First there was Lend Me a Tenor, then Crazy for You, now from Ken Ludwig, and kicking off Theatre Aquarius' 25th Anniversary Season, comes the Broadway hit comedy Moon Over Buffalo, now on stage in the Irving Zucker Theatre of the du Maurier Ltd. Centre. in Hamilton. Directed by Aquarius' AD Max Reimer, Moon is a madcap farce not unlike Noises Off!, a zany look at life and love in the theatre. Theatre Aquarius is the first Canadian theatre granted a licence to produce this broad-stroke backstage antic, and, though missing the original Broadway talents of Carol Burnett, Aquarius' cast still raise the laugh quotient to respectable heights. Curiously, we seemed to be the only two people laughing during the many great lines in the first act, our fellow audience members inexplicably quiet, a unresponsive silence that was clearly having an adverse affect on the players. The second act produced a more cohesive laughfest, perhaps due to intermission imbibing.
Taking the show on the road was the life, love and livelihood of a generation of thespians earlier this century. George Hay (Ted Follows) with his wife, Charlotte (Dawn Greenhalgh), were part of this era and considered themselves more famous than the Barrymores. Unfortunately, a couple of flops sent them plummeting into repertory theatre where classics are performed back-to-back, city after city.
It's 1953 and the end of an era, as touring is no longer in fashion. George, however, says the show must go on, and with his motley company and crew are in Buffalo, of all places, to present Rostand's Cyrano and Noel Coward's Private Lives. Although he and Charlotte are obviously in middle age, a lack of cast and surplus of ego give them the plum, and young, roles of Coward's Elyot and Amanda, and Rostand's Cyrano and Roxanne. Theory and reality are shown to be two very different things when both plays are staged the same day with hysterical results. In typical farce style, Moon is told with typical twists and turns and a few near collisions, mistaken identities, comical misunderstandings, slapstick antics and a stage set with seven doors. Adding to the hilarity are a near-deaf mother-in-law, a couple of love triangles, an overly square weatherman - and a chance at stardom if Frank Capra can see them perform!
New faces and Aquarian veterans fill out the small cast headed by ragtag repertory company head Ted Follows, who is in fabulous form as George Hay. This accomplished veteran plays a drunk, always difficult to pull off, like we have not seen in a long while. He falls, bellows and cries his way though much of the second half like he really had a few too many...which is the whole idea. Follows' real life ex-wife Dawn Greenhalgh filled Charlotte Hay with bluster and bombast one moment, soft and loving kindness the next. It was a treat seeing these two pros acting together once again.
Supporting the two older actors was Anne Louise Bannon who plays daughter Rosalind. Her vast light comedy and musical experience brought depth and mirth to the already funny script, especially in her scenes opposite Follows on the Private Lives balcony. Other cast members are Sean Wayne Doyle (weatherman/fiancé Howard), Neil Foster (stage manger/ex-fiancé Paul), Ceciley Jenkins (little piece on the side, Eileen), Shirley Josephs (grandma Ethel), and Shawn Lawrence (Don Juan/lawyer Richard Maynard).
Reimer has assembled a top-notch creative team. Peter Hartwell (set and costume design) created the twin sets of Private Lives and Cyrano, which ingeniously transform into a grungy green room.
Moon Over Buffalo, while possibly not as funny as Lend Me A Tenor, nor maybe as successful as Crazy for You, is nevertheless an enjoyable farce highlighted by great performances. For tickets ($21 to $46) call the Theatre Aquarius Box Office at (905) 522-7529 or toll free 1-800-465-7529. It runs from September 17 to October 4, 1997
Gunmetal Blues is a clever,
classy mini-musical spoof of the hard-boiled private-eye movies
of the 1940s.
It's a show of Play-It-Again-Sam clichés, conceived and delivered so intelligently and deftly that the show appeals to the intellect almost more than it does to the emotion.
There's a narrator named Buddy Toupee who tickles the ivories at the Red Eye Lounge, "one of those bars in one of those hotels out by an airport."
That's Michael Rawley, last at Aquarius as the piano player in Billy Bishop Goes to War. He's a fine musician and a versatile character actor, very much the audience's Buddy as he noodles the plot along, plays a variety of B-movie cameos and shamelessly flogs his "Buddy Toupee, Live!" cassette. ("Not available in stores!')
There's a private eye named Sam Galahad, who stashes his fedora
and trench coat in the filing cabinet, keeps a bottle of bourbon
in the desk drawer and can hear, down the hall, "the unmistakable
tapping of expensive shoes on cheap linoleum."
Geoffrey Whynot plays him. And why not? He's a handsome, compact shamus in pinstripe navy blue and loud, loosely knotted tie who hides a vulnerable heart beneath the cynicism.
And he's got the choreographic moves when he thrashes his raincoat while belting the title tune.
Of course there is a blonde. Actually there are five of them, all played and sung by Paula Boudreau in an impressive display of versatility.
She first sets the mood as a mysterious femme fatale. Then, she's Jenny, the dewey, missing heiress with whom Sam, 10 years earlier, fell in love. She's also Laura Vesper, "trailing perfume like a whispered prayer," chic personal assistant to the murdered president of Wasp Enterprises. Then she's The Princess, a cagey wise-cracking bag lady And also Carol Indigo, the blowsy, sozzled torch singer at the Red Eye, who gives a one-woman audition on the slackly-phrased Blonde Song.
It's a neat package, sharply directed by Max Reimer on Jonathan Porter's gem of a corner set incorporating the Red Eye Lounge, Sam's office and distant models of Wasp Towers and Mansion Hill within a spider's web motif. Mark Schollenbeg's lighting adds 4 film-noir look. The red dress doesn't hurt, either.
Gunmetal Blues was born as a backroom cabaret at the Stratford Festival by actors Marion Adler and the late Richard March. Here, the snappy book is by Scott Wentworth, Adler's husband and fellow Stratford actor, with delectable lyrics by Adler and music in a minor key by California composer Craig Bohmler.
Last year, the three won the $60,000 first prize in an international competition run by Danish radio for a subsequent musical, Enter The Guardsman, recently performed in Lonedon's West End. Obviously, they're a combination to keep an eye on. Gunmetal Blues gives audiences a stylishly entertaining sampler for the next 10 days.
Bruce McCullogh's one-act comedy, The Two-Headed Roommate, is the second production of Theatre Aquarius' Stage Write Series in the intimate 128-seat Studio Theatre of the duMaurier Ltd Centre in downtown Hamilton. Directed by sometime-Aquarius-actor Neil Foster, McCullogh's endearing one-man play is a humorous and bittersweet slice of life that tickles the funny bone and explores the worlds of loneliness and obsession. And although sometimes sophomoric and profane (ushers will draw your attention to the warning sign before you enter the theatre, offering you the Mainstage production of Norm Foster's Sinners as a lighter alternative), Roommate indicates McCullogh's success with Kids in the Hall and elsewhere was no accident.
Ever had a roommate you despise? Whose personal habits abhor you? This is the dilemma faced by Guy, played by young up-and-coming Shaw star, Mike Shara. Guy shares his downtown one-bedroom apartment with a horror sporting a "meatless white ass" obsessed with game shows, who needs to "take a walk on the working side." His distaste for this unseen monster, a member of the "network of losers", is so extreme that we wonder why he hasn't given this freeloader the boot long before. During a night of insomnia we hear Guy's litany of complaints evolving into stories of other loser-roommates and eventually about his own anally-retentive, obsessive and lonely life, driven to hiding Oreos behind his drawers, lest the person who shares his space, breathes his air, "taking steps - and giving nothing," devour them. What is light, hilarious, and funny at the start turns somewhat cloudy and grey toward the end as reality sets in. Is Doug, the roommate, actually that bad, or is it Guy and his impossibly high standards that have set him on such a lonely course?
Shara brings his usual bounce and sparkle to the role, and although a short, 75-minute play, the actor succeeds in peeling away the many hidden layers of Guy. He is ably assisted by evocative sound (Michael Stewart) and lighting (Mark Schollenberg), with effects that send him to hell and back. The set and costumes are by Denis Horn, with thanks to Mr Used Community Appliances.
Anyone who has ever shared their home is sure to identify with The Two-Headed Roommate. The script is peppered with profanity, but it is integral in telling the realistic tale of this solitary twenty-something.
The Two-Headed Roommate plays until January 24. Tickets $17-24 available at the box office (905/522-7529) or toll-free 1-800-465-7529.
Theatre Aquarius recently opened William Gibson's drama The Miracle Worker now on stage in the Irving Zucker Theatre of the duMaurier Ltd Centre in downtown Hamilton. Directed by Stratford veteran Jeannette Lambermont and sporting a talented cast of actors, this fabulous team breathes fresh air into the famous stalwart and makes it their own. With this intensely moving and involving production, Theatre Aquarius has departed the confines of the merely ordinary and shot straight into the theatrical stratosphere of Shaw and Stratford. The production is of that high a standard.
This Miracle Worker may be unlike the high school production you remember from your youth. Lambermont's splendid version goes for the heart and soul as she unites the stories of two remarkable women: Helen Keller (Liisa Repo-Martell) and her teacher, headstrong Annie Sullivan (Shannon Lawson), a 20-year-old Irish immigrant from Boston. Afflicted at the age of 18 months with a virus now thought to be meningitis, Helen was left blind, deaf and mute -- thus cut off from the world. Her wealthy Alabama newspaper-owner parents (Terry Harford and Anne-Louise Bannon) engage Sullivan to educate Helen (who went on to get her PhD and lecture at university), who, now at the age of six is completely indulged by the family. Within this turbulent quagmire is discord between father and schismatic son James (Adam Brazier). Lambermont has the foresight and intelligence to gather these individual elements and interweave the relationships, sending us on an emotional journey of discovery, not only Helen's, but of all members of the family. Sullivan herself is fighting her own demons, being herself recently cured of blindness, and suffering guilt over her lame brother's death in her care in an asylum. It's a heady trip.
Gibson's play doesn't sentimentalize the remarkable story but seeks to meld Annie and Helen's relationship, warts and all, evolving slowly to a shattering conclusion. We see Helen as afflicted, and spoiled by her parents, but we sympathize with them as we evaluate what our actions would be. Lambermont 's inspired direction develops the action evenly until Helen's final realization of what language is. The famous pump scene does not pack quite the punch of the Bancroft/Duke film, but it does send the audience fumbling for their hankies culminating in a cacophony of nose-blows at the curtain.
Lambermont has galvalnized her acting forces and done a terrific job of motivating them to fully explore their characters. Lawson (Evie on CBC's Black Harbour) is simply stunning as Sullivan. She allows Annie's spunk and sense of humour to shine through without becoming an affectation, and when the times come to throw an emotional knock out punch, she does, quite literally. Repo-Martell has a tough job as Helen, conveying the sense of isolation and darkness of Keller's world, but she's wonderful in the role and doesn't go over the top as many other actors have a tendency to do. Shaw alumnus Harford portrays blustering Captain Keller with just the correct amounts of Southern pride, chivalry, and a father's softness, while Bannon, previously confined to comedic roles, proves without a doubt, that given a great director and serious theatre she can attain heights never allowed her before. Bannon proves herself from the opening scene, as she tenderly looks in on her ailing infant and suddenly realizes, with horror that resonates through the entire audience, that Helen is blind. Providing strong support and plenty of laughs is Jenni Burke as Viney the maid, while the work of Linda Goranson (meddlesome Aunt Ev) and Adam Brazier (Helen's half-brother James) adds depth and weight to the production.
Set and costume designer Sue LePage has created a double-decked Southern world as real as magnolias and mint juleps. The Keller house and costumes are as charming and polished as any we've seen. Her spectacular work is awash in the surreal lighting of Louise Guinand who sends us back in time with her marvellous use of colour.
This is a touching story of one child's miraculous journey. Rich and inspiring, it allows us all to see that we are capable of conquering our limitations. These are glory days indeed for Theatre Aquarius. Their Miracle Worker is an unforgettable experience, playing to February 28, 1998, Monday to Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. For tickets ($21 to $46) call the Theatre Aquarius Box Office at 905-522-7529 or toll-free at 1-800-465-7529.
We don't know about Elvis, but Sophie Tucker is alive and well, and has just entered the building! The duMaurier Centre in Hamilton, that is. Here Theatre Aquarius is presenting the world première of area actor/playwright Valerie Boyle's musical biography of the legendary last of the red hot mammas, The Sophie Tucker Story with Teddy Shapiro, and although not many of us are old enough to remember the vaudeville stage career of the ribald lady who was proud to be fat ("I'm built for comfort, not speed"), most of us will recall the adoration and admiration with which Ed Sullivan would bring her into our homes in the 1960s. By then she was 80, and the big, brassy lady would barely fit onto the tiny screen. Although her brilliant plumage and ever-present handkerchief (to make her hands look smaller) were muted to a flickering black and white, and her colourful language was further censored by the proprieties of the new electronic age, she still carried herself with a flamboyant style that wouldn't be approached again for a full generation, when Bette Midler arrived on the scene.
Boyle has brought Sophie Tucker back to life, in a swirling musical and comic series of vignettes both on stage and off, as we flip forward and back through time, reminiscing and foretelling as fast as Sophie's mind can take us. Throughout it all Boyle is accompanied by musical director David Warrack playing Sophie's accompanist of 45 years, Teddy Shapiro. All the old favourite songs are there, and Boyle can, like Tucker could, belt them out when required, but what you'll remember most is the racy stories that we never would have dreamed our grandparents could have enjoyed as much as we are - stories still not fit for family media today, and yet not a single word that by itself could not be printed then or now.
The show opens with Sophie on stage in London in May 1934, telling her famous stories about former husbands and current lovers, and in her dressing room immediately thereafter, as she scolds Teddy for imaginary miscues ("That's why I can never trust you enough to give you a contract"), and contemplates the command performance before their Majesties later that evening. But before we get to that crowning performance we will accompany her back to her 1906 stage debut in New York, relive her short-term career with the Ziegfield Follies, zoom 60 years forward to the Ed Sullivan Show, then whip back again to her entertaining days in a "house of ill repute." Boyle's act brings audience members into the repartee and on-stage antics, and the ad libs are as hilarious as the rehearsed patter. Noticing the youngest member of the audience, our 11-year-old son, Keith, she called him to the stage, announcing that she liked 'em young. The result is a roller-coaster ride of hysterical proportions, as real and natural as if you were actually watching the original acts over Tucker's long career.
Boyle's rendition of Tucker can be compared with the recent Jolson production, where Brian Conley actually "became" Al Jolson for his spellbound audience, an audience that did not necessarily have to enjoy the music of the era to be completely entertained by the star. Valerie Boyle deserves a similar world tour with her production.
The Sophie Tucker Story with Teddy Shapiro plays at Theatre Aquarius until May 2, 1998. Tickets are $31 top $46 and worth twice the price.
Disclaimer: Nothing here is "official." Everything is a composite of media releases, information supplied by or procured from the theatres by direct or devious means, or downright personal opinion. If you don't like what you see, blame us at Stage Door, not the fine folks in the theatres of Southwestern Ontario.