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Canadian Stage
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Meadowvale Th.
Princss of Wales
Royal Alexandra

-... other Toronto

Players Guild
PortColborneOpera Georgian Festival
Theatre & Co
Theat. Ancaster
Theat. Aquarius
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Theat. in the Trees
Thorold Com.Th.
Touchmark Th.
Shaw Festival
Stratford Festival
-...other SW Ont.

Oshawa Little Th.
ClassAct Dinner Th.

| Gypsy |  The Constant Wife | Dads | A Streetcar Named Desire | Chicago |
| Cookin' at the Cookery | Foursome | Oklahoma! | Hello, Dolly | Into the Woods |
As You Like It | The Tempest | Confessions of a Dirty Blonde |

Some Stage Door reviews of 2005

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Confessions of a Dirty Blonde

Victoria layhouse Petrolia till July 23, 2005
Guest reveiw by Mary Alderson

Dirty Blonde is a door-slamming farce

Doors slamming, people yelling, mistaken identities, misunderstood language, a tight deadline, men in dresses, and slightly naughty jokes – all the ingredients of a great farce are found in Confessions of a Dirty Blonde at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Add to this mix comedic actors the calibre of Paul Brown and you have one very funny show.

I can’t divulge a synopsis of the plot without spoiling the fun. The story is set in an upscale hotel in New York City in 1962, when an aging, but still sexy, film star decides to make a come-back.

Paul Brown, a master of the farce, plays the snobby hotel concierge Russell Brocade. This is Brown’s first appearance at VPP, but he is well-known at Huron Country Playhouse for his hilarious roles in farces, such as No Sex Please, We’re British and Move Over Mrs. Markham. Brown was the original Cogsworth in Toronto’s Beauty and the Beast. His comedic timing and oh-so-telling facial expressions are always spot on and he knows how to make the most of every joke.

Joining Brown is an excellent cast, all of whom contribute to the comedy. Michael Lamport is a Robin Williams clone as bell hop Joey Burrows. Like Robin Williams, he keeps the pace fast and handles the timing of his one-liners perfectly. Lamport will be remembered in Petrolia for his TV documentary Off Stage, about Petrolia Community Theatre.

Greg Campbell shows his many talents, seamlessly handling a triple role, one with a delightful Irish accent. Susie Burnett as Rita Lamour has outstanding facial expressions and hilarious body language. VPP favourite Brian McKay is uproarious as the chain-smoking, drunken doctor in boxer shorts, while Sam Owen offers an exceptional portrayal of the has-been singing star who finally gets his voice back. Andy Pogson gives a quality performance as the frustrated manager Chick Lipton, who tries to get everyone’s cooperation but is never able to pull it all together. Pogson will be remembered for his clever work in Thumbs at VPP last summer, when he played the bumbling sidekick with the New England accent.

Credit for the direction goes to VPP’s artistic director Robert More, and kudos to Ivan Brozic for creating a 5-star set.

While Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore’s story line simply follows that of the traditional farce, their use of language is clever. Whenever the words penis and pianist get mixed up, there are bound to be laughs. VPP’s production of Confessions of a Dirty Blonde is great summer fare, if you’re just looking for fun.

Confession of a Dirty Blonde continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 23. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 11, 2005.
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Playhouse Artistic Director presents his own work

Robert More has kicked off his second season as artistic director of Victoria Playhouse Petrolia with a musical of his own creation. As author of both the book and the musical lyrics of “Dads”, More knew this would be a ‘fun’ way to start the summer fare.

“Dads” is the story of three new fathers – each a bit of a caricature, but that’s what makes the many laughs. There’s the yuppie-type business dad, the hard-hatted construction-worker dad, and the proper professor dad. All three fathers are thrust into unemployment and end up staying at home with the new babies, while their wives go back to work. Of course, chaos ensues when the new dads are stretched and stressed about being stay-at-home “moms”, while pretending everything’s under control and it’s all OK.

And here’s where the fun begins – each man has a very different wife, but they are all played by the same actress, Desirée Beausoleil. If nothing else, this production is entertaining, just by watching Beausoleil change characters and costumes. In addition to the three wives, she plays a doctor, a psychiatrist, a flamenco dancer and many others, too numerous to mention. The wives are “real”, while the other characters are basically figments of the various dads’ imaginations. Kudos to Beausoleil for keeping all her parts straight and pulling off the attitudes and accents.

Eddie Glen excels as the mild professor dad, who really wants to be a stud in the bedroom. Glen steals the spotlight (which wasn’t an easy feat on opening night… more about that later) with his over-the-top faces and oh-so-sexy dance moves very reminiscent of Mike Myers as Austin Powers. You’ll recognize Glen from his current TV ad promoting Casino Rama. He’s an area favourite, playing Sancho in Man of LaMancha, last summer’s hit at Huron Country Playhouse, and Charlie Brown at the Grand Theatre a few years ago.

Mike Nadajewski (who played Laurie in VPP’s Christmas show, Little Women) is the construction dad. Laughs abound in the testosterone song, where he is concerned about his manhood, while his wife works as a waitress in a country and western bar.

David Rosser is the slightly snobby business dad, who used to be a gourmet cook. When he can no longer find time to cook and won’t admit he’s overwhelmed with the baby’s care, he starts ordering in gourmet dinners. It is delightful to watch Rosser’s transition as he learns to accept reality.

Choreographer Amy Wright deserves credit for taking three men (not matching in size or demeanour) and making them into a chorus. The song and dance numbers, with themes such as colicky babies, are hilarious.

Unfortunately, technical difficulties marred opening night. A thunderstorm just before curtain time caused the electrical power to blink and the lighting program was apparently erased from the computerized system. The house lights were left on for the performance, and a spotlight was aimed on the stage, so the audience was unable to enjoy the planned lighting and didn’t get the full effect of the lit children’s building blocks. Obviously this will be fixed before further productions.

“Dads” continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 11. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Mary Alderson, a resident of Strathroy, offers her view of area theatre on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who currently teaches business plan writing.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


book by Arthur Laurents
music by Jule Styne
lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Apr 12 - Oct 30, 2005 Shaw Festival
, Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

(James Wegg's reveiw also follows this)

"Let Her Entertain You"

“Gypsy” is a star vehicle and there is no point in staging it, as Stratford did in 1993, without one. The Shaw Festival does have a star and it’s Nora McLellan in a role she was born to play. Not only is McLellan superb but so is the entire supporting cast making this the one musical to see in Ontario this summer.

Besides a vibrant score by Jule Styne and razor-sharp lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest strengths of this 1959 musical is the strong book by Arthur Laurents. In adapting the memoirs of famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (1911-1970) for the stage, he realized that the most interesting character was not Gypsy but her mother Rose. In focussing on Rose as the archetypal stage mother, Laurents created one of the most complex female characters in the American musical. As she tries to make her favourite daughter Baby June a star, she faces set-back after set-back with a combination of scheming and boundless optimism. When June runs off to be married with the dancer Tulsa, Mama Rose sets her sights on Louise, the daughter she had always thought untalented.

Nora McLellan has the full measure of this role, both as an actor and as a singer. She shows from the very first that Mama Rose is seeking stardom by proxy. After June has run off, McLellan’s Rose turns with a chilling, vampire-like glint toward Louise as another source for her sustenance. McLellan does not try to gloss over Rose’s favoritism and manipulation of her daughters to make them seem admirable. When Rose accedes to Louise’s desire to become a stripper, we feel Rose has hit a new low. Rose’s optimism is also a form of self-deception and pushes away people who love her like June and the manager Herbie. Yet, her self-deception and ignorance of her own motives are the flaws that make her sympathetic. McLellan plays the role with the kind of detail one seldom sees in musicals nowadays. She mines the character deeply and reveals all the contradictions that make Rose who she is. On the acting level alone, it is a powerful performance.

But McLellan can also sing and Rose has some of the most famous showtunes in Broadway history: “Some People”, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, “Small World”. McLellan masterfully handles the finale “Rose’s Turn” beginning in a rage of anger against Louise but subtly shifting it toward herself as she finally comes to realize her delusion in thinking that promoting her daughters’ fame was a selfless action. Though they were written for famous “belter” Ethel Merman, McLellen does not belt out the songs but sings them. In this way she combines even in song the hard edge and the vulnerability that make Rose a fascinating figure.

McLellan is surrounded by a very strong cast. Trish Lindstrom is the spoiled, petulant June and Julie Martell the neglected Louise. Martell makes Louise’s pain and subjection so real, it’s hard to forget them as we’re asked to when she rises to fame as Gypsy Rose Lee. Martell never fully dominates the stage as Gypsy by the end of her transformation during scene 4 of Act 2. Her portrait of the pampered, French-speaking star is unconvincing but then this is also the weakest part of the book.

Ric Reid puts in a fine performance as an ordinary guy sucked into Rose’s showbiz whirl against his will and frustrated by her pursuit of a pointless dream. Triple-threat Jeff Lillico is excellent as the dancer Tulsa who wins June’s heart. He delivers “All I Need Is the Girl” with panache but choreographer Valerie Moore should have supplied him with a showier routine. Among the performers Louise meets at the burlesque house in Wichita, Lisa Horner as Tessie Tura looks delightfully decrepit in her skimpy sequined outfit and makes the clichéd tart with a heart seem fresh. Gabrielle Jones is a brash, big-boned, big-voiced Mazeppa, who steals the number “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” making Patricia Vanstone’s lightbulb-studded Electra look timorous by comparison.

In smaller roles, William Vickers is suitably repulsive as kiddie-show host Uncle Jocko and imperious as the theatre owner Mr. Goldstone. Bernard Behrens has a memorable cameo has Rose’s crotchety Pop. And Kate Hennig is Mr. Goldstone’s harpy-like secretary Mrs. Cratchitt. Hennig also plays Rose for certain designated performances of “Gypsy”. Having seen her outstanding performance in “The Danish Play” in Toronto in 2002, I have no doubt her interpretation of Rose will be fascinating.

Director Jackie Maxwell and set designer Peter Hartwell have decided that since so much of the musical takes place in theaters--on stage, backstage, in dressing rooms, managers’ offices, in nearby alleys--that the metaphor of theatre should extend to the whole work. Thus the stage is bare to the back wall except for what look like unused flats piled against it stage left and right. Sets on wheels for some scenes with their own painted backdrops are pushed in from the wings with the void of the bare stage around them. Doors are set in doorframes without walls. The production emphasizes both the idea of theatre as making something out of nothing and Rose’s personal view of the world as nothing but theatre. Judith Bowden’s costumes for Baby Rose’s children’s numbers and for the burlesque queens look authentically and amusingly home-made. Kevin Lamotte’s lighting recreates the lighting, from haphazard to sophisticated, that one would see in the wide range of theatres Rose and her daughters visit.

“Gypsy” marks the first time the Shaw Festival has ever staged a musical in its Festival Theatre. Unfortunately, unlike the musicals at the Royal George, “Gypsy” is miked but at least the volume is not set to the unnaturally high level one encounters on Broadway. The Shaw’s usual chamber-sized band has been augmented to thirteen. Even so it doesn’t really have the necessary heft, especially in the strings, that the show needs. That lack, however, is more than made up for by the magnificent Nora McLellan. It’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing her performance.

©Christopher Hoile

Stripping down to excellence
by S. James Wegg (05/08/05)

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Whether by chance or design, scheduling the opening of Gypsy to coincide with Mother’s Day weekend seemed just another stroke of brilliance by The Shaw Festival’s production team that also chose this mother-daughter musical as the first such offering in the Festival Theatre.  The artistic and logistical gamble has paid off like, well, “everything coming up cherries” at the sumptuous modern-day “dens of iniquity” just down the river.  If you have but one chance to catch a show at The Shaw this year, look no further and snap up any remaining seats for the hottest ticket on the peninsula. 

Reviews like these are both rare and a pleasure to write.  Q.:  Why is the report so glowing?  A:  Nora McLellan.  From her opening “Sing out, Louise!” stage-mother admonition of her under-loved daughter to their poignant reunion on a stage as bare as a stripper’s “big finish,” McLellan drives the show harder than Rose’s ambition and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the demanding part’s earlier practitioners:  Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly.  Each of those womennotably Merman’s unmatchable voicebrought a different set of talents to the obsessive character’s need to produce a star at any cost; McLellan, with her big voice, know-your-limits dance skills, and mastery of gesture, beats and tone serves up an overbearing, tactless, egomaniac persona that captures every heart in the room. 

But even Rose can’t do everything.  Director Jackie Maxwell has fashioned a production that has zip, zest and flare.  The transitions are spectacularthe aging-by-strobe-light sequence an early gemand there’s seldom a dull moment as the show moves relentlessly forward.  The full-steam-ahead propulsion is aided considerably by Valerie Moore’s stellar choreography.  Whether the kids are on tap, or their elders swinging Mr. Goldstone (William Vickers, who revs up convincing jazz hands of his own), the production numbers sizzle at every turn. 

But there’s nothing finer on the dance card than Tulsa’s (Jeff Lillico) solo in a Buffalo back alley.  In “All I Need is the Girl,” Lillico first pays his respects to dancers past then “takes stage” with a routine that was as carefully crafted as its deliverywhy not build a show around this?!

In the pit, conductor/adapter Paul Sportelli kept his merry band on the rails with only a few over-active syncopations and suspect stratospheric string lines marring the way.  However, with reduced orchestration (for both reasons of economics and physical space), it is to wonder why any sound reinforcement was used above or below the stage.  With such a huge pool of natural ability at hand, it would be fascinating to hear the show without the “benefit” of modern technology. 

The design triumvirate of Peter Hartwell (sets), Judith Bowden (costumes) and Kevin Lamotte (lighting) have conjured up magical effects that are worth the price of admission alone.  Who will forget “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” where the three strippers strut their, er, stuff:  Mazeppa’s (Gabrielle Jones) Wagnerian breast cones; Tessie’s (Lisa Horner) misfiring g-string and Electra’s (Patricia Vanstone) flashing body bulbs that bring new meaning to “Show Me the Way Home?” 

W.C. Fields would have hated this show:  too many scene-stealing kids and, yes Virginia, live animalsbut he’d be the only one.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Constant Wife

by W. Somerset Maugham, directed by Neil Munro
Shaw Festival, Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
May 6-October 9, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

"A Constant Delight"

“The Constant Wife” is one of the joys of the Shaw Festival’s 2005 season. This 1926 drawing room comedy by W. Somerset Maugham has mysteriously come into vogue this year with productions in at least four other North American cities including New York, yet the Shaw production is so ideally cast, directed and designed it is hard to imagine how it could be bettered. Those who know Maugham (1874-1965) only from such novels as “The Razor’s Edge” (1944) and “Of Human Bondage” (1915), will be surprised at how effervescent this comedy is. “The Constant Wife” combines Shaw’s unromantic analysis of marriage as an economic contract with with a sparkling of bon mots worthy of Oscar Wilde.

The constant wife of the title is Constance Middleton, wife of John, a Harley Street surgeon, for 15 years. Constance’s mother and sister, Mrs. Culver and Martha, are in a state because it has become so blatantly obvious that John is having an affair with Constance’s best friend, Marie-Louise. Barbara, another friend, also knows about it. Indeed, it seems everybody but Constance knows and the major concern is who should tell her. The big twist to this typical plot set-up is that Constance not only already knows about John but she has known from the very beginning and, to everyone’s consternation, she also doesn’t care. To top it off she believes that to behave in any other way than she does would not be a load of sentimental rubbish. Meanwhile, the tall, dark, handsome and wealthy Bernard Kersal, who has always loved Constance, has returned from the Far East for a year. He wants Constance to go away with him. The question is “How will she respond?”

The play fizzes with humour, most of it derived from the frustration of those who surround Constance with her refusal to play the clichéd part of the injured wife. The more composed she appears, the more upset they become. Worse, they find her views deeply shocking that marriage without love is little more than legalized prostitution. We, too, sit in delighted amazement that a character in a 1926 play should dissect the nature marriage so thoroughly and dispassionately.

As Constance, Laurie Paton is a marvel. The difficulty of the role is that Constance does not change. She has a fixed, rational, internally consistent set of beliefs whose full extent is gradually revealed during the course of the action. The trick is to give Constance an allure that will fascinate for the three acts of the play. That is precisely what Paton does. Paton’s absolute composure and demeanour suggest a goddess in human guise who finds the petty, sentimental concerns mortals infinitely amusing. Paton frequently adopts the archaic smile of pre-classical art signifying a satisfaction and knowledge that go beyond the merely human. Yet, when Constance is alone with Bernard, her sole philosophical equal, Paton glows with warmth.

The rest of the cast is flawless. Patricia Hamilton is Constance’s old fogeyish mother so upset by the situation she gets caught up in her own cant. As Constance’s sister Martha, Catherine McGregor moves about the stage with feline calculation, her “concern” for Constance clearly one of malice rather sisterly affection. Glynis Ranney plays Marie-Louise as a teary, empty-headed ninny, making John’s impulse to adultery look even worse. In contrast, Wendy Thatcher’s Barbara is sturdy, tough-minded businesswoman.

Blair Williams is in fine form as John, who is more bewildered than anyone at Constance’s matter-of-fact attitude. John’s thinking, both in terms of marriage and in love affairs, is so conventional it’s laughable, especially when faced with Constance’s subversive views. Peter Krantz will certainly set hearts aflutter as Bernard, a portrait of real, enduring romantic love in total contrast with John’s frivolity. He is a perfect match for Constance, as secure in his love as she is in rationality. Michael Ball has an enjoyable cameo as Marie-Louise’s ranting husband, Mortimer, his bluster showing he’s as foolish as she is. Al Kozlik is Middletons' unflappable butler Bentley.

Neil Munro has directed with a keen sense of detail. Its pacing is taut but not so brisk as to blunt Maugham’s crescendo of surprising barbs. The action takes place in a very smart drawing room designed by William Schmuck and enhanced by Andrea Lundy’s subtle lighting. Schmuck’s 1920s costumes are stylishly unfussy except, appropriately enough, for the artistic Barbara, who is an interior decorator.

A 1920s comedy focussing as it does on women, the conventions of marriage and the return of a former lover, “The Constant Wife” begs comparison with Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels” of 1925, now playing at the Stratford Festival. “Fallen Angels” is very funny but also very fluffy, a wonderful vehicle for two seasoned actresses but hardly Coward’s greatest work. “The Constant Wife”, on the other hand, is that rare comedy that is both very funny but also thought-provoking. In fact, it is no less than a comedic updating of Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. The play is such an eye-opener, let’s hope “The Constant Wife” is the beginning of a Maugham series at the Shaw.

©Christopher Hoile


Somerset Maugham's

The Constant Wife

Shaw Festival, Apri 1-Oct 9, 2005
Stage Door Guest Review by S. James Wegg (05/07/05)
Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Maugham is a constant pleasure

“Our love was like a crossword puzzle in which we both hit upon the last word at the same moment.” -        Constance, Act II 

True humour is alive and well and effervescing in the Royal George Theatre until October 9.  Those lucky enough to have tickets are in for an evening filled with wry observations (Mrs. Culver:  “I’ve always noticed that the questions that really don’t need answering are the most difficult to answer.”), dry wit and laugh-out-loud jokes that have been tickling funny bones for nearly eight decades.  Better still, (and unlike so much of what passes for humour in contemporary theatre, film and television), four letter words, bathroom jokes and stereotypical gay characters are relegated to the wings for their never-coming cues. 

For three acts—all framed in William Schmuck’s magnificent “Italian” set—Maugham pillories privileged-class mores, marriage and love.  The master of human nature provides baskets of lines for the protagonists (ably lead by Laurie Paton’s Constance) and interminable introductions for Bentley, the stoic butler (presented with panache, flair and quiet dignity by Al Kozlik).  But the prolific writer also lobs commonplace words—fertilizer and toothbrush become triggers of merriment—into the script, which brilliantly unleash tears-in-your-eyes laughter as they resonate timelessly with our shared experience. 

However, if the playwright’s genius is to be fully exposed, then the ensemble’s timing, body language, beats and rhythm must also be seamlessly combined.  This cast was most certainly up to the task.  In his delightful portrayal of the adulterous John Middleton, Blair Williams gallantly led the way.  The Shaw veteran’s delivery was near-perfect—daring his colleagues to keep up; his speaking tone and facial range were also spot on—he’d be an excellent choice to play John Cleese when his turn comes round on Biography.  As his rival Bernard Kersal, Peter Krantz was all sweetness and charm, but it fell to the women to carry the show. 

Once she found her tempo, Patricia Hamilton produced a totally convincing daughter-weary Mrs. Culver.  Surprisingly, her youngest, Catherine McGregor as Martha, delivered the part in a pastel hue that seemed at odds with the primary timbres of her colleagues.  Wendy Thatcher—foreshadowing Designing Women—was all business as Barbara Fawcett and Michael Ball was convincingly blusterous in his scene-stealing metamorphosis from outraged husband to forgiveness-begging wimp. 

Paton soared through the script and imbued savvy confidence in every scene.  Once she and her talented colleagues find their collective flow, the few remaining bumps will vanish and leave the audience wondering “Where did the time go?” 

Throughout it all, Neil Munro brought his trademark surety and style to bear in a manner that kept his charges both challenged and inspired.  The act-opening cameo shots, like sepia miniatures, a deft touch; the choice of Dick Hyman’s Forgotten Dreams – Archives of Novelty Piano (which triggered an echo of Gabriel Pierné’s Marche des Petits Soldats de Plomb) entirely apt, but the casts’ real-time “tinkling” of the grand piano’s “ivories” grated in comparison:  cover the keys please. 

In sum, The Constant Wife is a wonderful addition to this year’s playbill—don’t miss it!

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

A Streetcar Named Desire
by Tennessee Williams

Grand Theatre, London, till Feb 19, 2005
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

A New & Improved Streetcar

Grand Theatre Director Susan Ferley has created a somewhat lighter version of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcare Named Desire”. That’s not say this play is a bed of roses – far from it. It is still dark and brooding, but unlike the famous Marlon Brando movie, it has a few moments of laughter and hope, making it more palatable for today’s audience.

Someone watching the 1952 movie today would be unable to find any redeeming features in Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. The Grand Theatre’s Stanley doesn’t have many good qualities either. But, unlike the heavy, depressing movie, somehow, you’re left with a bit of hope for Stanley & Stella’s future with their new baby.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is the story of Blanche Dubois, an aging, fading Southern Belle, who has deluded herself in thinking she is still a beauty. And even though the family plantation and all her money is now gone, she has held on to her snobbery. When we meet her, she is basically homeless, and has lost her position as a teacher. She has come to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella and her husband, Stanley. She is critical of their tiny, run-down home, and her disdain for Stanley, who she refers to as a “common Pollack”, is evident.

Stanley checks into her background and finds out she was fired from teaching for seducing a student, and she is well known at a less-than-reputable hotel. After learning this, he has no tolerance for her judgemental haughtiness, and tempers flare.

Claire Jullien as excellent as Blanche who says, “I don’t want realism, I want magic”. Jullien makes us sympathise with the pathetic Blanche at first, and then later as her delusions start to unravel, we see a changing Blanche. Jullien’s skilled acting shows as Blanche becomes increasingly neurotic and her agitation is obvious.

Evan Buliung is so good as Stanley Kowalski, that you forget the way Brando did it. He is even able to pull off yelling “Stella!”, without the famous line sounding overdone. Although Stanley is a bad-tempered brute, Buliung allows us to see a little of the small bit of goodness that Stella must see him in.

Brenley Charkow as Stella, also masters the role, showing the audience that Stella is an intelligent person, while putting up with Stanley’s abuse and terrible temper. Charkow does an excellent job of maintaining the delightful Louisiana accent.

Kudos to Director Susan Ferley for injecting some humour into the production. Blanche sneaks to the cupboard, grabs the bottle of whiskey and downs several shots before anyone else comes home. A few minutes later, when offered a couple of drinks, she declines, saying sweetly, “oh no, one is my limit.”

Charlotte Dean’s set is well done, recreating a New Orlean’s tenement, and designing it realistically, while letting us see both rooms, the outdoor circular staircase and the street.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” continues at the Grand Theatre in London until February 19. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


Imperial Theatre in Sarnia until June 4, 2005
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Chicago in Sarnia

Don’t head off to see the live stage version Chicago expecting to see a copy of the 2002 Oscar-winning movie. The plot line has been around for a long time – the story was first told in a silent movie in 1928 – the merry murderesses of Chicago were documented in the roaring twenties at the time they were carrying out their dirty deeds. The story was told again in a1942 movie entitled Roxie Hart.

Famous choreographer and director Bob Fosse wanted to make the tale into a musical, but had to wait until the original author died to get the rights. In 1976, Chicago opened on Broadway, starring Gwen Verdon, Fosse’s then wife, along with musical great Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach (later of Law & Order). In 1996, a few years after Fosse’s death, the show was revived on Broadway, choreographed in Fosse style, starring Bebe Neuwirth (Frasier’s Lillith) and one of Fosse’s protégés and lovers Ann Reinking, along with Joel Grey.

Then in 2002, the movie-musical was released starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The plot was altered slightly for the movie and a few songs were dropped. And of course, a movie offers many set changes that a theatre stage can’t do.

Theatre Sarnia’s version of Chicago, now showing at the Imperial, has stayed true to the Broadway stage script and the minimalist set. But the influence of the movie has been creatively woven into the stage show, and this community theatre group has done an excellent job of pulling off a very difficult production.

It’s the roaring twenties and Vaudeville star Velma Kelly (Holly Mayea) has killed off her husband and her sister (the other half of her sister act), when she caught them together. Roxie Hart (Julie McCarthy) shoots her lover when he dumps her. They end up with all the other murderesses awaiting trial in a Chicago jail, while Matron Mama Morton (Marge Robson) uses her corrupt ways to get them star-status while they’re behind bars. The local press, including reporter Mary Sunshine (M. Konwinski) can’t get enough gory gossip in the papers. Fleet-footed and fast-tongued lawyer Billy Flynn (Steven Thrasher) uses a surprise court room technique (which is not part of the movie plot – and I’m not going to reveal it here. You’ll have to see the show) to get the famous women off and free them from jail. Velma and Roxie, rivals in jail, finally team up to be big song & dance stars, capitalizing on all their notoriety.

Mayea, as Velma the long-legged dancer, has all the right moves and the voice to go with it. Her opening number, “All that Jazz” and later “I Just Can’t Do It Alone” are good vehicles for her triple threat talents.

Robson is excellent, with possibly the best voice in the show. She also pulls off Mama’s superior air very well, being totally underhanded and nice at the same time.

One of the show’s best songs is “Class”, a duet with the sneaky and corrupt Mayea and Robson, where they lament the lack of class, asking what happened to fair dealing, pure ethics and nice manners. Their voices blend well, and the irony of the lyrics is not lost.

McCarthy is good as Roxie, and here’s where the most movie influence is seen. She wears a silver fringed flapper dress for the song “Roxie”, and uses Renée Zellweger’s cute little hip swing and finger toying throughout the number. “We Both Reached for the Gun” with Roxie as Billy Flynn’s puppet is handled well by McCarthy.

McCarthy is good with Roxie’s husband Amos (Scott Murray), showing her anger at his bumbling idiocy. Murray does excellent work with the song “Mister Cellophane”.

The cellblock tango, with its variety of murderesses, describing how they committed their crimes, is captivating. They show no mercy to the men they throw, kick, knee, stab and shoot.

Choreography by Shirley Schram really shines in the number “Razzle Dazzle” where Billy Flynn is advising Roxie, while the courtroom is being set up.

Music director Tim Hummel has put together a good orchestra – and they, too, have to be actors. They sit right on the stage, not down in the pit as usual.

Credit for the direction goes to George Wood, a long time director and actor at Theatre Sarnia. Unfortunately, Wood has taken ill, to the concern of cast and crew. Kudos to Jane Janes for stepping into the director’s position.

What is most amazing about this production is that all the cast and crew have other jobs, other lives. This is their hobby and they fit the rehearsals into their busy schedules. Most live in Sarnia and surrounding area, with five of the cast coming over from Michigan. Yet they have created a show that could be right up there with professional theatres in the area. For that alone, they deserve their standing ovation.

“Chicago” continues at the Imperial Theatre, Christina Street, in Sarnia until June 4. Tickets are available at the Imperial box office at (519) 344-7469 or 1-877-344-7469.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Cookin' at the Cookery

Grand Theatre in London until March 24, 2005
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Great Recipes for Cookin’ and Doing the Laundry

Times are good for theatre in south-western Ontario: London’s Grand Theatre has hit the mark with “Cookin’ at the Cookery”, while in Sarnia, a new professional theatre has opened, offering great fun with “Suds”.

If you’re any kind of a jazz/blues fan, don’t miss “Cookin’ at the Cookery”. If you’re a fan of interesting biographies, you’ll enjoy “Cookin’” too. It’s the true story of African-American singer Alberta Hunter – a fascinating woman portrayed by two excellent actresses/singers.

Miss Hunter was born in Memphis in 1895. At age 15, she moved to Chicago and lied about her age so she could sing in nightclubs. In 1917, she was the most popular blues/jazz artist in the windy city, eventually moving on to Broadway roles, making records, and achieving fame in Paris and London. By the time she was 60, good parts on Broadway were hard to come by, so she lied about her age again, went to school and became a nurse. She worked until her supervisor thought she was 70 and she was forced to retire. In reality she was 82. A call from the owner of the ‘Cookery’ nightclub convinced her to return to her singing and she enjoyed a revived career in jazz from 1977 until her death in 1984 at age 89.

The Grand is fortunate enough to have the author of “Cookin’” here to direct and choreograph this production. Marion J. Caffey has written a very clever script using a combination of various characters, narration, and songs to tell the story. The cast of two, Ernestine Jackson and Janice Lorriane, each bring Alberta Hunter to life – Ms. Jackson with her mature voice and Ms. Lorraine with her comedy and dance. While Ms. Jackson, for the most part, plays Alberta, on occasion she also has the part of Alberta’s mother. Ms. Lorriane plays many parts in addition to the young Alberta, including the hilarious elderly nightclub owner. She also does an amazing Louis Armstrong imitation.

Ms. Jackson is from Manhattan and was recently on Broadway herself, playing in “A Raisin in the Sun”. She also originated the Alberta Hunter role in New York. You might recognize her from spots on “The West Wing” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”. Ms. Lorraine, from Brooklyn, is also reprising this part, having played it in Winnipeg and Toronto.

The two women are magic together, and their singing and story telling makes a wonderful night out.

“Cookin’ at the Cookery” continues at the Grand Theatre in London until March 24. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Foursome

Grand Theatre in London until January 22 , 2005
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

More Fun Than a Hole-in-One

If you’re tired of January’s snow and slush, go see “The Foursome” at the Grand Theatre in London. You’ll be transported to a lush golf course, with chirping birds and rustling green leaves.

There are lots of laughs – if you’re a golfer you’ll get a kick out of it. And if you’re a very lousy once-a-year (maybe) golfer, like me, you’ll enjoy it too. Because even though the entire show is set on a golf course, it’s really not about golfing.

It’s the story of four guys who were best buddies in university. They’ve returned 20 years later for their class reunion, and after the festivities of the night before, they decide to shoot 18 holes of golf before they go back to their separate lives.

Golf provides a good opportunity to talk over old times, and catch up on the latest news. And talk they do – sexual escapades, women, family and careers are discussed. Each story provides a laugh – even the more serious stories turn out funny. Some of the jokes are slightly naughty – but not enough to be offensive. Canadian playwright Norm Forster has captured well the one-upmanship and practical joking of a bunch of 40 year olds trying to recreate the good old days.

David Kirby as Donnie provides much of the humour and a little sober second thought, too. He’s the only non-golfer of the foursome, and with his wild swing, he’s likely to put his back out before the run of the show is over. Kirby was Clock Charlie Brown in last year’s hilarious production of “The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon” at the Grand, and has been seen in several other shows there in the past. We’re looking forward to seeing the talented and funny Kirby in Hello Dolly at the Stratford Festival this summer.

J.D. Nicholsen does an excellent job of playing Rick. You know the type at reunions. He shows up 20 years later just to tell how great he’s doing – he’s living the good life in Florida as a swinging bachelor, selling boats, golfing every day – annoying as heck.

Neil Foster plays Cameron – the stressed out worrier of the group. He’s busy applying sunscreen, but afraid it might rain at the same time. John Jarvis is Ted, who offers much of the play’s deadpan humour.

The four different personalities clash and collide creating laughter as we meet them at each tee-off. Director Maja Ardal has found just the right chemistry to make their talk believable, without turning them into caricatures, which could easily have happened.

The play was written several years ago, but this performance was updated with a mention of them graduating in 1984, 20 years ago. However, the production failed to be consistent, when the golf references were not brought up to 2004. You can be sure that if four Canadian guys met at the golf course today, there would be some discussion of Mike Weir, Stephen Ames or the late Moe Norman. Their talk of Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman should have been updated.

If you have a free afternoon today (Wednesday, January 12 at 1:00 p.m.) the Grand is presenting “The Foursome” as a benefit show for the Tsunami Relief Fund. There is no set price for the tickets; pay whatever you’d like to donate to get into the show.

“The Foursome” continues at the Grand Theatre in London until January 22, 2005. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


Grand Theatre in London until April 17 , 2005
A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Cowboys and farmers dance across Oklahoma

Two area students have stolen the stage in the Grand Theatre’s production Oklahoma! Strathroy’s Thandi Tolmay as Aunt Eller and Ilderton’s Michael Tompkins as Ali Hakim both display excellent acting talent and a flare for comedy. The two have handled their accents well (Thandi with her southern drawl and Michael as a gypsy peddler) and provide many of the laughs in the popular Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical.

They are among a cast of 43 students in this year’s High School Project at the Grand Theatre. Each year, the Grand auditions 200 London and area students, selecting a cast for a big Broadway-style musical production. A professional director, musical director, choreographer and crew bring forth the best in the students’ talents. This year the Grand continues its tradition of creating a show worthy of its professional stage, with a cast of very talented young people.

Oklahoma! is the story of the clash between the farmers and the cowboys in the 1800’s. The residents believe that their lives will improve when the territory becomes a state. The plot includes Laurie and Curly’s love story, furthered by a complicated dream scene when Laurie dozes off after sniffing smelling salts. Laurie is also being stalked by the social misfit Jud Fry.

Don’t expect to see a copy of the old Oklahoma! movie with Shirley Jones, or even the newer version DVD with Hugh Jackman. This production has been updated by director Campbell Smith. You may remember Smith as the director of the Grand’s 2002 Wizard of Oz – a very interesting show with Caribbean touches. If this were “Director’s Idol”, the judges would say that he took an old favourite and “made it his own” – and in doing so, improved it with fast action and more interesting characters.

Jocelyn Howard stars as Laurie, with her beautiful soprano voice and perfect renditions of “Many a New Day” and “People Will Say We’re in Love”. Oriol Madrenas plays Curly, the handsome cowboy who woos Laurie. He opens the show with “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”, and the audience immediately knows they are in for a musical treat. Doug Price’s amazing dancing as Will Parker and Merritt Crews’ comedic expressions as Ado Annie are both excellent, as is Justin Goodhand’s portrayal of the frightening and pathetic Jud Fry.

Director Smith added some new characters – The Geronimo Gang, a bunch of kids who tear on and off the stage. Strathroy’s Matt Grootjen stands out as Zack, with his mischievous and entertaining facial expressions..

Choreographer Amy Wright (who is well-known her for her work in TV commercials) has made good use of the cast’s talents. Thomas Alderson of Strathroy is a cowboy/dancer who shows amazing footwork in oversized cowboy boots. The show-stopping number “The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends” is pure fun with fantastic choreography.

Musical director Andrew Petrasiunas has blended together the young voices to create a rousing chorus of the ever-popular title song “Oklahoma!” in eight-part harmony.

Hats off (cowboy hats, straw hats, lady-like hats with flowers, baby bonnets, and lacy duster caps) to Bonnie Deakin and her team of student volunteers for the excellent costumes. Each cast member has two and sometimes three costumes, and occasionally the script demands a very fast change that entails a completely different look. Most impressive is the use of a wide variety colours and fabrics, while keeping the costumes true to the time period in the regular scenes. But the imagination really shows during the dream sequence with dramatic changes to eye-catching reds, purples and silvers.

The set designed by Joanne Thompson and built by a team of student helpers is also excellent, including an actual working windmill.

Overall, a great show – excellent direction of a talented cast! And while one might think this writer could be biased, since her son is a cast member, she feels she’s given an objective account here. If you don’t believe her, come see the show for yourself.

Oklahoma! continues at the Grand Theatre until April 17. Tickets ($30 & $15) are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Into the Woods

by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Peter Hinton
Stratford Festival, Avon Theatre, Stratford
June 3-Oct 30, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

(For Mary Alderderson's view, click here)

“A Magical Production”

The Stratford Festival’s first foray into Stephen Sondheim is his 1987 musical “Into the Woods”. The production is spectacular. No musical has been staged at the Avon Theatre with so much imagination since the Susan Benson/Brian MacDonald Gilbert and Sullivan operettas of the 1980s. Unlike those operettas, however, “Into the Woods” is a flawed work. Its first act is really a perfect 90-minute musical unto itself. Its seemingly unnecessary second act is an hour of heavy-handed moralism that tries to relate fairy tales to the adult world. Nevertheless, the production is so imaginative and the performances so strong they compensate for the second act’s downturn in mood and interest.

In Act 1 James Lapine, writer of the book, ingeniously weaves together the stories of “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella”, “Little Red Ridinghood” and “Rapunzel” by means of the story of a Baker and his Wife. A Witch, Rapunzel’s mother, has placed a curse on the couple that they can remove only by gathering four objects--a cow, a golden slipper, a red cape and a piece of corn-yellow hair. Thus the quest of the Baker and his Wife is linked with the quests of the other characters as they all go “into the woods” to fulfill their various wishes. Lapine and Sondheim conclude this act so cleverly that but for the Narrator’s statement “To be continued” one would think the musical were over.

Unluckily, it is not. Lapine and Sondheim could not still the urge to show what happens after the fairy tales’ “happily ever after”. The world is plagued by a giantess, the widow of the giant Jack killed, who seeks vengeance. Many characters one cared for are killed without warning. Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince do not remain faithful but seek new conquests, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty respectively. The conclusion is a kind of Camusian existentialism that we must all band together to help fight the meaningless that threatens us as individuals. It’s an ambitious project to be sure, but misguided. The fairy tale characters of Act 1 have confronted some fairly dire obstacles already--curses, imprisonment, blindness, giants, being eaten. The anomie that faces them in Act 2 is not so nearly as dramatic a threat and is made overtly moralistic in contrast to the action of Act 1. Yet, at the same time, it is Act 2 that contains the show’s most memorable music, notably the moral of the story, “No One is Alone”.

What is most striking about the show is its design. Dany Lyne has relocated the setting from Europe to Canada, setting Act 1 in fall and Act 2 in winter after an ice storm. Then she has filtered this landscape through such visual references as silent film and the paintings of René Magritte. The result are modernistic clean lines that are fantastical as well--with square-trunked trees, a flat-sided plastic cow, suitcases shaped like houses and Rapuzel’s imprisoning tower as her own dress. The black-and-white characters become increasingly involved with colour in the woods--the bright blue Wolf, the red of blood and the golden glint of money. Lyne achieves so much through conventional theatric means that the addition of video projection is unnecessary and out of keeping with the rest.

The cast is one of the strongest Stratford has assembled for a musical. Bruce Dow as the Baker and Mary Ellen Mahoney as the Baker’s Wife have the widest range to display from farcical humour to grief and remorse. They are both superb. They sing with feeling and deliver their lines with spot-on timing. Their performance of “It Takes Two” and Mahoney’s performance of “Moments in the Woods” are the most poignant in the evening. Susan Gilmour as the Witch sports one of the wildest costumes ever seen at Stratford, an entire vegetable garden come to life. Due partly to the costume’s face mask and to the too husky voice she puts on as the Witch, many of Sondheim’s intricate lyrics are lost. When, however, the Witch is returned to her human form, and Gilmour is freed from the costume, her voice becomes true and clear and so does her diction which only helps to cause shivers during her singing of “Last Midnight”.

Dayna Tekatch captures the skepticism that pervades Sondheim’s unusually doubt-filled Cinderella, unfazed by wealth as much as by poverty. Barbara Fulton is a delight as Jack’s frustrated Mother, here given a comic Newfoundland accent, while the lanky Kyle Blair is an excellent Jack, showing there are few steps between being a blockhead and an adventurer. He brings a real sense of wonder to his big number “Giants in the Sky”.

Jennifer Waiser’s unusual little-girl voice is well-suited to Little Red Ridinghood just as Amy Walsh’s operatic soprano is to Rapunzel. Thom Allison is frightening as the lecherous Wolf and appropriately smarmy as Cinderella’s Prince, who is all charm and nothing else. One wishes Lyne had given the Wolf a half-mask, not a full-head mask, so we could see Allison’s expression. Laird Mackintosh is very funny as Rapunzel’s besotted Prince. Peter Donaldson lurks about the stage as the Narrator/Mysterious Man adding a sense of pleasant menace to his lines. One is sorry when the characters in Act 2 decide in a fit of Lapine’s postmodernism to kick him out and go it alone.

Peter Hinton’s direction is as crisp and precise as Dany Lyne’s designs. He gives so much detail to the characters as fairy tale beings in Act 1 that it obviates the script’s attempt to make them more “real” in Act 2. He stages a number a spectacular effects, most notably the Wolf’s devouring of Little Red Ridinghood’s Grandmother and herself and their subsequent rescue amid a flurry of flying red flecks as the Baker’s cuts open the beast’s belly. Robert Thomson’s lighting is equally imaginative creating such scenes as the moon seen through scudding clouds or the stage bathed in red against a bright blue background. Jim Neil’s sound design is especially effective in Act 2 where the crashing of the Giantess through branches and the thuds of her steps are made distressingly real.

Stratford has billed “Into the Woods” as part of its “Family Experience” even through Sondheim and Lapine clearly intend the show for adults not children. Parents with small children could leave well satisfied after Act 1 though they will miss some of the show’s best music. The anger, adult angst and sudden deaths of Act 2 only made the remaining small children I saw bored and fidgety.

Despite this, Stratford’s “Into the Woods” is a major achievement. If theatre in Canada were set up as it is in Britain, the logical step for this exceptionally fine production after closing in Stratford would be to transfer to a theatre in Toronto for even longer run.

©Christopher Hoile

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Hello, Dolly!

by Jerry Herman, directed by Susan H. Schulman
Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 30-Oct 28, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

For Mary Alderson's review of Hello, Dolly, click here.

“You Say Hello, I Say Goodbye”

If the main reason you like musicals at Stratford is the pretty costumes, then “Hello, Dolly!” is the right show for you.  If, however, you like musicals because you like to get involved in the story and like to hear leads who can sing, then this “Hello, Dolly!” is not for you.  You’d be better off at the Festival’s production of “Into the
Woods” at the Avon.

Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” (1964) is one of the more vapid Broadway musicals of the 1960s.  It is based on Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker” (1954), which is in turn based “Einen Jux will er sich machen” (1842) a Viennese farce by Johann Nestroy, itself based on an English farce “A Day Well Spent” (1835) by John Oxenford.  Wilder reset the play in New York in the 1890s, the “Gilded Age”, as Mark Twain
called it, a time of conspicuous consumption when a few American businessmen like Andrew Carnegie became exceedingly and unashamedly wealthy.

Wilder’s title character, Dolly Gallagher Levi, is a proto-socialist.   She seeks to marry the rich, tight-fisted Horace Vandergelder not just for her own security but because she thinks money should be “spread
around”.  While this phrase remains in the musical, Herman has otherwise deleted most of Dolly’s social philosophizing.  Written at the time of Vietnam, Woodstock and the Beatles, “Hello, Dolly!” has nothing to do with its own time.  It presents a whitewashed version of America in the supposed “good old days” as an escape for middle-class Americans from the disturbing realities of the day.  One wonders whether the Stratford Festival is presenting such escapist fare now for the same reason.

What has made “Hello, Dolly!” last is that it is a great vehicle for female star with a larger-than-life-sized personality like original Dolly, Carol Channing, or with a strong voice, like Barbra Streisand in the movie version.  Stratford’s Dolly, Lucy Peacock, has neither.   Peacock has already demonstrated on two previous occasions--“My Fair Lady” in 1988  and “The King and I” in 2003--that she can’t sing any better than the average audience member with a bad cold.  Most often she uses a diseuse style of speaking to music to get through, when a song like the Act 1 finale “Before the Parade Passes By” requires real strength, she simply can’t do it.  Whether she does or doesn’t hold a note seems to depend not on the music but on how much wind she has left at the moment.  Why Stratford would wish to showcase this deficit in her talent yet again is a mystery.

Fine acting from Peacock would be some compensation, but she falls back on a set of all-purpose comic gestures she’s acquired.  She swaggers about the stage shooting off her one-liners with such artificial
delivery she seems to be parodying the character not playing it.  She has studied up on 101 ways to smile in hopes that if she continually looks pleased with herself, so will we.

Since Peacock can’t carry the show, it would help if she had some support, but she has little.  As Horace Vandergelder, Peter Donaldson is merely stern, not intimidating.  At least as it is directed, his decision to give in to Dolly comes as a complete surprise when it could have been carefully prepared.  Donaldson also cannot sing.

As the milliner Irene Molloy, Robin Hutton has the opposite problem--she can sing but can’t act.  Her big song “Ribbons Down My Back” requires an operetta voice.  She has it but it is small and fragile.  Amy Walsh tries much too hard to be funny as Irene’s employee Minnie Fay. In fact, the only one of the principals who knows how to pull off a role with style in such a fluffy show is Laird Mackintosh as Vandergelder’s employee, Cornelius Hackl.  Mackintosh is the only one who gets the necessary combination of innocence and elegance just right.  Since he can sing as well as act, it’s no surprise that his big number “It Only takes a Moment” is also the only solo in the entire evening to make a positive impression.

Two fine actors are wasted in silly roles--Kyle Blair as Ambrose Kemper and Dayna Tekatch as Vandergelder’s daughter Ermengarde, who does nothing but burst into tears whenever she appears, a supposedly comic effect that soon becomes annoying.  Barbara Fulton has a fine turn as Ernestina, a woman of dubious character, and Thom Allison is suitably supercilious as Rudolph Reisenweber, the commander of the wait staff at the Harmonia Restaurant.  Lawrence Haegert makes little impression as
Cornelius’s sidekick Barnaby.

Patrick Clark’s handsome set and costumes are suggest a period of ostentation without themselves being ostentatious.  Susan H. Schulman’s direction for Stratford has tended toward excess.  We do wonder the show really needs two different removable staircases or a complete trolley car that is turned around on the double revolve for no particular reason except to say “Look at the money we spent!”  For most of the show Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography is uncharacteristically bland.  He seems to have saved all his imagination for the riotous“Waiters’ Galop” of Act 2 that is the single highpoint of the evening. As usual, Kevin Fraser’s lighting reinforces the mood of every scene.

To come off well, “Hello, Dolly!” needs a central performance with charisma.  This has none.  As a result the show seems like a huge, rather expensive wind-up toy that mindlessly plays itself out.  Let’s hope "Dolly" never comes back like this again.

©Christopher Hoile

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

 And speaking of other comments, here' s what YOU had to say...
Gawd, your good! We saw Hello Dolly at Stratford, too, and agree with every single word you have written.
- Jim L



Hello, Dolly !

Statford Festival, till Oct 30, 2005

Into the Woods

Stratford Festival, till Nov 6, 2005

A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Stratford’s musicals both good, but very different

There are two Broadway musicals on the playbill at Stratford Festival this year, and they cannot be compared. They are both excellent, each in its own way. Hello, Dolly! is the big, big Broadway musical – in fact, it’s probably the biggest event on Stratford’s stage since My Fair Lady in 2002. Into the Woods is a very different show, and Stratford has done its best to make it even more unusual than the original creators intended.

Hello, Dolly! is the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow with a business card for every occasion. She offers services in teaching dance right through to guitar lessons, but her main business is matchmaking. However, she has decided that she’s been single long enough and it’s time she made a match for herself, before the “parade passes by.” So instead of finding a mate for the half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, she sets her sites on him. The dialogue is delightful with many laughs, as Dolly subtly tricks Horace into proposing, telling him “I’ve made up your mind.”

There is a wonderful farce-like scene where men are hiding in the cupboard and under the table, which is presented with perfect timing. But the real show stoppers are the dancing waiters, who move so quickly around the restaurant, it seems like their feet never touch the floor. And they continue to leap and spin carrying shish-kabob on swords, tall stacks of wavering china, and trays of drinks – just when you think they’re finished, they fly across the stage one more time.

Broadway director Susan H. Schulman was recruited for this show and her expertise is obvious. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld also deserves credit for the well-timed dance.

Lucy Peacock is wonderful as Dolly, her singing voice far better suited for this role than for Anna in The King & I. She struts around, in total command of the stage, yet taking a moment to share a little wave with a member of the audience. Although the entire cast is fabulous, Amy Walsh as Minnie Fay is a stand-out. You may remember her from Huron Country Playhouse, where she’s played Polly in The Boyfriend, Julie in Carousel, and Mollie in Pirates of Penzance.

The set is amazing – one certainly forgets that there could be any limitations with the Shakespearean stage. A street car received spontaneous applause, just for rolling out. And the parade scene is astounding with colourful costumes and fireworks, too.

The costumes just keep on coming. Dolly is always a blaze of colour with bright reds and golds in oriental silks.

The cast delivers so much in Hello, Dolly!, you’d think they would be exhausted after the matinee – but no, most of them travel across town to the Avon Theatre to perform Into the Woods during the evening.

The music and lyrics for Into the Woods were written by Stephen Sondheim, and contain his trademark rapid-fire wording, squished into strange and unusual tunes. Not at all your typical Broadway musical, like Hello, Dolly. You have to appreciate the versatility of the cast as they change styles completely between shows.

Into the Woods is a mix of all the fairy tales you’ve ever known. There’s Jack climbing the bean stock and slaying the giant, Cinderella losing her slipper at the prince’s festival, the baker and his wife longing for child (although we don’t see the gingerbread man), Little Red Ridinghood finding the wolf in Grandma’s bed, and the wicked witch who traps Rapunzel in the tower (turns out Rapunzel is the witch’s daughter). All these characters meet in the woods, and there is great fun in the first act.

But just when you think they “live happily ever after”, along comes the second act where you learn what happens after happily ever after. Things get rather dark and gruesome as some of the characters are killed off by the giant’s angry widow who is seeking revenge.

The set is stylized and surreal. Instead of the fairy tale woods, this is the Canadian north, with tall pines, and the characters weave in and out of the dark trunks. Red leaves fall in the autumn, and then winter sets in with ice sparking on the trees.

The Canadiana theme continues, with Cinderella wearing a toque. Costumes for the most part are either black or white, except the witch, who because she loves gardening, literally wears her garden. She’s covered in green leaves, fruits and vegetables. And of course, Red Ridinghood has a red cape.

Stand-outs in the cast are Jennifer Waiser as Red Ridinghood (you may remember her as Buddy Holly’s wife Maria Elena at Huron Country Playhouse), and London’s own Kyle Blair as Jack. Blair’s solo “Giant’s in the Sky” was a highlight. Mary Ellen Mahoney was excellent as the Baker’s Wife with many witty comebacks and sarcastic comments well delivered.

The two handsome princes (Laird Mackintosh and Thom Allison) are brothers in the show. They have a great duet, Agony, about the women they love. One marries Rapunzel and the other marries Cinderella. But none live happily ever after – Rapunzel dies and Cinderella hates life in the castle. So the princes take up with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

One warning – don’t take small children to see Into the Woods because it’s about fairy tales – or if you do take them, leave after the first act. The second act could give kids nightmares.

Hello, Dolly! continues at the Festival Theatre in Stratford until November 6, while “nto the Woods runs at the Avon Theatre until October 30. Call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.


Your comments and reviews are always welcome

As You Like It

by William Shakespeare, directed by Antoni Cimolino
Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford
June 4-Oct 30, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

“Not Much As You Like It”

Stratford’s current production of “As You Like It” is an example of the mistakes that happen when a director, in this case Stratford’s Executive Director Antoni Cimolino, has only superficial understanding of the play. Setting the action in the 1960s is a good idea, but neither Cimolino nor his design team have implemented it accurately or with any point. Cimolino has paid so little attention to exploring the play’s characters that the second half of one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies becomes downright tedious.

We know things are amiss in the first scenes at court. Designer Santo Loquasto has Duke Frederick and the senior men wear military outfits. Thus, we assume, the Sixties setting will pit the Establishment as represented by Duke Frederick against the hippies as represented by his brother Duke Senior exiled in the forest of Arden. But then, why do Duke Frederick’s courtiers sport Beatles haircuts, Nehru jackets, go-go boots, miniskirts and op-art prints? These are pop counterculture clothes not clothes of the Establishment. Did Loquasto not do his research to find what the Establishment wore? Where are the short haircuts with narrow-lapel suits and narrow ties for the men, matching pastel jacket-skirt combinations and pillbox hats for the women? Loquasto’s design faux pas thus undermines the whole intent of the Sixties setting. He even has Duke Frederick rise from his bath to wear an Indian print caftan. A military person in the Sixties wear a caftan--I don’t think so.

The set itself is peculiar. Both Frederick’s court and the Forest of Arden seem to be located in the ladder section of Canadian Tire. Aluminum ladders of varying heights represent both places, again minimizing, not strengthening the difference between the repressive court and the liberating forest. At least, wooden ladders could have been the forest and mental ones the court, but not here. The one distinguishing mark of the forest are a series of open transparent plastic umbrellas suspended from the ceiling and lowered when Rosalind and friends enter the forest. There are two problems. First, once lowered they are not retracted again for subsequent court scenes. Worse, the umbrellas are in the way of the majority of the stage lights so that from then on it is almost impossible for lighting designer Steven Hawkins to achieve a clear focus on the stage. It’s the responsibility of the director to note such problems and correct them. The fact that such major design problems are present after opening suggests that Cimolino was asleep at the wheel.

The same is true of the much-touted music by the Barenaked Ladies commissioned for the production. There is nothing wrong with the music itself. It’s pleasant but unmemorable and certainly not worth the fuss the Festival has made over it. Everything that could vaguely be considered a song has been made into one. Since many of these are very short, the Barenaked Ladies have added multiple repeats to stretch them out. Cimolino, having commissioned the music, is obviously loath to cut any of it. As a result, the production is padded to a length of three hours and effective pacing of the action sacrificed for the sake of the frequently unnecessary musical numbers.

If Cimolino drew especially good performances from the cast this might be some consolation. But he has not. Some, in fact, make no sense. He has decided that Rosalind’s best friend Celia should be a goofy, comic sidekick. Thus, Sophie Goulet, plays a klutz dressed in a frumpy granny-gown, delivers her lines in an annoying nasal voice and mugs incessantly. Yet, Celia is as much a duke’s daughter as Rosalind and the text doesn’t support this demeaning portrayal. Meanwhile, Cimolino has Graham Abbey give us the least melancholy Jacques I’ve ever seen. Dressed as an army deserter, Abbey’s furtively grinning Jacques seems a bit odd in the head, but never displays the intellect or all-pervading cynicism that his words imply, rendering his departure at the end of the action inconsequential. While Brian Tree’s well-spoken Corin and Jean-Michel Legal’s earnest Silvius are presented as modern-day sheep farmers, Laura Condlln’s farm girl Audrey doesn’t have a speck of dirt on her and her unseemly behaviour is an afterthought. Further confusing us as to where or what this Forest of Arden is, Adrienne Gould’s Phoebe is dressed like trailer trash, somehow walking about the woods in high heels.

Potentially some good performances are also undermined by lack of direction. Sara Topham is a fine Rosalind and Dion Johnstone is an ardent Orlando, but is isn’t a jot of chemistry between them. Cimolino makes absolutely nothing of Rosalind’s dilemma of pretending to be a boy while teaching Orlando to woo. Sean Arbuckle blusters as Oliver de Boys and Stephen Russell doesn’t conjure up much evil as Duke Frederick. Bernard Hopkins is funny as a blissed-out Sir Oliver Martext, but his costume as a maharishi may strike you as too gimmicky.

It falls to Dan Chameroy as Amiens to lead the majority of songs and he certainly presents them with more poise than the rest of the cast. William Needles as the aged Adam is the only one in the play who evokes any real emotion. While Stephen Ouimette’s Touchstone consistently finds humour in the role of a courtier thrust into a rustic life.

Cimolino’s misunderstanding the characters or forcing them into roles unsupported by the text, drives the entire second half of the play, which consists entirely of a series of conversations about love, into tedium. He’s given us no insight into the characters’ personal dilemmas, so how can we care about them? If Stratford wants to attract a more youthful audience, gimmicks like a Barenaked Ladies’ songs and a Sixties setting, especially when as ill-conceived as here, won’t do it. Real insight into the text that makes us care about the characters will.

©Christopher Hoile

See Mary Alderson's review of As You Like It below

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Tempest

by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Monette
Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 30-Oct 28, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

“William Hutt’s Farewell”

The single reason to see “The Tempest” currently playing at Stratford is to see William Hutt on stage for the last time. The 85-year-old actor has said he will retire after this season. The play itself is sentimentally viewed as Shakespeare’s “farewell to the stage”. Stratford has mounted the production as Hutt’s own “farewell to the stage” and some may feel they want to be there to bid Canada’s greatest actor adieu.

Yet, this is not Hutt’s greatest performance as Prospero nor is this a particularly involving production. It is, in fact, a remount of Richard Monette’s 1999 production and ought really to be advertised as such. Designer Mérédith Caron admits in her programme notes that she has added little that is new to this production. Michael J. Whitfield’s fine lighting is also unchanged including the magic circle of light Prospero draws on the stage in the final act. While Monette’s insight into the play has deepened in some areas, the drama is lifeless and the action lacks tension and forward momentum. One feels inclined to say agree with the villain Sebastian when he declares of those on stage, “What a strange drowsiness possesses them!”

Certain flaws from the 1999 production have still not been remedied. Monette has Miranda hang on Prospero’s every word in her first scene, even though the text makes clear she’s nodding off from having heard her father tell the same tale so often. Except for Sebastian, the court party is so similarly attired it is hard to tell who’s who. Indeed, why should Alonso, King of Naples, be wearing the same gown as Antonio, Duke of Milan, and his counsellor Gonzalo? Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography for the masque of reapers and nymphs is in its bawdiness totally inappropriate for the chaste entertainment Prospero tries to foist on Ferdinand and Miranda.

Beyond these there is a more basic failing. Stratford productions have always viewed Prospero as an aged wise man, when, in fact he is neither. Miranda is 15 years old. It therefore is highly unlikely her father would be 85. An age range of 35-45 would be more credible. After all, Prospero is supposed to be Miranda’s father not her grandfather. Second, no directors at Stratford have paid attention to Prospero’s claim to have raised the dead, which to an audience of Shakespeare’s time would signal that he practices necromancy, i.e., black magic not white magic. He is not a kindly wizard but someone who has sought power, heedless whether for good or ill, through magic.

On the plus side, at least, for once, in a Stratford “Tempest” a director makes clear that Prospero has spent 12 years contemplating revenge not forgiveness. At the start of Act 5 Prospero realizes that Ariel feels more pity for the men Prospero has tricked that Prospero has: “Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling Of their afflictions, and shall not myself, One of their kind, that relish all as sharply, Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?” He concludes that “the rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance”. For once, also, Prospero’s famous speech “Our revels now are ended” is not spoken as pretty set piece detached from the action, but in anger and disillusionment as it should be. Yet, while it is a relief that Monette’s interpretation of these sections has improved and a pleasure to see Hutt enact them, the effect would have been greater if we had seen these insights had influenced Hutt’s depiction of Prospero from the beginning of the action onwards.

Hutt’s voice, his presence and his command of gesture are still magisterial. Should he turn his head away from you, however, he is difficult to hear. It is no pleasure to note this failure of projection in an actor who for so long was a master of the stage whisper. Sad but true, watching Hutt in this “Tempest” is less engaging in itself than a prompt for memories of great things he has done before.

Monette has surrounded Hutt with an able if not ideal cast. Jacob James is a distinctly non-ethereal Ariel, more like a peevish serving boy than a spirit. Stephen Ouimette thankfully forgoes the gruff voice often employed for Caliban so that for once we can clearly understand what the character says. Catering perhaps to the new puritanism, designer Mérédith Caron has decided to shear Caliban’s 1999 costume of its prominent genitals. Adrienne Gould is a very enthusiastic Miranda but not quite as unworldly as she should be. Jean-Michel LeGal is so conventionally ardent Ferdinand the character is on the verge of seeming dim.

Among the court party, Barry MacGregor is a sturdy Alonso while Bernard Hopkins emphasizes the good-heartedness over the satire in Gonzalo. In contrast to Sean Arbuckle’s bluster as Antonio, Ian Deakin is cold and precise as the Machiavellian Sebastian. Steven Sutcliffe is a light-headed Trinculo versus Brian Tree as a rather mean-spirited Stephano. Thankfully, this time Monette has the pair gradate their drunkenness from tipsy to sloshed rather than appearing so loud and drunk in their first scene they have nowhere to go.

While seeing Hutt in “The Tempest” one last time has its nostalgia value, seeing him in either “No Man’s Land” in 2003 or in “Waiting for Godot” in 2004 for Soulpepper was far more exciting. I would rather remember Hutt breaking new ground, testing himself in works he’d never done before, rather than being exhibited like a museum piece as he is in Stratford’s lifeless production.

©Christopher Hoile

See Mary Alderson's review of The Tempest below

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


As You Like It

Statford Festival, till Oct 30, 2005

The Tempest

Stratford Festival, till Oct 28, 2005

A Stage Door guest review by Mary Alderson

Shakespear for fun

Too many of us have bad memories of high school where we were forced to memorize passages of The Merchant of Venice, or we struggled to read and understand Hamlet. And that’s a shame because Shakespeare wasn’t meant to be recited by rote or simply read. Shakespeare intended his works to be acted out on stage, by experts who can interpret his meaning. Fortunately, we have the best Shakespearean company in the world right here on our doorstep.

It doesn’t matter if we’re not familiar with the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare’s time, or that we don’t understand the slang and colloquialisms of that era. Good actors can get the full meaning across through their facial expressions and body language.

The Tempest and As You Like It are two of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, currently running at the Festival Theatre in Stratford. Both plays have similar beginnings: Two dukes who are brothers are feuding -- the “good-guy” Duke is banished, while the evil Duke takes over the Dukedom. Both plays also have love stories involving the Dukes’ daughters.

In The Tempest, Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, has been banished to an island by his cruel brother Antonio, who was in a conspiracy with Alonso, the King of Naples, to take over the Dukedom. Prospero’s beautiful daughter, Miranda, is on the island with him. She’s too young to remember when her father was a duke. Prospero has wisely used his time on the island learning magic, so when he finds out that his enemies are nearby on a ship, he conjures up a storm to shipwreck them on his island. Also on the ship is Alonso’s son Ferdinand who falls in love with Miranda. Eventually everyone comes together, all is forgiven and the young couple together go in a new direction.

In As You Like It, Duke Frederick takes over his older bother’s court and sends Duke Senior to the Forest of Arden. The evil Frederick allows his niece, Rosalind, (Duke Senior’s daughter) to remain at the royal court with his daughter, her cousin, Celia. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando but he is sent to the Forest by his greedy brothers. So Rosalind and Celia disguise themselves and go to the Forest, as well. Rosalind pretends to be a boy travelling with his sister. Eventually, she reveals herself to Orlando and they, along with two other happy couples, get married.

Long time Stratford actor William Hutt plays Prospero in The Tempest. Hutt, who is in his 80’s, has had the role at least twice before. And although he moves slowly, he still commands the stage. Adrienne Gould is excellent as Miranda and Jean-Michel LeGal is very good as the smitten Ferdinand. Jacob James plays Ariel, a spirit that assists Prospero with his magic, and Stephen Ouimette plays the scary, savage Caliban.

Sara Topham is charming as Rosalind in As You Like It, and does of an excellent job of playing the girl playing the boy. In fact, she’s much better suited to Shakespeare than she was to her role in It’s a Wonderful Life at the Grand last Christmas. Equally captivating is Sophie Goulet as cousin Celia. Her facial expressions and comedic timing are excellent.

Despite the fact that the characters all spoke in Elizabethan English, the play was set in the 1960’s. The young people who are kicked out of their families and go into the woods to live are all hippies, just like the ‘tuned in, turned on and dropped out’ generation. The parallels are obvious and the comparison works well. The costumes are a great nostalgia trip – fringed buckskin jackets, tie-dyed shirts, long flowing flower power skirts.

Shakespeare wrote lyrics for various songs in As You Like It, so the Stratford Festival asked the Bare Naked Ladies to write the music to go with the words, giving the songs a 60’s feel. Dan Chameroy’s singing is excellent and he incorporates the songs into the action very well.

The only part of the show that doesn’t seem to fit is the array of stepladders on stage. They are supposed to represent buildings, or staircases, and later, trees, but really they are just ugly aluminium ladders and it looks like a stagehand forgot to put them away. Similarly, the umbrellas on the ceiling are questionable.

Nevertheless, The Tempest and As You Like It are two interesting and entertaining shows, and good venues to get re-acquainted with Shakespeare.  Both are very well done by the Stratford Festival company. 

“The Tempest” continues until October 28 while “As You Like It” runs until October 30, both at the Festival Theatre in Stratford. Call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.




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