The Secret Garden is a magical musical, and the production which opened this weekend at the Waterloo Stage Theatre is as spellbinding as the material. Based on the classic children's story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the musical contains all of the elements of the original - an orphaned girl, an embittered, bereaved uncle, a crippled boy in the attic, a stern housekeeper, an outdoor imp, a kindly gardener, and enough ghosts and guiding spirits to have satisfied any of Shakespeare's plays.
The musical triumphs in the addition of a wonderful score, which is far more light opera than Broadway - something along the lines of Les Miserables. Of course, this requires much more critical casting than the average show, and here the Waterloo Stage people have excelled.
Marisa McIntrye is marvellous as Mary, the young girl orphaned by an outbreak of cholera in India which strikes her British family. McIntyre has a lovely maturing voice and knows how to use it without pushing it too far. She has a fine sense of pacing and a complete sense of emotional range; able to move from deep sorrow to extreme anger with believability.
Mary's uncle Archibald is superbly played by Wayne Berwick. He captures the desolation of his lonely life and his inability to accept his crippled son, whom he blames for the death of his wife in childbirth. Berwick captures this tortured soul and makes him an object of empathy. His singing, with a fine, powerful tenor, is outstanding throughout the performance.
Gwen Carroll is amazing. Playing the spirit of Lily, Archibald's departed wife, her voice simply soars with beauty, clarity and control. The duet with Archibald - How Could I Ever Know - is a very touching moment. Dale Hobbs as the housemaid, Martha, imparts a delightful sense of Mary Poppins to the role, as she becomes one of the few sources of warmth for Mary. Hobbs' voice too, is one of the highlights of the show, as is that of Margaret Elligsen, cast in a pivotal vocal role as the leading voice in the group of spirits guides who are in fact the chorus, and they are the chorus in all senses of the the theatrical word. As Martha's wood-sprite brother, Dickon, Tom Emrich sang his part with a striking, clear and accurate voice. He was good in character as the mischievous elfin-type who befriends Mary. The only role which lends itself to physical actions, perhaps this could have been amplified to present even more of a mystery as to whether he is real or not.
This is a large cast - 14 in all- and the ensemble work was
well done. Andrew Turnbull as Archibald's brother Neville,
a doctor, Julie MacLeod as the housekeeper, Adam Sproule
as the gardener, Lisa Bender as the crippled son Colin,
Tammy Sutherland and Andrew Innes as the spirits
of Mary's parents. Summer Frances as Mary's Indian nanny
and Jerry Hribal as the spirit of one of the officers,
all sang and moved in consort like a well-oiled machine.The spirit
guides acted in various roles, holding banners which became walls,
windows, foliage, screens and the clever use of two revolves added
movement, scene changes and props depending on their positioning.
One watches this production as though it were an impressionistic painting, at first through a glass darkly, then gradually emerging into the light. Much credit to director Gord Davis.
If you're in the mood for an off-beat comedy which is brilliantly conceived and superbly executed, go see What About Luv? at The Waterloo Stage Theatre.
Giving up on life and attempting suicide by jumping off a New York bridge would seem an unlikely subject for a musical comedy, and in lesser hands this could have been a disaster, but the trio of Christopher Wilson, Wayne McAulay and Kathryn Elton knew exactly how to balance the delicate threads which wove both pathos and humor through the script.
This is a kooky, zany, farcical romp which portrays the funny side of the depression of people's lives in their search for that elusive thing called happiness, yet ever-present there is a darkness to the humor which suggests that the playwright, Murray Schisgal, was trying to tell us something about ourselves.
Harry Berlin, played by Wilson, is about to jump tired of his failures in life. Along comes his old school chum Milt, a brash egoist with a facade of success and satisfaction, and he talks Harry out of jumping. But he, too, is unhappy in life and in his marriage to Ellen, and he has fallen in love with another.
Revealing his despair to Harry, Milt wants to jump, and this time Harry saves the day. Ellen arrives, and we find she is unhappy because she hasn't found a man to match her brilliance in any way, and Milt contrives to leave her alone with Harry, hoping that they'll hit it off and he'll be free to be with his new love.
Before this happens, however, Ellen decides to jump, and Harry saves her as they discover they have much in common--and fall in love. And this is just the first half hour!
If you think the problems are all solved and tied into a neat little bundle, think again--the other man's grass ain't always greener, no matter how it seems from a distance, and this is the message of the play. The twists and turns of the plot encapsulate the vagaries of we humans and show us just how ridiculous we are.
Putting this into a play, which was later turned into a musical was no mean feat, for first and foremost it must entertain, and this it does in spades.
Wilson, McAulay and Elton are brilliantly cast. Each one brings a unique style of humor and characterization to their roles, and most difficult thing of all was to portray the warmth of each character, for you have to like them all for the play to succeed.
All three actors have fine show voices, using good production and diction--every line was cleanly heard. Elton showed a remarkable range in some songs, and Wilson demonstrated a resonant edge which revealed his training.
There was a lot of physical demand in each role, and here McAulay's gymnastic training was used to perfection. Generally the movement and high energy of the show gave it a forward dynamic which never let up.
The set was remarkable. All of the action took place on the bridge, and it looked like a bridge, with a superb New York skyline in the backdrop with hundreds of lit windows in the skyscrapers. Stephen Degenstein designed both set and lighting.
Full marks to director Robert More for his conception of the piece, and for his ability to bring out the subtleties of the script and the music, for the songs were all designed to move the plot forward to the conclusion that some things are better left the way they are.
What About Luv? runs at The Waterloo Stage Theatre every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings with a Sunday matinee weekly until March 22. For tickets call (519)888-0000.
Can you believe? Its been
a whole year since Steve Roth opened his Waterloo Stage Theatre.
Thats the one on King Street (Waterloo obviously) that used
to be the movie house. If you havent been there yet you
should strongly consider putting a visit there on your to
do list. Roth deserves at least some of the same kind of
attention normally reserved for
Draytons Alex Mustakas. Take his latest offering, The Affections of May, by the most currently popular of Canadas playwrights, Norm Foster.
The Affections of May centres around May Henning (played by Rose Ryan). Rat of a husband (Tim Seabrook) deserts her and leaves her in a small town to fend off locals Quinn (Martin Illingworth) and (Hank) Brian Otto. Through Mays despair and denial she learns to be a strong and independent woman, no longer afraid to get what she wants out of life. Its a great role for young-to-the-theatre Rose Ryan to have landed.
May, who would normally be a bouncy country bed and breakfast operator, runs the gamut of emotion from disbelieving anger and thorough despair to a seductive self control. If Rose Ryan hadnt thoroughly sounded the depths of these emotions at Thursdays opening night performance its not because she wasnt trying, but it might be because she was trying too hard.
Norm Fosters character is right in front of her. What he tells us about her is perfect. Ms Ryan needs to let go some of the facial contortions and the apologetic gesturing. Then the sort of May that she hints at in the opening scene will ring loud and clear, and here, director Dale Mieske helps. In that charged, emotional, scene, he has his actors scatter their frustrations all the way from the stage floor, kneeling and pleading, to the top of the stairs where Ryan makes a simple, defeated exit. It works
well and it is around such framework that, by the end of the run, strong performances will surely come to the fore.
Likewise we see, when handy man Quinn (Martin Illingworth) comes calling, that parts of Ms Ryans delivery have yet to relax. Some double entendres are missed. But by the time, at the end of the play, when she sends her errant husband back out the door with bacon and eggs scrambled in his shirt pocket, the audience broke into spontaneous applause. The audience is eager to love May Henning. Ms Ryan should grow to trust that.
Its the kind of trust Brian Otto has. Otto plays Hank from the bank with a high pitched nasal and effete voice that startled me, challenging credibility. But by gosh it worked. Otto sustained this character from start to finish with the sort of professionalism I have seen from him time and time again.
And Martin Illingworth was likewise a perfect fit for the role of Quinn. Illingworth, with whose work I am not familiar, deserves to do a lot more theatre. Trouble is, he confessed to me later over coffee chatter, he has a taxing second job and a wife and three kids and a new mortgage... and we know the theatre is a jealous mistress. Pity. This guy is good. Tim Seabrook rounds out the cast with his well controlled Brian.
Did I mention the set? Its perfect. Stephen Degenstein, who has designed sets and lighting in theatres all across the country, and who created a wonderful bridge for What About Luv at this theatre last season, has created the stuff that credibility is made of. An opening night hitch shut one bank of lights down behind the set but had no effect on the
plausibility of the play whatsoever. So relax, all of you... Im sending Cambridge up to see The Affections of May.... For Arts Sake. The Affections of May runs till June 6th. Tickets at 888-0000.
Waterloo Stage Theatre is celebrating its first anniversary with The Affections of May. Since opening last May 14, the Waterloo-based theatre has attracted 20,000 patrons from 104 different communities for nearly 200 performances. Make no mistake, this is a worthy feat and congratulations are certainly in order.
However, if the theatre is going to survive over the long haul, it might want to consider putting a little distance between itself and community theatre. A case in point is Norm Foster's popular comedy, which opened Thursday. Simply stated, The Affections of May has been played to death. Reminiscent of the tiresome ubiquity of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs a few years ago, the comedy would benefit from a moratorium preventing theatres from staging it until well into the next millennium.
Now to the production at hand. There is a theory about presenting a Norm Foster comedy - in fact, it applies to most character-driven comedies - that if you pay close attention to the characters, then the comedy takes care of itself. Surprisingly, this production, directed by Dale Meiske, proves that paying close attention to the characters is not enough. It's obvious Mieske has worked hard with his cast to flesh out characters who are borderline stereotypes: the attractive and resourceful woman (May), the jerk-ass husband (Brian), the misunderstood stranger (Quinn) and the nerd (Hank).
However, the production fails to take advantage of what might well be the funniest scene in all of Canadian theatre.
The scene begins with May returning home from a costume dance with Hank in tow. She is Little Bo Peep and he is a large bunny, equipped with a gigantic carrot which dangles down between his legs. Both are under the influence and Hank tries unsuccessfully to have his way with May. The scene ends with a delightfully amorous Scrabble game between May and Quinn. The scene, which is the climax of a long first act, requires the precision timing of a British farce to produce the maximum comedic effect. However, the scene just didn't rise to the occasion Thursday night. In fact the second act was much better than the first act, perhaps the result of opening night jitters being relaxed.
The production's two greatest strengths are Rose Ryan as May and Martin Illingworth as Quinn. Ryan is an attractive and altogether persuasive May. Although she has been acting for only four years, Ryan has the talent and ability of a veteran actor. The Affections of May is set in a small resort town that could be anywhere in North America. However, the fact that Foster lives in Fredericton comfortably places the comedy in the Maritimes. Whether or not it's deliberate, Illingworth conveys the temperament and the demeanor of a rural Maritimer. A nice touch.
Brian Otto prevents Hank from degenerating into caricature
by fleshing out the character with genuine feelings. And Tim Seabrook
invests Brian with a sufficient dose of smug arrogance. However,
Seabrook seemed a little stiff in the first act when he veered
perilously close to reciting lines rather than engaging in conversation.
Stephen Degenstein's set evocatively brings to mind a Victorian
Bed & Breakfast and, if the large cuffs on Hank's pants are
deliberate, it's a brilliant touch that tells us a great deal
about the nerdish bank manager.
The violin has to be one of the orchestra's richest instruments. Its capacity for pathos or for humour is uncanny. It can sooth the furrowed brow or create a hoedown with the flick of an elbow. And if you're anything like the people in the audience of Waterloo Stage Theatre last Thursday night you'd be hard pressed to know which of its myriad effects you prefer.
It was opening night for The Road to Carnegie Hall, a presentation devised unashamedly to feature two of the country's best fiddlers, Eduard Minevich and Frank Leahy.
Leahy, a past Canadian National Fiddle Champion falls upon his work as nonchalantly as Bugs Bunny munching through a Tim Horton's carrot.
Minevich, in simple comedic contrast ( Disney had this guy in mind for their high brow spoofs) carries the cares of the world in his violin case and weeps with frustration at the task he has of bringing Leahy into line and rehearsing the show they hope to take to Carnegie Hall. Its a premise set to challenge the versatility of violins and the quixotic moods of those who play them.
As violin virtuosos these guys are unmatched. Minevich, a concert master who studied at Russia's St Petersberg Conservatory, can make the violin sound like it did when I was a kid, all gypsy fire one minute and all soft and mellow the next. Leahy, who has the honour of owning Don Messer's old fiddle, can turn up the volume on a Cape Breton jig at the stomp of a clog. And don't bet on which is the best at either, they can play each other's stuff whenever they want.
First act highlights include Humoresque, Hot Canary, If I were a Rich Man and Sabre Dance. The second act opens with the supporting cast taking a bit of the limelight. The stage hands for this Carnegie overture take up the slack when the fiddlers are at rest. Writer director Heinar Piller and choreographer Ken Walsh have designed a piece which supports the enthusiasm of the old Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney movies.... the ones where one of them says "Hey. Lets put on our own show," and the other one says "But who will be in it?" and the first one replies "We can do it ourselves. C.mon. What about that number we've been rehearsing?" You know the stuff. Jennifer Lee Hishon, Cyrus Lane, Wayne McAuley and Catherine Chiarelli each have a song for us. Canadian too, eh?
The Road To Carnegie Hall is a pleasant way to spend an evening. It runs Wednesdays through the weekends till June 28th. Opening night audiences were up on their feet and forced an encore..... For Arts' Sake. Call 888-0000 for tickets.
Disclaimer: Nothing here is "official." Everything is a composite of media releases, information supplied by or procured from the theatres by direct or devious means, or downright personal opinion. If you don't like what you see, blame us, not the fine folks in the theatres of Southwestern Ontario.