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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Les Contes D'Hoffman - Edmonton Opera takes us to the Circus and there is much to see and hear Under the Big Top!

It shouldn't be surprising that Circus and Opera go together so well - both are bigger than real life and dramatic.  With Edmonton Opera's Les Contes D'Hoffman (The Hoffman Tales) opening this week at The Jubilee Auditorium, the merging of the two is almost flawless.  Designed by Camellia Koo, it is visually stunning, with striped canvas in sepia tones and a colour palette and attention to detail that fuels the romantic nature of the story.  It is romantic in a nostalgic way - you almost expect to smell popcorn and cotton candy and the lighting suggests that it is filtered through imaginary dust kicked up from the floor. Although he was still tweaking them at the Preview I saw,  Lighting Designer Jason Hand created many gorgeous moments.  It's best when he plays with the shadows, like at the end of Act One when the crowd taunts Hoffman for his misplaced love and their leering shadows crawl menacingly up the sides of the striped tent.

The story is fairly straight-forward.  Hoffman, an aging circus roustabout played by David Pomeroy, is encouraged to tell the assembled circus players a story.  He starts and then gets distracted by his thoughts of love for the Prima Donna Stella and instead tells the story of the three loves of his life. Pomeroy has a gorgeous, well-dimensioned voice and he plays his role believably as he revisits each of his doomed love affairs.  With each he is committed to the passion of the love and increasingly destroyed when each fails for various reasons.

It is quite magical when we get to see what lies inside the tents of the Circus.  Huge drapes of striped canvas create the world of wonders, complete with bearded lady,  half man/half woman and a variety of other exotic creatures, one of which is Olympia (Hoffman's first love), a wind-up doll portrayed by coloratura Teiya Kasahara.  Kasahara's Oylmpia is whimsical and bird-like with a steam-punk sensibility. Her voice is beautiful and her instincts for the humour of her role are bang-on.  Next we meet the beautiful but sickly Antonia sung by Ileana Montalbetti. The staging choices of Director Joel Ivany in this act is extremely effective in creating the haunting of Antonia and Montalbetti is in fine voice and conveys her struggle for life and death particularly well. The 'magic' in this act is also wonderfully done - eliciting gasps of delight from the children in the audience. Hoffman's third love is the courtesan Giulietta (Krisztina Szabó). We are introduced to her via the barcarolle Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour - for me the most recognizable piece of music - I loved the languid quality created as the lovely ladies called the men to them. Szabó is sexy and smart as Giulietta as she manipulates Hoffman and you have no trouble beleiving he'd be seduced by her, but again this is a relationship doomed to failure.  Oh, poor Hoffman. 

 In addition to the three ladies and Hoffman I was very impressed with Daniel Okulitch who played the four villains - the uptight Lindorff who vies with Hoffman for Stella, the spider-like Coppelius who gives Olympia her eyes, the slick and mysterious (and magical) Dr. Miracle who torments Antonia, and Dappertutto a cowboy-like gambler who enlists Giulietta to betray Hoffman.  Each of the four characters were distinct and his bass is rich and wonderful to listen to. 

It's cohesive and beautiful, musically impressive and a wonderful three ring circus of a show! 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

So This is Cool...


Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd at the Canoe Festival

What can happen in an elevator? Absolutely anything!

Catch a sneak peak of Theatre Yes’s National Elevator Project featuring short plays written for, and performed in, working elevators. Don’t miss this teaser of the 3-very-short plays to be included in Theatre Yes’s one-of-a-kind performance project featuring a series of brand-new, site-specific works penned by writers from across the country. Each mini-play (under 5 minutes) asks audiences to enter and ride elevators with actors making each performance an unforgettable theatre adventure. All aboard!

Theatre Yes is pleased to present workshop productions of three plays in the series commissioned by Workshop West Theatre:

Come by each venue anytime between 7:00PM-8:30PM to that evenings play.

Feb 1st 7:00-8:30 PM
LOVE IN AN ELEVATOR by Melissa Thingelstad
Harcourt House Gallery, 10215-112 Street

Feb 2nd 7:00-8:30 PM
City Market Building, 9662 101A Ave (South Entrance)

Feb 3rd 7:00-8:30 PM
Arts Hub 118, 11731- 93 St. (West Entrance)

Admission free/by donation

Watch for the full series in the 2013-2014 season.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Look What We Got Here in YEG - Cole Porter at The Citadel Club and a meeting of YEG Theatre Minds to Talk Resources!

On Saturday night I was excited to take in John Alcorn: The Cole Porter Songbook at the new Citadel Club in the Rice Theatre space.  I've been curious to see what they had done to the space and was quite pleased with it.  The room is gorgeous and feels so upscale and classy and was a perfect environment for the concert.  Alcorn and his fellow jazz musicians were excellent as they interpreted Porter's music.  The approach was definitely more jazz than musical theatre, but they kept us all engaged for the evening.  I preferred the more upbeat numbers, with Let's Do It , Let's Fall In Love and You're The Top being my favorites, but I felt they offered a nice repertoire overall with variety that showcased their strengths and made for a delightful evening.  I'm hoping to go back and check out other events at the space.  Bridget Ryan and Rejean Cournoyer are both slated for cabarets later in the season and they are both sure to offer up a good evening of entertainment. It's an interesting addition to The Citadel and Edmonton and I hope to take advantage of it.

This afternoon I made it to my first Theatre Edmonton Meet-up at C103.  Provided as part of Canoe Festival, the topic of discussion was Resources and the meet-up was a great opportunity to talk to other theatre professionals of various levels and talk about what Edmonton has and was Edmonton needs in the way of theatre resources. The event was facilitated by Theatre Alberta's Aaron Talbot and was a great discussion.  Space and Touring were the biggest topics followed closely by Funding, but I found the best thing was the openness of the assembled artists to talk with each other and share their ideas, needs, wants and knowledge. I hope to make it to more (always schedule dependent) as it gave me a few ideas for pursuing venues for producing.  It was also refreshing to hear that the things that I feel challenged by are shared by others.  It's nice to know you are not alone!

#5 and #6 of my 2013 Theatre Goal

Friday, January 25, 2013

Paddling the Canoe Festival... Journey's Beginning...

Last night Workshop West's Canoe Festival opened with two shows at C103 (formerly Catalyst Theatre) .  I had to wait for Mark to get home so I managed to make it to Send in the Girl's Tudor Queens.  This was a hit show at the Edmonton Fringe in 2011 and I saw it and loved it then but was excited to see the re-boot in a better space with much better sight-lines and more room for their dances and, from what I had heard, all new costumes!  What was great two years ago was indeed EVEN BETTER to see last night.  The Dances were tighter and the choreography sharper (I think having the wider deck allowed them to really do it justice) and the design concept much more cohesive.  I loved the consistency of the costuming (I really wanted to see the crests on their robes close up!).  The script is still funny and biting and each of the six actors brings their own charms to their characters to make them unique. Two new cast members (Laura Metcalfe as Anne of Cleves and Caley Suliak as Katherine of Aragon) join returning royalty, Elena Porter, Ellen Chorley, Delia Barnett and Morgan Smith, and they fit in as though they had been there for eternity. If you missed it at Fringe 2011, I recommend catching it now.  If you saw it then and liked it, it's even better so, again, I recommend.

While waiting for the show to begin, I chatted with the person sitting next to me who turned out to be Victoria Melody who is here from Brighton, UK to present her show Northern Soul which combines African American soul music with films, photos and stories of her life most particularly living with pigeon fanciers in England.  I am hoping to catch her show tonight as most of the people who I saw leaving it said it was really good, plus I found Victoria really lovely to chat with and who knows when she might be coming through our city again? Mark is making a concerted effort to get home earlier tonight so that I can make it.  Victoria is only here in Edmonton and Canada for a quick tour.  After Canoe Festival she heads to Vancouver for the Push Festival and then she heads off to Banff where she is leading an intensive.  Another reason I feel lucky to live in Edmonton is that we have these brilliant International Artists come through to share their talents with us. Flipping through the Canoe Festival guide you can see local artists like Send in the Girls and Vice Versa as well as artists from across Canada like Mary Walsh (of 22 Minutes fame) and artists from around the world like Victoria Melody.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Modern Dance and Free-man Philosophy - #2 and #3

I had a great weekend of Arts - catching Tania Alvarado and Mile Zero Dance on Saturday night and Free-man on the Land on Sunday afternoon. 

It was fabulous to see the modern dance on Saturday. Though the night was sharp and cold, it was a wonderfully full house out at the Timm's Centre to see the show presented by the Brian Webb Dance Company.  There were two pieces.  The first was choreographed by Tania Alvarado and the second was choreographed by Gerry Morita of Mile Zero Dance.  I really connected to the first piece.  Amazing to think that these artists are Alberta grown for the most part.  As a theatre person I always search for story and context and with dance this can be a little more abstracted, but for me the first piece was about community and connection and I was amazed by the athleticism mixed with artistry.  The story is not important.  I was less connected to the second piece, but felt it was taking a lot of risks and experimenting.  I think my bigger challenge with connecting was that the lighting choices made it difficult to see what I wanted to see. In theatre we use lighting to tell the audience where to look, and I wasn't sure what to focus on.  That might have been the point.

On Sunday, Free-man on the Land served up a very interesting experience at Theatre Network.  The structure challenged expectations - is this a play? what's going on here? do we answer back? - the topic was interesting and challenged ideology - FMOTL check it out. The production is tight without appearing slick.  It has a deceptive approachability that makes you think it could be improvised, but it's so tight, you know that it is scripted and they are just that good. It's a show that makes you think and one that makes you laugh.   There is a real sense of showmanship with the production.  Steve Pirot has the second best stage voice in the city (next to Clinton Carew) and he is well suited to his role as master of ceremonies - his poetic banter is a treat to listen to, and Murray Utas seemed perfectly cast as Nobody, an often antagonistic force.  Dale Ladouceur provides a phenomenal live sound scape and a soft foil to the masculine energy of Des Parenteau as the Free-man. I am not sure that the Free-man deserved his pay-off script wise, but that was a minor flaw.  It all seemed to work.  It also has some of the best projection work I have seen in theatre - seamlessly created and executed by Matt Schuurman. It's not mainstream, but it's about a fringe philosophy - what would you expect?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Oscar Countdown...

It's a lot harder to see 9 movies than it is to see 5.  Some years I have not even gotten to the 5, but now that the Oscars have up to 10 nominees for Best Picture, it has made my life more challenging.  I know, I know - poor me - having to try to get to movies... but I like it.

Anyhow, at this point I have seen three of the Best Picture nominees, Les Miserables, Argo and as of today, Lincoln.  I think I will be able to get to 6-7 of them but Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild are challenging me as I cannot find them in Edmonton.  So far my pick would be Lincoln.  Although I really liked Argo, I was not moved in the same way as I was by Lincoln.  They are both pretty near perfect in execution - strong scripts and excellent acting and directing with all the details tight and authentic - so it is pretty much a subjective thing for me. Perhaps Lincoln just resonated more because of it's epicness and because of what is currently going on with Idle No More in Canada.  Not sure, but I certainly connected with it. It's not just about emotional response though, because Les Miserables wins that battle, but Les Mis is a flawed movie and I reacted emotionally more for personal reasons than because of it's perfection. Lincoln just felt more important and more universal.

Anyhow, I journey on - hoping to catch Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and The Silver Linings Playbook.  Two of these films don't really interest me, but I will get to them if I can. If anyone knows how I can see Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, let me know.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Diving into my 2013 Theatre Goal!

Now that I have got the show cast, and we are starting rehearsals, I can dive into my theatre/arts goal for the year.  January is always a slow month to start as there just isn't much on.  I did catch Songs for a New World on the 2nd, but now I really get going.

This weekend I am going to catch Tania Alvarado and Mile Zero Dance at the Timm's Centre and Free-man on the Land at Theatre Network.  Those are nested between Basketball and rehearsal but it should prove to be a great arts filled weekend.  I am also currently trying to figure out what I will get to at the Canoe Festival.  I plan on catching the new version of The Tudor Queens and am looking forward to seeing the show in a venue with better sight lines.  I loved it at the 2011 Fringe and have heard a lot about their rehearsing for this new production so I am keen to see it again. I really want to see White Rabbit Red Rabbit, but it will mean finding someone to take either my Del Barber or Jeremy Fisher tickets off my hands.  I don't want them to go to waste! Either way, I am seeing something great!

In any case, this feels like a Here We Go! Weekend. I got my seat belt on!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Introducing the Cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Cast List
 (in no particular order)
Chip Tolentino - Mark Sinongco
Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere - Kristin Johnston
Leaf Coneybear - John Evans
William Barfee - Curtis Knecht
Marcy Park - Meredith Honda
Olive Ostrovsky - Nadine Veroba
Rona Lisa Perretti - Amanda Neufeld
Vice Principal Douglas Panch - Joe Garreck
Mitch (Maggie? Michelle? Maxi?) Mahoney - Kate Wylie
Ollive’s Mom Erin Foster-O’Riordan
Olive’s Dad - Stuart McDougall
Carl Grubenniere (Carl Dad) - Dean McQuay
Dan Schwartz (Dan Dad) - Matt Graham
Leaf’s Mom - Kat Evans
Leaf’s Dad - Shawn Wells
Marigold Coneybear - Monica LeBlond-Davison
Brook Coneybear - Alyssa Lightfoot
Pinecone Coneybear - Kelly Webber
Raisin Coneybear - Cleo Halls
Landscape Coneybear - Angela Tran
Paul Coneybear - Rolando Bautisto,
Jesus Christ - Dean McQuay

I am excited to get started on this show with this amazing group of people and the fabulous production team including Sally Hunt as Music Director, Kimberlee Stadelmann as Stage Manager, Jim Draginda as Production Manager and Patti Zeglen as Costume Designer. Tonight is our Read Through and we will start to work on music tomorrow night. I can't wait to hear these voices sing this show!

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Neck is All Kinked Up!

I am not sure what is causing it, but there are several possible contributing factors.

First, I am in the middle of auditions for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and whenever I look at my callback list I get stressed.  I really shouldn't look at it.  The stress is in fact a good thing, but it is because I have more fabulous people than I can use that I am stressed,  It was hard enough to make the list because of I have already cut some wonderful performers but we had to.  It's what you have to do.  I'll be fine next week when it's all decided.  I am not going to think more about it until I actually see the callbacks because that will be the deciding place.

Second, I have been watching the twitter and the news and reading everything I can find about the whole Idle No More movement and the history leading up to it.  Encouraged by the rants of my good friend Amelia, I have read everything I can find, from far left (ugh) to far right (ugh again) and find I sit, as always, somewhere in the middle.  But the evolution of this whole movement has really disappointed me.  It's an opportunity to make change and fix problems that some people with obviously massive egos are letting slip by.  You cannot choose what is for dinner if you are not in the kitchen helping to make it! Argh!  I know, it's complicated, but from what I watched emerge on Twitter, the protests happening today were planned a while ago.  There are people who were simply not going to meet - EVER.  Anyhow, I keep watching and reading as this evolves.  I think it's a massive ^$@#-up and support for the movement from both inside and outside Aboriginal communities is dropping. I am worried, because I think some people actually want a war.  There are some people involved that I think want this to become violent, and that scares me. And just as bad, if nothing is accomplished now, with all this focus on the issue - When will things ever get fixed?!?! This is the time people! We have a chance to deal with the poverty, the housing issues, the environmental issues, and imagined or perceived slights are not good enough reasons to not deal with this stuff.  Hey, I am not an expert on this, but what I see really, really saddens and angers me.

Third, I think I need a new pillow, but I think once the first two points are resolved (extra hopefully with the second) and I take some ibuprofen I should be ok.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

So I Saw Les Miserables Today...

First of all, let me say, I cried four times so I definitely got my money's worth. I can also admit that Les Miserables is my ALL TIME FAVORITE Musical so I knew going in I would have high expectations. I was worried after the first 45 minutes, but then it started rolling and began to gel.  I do not think it was the perfect adaptation of the musical by any means and I think the Direction is the biggest culprit in that respect. However, there are moments, individual performances and sections that do nice service to it and rescue it from being a bad movie.

I cannot fault the acting.  It's there for all of them.  The singing, well, there are disappointments, but again I think the direction is what undercut what could have been so much more.  Anne Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream escapes damage because it is done as a one-shot, close up so that it reads like it should - as a monologue told through song.  Could she play Fantine on a big stage? Maybe not, but for this film she is terrific.  Because the camera is on her face the whole time and she isn't afraid to sing ugly and she really invests in the song the internal story is consistently present. The whole song becomes a journey.  Unfortunately for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, Tom Hooper (Director) did not afford them the same opportunity in their big monologue songs.  Instead, he has them moving and shifting as though these are songs of action.  They aren't. They are songs of self-discovery and decision and should have been done with that same respect.  There are plenty of songs that move the action wherein movement and shifting locales add to the energy.  Hooper, however, doesn't always capture that opportunity either. There's only three of the leads that could probably hold their own on a stage singing this score - Jackman, Aaron Tviet (Enjolras) and Samantha Banks (Eponine) - but all the leads are perfectly adaptable to play these roles in a film.  To play to their strengths he should have let them be still more often and use those skills.

So, what made me cry?  Red and Black - When those wonderful men are singing, led by Tveit (confession - Enjolras is so much more attractive to me than Marius - both vocally and character wise - so those of you who wished Tveit was Marius, I say "No! Enjolras all the way, baby!").  This is the number where it really felt like an ensemble. On My Own - Samantha Banks was a wonderful choice and she really built up to this song.  I will say, I Dreamed a Dream was wonderfully done, but I wasn't there yet in terms of investment as an audience member.  A Little Fall of Rain - such a wonderfully done moment with commitment from both Banks and Eddie Redmayne (Marius).  The stillness worked so beautifully.  And then finally, Valjean's Death.  I cried from that moment through the end as it shifted into Do You Hear the People Sing - the pay-off came at the end.

I love Helena Bonham Carter but thought the choice of her and Sacha Baron Cohen for the Thenardiers was kind of predictable and didn't see anything from them that made me say wow.  I think there could have been better choices to make those roles more than just humorous cameos.  Daniel Huttlestone is perfect as Gavroche (I might have cried then, too), and Isabelle Allen is quite lovely as young Cosette. I loved that there were chairs (I was wondering about that - such an iconic image from the stage show).

So, not perfect, by far.  Not something I will buy the soundtrack for, but I think there are enough moments to sustain it. I think there are many missed opportunties and disservices to the actors in the film. I feel kind of bad for Russell Crowe, because he comes off so weak due to the direction.  He actually does some fine acting.  Amanda Seyfried's voice is no stronger, but she is shot in a much more sympathetic way. But who really goes to Les Mis to watch Cosette? Ha ha ha... No but really, the whole live-singing thing worked better for some moments and was not a good choice for others.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

A Day of Prep.... FOR AUDITIONS!

It's not like I left it to the last minute. I don't do that. But I did spent a bit of time today making sure that I am ready for auditions tomorrow.  It's always a little hard for me to pick my sides.  Is this the one that will show me what I need to see?  What about this one?  And I only have 1/2 an hour per group of 4 and we have to hear them sing, so I want to make sure I get to see what I need to AND I want to make sure they get to show me want they need to.  I will tell you a not-so-secret secret... I agonize about auditions.  I think because I acted for a long time before I directed I really empathize with the people coming out.  I know that everyone out there wants me to see them, really see them, and find whatever I need in them. I know that everyone coming out really wants to get in the show. I want them all to be terrific, but then I stress about that because I know I can't cast them all.  I usually end up not casting a good dozen people I really, really, really wish I could.  And I don't want to make a mistake.  I don't want to miss out on that fabulous person who just had an off-day on audition day.  It happens.  I've done that.

Anyhow, I have sorted out my sides.  I have thought hard about my improvisation activity (which I will only do if we have time). I have re-read the script who knows how many times.  I think I am ready.  I remain excited and know, deep down, that anything I miss tomorrow I can catch in callbacks!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Musical Beginning to 2013!

Last night I caught Three Form Theatre's Songs for a New World at La Cite. Tonight is their last show - it start at 7:30 p.m.  It was an admirable undertaking for the young theatre company.  They handled the challenging music of Jason Robert Brown's song cycle well and I had an entertaining evening.  I think we shall see more of these four performers in years to come.  MacKenzie Reurink, in particular, has a good sense of comic timing combined with a strong singing voice that I think will serve her well in her career.  All four (the other three being Chris Scott, Steven Angove and Robin Kumish) have nice voices and a good sense of story-telling.  The balance is a little off, so I would recommend sitting on House Right at least four or five rows up.  Sometimes the band is just a little too hot for the vocals and it's best a bit further back and to the side.

So after that delightful night of song, I took in my boy's piano recital this afternoon. Gibson started his solo well but got flustered and felt a little bad afterwards. He's playing a tough piece for his age and gets very nervous playing in front of people.  Oliver's solo went well and the duet they played was near perfect.  I am really hoping for not too many duets because it's a bit torturous to supervise them, but this time we survived. I have been told I am NOT allowed to post the video (by Gibson) else I'd pop it up.

Anyhow, thank you all for the music to start this year!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A New Year - Filling in the Calendar!

In the spirit of getting out of holiday mode I spent time yesterday and today filling in my calendar.  I am pretty booked up already for January with Spelling Bee and a workshop for one of the From Cradle to Stage new plays.  I booked tickets to Free-man on the Land at Theatre Network and Evie's Waltz at Shadow Theatre.  I have tickets to a couple of music events at the Arden Theatre and to Tania Alvarado/Mile Zero Dance.  Throw in rehearsals and basketball and I am a busy girl. I am trying to hit Sunday matinees for shows because they are a little easier to manage in my schedule. The cool thing about the ticket prize that I won is that I am going to shows I might not have gone to, and although not all of them are my cup of tea, I feel more engaged and challenged as a theatre goer. Case in Point: I am pretty sure that I have no idea what is coming my way with Free-man on the Land.  I am prepared for an adventure! Evie's Waltz sounds like it will explore some of the same themes of three of the scripts I am currently working on and has the phenomenal Coralie Cairns in it so it's a little more up my alley.

Tonight I will kick off my theatre year by seeing Three Form Theatre's Songs for a New World at La Cite. It's one of my favorite musicals - a song cycle - with fabulous music and I am interested in seeing what this young group has done with it.  

What's going to be your first play of the new year?  What are you looking most forward to seeing?  I'm curious to know...