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 Addams Family: Orpheus Stars Shine Under a Supermoon

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Guest critic Jim Murchison


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 on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


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 – Effective presentation of the subject matter

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

Photo: Modella Media

Photo: Modella Media

Review of Spring Awakening: The Musical
Spring Awakening: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Steven Sater
Music by Duncan Sheik
Based on the play by Frank Wedekind
Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Much of the subject matter of Spring Awakening — both the original play and the musical — make Philip Roth’s once-controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint seem comic-book light.

Playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Frühlings Erwachen (Spring Awakening) in 1891, attacking German bourgeois society for its repressive attitude, particularly towards young people. The play — originally sub-titled A Children’s Tragedy — was considered scandalous because of its explicit sexual content and was banned on publication. Another 15 years passed before it appeared on stage in Berlin.

The content makes it an even more unlikely subject for a musical — even a rock musical — than Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. However, both were Tony Award winners, Sweeney Todd in 1979 and Spring Awakening in 2006. The musical, with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, also won Drama Desk and Olivier awards.

Yet, even in the sexually liberated west in 2016, the content remains controversial. The portrait of the uncomfortable transition from adolescence to adulthood offers simulated heterosexual intercourse/sexual assault, suggested male masturbation, wet dreams, a little sado-masochism, a short homosexual love scene, a back-street abortion and references to sexual and physical abuse and abandonment. All this is capped off by the deaths of two of the principals, one by suicide and the other because of a botched abortion. (Continue reading » )

Spring Awakening: The Musical – Authenticity Permeates the Show

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Spring Awakening: The Musical, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 German play, is about many things: coming of age amid sexual and other late 19th century bourgeois repressions; the chasm between generations; the sometimes dire consequences of challenging the prevailing social ethos.

As well – and this seems especially important in light of our own era’s cynicism and our confused sense of what’s real and what’s merely artifice (our digital lives, for example) – the show is about trust and authenticity. It’s about discovering and trusting who one really is, finding the determination to live authentically in the face of a social order deeply opposed to the individual’s need for self-expression, love, sexual connection.

You may know the storyline already. In a nutshell, a group of young people find themselves severely constrained by their society, their church, their families. Hypocrisy, cruelty and power call the shots, causing some of the young people to crumble but others to assert their individuality and pursue what they perceive as right. The narrative, with its rock/pop score, is fundamentally dark despite the unfortunate Hollywood ending tacked on in keeping with the tradition of musicals.

Orpheus’ rendering of this story is rewarding on many levels, but it is the sense of trust and authenticity permeating the show that shines most brightly. For that, choreographer Lola Ryan deserves special applause. (Continue reading » )

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

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


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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Orpheus Shines With A Chorus Line

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,


Photo. Alexander Vlad for Alan Dean

In a theatre community where claims to professionalism are sometimes  suspect, Orpheus stands out like shining beacon. It wears its  community-theatre label proudly and without pretension. And it often  puts to shame some of the tacky touring productions that have lumbered   across Canada (and into the NAC) in recent years.
All of which is a preamble to declaring that this organization’s new  production of A Chorus Line is another worthy achievement. It remains  true to the sensibility of the legendary Broadway original, which was  conceived by its first director, the late Michael Bennett, as a   bittersweet valentine to the kids in the chorus line, the ones we tend
to take for granted when we watch a stage musical, but who supply the  essential support system for any successful show.

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A Chorus Line: A production that leaves much to be desired.

Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

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Photo: courtesy of Orpheus Musical Theatre

This is the emblematic hit Broadway musical which stages the work taking place within the chorus line before the curtain rises on the Broadway show! Showing the audition process is a fascinating concept. It brings us into the workings of musical theatre, stripping away the drama, the glitz and the glamour by taking us into the disappointments, the heartbreak, the tough work, the anxiety, the personal encounters that have led to the final moment in front of the choreographer who will finally decide who stays and who goes.

The show has a huge cast of 28 actors some playing several roles. They include ballet dancers, tap dancers, strippers, singers, actors, comedians, serious actors but most of them dance and sing, especially the individuals vying for spots on the chorus line. The task is daunting and because each dancer takes on a special meaning within the show, A Chorus line depends on excellent performances from each member of the cast, especially those who have solo numbers or who are dancing in small groups.

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