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|Moonlight and Magnolias For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again | Sticks and Clones |
Steel Magnolias | The Spitfire Grill | Wingfield's Inferno | We Will Rock You | Bathroom Humor |
Nunsensations | Oklahoma! | Here on the Flight Path | My One and Only | To Kill a Mockingbird |
| Perfect Wedding | A Matter of Time | Boardwalk | Reverend Jonah | Could You Wait |


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Some Stage Door reviews of 2007

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Nunsensations! ~ The Nunsense Vegas Revue

By Dan Goggin
Performed by Valerie Boyle, Danica Brown, Cyndi Carleton, Donna Garner, Gail Hakala.
Directed by Robert More
Victoria Playhouse Production
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
May 22 to June 9, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The Nuns do Vegas

For fans of the Nunsense series, Victoria Playhouse Petrolia is offering the next episode – Nunsensations! The Nunsense Vegas Revue. The five sisters from Hoboken are always looking for ways to raise money for their parish. So when they're offered $10,000 to perform a Las Vegas Revue in "The Pump Room" at the Mystique Motor Lodge, off they go, despite Mother Superior's (Valerie Boyle) protests. The other four assure her that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, which apparently alleviates her worries.

Sister Mary Hubert (Gail Hakala), Sister Robert Anne (Donna Garner) Sister Mary Paul (Cyndi Carleton) and Sister Mary Leo (Danica Brown) immediately get into the swing of things in Las Vegas, and the show begins. Like Vegas show girls, the nuns wear lots of sequins and feathers, all over top of their habits.

The evening starts out with the nuns working the audience, getting names for a draw to play the Holy Rollers Giant Slot Machine. But instead of coming up lemons or cherries, this one-armed bandit is supposed to produce virtues. Players are trying to match faith, hope, charity and those other two virtues, will and grace. Unfortunately, on opening night, no one rolled three of a kind, so the prize – keys to the new car – was never awarded.

In between the big musical numbers, the nuns present Shtick, which is clearly labelled as such. It's mostly old jokes you've heard before, but when presented by nuns, they'll make you laugh again.

There are memorable numbers throughout the show: instead of Celine Dion singing about the Titanic, we have Mother Superior wearing a giant silver blimp on top of her head, singing about the Hindenburg.

Valerie Boyle is excellent in the role of Mother Superior. Last summer at Victoria Playhouse, she starred in Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas , and brings the same comedic ability to this role. Boyle and Gail Hakala, who plays the more seasoned nun, provide most of the laughs.

The two go through a sales routine, reminiscent of Johnny Carson's Art Fern sketch, where they are selling useless Vegas souvenirs. Sister Mary Hubert (Hakala) is attracted to the inflatable Wayne Newton doll, and Boyle, along with the audience, breaks up over the hilarious faces she makes.

Cyndi Carleton is delightful as the exuberant Sister Mary Paul, also known as Sister Amnesia in earlier Nunsense shows. She's a guitar-playing nun, and offers to sing tunes like “If my nose were running money, Honey, I'd blow it all on you.” She is also a clever puppeteer, bringing along her muppet-like side-kick, Sister Mary Annette.

While there are plenty of laughs, Nunsensations seems to be more about the music, so it doesn't have as many witty lines as the earlier Nunsense series. Nevertheless, the Vegas glitz makes it fun and as the nuns themselves say: Why sing a ballad when you can belt a show tune?

Nunsensations continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 9. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

A Matter of Time

By Robert More
Performed by Ian Downie, David Kirby, Madeline Smart, Meghan Smart, and Helen Taylor. Directed by Robert More
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, July 24 to August 11, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Youngest & Oldest Steal the Stage

The special relationship between a grandfather and his 10-year-old granddaughter is the foundation for A Matter of Time , the current play on stage at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia. A Matter of Time was written by Robert More, VPP's artistic director, and he directed this production. The show was first staged three years ago at Theatre Orangeville.

It's always exciting to see the work of Canadian playwrights produced on stage, and this is especially remarkable, since the creator has the opportunity to direct it himself at the theatre where he is the artistic director. More has written an interesting story of family relationships, with a good blend of humour and emotion.

It's the story of a family with the unfortunate surname Kidney. The father, Ron Kidney (David Kirby) is going off to his stressful office job. Mom Liz Kidney (Helen Taylor) is a busy real estate agent. Daughters Stacy (Madeline Smart) and Olivia (Meghan Smart) are rushing to get ready for school. Grandad (Ian Downie) is just trying to stay out of the way. Like most families they are way too busy. But out of this chaos, the grandfather and the youngest granddaughter develop a special bond.

At first, the story is slowed down with scenes of family turmoil so typical that they aren't funny. Everyone rushing around in the morning, trying to get through breakfast and out the door on time, is too realistic to be humourous. Bickering siblings and stressed parents at the dinner table isn't that funny either.

But then, just in time, the audience is laughing at little Stacy's hilarious word play. More has had great fun with the vocabulary of a precocious 10 year old. The character uses words like “ovulation” when she means “ovation” and so on. Madeline Smart is indeed a ‘smart' young actress, as she delivers the lines with perfect comedic timing. It's a fairly large role for such a young performer, but Madeline handles it with ease. An 11 year old from London, she played Molly in Annie at the Grand Theatre. Audiences will look forward to future performances by this charismatic and clever little girl.

While the youngest character on the stage provides the comedy, the eldest gives us the sentimental scenes, but not without a touch of humour. Ian Downie is excellent as the aging grandpa. He is recognizable as the grandfather in the oatmeal cereal commercial on television, where his son won't share and tells him he won't like it. Downie has appeared in a string of other TV ads, so audiences almost feel they know him. Downie's warm-hearted character continues with that feeling of familiarity. A widower, the grandfather often talks to her late wife, and Downie handles the sad monologues without letting them become maudlin.

Credit goes to Robert More first for creating these two characters with a combination of humour and emotion. He also deserves credit for casting Ian Downie and Madeline Smart, and then directing them, so that they so ably brought them to life.

A Matter of Time continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 11. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Performed by Blythe Wilson, Dan Chameroy, Nora McLellan Jonathan Ellul, Kyle Blair, Lindsay Thomas, David W. Keeley and company.
Director & Choreographer: Donna Feore
Stratford Festival Production
Festival Theatre
April 10 to November 4, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson  (See James Wegg's review here!)

Oklahoma!, this year's musical at Stratford's Festival Theatre, brings great energy to the stage. As Rogers and Hammerstein's first collaboration, Oklahoma! changed the way Broadway musicals were presented and set the benchmark for future productions. A groundbreaking show, Oklahoma! was the first musical to have the songs as integral parts of the plot.

The story of Oklahoma! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. Riggs, a cattleman's son, was born in Oklahoma in 1899. He tells the tales of the early pioneers in Oklahoma when it was still a territory. These settlers believed their lives would improve when Oklahoma was declared a state. The play relates the conflict between the cowboys and the farmers: the cowboys wanted their cattle to be able to roam free, while the farmers wanted to put up fences and work the land. The musical version includes the love story of Curly and Laurey. In addition, it touches on what might be considered a modern problem – stalking, as Jud Fry makes unwanted advances towards Laurey.

With Blythe Wilson as Laurey and Dan Chameroy as Curley, the singing is excellent. Wilson is in her 5 th season at Stratford, and will be remembered for her voice as Nancy in last year's Oliver! Chameroy has been at Stratford for 6 season, but last year appeared in High Society at the Shaw Festival.

Wilson also deserves credit for dancing the dream ballet herself. In many productions, a different dancer steps in for the dream sequence, but Wilson, in addition to her fantastic singing voice, shows she is a polished dancer as well.

Providing the comedy is Johanthan Ellul in his Stratford debut, playing Ali Hakim, the Persian Peddler. Ellul was at Victoria Playhouse last summer in Too Many Cooks, and before that, he was in Wang Dang Doodle and Annie at London's Grand. With his flair for humour, he will no doubt be showing up in more comedies in the future.

Nora McLellan plays a kinder, gentler Aunt Eller. McLellan was a favourite as Mama Rose in the Shaw Festival's version of Gypsy a few years ago. Londoner Kyle Blair is back for his 7 th season at Stratford and is excellent as Will Parker, the cowboy who can sing, dance and twirl a lariat. Lindsay Thomas is hilarious as Ado Annie, the girl who “cain't say no.” David W. Keeley gives a very good interpretation of Jud Fry – scary but with a human element that evokes some sympathy. Stephanie Graham as Gertie has the most annoying laugh and handles her fight scene well.

The energetic cast does justice to the wonderful score – songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”, “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “People will Say We're in Love”, and of course the theme “Oklahoma” has everyone leaving the theatre singing. “The Farmer and the Cowman” gives the cast a chance to show off some fun choreography – everything from acrobatics to square dance.

The lighting is excellent. From the darkened theatre, the light panels representing the sky slowly go from a dark blue-purple right through to orange and yellow as the sun comes up on a “beautiful morning'”.

Donna Feore as both director and choreographer has given this good cast an opportunity to show their true triple threat talent. With great singing and amazing dance, this production of Oklahoma! shows why the old musical continues to be popular.

Oklahoma! continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until November 4. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check


Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Bathroom Humor

By Jane Milmore & Billy Van Zandt
Performed by Megan Hadley, Joanne Kennedy, Ashleigh Shortridge, Joe Agocs, Craig Hines, David Mitchell, Doug Murphy, Jamie Remple.
Directed by Andrea Hughes
Theatre Sarnia Production
Imperial Theatre, Sarnia
May 14 - 19, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Too much going on in one bathroom

If you've ever been to a house party where it seems like there's more going on in the bathroom than in the living room, you'll understand the premise behind Bathroom Humor , the comedy currently on stage at the Imperial Theatre, presented by Theatre Sarnia.

It's one of those comedies where you have to keep all the names straight or you'll lose the point. So stick with me here – it's an office party at Russ and Lucille's house, but that's really not important as we never meet Russ or Lucille – we do hear some jokes about Lucille's affair with a doctor, but since we don't meet him either, the jokes fall a little flat. But we do meet Laura (Megan Hadley) whose having a fling with Sandy (David Mitchell), who happens to work for her husband. Then we meet the overweight Peg (Joanne Kennedy) who doesn't have a date, but desperately wants a man. She's stuck bringing her father (Joe Agocs) to the party. Also using the washroom is Stu (Craig Hines), a hippie looking for privacy to smoke a joint. Then there's Laura's husband, Arthur (Doug Murphy) who is being pursued by Babette (Ashleigh Shortridge), the office's young sex kitten. Add to this the worst Elvis impersonator ever (Jamie Remple) who is supposed to be the entertainment for the evening.

Megan Hadley, a long-time favourite at Theatre Sarnia, is excellent playing Laura, tossing off the gossipy and catty lines very cleverly. As the party progresses, Hadley handles Laura's drunkenness very well, slurring her words, staggering, and even visiting the porcelain god.

Doug Murphy as the very nervous Arthur provides many of the laughs as he tries to fend off Babette's hot and heavy advances. When Arthur realizes that Babette has deliberately spilled dip on his shirt so that he'll have to take it off when they are alone together in the bathroom, he says “I have to get this dip out of my stain, or it will make a shirt.” Murphy does well to turn the jumpy Milquetoast character into a macho man by the show's end.

The entire stage is transformed into one huge bathroom for this production of Bathroom Humor. The audience is immediately asked to suspend reality and accept that such a large bathroom really exists. Then the characters look towards the audience while preening themselves in an invisible mirror – and again we are asked to believe that the mirror runs completely across the stage. So although the set is decent, it's oversized to the point where it's distracting, as the audience speculates on the reasons behind its large size.

While there were funny moments throughout the show, one might expect more humour in a play called Bathroom Humor . Authors Jane Milmore and Billy Van Zandt have a good reputation for funny television shows and hilarious scripts. There were side-splitting laughs when Victoria Playhouse Petrolia presented Milmore/Van Zandt's Confessions of a Dirty Blonde in 2005.

Unfortunately, the script for Bathroom Humor may be a little dated – fat jokes, drunk jokes and druggie jokes may be all right in small doses, but they can become tiring when there isn't enough other comedy to support the plot.

Bathroom Humor continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, until May 19. For tickets, call the box office at 519-344-SHOW (7469) or 1-877-344-SHOW (7469) or visit


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


The Spitfire Grill

By James Valcq; Directed by Robert McQueen
Musical Director Andrew Petrasiunas
Grand Theatre Production, Grand Theatre, London
March 13 to 31, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Giving Back Love to Small Town Life

The female cast members overwhelm the stage in The Spitfire Grill , the current production at London's Grand Theatre. Fresh out of women's prison, Percy ends up in the unlikely town of Gilead, Wisconsin, where she takes a job in the area's only restaurant, the Spitfire Grill. The run-down diner is operated by Hannah, who's tired of the constant work and the same old crowd. When Hannah's hip gives out, Percy has to take over the kitchen, and Shelby, the wife of Hannah's nephew Caleb, is recruited to help serve. They struggle on, and eventually get into the rhythm of the diner, much to the chagrin of the town busybody and postmistress Effy.

Hannah wants to sell the Spitfire Grill, but nephew Caleb, bitter about losing his job at the quarry, isn't very successful at real estate sales, either. Joe, the sheriff, is also Percy's parole officer, and like everyone else in town, he's depressed over the failing economy and dying spirit in Gilead. Percy and Shelby come up with the idea of raffling off the Spitfire Grill and organize a contest. They advertise the competition and mail starts pouring in from all over – people writing letters about why they'd like to win the diner, and sending in $100 entry fee. Slowly the dejected feeling in the Spitfire Grill starts to fade, as they hear from so many people who want to make Gilead their home. The townspeople start sprucing things up when they learn that newcomers might be moving in. The story becomes one of friendship and love and what those feelings can do to improve the surroundings.

At only 24 years old, Heather McGuigan is excellent as tough girl Percy. Her soaring voice is perfect for belting out the beautiful music, and her acting skills in playing the hardened ex-con are perfect for the part. As the show progresses, we watch Percy grow and evolve, just like the town around her. McGuigan takes the character from being suspicious and defensive to slowly letting her guard down and opening up to friendship.

McGuigan is joined by Amy Walsh as Shelby. Walsh, too, has a remarkable voice that resonates through the beautiful songs. Walsh is recognizable from her many roles in musicals at the Stratford Festival and Huron Country Playhouse. Like McGuigan, she, too, takes her character through a metamorphosis, changing from a mousy housewife, to a woman who can make her own decisions.

Cathy Elliot is excellent as the aging Hannah, her deeper voice in perfect harmony with McGuigan and Walsh. As mentor to Percy and Shelby, Hannah mellows as the story progresses.

Corrine Koslo plays the postmistress and local gossip Effy Krayneck (Love the name – she is constantly stretching her neck to overhear everyone else's conversations.) Koslo adds the comic relief. She can't understand why the Spitfire Grill is suddenly getting handfuls of mail. Next day, her shoulder bag is full of letters for the Spitfire. Then she brings the house down, when she staggers in pushing a wheelbarrow filled with bags of mail. In one song, she belts out all the names of the cities on the postmarks that the letters bear. One letter is all the way from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which makes for great song lyrics. Effy is delighted to point out that it has insufficient postage!

Josh Epstein is good as Sheriff Joe Sutter and Joe Matheson, just finishing his run of playing the narrator in For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again , handles the role of Caleb very well. Todd Harrop is also good as the visitor.

On a couple of occasions, the author asks us to suspend belief, which was a bit disrupting in an otherwise reality-based, slice-of-life story. First, it's difficult to accept the whole notion of raffling off the restaurant. And it's too trite and too easy for the sheriff just to say that it's all legal. Secondly, it's hard to accept that a mother would set out a loaf of bread for her son every night, knowing that he's living in the woods and not try to contact him for 20 years. The story needs more explanation to make it plausible. Yet the plot is interesting and the lyrics and music appealing.

With four women who are all strong actors handling fascinating roles, and all blessed with powerful voices, The Spitfire Grill belongs to them. Director Robert McQueen does an excellent job of bringing out their evolution of spirit, and Musical Director Andrew Petrasiunas allows their solos to soar, and then blending the voices in perfect harmony at other times.


The Spitfire Grill continues at the Grand Theatre in London until March 31. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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Steel Magnolias

By Robert Harling; Directed by William Kenner
Theatre Sarnia Production , Imperial Theatre, London,
February 12 - 17, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Beauty Salon Gospel

Problems with bad hair can be solved on a daily basis at Truvy's beauty salon, but sometimes life's problems can't be solved quite as easily. Nonetheless, the six women who gather at Truvy's and share their burdens (some funny, some serious) often see the light.

These magnolias are not fragile southern flowers; they are tough as steel in Theatre Sarnia's latest production, Steel Magnolias, playing this week at the Imperial Theatre. Author Robert Harling's stage play is actually better written than the star-studded movie version, probably because it is just six women and one set. As a very compact play, each word is carefully chosen. There are some hilarious lines, and some very emotional parts, both done well in this tightly written script.

Truvy (Holly Wenning-Mayea) hires Annelle (played by Holly's daughter Amy Mayea), a new stylist in her hair salon. Annelle is put to work right away because there is a big wedding in their Louisiana town. The bride, Shelby (Karissa Teskey), her mother M'Lynn (Lisa McMurphy-Clarke), their rough and ready neighbour Ouiser (Liz Walton) and family friend Clairee (Joan Campbell Grant) are all getting their hair done. Shelby has diabetes, and has been told by her doctors that she shouldn't have a baby. But by Christmas, Shelby comes home to announce that she is pregnant, much to her mother's dismay. The hair salon crowd decides to ignore the doctor's advice and celebrate the coming baby.

Eighteen months later we learn that the pregnancy has damaged Shelby's kidneys, and her mother is about to donate one of her kidneys to her daughter. But the organ transplant fails, and after slipping into a coma, Shelby dies. The friends rally to support each other.

The first act is great comedy. Liz Walton as Ouiser steals her scenes with her hilarious antics. She is constantly delivering sharp witticisms, while adjusting her underwear and ranting and raving. Walton, a familiar face to Theatre Sarnia fans, shines in this comedic role.

Holly Wenning-Mayea, a Theatre Sarnia favourite, is excellent as Truvy, the Dolly Parton character in the movie version. Wenning-Mayea has the southern drawl down pat – just enough to remind us that we are in Louisiana, but not too much to make understanding difficult. She is comfortable on stage, and like Dolly Parton, is very natural in her acting. She has obviously had some hairdressing lessons, as she easily delivers her lines, while teasing hair or manicuring nails.

Amy Mayea is a delight, handling a difficult role with ease, and showing a maturity for acting beyond her 17 years. Her character Annelle starts out as a shy and nervous newcomer, then blossoming into a brassy chick, and next undergoing a religious conversion, turning into a devout Christian praying for her friends. Mayea portrays all three extreme characterizations believably.

Karissa Teskey is very good as the charming but headstrong bride, and Joan Campbell Grant delivers some excellent comedic lines as Clairee, the senior of the group. Lisa McMurphy-Clarke, in her first acting role, handles the part of M'Lynn capably.

The only concerns involving the opening night production have to do with timing. The change of props on the set and the costume switches seem to take a little too long. Also, the comedic timing was off in some places – some characters had some hilariously funny lines, but there wasn't time allowed for the audience's laughter. Conversely, when the characters did wait for laughter to subside, they needed something to do on stage. No doubt these are problems that will be corrected during the run of the show.

Credit should be given to Director William Kenner for bringing out so many different emotions in the six characters. Kudos also to the many, many behind-the-scenes workers at Theatre Sarnia. The hair salon set is good – its church-like stained glass tells us that this is more of a meeting place than a business. Community theatre thrives on volunteers and these have done a good job.

Steel Magnolias continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, until February 17. For tickets, call the box office at 519-344-SHOW (7469) or 1-877-344-SHOW (7469) or visit


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Sticks & Clones

Choreographed by Megan Hadley and Hailey McHarg
Theatre Sarnia STAGE III Production, Imperial Theatre, Sarnia
April 2-7, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Blue Man Group meets Monty Python

    Take the clogging feet of the Broadway show Stomp , add the drumming sticks of the Blue Man Group , and include a dash of off-beat Monty Python humour, and you'll get Sticks & Clones , this year's youth production at Sarnia's Imperial Theatre. There's amazing rhythm, intricate choreography, and some good laughs in this remarkable show put on by seven guys and two girls, aged 14 to 20.

    Your first thought is “wow, this is well-rehearsed”, and your next thought is that this is excellent community theatre, regardless of the fact that it's been developed by teenagers. Usually, in community theatre, you can spot a “weak link” in the cast – one or two performers that aren't quite up to the others' standards. But then, that's what amateur theatre is all about. The actors aren't pros; they are your friends and neighbours, and a flubbed line or missed cue is quite forgivable.

However, in Sticks & Clones, there was not a weak link on the stage. All nine characters were absolutely ready for opening night, and no one missed a beat – literally or figuratively. Zac Aitken, Kevin Andersen, Michael Cimetta, Michael Hobbs, Hailey McHarg, Tanisha Minson, Brigetta Piggott, Chris Reid, and Chris Westaway moved like a well-oiled machine, and were a perfectly synchronized team. They had to be. If someone goofed up, others would get hurt with the various paraphernalia on stage.

The show started with the signature stomping feet and banging sticks, and just when you were worried that this might get tiresome, they switched to plungers instead of sticks. The ‘gloop' noise made by plungers sticking to the floor changed the dynamic, and let's face it, there's nothing funnier than a plunger stuck on a bald head.

The change ups were fast and always fun. We were serenaded by an orchestra of music made by blowing across the top of beer bottles filled to various levels. Then in a sketch called Something's Sticky, we learned about the lifecycle of bubblegum, with only minimal audience gagging. We even saw Stomp on roller blades, among many other different scenes.

In the second act we were treated to drumming on tubes of all sizes, including a giant tube that may or may not have come to life. There's a duel between a drummer and a tap dancer that demonstrates incredible talent on both parts. There's a jousting damsel that could have been inspired by Spamalot! And to top the beer bottle orchestra, there's musical whoopee cushions – and it's hard to beat whoopee cushions for laughs. There were many other incredible scenes; I couldn't take notes fast enough.

Despite the unusual nature of the show and the silliness involved, this young cast put on a very polished, very professional production.

Megan Hadley is the long-time leader of the STAGE III group – she meets with the teens throughout the year and they often write their own plays or create their own shows. She deserves full credit for bringing out the talent in these young people, and providing them with a “home” to develop their skills. Hadley and performer Hailey McHarg did excellent work in choreographing this production. Just the logistics of fitting it all together are mind-boggling.

Only ten minutes or so into the first act, an 11-year-old boy sitting in front of me turned to his father and loudly whispered, “So far, I really like it.” At the show's end, he was asking Hadley how he could learn to do that – probably the best endorsement of a production ever. Take the kids, take Grandma, go see it – and then you'll want to do it.

Sticks & Clones continues at the Imperial Theatre, Sarnia, until April 7, running from 7:30 to 9:15. For tickets, call the box office at 519-344-SHOW (7469) or 1-877-344-SHOW (7469) or visit


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

Moonlight and Magnolias

By Ron Hutchinson, Directed by Gina Wilkinson
Grand Theatre, London. January 9 to 27, 2007

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

The “Making Of” makes its own show

The latest production at London's Grand Theatre is riding the popular bandwagon of behind-the-scenes shows. Imagine you're at home watching the DVD of Gone With The Wind , and you click on the section entitled The Making of Gone With The Wind'. That's what the play Moonlight and Magnolias is all about – how the movie version of Gone With The Wind came to be.

If we can believe Moonlight and Magnolias , it's amazing that Gone With The Wind was ever even filmed, let alone becoming a popular hit movie and huge Oscar winner. Turning the best-selling novel into a film was fraught with problems.

As the play opens, it's 1939 and producer David O. Selznick (Ben Carlson) has been very dissatisfied with the filming of Gone With The Wind . The screenplay has been written and re-written several times, and he has just fired the director. He calls on successful scriptwriter Ben Hecht (Tom Rooney) to start with a fresh screenplay, and pulls director Victor Fleming (Robert Persichini) off the set of The Wizard of Oz . There are some laughs when Fleming says he doesn't mind leaving Oz ; he's fed up with drunken Munchkins anyway.

The big problem is immediately apparent – Hecht hasn't read Margaret Mitchell's popular novel, and since they need a script so they can resume filming in just one week, there is no time for him to read the thick book. Selznick and Fleming act out the scenes of the novel, as Hecht taps out the script on a typewriter. Selznick locks the door of the office, only allowing his receptionist Mrs. Poppenghul (Jane Spidell) in to bring them bananas and peanuts, which Selznick believes are brain food. As the week progresses, all four characters are sleep-deprived and punchy, creating the obvious potential for humour.

All four actors are well cast. The comedy comes from Carlson and Persichini's re-enactments. Carlson is hilarious when he plays Vivian Leigh playing Scarlett O'Hara, fanning himself like a southern belle saying “fiddle-dee-dee” in his falsetto. Similarly, Persichini plays Fleming playing Melanie, on the floor in labour, giving birth as Atlanta falls around them. Persichini is reminiscent of Chris Farley as he jumps from role to role. Later all three men discuss the scene where Scarlett slaps Prissy, the slave who “don't know nothing ‘bout birthin' babies”. They decide if the slap should stay in, by acting it out in several different ways, eventually roughhousing in a crazy Three Stooges-like routine.

Hecht's character is the more serious one – leading the discussion about slavery and prejudice, and comparing it to the racist encounters he and Selznick have as Jews. Hecht is also very sceptical about the success of the movie – he thinks Mitchell's novel is a big soap opera and won't translate to the big screen, even as he's writing the screenplay.

Director Gina Wilkinson chose a great cast and has produced excellent chemistry among them. John Dinning has again created a wonderful set for Selznick's office. He has the right balance of interesting art deco, with some tacky Hollywood glamour thrown in. Dinning was responsible for the outstanding set design in the recent Beauty and the Beast , as well as Trying and The Black Bonspiel of Wullie Macrimmon .

The only concern with this show is with the script itself. Some of the colloquialisms don't ring true to 1939. Writer Ron Hutchinson uses too many of today's phrases that aren't realistic for the thirties, such as “don't go there” when they didn't want to discuss something. It is a little jarring to hear current slang when the characters and set just convinced us we have gone back in time 70 years.

In other places the script becomes too didactic for a comedy. The audience is hit over the head with the lesson being taught, instead of sliding the message discretely into the plot. And while for the most part, there is plenty of action with characters leaping and flouncing across the stage, in some places the script becomes bogged down with argumentative dialogue. Lengthy discussions are too slow and dragged out, preventing the plot from moving forward.

Unfortunately, the script for a show about scriptwriting just needs a little tweaking itself, to make a good show into a really great show.

Moonlight and Magnolias continues at the Grand Theatre in London until January 27. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Wingfield's Inferno

By Dan Needles
Performed by Rod Beattie
Directed by Douglas Beattie
Original music by Stephen Woodjetts
Grand Theatre, London, April 10 to May 5, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Almost too true to be funny

The Wingfield franchise has another hit with number six, Wingfield's Inferno , now playing on the main stage at London's Grand Theatre. In each of the one-man shows, Walt Wingfield tells about life in mythical Persephone Township.

In this set of vignettes, Walt shares his experiences with his new baby daughter, Hope, and her first words, his frustration with the high cost of insurance, the training of a young horse, the capture of a nuisance skunk, the amalgamation of the local municipalities, the politics of the member of parliament, and the rebuilding of the Orange Hall after a disastrous fire. And while it sounds like a bunch of disjointed short stories, author Dan Needles always finds a clever way to tie it all together.

Needles began writing Walt Wingfield's letters over 20 years ago. As editor of the Shelburne newspaper, Needles prepared a weekly column about Walt, a stockbroker who became a hobby farmer, and how he was swallowed up by the people in his rural village. These columns became a play, and here we are today, six plays later.

Needles has a firm grasp on rural life, and an ability to juxtapose the city-slicker with country problems. The humour comes from the contrast between Walt and his new rural family and friends – they obviously love him dearly, but years later, he is still the newcomer and an outsider.

Although they are funny, the situations Needles creates are very true. Often members of the audience are nodding their heads, very familiar with the situation. When the Orange Hall burns down, the government red tape won't allow the community to rebuild it – the septic tank and well must be replaced, and the lot isn't big enough for today's standards. So it can't be rebuilt, but hey, it could be renovated. So let's just rebuild it and call it a renovation. Too true to be funny – we've seen this happen in real life. The irony is an audience favourite.

Actor Rod Beattie makes Needles' words come alive. Beattie has performed all productions of all six plays in the series, and in each show, he plays many parts. If Needles' script isn't funny enough, Beattie will raise one eyebrow just right to bring out the laughs. As Walt Wingfield, Beattie narrates the story, but then does all the voices for the cast of characters that Wingfield encounters. He expressive eyes let the audience know when he's someone else – and his delightful voice for wife Maggie is charming. He even supplies the voices for the dog Spike and baby daughter Hope. In this play, Beattie has fun with the MP character, a good-old-boy politician who pretends to know everyone, but can't remember a single name. When the audience anticipates an upcoming joke and starts to laugh, Beattie says “You're ahead of me on this one,” and breaks up, too, which only adds to the fun.

Beattie's brother Douglas Beattie has directed all the Wingfield plays, and obviously has a knack for working with Rod and perfecting the comedic timing. Douglas Beattie has produced the Wingfield TV series, which can be seen on CBC.

In the past, the Wingfield shows have always graced the stage in the McManus Theatre, downstairs at the Grand. Artistic Director Susan Ferley decided that number six had built enough following to fill the seats in the main stage theatre. Walt Wingfield's popularity has put the hick town of Larkspur under the Grand's classical proscenium arch, and the contrast works.

Wingfield's Inferno continues at the Grand Theatre in London until May 5. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again

Performed by Louise Pitre and Joe Matheson
Directed by Susan Ferley
Grand Theatre, London
February 6 to 24, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A Simple Story about a Colourful Relationship

When the narrator steps on the stage and tells the audience that it's not going to be a big impressive show – he stresses that this is not Shakespeare, not Beckett, not Chekhov, nor Tennessee Williams – we sink back and are lulled into thinking it will be an effortless evening. But then Nana bursts onto the stage, and we realize that we are going to be well entertained, and we are going to learn more than if we were sitting through classical theatre.

Not only do we have Michel Tremblay's intelligent script, capably translated into English, but we also have brilliant actors in the Grand's current production of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again . Tony-nominated Louise Pitre plays Nana, the mother, while Pitre's husband, Joe Matheson, has the part of the narrator/son, in Tremblay's autobiographical tale. Pitre proves she's both a comedic and dramatic actor, and that she's obviously much more than just her amazing singing voice. She is best known for her lead role in Mamma Mia, both in Toronto and on Broadway. Pitre and Matheson have good chemistry for obvious reasons, and they are able to translate it very well into this moving story of a mother-son relationship.

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again could be viewed as nothing more than Tremblay reminiscing about his mother. The narrator, who is, of course, Tremblay himself, leads the audience to believe he is just going to tell us a few stories about his mom. He steps back into the scene and immediately becomes a 10-year-old boy facing his angry mother, who is upset that the police have come looking for him. She exaggerates his misdemeanour and keeps the audience laughing as she acts out the horrors that his minor mischief might have created.

Tremblay shares more memories when he is 13, and his mother has offered him her melodramatic novels from France to read. When the young boy questions the lack of reality in the novels, his mother goes to great extent to defend the books, again with much humour.

And thus the play moves along, with Tremblay simply relating funny stories about his mother. And then suddenly the audience realizes that this is much more than just sharing memories through flashbacks. We are being given an amazing glimpse into the making of an artist. His mother, this housewife who is locked into her position by the patriarchal and religious Quebec of the 1950's, is actually shaping one of Canada's best and most prolific authors and playwrights. Her melodramatic ways of raising her son, her creative imagination in telling him the stories of their family, her wonderful sense of humour, and her passion for books and movies have made him who he is. Her pride and love of her son, although not always spoken, is always present. But maybe it has taken retrospection for him to see it.

All the humour dissipates towards the end of the one-act show. He is only 21 and his mother is dying of cancer. Despite the sorrow, there is a wonderful surprise ending which cannot be revealed here, for fear of spoiling the production for future audiences.

Pitre captures the French-Canadian accent flawlessly, adding to it an endearing stance and comic gestures. Her energy on stage is captivating. Matheson grows with each flashback—he's perfect as the fidgeting 10-year-old, right through to the frightened 21-year-old, as he casts his mind back. Director Susan Ferley deserves credit for leading the two characters through their lives' journey. John Dinning's sets are very well done, and again that's all that can be said in order not to reveal too much.

The play itself is brilliant, and Pitre and Matheson are brilliant in it. Every mother and her child will see something of themselves and be touched by it. The audience is taken on an emotional ride, and judging by the immediate standing ovation on opening night, we were moved by it, and loved every minute.

For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again continues at the Grand Theatre in London until February 24. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Here on the Flight Path

By Norm Foster
Performed by Terry Barna and Janet Monid
Directed by Robert More
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
June 12 to 30, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Coming, Going and Laughing

Here on the Flight Path is a study of the importance of moving on with life after divorce.

On second thought, you know what? It's really not that deep – it's just a lot of laughs.

John Cummings (Terry Barna) is living in an apartment following his divorce. He has a nice view from his balcony where he likes to relax, except that he's on the flight path to the airport and noisy jets keep travelling over head. Still stinging from divorce, John says “Marriage is too much trouble. Next time, I'm gonna find a woman I hate and buy her a house.” He writes a newspaper column entitled ‘Cummings & Goings', and it's the comings and goings at the next door apartment that make this play

Each year, a different woman moves in next door. Janet Monid handles all three roles perfectly. First she's Fay, the consultant …. um, er, hooker. After Fay, comes Angel, the young wanna-be actress. Next we have Gwen, the recently separated driving instructor.

In a change from the usual, there are two intermissions in this comedy – one after each neighbour moves out. Here on the Flight Patch is written by Norm Foster, Canada 's premier comic playwright. The clever double entendres are reminiscent of Foster's Looking that was at VPP two years ago, or The Foursome, Foster's golf comedy that has been staged at VPP, Huron Country Playhouse II and The Grand Theatre in recent years.

The set is well done – two apartment balconies are featured, with a wall in between that is just the right height to slide over. The balconies provide some of the physical comedy, to go with the witty script.

Both Barna and Monid handle the comic roles well. Last summer, Barna was Noodles Feghetti in Too Many Cooks at VPP, and has worked with both Director Robert More and co-star Monid in the past. Monid was the original Fay/Angel/Gwen and toured with Here on the Flight Path. She makes each of the three women interesting individuals, so much so that an audience member behind me refused to believe that it was all the same actress!

For a good evening of entertaining fun with talented performers, catch the next flight over to Petrolia International Airport before the end of the month.

Here on the Flight Path continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 30. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.


Your comments and reviews are always welcome

My One and Only

Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Peter Stone and Timothy. S. Mayer
Performed by Cynthia Dale, Laird McIntosh and Company
Directed and Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld
Avon Theatre, Stratford Festival Production
May 12 to October 28, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Tap Dancing through the Roaring Twenties

My One and Only is an extravaganza with all the glamour and glitter of a big Broadway production, and it's sitting right on our doorstep at Stratford 's Avon Theatre. While the plot of this faux twenties musical may not be very deep, it's done up in such a spectacular fashion that the shallow story is easily forgiven.

My One and Only is the pulling together of many of George and Ira Gershwin's favourite songs and putting them into a new story, but one set in the Roaring Twenties. . Producers knew that today's audience doesn't want to sit through the original, dated plots, so they had a new story written to make use of the great old tunes. The Broadway hit Crazy for You was put together in a similar fashion.

In My One and Only , Edythe Herbert, famous for swimming the English Channel , has joined The Ladies of the Aquacade, a water ballet/synchronized swimming entertainment troupe. She is being pursued by Captain Billy Buck Chandler, an aviator who hopes to beat Lindbergh in making the first trans-Atlantic flight. Edythe is trying to escape from an overbearing manager, while Billy is helped by Mickey, the female airplane mechanic.

The role of Edythe Herbert is ideal for Cynthia Dale. Dale, a perennial favourite of Stratford 's musical theatre audience, is the ultimate flapper – not only can she tap dance with the best, she can make the kewpie-doll faces to add laughs to the role. And the old Gershwin tunes suit Dale's beautiful voice perfectly.

Her co-star Laird Mackintosh is wonderful as the tap-dancing aviator (yes, even the play itself makes fun of that combination). As Captain Billy Buck Chandler, Mackintosh goes through a transformation from a Texas hayseed to a polished gentleman, thanks to lessons from Mr. Magix, the smooth dancing Mark Cassius.

Kyle Blair, Julius Sermonia and Ray Hogg are delightful as The New Rhythm Boys. Their feet never stop tapping and their musical interludes add to the comedy. Together with the rest of the company, there is hardly a moment without tap-dancing feet on stage.

There is an amazing underwater ballet in black light with bubbles, where only the neon-trimmed bathing suits of The Ladies of the Aquacade are visible. While it's similar in appearance to the Famous People Players, real people are swimming about the stage, rather than puppets, in this very interesting number.

In another scene, Dale and Mackintosh are tap dancing in the shallow water on the beach. Remember last year's tap dance in the showers in South Pacific? That was so cute that they've repeated it this year, and it works just as well.

The costumes are fantastic – lots of colour and sparkle, with frequent changes.

The sets are also extravaganzas. Everything is oversized, from the big train the pulls into the station, to the air plane where we see both front & back, and even a giant camel. For the final curtain, we're treated to an airplane with dancers tapping across the wing span.

Even that repetitive (but necessary) announcement to turn off cell phones is glitzed up at the beginning of the show. The Ladies of the Aquacade come out in cute costumes and wait, tapping their toes, while audience members turn off phones and pagers. Just like the performance, the announcements are very cute and splashy.

My One and Only continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 28. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

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We Will Rock You

See also review by Christopher Hoile here

Music by Queen, Book by Ben Elton
Performed by Toronto Cast
Directed by Ben Elton
Produced by David & Ed Mirvish & Kimsa Group
Canon Theatre, Toronto
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Baby Boomers will love We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You , or as it's more commonly known, the Queen musical, will thrill anyone who grew up in the seventies and eighties. To hear the late great Freddie Mercury's songs performed by a talented cast with strong, solid voices backed by a band complete with the right guitar riffs, is an exciting adventure.

The plot is also good fun – but don't go expecting serious drama. It's a little over the top with corny jokes and cheesy laughs. Nevertheless, there's an element of Orwell's 1984, along with some Biblical allegory.

The story is set 300 years in the future. The world is run by a company called Globalsoft. (Is this so far-fetched? At work, if Windows isn't operating and the computers are down, nothing gets done, and when we arrive home, the first thing we do is check in with Outlook – who's running our lives now?) The plot also condemns commercialism – the planet is now known as the Mall. Only music created by Globalsoft is allowed, and there are just vague rumours about an era called rock ‘n roll. When a group of rebels (young Bohemians) go looking for musical instruments, they seek a bright star to lead them in their quest. By the way, they don't find any instruments of mass destruction, but they do come across a museum piece called a video tape (or vy-day-oh-tap-ay, as they pronounce it.) Pop music is satirized delightfully, and there is much Canadiana humour included – with jabs at Degrassi and Celine Dion, as well as mentions of others such as Bare Naked Ladies.

Erica Peck as Scaramouche leads the cast with her amazing voice and sassy attitude. Peck was only in the second year of the 3-year musical theatre program at Sheridan College, when she auditioned for We Will Rock You and surprised everyone by landing the lead role. Peck can belt the rock tunes louder and longer than anyone else, her powerful voice performing eight times a week and never missing a show. She gives her all to Somebody to Love and I Want To Break Free . Her energy and enthusiasm is evident even in matinee performances. She also delivers the lines with a perfect sarcasm.

Equally as powerful is Yvan Pedneault as Galileo Figaro. His slight Quebecois accent is engaging, and the audience roars when Scaramouche accuses him of trying to “play the French card.” Pedneault's voice has the range of Freddie Mercury's and handles the Queen classics well. But on some performances, an understudy or swing has to step in for him, considering the demand of the Queen songs, such as We are The Champions.

Susie McNeil as Oz, Sterling Jarvis as Britney and Alana Bridgewater as the Killer Queen all belt out the Queen repertoire with strong voices, giving us favourites such as I Want It All or Crazy Little Thing Called Love. An excellent ensemble of singer-dancers playing various roles completes the cast.

Not only does We Will Rock You quiz your knowledge of Queen songs with 25 numbers in the show, there are also dozens of references to lyrics of various rock artists to keep you on your toes. Baby Boomers should rise to the test and enjoy the nostalgia trip.

A piece of advice – like a rock concert, you have to stay ‘til the very end to enjoy the encore. Some folks left early and missed out – the cast had saved the best for last! Which brings me to one of my pet peeves – annoying people who try to push past me to get out, when I am still applauding the actors on stage. Come on, are you really in that much of a hurry to get to the parking lot? (Same thing goes for hockey games when so-called fans abandon their team to be first out of the arena. I love it when the hometown team ties it up with only five seconds left on the clock!)

The music in We Will Rock You is the very best of Queen, and it would make Freddie Mercury proud. Sure, the plot is a little schmaltzy, but as one theatre-goer said, “It's the best schmaltz ever.”

We Will Rock You continues at Toronto's Canon Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 1-800-461-3333 . There is a 30% discount (for example, the high end $94 seats are $65) for some performances, if you use the discount code summer07 and go before July 8.

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

To Kill a Mockingbird

Based upon the novel by Harper Lee, dramatized by Christopher Sergel
Performed by Peter Donaldson, Abigail Winter-Culliford et al.
Directed by Susan H. Schulman
Avon Theatre, Stratford Festival April 30 to October 27, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

A Moving Story Brilliantly Bought to Life

When Harper Lee wrote her only novel in 1960, she and her editor didn't think it would amount to much. But To Kill a Mockingbird became a huge best seller, and if life imitates art, then it was likely very influential in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

But Nelle Harper Lee simply wrote what she knew – the story of life in the 1930's in the fictional town of Maycomb, which is much like her hometown of Munroeville, Alabama. The tale is told by Scout, the 10-year-old tomboy, just like Lee herself. It covers the escapades and growth of Scout, her friend Dill, who is based on Lee's real-life friend Truman Capote, and her brother Jem. The children are into usual childhood mischief, when they are suddenly forced to grow up quickly, learning about rape and injustice. Their father, lawyer Atticus Finch, is defending a young black man charged with raping a white girl. And although Atticus clearly presents Tom Robinson's innocence, the jury finds him guilty, because that's what must happen in that time of racial bigotry and hatred.

In To Kill a Mockingbird , currently on stage at Stratford's Avon Theatre, Abigail Winter-Culliford plays the part of Scout exceptionally well. She captures both the innocence of the child and the insightful maturity at the same time, as Lee intended. She twitches and climbs trees and beats up boys, but then has a very adult-like conversation with her father, whom she calls Atticus, not Daddy or Papa. Winter-Culliford's acting skills are well beyond her 10 years, and she particularly shines in the scene where she confronts the lynch mob.

Peter Donaldson is good as an understated Atticus Finch. He plays the role with quiet confidence, making Atticus a man very sure of himself and his values. Spencer Walker does well in the role of Dill – he could very well be a nerdy little Truman Capote, with his tiny bowtie, buttoned-up shirt and starched collar. Thomas Murray, as Jem, is also good.

The story is told by narrator Jean-Louise, the adult Scout, who has abandoned her nickname. Michelle Giroux walks quietly about the stage, stepping in to relate Scout's story with a southern drawl, and looking somewhat like Harper Lee.

The neighbourhood is also well-cast: Patricia Collins as Miss Maudie is a gracious southern belle, in contrast to Joyce Campion's Mrs. Dubose, a nasty old morphine addict. Barbara Barnes-Hopkins is excellent as Calpurnia, the Finches' black servant who is charged with raising the children after their mother's death.

The second act moves to the trial. Dayna Tekatch is outstanding as Mayella Ewall, the poor white trash who claims to have been raped, moving from a pitiful mess to intense anger. Dion Johnstone is excellent as Tom Robinson, the accused black man.

The set illustrates the dirty thirties – the homes are worn, dull and run-down, with Spanish moss barely swaying in the trees overhead. One gets the feeling of the heat of Deep South summer, the despair of the depression and the racial oppression, as the story unfolds. The feeling of oppression is further intensified when the black cast sing Negro Spirituals. The set includes a “bottle tree”, a tradition among the black townspeople at that time -- the bottles were to capture evil spirits. In this case, however, evil prevailed – even though Miss Maudie points out that progress is slowly being made.

Director Susan Schulman deserves great credit for brilliantly bringing to life Harper Lee's story, and remaining true to it. It's a daunting task when most of the audience has read the book or seen the movie. Yet Harper Lee's message about human rights comes through clearly in this gut-wrenching play, and the audience becomes completely enmeshed in the story. In the courtroom scene, the audience is treated as if they were the jury. We become caught up in this compelling production, and wish we could change the outcome. 

To Kill a Mockingbird continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 27. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check .

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

Perfect Wedding

By Robin Hawdon
Performed by Paul Brown, Colin Doyle, Joanna Douglas, Amber Montrose, Monica Nowak, Perrie Olthuis, Ari Weinberg.
Directed by Michael Lamport
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
VPP Production
July 3 – 21, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Perfect Wedding= Perfect British Farce

Perfect Wedding , currently on stage at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia is the perfect British farce – there are doors being slammed, lies being told and characters posing as other people. Thanks to fast-paced timing by Director Michael Lamport, this is the best farce on Petrolia's stage since Confessions of a Dirty Blonde, when Lamport played the Robin Williams-like bellhop. Lamport's experience in comedy has served him well in his direction of this hilarious farce.

On his wedding day, Bill, the groom-to-be, wakes up in the bridal suite to find a woman he doesn't know naked in bed beside him. With his bride on the way, wanting to use the hotel room to dress in her wedding gown, Bill hides the stranger in the bathroom, hoping she'll pose at the best man's girlfriend, or maybe the chambermaid. These ideas might have worked, except that she really is the best man's girlfriend, and the real chambermaid shows up. The problems are obvious – add to this, Tom, the best man who becomes increasingly high-strung, Rachel, the bride, on the verge of becoming bridezilla, and Daphne, the bride's mother, who completes to the comedy.

In this production, the best man really is the best man. Ari Weinberg plays Tom brilliantly, with hilarious facial expressions, an endearing British accent, and a gentle humour giving way to near-insanity. This is Weinberg's debut on the VPP stage, and with an obvious penchant for comedy, he'll no doubt be seen more in the future.

Another newcomer, Monica Nowak is excellent as Julie the chambermaid. Like Weinberg, her over-the-top facial expressions, along with the vocal changes, make the audience roar with laughter.

Colin Doyle is good as the frustrated groom trying to remember what happened after his bachelor party, and Perrie Olthuis as the bride handles the role well – just snippy enough to be believable as a stressed-out bride, but pleasant enough to warrant sympathy. Joanna Douglas as Judy, the naked female in the bed, is very good as the other woman, also showing comedic talent with her facial expressions. .

The role of Daphne, the bride's mother, is played by Amber Montrose. While she boasts quite a list of credits in the program, she hasn't been seen on local stages before. I will say that it seems to be strange casting, but Artistic Director Robert More assures me that Montrose is right for the role. You'll have to the see the show and decide for yourself if Montrose is really right. The program lists Paul Brown as an understudy, and unfortunately, he apparently didn't grace the stage on opening night. Brown is a master of the farce, and was hilarious in previous VPP productions Confessions of a Dirty Blonde and Too Many Co oks, as well as many British farces at Huron Country Playhouse.

If you enjoy farces, you'll like this one. Go see it, and maybe you'll be fortunate enough to catch Paul Brown on stage.

Perfect Wedding continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 21. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Boardwalk ~ The Doo Wop Musical

By Randy Vancourt
Performed by Stephen Sparks, Randy Vancourt and Brendan Wall
Director / Musical Director – Randy Vancourt
Victoria Playhouse Production
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
August 14 to September 1, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Nostalgia Trip on the Boardwalk


Anyone who's a fan of fifties doo-wop music will love Boardwalk, which just opened at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. Randy Vancourt, who will be remembered as Sophie Tucker's pianist in last season's hit The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, is behind Boardwalk. He conceived and wrote it, then directed and performed in it.

Boardwalk is set in 1976, as three men meet on the beach and reminisce about 20 years earlier when, in their teens, they sang the doo-wop hits on the boardwalk, in a fictitious Ontario resort. While Chuck (Stephen Sparks) and Owen (Brendan Wall) have left town and moved on with their lives, Ron (Randy Vancourt) still lives there, and apparently dwells on the good old days. He calls them together when he learns that the Crystal Ballroom on the beach is being torn down, and predictably, they sneak in to perform.

All three performers are wonderful singers, their voices blending in harmony in the a cappella numbers, and they also show their talent with keyboards and guitars. Vancourt has done a great job of pulling together a wide assortment of songs from that era, but unfortunately, the plot doesn't stand up to the music. In the first act, the songs need to be better tied to the story and the dialogue slows down in places. There should be more visible action on stage, not just three fellows talking about the action.

Fortunately, things pick up in the second act with the addition of humour. Vancourt does some magic tricks, (or as Ron stresses “illusions”) and on opening night showed off his improv skills as a Second City alumnus with some hilarious audience interaction. The cast offers a long list of hit song titles, such as “I'll never get over you, Darling, so get up and answer the phone” which is greeted with great laughter. There is also some black humour, when the typical old car crash songs of the fifties are mocked in a number about organ donation.

While all the doo-wop songs are good, two standouts deviate from the doo-wop theme. Peace in the Valley, a number the characters recall from singing in the church choir, is very well done, as is the old war song Nightingales in Barkley Square.

The set is good, with a beautiful beach scene in the background and a boardwalk across the stage. The music excellent and overall, Boardwalk offers a pleasant evening of light entertainment. But with some further re-writing of the script – improving dialogue, and filling some holes in the plot – this could be a really good show.

Boardwalk ~ The Doo Wop Musical continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until September 1. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Reverend Jonah

By Paul Ciufo
Performed by Darren Keay, Michelle Fisk , et al.
Directed by Marie Beath Badian
Blyth Festival Production
August 8 – September 1, 2007
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Grand Bend Playwright Paul Cuifo hopes people will consider both sides of the conflict, with his new play that premiered last week at the Blyth Festival. Cuifo, a resident of Grand Bend works as a financial planner in Exeter, and writes and re-writes plays in his spare time. Reverend Jonah is the story of the new young minister who comes to a small town in Huron County to become the pastor at the United Church. Very soon, his youthful ideals are put to the test.

Jonah meets up with Phyllis who was kicked out of the church previously because she is in a lesbian relationship. It's clear to Jonah that she should be back in the church that she once loved. But how to get there is not clear, and Jonah agonizes over the decisions he must make – to the detriment of his health. To Stacey, a quietly controlling church leader, homosexuality is sinful, and Phyllis does not belong in their midst. Stacey believes the young Jonah is misguided and assumes it's up to her to maintain the status quo. Cuifo has cleverly woven together a very complicated story to create a worthwhile evening of reflection, grabbing and holding the audience's attention.

Darren Keay is excellent as Jonah – he goes from youthful optimism to being torn apart, with his principals in conflict with the reality he's facing. Michelle Fisk is also excellent as Phyllis – she shows us the exterior toughness that Phyllis has been forced to develop, but also reveals the gentle interior in a realistic manner. Randi Helmers is good as Stacey, quiet and demanding at the same time.

Adding depth to the plot are characters Barb (Rebecca Auerbach) as Phyllis' partner, and Rachel (Ingrid Haas) who is Stacey's daughter and develops a relationship with Jonah. Hands-on, hardworking church members Di (Elizabeth Thorpe-Hearn) and Fred (Jefferson Mappin) complete the cast. Mappin's excellent portrayal of Fred also supplies some comic relief as the very intense story unfolds.

Credit goes to director Marie Beath Badian for bringing Cuifo's characters to life. She has created them realistically – you'd recognize them as your fellow church members or your neighbours.

At the preview performance, some lines were flubbed, but we assume that will be corrected by opening night. The set – made up of sliding stained glass windows representing the church, that also become office walls, a store front or patio doors – moved too slowly and unsteadily at times. We hope that, too, is smoothed out as the show continues.

But overall, it's a very moving story, addressing a difficult, divisive issue. It will leave theatre-goers with much to consider and perhaps even offer a path to tolerance and inclusiveness.

It's exciting to see a production written by a local playwright brought to life on stage. Credit goes to Blyth Festival for bringing great Canadian talent to the forefront.

Reverend Jonah continues in repertory at the Blyth Festival Theatre, Blyth until September. For tickets, call the box office at 1-877-862-5984 or check .


Could You Wait?


Book & Original Lyrics by W. J. Matheson
Original Music by W.J. Matheson, Louise Pitre and Diane Leah
Directed by Miles Potter

Grand Theatre, London

October 23 to November 11, 2007

Reviewed by Mary Alderson


A Story of Love, not War

  Could You Wait? , a new musical to start the season at London's Grand Theatre, has been billed as a war story. With Legion members greeting patrons at the Grand's entrance on opening night, the impression was given that this was a World War II play. But Could You Wait? is a story of love, not war, set in the early 1940's. Yes, there is a war going on, but it's almost forgotten as the plot is wrapped up in the romance of Matt and Mary.

When the action begins on stage, we meet Matt and Mary, an elderly couple out on a seniors' bus trip today. They are revisiting the Royal York hotel, which apparently holds significant memories for them. Mary is thrilled, but Matt says they should have taken the trip to Casino Rama.

Then the clock jumps back in time. Mary and Matt meet at a dance in Halifax. He's in the Navy and is just heading off to war. He's a Saskatchewan farm boy, or “plough jockey” and she's a French Canadian Catholic. The romance develops shyly through the mail, and both express concerns about what their mother would think. Mary moves to Toronto, and Matt, on leave, has to find his way to meet her there, planning to pop the question and ask her to wait for him. The proposal is made in the luxurious Imperial Room at the Royal York.

Mary is played by Broadway star Louise Pitre (the mother in “Mamma Mia” in both the Toronto and New York productions) while Matt his played by her real-life husband Joe (W.J.) Matheson. You may remember them in the Grand's outstanding production of For the Pleasure of Seeing You Again last February. Matheson wrote this show for Pitre, and the two obviously enjoy working together. They collaborated on some of the songs, together with musical director Diane Leah.

It's a heart-warming story, and the music is wonderful. Their original works are mixed in with some old favourite war songs, such as “I'll be Seeing You in All the Old Familiar Places” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”. Both Pitre and Matheson have beautiful voices – whether they're rendering spell-binding solos, or singing together in harmony, their vocal performances are flawless.

The couple also dance together. There are some romantic waltzes, but a favourite is the lively jive to the great swing song “Steppin' Out”. Credit goes to another husband and wife team who handled the choreography: Janet Kelley and Glen Kerr.

The story contains a few anachronisms, but Matheson can be forgiven for taking some poetic licence. The elderly Matt comes on stage carrying a Simpsons shopping bag, but says he'd rather be at Casino Rama – I don't think Simpsons and Casino Rama ever existed together in the same time frame. Lyrics in one song mention Diefenbaker, but I doubt that Dief was making much news during the 1940s. And the song “Steppin' Out” was not popular until after the Second World War.

But no one said that it was going to be a history lesson – instead it offers us much to learn about romance, love and life.

Could You Wait? continues at the Grand Theatre in London until Remembrance Day, November 11. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.



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