Photo. Broadway@calm At one point during Jersey Boys, a few audience members spring to their feet to dance as they did in their teens when they were first enchanted by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. While it is a compliment to the performers that these women have been so transported, most of the rest of the audience simply sat back to see the high-energy production unfold and admire the slickness of Des McAnuff’s direction of the history of the rise, fall and return of four kids from the wrong side of the tracks.
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Alex Cross and His Rise to Fame is a story rife with conspiracy theories, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yet, for all this, it fails to come off as edgy or sexy. Playwright and director Franco DeCrescentis gives us the story of Richard Dick (Kenny Streule), a talentless, pathetic boy who wants to be a rich and famous superstar. The devil, seeing a chance for gain, approaches him and, soon enough, he is transformed into Alex Cross, an ultra-famous front for the devil’s intentions, which revolve around controlling the world through the Illumanti and entertainment industry. That the story isn’t very original can be forgiven – it’s an interesting concept and one that has potential. Unfortunately, the play never quite lives up to its potential. It’s too long and the acting is too uneven to make a cohesive show- it bounces from a well put-together performance to something reminiscent of a high school play.
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At some parts, Third Person feels a bit like what I imagine sitting down with Descartes and arguing over the nature of self-determination would be. And I mean that in the best way possible. Brandon Wicke’s play has us situated somewhere with George (Kevin Ray), Byron (Nic Turcotte), and their tent. We never find out where they are or what they’re doing there. They are constantly tormented by a “third person,” an undefined other who writes them messages and seems to know their deepest fears and exactly how they’re going to react in response to everything it throws at them. At first, the effect seems to be most profound on Byron, the seemingly weaker one of the duo, but it soon become evident that it is actually George, who at first seems like the caretaker, that is effected the most. The third person torments him with questions of his own autonomy – how can he have any control over his actions if this other always knows exactly what actions he’s going to take? It’s a classic battle between Determinism and Indeterminism and it’s by no means the only play of its kind. Yet, the production still manages to feel fresh and bring something profound to the table. The idea of the proverbial writing on the wall is a good one, especially since Wicke decides to add in elements of humour and playfulness.
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Single Black Female (SBF for short) is a two woman show that takes on the lives of two African-American middle class women, a professor and a lawyer, trying to find love in the modern world. The play touches on race, class, as well as gender issues, all wrapped in a highly entertaining show. The piece wonderfully exploits the tension and camaraderie between the two women (Letitia Brookes and Gara Nlandu). Brookes is the softer-spoken friend with a tendency to over-intellectualize things, while Nlandu is more loud and unafraid to tell it like it is. The women operate on two distinct, but complementary fields. Nlandu would benefit from taking her energy down a notch – sometimes her “acting” gets in the way of her character and can take away from the message. When you really feel a connection with her character is when she does relax and strip down her character. Having said that, she also has some of the funniest moments of the show.
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Akexandria Haber and Ned Cox’s production of Cross My Heart is sweet and heartfelt. Jim Watson (a man’s man Brett Watson) is trying to sell Amor-All, a love drug, to the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, Maggie Steward (a wonderfully vulnerable and sensual Paula Costain) keeps getting in his way, whether peskily reminding him that they don’t have the final approvals from Health Canada or that the results of their trials weren’t stellar. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to their wakeful selves, the two continually meet in their dreams and spend time together talking about poetry and the love that is so obviously found between them. Little by little, and after much back and forth and bickering, they come to see each other for who they really are and fall in love. The show isn’t groundbreaking – it won’t reveal and great truths and it relies pretty heavily on classic romantic comedy tropes. But these tropes are done with heart and the show never claims to be anything else. It’s an old-fashioned story that works really well set in the present age. You can’t help but root for the seemingly mismatched pair as they fumble through their companionship with something always simmering just below the surface. Watson and Costain bring lots of understated energy and passion to their roles, making their relationship, and the story, believable. The writing is strong, with some genuinely funny and endearing moments. All in all, it’s definitely worth checking out this simple love story which will have you leaving the theatre content and with an extra skip to your step.
Director and writer: Ned Cox and Alexandria Haber
Brett Watson: Jim Watson
Paula Costain: Maggie Steward
Passages is a dance featuring the plight of the Scots in the 18th century. It is based on historical facts and encompasses events of everyday, happy life in the highlands in Scotland, war between the British army and supporters of the Jacobites in Scotland, atrocities caused by the overpowering British Army, and finally a trip to Canada. Brief instances of storytelling are included in the performance, but it is the dance that carries the audience through the history of the first inhabitants of the harbors of Cape Breton, Pictou and others.
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Nhar Moves (Super Bad Moves), written by Richard Harrington, Chris Kauffman and Emily Windover and performed by Chris Kauggman is a lovely, touching show about a depressed warehouse worker who, happens upon a fish he makes his friend. When the fish disappears suddenly one night, he goes on a quest to find him, in the process realizing he must find the strength to pursue a passion that will make him happy regardless of others. It’s a sweet, silent show with beautifully whimsical music and storybook drawings on a projector to set the scene. Kauffman acts with his whole body, and especially with his eyes. He manages to make us feel and root for his character. A mark of his success was that he had the children at the show enthralled, following and laughing at his every move, not an easy feat when your show is basically a mime. If anything, I wish his show had been entirely silent. The couple of times Kauffman broke out into song frankly ruined the magic and the mood. The show is strong and funny enough without it. Having said that, everyone seemed to be having a great time at the show, young and old alike.
Nhar Moves (Super Bad Moves)
Harrington & Kauffman
By Chris Kauffman, Emily Windover & Richard Harrington
Actor Chase Padgett presents six musicians – guitar players ranging from an 87-year-old blues musician to a 20 years old rocker. Chase Padgett is an excellent actor and his impersonations are generally very realistic, although there were some slips. The attempt to adopt a Spanish accent when portraying a Mexican character was not spot on. It ended up sounding more like an Indian than a Mexican one. A 20 year old rocker also ends up looking a lot younger due to characterization.
It is an original idea of how to tell the story about music, entertain and connect with the audience. The entertainment element is definitely impeccable, and Padgett’s very strong command of the stage helps as well. The audience loves it. They laugh and enjoy short and well executed guitar passages and admire the impersonations.
Unfortunately, it stays at the entertainment level, without an attempt to go deeper, to explore the connections and the power of the music. It can be so much more than individuals falling in love in instruments and expressing that love through different genres. I would like Chase Padgett to dig a bit deeper and try to discover the magic behind the notes. Only that way can he find that it is not only about main stream sell-outs: sex, sadness, cars and mess-up, but much, much more.
by Chase Padgett and Jay Hopkins, performed by Chase Padgett
A drama about a paedophile who tries to justify his attraction to young boys as a police investigator puts him through an interrogation, trying to discover where he has hidden his most recent victim.
The spotlight is on Salvatore (Jeff Lefebvre) , the prisoner. His story is convoluted, repetitive, as he assures us he was only trying to help poor abandoned children by showing them the love their parents never gave them. As he repeats the story, more details emerge about his treatment of those children and about his own character. He is not a cult leader although he feels he must do this work, “ saving children” he smirks, he resists the pressure by the the police investigator to tell the truth, he insists on his godly mission and he often breaks into passages of prayer and incantation in Spanish. These moments were not at all clear because his Spanish was so badly pronounced it sounded completely garbled. In general this actor did not create a frightening character , but rather a disgusting heap of a man who was not interesting to watch.
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La Voix humaine, libretto by Jean Cocteau, musique by Francis Poulenc
This is a serious opera performance with the beautiful soprano voice of Rachel Krehm (elle) accompanied by pianist Patrick Hansen playing Poulenc’s music. A breath of fresh air in the festival. The set is the woman’s room. Photos of her lover and herself are projected on the backdrop and there are surtitles in English so it is easy to follow. Based on Cocteau’s play, this is a a devastating phone conversation where we only see the woman, and hear her voice on our end but her answers and reactions make the conversation and the image of the man on the other end, very clear. He is in the process of leaving her but she is so much in love that she at first can’t believe it and then as the tragedy sinks in, she keeps taking all the blame as his erratic, often angry reactions show he feels slightly guilty but turns that guilt against her. AS she is trying to reassure him that she is fine and he must not feel upset, she is slowly committing suicide, by drinking water laced with pills. In this magnificent one act performance, the portrait of the absent, self-centred male is just as strong as the portrait of the woman who is slowly falling apart in front of us, while sustaining a voice that tries to avoid tragic tones so that her lover will not hear what is really happening in the room. A very difficult role for a singer and actress/singer Mme Krehm did it beautifully. Her pianist added a level of concert performance that put this on the stage of the NAC ! Certainly not normal fringe fare. This is live performance at its artistic best.
Musical director Maika’I Nash
Stage director Aria Umezawa
A production of Opera 5 , Toronto