Tag Archives: brian christensen

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.

 

Salute to The Full Monty

It’s a “Let’s put on a show!” show.

It’s a group-of-unlikely-friends ensemble piece.

It’s a divorced-parent story.

It’s a familiar tale about what happens to the workers after the plant shuts down.

It’s about societal expectations for men, and about how men and women deal when the men can’t live up to them.

It’s a show about the problems of sexually objectifying ideal bodies, but it provides generous opportunities for the audience to appreciate the physicality of the performers on stage, particularly if their inclinations include appreciating men.

It is, of course, The Full Monty. The musical version, created by Terence McNally and David Yazbek for Broadway, and produced in Edmonton by Two ONE-WAY Tickets to Broadway, directed by Adam Mazerolle-Kuss.

Six unemployed male steelworkers, each with his own insecurities, decide to make money by performing a stripdance show. Through several challenges (trouble recruiting, trouble learning to dance, trouble coming up with the deposit for the venue, being arrested for indecent exposure or something) and personal troubles (pressure to get a conventional job, child-support dispute, repossession of property, bereavement), they come to support each other and appreciate each other, and the happy ending is the successful performance. The story follows the movie version fairly closely, and adds singing, dancing, and two delightful new characters, Jeanette (Francie Goodwin-Davies), a retired show-biz piano player, and Keno (Adam Sanders), one of the Chippendales dancers mentioned off-stage in the movie.

The singing and stage presence of Brian Christensen (Jerry) and Ariana Whitlow (Georgie) were particularly impressive. The choreography was fun to watch and all the main characters were good dancers who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Carter Hockley, playing Jerry’s young son Nathan, was noticeably more impressive in the third performance than in the first. (Yes, I have seen this show twice, it’s a reviewer thing, hmph.) Like the other performers in the show, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Carter Hockley in future years. His flirtatious routine handing out flyers was especially fun. Dave, the soft-hearted character (“You cry at Wheel of Fortune,” Jerry points out) who thinks he is too fat to be attractive, was played with touchingly humorous understatement by Jordan Ward. David Johnson (Malcolm) manages the Sandra-Bulloch feat of starting out with such uncomfortably-awkward postures, ill-fitting clothes, and avoidance of eye contact that one does not notice until partway through the show that the performer is actually attractive. The other three dance-troupe members, Harold (James Toupin), Horse (Orville Charles Cameron), and Ethan (Greg Caswell), are all played by actors with lots of experience, and their comic delivery is as good as their dance timing.

I was pleased at the way the script dealt with homosexuality. Although some of the steelworkers display casually-homophobic attitudes in the abstract ( “those Chippendale dancers must all be fairies, because real men wouldn’t go to the trouble of looking like that”) and make various pro-forma jokes, the new romance between two members of the ensemble is completely a non-issue: “Good for them” says Jerry. Also, compared to the movie, there’s a little more set-up foreshadowing this development – in a first viewing of the movie it might seem to come completely out of the blue.

My one complaint – and I don’t know if it’s just about this production or about the musical in general – is that I found it a bit too long, with some of the talking-only scenes too long for what is needed to develop characters and mood or advance the plot. Georgie and Pam (Joy Quilala)’s conversation in the men’s bathroom, the vignette about neighbours moving out, even the conversation to recruit Harold while the ballroom dancing is going on – I thought all of them could have been shorter. (Well, I didn’t actually mind the recruiting-Harold thing, because I mostly just watched the ballroom dancers.)

The music was good. There was a nine-piece orchestra with a conductor who was not also playing the piano, and the sound was very well balanced. The songs that stick in my head include “It’s a Woman’s World” and the finale “Let it Go”. The opening song “Scrap” had an odd melody reminiscent of a Joe Jackson song (I can’t remember which one), but was not as good a showcase of the singers’ talents as “Man” (Brian Christensen and Jordan Ward) or “You Walk With Me” (David Johnston and Greg Caswell).

The sets changed among many locations (mostly only used once each), with complicated bits like a whole public bathroom, a car, and a fussily-decorated living room. But the rotating bits moved smoothly and everything looked sturdy enough not to distract. Each of the performances I saw probably had one minor wardrobe malfunction, managed with poise by the performer affected.

The final dance number set during the strip show performance met my expectations, and illustrated the main theme of the show about how sincerity and self-confidence make anyone hot.

Two ONE-WAY Tickets to Broadway’s production of The Full Monty is playing at Unithéâtre/La Cité Francophone until June 30th, except for Mondays. Tickets are, as usual, available at Tix on the Square, or at the door.