Musical Theatre

American Idiot: High-energy production saves the show.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

American Idiot, music by Green Day, lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong, book by Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer

University of Ottawa Musical Theatre Society, directed by Storm Davis

American Idiot bursts onto the stage into the raucous noise of punk rock that one of the cast members says in her bio takes her back to her fifth grade grunge days.

The 2010 musical is based on the 2004 concept album of the same name — incorporating protest against the war in Iraq, anger with American society and disaffected and angry youth trying to escape (from what?) to find a purpose in life.

The book (if that’s not too strong a word) for the very slight story line by lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong and Michael Mayer focuses on three young men — one who joins the army and is blinded, a second who fathers a child and drowns in alcohol and a third self-destructive would-be rebel whose father predicted he would never amount to anything.

The sing-through (shout-through) musical about dead-end lives and disappointment is surprisingly upbeat as presented by the University of Ottawa Musical Theatre Society. (more…)

The Blizzard of Oz: British Panto geared for winter in Ottawa, is back!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo, Andrew Simon. After the show with the audience!

This time the choreography is slicker (with such numbers as Gotta Get Home, Steppin’ Time and Popular) the singers feel more confident, the acting is top notch, the writing takes the young and less young into account and the audience is perfectly integrated to the point where it knows its lines ahead of the performers!!  Oh yes, Panto  has come of age at the Gladstone and it was the greatest of pleasures to see this vibrant and bouncy cast, under the direction of Ken MacDougall,  hit the spot, with the small tots, the parents and  the grannies alike. They all yelled,  booed and shrieked when the wicked green witch slid into view with her the broom and her shifty snake-like eyes, or the snow monster loped across the stage. Such vile creatures, but such fun.

The story of Blizzard of Oz is similar to the Wizard version except that the tornado becomes a giant snow storm , and it all takes place right in  the Ottawa area. The storm strikes the  town of Ozaboza  (Cazabazua ??), where  Aunty Hem (a revamped Cara Pantalone with a gorgeous head of tangled red curls and most beautiful voice)  and her strong willed  niece Dotty  (played by a  feisty  little Émilie O’Brien) live on their 150 year old farm…exactly the age of Canada…what a coincidence!! . Dotty is transported away by the storm  into the middle of  Ottawa where she meets other displaced persons : the Faircrow, Bob cat and Al Loy – the tin fellow who has the heart of pieces of money. From then on their only desire is to get home..wherever that might be.

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A Tale of Injustice: The Scottsboro Boys. Extraordinary talent turns the Minstrel Show on its head!!

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

The Scottsboro Boys, an extraordinary musical, mounted by SpeakEasy Stage Company at Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion, recounts one of the most shameful racist events in US history. In 1931, during the depth of the Great Depression, nine black male teenagers who had hopped a freight train were falsely accused of rape by two white women. Arrest, threats of lynching, and a one-day trial followed with the young defendants found guilty and sentenced to death. The NAACP and the Communist Party of the USA appealed successfully to the Supreme Court and another trial was scheduled. Again the defendants were found guilty and another appeal was made. The trials only came to an end years later when the state of Alabama where the Scottsboro boys were held could no longer afford to prosecute the defendants. Traumatised by their treatment, the Scottsboro boys continued to struggle and suffer even when freed.

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Kinky Boots, entertaining musical theatre.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo. Courtesy of the NAC.

Kinky Boots, Book by Harvey Fierstein Music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Think watered-down versions of Billy Elliott, mixed with slices of Les Cages aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy and you have the theme of Kinky Boots, book by Harvey Fierstein, music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper.

Never a drag, though somewhat simplistic in its call for tolerance, the award-winning musical is based on the 2005 movie of the same name. Claimed to be a true story, it tells of two sons who did not want to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.

Charlie, the son of a shoe factory owner in Northampton, and Simon, the son of a prize fighter from Clacton, tried to escape their small-town destinies, but when their paths cross, they walk down a new road together, creating kinky boots for cross dressers and drag queens.

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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.

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The Addams Family: Orpheus Stars Shine Under a Supermoon

News from Capital Critics Circle

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 Addams Family: Orpheus Musical Theatre makes the most of a mediocre story.

Reviewed by Iris Winston

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Photo, courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre

Charles Addams has a lot to answer for. He was the cartoonist who created the one-panel cartoons about the ghoulish Addams Family that appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1938.

He could not know that his creation would become an American institution. Stories of the family morphed into a television sitcom in the 1960s, followed by a cartoon version in the next decade, two movies in 1991 (starring Anjelica Houston) and 1993 (The Addams Family Values) and even a video game and a very popular pinball machine later in the decade. Finally, in 2010, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (the pair who wrote the script of The Jersey Boys) developed a Broadway musical version with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa.

Does the musical work? As much as any one-gag repeater with a wafer-thin storyline and constant reminders of one-panel cartoons can. Does Orpheus Musical Theatre Society make the most of a mediocre product? Unquestionably.

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Spring Awakening The Musical: Orpheus Musical Theatre is now in the big leagues!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: The Orpheus cast and production team.

The original German version of the play was published in 1891 and then performed by Wedekind’s own company in 1906. Because of the subject matter where adolescents were concerned, it created much controversy and was not staged in German until after WWII while the American musical was first staged in 2006 based on a new English language translation that followed the one that appeared in 1917. Such a long and controversial history which also includes a movie, makes it difficult to keep track of this show which appears nowadays to fuse two time periods, two visions of the theatre, nevertheless producing a most stunning story and perfectly constructed scenario, built around a tragic vision of young people .

The play shows how a society that represses young people, brings with it all forms of destruction, even after the moment when the central sexual taboo has been transgressed, the downfall of all those who have grown with a sense of guilt in relation to their bodies, cannot be avoided. Tragedy is inevitable because the evil worm has been planted too deeply in their minds. . This devastating critique of the stern bourgeois society at the end of the 19th Century, is represented by the way young people listen to the needs of their bodies, and their most natural desires , but this awakening of sexuality is repressed by parents who imposed a military-like regime on their young ones at that time. And this in depth analysis of sexual repression relies on Freud’s news notions of the psyche that started appearing at the same period. The performance becomes a fascinating mixture of sexual fantasy, and real confrontation with unyielding social institutions that wield their power over natural human instincts.

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Significant Other: Rising Playwright’s New Comedy

Reviewed by Jane Baldwin

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Photo: Justin Saglio

Playwright Joshua Harmon first came to notice with his highly successful biting comedy Bad Jews, in which family members fight tooth and nail. His new piece, the simpler Significant Other, presented by Boston’s SpeakEasy Company, focuses on the egocentric, yet generous; impulsive, but wary and obsessive Jordan Berman played by the talented Greg Maraio. Jordan, a gay New Yorker, socializes with his best friends, Kiki (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard), Vanessa (Kris Sidberry), and Laura (Jordan Clark) all professional women of different ethnicities, approximately his age. They go out for dinner, drink, confide in each other, joke, and talk and talk. The women offer him advice. Although they are all in their late twenties, their lives have an adolescent quality.

At the opening as Jordan dances on with the women in a routine reminiscent of an old musical comedy film that sets the playful mood of the friendship. The dance, repeated several times during the show, reflects Jordan’s fantasy life in which he is the main figure, indispensable to each woman. However, his life begins to feel empty as one by one they acquire boyfriends and begin to think of marriage and children. In one of his despairing moments, he laments that he is twenty-nine years old and has never been told he was loved.

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Sparkling “Into the Woods” at Gananoque’s 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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A very good production of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” is running at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. The cast, with a couple of exceptions, is strong and the actors can all handle the complex score. Drew Facey’s set, featuring an upper level walkway, 3 birdcage-like playing areas and, of course, woods, is excellent and his wonderful costumes cleverly fanciful. I loved the Prince’s high-top sneakers. The choreography by Shelly Stewart Hunt is good, especially for the Princes, although I felt it began a bit too early in the opening number and we lost some lyrics. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is evocative and William Fallon’s sound first-rate and well balanced.

Speaking of sound, Musical Director Stephen Woodjetts has done an expert job with the complex vocals, especially the diction. When the show first opened in New York in 1987, the pit musicians called it “Into the Words.” He’s also done a great arrangement that allows only 5 musicians to convey the flavor and color of the original orchestration, with himself on piano, Greg Runions on percussion, David Smith on reeds, Bob Arlidge on bass, and the excellent Erin Puttee on keyboard.

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