A trip to the Not-So-Far East! Theatre at the Shaw Festival!

This past week I took a little vacation and visited my sister and brother-in-law in Toronto.  My sister and I also spent a little time in Niagara on the Lake for the Shaw Festival so there was theatre-going in abundance.  It was a lovely little adventure and a good break from the everyday!

I love living in Edmonton because of all the theatre, but it is nice to see what is going on elsewhere in the country too! At the Shaw Festival, we took in three shows.  The first was Peter and the Starcatcher which is a prequel to Peter Pan, kind of the 'how the lost boys became the lost boys' story. It is a lot of fun and great for audiences of all ages.  Performed by an ensemble of actors who trade narration duties and roles to create two very different crews for two very different ships as well as the strange inhabitants of the island they end up on.  There were many very cool things about how they create the world. It's a piece that calls for low-tech magic and it was nice to see them making their own choices different from the Broadway production (I saw that a couple of years ago). We saw the last Preview performance of the show, and I think that although they were generally very tight, they still have a little ways to go to make the ensemble seamless.  This is the kind of show that will just get better and better over the course of the run as the cast becomes a single machine telling the tale. My favorite performances were Charlie Gallant as Boy, Billy Lake as Fighting Prawn, and Martin Happer as the Black 'Stache. Gallant really shows a nice journey from untrusting & angry to joyous and adventurous.  Happer and Lake make the most of their outrageous characters to much comic appeal.

That evening we took in the Opening Night performance of You Never Can Tell.  We knew nothing about it going in, as it was the show we could fit in between the 2 we had selected.  A G.B. Shaw piece that neither of us were familiar with.  We both loved it! The set (Leslie Frankish) was whimsical and delightful and set the tone perfectly for the comedy about to happen.  It's always so fun when a show catches you off-guard! Telling the story of a mother of three children who return to England from away.  The children have no idea who their father is as their mother has refused to tell them and they are a bit unruly from being raised away in Madeira. So you know they are going to be reunited with their father, and they are.  Throw in a penniless dentist who falls in love instantly with the eldest child and a waiter to manage it all and it is really quite fun.  Director Jim Mezon has certainly gone for the whimsy in it, in any case, and it worked for us! I've got a new Fangirl Crush on Gray Powell who played the love-struck dentist.  He lit up the stage whenever he was on it.  Overall, the ensemble is quite tight which led to an enjoyable evening.  On occasion the twins were a little much, but I think that was the point. Shaw manages to make a few comments on marriage and parenting, but by keeping it so fun, it never comes off like a lecture, which I appreciated!

Our final show was the musical Sweet Charity.  This was also the final Preview performance of that show. I had never seen the show before so was very excited to see it onstage. I was familiar with only two of the songs, Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now, so it was nice to hear those as well as several new songs. The show was a lot of fun, a showcase for the fabulous taxi-dancers. Highlights for me were definitely Big Spender and The Rich Man's Frug which showcased Parker Esse's choreography as well as some terrific costumes (Charlotte Dean). My absolute favorite though, was Mark Uhre as Vittorio.  You have no idea how much I wished he was a character that would return in the second act (sigh...). With a gorgeous voice and a natural command of the stage, you hardly watched anyone else when he was there. It's a strange show in some ways with an unsatisfying ending which is not the fault of the production, but of the writing, I think. You just want Charity to get somewhere and she ends up exactly where she starts.  I wished for something more - a sign that things would be different/better the next time around. As Charity, Julie Martell has a great voice and commitment to the role. She can belt out the big numbers and hold the stage on her own. However, I found her Charity very pragmatic and I wanted a little more of the romantic in her portrayal, something that would contrast her more with fellow taxi-dancers Nickie (Kimberly Rampersad) and Helene (Melanie Phillipson) who are more jaded by what life has to offer them. The three of them are wonderful to see and hear in There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This which has been added to my list of Songs I Want To Sing With Friends. 

All in all, we had a terrific time.  It's been a long time since I have gone to the Shaw Festival and I am looking forward to going back again the next time I take a trip out East! We also spotted Canadian stars Colin Mochrie (Who's Line Is It Anyway), and Debra McGrath & Sheila McCarthy (Little Mosque on the Prairie).  We joked that they were stalking us as we spotted them at 2 of the 3 shows we were at! 


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