Capital Critics' Circle
Le cercle des critiques de la capitale

Reviewing Theatre in Canada's Capital Region
La critique théâtrale de la région Ottawa-Gatineau

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

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

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

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, summer 2016  

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Photo:

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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Naked Boys Singing :male burlesque with many moving moments.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

The title, underlined by the first number, Gratuitous Nudity, tells almost all about Robert Shrock’s concept for the multi-author musical revue.

Not only will the seven performers give new meaning to the term “bare stage” as one of them promises early on, but they will also make fun of themselves for spending most of the show unclothed.

But Naked Boys Singing is more than a male burlesque show. While there are many funny segments, there are an equal number of moving moments, all presented with power and clarity by the well-chosen cast, as directed by Shaun Toohey and musical director Gordon Johnston.

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Chorus Line at Centrepoint: a production full of heart.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

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Courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre

At the heart of Chorus Line is the huge contrast between the opening and closing scenes. The intentionally ragged beginning features some two dozen dancers, a few practising exercises, others meandering around, all anxiously waiting to strut their stuff so that the director will choose them from among their rivals for a place on the line. The closing number shows the dancers as a unit, the perfect backup for the star of the next Broadway show.

And the paradox of the creation of the well-oiled dancing machine, peopled by anonymous dancers moving in unison, is that, along the way, Chorus Line morphs into often tragic tales about the individuals and the life-and-death importance of this audition, the next and the many beyond that.

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The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee: The characters all have fun with their roles.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

Freakish, Friendless, Pushy Parents! The contestants in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are never asked to spell any of this group of words, but they come to mind as the background of the kids and the adults involved in the cutthroat competition are revealed in passing.

Surprisingly, the 2005 musical, with book by Rachel Sheinkin and music and lyrics by William Finn, won a number of Tony awards when it debuted on Broadway. (It must have been a lean year.) The music is entirely forgettable, although some of the lyrics are effective and the book holds more interest than simply testing spelling ability.

Heavily dependent on the quality of the characterizations by the six finalists and the three officials running the Bee, the inclusion of audience participation (four extra contestants) is more awkward than effective and the general presentation—partly because of the script and partly because of the limited stage space —is somewhat static. However, the members of the cast in the Suzart After Dark production define their characters well and have fun with their roles (despite the occasional stumble over lines).

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The Wizard of Oz: Emphasis is on the spectacle and technological wizardry

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

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Photo:  Keith Pattison 

Like the Tin Man, this version of The Wizard of Oz has a hollow ring because its heart is missing.

The emphasis is on the spectacle and technological wizardry. Such moments as the video of the tornado that transports the heroine, Dorothy, from Kansas to the other side of the rainbow into the fairytale Land of Oz may be breathtaking for some. The broom belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West that breathes fire, dragon-style, or the image of the menacing Wizard that is more over-the-top than Dr. Who may raise a gasp of admiration once. Just once.

But the key aspect of the production should be in caring about the characters, rather than simply viewing their passage through Oz from Munchkinland, through the scary forest and the Wicked Witch’s territory to the Wizard’s castle and back again to awaken in Kansas.

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A Joyously Nostalgic Oz at the NAC.

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

Published in the Ottawa Citizen on December 30, 2015

national-touring-production-of-the-wizard-of-oz Photo: Daniel Swalec

There are some pretty cool videos depicting the tornado that sweeps Dorothy and her dog Toto from a Kansas farm and deposits them in Munchkinland. The broom belonging to the Wicked Witch of the West actually explodes into flame. Oz thunders like a petulant god. But modern technical effects aside, at its heart, the joyously executed musical The Wizard of Oz now playing to families at the NAC remains a story rooted in early 20th century rural America when, at least to our contemporary eyes, a kind of pre-ironic innocence and belief that love and kindness could trump evil prevailed.

  • The production, drawn from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book and based on the classic 1939 movie with Judy Garland as Dorothy, wisely avoids updating the original story settings or trajectory.

    The farm where Dorothy (the wholly convincing and powerfully voiced Sarah Lasko) feels unwanted by her distracted Auntie Em (Ottawa’s Emmanuelle Zeesman) and Uncle Henry (Randy Charleville) is vintage turn-of-the-century complete with a jerry-built generator that needs the whack of an axe to run.

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    Winnie-the-Pooh: The Radio Show: strong performances by the voice actors.

    Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

    Laurence Wall in Winnie-the-Pooh-The Radio Show

    Photo: William Beddoe.  Lawrence Wall as the narrator.

    From the 1920s through the 1940s and beyond, families regularly clustered around floor radios — the main source of electronic entertainment in pre-television days — to hear their favourite dramas. Their imaginations took flight, as the characters they heard (and saw in their minds’ eyes) transported them to new worlds.

    One of the earliest of those places was the 100 Acre Wood — first presented by the BBC in a Christmas Day broadcast in 1925. The Wood was the home of Winnie the Pooh, the chief character in A.A. Milne’s classic children’s stories. (The inspiration for Pooh was the teddy bear that belonged to Christopher Robin, the author’s son, and several of the other animals who appear in the tales lived in Christopher’s toy box with the bear.)

    Following its tradition of seasonal radio shows, Plosive Productions moves its version of stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends, adapted by David Whiteley, to North America. Eeyore the gloomy donkey, for example, is given a Southern drawl, apparently to make him sound even gloomier.

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    Winnie the Pooh The Radio Show brings cheerful confusion, expressive voices and a great classic to the stage.

    Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

    poohshowDoreen Taylor-Claxton, Nicole Milne, Robin Guy in Winnie-the-Pooh-The Radio Show (2)

    Photo: William Beddoe`

    This 7th year of mainstage Radio-Shows by Plosive productions  marks the 90th anniversary of the Winnie-the-Pooh Radio show as it was first broadcast by the BBC in 1925! What a fitting coincidence for A.A. Milne’s work that has become a classic text of young people’s literature. It can now be re-experienced by the generation that grew up reading Pooh stories, and it can also be rediscovered by the internet generation who might never read him but who has no doubt seen his animated movies.

    That endearing bear of “very little brain” and his cohort of pals from the 100 Acre Wood come back to amuse us with this staged reading of David Whiteley’s adaptation from the original book and excerpts taken from the later (1929) version of the radio script. The original radio script was based on portions of articles and poems that the author first published in journals and magazines, before bringing all the written work together in his book in 1926.

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    Anne And Gilbert: a “tuneful” and lively family show makes the spirit of Anne live on.

    Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, NAC english, Professional Theatre  

    A&Gag

    Photo by Andrea Lanthier

    Anne and Gilbert co-written by Nancy White, Jeff Hochhauser and Bob Johnston, is a musical sequel to ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and is based on the second and third books in L. M. Montgomery’s beloved series. Anne is now grown up but she still marches to her own drummer, especially when it comes to her relationships with the opposite sex. There have been a few changes since I first saw the show in 2007 in Gananoque. The major one is that Diana’s Act I solo has been replaced by a duet for Diana, well-played and sung by Brieonna Locche, and Anne. It’s about becoming a wife and is by turns entertaining and serious.

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