Monday, August 25, 2008

More Openings at the Shaw Festival this Season!

We're getting down to the final few shows at this year's Shaw Festival: I'll have two for you this week and two more next week, and then we'll be done for the season. Then, off to Stratford for some of their great offerings this season. But now, as they say, "On with the show..."

The President (Royal George Theatre to October 4th) ****
This hilarious adaptation by Morwyn Brebner of Ferenc Molnar's one act masterpiece is not to be missed. It runs at a breakneck pace for just over an hour, and you come out wondering how the actors get through it, as you're exhausted just watching it! This absolutely madcap romp stars Lorne Kennedy as a fast-talking, fast thinking president of a major corporation in New York City, just preparing for a well-earned vacation. He wants nothing, repeat nothing, to interrupt him while he's away. But alas, the best-laid plans as always go awry. Here, Kennedy is faced with the awful prospect of disgrace when he discovers the sweet young ward he has been looking after has made some unwise decisions on her own. In particular, she has found a boyfriend and is with child; to make matters worse, her parents are coming to visit - in an hour. So, talking faster than anyone in the audience can possibly believe, Kennedy swings into action to transform the pair into a respectable, well-to-do couple before the parents arrive. The hour takes many twists and turns, but Kennedy guides the ship through comedic waters to a triumphant conclusion. He's aided by expert support in the form of David Schurmann as his assistant Bartleby, Chilina Kennedy as the Marilyn Monroe look-alike ward, and Jeff Meadows as her bum of a boyfriend. They are surrounded by a magnificent art-deco set designed by Cameron Porteous, and the whole thing is directed by Blair Williams. If you have an afternoon show planned at Shaw, make the time to catch this one at 11:30 am at the Royal George. You won't be disappointed!

After The Dance (Royal George Theatre to October 5th) ***
This is Terence Rattigan's bittersweet look at two generations: the so-called Bright Young People who put the "roar" into the roaring twenties by partying and drinking much of the time, and the more sedate and practical generation that followed. The play dates from 1937-38, during the Second World War, when Rattigan himself had left his youthful pacifism behind and was a Flight Lieutenant. As director Christopher Newton writes in his notes, the people in this play have a very tenuous grasp on their political world; they are trapped in a social box and they refuse to acknowledge the approaching catastrophe of war. Of course, affairs of the heart figure prominently during any generation, and that is indeed the case here as well. They are no less complicated in After The Dance than at any other time, it seems. Overall, the play is beautifully staged at the tiny Royal George Theatre; it's very elegant, typical of Christopher Newton. But it does drag a little towards the end, I found. Good, solid work from the ensemble includes Neil Barclay as fun-loving (most of the time) John Reid, Claire Jullien filling in for Lisa Horner as Julia Browne, and Patrick Galligan being typically Patrick as David Scott-Fowler, who is being temped away from his wife by a younger woman. This is a charming, lovingly produced play, and proves to be another winner for Shaw this season.

August 25th, 2008.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Shaw Offerings Worth Seeing this Season

With August quickly moving along, we had better get back to the Shaw Festival and some of the great theatre they are offering this season. As always, my ratings are up to four stars...

The Stepmother (Court House Theatre to October 4th) ****
This play by Githa Sowerby is a real gem; amazingly it has only been produced once before this Shaw production this season. The first was at the New Theatre in London in 1924 by a private theatre club. What have we missed all these years! The play is set in middle-class London, with the title character, Lois Relph, an in-demand dress designer, running her own very successful business. Her husband, Eustance Gaydon, is a snake: he has wasted away the family fortune and, while their daughter is planning to be married, he manages to lose his wife's business fortune as well. So while Lois is a successful, independent businesswoman, unusual for the time, her husband is a complete loser; what we see here is the greed of one man ruining a respectable family unit. Blair Williams plays Eustace to perfection; Claire Jullien puts in a great performance as a very dignified Louis. The daughter, Monica, is played by Marla McLean and she does a very nice job. The other significant character in this play, one who has had a past with Lois, is Peter Holland, played by Patrick Galligan. Galligan is chivalrous as always, attempting to rescue another damsel in distress. Although The Stepmother is from the 1920's, it does not appear the least bit dated, and is another rare gem at this year's Shaw Festival.

An Inspector Calls (Festival Theatre to November 2nd) ***
J.B. Priestly, a contemporary of Shaw, has had a number of plays presented at the Shaw Festival over the years, and this large-scale production on the Festival stage continues the tradition. It is directed by Jim Mezon, who stepped in as director when Neil Munro was unable to continue. Mezon marshalls a strong cast in an interesting play with very understated performances. What is really fascinating is the moving stage design; it moves so imperceptively you almost don't even notice it. An Inspector Calls is about the death of a young woman, but not in the tradition of the classic whodunnit. Here, the Birling family, led by Peter Hutt as Arthur Birling, are questioned by a supposed police inspector about the death; if the saying "I am my brother's keeper" is true, this family isn't aware of it. Each denies any responsibility for the death, even though it is clear they could have helped the situation. Towards the end of the second act, the interesting turn of events will certainly leave you scratching your head: was it all real or imagined? In addition to Hutt, Mary Haney has a good turn as the wife, Sybil Birling, and Moya O'Conneli and Andrew Bunker as their two children. The real pleasure is watching Benedict Campbell as the cool and determined Inspector Goole. Quite a thought-provoking play by Priestly dating from 1944-45; definitely worth a look at Shaw this season.

A Little Night Music (Court House Theatre to October 4th) ****
As musicals go, A Little Night Music is very unmusical, if you base it on number of recognizeable songs in the score - there is only one, of course: Send In The Clowns, and that doesn't appear until the second act. But don't let that fact deter you from catching a thoroughly enjoyable musical experience in a very intimate setting. Sondheim's very dense musical writing is very clever and witty, and the cast is up to the task. They are aided in this small space by a chamber-sized orchestra that suits the venue perfectly. The cast includes Goldie Semple as the big star Desireee Armfeldt and George Masswohl as her onetime lover Fredrik Egerman. They come together again to rekindle the flames of passion in spite of the fact ol' Fredrik has a young girl as his bride now. She, however, discovers her stepson is totally infatuated with her! Ah yes, sex and morals, was it ever thus? In spite of the fact this musical is 35 years old now, it does not appear dated in the least. Good performances directed by Morris Panych make for a richly rewarding evening. Who would have thought: two lesser-performed musicals at Shaw this year and both are winners!

August 16th, 2008.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Celebrate the Tenth Anniversary of Music Niagara!

It's hard to believe it has been ten years since the Niagara International Chamber Music Festival began in Niagara-on-the-Lake, founded by Artistic Director Atis Bankas. But here it is again, entertaining audiences from all over Niagara through to August 16th. What is also hard to believe is the fact this is my first year attending the festival!

I received an invitation from Barbara Worthy, one of the organizers of the annual music festival, to attend a performance of my choice and see what all the excitement was about. I took her up on her offer, and I will be back for more! The festival brings together many musicians from all over the world to perform at various venues around Niagara, so the list to choose from is long. We chose the performance by Toronto-based Quartetto Gelato, scheduled for this past Monday evening at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, certainly one of the loveliest small churches in the area.

As is usually the case with peformances in a church, seating was general admission, and even arriving about 20 minutes before the 7:30 start was probably a bit too late. We got fairly good seats, all things considered, and even splurged on the extra cushions being offered for a small donation. I suggest if you go you do the same - those pews are hard after a two-hour concert!

The audience was certainly up for this performance and knew the group well. Several standing ovations during the performance ensured not one but two encores before the evening was done; this despite a very hot and uncomforatable environment on a summer's night. I would have hoped organizers could have opened the doors to the church during the performance to at least get a bit of a breeze going through there.

As for the music, well, it was pretty much as expected: charming, witty and very engaging music that was not the least bit challenging to listen to, but presenting plenty of challenges for the performers. Right across the board, the musicianship is first-rate: accordion player Alexander Sevastian, four-time champion in the International Accordion Competition (who knew?) was astounding, as was clarinettist Kornel Wolak. Leader of the group, violinist and singer Peter de Sotto provided engaging chatter along with breathtaking dexterity on the violin. All in all, an evening not to be missed!

There is still plenty of time to catch a performance or two or three. Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti headlines this weekend's performances; he will be in concert on Saturday evening. For complete listings on the remainder of the festival along with ticket information, log on to their website at And if a recording of one of the performers is what you're after, contact me through my website at, and I will do my very best to get it for you.

Enjoy the music in Niagara this summer!

August 7th, 2008.