Tag Archives: musical

Little Women: the musical

One of my favourite parts of the experience of watching the musical Little Women last night was remembering bits of the story as I watched it happen on stage.  I didn’t love Louisa May Alcott’s book when I first encountered it, but I still read it over and over, like many girl-identified children of my era who read faster than my parents could drive me back to the library.   The best things about the book were Jo’s tomboyish-for-the-time outspokenness and determination, the genuine affection among the different sisters each with her own flaws, and the way the new-boy-next-door (lonely, orphaned, and probably with his own variations from gender norms of the culture) was welcomed and swept into their games and projects.  My least favourite parts of the book were the parts where Jo rejects Laurie’s romantic overtures but and then changes her previous plan of staying single when she gets to know Professor Bhaer.  I didn’t like the example of best friends and equals Jo and Laurie not being romantically suited, with all the March girls ending up with an older more powerful man (Jo with the Professor, Meg with Laurie’s tutor John, and Laurie finally getting engaged to Amy, the youngest of the sisters.)

The stage-musical version (book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein) and the Foote in the Door production currently playing at L’UniThéâtre enhance all the good things I remembered about the book and make the things I disliked less objectionable.  The sisters are wonderful together, different from each other but protective of each other and of their mother.  Alyssa Paterson is the oldest, responsible Meg, Ruth Wong-Miller is ambitious and impulsive Jo, Fiona Cain is kind frail Beth, and Natasha Mason is Amy, the whiny youngest at the start of the book who is transformed for the better when Aunt March (Stephanie Sartore) takes her to Europe and guides her into well-off cultured society, with enough money to pursue her interests.  I found it very easy to believe that Jo didn’t care about clothes and the rest of the family didn’t have money to spend on fancy ones, but I was still fascinated to see them take for granted movement in hoop skirts (including stomping  up and down stairs, sitting gracefully on the floor (Meg) and falling in a pretend tragic-death (Jo).  The costumes also fitted with a bit I remembered about Alcott herself being of dress-reform convictions and the March family not putting the girls in corsets.   Wong-Miller is well cast as Jo and has a strong singing voice.  Carolyn Ware (most recently Nettie in Carousel) is lovely as Marmee and Stephanie Sartore is very funny as both Aunt March and the boarding house landlady Mrs. Kirk.

Amy and Aunt March

Natasha Mason, as Amy, and Stephanie Sartore, as Aunt March, in Little Women. Photo credit Nanc Price.

The men in the show helped to reconcile me to the romantic pairings I had been irritated by as a teenager, too.  Stephen Allred as Laurie was an eccentric boy whose life was definitely improved when the March sisters took him in, and then a kind young man who immediately took no for an answer when Jo turned him down.   And although young me had disliked the book version of Professor Bhaer as old, boring, and bossy, Dave Smithson plays him with self-aware humour and without dominating body language.  The script says that he’s thirty-four (not so old), his literary critique of Jo’s stories seems more respectful in the stage version, and their engagement/future plan doesn’t feel like Jo abandoning her own goals for his, but as “give me a task!”-Jo moving on to a new challenge and Fritz embracing it.   Bob Klakowich is fun to watch as Laurie’s grieving and cranky grandfather transforms to shy Beth’s gentle benefactor and the proud supporter of Laurie and Amy’s wedding.  Adam Sartore’s part as John Brooke is small and less memorable, but the scene where he and Meg first meet is charming.

One pleasant surprise for me was the scenes from Jo’s imagination, in which the other actors perform as characters from her stories.  I loved how the sketches showed the maturing of her literary vision and ended up with a tale that was both credible as adventure a newspaper editor would pay for and satisfying to modern feminist sensibilities.  Fight choreography is credited to Chance Heck.

I liked the show a lot.  The pacing was good, some of the music was earworm-memorable, and the simple set (Leland Stelck’s design) worked for the various locations needed (the family parlour, Jo’s garret, the boarding house, Aunt March’s house, and outdoors. )  Trish Van Doornum directed and Daniel Belland was music director.

Little Women plays tonight, tomorrow afternoon, and Wednesday to Saturday next week (Nov 8-11) at L’UniThéâtre.  Tickets are available through both Tix on the Square and EventBrite, and there should be some at the door.

And now I think I will read the book again.

Alcott novels

The copies of Little Women and Little Men that my mother received for Christmas in 1945.

Five for one!

Laurie (Stephen Allred) pledges friendship and loyalty with the March sisters, Amy (Natasha Mason), Jo (Ruth Wong-Miller), Beth (Fiona Cain), and Meg (Alyssa Paterson). Photo credit Nanc Price.

.

 

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!

 

succeed-ensemble

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiddler on the Roof

The Holy Trinity Players just finished a brief run of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof, and were close to sold out.  They’re already planning to remount the show for Edmonton Fringe 2015, so you’ll have a few more chances to see this production if you missed it this weekend.  The play was directed by Morgan Kunitz with Darlene Kunitz as musical director.

Fiddler on the Roof, as you probably know, is the story of the poor dairyman Tevye in a small Jewish village in Tsarist Russia at some time period probably just before the revolution.  He and his wife Golde (Cindy Gaffney) have five daughters, some of them of marrying age but without dowries, so the parents depend on the matchmaker Yente (Gail Boutilier).  However, the younger generation makes their own choices, defying arranged-marriage traditions bit by bit (a love match!  worse, a love match with a Communist who gets sent to Siberia!  even worse, a love match with a Russian Christian and an elopement to be married by a priest!)

in this production the demanding part of Tevye is played by local lawyer Andrew Hladyshevsky.  I was especially impressed by how he made the very familiar material seem fresh and original, with delight and indignation arising equally naturally on his expressive face.  There’s a cast of about 30 people, managed smoothly on a moderately-sized stage at the front of the church sanctuary.  The sanctuary space provided for effective staging of scenes such as many households chanting the Sabbath blessings and lighting candles along all the aisles, a wedding procession up the centre aisle, a secret Christian wedding at the altar at the far (upstage) end of the sanctuary, and the exile/emigration down the aisle at the end.

 

Starting the year off with a SHOUT!

Over the winter-solstice theatre dark nights I had intended to post my notes on everything I saw in December, but it didn’t seem to work that way.  I’ll work through the backlog as I can, even though the busier schedules of January and February mean that programs are piling up again.

SHOUT! is a 1960s musical revue produced by Round Barns Productions, which played at C103 in early January.  Kristen Finlay directed it, and Sally Hunt was the musical director.  During the show, five young women in England (Leslie Caffaro, Nicole English, Kristen Finlay, Erin Foster-O’Riordan, Monica Roberts) move through the years from 1962 to 1970, with songs, dancing, and glimpses of their lives in that era.  They’re called “The Red Girl”, “The Orange Girl”, “The Yellow Girl” and so on, after one of those magazine-article personality quizzes (voiceover by John Dolphin), and the quick lists of traits are turned into five distinct and attractive characters by the performers.

A magazine called Shout provided a framework moving through the show, with the characters reading articles about 1960s phenomena like Twiggy, the Beatles, and the sexual revolution.  John Dolphin’s voiceovers provided assorted magazine content, and the characters also wrote letters to “Gwendolyn Holmes” a women’s-magazine advice columnist of the era (voice by Elizabeth Marsh) who responded to most problems with suggestions like cheering oneself up by getting a new hairstyle.  Much of the advice and other magazine content was terrible from a 2015 point of view (the cigarettes diet, the asbestos dress).

The music was great, mostly songs I was familiar with.  I loved the “Coldfinger” parody of the James Bond theme, “I Only Want to Be With You”, and “Shout!”, and the “You’re My World/All I See is You” medley made me cry.  And there was enough character development arc under the mostly-lighthearted show to provide satisfying outcomes for the characters “I got pregnant!”, “I got sober”, and “I got Penelope!”  Especially the one who takes over for the advice columnist.

Day seven: Rocket Sugar Improv and Dogfight

Sometimes a busy Fringe day doesn’t mean seeing lots of shows, and sometimes trying to do too many things in one day means messing up and missing the start of a show at a distant venue because of not remembering the right time or getting involved in a conversation.  I’m sorry I won’t be seeing The Real Inspector Hound after all, and I hope to catch Ask Aggie later.

Yesterday I started the day with Rocket Sugar Factory at the Telus Stage.  Improv partners Jacob Banigan and Jim Libby, based in Austria, come to Edmonton Fringe each year, and musician Jan Randall joins them and enhances their shows with playful piano and additional repartee.  The audience for the early show seemed to be full of people who had seen them before.   This year, apparently, they’re using a different improv structure in each show.  In the one I saw, they played a couple of stories, then after each they asked the audience to identify a point at which a character might have made a different decision, and then they showed an alternative ending.  One scene started with an audience member’s story about encountering a crabby lady in the grocery store.  The other started with suggestions that led to a group of teachers winning a lottery but misplacing the ticket.  One of the strengths of these two artists is the way that they will each create several characters with distinguishing body language and voice, and then the two of them will switch frequently among all those characters to keep the story moving along.   I particularly enjoyed Jim Libby’s portrayal of the perky home-ec teacher Caroline.  I also enjoyed watching the moments when one of them set up the other to do something difficult or awkward and the other did it – performing rap music, lifting the other person up, etc.

In the evening, I queued up outside Strathcona High School so that I could sit in a front-row chair for Dogfight rather than climb up the bleachers.  This was my second viewing of the Strathcona Alumni Theatre’s production of the 2012 musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, directed as usual by Linette Smith.  Most of the show is set one evening in 1963, in San Francisco, where a small group of  young US Marines has their last night of leave for departing for Okinawa and eventually Vietnam.  At the start, end, and intermission, there are also framing scenes showing the main character (Chris Scott as Eddie Birdlace) returning from Vietnam some years later and seeking out the girl he met that night (Emmy Kate Whitehead as Rose Fenny).

That one-line description could easily fit most conventional wartime-romance stories, but this one is different in some disturbing and refreshing ways.  Disturbing, because boy meets girl happens because of a dogfight, a competition among Marines to bring the ugliest girl to a party.  And refreshing, because the shy awkward nominally-unattractive girl Rose takes some control in the situation, calling the Marines out on their appalling behaviour in a way that makes the audience cheer, expressing anti-Vietnam-war concerns in a way appropriate to 1963, and telling him afterwards that she hadn’t been waiting for him.  I was also pleased that it avoided the period-piece tropes of having the young woman be coerced into sex and getting pregnant by a more experienced male partner.  It was clear to this modern feminist viewer that except for having been tricked into attending the dogfight, she wasn’t doing anything that she didn’t choose to do.  His contraceptive precautions were explicit, and his acknowledgement that it was new to him too won the audience over with a round of awws, while we watched Rose’s face receiving this unexpected but touching gift.

Emmy Kate Whitehead and Chris Scott both impressed me with the way they met the singing and acting demands of the lead roles.  Sydney Williams was heartbreaking as the streetwise prostitute Marcia and had a beautiful solo later as another character.  Kyle Thulien played several small roles (sergeant, drag nun, snooty waiter) and was spot-on as a sketchy lounge singer.  Gabe Richardson’s character Ralphie Boland was a nasty piece of work and Gabe added a swagger and a smirk that made me shudder.

The musical ensemble, under the direction of Matt Graham, was good, and the sound was well-balanced so that I could hear all the words.   The choreography was fun to watch and suitable to the story, especially the chair choreography (in unison, in army boots, by Scott, Richardson, Aidan Burke, Alex Aoki, Jordan Mah, Evans Kwak, and Michael Vetsch) and the impressions-of-war scene.   Jocelyn Feltham played Rose’s mother with gentle concern and no overplayed fuss.

There were two things I didn’t like about this show.  It ran overtime in both performances I saw, finishing at about 10:20pm rather than the published time of 10:00, and that is frustrating on a busy Fringe evening.  I don’t know whether a correction had been posted at the info tents, but it’s not on the Fringe website and wasn’t posted at the venue or in the program.  I will keep buying tickets ahead of time and driving down to Strathcona High School to see whatever challenging modern musical this company produces in future years, because they are good and they are local.  I would keep going even if the shows were three hours long.  But I want to know ahead of time.   I also didn’t feel comfortable with the stereotypical aboriginal character Ruth Two Bears (Olivia Aubin), shuffling and drinking stone-faced in buckskin and braids.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the portrayal in this production was toned down from earlier productions elsewhere, but it still made me wince.

Dogfight is, of course, sold out for the balance of its run.  Last year an additional performance of Rent was announced for the final weekend, but I think it was announced midweek.

Our show Sonder was not sold out the last time I checked.  We perform this afternoon (Thursday) at 4:00 pm, and Saturday at 6:45 pm.  We’re at King Edward School, an easy walk across a playground from the main Fringe grounds and in a neighbourhood with some free parking, and running time is just under an hour.

Kinky Boots!

I keep meeting interesting people at the theatre, not just in Edmonton but now on Broadway too.  Tonight I enjoyed some wonderful conversation about theatre and life and as a bonus, one of the people I’d been talking to pointed out Giorgio Armani returning to his seat after intermission.

Tonight’s show was Kinky Boots.  When the movie of the same name was new, I saw it and thought that it was pleasant, but just part of that subgenre with Full Monty and Brassed Off, where plucky English working class factory workers cope in a post-industrial world, and also bore some similarity to Billy Elliot as well as Full Monty in discussing how definitions of masculinity need to change in that world.

But I followed recommendations I’d been hearing from friends and from theatregoers I met earlier in the week here, and lined up at the TKTS same-day discounts booth this afternoon to get a ticket to the musical version of Kinky Boots, book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Cyndi Lauper.  And I was not disappointed.  I liked the musical a lot more than I liked the movie.  The two main characters, Lola (Billy Porter) and Charlie (Andy Kelso), both grew up feeling like they’d let down their fathers in wanting to be themselves, but both ended up using the skills they learned from their fathers in finding their own destinies.  I loved how the ensemble seemed credible as factory workers, men and women of a variety of ages and body types.  An article in the Playbill pointed out that the women at the factory gradually dress in brighter colours as they spend more time with Lola, which I hadn’t picked up on.  I loved how the finale at the Milan footwear show had everyone wearing different spectacular thigh-high boots.  And I loved the glimpses into design problem-solving, with problem definition (male performers need sturdier stilettos than the ones available for women), iteration (burgundy boots with a low heel are comfortable but not acceptable to the target market), group idea generation (Charlie and Lauren mostly), and prototyping.

The set was full of moving bits shifting around to be inside the factory, outside the factory, in various pubs and the drag queen nightclub, etc.  And there was some impressive use of conveyor belts.

Kinky Boots has been running on Broadway for about a year.  It won a bunch of Tony awards last year and is about to go on tour.

Having watched costumer friends struggle to assemble enough sandals to outfit the cast of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I’m guessing that the footwear will be one big obstacle to eventual local productions of this show.  Maybe MTI will rent the boots along with the books and orchestra scores.  Meanwhile – see it here.  It seems to be available at TKTS most days, for 40% or 50% off the face value of the tickets.

 

 

Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway

Book of Mormon was the only show I’m seeing on Broadway this trip that I’d already seen.  (I’d seen the touring production when it came to Toronto last spring.)  I loved it then and I loved it here. And I’ll definitely see the Broadway Across Canada production when it comes to Edmonton next season. The dancing was even better than I’d remembered and more of the songs had interesting choreography, even Hello! right at the start.  I was amused that the little bits of product placement in the Salt Lake City backdrop still included Tim Hortons (and I wondered whether this coffee shop chain is particularly successful in a city where lots of people don’t drink coffee).  Elder Kevin Price was Nic Rouleau, Elder Arnold Cunningham was Ben Platt, and Nabulungi was Syesha Mercado.  None of them were from the original cast but the show Playbill said that they’d all played or understudied in the roles elsewhere first.  All of them were good singers, actors, and dancers, and Nic Rouleau had a really great smile too.

I also figured something out which was probably obvious to everyone else who had seen the show before.  See, after I saw it in Toronto I looked at the headshots in my program book and realised the cast didn’t include any white women – but I remembered the scene with the missionaries’ mothers and fathers seeing them off at the airport, and the Mormon-history narrative with pioneer couples.  I couldn’t figure out whether some of the Black women in the cast had done those parts with wigs and I had just seen them as white, or what.  Well, this time I paid more attention – and the white men in the chorus of missionaries also play all the white women.

Again, I loved the staging and choreography of Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, for being terrifying, original, and pointedly ridiculous, all at the same time. The flamboyant / ironic choreography of the missionaries’ chorus numbers was also one of my favourite parts of the show.  Elder Cunningham’s names for Nabulungi definitely didn’t include Nanaimo Bar this time around, so that confirms my hypothesis from Toronto that the actor must have the freedom to improvise that a bit and change from show to show.

At the show I attended, there weren’t any real missionaries outside.  But as in Toronto at one of the Mirvish theatres, there were lots of souvenirs for sale, and lots of patrons who knew the show well.  And I’ll have to check my program from that production to be sure, but I think that possibly a few of the actors from the touring production that I saw might be in the Broadway cast now.  Otherwise, it’s unusual for me (with most of my theatregoing limited to Edmonton) to be seeing a good show without recognising any of the performers.  Perhaps that will change here too, since I hope this is not my last visit to Broadway.