.

The whole cast has an amazing comedic timing together, already with perfected rhythms required (especially considering it was the first preview performance), and they all seem to have fun with the enjoyable songs by Jason Jestadt while wearing costumed tails. While the songs may not become musical theatre history classics, they work in the context of the show and have some hummable moments. While the show feels more like a play with songs, there are quite enough songs that it is basically a musical, though an additional song near the beginning, while the story is being set up, might help move things along early on (despite working well as a patient play).

Still, with terrific past holiday shows like Seussical and Frog & Toad, YPT's great penchant for top notch casts and imaginative costume and playful set designs may finally have culminated in their best show yet here with an original version of a classic tale (and not rely on existing, and problematic musicals as in the previous mentioned cases) that seems suitable for kids of all ages (and the adults who accompany them).

Alligator Pie, developed and created by Soulpepper's younger ensemble members; Ins Choi (writer of Kim's Convenience), Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest (Ghost) and Mike Ross, based on the famous Canadian children's book of poetry by Dennis Lee, is the rare Soulpepper effort to create a brand new show, and one specifically geared toward children no less, an audience rarity in the usual Soulpepper repertoire (Despite being housed in a theatre complex called the Young Centre).

Based on a series of poems, the stage play with new music set to the poems, is a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas and creative presentations, with the winsome cast doing their darndest to keep the audience of kids (and some adults) entertained. While there are many cool and unique moments throughout the show, things begin to get slightly tiresome as we move from one idea (and poem) to the next, to the next, and the whole show doesn't congeal together quite as well as it should. While things end off with a bang (or multiple mini bangs involving bubble wrap), and there are clever uses of "found" items, many sequences are as quickly forgotten as they came to be, as the game cast moves on to the next part of the show.

It's fun to watch the cast, usually seen in far more serious fare at Soulpepper, act all silly for the kids, and when there are creatively clever theatrical moments, the show shows what its potential can be. Performed in-the-round, sometimes one side misses actions, faces and even lines, due to some sound and diction problems, but they are quibbles that can be fixed. The entire show as a whole though, as fun as it may be, still needs some editing and tightening as the middle jumble set off some restless kids (and one tired adult) at the matinee I attended.

Cinderella photos by Mark Seow
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Naked Ambitions - The Performers - Theatre Review

The Performers - Longacre Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by David West Read, Directed by Evan Cabnet
Review based on late preview.

Looking for a fun and frivolous night at the theatre that is heartwarming and uncontroversial? The new play The Performers, about porn stars at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas will likely fill that hole. Written by Canadian David West Read with his Broadway debut, this new play lands on Broadway in virgin territory, making its world premiere, with Henry Winkler stripping away his wholesome Happy Days image by playing a legendary porn star who is up against a younger beefcake in Cheyenne Jackson (Finian's Rainbow, 30 Rock). It's not a deep or penetrating play, but there are some laughs, and the terrific cast go hard and come through with a solid evening of fun.

The play itself is a bit light on plot and a trifle of a show, with the plot relying on lots of misunderstandings and mixups when a journalist Lee (Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange, Shrek) and his fiance Sara (Alicia Silverstone) are in Las Vegas to interview Lee's high school classmate, and nominated porn star Mandrew (Jackson). Meanwhile Mandrew is having problems with his wife Peeps (Ari Graynor, For A Good Time Call) because she's having a fit over her former BFF/porn rival Sundown (Jenni Barber). All while Mandrew is up against aging porn idol Chuck Wood (Henry Winkler). Breakup and makeups abound, but really it is all an excuse to have dildos used as jokes and Cheyenne Jackson dressed in barely anything, which I'm not criticizing at all! There are a lot of amusing cock and boob jokes but it never gets too dirty, and the satirizing of the industry and the mainstreams secret love for porn, never goes deeper than the surface.

Jackson returns to Broadway playing a likable dimwit which he seems to excel at (Xanadu), all while showing us that he definitely still works out and looks great even with cheesy porn hair.

Graynor, who singlehandedly charms with titillating sweetness and saves For A Good Time Call, does the same here but ups the titillation. Anytime she's in the room, there's definite excitement in the air, and her performance alone is worth seeing this play for.

Silverstone plays cute and along with a wide-eyed Breaker, gets to react shockingly at the porn world that surrounds them on their Vegas trip.

Jenni Barber, in a smaller role, still manages to illicit some big laughs to match her big (prosthetic I hope) boobs in the limited time she's on stage.

And The Fonz? Winkler looks like he's enjoying himself on stage, though I'm not sure I totally buy the seemingly wholesome Winkler as a legendary porn star but it's still an amusing notion. It's never milked quite enough considering the potential that is built into the character, but the entire premise of the play never quite rises to its full potential. Luckily, the game cast work hard to keep things up and running. The play takes place within the confines of a Vegas hotel, switching between two rooms, a lounge area, and the awards ceremony itself, but the play seems to work best during the scenes in the hotel rooms. Apropo. Or should I say Apornpo?

Photos by Carol Rosegg 

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Small Town, Big Dreams - Miss Caledonia - Theatre Review

Miss Caledonia - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Melody A. Johnson, Musical Score by Alison Porter
Directed by Rick Roberts and Aaron Willis
Runs until Nov. 22nd, 2012

Miss Caledonia, written and performed by Melody A. Johnson, is a wonderfully cute little one-woman show (sort of) that pays tribute to her mother Peggy Ann Douglas growing up in small town Ontario in the 50's and by extension, it is also a wonderful tribute to Johnson's grandmother. After hearing of Debbie Reynolds' story of a girl who gets plucked to Hollywood stardom after winning the Miss Burbank pageant, Peggy sees this as a route to leave the dirt roads of her small town life and hopes to use the Miss Caledonia pageant as a stepping stone to something bigger than the farm life standing before her.

Performed with aplomb and flair, a charming Melody A. Johnson switches characters from Peggy, to Peggy's parents, from pageant host/town auctioneer, to many more, with such an ease that the transitions are sometimes so startling because they seem so effortless. While the tale is genial and grin-inducing, but not totally surprising, it is Johnson's performance that elevates the simple story and makes it such an endearing show.

While I say the play is a one-woman show, it is not exactly true, as Alison Porter sits on the side adding a musical score that in itself, becomes a character of its own. While never actually ever interacting with Johnson, the musical score gives the piece such a wonderful third dimension, that you can almost see the scenery solely from the score, while there are many moments in Porter's instrumentation that adds humour and characterization into the play.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Killing It - Bloodless and Sweeney Todd - Musical Reviews

Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare - Theatre20 at the Panasonic Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music, Lyrics and Book by Joseph Aragon
Runs until Oct. 28th 2012

Sweeney Todd - Adelphi Theatre - West End - London, UK - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Hugh Wheeler, Adapated by Christopher Bond, Directed by Jonathan Kent
Closed Sep. 22nd 2012

There's an ambitious new Canadian musical being presented by the ambitious new Canadian musical theatre company Theatre20. While it falters at times in the typical first-musical-mistakes and still needs some polish and a few revisions and edits, I found Bloodless: The Trial of Burke and Hare to be fairly entertaining and exciting in its promise and future development.

Of course, Bloodless does resemble Sweeney Todd in both story (of mass murders) and in tone and style, and writing anything that can be compared to a Sondheim masterpiece might be a lofty goal and instigate harsh comparisons, but once I accepted the idea that another musical can exist in similar a similar fashion, I found myself quite enjoying Bloodless, and some of the amusing shenanigans when a pair of struggling men descend into immoral territory as they start selling dead bodies to a unquestioning Professor of Anatomy at the local university. Based on a true case, the men and their wives begin murdering people to fill their pockets.

The songs are catchy and varied and the strong cast (Evan Buliung and Eddie Glen as Burke and Hare) are likable, and smooth out over some of the rougher character developments. While the main characters aren't written rounded enough to feel much empathy for their predicaments, and the satire isn't quite sharp enough to make it as strong as it could be, some editing and re-writes could make this new musical its own.

Carly Street gives an excellent performance as Janet Brown, a prostitute searching for her missing friend. The role has an underwritten beginning, but Street makes us empathize with her worries, though a better integration of her story would help.

While the latest West End revival of Sweeney Todd was pretty excellent overall (though with some minor quibbles), there was one main reason it was a must see, and that reason is named Imelda Staunton. Probably best known in North America for playing Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series, or her Oscar Best Actress nominated turn as Vera Drake, or a character actress in many many MANY films, Staunton has had a musical theatre background, and here, takes the role of Mrs. Lovett and turns in possibly one of the best performances I have EVER seen on stage. EVER. Staunton unravels before our eyes, slowly spurring and becoming mad for Sweeney Todd. Staunton is funny, delusional, and terrifying.  A truly rounded Mrs. Lovett that is absurd yet still believable.

While the rest of the cast is generally excellent, including Michael Ball as a strong Sweeney Todd, James McConville as Tobias, and Luke Brady as Anthony, Staunton's performance is at such a stratospheric level (without being over-the-top) that at times, the rest of the show fades against her. You could say it's a hazard of excellence.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Body Language Speaks - I on the Sky and Play Without Words - Theatre Reviews

I on the Sky - DynamO Théâtre at Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Yves Simard
Runs until Oct. 21st 2012

Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words - New Adventure in association with National Theatre at Sadler's Wells - London, UK - ***** (out of 5 stars)
Devised by Matthew Bourne based on the Joseph Losey film The Servant, Music by Terry Davies
Ended Aug. 5th 2012

I on the Sky is a beautiful little poetic movement play by Montreal's DynamO Théâtre created for young audiences, but is so artfully done, adults could easily appreciate, and be moved emotionally. As a young girl gets lost in a storm and finds herself alone on a park bench, she watches the world around her pass by, and looks to the sky to connect to her past, to her dreams.

The cast of five manages to create a whole world in a city park, with amusing characters passing the bench, in what becomes a sort of dance piece, elevated by acrobatic elements from the circus trained cast. With a trampoline hidden between the set of benches, the action happens so smooth and lyrically all around the simple set, with a projection screen behind showing various incarnations of the sky.

As the director notes, no matter how lonely we all get, we can always look up to the same sky, no matter where we are. And the young girl (a serene Andréanne Joubert) yearns for her family, becomes smitten with a young man (a gentile Frédéric Nadeau), all while bullies in the park steal her sheet music, an old lady requires help sitting on the bench, and a sanitary worker dances while oblivious to the world. It's in the sequence with the young man, who keeps showing up to woo our girl on the bench, when our hearts break, as we see the reason why he's not part of the girl's actual reality, and a wind of dark realism washes over, and we understand the presence of a trio of creepy faceless people who have been haunting our girl.

10 years ago, choreographer Matthew Bourne was commissioned by the National Theatre to produce another one of his famed dance shows, and he took inspiration in the film The Servant (with a screenplay adapted by Harold Pinter). Bourne turned it into Play Without Words, and now 10 years later, the creative team and some of the original cast had reunited for a revival of this seminal dance play.

As the title suggests, Bourne turned the film into a fully danced play, without using any words, and it's a phenomenal piece of theatre, with beautiful and haunting choreography that manages to easily tell the tale of a wealthy man, his manservant, their lovers, and a jealous rival, and the sultry manipulations used between the different classes as a shift in power begins, all in the era of the British 1960's. It's a sexy psychological drama that requires the cast to show as much emotion, and convey entire passages within the subtlety of body language.

Bourne creates a genius device of casting the main characters using three dancers in each role. Not only do three dancers form a choreographic pattern when they dance together, it also allows scenes to split off into different directions as the same character does different things, giving us a very film-like montage quality, keeping the drama moving at a fast pace.

Dancing upon Lez Brotherston's beautiful set, lit in an atmospheric lighting by Paule Constable, the amazing cast evoke the 60's era with Terry Davies' jazz score. The entire production is haunting and incredibly emotionally moving and thrilling.

Photos of I on the Sky © Robert Etcheverry.
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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vintage Hollywood Theatre - Tear the Curtain! and Chaplin the Musical - Theatre Reviews

Tear the Curtain! - The Electrics Company Theatre at Canadian Stage's Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr, Created with and Directed by Kim Collier
Runs until Oct. 20th 2012

Chaplin the Musical - Barrymore Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Christopher Curtis, Book by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis, Directed and Choreographed by Warren Carlyle

The stage and screen are two very different entities. We watch and experience them differently and our brains process the two art forms differently. In Tear the Curtain!, The Electrics Company Theatre new show under Kim Collier's direction (whose last project at Canadian Stage Studies in Motion, blew me away), melds the two art forms into one show, playing with our senses as we watch a film-noir become a live stage show, and back again, and then sometimes at the same time! It's quite a jarring change at first, as our eyes and minds must adjust to the distance we follow this dark story, a mystery of sorts set in the 1930's that plays around with our perceptions of theatre and film, in a show about a theatre critic that falls into the war between movie houses and theatre houses as film was just burgeoning in the 30's as the newest craze in entertainment.

The plot to Tear the Curtain! is a confusion of mysteries a-la-film-noir-style, as a film critic Alex Braithwaite (writer Jonathon Young) falls for a femme fatale actress (a luminous Laura Mennell from TV's Alphas) and sort of steps onto a stage (or is it screen?) as two mob bosses are fighting over Vancouver's Stanley Theatre (or what will become it). Or something like that. Alex also follows a mysterious man who turns out to be Stanley Lee (James Fagan Tait), while a screwball co-worker Mavis (a delightful Dawn Petten) is smitten with Alex. There are layers upon layers of the story, with some surprising reveals and several amusing or terrifying twists, but the story tries to be so clever and twisty that it's often too confusing to take in while sitting there in a theatre, and too indecipherable at times. Maybe the point, and it gets the film-noir genre tone quite well, but sometimes it's all too much to take in.

When things get too confusing though, there's still the visuals to take in, and they can be surprising and delightful, haunting or chilling. The whole show is pretty much stunningly beautiful and interesting. With the use of projections showing the film (done by Brian Johnson), sometimes projected onto a screen, sometimes onto the set itself (that looks like a giant foam core model) by David Roberts, the story shifts from screen to stage, back and forth, and is amazingly clever when we sometimes see the same scene from two different vantage points at the same time.

While the mindbending story is enhanced by the mindblowing melding of film projection and stagecraft, the performances from Young and Petten anchor the show and give the mystery the heart it needs. Petten particularly gives the lightness to balance out the film-noir atmosphere and story that sometimes devolves into head-scratching confusion, but the ideas, and imagery Tear the Curtain! introduces are eye opening.

Chaplin the Musical is probably an unnecessary musicalized version of Charlie Chaplin's life that, through the sheer brilliance of Rob McClure's performance as the title character, is a pleasant and enjoyable show. With tuneful but forgettable songs, and a book that tries to deepen our understanding of the famous performer by delving into his psyche, the musical has far too many slow book moments and seems to overanalyze Chaplin without really getting any true grit or depth in his life. The dark moments only seems to skim the surface, but the show works best in its buoyant moments, when the show starts recreating some of Chaplin's most famous scenes from his films, and the Hollywood drama behind the scenes. The new musical tries to have a serious side but never does it quite enough to be truly revelatory, all while spoiling the fun moments in Rob McClure's uncanny recreation of the legendary Charlie Chaplin.

The musical spends a lot of time with young Chaplin, growing up in England with his single mother (the lovely Christiane Noll) and brother (Wayne Alan Wilcox).  to being plucked to Hollywood where he quickly establishes a comedic act that seems to gain everyones attention. From trying to change his Vaudeville circuit act into something that can work on film, Chaplin learns to manipulate the new medium of film to comedic brilliance, and the show is at its most fun when we see it performed live on stage.

Though the musical feels overlong, and skims over Chaplin's tendency to romance teenage girls as just another plot point (while stretching his childhood psyche thread), things get juicy when scheming gossip columnist Hedda Hepper (a perfectly cast Jenn Colella) attempts to play dirty, using her power to get the public to turn on Chaplin, all while Chaplin tries to battle the emerging change in Hollywood to the talkies.

Chaplin The Musical is a pleasant light biographical show that works best when it's simply pure entertainment in the recreation of the best of Chaplin with McClure's wonderful starmaking performance.

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