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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cafe Daughter, A Christmas Carol, The Sultans of String and She Loves Me... all in a week's work!

Anyone who claims there is nothing to do in Edmonton needs to have their head examined! When I looked back at the week and realized that I saw 4+1 varied performances I was a little surprised myself!

In reverse order...

Last night I took in Workshop West Playwright's Theatre/Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts production of Café Daughter by Kenneth T. Williams. A entirely enjoyable evening of theatre due primarily to the phenomenal skills of Tiffany Ayalik as the title character, Yvette Wong.  The story was inspired by the life of Dr. Senator Lillian Eva (Quan) Dyck who was the daughter of a Cree mother and Chinese father and who was raised to hide her aboriginal roots. Ayalik does a tremendous job giving life to Yvette and the myriad of characters that populate her life, shifting smoothly between each one.  It is a story of struggling with identity and coming to terms with embracing that which has been hidden. Kudos must also be given to T. Erin Gruber for the stunning set, evocative of a Saskatchewan prairie with intriguing layers and puzzle pieces. The script could use a little more complexity and perhaps seek a little more universality, but it's a fascinating story especially for it's being rooted in a true story and it is elegantly told in this production. The show runs at the Backstage Theatre until December 6th.  It's their 6-pack show and the space is small so I encourage you to buy in advance as they have had Sold Out houses and this will likely continue.

Friday night was the Invited Dress Rehearsal for A Christmas Carol at the Citadel. For me, the show now signals the kick-off to my holiday season. Before the Citadel production I was never a fan of the Dickens' story, despite it actually being the first play I was ever in (grade 7 - I was the fiddler at the Fezziwig party and a Cratchit child). But there is something truly magical about the production that literally makes me cry every single time I see it. There are a number of new actors this year in key roles.  I have to say, it was like seeing the show anew. It's the same show but with a slightly different energy and that made it so incredibly engaging. Previews started last night and the show runs until December 23rd. I know first hand that tickets are moving incredibly fast.  If you plan to see it, you should get on that sooner rather than later.

Wednesday night, Mark and I took in She Loves Me presented by Foote in the Door Productions. The show was a little dated, but lots of fun as presented by this enthusiastic cast.  It's the inspiration for You've Got Mail and followed a traditional Rom-Com formula. Boy meets girl, they rub each other the wrong way, turns out they are also anonomously corresponding and in love on paper, boy discovers this, they discover this and all is well! Stand-outs for me were Christina O'Dell as the girl who always picks the wrong guy but meets the right one in a library and Dustin Berube as the best friend who just doesn't want to get involved in all the hi-jinks. I also loved the restaurant scene and the Christmas shopping scene!

Last Sunday, we took a drive all the way out to the Maclab Centre for Performing Arts in Leduc to see the Sultans of String. My brother-in-laws' brother is in this Toronto-based band and we have been trying to catch them when they've come though Alberta in the past and this was the first time it worked with our schedule. We had a terrific time. The venue was perfect for this kind of concert and the band was exceptional. The focus is on strings - guitar, violin, bass - along with a percussionist.  They also had a guest performer on Cello.  The music itself pulled from a variety of cultures - Celtic, middle-eastern, new music, rock and roll, jazz and some terrific sounds reminiscent of whale song. There's also a real sense of humour to the music and they certainly know how to entertain a crowd!

Last Saturday was closing night of Wind in Her Sails.  It was so wonderful to see the show again after being away. The show was slightly over-sold and they had to squeeze in a few more chairs to accommodate everyone. Very exciting! Afterwards, it was wonderful to go out and celebrate with the cast and team and raise a glass to Mavis and her adventure!  Just because the show is over, doesn't mean you can't still support MSA Research.  Check out the Wind in Her Sails website for information on how you can still donate!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Once - Better after I saw it Twice...

Last night I took in Once at the the Jubilee as part of the Broadway Across Canada tour.  I had seen it earlier this summer in Toronto and although I liked it, I saw it at the end of a very, very long day and it was just okay. I was very glad to see it again last night as the experience was a lot different. Perhaps I was more refreshed and less tired and that helped. Perhaps my seats were better. Perhaps the connection of this cast was just a little but stronger.  Perhaps, having seen it *once* already I was able to relax into it better. In any case, I really liked it last night. It doesn't follow a traditional musical theatre format. I remember that catching me off-guard the last time. All the actors onstage not only sing and act, but they also provide the instrumentation for the show.  That is one talented cast up there onstage. Some play guitars, the piano, some the violin, there's a bass, a drum kit, a mandolin, banjo, and accordion. Most of the time they are both singing and playing and sometimes they are also dancing, as well. More than triple-threat.

The story itself is interesting - small, and personal and yet at the same time it has an epic quality to it (isn't creating art always epic?). You connect because these people could be you and you can relate to the things that push and pull them.  Who hasn't had challenges in love and career and life.  Who hasn't wanted someone when they are with someone else? I like it because it casts aside the idea that there is only one soul mate for each of us, and suggests that there are more than one and that you can't always have all that you want but sometimes you can get enough to be happy. Maybe I am taking that too far?

Anyhow, the music is wonderful and the show is compelling - it's funny and sad and beautiful.  I'm just glad that I saw Once more than once, because the second time was better!

A Thrilling Opening Night! The Duchess has Set Sail at the PCL!

Last Thursday night, to a packed house (only 3 empty seats!) Wind in Her Sails opened and was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation! The ovation was as much for the play and the performance as it was for the playwright, Elizabeth Bowering, who spearheaded the whole project and it was an overwhelming moment for me. I was more nervous than I realized so it was indeed a wonderful feeling to hear the response from the audience and above-all hear that Elizabeth herself was pleased with the show. Unlike other projects, where I have simply been able to interpret the work to my own satisfaction, there was an added layer of expectation that this show not only fulfill my artistic vision, but that the playwright also be happy with it. I do not think the two visions were at odds, but this is a business fraught with insecurity and doubt. The script was an excellent guide - well-written with 4 well-rounded and interesting characters, as well as a charming narrator skilled in story-telling and fiddling! The work is definitely easier when the script is solid. I also enjoyed that despite being set in 1907, the themes of the piece were still very relevant in today's world.

I have been blessed with a terrific cast - Halee Pierog, Kris Loranger, Morgan Smith, Murray Farnell and Larissa Pohoreski - as well as a wonderful creative team - Kirsten Jensen (SM), Erin Foster-O'Riordan (Sound Design), Geri Dittrich (Costume Design), Janine Hodder (Fight Choreographer), and Joan Hawkins (paint). As there were a number of things I was looking out for that fall outside the purvey of directing, it was wonderful to have such hard-working and talented and generous friends to join on to make the whole thing come to fruition.

The show runs until November 21st in the PCL Theatre. It is more than just a show.  It's also a Fundraiser and Awareness project for MSA (Multiple System Atrophy), a rare and so-far incurable disease.  Proceeds from the production go to research into new treatments for MSA and you can also find out more about it and what you can do to help. You can also find out more here:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So Much Seen and Heard... No Time to Write...

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind!  Between shows and rehearsals I have been hard-pressed to write.  Some of the things I saw are done, so sadly you cannot still see them, but some are still running so make the time, if they interest you!

In Reverse Order!

Most recently I saw The Last Five Years, the first show in Theatre Network's season and in their new space. L5Y is one of my favourite musicals and I have also directed it before so it was very cool to see it staged by someone else in a very different way.  Jeremy Baumung (Jamie) and Patricia Zentilli (Cathy) are lovely singers and well-suited to their roles in this show which is a series of monologues about a relationship.  His is told from beginning to end and hers from end to beginning, all set the beautiful music of Jason Robert Brown. Director Bradley Moss staged the show in an alley which was interesting and helped take me out of comparing it too much to my own production. For fans of this show, you won't be disappointed and for newcomers, I think it's an excellent introduction to the piece. I would recommend sitting on one side or the other instead of the middle as we found the mics a bit high being right under the speakers, but those who were on the ends of the rows said they found the sound really good.

Last Thursday, I saw Opening Night of Evangeline at the Citadel (full disclosure - I work there). It was a fantastic evening! The show has being fabulously received by audiences and critics alike. I alsoreally enjoyed it.  I teared up quite a few times as the show took us through the 40 year long journey of Evangeline, Gabriel and the rest of the Acadian people who were ejected from Canada by the British. Josée Boudreau as the title character is a powerhouse vocal performer.  Her voice is both strong and gorgeous and she sings Ted Dykstra's music like she was born to do so.  When she and Jay Davis (Gabriel) sing together it is electric. I am going back to see it again this next weekend and taking the family.  Evangeline runs until November 22nd at the Citadel. Just a head's up - ticket sales have been incredible.  This is one to buy early rather than risk buying later. You do not want to be disappointed.

I also took in Shadow Theatre's The Best Brothers by Daniel MacIvor at the Backstage Theatre. I'm an uber MacIvor fan and hadn't seen or read this show before and this was a great way to be introduced to it.  As two brothers dealing with the death of their mother, Andrew MacDonald-Smith (Kyle) and Garrett Ross (Hamilton) are wonderful contrasts on the stage. It's a comedy that deals deftly with grief and the complicated and varied relationships that children have with their parents. There's also a third, furry sibling, who complicates things between the brothers. It's a really nice piece, well-presented and well-acted. I think if you are a dog person it might be even more. The Best Brothers runs until November 15th.

I caught the cabaret performance of Ted Dykstra and Friends in The Club at the Citadel as part of the Beyond the Stage Series a few weeks back.  It was a thrilling night of music. That space is so terrific and it was hard to believe that we were sitting there so close to the caliber of performers that were up on the stage.  It was a terrific preview of what we'd be seeing later in Evangeline. It was all terrific but Brent Carver blew me away.  He is similarly amazing in Evangeline as Father Felician, but up close in The Club was so incredible. This was a two night only performance, but you can check out other Beyond the Stage events for the rest of the season.  There are some great shows coming.

I had never been to Dead Centre of Town before, although I heard a lot about it.  I wasn't really sure what it was. I think I thought it was just a haunted house, but this was actually quite a bit different.  It was in Fort Edmonton Park this year and it was an interesting immersive theatre experience. This was a good thing for me, because I was a little stressed about going as I don't do scary well.  But the presentation was more macabre than jump-out-at-you scary and I could handle that better.  There were terrific special effects and lighting and they used the old fort really well in their tour.  It also opened my eyes to the fact that there is  heck of a lot happening at Fort Edmonton Park for Halloween that I had known nothing about.  We're hoping to go back next year and bring the boys!

Edmonton Opera's The Merry Widow was also on my list of things I've seen.  It was delightful and beautiful both aurally and visually. Lots of cool cinematic references that the old move buff in me really appreciated and none of it felt pasted on. I loved the throw-back to Marilyn Monroe from Diamonds are A Girl's Best Friend (the younger peeps will think Madonna in Material Girl), and the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers moments. The music was also wonderful. I do have to say, Jason Hardwick practically steals the third act. He was absolutely hilarious every time he was onstage! The use of humour was so engaging and the pace did not lag.  I had so much fun. See, opera doesn't have to be so serious!  It can be a lot of fun too!

Well, that was the last couple of weeks.  In between shows I have been in rehearsal for Wind in Her Sails. I have really enjoyed working on this project and with so many new people. It's also for such a good cause and it is great to make art that is also doing something more beyond telling the story. Whether it makes people more aware of MSA or raises more money for research, I'm glad to have been a part of the project for that reason alone. We open tomorrow and we've had a great couple of days adding the lights, sound and costumes to the mix. I'm hoping to see you all out for that!  It runs November 12-21st in the PCL Theatre.