Reviewer: James Murchison

James Murchison

Ragtime: An effective production!

Reviewed by James Murchison

I went to see Ragtime at the Centrepointe theatre. The darkness of
evening had not yet fallen and it was gloriously free from the
incessant rain that we have all become so accustomed to. It was a
glorious greaat evening to go to the theatre.
The story of Ragtime is as familiar as time. There are the wealthy
people of New Rochelle who never need worry about anything and
are blissfully unaware of the strife that besets most of the nation.
There are the new Eastern European immigrants struggling to start
a life in America fully believing the myth that everyone has an
equal path to prosperity and happiness. Then there is spirit of the
freewheeling ease of the black clubs of Harlem. (more…)

To Kill a Mockingbird: OLT does credible job bringing beloved story to life

Reviewed by James Murchison

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Photo  Maria Vartanova

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel and known by many for the nearly flawless film version of 1962. The stage adaptation by Christopher Sergel is not in the same league, but the story is worth telling and OLT does a credible job of bringing it to life.

Many of us may have come to believe that we have evolved from the ugly racist world that was prevalent prior to the social upheaval of the 60’s and the election of the United States first black President. We now know after Brexit, the election of the 45th U.S. President and the horrifying shootings in a Quebec Mosque that we still have a long way to travel before we get to the point where we have attained equality.  It is this simple. We need  eternal vigilance to protect us from our prejudices and xenophobia. (more…)

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: The Heart and Soul of the Rock

Reviewed by James Murchison

The opening night of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams at the National Arts Centre was attended by a who’s who of Newfoundland artists, Canadian politicians and journalists. It was appropriate of course as the play is an adaptation by Robert Chafe of Wayne Johnston’s novel that imagines what early influences might have created a character as enigmatic and colourful as Joseph Smallwood, the last father of Confederation and an enduring symbol of Newfoundland.

A work of fiction that speculates about the heart and soul of a very real character in Canadian history by blending history with invention makes for a compelling evening . It worked on every level. The characters both real and imagined are spellbinding. The dialogue crackles with the wisecracking wit that you find in the best of 40’s cinema. Chafe’s play makes me want to both read Johnston’s novel and discover more about this significant piece of history. (more…)

A christmas carol: A Spirited Tale of How Things Should Be

Reviewed by James Murchison

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Photo. Courtesy of the NAC. Nigel Shawn Williams (Bob Cratchit and Andy Jones as Scrooge)

I am a big Christmas sap. I watch all the Christmas shows. Of course there is probably no Christmas tale that has been retold more often with more approaches than Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, sometimes to great effect and sometimes less so. (more…)

The Maltese Falcon: A Family Reunion

Reviewed by James Murchison

 

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Play poster courtesy of Plosive Theatre

The Radio Play has been a staple of the Gladstone Theatre now for eight years. It is an interesting hybrid of theatre and radio that harkens us back to a simpler time when people would huddle around a box as a family to laugh and cry and listen to stories together.

There have been many different forms of the radio play, which allows the Gladstone to use the same basic set pieces every year with minor alterations in their placement. s Each year the set is familiar but different. That being said it is always CGLD radio; “Radio that makes you glad”.

This year director Terri Loretto-Valentik chose to recreate Dashiell Hammett’s classic detective story The Maltese Falcon. The detective yarn demands a little more concentration to follow the storyline than more standard holiday fair like Winnie the Pooh or Miracle on 34th Street. The Gladstone Sisters add the nutmeg and cinnamon to create a little seasonal flavour, peppering the interludes with lively period ditties.

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Welfarewell : Social Satire or Middle Class Indulgence?

Reviewed by James Murchison

Guest reviewer, Jim Murchisson

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Photo: Phoenix Players. IEllen Clare O’Gallagher  in Welfarewell.

It was a cool, dank Friday evening as I headed into the warmth of the Gladstone Theatre to see the Phoenix Players production of Welfarewell. As I entered into the theatre I was greeted by a cozy, economical little set made up of three primary playing areas: stage left a table and chairs serve as various meeting areas (rehearsal hall, police station, holding room, etcetera) centre stage is used primarily as a jail cell but doubles as a courthouse with minor adjustments and the stage right space works well as a tiny basement apartment or bank teller’s area.

The premise of the play is pretty interesting as it goes. An aging actress can no longer make ends meet and strategizes to commit a crime, anticipating that she might enjoy a better quality of life in prison in her waning years. Playwright, Cat Delaney inserts Shakespeare, liberally ensuring that there are some great lines in this play, but she does not meet the challenge of matching the power of Shakespearean dialogue with her own.

The problem is that Cat Delaney’s characters are sadly stereotypical. You have the feeling that this was written by someone observing poor souls from a suburban window and dropping a loonie in their hat while looking the other way. The result is a play of middle class indulgence rather than social relevance.

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The Addams Family: Orpheus Stars Shine Under a Supermoon

Reviewed by James Murchison

Guest critic Jim Murchison

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Photo, courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre

The original creator of The Addams Family, Charles Addams could likely not have imagined the long lasting effect he would have on popular culture when he inked his first drawing for the New Yorker in 1938. Countless reincarnations in TV, animation and film have allowed these characters to endure into the 21st century.

The musical version written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa is a well crafted tale of love discovered, love lost and love regained that has been a favourite theme since civilization first picked up a pen, a quill or a rock and started writing. This isn’t heavy stuff. It is quintessential entertainment, the perfect antidote for the post election blues and although the play is about an eccentric, wealthy American family living in New York there are no other frightening similarities to the first family elect. They’re a little macabre to be sure, but generally loving.

The front curtain for this production is a drop of portraits of the Addams’ framed by cobwebs. When it lifts, it reveals a gnarly old tree stage right stretching its craggy limbs over a dark gated cemetery as if ready to pluck someone up and toss them towards the gorgeous full moon.

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The Who’s Tommy at Centrepoint: Great Album but overrated theatre!

Reviewed by James Murchison

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Poster from Orpheus musical theatre. Guest reviewer Jim Murchisson

Tommy is one of the preeminent musical scores of my generation. It was composed as a theme album and as such it is a fine example of epic rock and roll story telling. The Who though are not playwrights: What they are is Rock and Roll.

I don’t believe Tommy is a great play. To work as musical theatre Tommy needs all the extras working for it… lighting effects, complex choreography usually aided by a big budget to fill in for the sparse dialogue and thin story line… and it needs to rock. Sometimes great community theatre can get around the budget limitations with personality and innovation. If they have a great play they can. From what I have seen of the Broadway production they didn’t completely overcome the challenges of a weak play although they won technical awards for lighting, choreography and direction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the Who aren’t great nor that Orpheus can’t rock. What I am saying is that the combination of rock and Theatre did not work on this night. You don’t get to know the characters on an intimate human level in songs of the Who the same way you do in a play like Titanic or Rent. The characters in Tommy are larger than life and like rock and roll exaggerated as if in a dream or a nightmare. They are meant to be shocking, ridiculous or grotesque and they weren’t. At times it felt like a series of songs rather than a narrative and it seemed people were moving from spot to spot rather than needing to be there.

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