Tag Archives: adam mazerolle-kuss

How to Succeed in Show Business …

Once again, I’ve been too busy watching theatre and helping to make theatre to write about theatre.  But I want to tell you about this one (which I’m working on) in time for you to go see it.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical by Frank Loesser first produced in 1961, and based on the satirical book of business advice written by Shepherd Mead a decade earlier.  Whether or not you’ve seen the musical or movie or read the book, you’ve probably seen lots of copycat titles, because it’s a memorable turn of phrase.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the latest production from local independent theatre group Foote in the Door Productions.  The company name is a tribute to Foote Theatre School at the Citadel, where company principals Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer met in a musical-theatre class.  The company began producing musicals at Fringe 2014.  How to Succeed is their second mainstage production, after She Loves Me, in November 2015.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is set in the head office of a big company in the 1960s.  The setting reminds me of Mad Men and of Bewitched, and also of some places I’ve worked in the past.  The protagonist, J Pierrepont Finch (Frank Keller, previously seen in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) has an unexpectedly-endearing mix of enthusiasm, kindness, and self-involved ambition.  From his initial hiring as a junior in the mailroom, he plays everyone he encounters to bounce upwards and upwards and … to bounce.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how this production (directed by Adam Kuss) illustrates and comments on the status of women in early-1960s office life.  “I’m no Cinderella!  I have eighty-five dollars in the bank, AND a savings bond!” declares determined and daydreamy Rosemary Pilkington (Ruth Wong-Miller) to her office-pal Smitty (Caitlin Tazzer) who wants a fairy-tale ending for Rosemary and J Pierrepont.   In one scene, men waiting for an elevator discuss projects and promotions, while the women discuss needing to reject sexual advances in the office – and that was written around 1961 (by three men, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert).  Executive secretary Miss Jones (Carolyn Waye, who has a joy-filled solo late in the show) wields some real power, and the naive-sexy character Hedy Larue (Kathleen Cera, also the show’s costume designer) also exhibits self-determination and solidarity with other women.

Company president J.B. Biggley is played by Russ Farmer (recently seen in Chess and in She Loves Me).  Farmer, a management consultant, gives a disturbingly-convincing portrayal of an executive who is not as competent as he thinks he is, stuck with a lazy sassy nephew Bud (Rory Turner).

The organization chart of this company is filled in by a strong ensemble (Trish van Doornum, Trevor J, Melanie Lafleur, Gerald Mason, Natasha Mason, Mike McDevitt, Levy Poppins, Emily Smith, Morgan Smith), creating recognizable and entertaining characters and providing the audience with delightful singing and dancing and snappy dialogue.  Choreography was done by Adam Kuss, and live music is provided by an ensemble of 8 led by music director Daniel Belland on piano.

Ruth Wong-Miller took time in a busy tech week to answer a few questions about the show and company, starting with how they find the musicals they produce:  “I am a huge musical theatre nerd. I’ve been obsessed with shows since I was a young girl, when I listened to Les Miz and Phantom on cassette (yes I’m that old). My sister and I used to watch all of the old classic movie musicals and see every show that came to town – it’s hard to stump me on musical theatre trivia!”  On people who have led and supported Foote in the Door so far:”We have had so many wonderful supporters including Adam Kuss who has been involved in our fringe show each year as a director (2014) and choreographer (2015 and 2016). I’d also like to name Barbara Mah as well; she directed our first mainstage She Loves Me last fall and she’s been a great resource for our company.  On this show we have an amazing group, from the cast, production team, and orchestra. The talent level is super impressive, the commitment is incredible and it feels like such a warm family.”

And what’s next for Foote in the Door?  “Carousel (May 2017) is a complete 180 from How to Succeed. It is a dramatic musical with some serious subject matter backed up with some seriously lush and classic music by the legends: Rodgers and Hammerstein! Performers will experience the opportunity to work with an amazing production team including Mary-Ellen Perley as Director, Stuart Sladden as Music Director and Sterling winner Ainsley Hillyard doing choreography. Audiences will enjoy it just as much as How to Succeed as they will travel with the characters on their journeys of romance and self discovery-and there are beautiful songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone!”

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens tonight in the main auditorium at Faculté St-Jean, 8406 91 Street (rue Marie-Anne Gaboury).   Tickets for future shows are available through tix on the square, but not for same-day/weekend shows.  Cash tickets will be available at the door  for tonight’s show, $25 adult, $21 student/senior.  Show time is 7:30.  On Sunday Nov 13th there’s a matinee at 2 pm, and the run continues Wednesday Nov 16th through Saturday Nov 19th.  There will be snacks and drinks for sale, including the obligatory red licorice.  In tribute to one of the songs in the show, there may also be Coffee Crisp.  If you’re coming tonight (Remembrance Day) the campus might look closed, but we will definitely be there!



Co-workers advising Rosemary on her romance: Natasha Mason, Emily Smith, Ruth Wong-Miller as Rosemary, Trish Van Doornum, Caitlin Tazzer, Melanie Lafleur (Nanc Price Photography)







Amazing things happened on the way to the Forum

This winter I have been helping with the Walterdale Theatre production of the Stephen Sondheim musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I’d never been involved with a large production or a Walterdale show before, and it’s been an amazingly educational and enriching experience for me.  I watched the directors and actors figure out the character arcs and stakes.  I watched the ensemble learn the choreography and marvelled at how well it fit the characters.   I learned to tape out a floor, to be “on book” for people learning lines, and to work out what props had to be where when.

There are so many aspects that have to fit together – so many skillsets that are all needed – so many creators and crafters and collaborators, all taking their jobs seriously but having a lot of fun making a very funny show.  Director and choreographer Adam Mazerolle-Kuss (current artistic director of the Walterdale) and the actors on the stage (eighteen of them!) have generated a set of appealing interesting characters who go through a funny story full of complicated twists and turns, with lots of opportunities for silliness, choreography, and memorable Sondheim songs.   I can’t pick a favourite character or favourite moment, because there are so many parts that make me laugh or smile every time (I don’t have favourite brothers or favourite students, either.  Even if some of them are reading here.)  Music director Brian Christensen and seven other talented musicians provide accompaniment.

During the rehearsal period, one of my favourite things about being ASM was getting to the theatre early and turning on some lights to see what delightful details had been added by the set builders and painters, designers and props master since the last time I was there.   And then the lighting effects began to be added in, and I don’t even know how that works but it became even more magical.

There is an apocryphal quotation about laws and sausages being products one should avoid seeing the production of.  I can tell you now that based on my experience on the crew of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, theatre is not like that at all.  The more I watched this show being built and helped to contribute to it, the more impressed I was with what we were creating, and the more I fell in love with theatre.  So I have two recommendations for you.  First, buy a ticket to Forum and come watch.  And second, if you like watching theatre, think about getting more involved.  Lots of theatre companies need volunteers for taking tickets and selling Twizzlers.  Community theatres like the Walterdale offer opportunities for involvement with productions.  Every theatre I know of needs money and needs word-of-mouth advertising of shows.  Take improv class! Take acting class! Take singing lessons!  Take dance lessons!  Try stand-up comedy!  Try storytelling!  Write a script and get it workshopped!  Edmonton has opportunities for adult novices to do all of the above.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum opens Wednesday April 2nd and runs until Saturday April 12th, after a free preview for students with student ID on Tuesday April 1st (that’s today!).  Evening shows are at 8 pm, and the Sunday matinee is at 2 pm. You can get to the Walterdale Theatre easily on the #4 bus or park nearby (the pay lot for Strathcona Market always has space, but you might luck out with a nearer parking meter.  You can get tickets at Tix on the Square or at the door.

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Photo credits to Douglas Stewart.  On the left, Kelsey Visscher as Hysterium and Kyle Thulien as Pseudolus, on the right Jordan Ward as Senex.