This past weekend I was in theatre heaven - for me - that is. I saw, not one, not two, but three musicals! Not only that, but I saw a variety of productions, produced with a variety of budgets and coming from Professional and Community teams. It was a great weekend for theatre for me!
The first show I saw was Into the Woods, produced by ELOPE. Just a warning, I am on the Board of Directors so there is bias there. It was a very well done production. The music, Sondheim no-less, was outstanding. Kudos to Brad Heintzman for his Music Direction. A few off notes, but it's tough stuff and they were few and far between. The design was lovely and all in all it was a good night of theatre. There were some stand-outs, Elizabeth Marsh as the Witch is a force onstage, Morgan Smith as the Mysterious Man stole the show every time he snuck on, Stephanie Wigston was a fierce and engaging Little Red, and David Wilson was the perfect Prince and Wolf. I also loved Cinderella's Step-mother and Step-sisters (Adeline Dewar, Janine Hodder and Erika Noot). They were so delightfully wicked and selfish and animated. I wished they were on more. I wish this crew had a longer run. The five shows is hardly enough to settle in and from what I heard the show grew through the run. It wasn't perfect, it's a tough show technically and there were issues there and I had some issues with pacing and staging choices, but it is an Everest of a show and they reached for the summit. They didn't always reach it, but there is something to be said for making the attempt.
On Saturday night I caught Impulse Theatre's production of Boygroove. These four guys are recent Grant Mac Grads and they poured their heart and talent into this Chris Craddock musical that parodies and gives homage to boy bands. It was fanstastic. All four guys (Timothy Cooper, Mathew Bittroff, Eric Wigston, and Byron Martin) were excellent singers, dancers, and actors - switching from their boy band personas to the other personalities that populate the world of making it in the boy band music world. It's not for children, or even teeny-boppers despite the topic, but the script is sharp and funny and smart. It only works with a strong cast and direction and this had both. Trevor Schmidt directed and his pacing and staging was terrific. Occasionally the boys were a little close to the audience (I wanted them a step back) but I know they were moving from space to space (it's a 3 city tour - they head to Fort McMurray this week) and I suspect the staging was limited by where they could focus the lights for their effects. In fact this is such a minor point, I should stop talking about it. It was so nice to hear such strong harmonies and see 4 guys who are not only able to dance but they dance very well. It was also interesting how the script used humour to actually deal with some real issues. Anyhow, I loved it! I hope they do well in the Fort McMurray leg of their run.
And then on Sunday night, I was lucky to catch a Preview performance of Little Women at The Citadel Theatre. I was excited to see it because Susan Gilmour (Fantine in Les Mis on Broadway!) was playing Marmee and I was totally unfamiliar with the show and it is always cool to discover a show in that way. Now, there is a challenge with musicals that are adapted from well read and well loved books. They have to remain true to the book so that those that are familiar with it are satisfied and yet a book does not have the same arc as a play or musical so the script needs to adapt to provide push where the book might not have the same push. This means that some events are left out while others are highlighted for the sake of the stage story. All in all, I think this script does a good job and picking and choosing for the sake of serving both masters. Some of the songs are less memorable because they don't serve the same function as they would in a 'new' work or a work adapted from less familiar material, but the singing is always strong and the actors are selling them both emotionally and artistically. The show was in the MacLab and I think that was the ideal space for it. It is a show that requires a level of intimacy so that you feel you are a part of this family and the MacLab certainly helps create that. It's design with three levels of the house was warm and cozy and the cast was able to reach out to the audience while still seeming to be occupying their world. The show is well-cast particularly the five women who make up the March family. A few of the voices are small in their singing and they seem to rely on their mics to push the sound, but everyone was tuneful and committed emotionally. Gilmour is wonderful and truly the perfect Marmee. You sense you are seeing and hearing someone with a real gift when she sings. However, the true stars of the show are Shannon Taylor as the irrepressible, tom-boy, ambitious Jo and Josee Boudreau as the kind-hearted, soul of the show, Beth. The two of them sing the strongest, most moving song of the show and their voices carry the audience along on the emotional journey with them. I also enjoyed Jeremy Crittenden as Laurie and David Leyshon as Professor Bhaer - both have beautiful voices and do a good job holding their own in this play that is so much about the women. It's not an earthshaking show, it won't throw you for a loop or shake your foundation of being, but it's solid and does fair justice to the book and to being a musical and I really enjoyed the evening.