Stage Door

Stage Door Reviews of
Stratford Festival 1997 Season

Stage Door Reviews by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
Stratford Festival Avon Theatre
May 22 to November 8, 1997

Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Stratford's Salesman in top bracket

Arthur Miller's semi-autobiographical and Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman is considered one of the greatest plays ever written. It remains a quintessential American work that stretches the talents of even the finest theatre companies to successfully portray its tragedy. Director Diana Leblanc has assembled the finest of Stratford's troupe and spiced it with the King himself....well, Kensington's Al Waxman, playing Willy Loman. Her Salesman is a towering achievement that will live long in your memory. 

These past few years have been a watershed for Leblanc. Last year's Long Day's Journey into Night (Stratford), and this year's The Glass Menagerie (Tarragon) have been universally acclaimed, and, the current Stratford Romeo and Juliet aside, establish Leblanc as a directorial force to be reckoned with. This Salesman is no accident. 

The story is now famous, being on the curriculum in many Canadian schools. Protagonist Willy Loman (low-man...get it?) is a travelling salesman who has spent his life pursuing the American Dream. While Willy and his emotionally abused wife, Linda (Martha Henry), are about to make the last payment on their mortgage, their paint-chipped house and broken appliances show that times are tough, even in the twilight of a 34-year-long career for the same company. The Lomans have two sons, Biff (Geordie Johnson) and Happy (Graham Abbey) whom Willy has encouraged be confident and popular. Indeed, being well-liked is all-important: "Be liked and you will never want." Willy's philosophy is sound and foolproof, he feels, yet, unaccountably, it hasn't worked for him or his favourite son. In the words of neighbour and friend Charley (Lewis Gordon), Willy is "a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back - that's an earthquake." 

Salesman has been described as "a psychological play about family relations inside a political drama about capitalism." Miller approaches these subjects with great sensitivity, poignancy, and intellect. Many of the scenes involve Willy drifting into flashback to seek advice from dead brother Ben (Roland Hewgill) camping it up as a Mephistophelean White Rabbit, always in a hurry, pocket watch in one hand, temptation in the other). Through these recollections we come to understand Willy, his triumphs, the choices he has made in his life, and ultimately, his end.  

The play is so overwhelmingly Willy's story that other characters could be swamped if not for the accomplished actors in this production. Martha Henry's long suffering Linda is different, more feminine, vulnerable and likeable than the sorority of American classic heroines she has recently played. Her Linda Loman is a downtrodden but optimistic housewife completely devoted to her husband, loud-mouthed and blustering but always fiercely protecting and promoting his family. Henry plays the part to perfection with just the right amount of pathos and humour. We laugh at her patronizing remarks to philandering son Happy, and dissolve into tears at her restrained yet power-filled graveside scene. Henry, who has that amazing capacity to bring spontaneous eruptions of tears to both herself and her audience, is a consumate actor. The little touches, from her hand tentatively touching Willy's back in a hesitant attempt to calm him, to the instinctive sniff of the milk bottle before she returns it to the fridge, make Linda Loman a person we know and cry for. Another jewel in La Henry's tiara.  

Waxman's Willy is completely believable as a desperate and delusional co-dependant at the end of his rope. Waxman captures the torment and anguish of this broken man perfectly, as Loman's agony is shared by the audience. His scenes with Henry are remarkable studies in restrained emotion, but it's arguments with Johnson's Biff that provide the production with moments of sheer acting power. Geordie Johnson (fresh from a role in The English Patient) is spellbinding as the confused, intense and love-starved vagabond, Biff. He resonates a mix of raw sexuality and confusion that draws the audience into sympathy with his character. Abbey's Happy is just that - always in Biff's shadow yet sparkling, perky and craving approval from Mom and Dad in flashback, and the epitome of a womanizing ne'er-do-well in adulthood. It's rewarding to see this Young Company member's promise being fulfilled.  

Special mention must be made of David Jansen who plays bookish boyhood buddy Bernard. He delivers a wonderful performance that compliments but never overpowers the stars. Others in the supporting cast are: Dixie Seatle as the woman who dispenses sex to lonely traveller Willy in return for nylons; Joseph Scoren as the new boss who gives Willy the boot; and Fiona Byrne and Kristina Nichol (dazzling in blonde wig and form-fitting gown) as two floozies Hap and Biff pick-up.

Salesman succeeds with a great script coupled with marvellous acting, but the set is also important as an inanimate member of the cast. Guido Tondino's interpretation of Miller's carefully prescribed cutaway and multi-level set serves the complex storyline, allowing characters to effortlessly appear and disappear, and then reappear in a reminiscence from Willy's rambling mind. Astrid Janson designed the 1940s costumes, and the production was lit by Steven Hawkins.

From its premiere in 1949, Arthur Miller developed brilliant relationships that have made this play seem up-to-date and relevant in today's world. This is a superb production of a great story with powerful acting. Drama like this makes theatre a medium that cannot be touched or replaced. It is not to be missed. Death of a Salesman plays in Stratford at the Avon Theatre, from May 22 to November 8, 1997.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Marisha
Stratford Festival Avon Theatre
May 20 to November 8, 1997

Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Little Women a big success

Louisa May Alcott's 1868 endearing children's tale Little Women, has been described as "a classic for girls" and "an American classic." We found this new Stratford Festival production to be a real treasure that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Stage Door Award-winning director, Marti Maraden has taken playwright Marisha Chamberlain's stage adaptation and emphasized the innate comedy despite the March family's meagre circumstances.

Autobiographical in nature, Little Women is the story of a New England family anxiously awaiting their husband and father's return from the American Civil War. The four young daughters of the Union army chaplain find their lives touched by love and loss as they struggle to help their kind-hearted mother make ends meet. All the bittersweet joys and sorrows of growing up are manifested in the lives of the four girls as they learn from their mother's example of sacrifice for others.

Alcott's writing career was given a boost by the overwhelming success of the book, "about real girls for girls." The tale is her own, and while changing the family name, the story is of her and her sisters' experiences. Jo, (i.e., Alcott) is a tomboyish rebel who, though retaining a feminine quality, does not follow the 1800s convention for a woman to aspire to be a dutiful wife and mother. Alcott imbued many of her own feminist ideals in Jo. After the death of sister Beth, and Jo has taken over Beth's role as homemaker, her father challenges her to strive to achieve her own aspirations. Chamberlain's adaptation strengthens Jo's individuality and independence, but also is happier in its celebration of family.

The play opens on Christmas Eve. Despite their poor situation, mother Marmee (Dixie Seatle) has given each of her daughters a Christmas dollar to spend on themselves. Selflessly, however, each has purchased a small gift for Marmee, who, upon her arrival tells the girls of an even poorer family she has just visited, unable to afford even the corn pudding Christmas dinner that housekeeper Hannah (Joyce Campion) has prepared for the March family. They quickly agree to give up their dinner, and their charity attracts the attention of wealthy neighbour Mr Laurence (Lewis Gordon), his grandson Laurie (Craig Erickson) and his tutor, John Brooke (Bradford Farwell). At 16, oldest sister Meg (Fiona Byrne) is soon love struck with John, much to Jo's disgust. Quick-tempered Jo (Kristina Nicholl), meanwhile, enjoys the attentions of Laurie, but only until he tries to strike a romantic chord. Shy Beth (Claire Jullien), the "heart of the family," finds expression only at the piano. Amy (Cassie Fox), at 12 the youngest daughter, is beautiful and pampered, struggling hard to overcome her youthful selfishness. Reluctant benefactor, curmudgeonly Aunt March (Stage Door Award winner Barbara Bryne), frequently tests the family harmony. Chamberlain's stage version brings the family to the second Christmas and Father's (Stephen Russell) return, or roughly halfway through the Alcott novel.

By coincidence, Maraden recently directed Chamberlain's adaptation of Little Women at the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis, providing her the unusual opportunity to "get it right" for us. She succeeds wonderfully. Her Stratford cast is uniformly excellent. The star of the play, as in the novel, is Jo, and Nicholl plays her with just the right mix of femininity and feminism. Byrne's Meg is romantic and optimistic, while Jullien portrays Beth with the innocence of youth. Standout Cassie Fox, in her Stratford debut, steals every scene with her impetuous, sulky yet endearing Amy. Stratford vets Seatle, Campion and Bryne bring maturity and depth to the production. Ericson's enthusiastic Laurie quickly endears him to the audience, and Farwell's Brooke shines in the genuinely funny proposal scene with Meg.

Frequent Maraden collaborator (The Merchant of Venice in 1996 and Alice Through the Looking Glass in 1994 and 1996), John Pennoyer is credited with both set and costume design, for which we give him full marks less one: a bench downstage provided a start-to-finish block to a dozen audience members seated in the front two rows. Useful as a prop on only two occasions, we can't help wishing the actors couldn't pull it out of the closet when required, and then chop it into firewood. His costumes, however, were magnificent. The majestic gown designed for Barbara Bryne's Aunt March alone deserves an award. Jo's costumes are also remarkable, in both their subtle differences (not quite as feminine as her sisters' were) and painstaking attention to detail (for example, the writer's sleeve).

Little Women is a cheerful, wholesome account of the daily life of a highly principled family. The play, while sensitive without being overly sentimental, holds a personal charm for adults who may see their own carefree childhood mirrored on the stage. A play the whole family can enjoy, you are encouraged to take advantage of The Family Experience program at Stratford whereby parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers or any other adult can share a live theatre experience with a young person 18 years of age or under. Sunday through Friday, guests may buy up to two youth tickets for $22 each with every regularly priced adult ticket purchased.

This is the first time Little Women has been staged at Stratford, and the play runs from May 20 to November 8, 1997. Call 1-800-567-1600 for a brochure, tickets or accommodation.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare, directed by Diana Leblanc
Stratford Festival Theatre
May 16 to November 9, 1997

Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)


This Romeo and Juliet like night and Day

No one wrote more involved love stories than Shakespeare, and no theatre company puts more effort into producing them than the Stratford Festival. Love and death are fated to intertwine when the children of two warring clans find their hearts' desire in each other's arms. Secretly, they devise a plan that will allow them to be united in defiance of their families' bitter enmity - but unforeseen events cause their desperate stratagems to go tragically awry. Romeo and Juliet should be an emotional powder keg of passion, teenage love, gang warfare and death, but director Diana Leblanc has failed to galvanize her players resulting in a weak and insipid production that proves directing Tennessee Williams is one thing - Shakespeare is another.  

The problems begin before it starts. We have watched Zefferelli's classic movie set in Verona, Luhrmann's modern punk version set in an LA-styled "Verona Beach" and now Leblanc's R&J à la française: the French Caribbean circa 1815. While we are in favour of cutting-edge creativity, to set the play in such an alien time and place poses the question: why? The Gallic setting is further "enhanced" by the francophonization of several of Shakespeare's lines: "Quest-ce qu'il y'a Juliette" bellows Lady Capulet (Chick Reid). In the midst of Shakespeare's language, this French translation seems artificial. 

In fairness to the talented Leblanc, she has been supplied with a uneven assortment of talent. Soaring over most cast members is Jonathan Crombie's searing portrayal of an enigmatic Romeo. Crombie is quite simply superb with a tangible mix of youthful energy, sexuality and intense emotion emitting charisma and sparks in every scene. His triumph is especially surprising considering his unfortunate partner in this production is a woefully inadequate Juliet (Marion Day). "For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo" - poor Crombie must repeat this line over and over in his head when acting with Day. Her frigid Juliet is a shrewish creature one would run from rather than risk life and limb climbing balconies. Day simply babbles lines, expecting the audience to sympathize with her character rather than drift into sleep as some seat neighbours did. Her lethargic performance culminates in what must rank as the most underpowered death scene ever mounted. Juliet awakens from her drugged coma to hear Friar Lawrence tell her that Romeo lies beside her, dead. Her reaction, or non-reaction, to this tragic news can be likened to waking up and finding your husband had slept late. Only the fight scenes and duels (bloodless, but superbly choreographed by John Stead and James Binkley) surrounding Day's scenes wake us up from our own Day-induced comas. Assisting Day in nearly sinking the whole contrived island into the Caribbean is Conrad Coates as the wimpiest Prince who ever minced through the role.

And at the risk of seeming politically incorrect, Stratford's penchant for colour-blind casting has gone over the top with black actor Roy Lewis as lily white Day's Father Capulet. Why not a whole black family Capulet, or at least a mulatto Juliet? Or are we to believe that he's her wicked step-father?

The production is supported by uneven contributions from Stratford veterans. Luckily the casting of integral roles of the Nurse (Diane D'Aquila), Tybalt (Stephen Bogaert), Mercutio (Geordie Johnson) and Friar Lawrence (Benedict Campbell) save the production from capsizing completely.

In typical Shakespeare tempo, Romeo is married to Juliet less than a day after their first meeting, and later that same day kills her cousin Tybalt who has just dispatched his Montague kinsman, Mercutio. It's in several scenes with these characters that the fur begins to fly and life is breathed into the asthmatic production. Bogaert is wonderful as the black-costumed villain exuding unctuous malevolence and Johnson sparkles, especially in the Queen Mab soliloquy.

D'Aquila, as the Nurse, has huge shoes to fill as Stratford's 1992 R&J's Barbara Bryne's nurse screeching "scurvy knave" at Mercutio is still ringing in our appreciative ears. D'Aquila's nurse, or au pair, is a complex character which she executes with formidable talent. Her scene with Crombie and Campbell, coaxing Romeo out of his self-pity and back into Juliet's arms, is textbook Stratford: Serious talent speaking serious lines. Unfortunately, it was not transmitted to the rest of the production.

The delightful memory of Barbara Bryne in the 1992 production reminds us of the splendid actors in the title roles that year - Antoni Cimolino and Megan Porter Follows (coincidentally Crombie's co-star on Anne of Green Gables … now what a romantic combination that could have produced) - and Colm Feore and Lorne Kennedy as Mercutio and Tybalt, Bernard Hopkins as Friar Lawrence. The only moral can be: don't try to repeat perfection in five years with a mixed bag of talents. 

The sparse set design (a few Cajun shutters and railings) is by Douglas Paraschuk and costumes (pirates' kerchiefs and tights) are by Louise Guinand. Enough said about so little. 

Romeo and Juliet plays at the Stratford Festival Theatre from May 16 to November 9, 1997. For tickets call 1-800-567-1600.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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Richard III
by William Shakespeare
Stratford Festival Tom Patterson Theatre
June 12 to September 20, 1997 - HELD OVER TO OCTOBER

Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Uneven production is still an audience pleaser

William Shakespeare's Richard III is the last of a series of four history plays which begins with the three parts of Henry VI. This new Stratford Festival production directed by John Wood stresses, sometimes inappropriately, the comic elements of the play in the first half, but crescendos during the second act to a thrilling conclusion. After the disappointment of Leblanc's Romeo and Juliet, it is reassuring to watch Wood's Richard III develop slowly into a powerhouse production that leaves you overwhelmed.

As the play opens, the theatre lights come up, revealing an impressive sight of the cast resplendent in magnificent costumes. A narrator's smooth echo recaps the 300-year pedigree of the Plantagenet line, as the assembled cast follow the history illuminated over the audience's heads in period artwork hanging at the back of the theatre walls. This fine directorial device helps a potentially history-challenged audience to understand the often complex story.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester and youngest brother of King Edward IV, is a sinister and Machiavellian hero-villain we love to hate. Shakespeare's account of him is Tudor propaganda of a medieval world filled with power, hate, lust and revenge. Audiences love to jeer and despise this despotic, malformed reprobate, but also admire his ability to carry out his murderous and devious deeds with the motley crew of villainous thugs who surround him.

Stephen Ouimette's Richard offers a macabre appeal, somewhat diluted with his uneven interpretation of the monster-king. Ouimette's prodigious talent aside, he (or maybe this is Wood's doing) emphasizes the inherent black comedy and transforms Richard into a jester of sorts. Richard should be venomously ambitious with comic moments, not the reverse.

Shakespeare's Richard III shows for the first time the full power of his language. The huge role furnishes great opportunities for an acting virtuoso and has long been a favourite with great actors. In contrast to Ouimette, Ian MacKellan's recent Richard III (on film) is a benchmark interpretation showing Richard as a master rhetorician. As Shakespeare's embodiment of malevolence, MacKellan is unique in his total control and in the virtuosity of his performance. Wood's production does have its moments though: Ouimette's interaction with Barbara Bryne's "wicked-old hag," Queen Margaret (the character is omitted from the recent film), is a study in duelling virtuosity, while the opening of the second act has Richard reclining languorously on an ermine-trimmed red velvet cape stretching the full width of the Tom Patterson stage, his crown far from reach and symbolically awash in a sea of blood. Triumphs of direction and design.

The play is so convincingly Richard's story, one of power - lusting for it, achieving, then finally losing it - that the supporting cast can be swamped by the magnitude of the title role. Luckily Wood has assembled a top-notch group which admirably holds their own.

James Blendick portrays the ageing and ailing monarch Edward IV, burdened with a sin-laden past and a remorseful present. Blendick gasps through the role, aided perhaps by an exhausting matinee performance as Jack Boyle ("the Paycock") just three hours earlier. Edward's consort, Queen Elizabeth (Diane D'Aquila), is a haughty and self-willed woman who makes an enemy of Richard during her husband's reign. D'Aquila's Elizabeth is powerful and assured until her own family's blood starts to flow. She is an accomplished Stratford veteran who brings a convincing fire and brimstone to the sad queen's mad scenes.

Queen Margaret, played by the indomitable Barbara Bryne, is the maleficent widow of the murdered King Henry VI. Her long curse delivered near the beginning of the play, in which she singles out her enemies, is almost a scenario of the play, which might well bear the subtitle of "The Widowed Queen's Curse." Bryne executes the role magnificently, as she bellows at Richard: "Hie thee to Hell for shame, and leave this world. Thou cacodemon! there thy kingdom is." Always-reliable Bryne is terrifying and hypnotic in her witchly flowing robes.

Lady Anne, daughter-in-law of Henry VI, is extraordinarily enacted by the returning Lucy Peacock. Her wretched Anne is both beguiling and pathetic. In a fabulously choreographed scene early in the play she, in torment, throws open her husband's coffin and strews blood (symbolic red petals) over the stage. She spouts a reviling soliloquy to Gloucester, then, in a magnificent decrescendo, gives herself to the drooling lech. The symbolism of the now blood-spattered stage is a symbolic preamble to the sprawling red cape scene opening the second act.

The deadly climate of fear and betrayal that placed Richard on the throne becomes his undoing in the quite magnificent second act with one brilliant scene after another. Richard finds the ghosts of his past rising up to confront him in the famous encampment nightmare scene. An amazing staging by Wood, Designer Patrick Clark, Lighting Designer John Munro, and Evan Turner's eerie sound effects blend to create a frightening scene of incredible composition and technical wizardry. The Battle of Bosworth Field ("My horse, my horse, my kingdom [is lost, but] for a horse") combines the elements of duelling battlefield orations from Richard and king-in-waiting Richmond (a versatile David Keeley) and marvellous combat scenes with fight direction by John Stead and James Binkle. Richard's final scene can only be described as a surreal religious experience that must be seen to be believed.

The main characters, including an invigorated Joyce Campion as the Duchess of York, and the ubiquitous Peter Donaldson as the Duke of Buckingham, are supported by a huge but uneven supporting cast. Bernard Hopkins is wonderfully entertaining as the Archbishop of Canterbury; Stratford elder-statesman William Needles is the Lord Mayor of London; liquid-voiced Stephen Russell (looking more like a U.S. Civil War chaplain) portrays Lord Hastings; Robert Persichini handles three roles (Archbishop of York, Lieutenant of the Tower, and Earl of Oxford). Dan Bernier is the Prince of Wales while Joe Dinicol, as his younger brother, the Duke of York, is more successful as the younger of the two doomed little princes. Stephen Bogaert plays smooth thug, Catesby, and Martin Albèrt impersonates an actor as George Stanley and performs admirably as a stagehand.

Richard III is so huge in scope that one can forgive some of the missteps in this production, including even the inconsistancies of costumes (a Burberry-style trenchcoat, Australian outback coat, and a 1930's fur stole?) and props (rattling sabres and a plastic toothbrush?). An admirable achievement nonetheless that should not be missed, it plays at the Tom Patterson Theatre from June 12 to September 20. For tickets, call 1-800-567-1600.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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Juno and the Paycock
by Sean O'Casey
Stratford Festival Tom Patterson Theatre
June 10 to September 21, 1997 HELD OVER TILL OCTOVER

Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Stratford uncovers "a darlin' story, a daarlin' story!"

The Stratford Festival strikes gold with this wonderfully entertaining and poignant production of the rarely mounted Juno and the Paycock by Irish playwright Sean O'Casey. First performed to great acclaim at Dublin's famed Abbey Theatre in 1924, Juno is a richly symbolic portrait of an Irish family's vicissitudes of fortune during the political unrest following the division of Ireland. Janet Wright has returned for a fifth season to direct, and what a stellar effort it is!

Playwright Sean O'Casey (1880-1964) has been described as "the most distinguished dramatist of Irish experience to have emerged in the 20th century." Born and raised in the poverty and overpopulation of Dublin, he taught himself how to read and write with the help of his older sister. Encouraged by an older brother, he took part in amateur theatrical performances that exposed him to the works of Shakespeare and Dion Boucicault, an Irish melodramatic playwright who dominated the popular Irish, English and American stages throughout much of the late 19th century.

Juno is a hard play to categorize. Comedy or drama, it won't be pigeon-holed. Indeed, it was said at the time "nothing written in English since Juno can match the vigor of its comic scenes." The first act introduces the cast of characters, including long-suffering wife Juno, in a warm and light-hearted comedy. The comedy gives Juno its essential strength, its occasional magnificence. The second part is the political sum of the play's beginning resulting in an experience of far greater depth and power. Layabouts and the revolutionaries are an eclectic subject mix, but Wright keeps the story interesting without too much melodrama and histronics. Rather than stress the timely socio-political aspects, O'Casey goes for the funnybone.

The prancing paycock ("peacock" in non-accented English) is feckless and improvident Captain Jack Boyle (James Blendick), a layabout who is allergic to any form of work and whose aching legs seize up at the mere mention of physical labour. He spends his days singing Irish folk songs (Blendick in superb voice) and swilling beer in their tenement with idle sycophant Joxer Daly (hilariously played by Brian Tree) who describes his boozy pal as "Jacky Boyle, Esquire, infernall rogue an' damned liar." Understandably shrewish, burdened wife Juno (Lally Cadeau) is left to carry the load and make ends meet. Juno is O'Casey's protaganist and he uses her character to marry the two discordant themes. She is another of this Stratford season's strong heroines, one who longs for a supportive husband but makes choices that ultimately set her free. Motherhood becomes more satisfying then Boylehood.

All seems hopeless to Juno with her hermit-like son Johnny (Andrew Strachan) bemoaning the loss of his arm fighting for the newly-formed IRA, and her daughter Mary (Cara Hunter) on strike with her trade union, when Miss Fortune smiles on the Boyles. Mary's new lawyer boyfriend, Charlie Bentham (Geoffrey Pounsett) brings news of an inheritance eliciting welcome cries of relief from Juno, and a spending spree from Jack. However, a reversal of fortune coupled with news that Mary, abandoned by her Charlie, is pregnant forces Juno to make decisions that will effect the rest of her life.

The set design (Patrick Clark) and lighting (John Munro) of the Tom Patterson stage suggests a larger hovel than is perhaps realistic, but the large cast is well-served, and the action moves from one end to the other, providing everyone in the audience-in-the-three-quarter-round a good share of the fun. Lally Cadeau (in her Stratford debut) as Juno Boyle creates a character of uncompromising values and eventual sympathy in contrast to Blendick's effective bombastic and fustian Cap'n Jack. Together Wright creates a couple that forces a switch of sympathies, with Blendick's jocular drunk garnering compassion at first, but Cadeau's caterwalling becomes clearly justified. Brian Tree (in a welcome return to Stratford) as "darlin'" Joxer Daly supplies moments of unadulterated comic brilliance that further enhance the image of Juno the comedy. He and Blendick create characters that are tragically bankrupt human beings. In juxtaposition, Patricia Collins as the funereal Mrs. Tancred assists in the build-up of the passion-packed second act.

Juno and the Paycock is no cheerless, drab composition but lusty and, in many places, bold and outrageous. Here are people as the "The Troubles" and Ireland made them, as poverty and drink made them. As you will never forget them.

Juno and the Paycock plays the Tom Patterson stage in Stratford from June 10 to September 21. For tickets, call 1-800-567-1600.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Rose
Stratford Festival Tom Patterson Theatre
June 13 to September 20, 1997

Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Rarely performed Shakespeare piece well worth seeing

William Shakespeare's Coriolanus, now playing at the Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson Theatre, is one of his least produced and most complex works. This very stylized and time-neutral new production intelligently directed by Richard Rose, and starring Tom McCamus as the elitist Roman general, begins brilliantly, but uneven acting dilutes its impact by the second act. Unfortunately, this doesn't help the audience comprehend the complexities of such a voluminous play.

The plot is both intricate and fascinating. Caius Martius (Tom McCamus), a general, conquers the Volces city of Corioles, south of Rome. His sweeping victory accords this military hero the title of Coriolanus by his soldiers and officers. The Roman senate, so enraptured by his successes, promotes him as candidate for consul, an elevation bitterly opposed by two senior tribunes (Rod Beattie and John Gilbert). Unfortunately, Coriolanus holds an arrogant disdain for the common masses, and the tide of public opinion, flamed by the two tribunes, is soon turned against him, even with the counsel of old mentor Menenius (James Blendick). With the help of the senate, and the masses, Coriolanus is forced into exile. Helped at first by comrade and consul, Cominius (David Keeley), Coriolanus eventually arrives at the house of Volscian archrival, Aufidius (Jeffrey Renn) whom he joins to prepare an attack of vengeance on Rome. Only his wife, Virgilia (Jennifer Wigmore), and his mother, Volumnia (Martha Henry), have any hope of dissuading him.

Coriolanus has seldom been performed, possibly because it's a very difficult play to stage and interpret, and possibly because it is, in the 17th century's more tolerant tradition, so long. Rose has trimmed it to exactly the three-hour limit before overtime rates apply. Plenty of action, and words, remain, however. The unique brilliance of Coriolanus is its insight into the mutual influence of psychology and politics. The play operates on three distinct levels: political, psychological and philosophically, enveloping the timeless themes of politics, war, and love-hate relationships. Rose's fascinating interpretation is realized by the design team of Patrick Clark (set), Yvonne Sauriol (costumes) and Kevin Fraser (lighting). Rose's Rome is a world of chrome and shards of glass; their weapons are eight-foot poles that also instantly create walls and barricades in the minimalist split-second scene changes. The mix of costume styles adds a deeper dimension to the production, with Coriolanus resplendent in dress blues, white fatigues, and black leather. The Roman army uses Nazi-styled gas masks while the Volscians are a punk-leather cross, reminiscent of the streets of New York - an intoxicating mix that shocks and entertains. And finally, a Stratford production that is not afraid to show blood. While we don't expect a Monty Python caricature, we are pleased to see that after Martius has conquered Corioles and returns, in Cominius' description, "as he were flayed," our hero does indeed look as if he had barely survived a fierce and bloody battle.

The essential relationship in the play is the grippingly dependent love-hate between Coriolanus and his opportunistic mother. One scene where Coriolanus crumples into an emotional heap under his mother's pressure not to attack Rome is a study in controlled emotion. Actors try to hold the moment before the wail "O mother, mother! What have you done?" for a long and emotion-packed silence. McCamus lasted thirty seconds; ninety is the record. Although these scenes between McCamus and the intense and unbridled Henry are powerful, the second act as a whole comes apart because of the inconsistent and spotty performances of those around them.

Rose chooses to distance his interpretation from the implied homoerotic relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius, but he does not shy away from it either. Aufidius, resplendent in flowing charcoal robe and black painted toenails, leers at Coriolanus after the Roman exile enters his house at Antium. His embrace successfully implies sex more than friendship, as echoed by the quiet murmurs in the audience. Although the idea is planted, the Coriolanus/Aufidius relationship lacks focus. Aufidius' jealous leers at Coriolanus as his mother and wife plead for Rome is more petulant than love-struck. And Aufidius' repentance of Coriolanus' death was more an "Oops!" than "Oh, my god what have I lost here!"

Rose's eclectic mixing of design styles works, but his actors are an unfortunate mix of talents. The use of neutral accents, including Canadian, mostly succeeds, but many cast members just sputter their lines. McCamus' intense interpretation is telling for the most part, but we leave the theatre with little sympathy for his character...maybe that was the idea? His love-starved-hero-in-turmoil contrasts well with Henry's voluble Volumnia. She is, well, Magical Martha, and with flailing arms and hands gets through the part without really convincing us that a son should love his mother.

 Coriolanus' elderly friend and Roman Senator, Menenius, is portrayed by James Blendick. Blendick is good in the role, but his style, while slow and self-assured, seems mannered. Maybe he was in a non-risk mood after performing a matinee of Juno earlier in the day. Richard Rose's buddy from Necessary Angel Theatre, John Gilbert, plays one tribune Sicinius, and is emotionally, miles ahead of Rod Beattie's tribune Junius. In short, Beattie should never, ever, ever be allowed to utter a word of Shakespeare on Stratford's hallowed ground. His scene opposite wife Martha Henry illustrates the gulf between their unique gifts, she, native to the passion of Williams and O'Neill, and he, creating yet another of his Wingfield characters. Together, they should stick to Love Letters.

Excellent work flows from Douglas Chamberlain as Roman general Titus Lartius. His crutched gait and menacing looks in Patton-like uniform were most effective, but he wasn't given enough time to fully develop the character. As Aufidius, Jeffrey Renn has been given a huge challenge but fails in his interpretation of the Volscian general, even when gifted with the looks required. His simple reading of the script falls flat, but some good coaching may give this young actor the skills required to interpret the classics. In support, David Keeley shows promise as consul Cominius, while the talents of Lucy Peacock are utterly wasted in the role of Valeria, friend to Coriolanus' wife, Virgilia (Jennifer Wigmore).

Rose is acclaimed for his unique interpretations of Shakespeare, including last season's charming As You Like It and for his avant-garde interpretation of The Comedy of Errors in 1994 and 1995. He has had big shoes to fill with the two previous illustrious productions of Coriolanus: Michael Langham (1961) and Brian Bedford (1981). And while this production's whole is not as good as the sum of its parts, it is definitely worth seeing. Coriolanus plays in the Tom Patterson Theatre from June 13 to September 20, 1997. For tickets, call 1-800-567-1600.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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The Taming of the Shrew
by William Shakespeare, directed by Richard Rose
Stratford Festival Theatre
May 13 to November 8, 1997

Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Rose tames Stratford's Shrew in hysterical style

The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's most "accessible" comedy, is now playing at Stratford's Festival Theatre to November 8. Directed by Richard Rose (also see Coriolanus review), this new production (their have been five previous Stratford stagings) is a hysterical romp through New York's (Nova Padua) Little Italy in the 1960s. Completely off the wall and over the top, this production joins the growing number of refreshingly different mountings in a similar vein with the BBC's John Cleese version, even the Willis/Shepherd Moonlighting TV episode. The result is an inventive and exhilarating production of the highest calibre. Not just content to tickle, it attacks your funny bone.  

Rose's landmark design lives up to the pre-opening hype. The New York locale works beautifully with meticulous attention to detail, coupled with the words and setting adding wonderfully whimsical moments to an already perfect play. Set and Lighting Designer Graeme Thomson and Costume Designer Charlotte Dean have created an "in-your-face" melange of costumes, lighting, and architectural props enveloped in a sea of wonderful accents that contribute to the grand illusion.  

The plot, while straightforward, does get complicated at times, but Rose's taught and inspired direction keeps the flow smooth and sure. Opening on the bow of the SS. San Antonio (of Padua, no doubt), the production introduces a group of immigrants arriving in Nova Padua. The ship is met by various characters and a real marching band with requisite priest (and, goodness, was that the Pope, too?). The action shifts dockside where wealthy widower Baptista Minola (John Gilbert) has decreed that his younger daughter, the bella Bianca (Cynthia Dale), will not marry until a husband can be found for his elder daughter, the willful and evil-tempered Katharina (Lucy Peacock). To the relief of everyone - especially Bianca's three rival suitors, Lucentio (Jonathan Crombie), Gremio (Richard Curnock), and Hortensio (Benedict Campbell) - a potential spouse for Katharina arrives in the person of Hortensio's friend Petruchio (Peter Donaldson), who agrees to marry this "shrew" and tame her, no matter how horrible she is, as he is seeking a rich wife and Baptista is an old friend. Turning up late for his own wedding (the same week - this is Shakespeare), in absurd costume (with cowboy chaps and pantomimed horses) and accompanied by his oafish friend Grumio (Stephen Ouimette), Petruchio refuses to stay for his own reception. He sweeps Katharina off to his house in Verona...Italy (via Alitalia!), and subjects her to a series of farcical humiliations designed to break her shrewish disposition. The results of this re-education become increasingly apparent after the couple's arrival for the wedding of Bianca and winning suitor Lucentio. The celebration sets the stage for a seemingly changed Katharina to offer sage advice to the other women guests about loyalty and devotion to one's husband.  

Katharina's last speech about duty to one's husband remains unpalatable for most politically sensitive people as it seeks to subjugate women. Rose understands this and takes care of business in brilliantly creative fashion that we won't divulge. Suffice to say that cocksure Petruchio is made to feel like he's in charge...but is he? The final applause-winning scene ensures the audience leaves the theatre having been invigorated and thoroughly entertained.

The director has been blessed with an accomplished cast, however, not wishing to compare apples and oranges, the 1967 Zeffirelli movie with Taylor and Burton remains the benchmark, in part due to the extraordinary chemistry between the stars, and Taylor's remarkably venomous Katharina. Peter Donaldson's Petruchio is bombastic, rude, roguish and thoroughly believable in the role: finally, a character that Donaldson has created that we can applaud. He is simply fantastic in the role and seems to have found his niche in the comic genre. Unfortunately Lucy Peacock's Katharina, although plausible and self-assured, is simply not that nasty when compared to Taylor. We admire Lucy's wonderful abilities, and although she shines in many hilarious moments, the overall effect is diminished with her less than noxious interpretation.

The supporting cast contribute much to the production. The three suitors are suitably besotted with Dale's comely and flirtatious Bianca, with Gilbert in fine form as her father. Campbell and Curnock do well as the two unlucky swains, while an outstanding Crombie is as endearing as ever as lucky Lucentio. But stealing the show, as he almost always does, is Stephen Ouimette. His Grumio literally runs away with every scene he is in, his impeccable comic timing unmatched. Who else but he, by adding a simple gesture, can turn a line like "Where's the cook?" into a piece of outrageous comic genius?

Rose has extracted every bit of comic juices from this meaty piece. He floods the stage with a jam of little cars, then sends them scrambling from the auditorium via the main aisles, with one of the brassy female drivers hollering at a startled audience member as only a New Yorker could, "Whadda ya lookin' at?!" The abduction of a travelling salesman by Lucentio's kinsmen, and the persuasion of the old gentleman to pretend he is Lucentio's wealthy father, is played as a scene from Scarface or The Godfather. There is comic shtick, and spit, and ricocheting bullets and eggs, at every turn.

The play's sexual politics have always been a subject for serious discourse, but Richard Rose's marvellous production shows that men and women haven't changed that much since Shakespeare's time. Go and see it for yourself...soon. You won't forget it. Call 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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by Peter Shaffer, directed by Brian Bedford
Stratford Festival Avon Theatre
June 13 to September 20, 1997

Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)


Van Burek mesmerizes in Stratford revival

The Stratford Festival has mounted an inspired revival of Equus, by Peter Shaffer, originally staged in 1973. This is the first Stratford production of Equus; the Festival produced another of Shaffer's noted works, Amadeus, for the past two years running. We saw the original London production and, 25 years later, the play retains all its power, emotion, humanity and shock-value.

Stratford regular Brian Bedford, who performs double duty as director and star, has cast as his co-star newcomer Nicholas Van Burek, who makes the role his own, exploding onto the Stratford scene like a meteor. Bedford may be the heart of this Equus, but Van Burek surely has captured its soul. Bedford's production follows the structure and style of the original by John Dexter (confirmed by the exact staging details in the playwright's original directions). His taut and stylized mounting is a feast for the senses while grabbing your heart and intellect.

Equus is a richly textured psychodrama, a Greek drama/Freudian mix that explores the dark psyche of disturbed young patient, Alan Strang (Van Burek), who has carried out a seemingly inexplicable act: he has blinded six horses with a hoof pick. His violent actions are the result of a repressed and culturally impoverished environment, confused by the conflicting imperatives of a prudish and devotedly religious mother (Dixie Seatle) and an atheist father (Brian Tree). Local magistrate, Hesther Salomon (Patricia Collins) forges an alliance between local psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Bedford) and Strang that sets them both on an emotional journey of self-discovery and redemption.

Dysart, also a tormented soul, is charged with uncovering the demons behind young Alan's emotional disturbance. There is a palpable and dynamic tension between doctor and patient and the fact they are mirror images of each other makes the play so riveting. Each desires what the other possesses: Dysart longs for "passion," Alan seeks equilibrium. The psychiatrist, however, knows that attaining mental equilibrium exacts a price. In helping Alan to give up the dangerously Dionysiac aspect of his personality, Dysart hopes the boy may eventually live "without pain." At the same time, however, he suspects that Alan will then be a ghost, with neither the passion or will to celebrate life.

Before we saw the London production, we wondered why this kid would blind six horses. What could make someone do such a thing? Two years before Shaffer wrote the play, a friend told him about a similar incident, reported in the news. Although he did not know the details of the crime, Shaffer was fascinated by it, a fascination that culminated in the creation of an unstable mental world in which the deed could be made comprehensible. The result was Equus.

To heighten the intense psychological drama that impels Equus, the stage set (realized by Douglas Paraschuk) is quite stark. The action takes place on "a square of wood set on a circle of wood," representing the boxing ring in which Alan's mental conflicts are acted out. On the outer edges of the circle surrounding the square are benches where the actors sit during the play, except when they speak their lines or contribute to the action. Behind them, further contributing to the sense of observation, and of a boxing match, sit paying spectators in three tiers of bleachers on the Avon stage.

Contributing to this triumph is one of the best casts ever assembled at Stratford. Bedford is technically brilliant as Dysart, posing questions and making the audience believe it could be a one-character play. He sometimes fails to connect with the audience, but the character's pain is there for all to see. As Alan's parents, Seatle and Tree galvanize every scene with complete believability. Seatle's searing encounter with Dysart is utterly mesmerizing. Collins shines brightly, as ever, playing the sensitive magistrate who brings the two tortured souls together.

It is Van Burek, however, who steals the show, the play, and every scene he is in. We were impressed with the few lines he spoke in Coriolanus, and it's obvious many hours of hard work have gone into this, his breakthrough role. This 21-year-old actor bounds onto the stage with naked (sometimes literally) abandon and doesn't let up. Searing, aching and touching, Van Burek pulls the audience into his emotional quagmire and keeps them spellbound for over two hours. An awesome achievement.

In strong support are Claire Jullien as young stablehand Jill Mason, Kristina Nicoll as the Nurse, and Tom McCamus as Harry Dalton, the stable owner. And no, we won't tell you how they are created, but the horses are brilliantly realized.

This remarkable production is one of the best in Stratford's illustrious history. Bedford and Van Burek join forces to create a play that will shock and entertain. Together, they embark on an unforgettable journey. If you see one Stratford production this year, this is it. Avon Theatre, September 3 to November 9, 1997. Phone 1-800-567-1600.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Speaking of your comments, here's what You had to say: 

I was fortunate enough to have seen this play before the end of the season. It was brilliant. There were moments that I forgot that I was sitting in a darkened theatre filled with other people and was lost in the play. My seat was toward the back of the balcony and even though I could not see the actors' faces, their body language told as vivid a story as their words.

Bedford was, as always, a stage presence that cannot be denied. And [his] ability to direct this play speaks volumes for his love of the theatre. Van Burek was entrancing. I couldn't help but watch him whenever he was on stage.

The rest of the cast was in perfect compliment to the main characters. I have attended the Stratford festival every year since 1984 and this was one of the best performances I have ever seen.

-- Linda Robson

My name is Elina Konikova. I am a junior at a private school in Cleveland Ohio. A month or so ago I had the pleasure of going to the Stratford theatre festival and seeing three of your productions. I decided to write the cast as well as Nicholas Van Burek, the "leading man" because recently I was writing on my experience of Stratford and Equus. Out of the three plays I saw, Equus struck me the most. I would not hesitate to say that it is one of the best performances I have ever seen in my life. Although I was not familiar with the book I was immediately drawn in by Brian Bedford and Nicholas Van Burek. My eyes were glued to the stage at all times. After the play, I felt like there was an imprint left on my mind and I could not stop thinking about my impressions of what i had just seen. I would like to personally thank the cast for a job well done. As for Nicholas Van Burek, I think it is rare for someone so young to be so in tune with a character and make it as believable as he had done. To me, he was Alan Strang to the fullest extent and I could not help but be mesmerized. I hope that this production will be performed again in Stratford. I think that it has a unique quality and its message is not one that is often explored, especially for teenage audiences.

-- Elina K.

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by Eduardo De Filippo, translated by Wittorio Rossi, directed by Antoni Cimolino
Stratford Festival Avon Theatre
July 31 to October 11, 1997

Stage Door Review by Roger Kershaw and Jim Lingerfelt
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

Filumena a serious laugh

Like its movie successor, Marriage, Italian Style starring Sophia Loren, the new Stratford Festival production of Filumena, by Eduardo De Filippo and translated by (Canadian) Vittorio Rossi, is an exuberant romp through the world of love and sex by one of Italy's most popular playwrights. Director Antoni Cimolino has cast Stratford AD Richard Monette, who makes a triumphant return to the stage after an absence of too many years, in this hilarious and often touching play that has the audience laughing one minute and moved to tears the next. A feast for the eyes, and the funnybone, Filumena is described as The Taming of the Shrew in reverse, and, like its co-feature Stratford's stellar Stratford season, is another spectacular success.

The story, set in post-Second World War Naples, is a wicked and sophisticated mix of the amusing and urbane. Filumena Marturano (Lally Cadeau) has been the mistress of wealthy businessman Domenico Soriano (Monette) for the past 25 years. Now, realizing that she is about to replaced by nubile nurse, Diana, (Tamara Bernier), Filumena has tricked him into marrying her by asking him to join her in matrimony as a "dying" wish. As soon as she reveals the deception, the enraged Domenico summons a lawyer (Stephen Ouimette) to have the marriage declared void, but Filumena throws a wrench into the proceedings with a startling revelation. Over the years and by different fathers, she tells him, she has given birth to three sons, whom she has brought up with money she has stolen from Domenico. All three of her sons are now grown, living in the neighbourhood - and one of them, Filumena reveals, is Domenico's progeny. Not wishing any of her sons to be singled out for preferential treatment over the others, she refuses to tell Domenico which one is his, even when he finally consents to marry her properly. Is he marrying her just to get her to identify his son? Is he truly in love with her?

The play is a study of Italian love and life, but also offers poignant insights to displaced fatherhood and the importance of family life. Cimolino has created a set of characters that touch your heart and force you to feel their raw emotions. When Filumena and Domenico argue, you are placed in the middle and asked to choose sides. As in most fights, both have valid points of view. The onslaught does climax in the inevitable happy conclusion, but the journey is definitely not your run-of-the-mill love story.

Cimonlino has a wonderful cast to paint his vibrantly colourful slice of Neapolitan life. Monette is blusteringly perfect as Domenico. Cadeau, looking and sounding like Sophia Loren, is an inspired choice for this plum role. Her sensual and sexy Filumena is a joy to watch as she flights and claws for her man and sons. Cimolino's casting of this pair was a popular and intelligent choice.

In great support, as always, is the memorable Barbara Bryne as housekeeper/confidante Rosalia Solimene. Looking ever the perpetual Italian widow dressed in black, Bryne's sparkling wit and brilliant timing evokes huge laughs from the audience. We continue to be spellbound by this consummate professional who will surely grace the Stratford stages for many years to come. Brian Tree, plays houseman Alfredo Amoroso, a character bordering on an Italian Joxer Daly from Juno and the Paycock, but still bringing smiles.

Highlighting many scenes are the three sons: Umberto, played by Michael Therriault; Riccardo, portrayed by Joseph Scoren; and crowd favorite Michele, a marvellous Richard Zeppieri. The sing and fight their way through the second act in exhilarating fashion. Other cast include Tamara Bernier as Diana, Jennifer Gould as Lucia, and in a short but funny cameo, Stephen Ouimette as Nocella.

Surrounding the ravishing Lally Cadeau is Guido Tondino's magnificent design. Both costumes and set are incredibly beautiful and a true evocation of an Italian villa, the lights of a distant Naples twinkling across the bay. A profusion of flowers, huge painted eggs, period furniture, even an orange tree add to the illusion, in possibly the finest set we have seen this season, all grandly lit by Steven Hawkins.

Filumena has been produced on stage all over the world, in its original language, English and in film. Its universally applicable story is thoroughly entertaining, this version made all the more so by the talents of Cadeau and Monette. For a serious laugh, catch this gem at the Avon Theatre, July 31 to October 11, 1997. Call 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

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by Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, directed by Richard Monette
Stratford Festival Theatre
May 21 to November 8, 1997

Stage Door Review by Jim Lingerfelt and Roger Kershaw
(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)


A feast for the eyes and soul 

Camelot, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe (their last musical together) has been playing since May at the Stratford Festival Theatre, and our viewing of this famous show made us keenly aware of good things come to those who wait. Stratford's Camelot is a triumph of extraordinary design, taut direction and stellar talent. The Stratford "musical" is usually a critical and commercial success, and Camelot, though not L and L's strongest work, adds its name to their long and illustrious list. Although many people may be familiar with the Harris/Nero/Redgrave film, and some may have seen the Burton/Goulet /Andrews Broadway show that so influenced the Kennedy years, director Richard Monette's version is a colourful and vibrant extravaganza that will have you smiling and humming for a long time. 

Camelot is based on The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, examining King Arthur's dream of a utopia founded on the highest principles of truth and justice. Lerner and Loewe's famous songs, in concert with an enduring story of knights, love and magic, enshrine Camelot in musical theatre history. The story, immortalised in film, book, animation, and music, has King Arthur (Tom McCamus) creating a new order of chivalry based on justice, equality and the rule of law: the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Round Table. They are joined by Frenchman Lancelot du Lac (Dan R. Chameroy), who proves himself, through word and deed, to be the greatest knight of all. This fulfils a prophecy made by Arthur's old friend and mentor, Merlyn (Douglas Chamberlain), who lives life backwards ("He doesn't age, he just... youthens.") But Merlyn was unable to warn Arthur of the darker side of his prophecy: that Lancelot's arrival would also spell doom for Camelot when he and Guenevere (Cynthia Dale), Arthur's queen, fall desperately (and treasonously) in love. Arthur must make decisions based on the very rules of impartial justice that he has fought so hard to establish, even though it will mean Guenevere's death. Although, in the bitter conflicts that follow, the Brotherhood of the Round Table is irreparably shattered, the ideals that it embodied live on in legend forever. 

Camelot, while not in the same musical league as My Fair Lady (despite a tournament spectator scene that looks and sounds exactly like the Ascot race), does contain some lovely songs that hint of Gigi and Brigadoon, An opulent overture opens the show, superbly played by Bert Carriere's tight orchestra, accompanied by feverish dancing (one of many dance sequences) choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld. The title song is a wonderful pairing of beautiful melody and lush orchestration that precedes other bounteous musical offerings: If Ever I Should Leave You (the Academy Award-winner for 1967), Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood?, The Lusty Month of May, How to Handle a Woman, I Wonder What the King Is Doing titles that even today, three decades later, are nearly impossible to say without lapsing into melody. 

Merlyn (who prefaces the story) is given life by Douglas Chamberlain, providing wonderful moments as the magician in swirling robes. Merlyn's introduction of King Arthur affords Tom McCamus some of his finest moments as the playful and innocent boy-next-door king. McCamus, or his voice, is in good company in the mostly singspiel role: Burton and Harris weren't singers, either. However, he soundly delivers the goods, always with enthusiasm, and usually in tune. Dale's Guenevere sings sweetly as a suitably coquettish ingénue at first, then, remarkably transforms into a love-struck, and then lovelorn, woman following her marriage to Arthur. Dale looks ravishing and plays her part to extreme and fabulous effect. The object of her illicit affections, egoist and idealist Lancelot, is portrayed by the popular Chameroy, recently Gaston of Beauty and the Beast. He tries very hard and looks for all the part the dashing hero, but his tuning was curiously off in a couple of songs. 

The huge supporting cast includes several standout performances. Michael Therriault, for whom we predicted stardom from a residence at the Drayton Festival (Stage Door Award nominee for She Loves Me), is a morose, morbid Mordred who squeezes the plum role with every bit of his prodigious talent singing, dancing, and leaping around the thrust stage like a gazelle. In contrast, Richard Curnock as bumbling Pellinore steals himself into our hearts as Arthur's engaging sidekick. Mark Harapiak as Sir Sagramore, Brad Rudy as Sir Dinadan, and Ian Simpson as Sir Lionel all lend their strong voices to the throng. 

Encircling and enveloping the large cast is, without a doubt, one of the most lush, most imaginative, colourful, and exciting designs created on a Stratford (or any other) stage. Tony Award-winning designer Desmond Heeley, who has designed more than 30 shows at the Stratford Festival, including last season's Amadeus, has surely designed the benchmark by which all future musicals may be judged. The copper and steel gates of Camelot are crested by a metallic throne below which are added several intriguing props spun of metal: a gilt and armoured fireplace; majestic thrones; jousting dais; sailing ship; and a charging war horse. The floor supporting this metallic marvel is a huge burnished copper disc suggesting the Round Table. The festival's budget was surely stretched with Heeley's tremendous number of dazzling costumes. Armour, gilt, silk, satin, all accomplished in incredibly meticulous detail that overwhelms the audience. Among the breath-taking highlights, Julain Molnar's Nimue who floats high above the stage to claim Merlyn. Her diaphanous gown shifts and undulates to fill the entire stage as her minions dance in and out of sight within and around it. Even the supporting cast show off finery that may be used for only a few seconds, returning later in ever grander designs. This magnificent fashion extravaganza is unceasing for nearly three hours. Lighting this fantasy is Michael J. Whitfield

Monette goes for so many laughs in the first, happy and carefree, act, that when the second act's darker mood of turmoil and doom arrives, we aren't really that disturbed, but with so much beauty to marvel at, who's to complain? The design sometimes overwhelms the music and story, but maybe that was Monette's idea, and one we can't argue with. Go see this monument to pageantry before it closes. You won't be sorry. You will never forget it. Playing at the Festival Theatre, May 21 to November 8, 1997.

(Your comments and reviews are also welcome. Please?)

 And speaking of your comments, here is what one of You had to say:

I thought Camelot was absolutely terrific! The acting and singing were wonderful and the costumes gorgeous! Everyone says that it is not in the same category as My Fair Lady etc. but I would disagree. My favourite scene was the jousting tournament - it was masterful!

Sincerely, a devoted fan, Kathy Inglis
PS. My mother thought it was wonderful too ( and you can quote me on any part of this letter)

Thanks, Kathy. We took our twin 6-year olds, and our 10-yr old, and they were spellbound, too. Truly a show for all ages!- Stage Door

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