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|Relatively SpeakingStones in His Pockets | A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline | Dads 2
||Test Drive | Coriolanus | Too Many Cooks |
Sophie Tucker | The Graduate | Fiddler on the Roof |
| Beauty and the Beast | Pollyana | Dear Santa |


 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Some Stage Door reviews of 2006

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

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Relatively Speaking

The Grand Theatre in London until January 28.
Review by Mary Alderson, Guest Reviewer for Stage Door

Relatively Speaking is more than relatively good

Take the farcical nonsense out of a British farce and you have Relatively Speaking, currently on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. This comedy, set in England in the 1960’s, has all the clever writing of a British farce, while remaining believable. Author Alan Ayckbourn has removed the less plausible elements of a typical farce such as men getting away with female disguises, or several people in the same house never meeting because they are always on the other side of slamming doors. But Ayckbourn left in the one main ingredient – mistaken identities.

Relatively Speaking is a hilarious comedy based on the characters’ assumptions of who’s who. The cast of four works perfectly together. It starts with a young couple, Ginny (Jenny Young) and Greg (Brendan Murray). Ginny is a young woman with a checkered past – we soon learn she’s had several men in her life, and despite the fact that she is professing her interest in Greg, there are hints that she may still be involved with an older man. Greg, on the other hand, is new to the dating game, and Ginny is his first serious interest.

Then we meet an older couple, Philip (Andrew Giles) and Sheila (Barbara Worthy) who are obviously bored with their relationship. Without giving away too much of the plot, it turns out that Philip is indeed Ginny’s older man, but young Greg believes she has gone to visit her parents. As expected, the mistaken identities grow into a tangled web of deceit, which results in hilarious dialogue.

The comedy lies in the brilliant writing. Surprisingly, this was Ayckbourn’s first commercial success, written in 1965 when he was just a young man. Since then he has gone on to write more than 60 hit comedies, and at age 67, he has just had another successful opening in London’s West End.

Director Gina Wilkinson recognizes that the dialogue is funny enough, and doesn’t ask her cast to go over the top for laughs. Each part is well cast, with each character maintaining an appropriate British accent. Their comedic timing is perfect, and laughs are created with just a simple raised eyebrow, or slight change of inflection.

Credit must go to Judith Bowden for an elaborate set. First we’re inside Ginny’s flat – a typical tiny apartment in London, decorated in 1965 clutter, complete with bead curtains and a paper parasol. Then the set turns round, and we’ve moved from the busy city to a beautiful English country garden, with rose bushes and vines climbing the cottage walls.

Impressive comedic actors working with very funny and cleverly written dialogue makes for a hilarious night out. Relatively Speaking is more than relatively good, it’s very good.

Relatively Speaking continues at the Grand Theatre in London until January 28. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Mary Alderson, a resident of Strathroy, offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Fiddler on the Roof

Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Georgina Ford
Imperial Musical Productions
Imperial Oil Centre for the Performing Arts, Sarnia
November 8-12, 2006

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Seeing “Fiddler” should be a Tradition

As our population grows older, we hear our aging baby-boomers complaining: things are changing too quickly, time is hurtling on, and young people are disrespectful. But it was ever thus – in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the main character, has the same concerns, even though the story is set in 1905. Reluctantly, he learns to change with the times, and ultimately abandon his traditions. Fiddler on the Roof remains a very popular musical thanks to this timeless message.

Imperial Musical Productions version now on stage at Sarnia's Imperial Theatre is a solid example of the classic Fiddler story. Jim Higgins is excellent as Tevye, carrying the show and handling the key role very well. He has the look, the right accent (which he maintains throughout) the singing voice and the acting ability required. He handles both the comedic scenes and the emotional parts. The audience feels for him when he is “as shaky as the fiddler on the roof” – an imaginary character that only he sees. We also understand how important traditions are to him, and how he agonizes over the changes that are thrust upon him.

Evelyn Ward de Roo's beautiful singing blends well with Higgins' Tevye. As his wife, Golde, she shows both her shrewish side and her gentleness. Ward de Roo and Higgins give an emotion-filled rendition of “Do You Love Me?” Similarly, the “Sabbath Prayer” is well done with the entire family harmonizing.

The daughters, Danielle Taylor as Tzeitel, Marie Claire Legault as Hodel, and Julie Cushman as Chava are charming in “Matchmaker” and handle their solos marvellously. Their suitors are well played by Aaron Bergeron as Motel the Tailor, Trevor Morris as Perchik the Student, and Joseph Bainbridge as Fyedka the Russian.

Jean Simon's performance of Yente, the Matchmaker is delightful. Her timing of the Yiddish speech patterns is perfect, as she garners many laughs. Also notable are Marty Letourneau as the Russian who quiets the bar room with his clear tenor voice, and Craig Bowie as the disgruntled Lazar Wolf.

Denise Chalk as Fruma Sara and Carol Kernahan as Grandma Tzietel bring the dream scene to life, backed up by a convincing chorus of ghosts and spirits.

The only area in which this production seems to be lacking is the choreography. It's difficult to find true triple threat talent in community theatre, so while the singing is exceptional and the acting is good, the dance is inadequate. Little attempt was made to follow the original Jerome Robbins' choreography – the famous bottle dance suffers from having bottles attached to the hats, and the Russian dance is wanting.

The set is impressive – Tevye's home and the bar both roll on stage and fold out to reveal interesting interiors. Costumes are authentic, drab enough to indicate the poverty, but still appealing.

The first act of Fiddler is wonderfully entertaining, but the second act grows dark, as life in the village of Anetevka becomes increasingly difficult. The family is pulled apart by change, Tevye and Golde unable to hold it together.

Fiddler is also a story about racism and anti-Semitism. Pockets of Jews are living in Tsarist Russia, prior to the Russian Revolution. The Russians terrorize the Jews with violence from time to time, to remind them that they are second-class citizens. Eventually the Jews are expelled, forced to leave their homes and their few possessions behind. Based on the short stories written by a Jew using the pen name Sholom Aleichem (translates as Peace to You), the musical is a story of humour and perseverance in the face of poverty and persecution. This production is both educational and entertaining, with favourite songs such as “Sunrise, Sunset”, “Tradition” and “If I were a Rich Man”.

Fiddler on the Roof continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, until November 12. For tickets, call the box office at 519-344-SHOW (7469) or 1-877-344-SHOW (7469) o visit www.imperialtheatre.net

Mary Alderson, a resident of Strathroy, offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

 

 

 

 

Stones In His Pockets

By Marie Jones
Performed by Christopher Hunt and Shaun Smyth
Directed by Maja Ardal
A Grand Theatre Production
The Grand Theatre, London March 7 – 25. 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The Dream: Ireland vs. America

It isn’t enough that every kid growing up in the United States wants the American Dream Hollywood-style. Here in Canada, we worry about Hollywood’s influence and the damage it can do to our cultural identity. So it’s interesting to learn that the Hollywood mystique even reaches across the ocean to Ireland.

Stones In His Pockets, the current show on stage at the Grand Theatre in London, tells of the Irish desire for Hollywood’s glamour. Two Irishmen are “extras” in a Hollywood movie being shot in Ireland’s beautiful countryside. Both Charlie and Jake are seeking the American dream – Jake is just back from a disappointing trip to the US where he had hoped to find work as an actor; Charlie has written a movie script and wants to use this job to find a producer who will read it.

The first act is full of funny stuff, as we see the would-be actors trying to weasel a free dessert on the set, or being star-stuck by the movie’s lead actress. But a tragic turn of events takes the second act into a darker place. Reality replaces the great American dream.

It’s an interesting story, made more appealing by the way it’s presented on stage. Irish writer Marie Jones has created a cast of 15 characters on the set of this movie in a small Irish village. But all 15 are played by two actors. Christopher Hunt is Charlie and Shaun Smyth is Jake. And then, with a twist or a turn, and a change of voice and stance, they are instantly someone else. Both are excellent and make the audience forget that they are shifting from one character to another. The style is reminiscent of Rod Beattie doing the Wingfield shows – even though he’s always wearing a plaid shirt and overalls, Beattie can raise an eyebrow, move his voice up an octave, and Walt Wingfield immediately becomes his wife, Maggie.

Similarly, Hunt pirouettes and Charlie becomes Caroline Giovanni, the glamorous American movie star. He tosses his non-existent hair, prances on non-existent high heels, and the audience roars with laughter. There is always hilarity when a man plays a woman. Hunt also plays Simon, the Irish first assistant director; Clem, the English director of the film; Fin, a local teenager; Brother Gerard, a teacher; Jock, the star’s Scottish bodyguard; and Mr. Harkin.

Smyth switches easily from playing Jake to playing Mickey, a bent-over little old leprechaun of a man who reminds everyone that he is the last living extra from the making of John Wayne’s The Quiet Man. Smyth also plays Aisling, the third assistant director who’s constantly telling the cast to “settle”; Sean, a teenaged druggie who’s not welcome on the set; John, the star’s dialect coach; Dave, a crew member; and a reporter from the County Kerry News.

Credit goes to director Maja Ardal for creating all these characters from just two actors. She keeps the audience laughing while still delivering a somewhat serious message. Ardal directed The Foursome, Norm Foster’s popular golf comedy at the Grand last year.

The set is simple, but works well – a few meagre props tell the audience whether they are outdoors, in a dressing room, or at the local pub.

Without the talented actors playing all the roles, this play could easily fall flat. Hunt and Smyth keep the audience fascinated by making so many characters come alive. The show concludes with the two of them dancing an Irish jig, but each time they spin around, another character steps into the dance. Just seeing the different ways they morph into different people makes this a worthwhile night out.

Stones In His Pockets continues at the Grand Theatre in London until March 25. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline

By Dean Regan
Performed by Karin Coughlin, David Kirby
Directed by Robert More
VPP Production : Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
May 23 – June 10, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Taking a Walk in Nostagia

If you like Patsy Cline’s music, you’ll enjoy Just a Closer Walk with Patsy Cline currently playing at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Karen Coughlin’s clear voice does justice to the songs made famous by the country & western performer in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Coughlin may have toned down the country twang, making it more palatable for today’s audience And certainly the full house on opening night was appreciative of her performance.

Coughlin’s superb singing skills are well known to area audiences. She performed last year as Cindy in Suds at Hiawatha Slots in Sarnia and also as Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Huron Country Playhouse. That role turned into an extended run at other Drayton Entertainment venues.

But while it was Coughlin’s voice that made the show memorable, the production was lacking in other areas. The show was shorter than usual, and it seemed as if information was lacking. It was unclear whether the production was deliberately shortened by cutting material from the script, or there was a mix up on stage and lines were skipped. In any case, biographical information about Patsy was not there and it seemed like some dialogue was missing. It would certainly have added to the show to learn more about Patsy’s life.

David Kirby played Little Big Man, the Virginia radio station announcer, as well as several other roles providing the comic relief. He performed very well as the Grand Ole Opry comedian and the flashy Las Vegas nightclub singer.

Musical Director and Pianist Christopher Mounteer does an excellent job with the band. His experience was evident – he filled the same positions when A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline was staged at Playhouse II in Grand Bend in 2004.

Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but attention to detail wasn’t evident. A can of Ajax foaming cleanser isn’t the same as a box of laundry detergent. And did Patsy Cline perform in bare feet, or were the shoes lost back stage?

If you want to attend a good concert with songs like “Walkin’ after Midnight”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “I Fall to Pieces”, “Bill Baily”, “Crazy” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”, then you’ll love this show. If you’re looking to learn a little more about Patsy, her life and her feelings, then this production won’t be adequate.

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline sold out two years ago when it ran for the entire summer at Playhouse II in Grand Bend. If you missed it then, here’s an opportunity to see it. And while the opening night show wasn’t equal to the Playhouse II production, it should smooth out and improve as the run continues.

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 10. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Too Many Cooks


By Marsha Kash & Douglas E. Hughes
Directed by Robert More
VPP Production
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
July 25 – August 12, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Too Many Cooks too much farce

Writers Marsha Kash and Douglas Hughes have again put together an all-Canadian farce, currently being staged at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Kash & Hughes are authors of the very popular Who's Under Where?, the story of Vancouver lingerie makers, which is generally thought to be Canada's best farce.

    Director Robert Moore knows that the VPP audience loves a farce, so building on the success of last year's Confessions of a Dirty Blonde , most of the cast is back in Too Many Cooks. It's the story of a Niagara Falls restaurant owner who unwittingly gets mixed up with gangsters who are illegally selling booze during prohibition.

The play has all the elements of a British farce – lies told to cover up more lies, strange disguises and mistaken identities. The only thing it lacks is slamming doors – because it has swinging doors instead.

    The set is a very good 1930's Art Deco lobby in an upscale restaurant, with swinging doors to the kitchen on the right, and swinging doors to the dining room on the left. Naturally, one character comes in one door, while another goes out the other side without seeing each other. Without these carefully crafted doors, along with a basement door, front door, closet and staircase, this play could not be staged. All of the comedy hinges (pardon the pun) on these doors, with the many characters coming and going.

    Michael Lamport is excellent as restaurateur Irving Bubbalowe. You'll remember him as the hilarious Robin Williams-like Bellhop in last year's farce. Paul Brown, the master of the farce, is hilarious as Shirley, the gangster with the feminine name, which demands the old joke, “Surely, you can't be serious?”.

    Jonathan Ellul shows excellent comedic timing and masters many accents, as the hapless Frank Plunkett. David Kirby is the Mountie in the red serge, Constable Effing. And yes, references to his surname cause many chuckles. Tough guy Noodles Feghetti (Terry Barna), innocent daughter Honey (Susie Burnett), rum-runner Mickey McCall (Sam Owen) and immigration officer Veronica Snook (Noran Sheehan) all have a talent for zany comedy. On occasion, cast members even broke each other up. I'm not sure if it was planned or accidental, but what the heck, it was funny.

    The only concern was that this cast is so enthusiastic that at times they come on a little too strong. The yelling was a little too loud and the acting went a little too far over the top. I know it's a farce and over-the-top is usually acceptable, but there must be at least a tiny element of believability to create the humour. But if you like farces, you'll enjoy this one.

    Too Many Cooks continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 12. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.


(L to R) Terry Barna, Jonathan Ellul, and Paul Brown play a couple of gangsters and a hapless cook in the madcap comedy/farce TOO MANY COOKS, onstage at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 12 th .

Photo above, at top of article: (L to R) Terry Barna, Sam Owen, and Paul Brown play a couple of gangsters disguised as cooks trying to hide a body in the comedy/farce TOO MANY COOKS

(PHOTOs: Clouse Photography Petrolia)

 

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Coriolanus

By William Shakespeare
Performed by Colm Feore, Martha Henry, Paul Soles, and company
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre May 6 – September 23, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

See also Christoher Hoile's review here.

Hubris brought to life, and death

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is a study in hubris, which causes both the title character’s great success and his ultimate failure. Stratford actor Colm Feore plays the part well, making Coriolanus’ excessive pride believable. The same pride that gives the character the self-confidence to win in battle also gives him the arrogance that causes his downfall.

Colm Feore knows how to portray arrogance. He did it very well in the made-for-TV movie Trudeau, capably depicting Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s “just watch me” attitude. He showed similar cockiness when he stole the show playing Henry Higgins in Stratford’s My Fair Lady several seasons ago. Again, he is commanding the stage as Coriolanus and his performance makes the evening worthwhile.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s later works, which is perhaps why it is not difficult to follow the Elizabethan English. By the time Shakespeare wrote this tragedy, he had abandoned his poetic rhythm and rhyme and had a adopted a more realistic tone to the dialogue. By comparison with other Shakespearean works, it is relatively easy to understand the discourse and follow the plot line.

Caius Martius returns victorious to Rome, having defeated the Volscians in battle. Because he has conquered the city of Corioli, he is renamed Coriolanus. He basks in the praises of his victory, enjoying the cheering crowds. But while he professes to be looking out for the common people in those crowds, he actually feels nothing but disdain for them. Eventually, his haughtiness shows, and he is banished from Rome for his arrogance. Ultimately, his excessive conceit leads to his death.

The story withstands time – an arrogant leader who forgets the common folk is always recognizable. In this case, we can see where he gets his hubris. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Martha Henry is excellent as Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia, herself a proud, haughty woman who raised her son to be self-important.

Former CBC-TV host Paul Soles is very good as Menenius, the wise elder who tries to temper Coriolanus’ arrogance. Soles has a natural style of acting, with the Shakespearean language flowing easily off his tongue. Also refreshing is Keira Loughran as Valeria, whose effortless manner modernizes the role.

The fight scenes are well choreographed, as Coriolanus goes into battle swinging a sword in each hand, and coming out covered in blood. Costumes are interesting: rather than a sea of bland white togas, there are various styles of robes and tunics, some even colourful. The set also includes interesting use of fire – going into details would give away too much.

If you’d like to become re-acquainted with Shakespeare, and you enjoy a good battle scene, go see Coriolanus. It has an engaging plot, without any confusing side stories. This production moves along quickly, with very rapid scene changes, and fast-paced dialogue. Colm Feore and Martha Henry make it an enriching evening; the audience is emotionally drained along with them at the end of the show,

Coriolanus continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until September 23. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

 

Test Drive

By Dave Carley
Performed by Andy Pogson, Avery Saltzman, Leisa Way
Directed by David Nairn
VPP and Theatre Orangeville Co-production
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
June 13 – July 1, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Driving around the Circle of Life

 

Test Drive is one of those neat little plays that forces the audience think about they way life circles around. What makes this one special is the clever way it’s written. And this particular production is special, thanks to the talented cast.

Test Drive traces a family-owned Amercian Motors dealership through three generations. The story is a salute to entrepreneurship – from car sales to a doughnut shop. We hear the tale of Earl Hughes – how as a young man he inherits his father-in-law’s car business, right through to losing his driver’s licence as an elderly man. Along life’s journey we learn all about all the other people who have influenced him.

Earl is played by Avery Saltzman who does an excellent job portraying the aging process. Hughes demonstrates the poignant moment when his wife Dorothy dies without melodrama. The character loses not only his best friend but an astute business partner.

Leisa Way is amazing as she switches between the various roles she plays: wife, temptress, daughter, grand-daughter. Way gives each character her own voice and mannerisms so the audience clearly knows who she is, avoiding any potential confusion. This play is a great venue for Way to demonstrate her acting experience. She’s the original Anne in Anne of Green Gables at the Charlottetown Festival, and has travelled throughout Canada, US and Japan with that role. She has also played Peter in Peter Pan in many productions, including Huron Country Playhouse.

Andy Pogson will be remembered as Chick in VPP’s production of Confessions of a Dirty Blonde. He supplies some of the comedy as the pot-smoking son and the Mennonite son-in-law. Like Way, Pogson slips from role to role quite capably.

The set was very simple but does the job – a car seat and dashboard double as a sofa and coffee table, covering the two places where we spend most of our time. .

What I enjoyed most of all is the Canadiana in this play: We recognize Toronto landmarks, reinforce the importance of Tim Horton’s, and have a few good laughs about United Church ministers.

David Carey is a bright playwright who has given his baby-boomer audience many recognizable time lines as we journey across the generations with him – Hurricane Hazel in the 50’s, Woodstock in the 60’s, the Montreal Olympics in the 70’s and so on.

It may be a cliché but this is the kind of story where the audience will say “I laughed, I cried” as the circle of life continues and the torch is passed to the next generation. And while it is a gentle comedy, it also offers much to mull over after the curtain falls.

Test Drive continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 1. 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 in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Dads 2: The Toddler’s Revenge

Book & Lyrics by Robert More
Music by Tom Doyle; Directed by Robert More

Victoria Playhouse Petrolia July 4 to July 22, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Lots of laughs with Stay-at-Home Dads

If you saw the original Dads at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia last summer, then you’ll want to come back for the sequel. But even if you missed the first episode, come and see Dads 2: The Toddlers Revenge anyway – I’m sure you’ll catch on immediately, and it’s well worth it for the laughs.

In Dads we met three men – Charles (the yuppie stockbroker), Kirk (the construction worker), and Joey (the Latin professor). Just as their wives have babies, all three men find themselves unemployed and opt to become stay-at-home fathers, while their wives return to work. This unlikely trio becomes good friends while looking after their babies.

Two and a half years have lapsed when we meet again in Dads 2: The Toddler’s Revenge. The three men are raising toddlers and the wives are having new babies. But soon after the births, Charles’ wife returns to her law practise, Kirk’s wife goes back to her job as a server in a country bar, and Joey’s wife is carrying on as a successful entrepreneur opening an additional kitchen store

This musical comedy is written by VPP’s Artistic Director Robert More, and since this gives him the opportunity to direct it himself, we assume we are seeing exactly what he envisioned. The show is well cast with a very talented team

In particular, Glynis Ranney is outstanding as “The Woman”. She plays the three different wives, as well as a psychiatrist, doctor and other fantasy characters. In addition, she is excellent as a puppeteer, providing a voice for some of the toddlers. It was fun to watch her facial expressions as they matched the scrunching of the puppets’ faces.

The toddlers and babies are all played by puppets, with different cast members supplying the voice and movement for the adorable life-size dolls.

David Rosser reprised his role as Charles from last year. He is great in his song and dance number as a ‘designer dad’, explaining how his new little son is going to be perfectly dressed just like his father. Later, of course, he’s horrified when his toddler-daughter insists on wearing rubber boots with her fancy designer dress.

Craig Maguire plays Kirk, the construction worker who enjoys being at home with the kids. He sings an old-fashioned do-wop number about his prom-queen wife, and nails the high notes with a beautiful falsetto. He is very proud of his toddler’s ability to talk, but you can imagine what happens when she picks up on his construction worker’s expletives.

Eric Woolfe is hilarious as Joey, as the staid college professor who has a fantasy about being a British punk rocker. He is the most harried dad, with twin boys and triplet baby girls, but it hasn’t dampened his libido.

Kudos to Robert More for his entertaining script and lyrics, and good direction. It’s perfect summer stock material for a fun night out with lots of laughs. Attendance should be mandatory for any father who has ever changed a diaper.

Dads 2: The Toddler’s Revenge continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until Jly 22. 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 in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas

By Valerie Boyle
Performed by Valerie Boyle and Randy Vancourt
Directed by Robert More, Musical Direction by Randy Vancourt
VPP Production Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
August 15 to September 2, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Sophie's Naughty Jokes keeps audience in hysterics

She was big, she was bold, but she wasn't beautiful. The story of Sophie Tucker is brought to life on stage at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia by writer-actor Valerie Boyle. Boyle researched the life of Sophie Tucker, a popular Vaudeville star, and wrote the script. She appears on stage as Tucker, along with pianist Randy Vancourt who plays Tucker's accompanist Teddy Shapiro.

Sophie Tucker was born in the late 1800's, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants who brought her to the US as a child. She loved performing, even though she overheard a director saying she was too fat and too ugly to go on stage. They gave her a part as a blackface minstrel, to hide her unattractiveness. But one night she lost her make-up, appeared on stage has herself, telling jokes and singing. The audience loved her, and she became a headliner. Following Vaudeville, she had a movie career, recording contracts, and adapted to radio and television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan show. Tucker died in 1966.

But Boyle has very convincingly brought her back to life. And while she often “talks” through the songs, Boyle can belt a tune just like Sophie Tucker. Songs like “See Mama every night, or You Can't See Mama at All”, and “Hula Lou” make up a lengthy repertoire of numbers.

The audience is provided with interesting tidbits about Sophie's life – her three husbands, her relationship with her long-time accompanist, and places she performed.

Most amazing is the endless string of naughty jokes! If her stories aren't out-right off-colour, there is always bawdy innuendo. Comments such as “A man is like a good carpet – if you lay him right, you can walk all over him for years” came one after the other. The audience loved it – the laughter never stopped.

Boyle showed excellent comedic timing of her delivery of her juicy jokes, and she also demonstrated good improv skills. She chatted with the audience members in the front row, even inviting a man on stage to dance with her. And no matter what the embarrassed guest said, Boyle was able to come back with a witty and titillating response.

If you're a fan of racy humour don't miss this fun wrap-up for the season. You will not only learn a history lesson about Sophie Tucker, you might also pick up some tips for the bedroom.

Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas! continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until September 2. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

The Graduate

By Terry Johnston

Performed by Sonja Smits, Andrew Hachey, et al
Directed by Miles Potter
Grand Theatre
Oct.10 – Oct.28, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Humour is muted in Sixties Satire

Everyone knows The Graduate is the story of the older woman having an affair with the young man who just finished college. She's old enough to be his mother. In fact, he later falls in love with her daughter. Ironically, the play is really about the generation gap that caused so much havoc in the sixties. By being intimate, these two characters have actually widened that gap.

Well-to-do American suburbanites had no communication with their offspring. This disjointedness led to rebelliousness, long hair, protests, and drugs. The Graduate takes place in the early sixties and lays the groundwork for the upcoming revolution. With hindsight, we see the humour in the relationship between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin.

When the very popular movie first came out 40 years ago, the audience of burgeoning baby-boomers identified with young Benjamin. The stage version was developed in 2000, and today's audiences of aging baby boomers identify with Mrs. Robinson, or at least can now see how bored and miserable she is

With Simon and Garfunkle's song Mrs. Robinson playing in the background, the opening night audience at the Grand Theatre were taken back on a satirical nostalgia trip. And while there are few out and out laughs, the irony is evident throughout, offering many wry smiles.

The play opens to Benjamin walking about in a wet suit with flippers on his feet. Watching someone walk in big webbed feet is always funny, but this also set the tone – Benjamin is drowning, he is overwhelmed by adulthood.

Sonja Smits is excellent as the steamy Mrs. Robinson. She is familiar for her television appearances, most notably for her ongoing roles in Street Legal and Traders.. Smits, well in her forties and very attractive, had no need for concern when she bared it all in the so-called seduction scene. She plays the part of the bored and ignored desperate housewife very well. She has her hands full – a cigarette in one and a whiskey in the other, as well as a young man willing to meet her for a regular afternoon rendez-vous at the local hotel.

Andrew Hachey as Benjamin is also good – his nervousness in the initial encounters provides humour, as does his waffling when he is unable to decide to stop the affair.

The other characters are really just caricatures – no more than stereotypes. We assume director Miles Potter wanted them this way for the comedy and also to keep the attention on the relationship between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin. Richard Alan Campbell as Mr. Robinson and Doug Macleod as Mr. Braddock are deliberately one-dimentional – typical of the workaholic breadwinner of that era. Similarly, Janet-Laine Green as Mrs. Braddock is a simple housewife, even appearing in apron and oven mitts.

Jennifer Harding deserves mention for her role as the stripper. Her nude scene probably required more effort than Mrs. Robinson's. Maria Dinn as Elaine, Mrs. Robinson's daughter, is too simple and shallow as a character – one wonders why Benjamin would ever be interested in her. Whether she is intended to be a weak character or the presentation is lacking, it is disappointing. Completing the cast were Jim Doucette and M. H. Oliver who each had several roles.

The set is a wall of giant louvered doors, which remained whether it is Benjamin's bedroom, the hotel room, or the Robinson's family room. Again, Benjamin appears to be overwhelmed by the bigness that surrounds him. The array of sixties furniture in the muted lighting is captivating.

Miles Potter's The Graduate makes one think about one's own relationships, both with aging parents and growing kids. This production uses satire to point out the contrived conflicts. Thankfully, over the last four decades, the generation gap has narrowed.

The Graduate continues at the Grand Theatre in London until October 28. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Book by Linda Woolverton, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice
Performed by Karen Coughlin, Markus Nance et al
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre, London, November 21 to December 30, 2006

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Tale as Old as Time Told Anew

This marks the eighth time I've seen the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast live on stage – and I've probably watched the cartoon video countless times. I know pieces of the script by heart. But the Grand's artistic director Susan Ferley has made the latest production seem fresh and new. With an elaborate set and imaginative costumes, this is the Grand's best Christmas musical in recent years.

When the Prince (Markus Nance) scorns an old beggar woman, she casts a spell on him and he becomes a hideous beast, while all the servants in his castle slowly morph into things. To undo the spell, he must make a woman fall in love with him. In the meantime, Belle (Karen Coughlin) and her father, the eccentric inventor Maurice (William Vickers) are not accepted by the townspeople in their little French village. Gaston, (Mark Harapiak) the pub owner with an enormous ego, wants to marry Belle, but she can't tolerate him or his sidekick Lefou (Sal Scozzari). Belle ends up a prisoner in the Beast's castle, and of course, they eventually fall in love, with help from an assortment of household items.

Karen Coughlin as Belle just keeps getting better and better. She will be remembered as the melodramatic Cindy in Suds at Hiawatha's Carousel Playhouse. Last year she played Belle at Huron Country Playhouse, and this summer she had the title role in A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Coughlin is blessed with a beautiful voice and this time around she has put more feeling into every song. She plays Belle with genuine human spirit and not as a cartoon character. It is worth the ticket price just to hear Coughlin sing.

Similarly Markus Nance's rendition of “If I Can't Love Her” brings an emotional close to the first act. Nance was Mikado in last summer's Gilbert & Sullivan at Huron Country Playhouse. His rich voice brings poignancy to the Beast's songs.

Patrick R. Brown as Cogsworth and Neil Foster as Lumiere are a good team, demonstrating their “rapier wit”, as Lumiere says. Brown garners many laughs as the tightly wound clock, and Foster plays the candelabra as if he were Maurice Chevalier.

Eleven-year-old Joshua Rosedale as Chip the Cup is a real audience favourite. Gabrielle Jones as Mrs. Potts, Marcia Tratt as the Wardrobe, and Sarah Slywchuck as Babette, the feather duster are all well cast. Scozzari's Lefou provides the comedy whenever he's on stage, making up for the less memorable Gaston who wasn't able to fulfill the requirements of the songs “Me”, “Gaston” or the “Mob Song”.

Gino Berti's choreography is outstanding with an excellent cast of dancing kitchen utensils, and napkins doing the can-can. In particular, brothers Jason and Julius Sermonia deserve special mention for their perfect moves and high energy.

Credit goes to John Dinning for the amazing set. Pieces come from all directions – the castle revolves around to show exterior and interior, as well as a variety of rooms. Buildings and the forest fly in from above, and furniture comes on a moving treadmill from both left and right. It seems like every scene is a different combination and the same arrangements are seldom repeated.

Costume designer Judith Bowden shows great originality and imagination with the apparel. Most productions of Beauty and the Beast simply follow the Disney cartoon, but Bowden has made it her own. Watching the evolution of the castle's inhabitants is very entertaining.

Musical Director Andrew Petrasiunas and his orchestra fill the theatre with a rich, beautiful sound, giving the impression there are more than just nine people in the pit.

By bringing together a very artistic team, Director Susan Ferley has created a wonderful Christmas gift. I was going to suggest that you give your kids or grandkids tickets, but no, you don't necessarily need kids to enjoy this fairy tale – Go yourself, there's something for everyone.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast continues at the Grand Theatre in London until December 30. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Pollyanna

Novel by Eleanor H. Porter, adapted for stage by Catherine Chisholm Cushing
Directed by Dana Andrade
Petrolia Community Theatre
Victoria Playhouse
December 13 – 17, 2006

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Pollyanna is just too sweet

If you believe that a positive attitude is everything, then Pollyanna is the show for you. Pollyanna is the kid who is glad about everything. Her best friend Jimmy tells how Pollyanna has made the entire town glad, when he relates the story about someone who had lost their legs in an accident, but he's glad because now “has a sittin' job for life”. Or, you can be glad that your teeth don't ache, now that you don't have any, according to Pollyanna.

And while at times the play Pollyanna is just a little over-the-top with goody-goodness, the version now being presented by Petrolia Community Theatre is colourful with some very funny moments.

Twelve year old Pollyanna (Sabrina Joy Redick) is orphaned and sent to live with her stuffy and rigid Aunt Polly (Carol Graham). The town busybodies, played by Sylvia Fairbank, Kristina Anne Campbell and Bonnie Harris, are watching to see how the lively little girl will change her aunt's life. Only Nancy, the housekeeper, (Bethany C. Redick) understands little Pollyanna's spirit.

Aunt Polly doesn't even soften when Pollyanna brings home a dog, a kitten and an orphan boy, Jimmy Bean (Jeremy Bolzon). But things start to change when Pollyanna meets up with the rich John Pendelton (Enzo Bolzon), his friend Dr. Tom Chilton (Doug Wright), the butler Bleeker (Joe Agocs), and the chauffeur (George Stephen).

The happy ending arrives five years later when 17 year old Pollyanna (Karina Ann Redick) returns home to renew her friendship with the older Jimmy (Nathan Clavank).

A favourite at both Petrolia Community Theatre and Theatre Sarnia, Carol Graham is excellent in the role of Aunt Polly. She makes the transition from the cold, prim and proper spinster to the loving aunt and happy wife seem believable, successfully translating her character's journey to the audience.

It's interesting to note that three sisters shared the stage in this show. Bethany Redick provides the comedy as the saucy housekeeper with the Cockney accent. And as Director Danna Andrade notes, what luck to find two sisters with a family resemblance to play Pollyanna as she grows up. Both Sabrina Redick and her sister Karina do well as the always-happy Pollyanna.

Jeremy Bolzon is good as the quirky and twitchy young Jimmy Bean, and Nathan Calvank handles the more mature Jimmy well.

Bonnie Harris as the town gossip deserves credit for performing despite her illness. Her southern drawl was delightful.

The costumes are outstanding. Karen Whiting and Beverly Hawkins created beautiful period dresses with great attention to detail of fabric, lace and colour. From shoes to bonnets, the female characters were impeccably gowned with perfect fits.

The sets were also well done, and again the attention to detail showed. The only concern with such elaborate sets is the extra time involved to make the scene change.

At times the production was a little slow moving, but perhaps this is more the fault of the script than the presentation. In places, the dialogue belabours points, seeming repetitious and a little unnatural. Also, much of the dialogue relates past relationships. Converting the novel to a play requires too much telling of history and therefore results in a lack of action on stage. One can't help but compare Pollyanna to Anne of Green Gables , which has fared much better in the conversion from novel to movie and musical. Unfortunately, the character of Pollyanna lacks the wit and charm of Anne.

But for community theatre, this is a good presentation. It is always such fun to see friends and neighbours in costume on stage, especially when they add live animals to the mix. The local support was evident on opening night when Director Danna Andrade's co-workers from the local grocery store formed a cheering section.

Pollyanna continues until December 17 in Petrolia. Tickets can be obtained at the Town Hall office, Total Hair & Body Care, Petrolia Mercantile or by calling 519-882-4069.

Mary Alderson, a resident of Strathroy, offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Dear Santa

Book by Norm Foster
Directed by Frank Sommise
Theatre Sarnia
Imperial Theatre, Sarnia
December 15 - 21
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

“Dear Santa” is Christmas Fun

Norm Foster is Canada's premier writer of comedy plays. Usually his comedies have a little edge to them, but his Christmas creation, Dear Santa , currently being presented by Theatre Sarnia at the Imperial, is just for fun, with a little moral message thrown in.

The workload at the North Pole is must be increasing, because Santa (David Engleson) has hired a business manager (Dustyn Wales), who is assisted by a Russian (Brian Austin Jr.). Octavia, the housekeeper, (Patti Purcell) has been trying unsuccessfully to attract the manager's attention, when a teenage girl with a bad attitude (Tanisha Minson) shows up. Of course, Santa sees past her attitude problems and sets things straight before her mother (Linda Thomas) and brother (Ian Thomas) arrive. In the meantime, a very persuasive sleigh salesman named Lou Flapdoodle (Ian Alexander) is trying to get Santa to upgrade from his centuries-old model to a new rocket-fast sleigh.

Add to this chaos, seven charming but mischievous elves and a large choir of elf children, and obviously you have the makings of some good comedy, especially with the Christmas Eve deadline quickly approaching.

Stealing the stage is Ian Alexander as the fast-talking sleigh salesman, desperate to earn his commission. Alexander smoothly delivers his rapid-fast lines, and never leaves the audience behind. His quirky actions and twisted facial features are very Jim Carrey-esque, and he keeps the laughs coming, wearing his astounding red plaid three-piece suit. Alexander's talent for manic comedy is obvious.

Also very entertaining is Dustyn Wales as the frustrated business manager, Algernon Gladstone. Wales handles the difficult role of being irritated and angry much of the time, and yet still likeable.

Brian Austin Jr.'s character, the Russian Bozidar is very Borat-like. Austin has the accent down pat, and much of the show's comedy comes from Bozidar's mixed-up metaphors that are lost in translation.

Patti Purcell's Octavia is also well done, particularly when she morphs from a geeky housekeeper to a sexy temptress, without losing all credibility.

There's an assortment of elves with large pointy ears, and they do a good job of remaining in character while in the background busily building toys. And of course, you can't go wrong with a choir of cute kids singing original Christmas tunes.

The set is very well done, with the North Pole literally at centre stage. The scene changes from Santa's office complete with Christmas decorations, to the colourful toy workshop, as a hinged wall moves back and forth, thanks to clever design and decor by Don Hayes, Anne McDonald and company.

Credit also goes to Mary-Anne Coderre-Richardson and Eva Graham for the colourful array of costumes. Lots of red and green mixed with bright yellows makes for an eye-catching show.

Director Frank Sommise has done well to capture the Christmas spirit intended by playwright Norm Foster. Dear Santa is a good piece of community theatre and provides family fun that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Dear Santa continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, until December 21. For tickets, call the box office at 519-344-SHOW (7469) or 1-877-344-SHOW (7469) or visit www.imperialtheatre.net

 

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

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