Tag Archives: citadel

Mary Poppins

The first of P.L. Travers’ books about Mary Poppins was published in 1934, and I read some of the books as a child, taking them out from a particular old library branch that my father used to like.  The Walt Disney movie came out in 1965, so I know I didn’t see it then, but I probably saw it at a drive-in theatre in one of the early re-releases, and I think I’ve also seen it as an adult but not recently.   I don’t know which I encountered first, but I don’t remember being bothered by any inconsistencies in the treatments.

I saw an early preview performance of the Citadel Theatre / Theatre Calgary production of the Broadway musical Mary Poppins last week.  Blythe Wilson was in the title role with an appropriate combination of dignity and warmth, and Michael Shamata was the director.  It was a fun large-cast show with a lot of music and with fun things to watch (dancing, kite-flying, various stage-effect magics, and enchanting sets capturing the house and neighbourhood in Edwardian London), so I think it would be a better family outing than Christmas Carol, which is a little scary.  Young performers Zasha Rabie and Jack Forestier were poised and convincing in the roles of Mary Poppins’ charges Jane and Michael Banks.  Kate Ryan and Vincent Gale were the Banks adults whom Mary Poppins also helps to find more balanced happier lives.  Kendra Connor, a local actor who has been a favourite of mine in shows such as Fiorello!, Strike! The Musical, Nutcracker Unhinged, and The Minor Keys, was very funny in several small parts.

Because I’m preoccupied these days with learning the work of stage management, working as ASM on the upcoming Walterdale Theatre production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, (opens April 2nd, tickets here) I was completely in awe watching the smooth movement of complicated multi-level set pieces, some on a revolve.  Mary Poppins’ dignified descents and ascensions by umbrella had her in a completely upright immobile posture, which also impressed me.  In the early preview I saw, I think I saw one small delay probably due to a slow costume change and one wobble in the stage-magic, but they did not distract me from enjoying the show.

The underlying messages about valuing family life and personal happiness are just as timely today as when the books were written, and the story made me happy.

Mary Poppins continues to play at the Citadel until April 20th, but I hear that some performances are selling out.

“Did someone see me today?” the real question in A Craigslist Cantata

The show playing at the Citadel Theatre’s Club space until February 23rd is actually called Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata.  Two things attracted me to this show initially.  I’m fascinated by portrayals of internet culture, particularly affectionate perceptive ones, and I’ve always liked Bill Richardson’s writing on CBC Radio.  The writers credited on this show are Veda Hille, Bill Richardson, and Amiel Gladstone.  A third incentive was that I acquired a pair of tickets as part of an auction win at the Rapid Fire Theatre fundraising Date Night auction.

There were six performers on stage.  Barry Mirochnick was mostly playing the drums, and Marguerite Witvoet was mostly playing the piano, but everybody sang and most of the other performers (Qasim Khan, Selina Martin, Josh Epstein, and Bree Greig) played an instrument at some point too.

Basically, the show was a set of monologues and songs which were all sourced in quirky ads on Craiglist, the big classified-ads website – stuff for sale, stuff to give away, looking for stuff to buy, roommates wanted, dating ads.  The Craigslist category of “missed connections” is one of the most fun parts to read on the actual website, with people taking a second chance at trying to talk to strangers they didn’t manage to talk to the first time, and the show recreates lots of those odd attempts – the mugger who “really felt a connection” with his victim, the woman whose bus-riding companion “smelled really really really good”, and the man who was attracted when “you dropped your Bible and I saw your thong”.    One of the stronger musical and thematic pieces was the song where they take turns singing “I was the one who..” “You were the one who …” as in many Missed Connections stories.

It would be easy for a show like this to stay a set of disconnected skits/songs, but several themes or through-lines keep it tied together just enough.  There’s a reader who corrects the posters’ common writing mistakes.  There are a few re-appearing characters and melodic recurrences, and some interesting segues – the woman wanting to convince her husband his long-lived pet dove has died, then a comment on Noah sending out a dove from the ark, then a reference to Noah’s covenant and “our covenant with Craig”.

My favourite bits included “Looking for a metal head roommate for a metal house” and the song listing all seventeen varieties of penguins in alphabetical order.  The title song “Do you want what I have got” was rhythmically interesting because it seemed to be using the same device I remember from the Devo punk track “Are we not men? We are Devo” where the same syllables are switched from stressed to unstressed beats.  Is there a name for that?

The characters almost never interact with each other during the songs and narratives.  I didn’t get a sense about any of the ads ever getting answered.  And that’s consistent with the experience of reading Craigslist on line, because it’s set up with all the responses being private rather than having the option of starting discussion threads that others can see.  Without seeing any happy endings or contacts made, the one-sided stories told in the show come out feeling lonely, unsuccessful, and isolated.  The more significant question asked by the characters is not so much “Do you want what I have got?” but the other repeated question of the show “Did you see me today?”, as the characters are all seeking to find connection and acknowledgement.   While I found this aesthetically coherent and satisfying, I tend to feel protective when I feel like people are making facile criticism of internet life as inherently isolating.  Just reading the ads, or watching their staged versions, without getting to see the other sides of the story and the connections found, can easily give misleading impressions.   I know I’m probably preaching to the converted here, because most of my readers either come across my blog posts because I mention them on Facebook or tag them on twitter or because someone retweets or posts a link.  But in case you don’t already know this, not all Craigslist posts are unsuccessful, not all Craigslist posters are lonely losers, and not everyone on the internet has no in-person social life.  Not even close.

The Club space worked really well for this minimally-staged intimate musical presentation.  The acoustics are good, and the small audience is close.  The performers did not drop out of character before or after the performance to speak directly to the audience.  I don’t know why that surprised me – maybe because it felt like something partly between a concert and a theatrical presentation.   Tickets for shows through next Sunday afternoon are available through the Citadel box office.


A Christmas Carol at the Citadel

One of my motivations for writing up notes on what I see and posting them here during the run of the show is to encourage other people to go see the show, or to tell people enough about the show that the people who will like it will go.

But in the case of A Christmas Carol at the Citadel, I’m not sure whether I need to do that.  I had the impression that anyone in Edmonton who would like it has already seen it in previous years, and if they wanted to see it again they would already get tickets.  And when I saw it opening night, I guessed that most of the audience had seen it before, based on lots of them seeming to be anticipating the special effects that kept catching me by surprise.  I ended up seeing it closing night as well, and I can see why it’s such a perennial favourite with a long run every December.   It seemed to have a demographically diverse audience, some families with little kids, some families with older teenagers, and adults of all ages.  I wondered whether it was too intense or scary for some of the littler kids, or whether the story was familiar enough to them from other adaptations like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and readings-aloud that they could get past the scary bits remembering that at the end Scrooge isn’t really dead and neither is Tiny Tim.

The play has a cast of 42 with a lot of the adults playing more than one character. James MacDonald was Scrooge, and he was particularly fun when he giddily realises that he has time to mend his ways and change the outcomes.  Julien Arnold was the ever-grinning Bob Cratchit, and Eric Morin was Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  Belinda Cornish did Mrs. Cratchit very well, conveying warmth and optimism while damping her usual powerful stage presence and upper-class accent enough to be convincing in the role.  Many other names on the cast list are familiar local actors and instructors at Foote Theatre School.

A lot of complicated scenery is moved quickly and smoothly on the Maclab Theatre thrust stage, much of it while our attention is distracted elsewhere.  Some magical special effects delighted me just as much on second viewing.   The ornate costumes clearly conveyed the class distinctions and the era and were fun to look at.

If you missed it this year, I’m sure it will come around again.  But in the meantime, there’s going to be lots of other great entertainment at the Citadel and around the other Edmonton stages in 2014.  I can’t wait.

Two fun shows I forgot to write about, or, a Blind Date with Billy Elliot

In February I went to Rebecca Northan’s show Blind Date at the Club/Rice space at the Citadel Theatre.  I giggled a lot, but I guess I didn’t have anything pressing to say about it and it slipped out of the posting queue of my brain.  Like a real blind date, it was unexpected, occasionally awkward and embarrassing, and kind of sweet.

The show played last year around Valentine’s Day as well.  The concept is that the main character, named Mimi, asks someone from the audience to participate in the play as her date.  In the performance I saw, the participant was a very good sport and amusing fellow named Travis.  There were also several minor characters; I can’t find my program to give proper credits but my notes say they were played by Jamie and Christian.

I think it might be a fun show to see more than once, to see how much it varies with a different participant.  It would also be fun to do gender-flipped or with a same-sex date.

In late March, I saw the Broadway Across Canada production of Billy Elliot at the Jubilee Auditorium.  I was lucky that I hadn’t got an opening-night ticket, as the first night performance got cancelled due to some of the trucks of properties got delayed at the border due to the snowstorm.  The production travels with four actors taking turns as Billy, and two as Michael.  We saw Mitchell Tobin (age 12) as Billy.  The movie Billy Elliot, which came before the musical, overlaps in my memory with The Full Monty, Brassed Off!, and Kinky Boots as a genre of late 1990s-early 2000s comedies about working class people in England coping with hard financial times in creative ways – and the musical is the same story with an Elton John score.  (That reminds me – am I the only person entertained by the bizarrely detailed genre categories that Netflix comes up with as it tries to work out what else I’d like to watch based on what I’ve seen so far?)

The show was polished, fun, and touching.  There was at least as much wooden-chair choreography as in a production of Spring Awakening.  In one particularly surreal dance number, there was a chorus of striking miners and a chorus of police with riot shields, sharing the stage with a crowd of little girl ballet dancers.  The miners’-families Christmas party scene included some puppets like the Spitting Image political-caricatures.

I was disturbed that I had no recollection of the miners’ strike portrayed in the show at the time it was happening, even though background reading for the show illustrated its monstrous import in destroying coal mining in Britain.  And although the show illustrates the excitement and determination of the new strikers, and the persistence and sacrifice as they held out, later history showed their efforts to be as heartbreakingly futile as those of the 1832 Paris Uprising shown in the plot events of Les Misérables.

The Kite Runner

The current offering in the Citadel season is The Kite Runner, adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini’s novel.  I hadn’t read the novel or seen the movie, so the story had me biting my nails in worry and taking my glasses off to wipe off tears.

The story unfolds in mostly short scenes introduced and narrated by the present-day Amir (Anousha Alamian).  The setting moves from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s, to San Francisco, and then to present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The different locations and moods are quickly and effectively evoked by lighting and simple props, and by music.  Salar Nader performs original percussion music before and during the play.  I wonder if it was difficult to adapt this storytelling format for the stage, making decisions about how many scenes and settings and characters were necessary and figuring out how to keep both the observer and the immediacy.

The play program has several pages of notes on the cultures, languages, and history illustrated in the play, showing the westernised or permissive times of the 1970s in Kabul and the discrimination against the Hazara people by the ethnic majority Pashtun, contrasting with the modern-day Taliban regime and its brutalities.  The kite runner referred to in the title means someone who runs to salvage a prize kite after its string has been cut in a kite-fighting tournament – specifically in this story, the Hazara servant boy Ali (Parnelli Parnes) who grows up with the narrator Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant (Michael Peng).

But the crux of the story is universal.  There’s a situation where Amir betrays Ali out of fear, and then Amir feels horribly guilty about it and does worse things to push him away.  There was a heart-wrenching inevitability to that part of the story that had the audience gasping.  Much later, there is a promise of redemption, and a dramatically-satisfying return to Kabul, but it is not a story with an easy happy ending.

The story is also about the awkward relationship between Amir, a boy who loves storytelling and kite-flying but is clumsy at soccer and fearful of bullies, and his confident intimidating father.  Amir continues to feel like a disappointment to his father as he grows up in San Francisco and studies creative writing, but the closeness between the two of them gradually becomes more apparent as his father becomes old and ill.  Amir’s love interest, Soraya (Dalal Badr), is a smaller part of the story, but we see enough of her to see that she’s a complex character with backstory of her own.

The Kite Runner is playing at the Shoctor Theatre until March 31st.  I won’t write my thoughts about the later parts of the story and the outcome of the plot, because if you don’t already know it, you might want to see it without spoilers.

Ride the Cyclone!

I saw Ride the Cyclone last weekend in a preview show.  I wanted to watch it again before writing it up, but I also wanted to post fast to encourage other people to see it if it sounds like their kind of thing.  So I’ll make some notes now, but also figure out whether the budget and the calendar can manage seeing it again later in the run.

By that you can conclude that I liked it, but that it wasn’t simple.

Ride the Cyclone is a new musical, by the company Atomic Vaudeville out of Victoria BC.  It’s written by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, and directed by Britt Small and Jacob Richmond.  The premise is that six teenage members of a school choir have been killed in a rollercoaster accident just before the show starts.  The characters are actually dead, but they each get to sing in a competition to win a fresh start.  These six songs, plus conversations in between and some other ensemble numbers, make up a fast-paced 90-minute show.  One of the most fun things about the show is the wide variation in genre of the songs, with accompanying dance, costume-changes, and props, from gangsta rap to Ukrainian folkdance.  I’m pretty sure that if I was more intimately familiar with the canon of musical theatre I might have picked out homages to lots of styles, writers, or specific shows – as it was, I was giggling away at the part that reminded me of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, and was touched by the bits that reminded me of “Journey to the Heaviside Layer” in Cats.

The writing and the actors were good at making the characters different from one another and all interesting.  Shortcut characterizations were apparent from the start:  the gay boy (Kholby Wardell), the would-be gangsta (Jameson Matthew Parker), the kid with elbow crutches (Elliott Loran), the fat sidekick (Kelly Hudson), the perky achiever (Rielle Braid), and the mystery Jane Doe (Sarah Jane Pelzer), each wearing Catholic-school uniforms but instantly distinguishable in how they wore them.  But as the show progressed, each of the characters became more interesting and likeable and the ways they reacted to each other also changed.  The main reason I don’t watch the TV show Glee (despite the fun music) is that when I did watch I found the characters flat and predictable, fitting various stereotypes about teenagers and teachers that I don’t find either true or helpful.  But even within the limitations of a short musical performance, I thought these six characters became real and intriguing.  Kelly Hudson’s song made me cry.  Sarah Jane Pelzer’s performance as Jane Doe, the girl nobody remembered, was enhanced by a fascinatingly awkward physicality – nothing as obvious as a limp, but just a sense from her walk and gestures that she wasn’t quite connected to her body.

The narrative says interesting things about the trope of every kid being somehow a misfit with his or her own troubles, but it also shows some of the complexity behind the trope of growing up in a dead-end town.

A seventh character, represented by Carey Wass in voice and James Insell in puppetry, was the carnival fortune-telling machine who acted as the sort of MC for the show.

A four-piece musical ensemble accompanied them and contributed to the moods and the exploration of musical genres.  In the first few songs the music was a bit too loud for me to hear the lyrics, but this problem was corrected later.  There were also some video bits, most notable of which was projected not onto a backdrop screen but onto a white circular folkloric skirt extended by the character who was wearing it.

Ride the Cyclone is playing at the Maclab Theatre in the Citadel until March 10th.  Tickets are available through the Citadel box office.

Next to Normal

I knew I wanted to see Next to Normal as soon as a friend in California recommended it last year.  So when I saw that it was part of the Citadel Theatre’s 2012-13 season I bought a pair of tickets right away, thinking that for this show I’d probably want company.  Unfortunately a cascade of complications overcame all my would-be companions, and I ended up going by myself to the last show of the run.  I thought it was great.  I’d been listening to the Broadway recording for a few months, before the show.  When it looked like I wasn’t going to have company, I decided to protect my emotions by reading the plot summary on Wikipedia.  I don’t know whether I regret that choice.

My general impression of the set was shiny.  Shiny, and the opposite of cozy.  The play was set in Seattle, so sometimes there were shimmery metallic representations of rainfall seen out the windows.  Most of the scenes were in and around a two-story house designed by an architect, and the rest were in medical settings, so it made sense that the framework was all shiny metal trusses (probably they were polished aluminum and lit to look like chromium) and the furniture was all glass, chrome, and black leather.  When I noticed the lighting, it was on the blue side.  There was a shock-therapy scene emphasised by flashing lights which didn’t seem at all out of place in the rest of the set and lighting.   What we saw before the play started was magical – it appeared to be a lighted house far away in a field of stars, and then somehow it looked like that faraway house became the stage set.

I was prepared for the story to be powerful and disturbing.  But it was also much funnier than I expected.  The protagonist Diana, played by Kathryn Akin, was witty, angry, and very likeable.  The actor’s timing and body language showed the character in a wide range of mental, biochemical, and emotional states.  Her daughter Natalie was also easy to identify with, while the Henry character was mostly a humorous contrast and distraction.  I found the husband more self-serving than sympathetic, which certainly made the story more interesting than if he had fitted that stereotype of patient spouse.

The narrative moved quickly, with very short songs and lots of echoes and reprises, and not much dialogue between them.  The voices and orchestra were good and well-balanced.

The performance at the Citadel Theatre was a co-production with Theatre Calgary, directed by Ron Jenkins.