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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Terrific Night of All Your Favourites in Motown The Musical!

Last night we took in Motown The Musical presented by Broadway Across Canada at the Jubilee Auditorium and it was simply terrific! Okay, I'm a major Motown fan, so I was thrilled by the song list, but I also only enjoy it when it's well done and in this show everything was simply perfect! When you are presenting so many iconic songs and artists it can be a challenge because everyone has expectations, but this production certainly rose to that challenge and met it handily!

Motown The Musical is a jukebox show, using the story of Berry Gordy Jr.'s life and decision to "be the best Berry Gordy Jr. he could be" by creating the iconic music sound that came to be known as Motown. The shows uses a framing device of a 25th Anniversary Television special where all the artists he worked with have come back to perform but there is some question as to whether Gordy (played by Kenneth Mosley, who has a phenomenal voice and impressive stage presence) will show up. To explain why he might not, the show whisks us back in time to his beginnings and through the course of his life up to the moment of the TV show. The scenes are quick and loose, but this provides opportunity for us to meet and hear many of the now legendary artists he worked with and whose careers he arguably managed to success.

Along the way we meet Gordy's right hand man Smokey Robinson, played with charm and high energy by Justin Reynolds. Matt Manuel makes for a charismatic and combative Marvin Gaye who challenges Gordy and who wants to bring more politics into his music. We also meet a young Michael Jackson, played alternately by Kai Calhoun and Chase Phillips, who has the moves and the voice that foreshadow his future as pop-royalty. Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, The Commodores, Martha and the Vandellas... they are all there, and they all do a fabulous job recreating the moves and sound of the era. I was so very impressed by the sound. The balance of all those harmonies was spot-on!

We also get a glimpse into the romance between Gordy and Diana Ross (Trenyce). This relationship gets the most stage time and we get a first hand look at the molding of Ross by Gordy from Supreme, to front woman, to solo artist and to movie star. Trenyce does a beautiful job of channeling the diva both in her scenes and her songs, without stooping to caricature. The best book scenes are the ones between Mosley and Trenyce, and she truly captures Diana Ross in both sound and gesture.

Like most jukebox shows, most of the scenes are quick sketches, giving us the feeling of what happened, but the quickness interspersed with the performances of the songs and their shifting tone manages to paint a picture of how Motown helped to contribute to the advancement of civil rights. There's a big shift both musically and culturally from My Guy to Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology), and yes, this is a musical, but it tells you something when you are confronted with the fact that just a few decades ago artists of colour wouldn't even get played on certain radio stations. I'm pretty sure if I turned on the radio right now there's a good chance I would be hearing Rihanna or Bruno Mars. I'm glad for that.

Anyhow, if you want a terrific night of music - fast paced, with excellent dancing, and charismatic performers, this is definitely a show to see, particularly if you love that Motown sound! There is something special about seeing a show where you know all the songs. I expect to feel the same way when I see Mamma Mia! next week at the Citadel, but that collective connection to the pop-culture really allows you to step right in and just enjoy the experience.

Motown The Musical runs to February 18th at the Jubilee Auditorium.
Click here for more information and tickets.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Living in Extraordinary Times... Tempus Extraordinarius at L'Uni Theatre

A mad dash across the city and we made it just in time to catch Tempus Extraordinarius at L'Uni Theatre on Saturday night. Featuring Tubby and Notubby as two clownlike figures in a post-apocalyptic world, the show was in both French (70%) and English (30%) with surtitles to capture the opposite language for the audience. It was an interesting show and the simple, yet effective projections and staging were well-used. It left a lot to chat about in terms of the cycle of the world's history through oppression and struggle into a more peaceful world and back again. Sprinkled throughout were references to Shakespeare and songs. I'm always interested in seeing the L'Unit Theatre shows as the added layer of language makes me work harder as an audience member. I think that makes me less passive and more engaged. 

Tempus Extraordinarius ran From February 7-10 so you can't catch it, but the next L'Uni Theatre show will be En Mémoire de Moi/Do this in Memory of Me which will play in both languages in rep from March 14 to 24. Click here for more information. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Nice Night Out at Walterdale Theatre with THE WOMEN!

Once I got through fumbling with the words of my pre-show speech I was treated to a nice evening of estrogen fueled laughter at Walterdale Theatre with The Women. Directed by Catherine Wenschlag, it's the stage play of one of my all-time favourite movies from 1939 starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell and a whole bunch of other women. It was ground-breaking in that in the film none of the men were ever seen, only talked about. The play is the same. A cast of 17 women playing many more roles tell the story of the loving and loyal Mary Haines (Roseanna Sargent) as her marriage falls about when she discovers her husband is fooling around with the predatory Crystal Allen (Julie Whelan).

I clearly enjoyed it, as so many people commented to me after the show on how much I was laughing. It was filled with quite a few scenes of witty conversation and larger than life characters. There's a lot going on in the show as the play serves to show the disintegration of the marriage of Mary and Steven Haines from multiple points of view. I loved the debrief about the state of the household between the maid Jane (Sadie Bowling) and the Plain Cook (Peg Young). I also really enjoyed all the scenes between the eternally pregnant Edith (Jenn Robinson) and the envious and somewhat innocent Peggy (Mandy Stewart). Another standout was Lilianna Coyes-Loiselle who demonstrated the sharp intelligence of Little Mary as she deals with her parent's divorce. Nicolle Lemay also gives a wonderfully devious performance as the meddling Sylvia.

There was a lot going on - I pulled out a few scenes, but really what makes this show work is the strong ensemble and the commitment by all the cast to big choices and being able to embrace the cattiness along with the kindness of the women in their various relationships. It's a fun ride full of laughter and although I would like to think we don't quite live in this world anymore, episodes of the Bachelor might suggest that there is still a lot of truth to it.

The Women runs until February 17th at Walterdale Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at Tix on the Square at 780.420.1757 or online or at the Box Office 1 hour prior to show start.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Minosis Gathers Hope and Her Mark...

I actually started my day taking media photos for The Women at Walterdale Theatre, but scurried quickly next door to Fringe Theatre Adventures to catch Minosis Gathers Hope as part of the Rubaboo Festival. It was a TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) production about a young girl, Minosis, who has to spend the summer with her grandparents. She's lonely, and fearful about meeting new friends, and begins to explore the backyard. She travels to the four directions of the Medicine Wheel (forgive me if I get details incorrect, I am not an authority, merely interpreting what I saw) and finds ribbons at each corner. The journey helps her reconnect and learn more about her culture and religion and also helps her adjust to where she is. Told with narration from 5 dancers who symbolize the four directions of the Medicine Wheel and Mother Nature, it is the dance that keeps the piece dynamic and magical. There were no programs so I sadly cannot identify all the actors, but the actress playing Minosis was quite passionate and lovely to watch onstage. There were only a few public performances so I don't think you can catch it anymore, but the Rubaboo Festival is an annual event so keep it in mind next year.

In the evening I headed back to Old Strathcona to catch Her Mark presented by Whizgiggling Productions at Orange Hall. I saw this show in 2014 at the Fringe and quite enjoyed it, but I like this new iteration even better. Perhaps it's the staging and new location, as it seems very suited for Orange Hall - the creaky floors adding realism and texture to the soundscape, and the candlelit atmosphere is dreamlike and haunting. As well, the action takes place both in front of and among the audience so you feel truly engaged. It's an adaptation of Michael Crummy stories about a family in Newfoundland in the early part of the 20th century. A mother (Linda Grass), her 3 daughters (Cheryl Jameson, Lora Brovold & Jayce MacKenzie) and son (Matthew Lindholm), tell stories in monologue about their lives and the patchwork creates a quilt of this family's history. The stories are interspersed with songs and often underscored by violin (played by Astrid Sparks). Director Trevor Schmidt has created a lovely atmospheric work. The seating for this show is extremely limited as the space is quite small and intimate, so I would recommend getting tickets in advance. It's a warm, touching show about loss and hardship but above-all the fierceness of a people who live in hard circumstances.

Her Mark runs to February 10th.
Click here for tickets.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

A Very Busy February... And it begins with EMPIRE OF THE SON at the Citadel

By my latest count I have 12 shows to see this month... That's not quite 1 every two days, but pretty close... I'm earning a few nights off by booking matinees on Saturdays! It's all in the planning.

I kicked off the month of theatre tonight at Opening Night of Empire of the Son at the Citadel (full disclosure - you all must know I work there),  a touching and resonant one-man show created and performed by Tetsuro Shigematsu about his relationship with his distant and seemingly unemotional father. Shigematsu is an effective and likable story-teller who clearly loved and respected his father but who also found it hard to really communicate with him. He's crafted this story of his life and that of his father well, sharing the remarkable details of what his father witnessed (Hiroshima, tea with the Queen, Marilyn Monroe's birthday serenade to JFK...) and contrasting his awe against his father's placidity.

It's a story that everyone can relate to and Shigematsu's charm easily drew in the entire room. It's filled with ups and downs, but underscoring the controlled emotion of both himself and his father, it's very layered and avoids sentimentality and hysteria, and it's funny often drawing laughs of recognition from the house. It's a human story. One that everyone can relate to - either as a parent or a child - because it's really about that generational gap that occurs to some degree between every parent and child. And while this is a specific relationship, because it is about simply seeking to understand the other person more fully, we all can connect.

It's also quite beautiful. Projections illustrate remembered conversations with whimsy, the lighting is gorgeous, and the set transforms from lecture hall, to a house of falling sticks seeking order as they descend.

Empire of the Son runs to February 18th in The Club at the Citadel.
Click here to learn more or purchase tickets.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January had a lot of theatre in it... At least the last two weeks...

I saw 9 shows in January... I was supposed to see 10 but when winter hit on the 26th I couldn't face driving and missed one (😞)... But 7 of those shows were in the last two weeks! I'd say it's a real challenge to produce theatre in the second half of January in Edmonton - so much competition!

Anyhow, I saw some good stuff, some silly stuff, some ok things... A lot of hard-working thoughtful artists.

I started the month with the Mayfield's Back to the 80's. We had really enjoyed the first 80's show they did a few years ago and while the music in this one was still very well done (and my favourite era) I didn't think this show had as strong a script. An enjoyable evening, but not much more than that.

However, I followed that up with The Humans at the Citadel. I was able to see it twice and was glad I could because it was so layered. I loved the naturalistic acting, the excellent writing, the connections between the actors, and the beautiful choreography of action in the multiple locations. I think it was probably some of the finest acting and direction I've seen so far this season. It's hard to not want to play up the moments and keep them oh-so-real, but that's where the power of this play is - it has to stay human.

Then onto some Shakespeare with Malachite Theatre's Twelfth Night. Shakespeare is always a bit of challenge for me because I am very familiar with most of the plays and this one more so because I have actually played Olivia before (It's funny, because even though that was 25+ years ago, I still remember the feeling of saying those words). I really liked how they created the world on the play inside the church - it felt very homey with the trees amidst the pews. My favourite scenes were with the Duke (Byron Trevor Martin) and Viola (Merran Carr-Wiggin) and the hockey stick duel between Viola and Andrew Aguecheek (Perry Gratton). I did want the show to move along a bit faster, and with a familiar piece like this, I am always in favour of a little judicious trimming of the script... I know, I know... not everyone agrees.

Then the marathon began:
- Onegin at Catalyst Theatre - a joyous musical feast which made the tragic Pushkin story celebratory and which invited the audience to really share in the experience! Definitely a highlight of this year's theatre season!
- Kill Your Television's Shakespeare's R & J at Theatre Network - Four incredibly gifted young actors told the story of Romeo and Juliet. There are only four of them (and a beautiful red curtain) and they're all men. This was excellently and creatively done. I did wonder if it said more in 1996 than it does today... but maybe that's a good thing because it says something about where we are now?
- Shadow Theatre's Slumberland Motel - My husband said, "I wanted to see more of Julian Arnold onstage, but this wasn't exactly what I had in mind." Not a criticism of the acting, but more a comment on Julian Arnold's lack of clothes for much of the show. A tale of two vacuum salesman and a mysterious woman in a crummy motel room. A but funny and a bit sad. I did think that the play didn't really start until the last 10 minutes of Act One, but once it got going it was charming.
- Cardiac Theatre's Listening Room - A post-apocalyptic world full of young people trying to figure out their purpose and challenge the rules of their world. I had serious flashes of The Maze Runner and Divergent and all those good dystopian young adult fiction works after seeing this and lots of questions about "what happened to the world?"
- Send in the Girls' Soiled Doves: A Burlesque with Boots On - Burlesque combined with stories of women from the old west. Favourite moments included a real stolen horse round-up and the ever-so-sassy Morgan Yamada pretty much anytime she was on-stage. It's always interesting to see how this group merges theatre and burlesque.

And then tonight I saw Love & Information - review here.

Next: the very busy February! 

The MacEwan University Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications presents Love & Information...

When you walk into the Theatre Lab at Grant MacEwan and take your seat, the show has already started. Actors engage with audience members, chocolates are handed out, I played a game with one of those origami fortune-tellers (I would be disquieted... learning this made me... disquieted), some people helped the actors run lines, one told us about her research... There was a lot happening and it set the tone for the rapid fire, multi-mini-scenes that make up Caryl Churchill's play, Love & Information. The show promises 22 actors, 100 roles and 57 plays centered around the themes of love and information. It's a good choice for the student actors, forcing them to shift quickly from scene to scene and to work as an ensemble as they tell these little stories. Director Dave Horak has wisely kept the pacing quick and the transitions sharp so that these little plays flip like pages in a book. The 90 minute show never drags and each scene seems as brief or as long as they need to be. The set (designed by Megan Koshka) is flexible and used elegantly, accented by cool mood-enhancing video projections (designed by Scott Spidell & Robin Ayles).

Scenes I enjoyed most (no spoilers) included a monologue about a red flower, a scene about a memorization technique, a saucy scene about puppy love, finding a lost connection in music, ex-lovers recalling where they have made love, a discussion about pain, cocktails and chickens, the nature of God, a recitation of DNA (or was it RNA?)... There were lots of great moments and fragments which made you wonder about love and information and whether love was information or whether information helped you to love.

Well worth a night out - take a friend and you will have a lot to talk about afterwards as every scene seemed like a jumping off point for a larger discussion.

Love and Information runs January 31 to February 10, 2018 at the Theatre Lab in Allard Hall, 11110 104 Avenue. 
Tickets are available here or at the Box Office. 
$25 ($15 for students, $20 seniors 55+)