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

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: Brilliant production of an important play

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Toto Too never  stops outdoing itself  and this ultra-energized performance under the direction of Michael Gareau proves it once again. It all  glows and glitters with the marvelous costumes of the  drag Queen world,  (created by designer Lu-Anne Connell ), the stunning  singing voices , the  excellent acting  and Paddy Allen McCarthy’s all-encompassing choreography,  take over  the original  music and lyrics that transgress  the established codes of  the musical world.  Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a brilliant monument to a shifting world where every human individual is given a space of one’s own.   (Continue reading » )

The Bridges of Madison County: Musical Adaptation Adds Corn

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage   ,

Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

In 1992, Robert James Waller wrote the romantic best seller, The Bridges of Madison County, the kind of book which is often dismissed as chick lit. Three years later its next iteration appeared as a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood with Meryl Streep playing opposite him. The film received better reviews than the book. And in 2014, it opened on Broadway as a musical with the book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Although it won two Tony Awards, one for the best original score, the other for the best orchestration, it closed after a four month run.

Now available to the regionals, it is presently playing at Boston’s SpeakEasy Stage Company which has particular skill in working with musicals. Jason Robert Brown’s music is varied, moving from operatic songs, to jazz, to bluegrass, to American country music. For this production, SpeakEasy has strong singers, particularly the multi-talented Jennifer Ellis who plays Francesca, the protagonist and baritone Christiaan Smith as Robert who falls in love with her. (Continue reading » )

Little Shop of Horrors: Show explores the darker side of the human condition.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Photo: Maria Vartanova

Little Shop of Horrors
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Theatre Kraken
Directed by Don Fex

Frequently referred to as a cult musical, Little Shop of Horrors delivers as much blood and gore and almost as many bodies as Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Funny but too frightening for the younger set to be called family entertainment, the book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken (the team responsible for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin) combines a tentative romance, an abusive relationship and a dictatorial blood-sucking plant in a somewhat unpleasant morality tale. (Be careful what you wish for. The end does not justify the means. Even bad guys deserve fair treatment. Take your pick.) (Continue reading » )

Little Shop of Horrors – a first-rate performance of this grotesque campy musical!! Theatre Kraken is back on track!!

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

photo: Maria Vartanova

Theatre  Kraken  has never been my favourite Community Theatre but this new production of  Little Shop of Horrors just changed all that.   The show  began with a surge of vocal and musical  energy  blasting from the  five piece stage band under the direction of Chris Lucas. There was also the impeccable precision of  director Don Fex  and  choreographer Brenda Solman  whose efforts were right on the mark.

This story of Mr. Mushnik,(with the  ever powerful  and oh so versatile Lawrence Evenchick ) owner of a flower shop in the skid row district of New York, becomes the site of a strange event that suggests the War of the Worlds except that it is a hillarious  drama and love story,  peppered with Jewish jokes   and Yiddish expressions  and an underlying  tragic history of the second world war. Something that Mel Brooks himself could have created but this  musical was adapted from the film  by  Alan Menken- music,  and Howard Ashman-, book and lyrics. With strong musicians (the keybords were particularly noteworthy),  director Don Fex’s  captured the  underlying seriousness of these campy characters with great style to produce a very strong show.

(Continue reading » )

A Man of No Importance, an engaging delight.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

A Man of No Importance Book by Terrence McNally Music by Stephen Flaherty Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Directed by Maxim David indie women productions

Part of the charm of A Man of No Importance is its modesty. Almost reflecting the tone of the title in its approach, the award-winning chamber musical is gently low-key, gradually working its way into unfolding a moving story about a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin.

With book by Terence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the 2002 musical is based on the 1994 movie of the same name, starring Albert Finney as bus conductor Alfie Byrne. Byrne escapes his internal conflict and his mundane daily routine through his love of the works of Oscar Wilde — his role model — and his determination to mount a production of Wilde’s Salome in St. Imelda’s church hall (a most unsuitable location for a script that shocked from the outset and would certainly offend conservative Catholic sensibilities in 1960s Ireland.) (Continue reading » )

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

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

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Photo, Tomson 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.

(Continue reading » )

Significant Other: Rising Playwright’s New Comedy

Reviewed by on    All the world's a stage   ,

thumbnail_Visting Grandma

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.

(Continue reading » )

Gilbert without Sullivan takes the stage at the Shaw Festival

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada   ,

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Photo: David Cooper . Engaged

The Shaw Festival has decided to sprinkle a bit of nonsense into a Niagara summer — but it’s nonsense with a satirical agenda.

William S. Gilbert’s Engaged is an 1877 farce about marriage and money — not an unfamiliar theme but one that has proved of abiding interest throughout centuries of drama.

In this instance, it inspired Gilbert to filter it through his own somewhat sour prism, and the result is perhaps his most enduring stage comedy.

The playwriting half of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership had a view of the universe that ranged from barbed whimsy to outright scorn, and that viewpoint finds particular utterance in this scathing send-up of human greed. Morris Panych’s new production at the Royal George Theatre takes due note of Gilbert’s jaundiced disposition, but he also ensures that Engaged is an airborne delight in performance.

Panych can do frivolity very well, and Engaged is no exception. But he also sustains an undercurrent of irony. At one point in the proceedings, a key character bemoans the mercenary culture of the day: “What a terrible thing is this insensitive craving after money,” he tells us.

(Continue reading » )

Naked Boys Singing Struts Its Stuff at Live On Elgin

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Naked Boys Singing Conceived by Robert Shrock , directed by Sean Toohey, musical Director: Gordon Johnston

Would you believe there’s even a moment of fugal joy in Naked Boys Singing?

It surfaces in an ensemble number with the title of Members Only — and yes, there’s no doubt about the subject matter. But as you listen to the performers moving nimbly through the contrapuntal intricacies of an amusing song, you’re again conscious of the wit and imagination that have gone into the preparation of this musical revue.

You’re also conscious of the affection. There’s no doubt of the primary audience for Naked Boys Singing, but this a show that seems ready to extend its embrace to anyone who goes to see it. And its long runs in major cities suggest that, in its own disarming, sweet-natured way, it is knocking down more than a few barriers.

There are ample displays of naked flesh on view at Live On Elgin. But there is no narcissism. These seven guys are definitely not aspiring to a Chippendales gig. There is a bit of philosophizing about nakedness being a window to the soul, but it’s leavened by moments of self-deprecation. Similar philosophies about nudity were expressed in Hair more than 40 years ago, but Naked Boys Singing seems blessedly immune from the self-referential nonsense of that grossly overpraised musical.

(Continue reading » )

Stratford’s Chorus Line: Stunning Dancing in a Problematic Space

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Canada   ,

A Chorus Line – On The Run 2016 
Photo: David Hou 
Stratford’s Chorus Line, Musical by Michael Bennett, directd and choregraphed 
by Donna Feore. 

The opening moments are riveting. Some two dozen
raggle-taggle dancers are gearing up for a key audition sequence,
some bubbling with lithe, high-stepping confidence, others nervous and
not quite ready. We’re being plunged into a moment of high drama: we
can sense the adrenalin and with it the self-assurance, some of it
excessive, but also the anxiety — the terrifying anxiety. The stakes,
we realize, are high. After all, these hopefuls are hoping to win a
place in a new Broadway musical. And some of them won’t make it
The run-through ends. A more decisive testing is imminent. The words —
“let’s take it from the top” — ring out through Stratford’s Festival
Theatre. High above the stage, composer Marvin Hamlisch’s brassy
fanfare sounds, courtesy of an unseen orchestra. And the explosion of
dance begins — an exuberant, brassy outburst of synchronized talent.
The first big test of any production of A Chorus Line is the way it
begins. And at the Stratford Festival it’s in the experienced and
capable hands of Donna Feore, a director and choreographer who holds
both the material and the people she’s working with in obvious
affection. So, as her production moves sleekly into action, the
excitement is palpable.

(Continue reading » )