Stage Door Reviews of
Princess of Wales Theatre 1997/98 productions

Stage Door Reviews by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
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Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story
by Alan Janes, directed by Rob Bettinson
The Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
November 14 to December 21, 1997

A Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
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Bring out the Holly... Buddy blasts back into town 

Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story opened last night at The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto for a return engagement. This spectacular production of the hit musical boasts inspired casting and brings together the best performers from Buddy's astonishing decade-long run in London. This is Buddy's third trip to Toronto: the show had its triumphant North American premiere here in 1990 before travelling to Broadway and around North America; a second Toronto engagement in 1992 was equally successful. Without a doubt this is the best Buddy we have seen, supported by a benchmark interpretation by star Angus MacGregor as the pioneer rocker who became a pop icon. Discovered performing with his band in a Blackpool bar, MacGregor became the 14th "Buddy" to star in the musical on tour in the UK and in the West End, playing Buddy now for four years (and twice as long as the original Buddy Holly did).

Assembled by the "dream team" who produced the hugely successful Jolson, Buddy has the same winning formulaic style albeit set a decade later. Immediately upon entering the auditorium of the Princess of Wales, the fifties-era milieu is evoked by a simulated 1956 broadcast from country radio station KDAV in Lubbock, Texas, and a set hung with huge commercial billboards (Oldsmobile, Coke, Van Huesen). The effect of the garish colours and riot of neon is excellent and, as with Jolson, ideally sets the mood of time and place.

Painstaking research on Holly is evident as the story chronicles his life from his initial success, to his death in a plane crash in 1959, at age 21. Buddy's story begins at the small radio station in Texas where he is a rising country music star. His agent and local DJ, Hipockets Duncan (David Allman), secures a recording contract for Buddy at Decca Records in Nashville, but Buddy wants to play his "own" kind of music, rock and roll, that new and abhorrent sound associated with Black subculture and unfit for family broadcast. He leaves Nashville for a small recording venue in Clovis, New Mexico where manager Norman and wife Vi Petty (Tim Clarke and Helen Wassell) give Buddy & The Crickets (Adam Keast and Neil Dale) a chance to record demos. Holly's bumpy ride to stardom takes him to New York, where, after a 5-hour courtship, he marries Maria Elena Santiago (Theresa Kartell). Her influence on him forces a break with The Crickets and their manager, and sets Buddy onto a solo career. His decision to go on the road with Ritchie Valens (Alex Paez) and the Big Bopper (Mike Doyle) is one that ultimately kills him...and them...on "the day the music died."

What Jolson did for star Brian Conley, Buddy should do for Angus MacGregor. Several standout scenes in Buddy repeat the successful formula the producers used to make Jolson such a spectacular success. Toward the end of the first act we are transported to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem where Buddy Holly & The Crickets are the first white band to appear, introduced by a surprised and wisecracking emcee (Trevor Michael Georges). This intelligently crafted scene combines serious social issues with hilarious overtones to extraordinary effect. As in Jolson, the audience is part of the show and we feel we really are present at the historic musical event. Another "audience participation" scene precedes Holly's final concert (staged like the real thing at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959) where emcee (Tommy Donbavand) has the audience exchange replica programs to find the winner of a contest. A captivating idea serving to "loosen up the crowd" that perhaps went on a little too long.

The dazzling cast of actors and classically-trained musicians create an extravaganza that leaves the audience thrilled, on their feet, and screaming for more. Possibly blasphemous to his legion of fans, we are not that fond of Holly's music, but as with Jolson's, you don't have to be. The overall effect is just that amazing. MacGregor, who will be leaving the show after the Toronto engagement, is completely believable as Buddy. His lanky frame with horn-rimmed glasses (now into his 38th pair in 10 years) is supported by a strong voice that interprets Holly's music perfectly. He bounds, leaps and knee-slides (20.6 miles of them, wearing out 740 pairs of trousers, the production's statisticians inform us) over the stage to the screams of many audience participants who danced in the aisles.

The supporting cast are a magical mix of classically trained singers and instrumentalists who also do an admirable job of acting. Noteworthy are the hysterical Trevor Michael Georges as the Apollo's "main man" who quips and jests his way through the big scene shocked at the surprising welcome "honky" Holly receives in Harlem. The final staged concert features Mike Doyle's awesome interpretation of the Big Bopper bringing down the house while gyrating and gesturing Alex Paez (from the 1992 Toronto production) as Valens elicits many a blush and swoon.

All of Holly's songs are here, including That'll Be the Day; Peggy Sue (formerly Cindy Lou!); It's So Easy; and finally with his stagemates, the Big Bopper's Chantilly Lace and Richie Valens' La Bamba. They are polished, professional and exciting to watch. One caveat is the sound level: clear and sure but at ear-bleeding decibels reminiscent of stadium concerts of our youth.

Buddy brings down the house and knocks the theatre off its foundations. It's a wild ride that thrills young and old, conservative and alternative. Go see it before it closes. Limited run to December 21, 1997. Performances: Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; with matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets, $21.50 - $71.50, available in person at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto or by calling TicketKing at 416/872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333.

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by Kander and Ebb
Princess of Wales Theatre, February 18 to April 26, 1998

A Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
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Chicago blows us away 

Chicago, the sexy, and sassy musical sensation, has blown into town - and what a gale. This National Touring Company of the 1997 Tony Award-winning smash hit Broadway musical takes all the right cues from its famous mater and spins a deliciously iniquitous tale spiced with fantastic songs and outstanding Bob Fosse moves, newly freshened by his muse extraordinaire, Ann Reinking, in the original choreographer's unique style. Directed by Walter Bobbie, Chicago is now playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre until April 26, 1998.

Born out of the turbulent seventies, the original Chicago made its Broadway debut on June 3, 1975. This production featured the book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse as the original director/choreographer. The original production spawned the 1997 sensation and big Tony winner, garnering six awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Choreography (for Reinking) and Best Direction. The love, passion, and sweat that went into the new production is evident on the Princess of Wales stage. And a cramped one it is too, in what is really our only beef with the show: the fourteen musicians are on a steep multilevel platform that squeezes the action forward, perching the performers precariously on the precipice of the proscenium. But this quibble is mentioned merely to prepare the audience. It doesn't deter from the pleasure, and, indeed, the acoustics and sightlines are marvellous.

In a plot that could be ripped from recent U.S. and tabloid headlines, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Charlotte D'Amboise), a night-club dancer who kills her lover Fred (Marc Calamia). She then dupes the public and media by hiring Chicago's shrewdest, slick and sleazy lawyer, Billy Flynn (Obba Babatunde) who ultimately turns Roxie's heinous crime into celebrity headlines, helped by local gossip columnist Mary Sunshine (M.E. Spencer). Flynn gets his client acquitted, which, following the pattern of recent history, seems to have a strange ring to it!

While in jail Roxie pals up with fellow mankiller, Velma Kelly (Donna Marie Asbury), and head screw Matron 'Mama' Morton (Carol Woods) to weave a glossy, razzle-dazzle tale of wickedness peppered with humour. Languishing in obscurity, and looking in from the outside is Roxie's fuddle-duddle, "Mr Cellophane" husband, Amos Hart (Michael Tucci), who only wants his philandering wife back.

Chicago is based on the 1926 play of the same name by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Ms Watkins, writing feature stories for the Chicago Tribune, covered the real-life trial of Belva Gaertner (portrayed as Velma Kelly) and shortly after, Beulah Annan (portrayed as Roxie Hart). Her coverage endowed the residents of 'Murderess's Row,' with celebrity status.

Chicago, "the Drop-Dead Broadway Musical," offers a fabulous experience for aficionados of inventive and stylised choreography. Reinking has taken her brilliant mentor's style of hunch and raunch and added some slick twists. Fosse would be proud of the clever mix of clockwork group numbers, while Reinking allows her stars time and room to move, jump and leap in spectacular style. The tuneful music, so often overlooked by the dancing, is almost its artistic equal. Kander and Ebb work their magic in nineteen unforgettable songs, proving great music can stand on its own, without the affectations and pyrotechnics required to sustain recent one-hit-wonder spectacles.

D'Amboise kicks up her heels and has a blast with "Roxie," which showcases her phenomenal talents. The leggy contortionist also dazzles in her ventriloquist jailhouse scene with Flynn, in "We Both Reached for the Gun." Babbatunde sings well, especially in "All I Care About," but he is no Jerry Orbach, and as a man of colour, similarities to Johnny Cochran are there in abundance. New addition Asbury's small frame packs a wallop and she belts out Velma's songs with gusto. She shines alone, and within the gorgeous company she keeps on stage. Her duet in "Class" with Wood's robust Mama Morton is in a class by itself. Tucci is a welcome addition to the company but his "Mr. Cellophane," while warmly applauded, lacks the polish and finesse of the incomparable Joel Grey currently starring on Broadway.

Chicago's many brilliantly staged company numbers will bedazzle and bewitch you. The team of Kander/Ebb, Fosse and Reinking, and the technical wizards have created a orgiastic and hedonistic experience that will have you humming and tapping for ages.

Tickets can be purchased in person at the Princess of Wales Theatre Box Office, or by calling TicketKing at (416) 872-1212 or 1 (800) 461-3333. Tickets range in price from $26.50 to $92.50 with performances Tuesdays through Sundays.

(Your reviews and comments are also welcome.Write us today! Please?)

 Speaking of your comments, here's what You have to say...

Since I critized RENT and SLAVA, I am oblidged to send my praises for CHICAGO. Was that new snow or leftover from Slava?? (ha ha)

-- Jenny Befrene


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