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

Tomson Highway Sings in the Key of Cree

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Performance Art, Professional Theatre  


Retrospective cabaret celebrates the music and wit of award-winning storyteller,  SPEAKeasy Collective presents Songs in the Key of Cree, a one-time musical tribute to the multitalented Cree playwright, author, storyteller and musician Tomson Highway on December 12 and 13, 2015, at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas St. W). The evening will showcase the musical achievements and unique wit that have garnered Highwayfans around the world.

A master pianist, composer and songwriter with a repertoire spanning three decades, Highway’s music takes inspiration from a wide range of styles, including country, Brazilian samba, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and French Canadian folk songs. In addition to his Order of Canada, the Juno-nominated performer was named one of the 100 most important people in Canadian history by Maclean’s magazine.

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Newsies Shines in Southam Hall.

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

Ottawa Citizen, Octobert 28, 2015   Photo. Deen Van Meer.

Newsies shines in Southam Hall.


Maybe Ontario’s disgruntled public school teachers should take up dance. It sure helps the put-upon workers in Newsies express their collective will when battling their dastardly overlord.

Mind you, the teachers would have to log a few hours of practice to be as nimble and emotive as these dancers. Splendidly choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, the newsies – those young, persistent men who once hawked newspapers on the mean streets of many cities – leap, flip and tap their way through some terrific routines as they tangle with Joseph Pulitzer, the heartless publisher of the New York World.

Pulitzer, faced with declining circulation and pushed by his own greed, has decided to up the price he charges to the newsies who must buy each paper they sell. Already living somewhere well short of the luxurious, the lads rally behind fellow newsboy Jack Kelly (played with cocky charisma and fine voice by Joey Barreiro) when he decides enough is enough and leads his comrades in a boisterous and risky walkout. Pulitzer has not only money but the force of law and municipal politics on his side. Fortunately, Kelly has the force of his own moral rectitude, not to mention slowly evolving social perspectives on the shame of child labour, behind him.

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Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God at NAC Falls Flat.

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, NAC english, Professional Theatre  


Photo: NAC English Theatre 

The English Theatre at the NAC has opened their season with a production of “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God,” written and directed by Djanet Sears. It’s the story of Rainey, a doctor, her husband Michael, a preacher, and her elderly father Ben. “Adventures . . .” deals with Rainey’s inability to accept her daughter’s death and Ben’s attempts to uphold the town’s black history.

We who live near the US/Canada border and go back and forth often tend to think of ourselves as pretty similar. However sometimes there are striking differences in cross-border sensibilities. One example is Newfie humor – Americans just don’t get it. The subject matter of this play is another. Americans have been seeing plays about race relations and black history since the 1970s, for example August Wilson’s brilliant “Century Cycle,” ten plays that chart the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. There’s also Alvin Ailey’s iconic piece “Revelations,” choreographed in 1960. In “Adventures . . .,” the cast marches to protest graffiti on their church wall. In the US Deep South, black churches are burned down. All this contributes to my viewpoint that “Adventures . . .” says nothing new.

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Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin Wins Over Boston Audience

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre  

Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin

Photo Credit: Eighty Eight Entertainment.

Montreal’s Hershey Felder has built an unusual and successful career performing the lives of composers as an actor and musician in his own creations. Previous subjects George Gershwin, Frederick Chopin, Leonard Bernstein, and Franz Liszt were all classical composers, although Gershwin and Bernstein crossed over into musicals. Irving Berlin, who composed more than a thousand songs – many of them standards, but not all published – was celebrated as a tunesmith. Nonetheless, in addition to his single numbers, he wrote scores and lyrics for movies and Broadway. Several of his movies, such as The Jazz Singer, had a significant role in the development of film musicals. Of his seventeen Broadway shows, the seventy year old Annie Get Your Gun is still relevant and widely played.

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Odd Version of G&S “Pirates of Penzance in Gananoque

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  


Photo Jay Kopinski.

This production should be titled “Canadian Smugglers on the St. Lawrence in 1926.” It’s an extremely loose adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” by Ashlie Corcoran and Andrew Kushnir. Since the season brochure doesn’t mention that it’s an adaptation, if you’re expecting the original, prepare for a shock.

For example, there’s an extended original rhyming prologue, the girls enter in 1920s beach clothes and end up doing the Charleston with the smugglers to the tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown and instead of policemen, it’s the US Coast Guard in US Navy uniforms. Ukuleles abound and the Finale version of the lovely “Poor Wandering One” morphs into “Makin’ Whoopee.” There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

That said, there are some terrific voices in this cast. However, the unnecessary over-micing of both the cast and the excellent musicians tends to distort the sound. Some of the tempos on the group vocals are so fast that the lyrics are unintelligible, especially the women. On the other hand, the group vocal on the “Hail Poetry” section is wonderful.

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Sh!t. I`m in love with you again!

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Ottawa Fringe 2015, Summer Theatre 2015  

Rachelle Elie is the consummate performer. Her light hearted singing sparkles with dramatic energy. She puts her face, her body her hands and even her shiny blond hair to work as she peels off her outer costume to reveal a new costume for every change of scene and then moves on to the next challenge.

Accompanied on the guitar by Luke Jackson, Elie actually tells us her life story through musical theatre (and the lyrics ar witty and captivating)  especially the evolution of her experiences with love and sex. . Beginning as a wide eyed , innocent young girls kept in tow by a very strict catholic franco-haitian father she moves through all the nuances of her relationships with men. Even the most scrungy parts that evolve into the disillusion and bitterness of the later years, are all filtered through the lovely glow of Disney-like musical theatre for adults, full of fun and joyous, or not so joyous sex, and lyrics that always find the humour in the most despairing moments. 

Elie is a very talented performer. She has a great gift for accents and a greater gift for bringing to life a story that is not always pleasant but that always finds gentle humour in human relations. The raunchy explicit becomes natural human behaviour the gives us a jolt. A darling of a show, a show that will make you giggle a lot and you will leave feeling good and loving the  performer.

Sh!t I’m in love with you again in the Courtroom (Arts Court)

Sh!t. I’m in love with you again! , lyrics and interpretation by Rachelle Elie, directed by Rachelle Elie, Music and lyrics by Luke Jackson,

Inclusion at heart of high energy production of “Hairspray”.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

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Photo: Modella Media

Underneath the froth, bubble and joy of Hairspray is a serious intent. While the 2002 musical (adapted from the 1988 movie) delivers its message about inclusion in a lighthearted, rhythmic way, the pain of being an outsider and the cruelty of some of the insiders is clear. This is particularly so in view of recent events in Baltimore, the setting of the award-winning show.

Although Hairspray’s main aim is entertainment, it is also a metaphor about not having to be a Barbie-doll type beauty to ensure success and partly a statement about racism and social conditions in the 1960s U.S.

Hairspray takes place in 1962, the era of big-hair and back-combing fashion and the year before Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech called for an end to racial discrimination in the United States and it becoming a place where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

In the musical, the initial focus is on a fat girl with big hair and big dreams. Tracy Turnblad desperately wants to be one of the teen dancers on her favourite television show. First, she and Little Inez, a black dancer with a similar ambition, have to fight for the chance to audition for spots on the TV show.

The Orpheus Musical Theatre Society production of Hairspray, directed by Judy Follett, with musical direction by Gabriel Leury, starts in top gear with a cleverly designed bedroom scene and the clear-voiced Joyanne Rudiak as Tracy waking to deliver Good Morning Baltimore.

A well-drilled ensemble, with strong choreography from Mary Hills, and extra voices from the pit to add richness give the impression that the large cast is even bigger than it actually is.

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Jesus Christ Superstar: An Ambitious But Not Always Successful Show.

Reviewed by on    Community Theatre, Musical Theatre  

Jesus Christ Superstar.



Photo: Alan Dean.
Presenting Jesus Christ Superstar as a rock musical was controversial when it premiered in 1971. Andrew Lloyd Webber (then 21) and Tim Rice based the show on the accounts of the last week of Christ’s life in the Gospels and peppered it with anachronistic allusions.

Revivals over the years have included further anachronisms and sometimes updated the setting. The vision of the current Suzart production is a present-day Jesus Christ Superstar. As director/designer Elaine McCausland says in the program note, she asked herself, “How would it look if Jesus arrived in the Byward Market in Ottawa in 2015?”

Does the concept work? Some aspects work extremely well and inject immediacy. At other times, it is hard to understand some of the choices. For example, having Christ on the cross being blessed by a Roman Catholic priest makes no sense however much leeway is given to anachronistic references. Christianity did not exist until after the death of Jesus, who was a Jew. One of the main reasons given for his being tried and crucified was that he was called the King of the Jews (by others).

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Reviews the Shaw Festival : “Sweet Charity” Soars

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Shaw Festival 2015  

Photo: David Cooper

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. — Sweet Charity poses a challenge to any performer hazarding the title role.
Here’s the problem. This 1966 musical was conceived as a showcase vehicle for the legendary Gwen Verdon, a one-of-a-kind Broadway talent. Her director husband, another legend named Bob Fosse, saw her as ideal casting for the role of a forlorn New York dance hall girl who keeps being disappointed in love.

I saw Verdon as Charity, and her high-kicking performance was definitely one for the memory books. She had a dynamite presence — even though, in portraying a character who is more used than loved, she seemed to be fulfilling the inner needs of a director whose depiction of women on stage or screen often seemed problematic.
The show ultimately belonged to Verdon — not to playwright Neil Simon, whose amusing, observant book seemed tailor-made for its star, not to composer Cy Coleman who provided some of the best music of his Broadway career for Sweet Charity, not to veteran lyricist Dorothy Fields who, at the age of 61, had provided a succession of witty, verbally brilliant complements to Coleman’s score.

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Closer Than Ever: A production that sparkles

Reviewed by on    Musical Theatre, Professional Theatre, Summer Theatre 2015  


Cast of Closer Than Ever.  Photo: Jay Kopinski

The 1000 Islands Playhouse has opened their season with a sparkling production of “Closer Than Ever,” the revue by lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. and composer David Shire. I’m dating myself, but I was at the opening night of the New York production 25 years ago and have never forgotten some of these songs.

I appreciate them even more now, as the show is a series of songs about different aspects of middle age, both funny and moving. Each song is like a miniature play about parenting, parents, dating, looking back at teenage years, second marriage, etc. The music is interesting and the lyrics perceptive and smart, so don’t just bring your eyes and ears, bring your brains.

The four performers are all first-rate singers and actors. The group numbers have a great blend in spite of the actors’ differing vocal qualities in their solo numbers. Patricia Zentilli is especially effective on ”Patterns” and “I’m Not Complaining,” while Leon Willey does a great job on “One of the Good Guys,” one of my favorites.

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