Tag Archives: musical

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

The Broadway Across Canada series of touring musicals makes a stop this week at the Jubilee Auditorium with Beautiful:  The Carole King Musical.

It can be described as a jukebox musical, a script written to showcase music that’s already familiar to the audience.  But it’s not like Back To The 80s: A Most Excellent Musical Adventure, a flimsy framework of time-travelling stoners reminiscing about a decade of popular music while musicians appear in a series of dramatic costumes as tribute to the varied original performers of the era, or even like Mamma Mia, an amusing fictional premise wrapped around ABBA songs that were never intended to tell one coherent story.  Instead, the songs in this production are used to advance the true story of the songwriters, Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, and Barry Mann (Sarah Bockel, Dylan S Wallach, Alison Whitehurst, and Jacob Heimer).  And it’s just a lovely modest story (book by Douglas McGrath, directed by Marc Bruni), watching Carole go from a 16 year old college student living with her mother (Suzanne Grodner) who hopes to sell one of her compositions to a music publisher (James Clow) to a successful composer collaborating with her husband on many hit songs, and then to a self-assured woman making her own way and singing her own songs.

The story starts in 1958 and ends in 1971, and it shows how things changed over that time for women, in the workplace, in music, and in marriage.  “Girls don’t write music, they teach it”, Carole’s mother tells her.  The costumes were great, gradual subtle changes in hairstyle and everyday clothing for Carole, plaid pleated skirt to loose A-line skirt to blouse and trousers, and fabulous performance outfits for the various singers and groups performing the songs.

Because, oh, the songs.  I didn’t really know, before this, how many of the pop songs in the background of my childhood were written by Carole King or by the other writers of 1650 Broadway, but I think I recognized all of them but one or two.   In those days, it seems that most pop singers didn’t write their own material, but were matched up with songs by the music publishers/recording studios.  The talented ensemble for this production had actors portraying The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva, The Righteous Brothers, and so on, singing the songs written by Carole King and her colleagues.  In one scene, the lead singer of The Shirelles complains to Carole about the arrangement of the song she’s written for them being too “country” in style for Black singers who are trying for crossover appeal.  The young composer acknowledges the problem and offers to reorchestrate to give them a more elegant orchestral sound.    The performing ensembles were great, but what I liked even better was the scenes where the composers and lyricists sing the songs as themselves while trying them out in offices or at home, with hesitancy and passion and what sounded like awkward ordinary voices.  And as in the recent Citadel production Once, when they sing it makes sense that they’re singing.

My favourite songs in this production were the ones I was most familiar with beforehand, I think.  “It Might As Well Rain Until September”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and especially “You’ve Got a Friend”.

The set (Derek McLane) shifted between scenes with smoothly sliding furniture and walls to create offices, a busy studio building, apartments, and a nightclub.  Walls and backdrops with interesting textural details reminded me of a Trevor Schmidt style.

I left feeling happy and uplifted, with the sense that the story had been significant enough to justify the wonderful music and general production value.   Carole King, as portrayed in this production, was a kind, humble, hardworking and compassionate person.  I felt glad that she’d persisted through the challenges in her life to find artistic satisfaction and appreciation.  And in an interview I heard this afternoon on CBC RadioActive, the performer Sarah Bockel said that she had met the real Carole King and she was just as gracious in person as the woman in the story.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is playing at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until Sunday November 11th.  Tickets are at Ticketmaster.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but oh so good …

The original Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was a 1988 movie with Steve Martin and Michael Caine.  I can’t remember if I ever saw it, or if I just saw the trailer in a theatre and got a general sense of it – a goofy story of con artists trying to beat each other at their shared game.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is also a musical, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, who seems to have a career of making unlikely movie comedies into musicals that one would never expect, such as Full Monty and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Plain Jane did this one last spring but I didn’t write about it) The musical is currently being performed by the local company Foote in the Door Productions.

I didn’t really remember anything about the plot or characters of the movie when I went to see it opening night, and I decided not to listen to the soundtrack ahead of time.  It was a lot of fun this way. I could immediately pick out the character tropes (Russ Farmer as the sophisticated English con artist and Trevor J as the uncouth American one, Melanie Lafleur as a rich gullible visitor to the Mediterranean resort and Zack Siezmagraff as a crooked French police officer who reminded me of Captain Renault in Casablanca.   But the plot had a lot of twists I didn’t anticipate, and both the storyline and the general character ridiculousness had me giggling a lot.   I asked director Carolyn Waye beforehand what she’d most enjoyed about working on this production.  She said that they had all laughed a lot during rehearsals, and she couldn’t wait to watch an audience enjoy the bits they’d already had so much fun with.

I was so caught up watching the interplay of the two con artists with their various marks and allies, along with some delightful dance interludes (highlighting Megan Beaupre, Julia Stanski, Tim Lo, and Andrew Kwan) that it took me a while to realize that I hadn’t yet seen the other Foote in the Door principal, Ruth Wong-Miller.  She appears later, as Christine Colgate, the American Soap Queen.  Both scammers see Christine as an ideal target, so they decide to compete for her money, the loser to leave town.

The songs had very clever lyrics and enough changes of genre to be interesting, especially Shannon Hunt’s “Oklahoma” and the cheesy rock ballad “Love is my Legs”.  Matt Graham was musical director of a nine-piece ensemble, visible behind sets of French doors and acknowledged occasionally by the script when characters called for changes of atmosphere, but never overpowering the singers.

This show is a lot of fun.  The two hours flew by for me, and the endings were surprising and satisfying.  Foote in the Door has tackled some more serious material (Carousel) and more complex drama (Company) – but I think it’s equally impressive that they pulled off this heist of a tall tale without a hitch.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is playing at L’Unitheatre until November 10th.  Tickets are available through Tix on the Square

scoundrels

Trevor J, Ruth Wong-Miller, Russ Farmer, Melanie Lafleur, and Zack Siezmagraff. Photo by Nanc Price.

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Russ Farmer as Bobby and Emily Smith as Marta. Photo credit Nanc Price.

In good Company

Russ Farmer as Bobby, Emily Smith as Marta.  Photo credits Nanc Price.

Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company shows us a group of friends in their 30s, five married couples and the single guy, Bobby (Russ Farmer in the current Foote in the Door production).

In a series of gentle vignettes, we see glimpses of each couple’s relationship and challenges.  We see that Bobby is friends with everybody, good company, as he spends time with each couple.  Harry and Sarah (Stefan Rumak and Melanie Lafleur) talk to Bobby as a way of complaining about each other’s habits (his drinking, her eating sweets).  He’s best man for Paul and Amy’s (Alan Cabral and Ruth Wong-Miller) wedding – or he would be, if they agree to get married.  Joanne (Kärin Thomas) enjoys flirting with Bobby and telling him about her past husbands while devoted present husband Larry (Joe Garreck) looks on.  Susan and Peter (Athena Gordon and Trevor J.) explain to Bobby that being divorced makes their marriage work.  Bobby smokes weed with David and Jenny (Simon Yau and Kara Little).  All of them fuss at Bobby about not being married and try to find out why he’s not married – and Bobby doesn’t seem to know either.

We also see Bobby with three love interests, naive flight attendant April (Victoria Suen, whom I last saw in Lizzie), Kathy, who’s moving away but says she would have liked to marry him (Alyssa Paterson), and Marta (Emily Smith), one of my favourite characters, who is wholeheartedly in love with New York City and with life.

And I should mention that it was fun to spot assistant director Gerald Mason playing bartender and what seemed to be a nightclub full of show orchestra members and assistant stage managers dancing in the dark.

It wasn’t the plot-heavy kind of production full of big character journeys and closure, but rather was full of lovely examples of longterm love and friendship and of people accepting who they are and being comfortable.  My favourite part was “Getting Married Today” in which Ruth Wong-Miller’s character has hilarious physical and emotional range in a wedding dress.  I also enjoyed “Side by Side by Side”, which was a great showcase of choreographer Adam Kuss’s contributions, and Bobby’s final solo “Being Alive”.  There are also many other touching and/or delightful moments which I won’t tell you about so you can discover them for yourself, with just one hint:  Trevor J. lets his hair down.

I admired how Morgan Kunitz’ direction integrated everyday smartphone use into a script from 1970 without looking anachronistic.

Company is playing at L’UniThéâtre until April 28th.  And if you haven’t been to the big auditorium at La Cité yet this season, you will be pleasantly surprised by the new audience seating, which is much more comfortable than the previous seats.

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.

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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.