Musical Theatre

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

Reviewed by Iris Winston


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.


A Joyously Nostalgic Oz at the NAC.

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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 Iris Winston

    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.


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

    Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

    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.


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

    Reviewed by Connie Meng


    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.


    Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in South Africa

    Reviewed by Jane Baldwin


    Photo: Courtesy of the theatre company

    Isango Ensemble, the South African opera company, which delighted Boston audiences in 2014 with their lively production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, recently returned to the city. Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of two operas – Carmen, the other – that they brought to ArtsEmerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre. The performers, who hail from South Africa’s townships around Cape Town, perform classical operas that have been reconceived and reculturated. Although all the performers are Black, one of the principal goals of the company is to build a diverse audience representative of a unified, but multi-cultural South Africa. Therefore, since most libretti are written in European languages, the operas are translated into South African tongues with English predominating. Unfortunately, the multiple languages and accented English can make it hard to follow the show. Supertitles would help greatly.


    Anne of Green Gables. The Young Girl from Prince Edward Island Charms Once More.

    Reviewed by Iris Winston

    casr12279166_954428337936580_1230455766227086717_n Photo. The cast on the Orpheus facebook

    Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know the story of Anne of Green Gables — the girl who was sent to the Cuthbert household instead of an orphan boy as requested?

    Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic novel, adapted for the musical stage by Don Harron and Norman Campbell, has been running in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island each summer for the last 50 years.

    It was a hit in Ottawa when the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society presented its version in 1999 and it deserves to be a hit once more in the current production, as directed by Joyce Landry with musical direction by Terry Duncan and choreography by Debbie Guilbeault.


    Tomson Highway Sings in the Key of Cree

    News from Capital Critics Circle


    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.


    Newsies Shines in Southam Hall.

    Reviewed by Patrick Langston

    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.


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

    Reviewed by Connie Meng


    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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