Tag Archives: aaron schaan

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

Kathryn Kerr, Stephen Allred, Ruth Wong-Miller, in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Photo Nanc Price.

My previous entry was about the Teatro la Quindicina quirky tongue-in-cheek period piece Evelyn Strange. And tonight I saw another quirky tongue-in-cheek period piece – Foote in the Door’s production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. This musical, by Steven Lutvak and Robert L Freedman, won several Tony awards in 2014 – I was actually in New York that spring and could have seen it, but I picked shows I’d heard of instead. And I got to see this production completely unspoiled.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is set in England in 1907. The premise of it is that Montague Navarro (Stephen Allred) discovers after his mother’s death that he’s distantly related to nobility, in fact being something like ninth in line to an earldom, although his mother had been disowned for marrying his late father, “a Castilian … and a musician!” All this information is provided by his mother’s old friend Miss Shingle (Nicole English), paying an unexpected visit. He sets out to meet his rich relations, hoping they will give him a job, but then temptation, ambition, and a series of very strange coincidences lead him to try benefiting more directly from being only a few deaths away from the title and the property.

His girlfriend Sibella (Kathryn Kerr) is a hilariously shallow and self-centred woman, but Montague doesn’t seem to mind, continuing to be captivated by her after she gets married. Meanwhile, he continues to meet various members of the D’Ysquith family, many of whom (all played by Russ Farmer) then meet untimely deaths. Most of them seem equally unlikeable, demonstrating various stereotypes about the turn-of-that-century English upper-class. The career do-gooder Hyacinth, seeking a novel charity that hasn’t been claimed by her friends and speaking of her prospective beneficiaries in appallingly patronizing terms, was particularly memorable. At intermission, I was thinking that I’d only seen one D’Ysquith who actually seemed nice, cousin Phoebe (Ruth Wong-Miller), but that maybe I should distrust that thought.

I thought I’d figured out where the rest of the plot would go … but it didn’t, exactly. And the plot twists of the second act delighted me.

My two favourite scenes were the ice-skating scene (who knew that graceful ensemble dancing – and some not so graceful wobbles by Asquith D’Ysquith Junior – behind some snowbank set pieces could so easily convey skating on a pond?) and the scene where Montague is entertaining both Sibella and Phoebe in different rooms of his apartment, The hallway set piece with the two doors, and the way Allred’s character uses it while he sings to play out wanting both women and trying to keep them away from each other, were just brilliant.

Set and lighting design were by Leland Stelck. My companions and I were impressed by how many set pieces shifted silently and rapidly behind the drapery to convey many different locations, particularly given that the production had relocated to Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre on Gateway from their original performance venue three weeks ago due to the flooding at La Cité Francophone. I think the OSPAC stage is not as deep or wide, but the ensemble of eleven never looked crowded. The lighting design must have been more challenging at OSPAC, which has a relatively low ceiling and doesn’t seem to have as many lighting instruments.

We also admired the period costumes including hairdos and hats (Betty Kolodziej). The members of the ensemble (Kelsey Voelker, Shauna Rebus, Lynnéa Bartel-Nickel, Jason Duiker, Aaron Schaan, Brian Ault) played several background characters each, changing costumes and accents as needed – my favourite ensemble bit was when they were all serving at a dinner, like in an episode of Bridgerton.

The production was directed by Ron Long, with musical direction by Daniel Belland, and an orchestra of 13. The melodies were catchy with some Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque rhymes, and strong voices among the cast.

Advance tickets to the four remaining shows (Jun 16-18 at 7:30 and Jun 18 at 2 pm) are available here and going fast. Door sales (if available) will start 45 minutes before showtime.

If you’ve already seen it, or you don’t mind being completely spoiled, this webpage reviews (and ranks) all the deaths, as staged in the original Broadway production.

Follies performers dancing, 1941 and 1971 characters

Follies, and other celebrations of theatre

Walterdale Theatre’s production of Follies, the 1971 Sondheim musical, opens tonight.  I was able to see a preview last night, and I found it touching, sometimes sad, and sometimes so funny that I couldn’t stop giggling.   As suits a show about retired showgirls, it has interesting music (under the direction of Michael Clark) a large ensemble cast, production dance numbers (choreography by Barb Mah and Alyssa Paterson), sparkly festive costumes with headpieces (Karin Lauderdale), and some beautiful solos.

The premise of the show seemed not unusual to me, the idea of middle-aged former performers reuniting before an old theatre is torn down, and reminiscing about past life.  What seemed more original about this story is the concept of the characters having shadows or ghosts or echoes of their former selves, living their 1941 lives around and in between the returnees living their 1971 lives.  In 1941, there were eight showgirls and a couple of young sailors, each identified as the earlier self of one of the 1971 characters.  As the reunion visitors catch up with each other about their lives and play out current conflicts, we see the shadows of their past selves dancing and singing and speaking about their dreams and romances and ambitions in 1941.

I can’t readily say what was my favourite part of this show.  I loved the song “Who’s That Woman”, led by Stella (Joyanne Rudiak), in which the 1971 women make it look hard to reproduce a tap number of their youth, blended with the 1941 women making it look easy.  I loved how the blue-grey playsuits of the 1941 dancers and the cold blue-tinged lighting (Brad Melrose) showed them to be memories, while the warmer palettes for the 1971 characters were often present at the same time.  I laughed hard at the over-the-top costumes for the fantasy sequences starting with “Loveland”.  I was moved by Carlotta Campion’s (Kristen M Finlay’s) triumphant solo about her existence and persistence, “I’m Still Here”.  And I was deeply disconcerted watching Ben’s (Gavin Belik’s) brash confidence in “Live, Laugh, Love” gradually crumble into a complete breakdown, while the spirits of chorus dancers flutter gaily around him as if nothing is wrong or he is a figure of fun.  Leslie Caffaro is a strong actor in the lead role of Sally and Aaron Schaan has an amusing cameo as Kevin the Waiter.

Same-day tickets are available at the door, and advance tickets through Tix on the Square.  Follies plays until Saturday July 15th.

follies 2

Monica Roberts and Leslie Caffaro play Phyllis and Sally, former roommates and rivals and friends.  Photo credit Barb Mah.

 


Last week the Edmonton theatre community celebrated the 2016-2017 season at the Sterling Awards Gala.  Productions taking home multiple awards included the Citadel’s Crazy for You, Edmonton Actors’ Theatre’s Stupid Fucking Bird, Theatre Network’s Irma Voth, and Impossible Mongoose’s The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Story.  But as usual, the night reminded me of the wide breadth of talents and passions and visions in the Edmonton theatre scene, amateur as well as professional, and I look forward to watching and discussing many more delightful and challenging performances in the future.   As usual at the Sterlings, the script was entertaining and the tech and stage-management invisible, making the evening go quickly and amusingly.


After Found Festival was over, I was still thinking about some of the productions I’d seen, and wanted to make some additional notes.

In the Admit One show In Shoes, the viewer is guided on a quick walk around a popular block of Old Strathcona, encountering various characters who all connect in ways that become clear.  Although I had seen all the performers in other roles in the past, I was never aware of any of them until the moment at which they figuratively stepped on stage to take over from the previous actor.  It was as if they were non-playing characters on Whyte Avenue, part of the streetscape, until that moment.  This fascinated me.  It reminded me of the TV show Being Erica, and how Erica often encountered the therapist Dr. Tom on the street, appearing as a hot dog vendor or bartender or pedestrian just as she needed him.  It also reminded me of some video game – I don’t know if it’s World of Warcraft or if it’s a common custom – where everything in the environment that the player can interact with has a sort of halo outline that’s lacking in other parts of the background.

On the last day of Found Festival, I was able to attend a performance of Before The River, a roving performance along the pathways by Mill Creek. Colin Matty, Shannon Hunt, Katrusia Pohoreski, Jameela McNeil, and Liam Coady performed an eerie folkloric tale from Ukrainian tradition.


And now it’s summer!  Time for Freewill Shakespeare and the rest of the summer festivals and looking forward to Fringe.  Enjoy!