Community Theatre

Ragtime: Lasting images and musically very attractive

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Ragtime. Photographer Alan Dean

The insistent syncopation of the ragtime motif, stylized patterns and defining colours form lasting images as the stories emerge in Ragtime: The Musical.

The award-winning show opens with a presentation of three different perspectives in the years leading up to World War I. We meet the privileged whites of La Rochelle, New York, safe in their separation from the difficulties faced by the others. Next, we are introduced to representatives of those groups — the black Harlem community with the music that makes their difficult lives easier and the immigrants facing even greater hardship as they try to establish themselves in their new land. (more…)

Catch Me If You Can: Orpheus shines with inferior material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Orpheus Theatre

Catch Me If You Can is a trifle of a musical based on a trifle of a movie from Steven Spielberg. It’s scarcely worth doing, but it is redeemed somewhat by Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The production currently at Centrepointe features deftly staged musical numbers, performances that manage to engage, and a rollicking narrative thrust. In other words, it’s good enough to make you forget, at least temporarily, how hollow the material really is. (more…)

Catch Me If You Can: Production quality more memorable than forgettable froth of material

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Orpheus Theatre

Catch Me If You Can
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society
Reviewed by Iris Winston

The Catch 22 of Catch Me If You Can is that the apparently innocent charm of the anti-hero/con artist is at odds with the reality of his crooked early life. It is also even more difficult to fit the story of the imposter/forger/thief into an upbeat and believable musical than it was to give jolly versions of other con artists in such musicals as The Producers or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. (more…)

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Gory glory for Suzart

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Suzart After Dark

Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Book by Hugh Wheeler

Suzart After Dark

Directed by Kraig-Paul Proulx

Dark and difficult but never dreary, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is recognized as extremely complex musically and very demanding technically. The massive challenge of the 1979 Tony award-winner was made even greater for Suzart Productions when the female lead dropped out just two days before the show opened.

This is the second time that this has happened to Suzart. The company had to deal with a similar last-minute crisis when mounting Hello Dolly last year. On that occasion, the musical director stepped into the title role a week before opening. At least, she had been present during the show rehearsals. For Sweeney Todd, the time frame was much shorter and the rescuer had not been involved in the lead-up to the production.

You would hardly know it, however, watching Jennifer Fontaine’s strong characterization of Mrs. Lovett. The only clue was the score she carried as a safety net. But she made time to have fun with the role of the meat-pie maker, whose baking became tastier, with the fruits of Todd’s murderous labours.

Neither was there any indication from the rest of the cast of any change of dynamic. Joseph Stone, in the title role, is strong both vocally and in his delivery of the tortured demon barber. Jay Landreville, as the simple Tobias Ragg, Mrs. Lovett’s protégé, relates to her effectively and their Not While I’m Around duet is one of the most touching moments of the show.  (more…)

OLT’s Mockingbird fails to make the grade

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Maria Vartanova

It doesn’t take long to realize that there’s something terribly wrong with Ottawa Little Theatre’s misbegotten production of To Kill A Mocking Bird.

It’s there in the forced, stilted acting, in the lack of fluidity in the staging, in the clumsy handling of the expository passages in Christopher Sergel’s adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel about a black man’s trial for rape in the small-town Alabama of more than 80 years ago.

John Collins’s direction is so flaccid and the performances so perfunctory that it takes a while even to be conscious of the hothouse emotional climate that is supposed to be taking hold of this racially-scarred community. Yet you keep hoping that matters will improve. Surely, you think, they won’t botch that first big dramatic moment when Atticus Finch, the accused’s gentle defence attorney, stations himself in front of the jail to stave off an attempted lynching by a blustering mob of rednecks.

But they do botch the scene, which is so badly executed that it becomes almost laughable in its unintentional parody.

To be sure, there are moments when the production does yank itself into some semblance of credibility. (more…)

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

News from Capital Critics Circle

Guest Critic: Jim Murchison

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.

It is what To Kill A Mockingbird is about and unfortunately it is as relevant as it has ever been. Klaas Van Weringh’s set design is equally effective as an Alabama neighbourhood and as a courthouse. The set  worked most effectively when combined with Brian Cano’s lighting design in the scene at the jailhouse where we see a solitary bare light bulb revealing  Atticus Finch (David Holton) sitting outside reading his paper. He steadfastly waits for the angry white mob that is inevitably coming from the shadowy streets. This scene captured the essence of  the piece perfectly. (more…)

To Kill a Mockingbird: Turgid show with one fine performance

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Maria Vartanova

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Christopher Sergel

Based on the novel by Harper Lee

Ottawa Little Theatre

Directed by John Collins

Let’s begin with a word to the several people who left the Ottawa Little Theatre production of To Kill a Mockingbird during the intermission.

Act II was considerably better than the turgid Act I. This is primarily because of one outstanding performance. Marcus Jones is totally believable as Tom Robinson, the innocent black man accused of raping an illiterate white woman.

Despite yeoman efforts by some of the other cast members, most notably Barbara Kobolak as Miss Stephanie, no performances other than Jones’ are anywhere near as moving as they should be given the subject matter.

Christopher Sergel’s 1991 adaptation of Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer prize-winning novel about racism in 1935 small-town Alabama (which he apparently took two decades to write) is true to the original. In fact, it frequently quotes Lee’s text. However, it is always a massive challenge adapting a dense novel to the stage. In addition, a large-cast, multi-race play is difficult to cast and ensure a consistently credible ensemble. Sadly, director John Collins has been able to stretch very few of the cast into powerful performances in this production.

The theme of the novel, timely when it was published during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., remains germane today, especially since the last presidential election. But the format is heavygoing and many of the characters in the stage version come over as stereotypes or sketches rather than as individuals. (more…)

Mary Poppins: Lively production works well with script

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Photo: Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet

Mary Poppins
Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
Additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Ain’t Seen Noth’n Yet (ASNY) Production
Directed by Jennifer Fontaine

By any standards, Mary Poppins is a complex project. Originally, she was the ideal nanny imagined by the British-born, Australian writer Pamela Lyndon Travers (aka Helen Lyndon Goff). Conjured up in her 1934 stories, she represented a form of escape from a difficult childhood. Then, the flying nanny became the sugarcoated heroine of the 1964 Disney movie, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

In the 2004 stage musical, Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) bases his book on a fusion of the Travers’ stories and the Disney movie, while George Stiles and Anthony Drewe added new songs to the original group by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman. (more…)

The Little Mermaid: family entertainment fine for the younger tots.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

Ariel & Ursula

Photo by Suzart productions.

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the Walt Disney animated musical movie version of The Little Mermaid was moderately successful when it was screened in 1989. Some 18 years later, the stage musical of the Disney movie appeared to mixed reviews and a relatively short run on Broadway.

The show, while entirely appropriate for the Suzart Productions’ mandate of family entertainment, is weak in this incarnation. As presented by Suzart, under the direction of Dani Bone Corbishley, The Little Mermaid has a pantomime sensibility — primarily because Kraig-Paul Proulx, delivers the wicked witch Ursula in the style of a panto dame. This leaves room for an appropriate contrast with the mermaid princess, Ariel, (Sharena Campo) and her human prince, Eric (Richard Hardy) — both fine singers.

Simply put, Hans Christian Andersen told the story of the mermaid, who dreams of being human and marrying the prince she saved from drowning, more effectively than the stage version of an animated movie does.

(more…)

OLT’s Three Musketeers: More Than Its Share Of Rousing Moments

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of The Three Musketeers begins on a
burst of energy — a  sword battle that pursues its merry way both on
and off stage.
It’s an engaging beginning, and a nifty way of introducing us to
D’Artagnan, the aspiring Musketeer who’s getting a final tutoring in
swordplay from his swashbuckling dad before leaving for Paris to
fulfill his ambition.
These moments also provide a sound demonstration of the production’s
strengths. Director Stavros Sakiadis’s robust, slightly
tongue-in-cheek approach reflects the sensibility of Ken Ludwig’s
cheeky dramatization of the Alexandre Dumas novel. We’re also getting
our first glimpse of Graham Price’s splendid multi-level set, which
evokes enough of the past to take us back to 17th Century France while
also having enough flexibility to keep rearranging itself into new and
different venues during the show’s adroitly managed scene breaks.
Price is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting, while Glynis
Ellens provides outstanding period costuming which perhaps reaches its
zenith during the masked costume ball that is an undoubted highlight
of the evening.

(more…)

Past Reviews