Monday, July 29, 2013

News and notes on the summer theatre and music scene

As another week gets underway, I wanted to round up a few items of interest in the arts world that have crossed my desk in the past week or so.

I was at the Shaw Festival last evening for Enchanted April at the Festival Theatre, which I will be reviewing in a future column, but there was quite a bit of news from the Festival over the past week.

Last week, Shaw announced several charitable organizations will once again benefit from proceeds raised through the Festival's Town Preview Performances program.  At a cheque presentation, some of the NOTL organizations receiving support from this season's town previews of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan include NOTL Community Palliative Care, the NOTL War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee, The Gallery Players of Niagara, The Royal Canadian Legion and The Friends of Fort George, among others.

The Town Preview Performances program offers NOTL residents the opportunity to purchase discounted tickets to designated preview performances, with proceeds raised distributed to various NOTL charitable organizations who apply for funding.  Cheques range from $ 250 to $ 1,000 for each organization.  It is a nice idea and everyone wins with an arrangement like this.

Meantime, on Friday Shaw announced they are receiving funding from the Government of Canada under the Enabling Accessibility Fund to improve accessibility to Shaw Festival venues.  The cheque for $ 50,000 will allow the Festival to improve accessibility at three of the four NOTL theatres, including construction of a new entrance and installation of a lift at the Royal George Theatre.  There will also be seven automatic door openers at the Festival Theatre, Production Centre and Royal George Theatre's accessible washrooms.

The Festival Theatre has been the easiest venue to enter/exit for those with disabilities, but now the smaller theatres will be easier to access as well, particularly the small Royal George which was once the town's movie theatre before Shaw acquired it years ago.

Niagara Falls MP and Defense Minister Rob Nicholson was on hand Friday for the cheque presentation.

This news came on the heels of the Shaw Festival announcement of the playbill for the Festival Theatre next season,which will see the John Kander/Fred Ebb musical Cabaret anchor the lineup.  The popular musical, made even more famous with the film version starring Liza Minnelli in the early 70s, will be directed by Peter Hinton, who directs this season's winning production of Lady Windermere's Fan.  I can see Hinton doing quite a number on this edgy musical set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power; this is just the kind of vehicle I suspect will make headlines next season at Shaw.

Other productions at the Festival Theatre include The Philadelphia Story, the beloved romantic comedy written in 1939 by American Philip Barry and made famous with the film version starring Katherine Hepburn as socialite Tracy Lord.  The production will be directed by Dennis Garnum, Artistic Director of Theatre Calgary, which will see the production head to their venue for part of the 2014/2015 season in Calgary.

Also at the Festival Theatre, Bernard Shaw makes a welcome return to the mainstage with his 1893 comedy The Philanderer.  The show will be directed by self-described Shaw fan Lisa Peterson, a two-time Obie Award winner and a very busy freelance director.

Casting and full creative teams for these productions and the remainder of the 2014 playbill will be announced at a later date.

Meantime, in Stratford the Stratford Festival has announced their exceptional production of Mary Stuart, directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, has been extended for a third time.  Six performances in October have been added in response to a sold-out run, with new performances added on October 2 at 2 pm; October 3 at 2 pm; October 5 at 8 pm; October 9 at 2 pm; October 10 at 8 pm and October 11th at 8 pm.

Mary Stuart was written by Friedrich Schiller and adapted for this new production by Peter Owald, and features Stratford stars Seana McKenna and Lucy Peacock as Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, respectively.  I will be writing more about this show later in the week now that I have had a chance to see it earlier this month, but suffice it to say it is one of the most popular productions this season for a reason.

Finally, a few summer music notes from the myriad of summer music festivals on this month in the province.  The Stratford Summer Music season continues with a final performance by the acclaimed Vienna Boys Choir with German-Canadian Tenor Michael Schade performing tomorrow night at 7 pm at St. Andrew's Church in Stratford.  The Elora Festival has a special performance coming up this weekend with Sonic Escape:  Circle the Sea on Saturday at St. John's Church in Elora at 3 pm a trio of Juilliard graduates performing on flute, violin and cello.

Closer to home, Music Niagara continues this week with The Sunparlour Players Friday evening at Stonechurch Vineyards, and Kristin Hoff with the Lithuanian Piano Duo performing Saturday evening at St. Mark's Church.  The big event on the weekend is Quartetto Gelato at Jackson-Triggs winery on August 4th.  For more information, go to my website at or

Enjoy some great theatre and music this week!

July 29th, 2013.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Two great shows at Shaw Festival this season

Two of the best offerings at the Shaw Festival this season are very stylish period-pieces the Festival specializes in, and in both cases they have produced absolute winners.  Let's take a look at W. Somerset Maugham's Our Betters and Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan.

Our Betters essentially brings to life on the Royal George stage the type of upper-class English society people are enjoying on PBS with Downton Abbey.  It is privileged, mannered and oh so very 1% of society.

But the upper class is only one-half of the equation here, as we quickly discover as the first act unfolds. Here are all these turn-of-the-last-century American women all getting close and personal with male members of the British aristocracy.  Why?  Well, the ladies seek titles and prestige not available at home and the men who marry them seek a fresh infusion of cash these heiresses bring with them in order to prop up their lavish lifestyles, replete with large homes with lots of upkeep.

Sounds like a grand arrangement, doesn't it?  What's love got to do with it, as Tina Turner once warbled.  Well, maybe there is some love involved here, but really, it's all about "show me the money, honey."  After all, when the ladies discuss living on about 8,ooo pounds a year, in today's terms they are talking about living on over 300-thousand pounds a year.  Can they manage on that?  Ah, there's the rub...

Much of this type of thing transpired between about 1874 and 1914, prior to the First World War that shattered this peaceful, idyllic life for so many.  Maugham wrote the play in 1915 and it was first produced in 1917 in North America, by which time most well-to-do young American women were choosing instead to stay home and marry the boy in the mansion next door.  Whether love was even involved then is open to conjecture, I suppose, but at least they married closer to home at that point.

Our Betters is a premiere at Shaw, following successful productions of Maugham's The Constant Wife and The Circle.  His plays fit this company like the proverbial glove, due in no small part to an ensemble totally immersed in the life and times of the 1% of the period.  Standout performances are provided by Claire Jullien as Lady (Pearl) Grayston, who refers to her absent husband with scorn, and Laurie Paton as Minnie, the Duchesse de Surennes, whose husband is of course a Frenchman.

Other cast members worth noting are Neil Barclay as Thornton Clay, Lorne Kennedy as Arthur Fenwick and Julie Course as Elizabeth (Bessie) Saunders, on the prowl in London to marry a lord herself.

The sets and costumes are breathtaking, with Ken McDonald's set especially elegant on the small Royal George stage.  The entire production is directed with a sure hand by Morris Panych.  There is not much of anything out of place in this elegant production.

Our Betters continues at the Royal George until October 27th, and rates a very strong 3 out of 4 stars.

Over on the larger Festival Theatre stage, one of the most-anticipated productions this season has been Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, A Play about a Good Woman.  It continues until October 19th.

Lady Windermere's Fan is directed by Peter Hinton, whose productions over the past few seasons at the Stratford Festival have met with mixed results, I find.  Occasionally he produces a miss or near-miss, but more often than not he challenges the audience with a riveting theatrical experience; with this production of Lady Windermere's Fan he hits the bullseye.  It has style, substance, great acting and superb direction.

This is not the first time Lady Windermere has been performed at Shaw; the last production was a very respectable effort dating back to 1998.  Here, though, director Hinton throws all preconceived notions of the play out the window and totally refocuses our attention on a play with much to say even in this day and age, with lots of wit along the way.

The unconventional staging Hinton utilizes here is to essentially divide up the stage into smaller, more manageable portions if you will.  Rather than fill the entire stage with a set for each scene, he uses only part of the stage for each particular scene, allowing the rest of the large space to remain dark behind the curtain until the next scene comes up when another part of the stage is seamlessly unveiled.  It takes some getting used to, but it really works quite nicely.

The music follows the unconventional approach as well, as much of it is very contemporary and relevant to today's audiences, with the final curtain call to the music of Katie Parry.  Again, not slavishly adhering to the past, yet moving the play forward and making it relevant to a modern audience.

Lady Windermere is played by young Shaw actress Marla McLean, who has been going from strength to strength the last few seasons at the Festival.  She makes a beguiling Lady Windemere, making it easy to see why both Lord Windermere and eventually Lord Darlington would be so attracted to her.  She is simply captivating.  As Lord Windermere, Martin Happer is dapper and handsome, but I don't see a lot of magic between the two.  That is reserved for Lady Windermere and her erstwhile suitor, Lord Darlington, a young stud played with great bravado by Gray Powell.  There are sparks here, but proper appearances must prevail in Wilde's world of Victorian-era London, so Lady Windermere ultimately does not get her other man.

The crux of the problem that develops between the Windermeres is, of course, the dynamic and somewhat mysterious Mrs. Erlynne, a Mrs. only in name it seems, who receives a considerable amount of cash from Lord Windermere in order to keep up appearances.  Lady Windermere catches wind of the  transactions courtesy a third party, and that is when the Victorian you-know-what hits Lady Windermere's fan.

Yet, Mrs. Erlynne, played with great style and stage presence by Tara Rosling, seeks to save Lady Windermere from public shame by being found in Lord Darlington's quarters, tempted to steal away from her husband with him over the perceived scandal Lord Windermere finds himself in.  Rosling is about as sexy a Victorian woman as you are likely to see, and really makes the entire show take off.

The supporting cast includes Guy Bannerman as the proper Parker, the butler; Corrine Koslo as the Duchess of Berwick, and Donna Belleville as Lady Jedburgh.  Jim Mezon is superb as Lord Augustus Lorton, and Kyle Blair as Mr. Cecil Graham clearly channels his inner Oscar Wilde.

Hinton's direction is aided mightily by Teresa Przybylski's expansive sets and William Schmuck's elegant costumes.  Just as Wilde's original production was witty, sensational and totally crowd-pleasing, so to this new Shaw production directed by Peter Hinton carries on the tradition for a modern audience.

Lady Windermere's Fan continues at the Festival Theatre until October 19th and rates an exceptional 4 out of 4 stars.

July 25th, 2013.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Thoughts on the weekend in Elora, Guelph and remembering Peter Appleyard

Every year Sophie and I look forward to visiting the Elora Festival, on now until August 4th, and this year's pilgrimage was this weekend.  We chose not to stay over this year as our favourite B&B was unavailable this weekend, so we left immediately following the concert and made a late-evening stop in downtown Guelph to eat and see the city.  In both cases we were pleasantly surprised!

The concert we chose to attend at Elora this year was the Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble at the Gambrel Barn.  Jorge was born and raised in Toronto but his family heritage harkens back to his native Spain.  In fact his sister was born in Spain; he at St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto.  Even though he is from Toronto, true Spanish blood is certainly coursing through his veins.  He presented nicely updated renditions of the flamenco musical tradition, complete with percussive effects, vocals and of course, exotic flamenco dancing too.  The entire package was thoroughly enjoyable and I wouldn't mind seeing Brock Centre for the Arts snagging him and his troupe for a date down this way some season.

The concert was a little short, actually, starting at 7:30 and we were in our cars heading out about 9:15. That included an intermission, by the way.  I actually didn't mind that as I was quite tired from the day and a fairly early exit was actually good for us with the long drive ahead of us.  What did disappoint me was the small crowd - far less than half full at the good-sized Gambrel Barn.  Those who were there really got into the music, but I wonder if maybe the more conservative concert-goers just dismissed the concert as unnecessary in favour of a more traditional concert during the festival.  Granted, they can't fill the house every night when you are holding a three-week festival, but the small crowd last evening must have been disappointing for the Festival staff.

The Elora Festival is certainly one of Ontario's premiere music festivals, and they continue this week with the two-piano team of Anagnoson & Kinton on July 25th; a performance of Orff's Carmina Burana July 26th and Steven Page, formerly of The Barenaked Ladies on July 27th.  More concerts are scheduled as well, so you can check out the complete listings on the Calendar page of my website at, or go to, or by calling 1-519-846-0331/1-888-747-7550.

As we headed into Guelph after leaving Elora, we decided to check out the downtown scene on a Saturday night, and were pleasantly surprised to find downtown Guelph is still a vibrant, well-populated happening kind of place.  It has long been one of my favourite cities to visit, especially on a Saturday morning for their exceptional farmer's market.  Years ago I spent every Saturday in Guelph for several months running a music store for my old friend Paul Gellatly on Carden Street before it closed several years ago.  Carden Street between then and now has undergone a tremendous transformation, with a total revamp of the streetscape, new eateries lining the street and in front of the City Hall complex a wading pool that had more than a few visitors when we arrived about 10 pm.  In the winter it is a downtown skating rink, which I am sure is very popular as well.  Note to St. Catharines downtown boosters:  check out this section of downtown Guelph to see just what can be done with a downtown core as we mull over the idea of closing James Street and maybe even putting a public rink in a new civic square here.

You have got to love a downtown that includes a pub called Frank & Steins, by the way, but there is lots more to see and enjoy in Guelph, so Sophie and I decided on the spot we have to go back and spend a weekend there to explore even more.  But no working in a music store that weekend, if you could even find one these days.

When we were in Elora I couldn't help but think of the jazz legend Peter Appleyard, who made his last Elora appearance last summer and unfortunately I was not there to enjoy it.  Peter lived just outside of Guelph and was a regular performer in the area as well as down here in Niagara, where he performed often for the annual Willowbank fundraiser down in Queenston.  In fact, I remember emceeing the first Willowbank fundraiser about 10 years ago with headliner Peter and his friends performing along with local pianist John Sherwood and a host of other great jazz musicians.

Peter passed away this week at the age of 84 and I was very much saddened to hear the news.  He always seemed so young while performing and just never slowed down.  He lived life to the fullest and knew how to make every concert a special event for those in attendance.  His great outlook on life no doubt served him well over the years and it seemed to rub off on those around him while they were performing.  Imagine touring, playing regularly and making recordings into your 80s.  Just amazing.

I met Peter a few times since that Willowbank concert years ago and we did a wonderful interview years ago where he reminisced about his early years in the music business in his native England, and what brought him to our Country in 1951.  I am looking around for that last interview I did with him so I can replay it and maybe even post it for others to hear, too.

Peter played with all the greats, with Benny Goodman in fact asking him to join his sextet and tour the globe with him back in 1972.  That was probably the turning point in Peter's storied career, but not the only highlight.  Pretty much everything he did musically made people sit up and take notice.

I found it odd, though, our national newspaper The Globe & Mail only gave a quarter-page obit for Peter on Friday.  He was, as one music fan noted, as big a jazz musician as fellow Canadian Oscar Peterson was, yet his passing is not getting anywhere near the coverage Oscar received when he passed away a few years ago.  It's a shame, really, as he was certainly one of the best jazz musicians in the world let alone in Canada.

Recordings by Peter Appleyard remain few and far between, unfortunately.  He recorded frequently in his peak years for many labels including Concord Jazz, but those are all long out-of-print.  He made a lot of recordings for the old Canadian Talent Library for radio station airplay, most of which were okay but not exceptional, although he did do a lovely version of Midnight Sun back in the 60s on one of those I still have in my LP collection today.  Later recordings were all issued privately by Peter, usually only available at his concerts.  I always tried to get some of those to sell through my website, but we never seemed to get around to it.  Oh well...

Anyway, Peter was a force of nature, a great Canadian with more enthusiasm than just about any other 84-year-old I've ever had the honour of knowing.  We won't see his like again, and he certainly will be missed.

Thanks for the memories, Peter!

July 21st, 2013.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A hit and a miss at this year's Stratford Festival

My mid-week blog is a day late this week thanks to the brutal weather we have been experiencing, so my apologies off the top for that.  Without air conditioning, my office is over 90F right now, which somehow sounds worse on the old scale.  So before I melt, let's take a look at a couple more shows at the Stratford Festival this season.

One of the two big musicals at Stratford this season is Fiddler on the Roof, with book by Joseph Stein, inspired by a collection of short stories by Sholem Aleichem, and featuring music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.  It plays at the Festival Theatre until October 20th.

While I personally thought the other musical this season, The Who's Tommy was a bit of a disappointment for me at least, due in no small part to the over-reliance on special effects to wow the audience, Fiddler wows them the old-fashioned way:  with great music and a story with lots of depth to it.  Where Tommy is a theatrical tour-de-force helping to usher in a new era of mega-musicals with a more contemporary slant, Fiddler on the Roof harkens back to the golden age of melodic musicals that were, sadly, slowly in decline not long after this show debuted in 1964.

Donna Feore is the director and choreographer for this new iteration of Fiddler, and although I have found her to be rather hit and miss at times, this time she hits the bullseye in a big way, with lots of exhuberant dancing, singing and all-round music-making.  The young cast, many of whom also appear in Tommy, literally fill the Festival Theatre stage with a high-energy show of a different sort.

The set and costume design, by Allen Moyer and Dana Osborne respectively, remain true to the original idea of the show, with the opening scene depicting a fiddler on the roof rather cleverly done with the use of small houses on which a full-size female fiddler (Anna Atkinson) performs the familiar opening musical sequence.

The cast is headed up by dependable workhorse Scott Wentworth as Tevye, who along with his wife Golde, played by Kate Hennig, deal with the challenges of a new world order as far as marrying off their daughters is concerned.  Wentworth and Hennig earn our respect and appreciation for excellent performances in a top-notch ensemble.  In fact, the only weak point I could see from my vantage point was the fact some of their daughters seemed a little bland, but perhaps it just seems so when next to the commanding presence of Wentworth and Hennig.

Elsewhere in the cast, good performances are also offered by Andre Morin as Motel, the tailor; Steve Ross as Lazar Wolf and Barbara Fulton as Grandma Tzeitel.  Special mention goes out to Niagara's own Lee Siegel, who shows he can command the stage in his own right with a commanding performance as the "To Life" Tenor.

Feore instills a great deal of heart into this production, making it one of the better musicals I've seen at Stratford over the years.  Better than Tommy?  No, not really; just different.  Both are excellent in their own right; it is just as a traditionalist I find this has more depth of character to it than Tommy does.  You may feel differently, of course, but I'm an old fuddy-duddy and I readily admit it!

Fiddler on the Roof rates a very strong 4 out of 4 stars and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 20th.

From the hit to the miss at Stratford this season, Peter Raby's adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Three Muskateers.  This is the so-called family show this season, and true to form lots of children were in attendance a couple of weeks ago when I attended a performance at the Festival Theatre.  Directed by Miles Potter, the show has its moments as great family entertainment, but overall it comes off rather flat, I found.  I remember the last production of this show by former Stratford Artistic Director  Richard Monette, I believe, over ten years ago was the benchmark production.

It's not that this is really a bad show, per se, but it does suffer in comparison to the last production of Raby's musical at Stratford.  It just seems so long and drawn out, I can't imagine all the kids in the audience this season staying focused on the show for the better part of three hours.  When you think about it, attention spans have been greatly affected in the last few years due to technology that simply didn't  exist barely a decade earlier.

The other aspect of the show I find surprising in this day and age is a refreshing lack of too many computer-generated special effects.  What's there works fine and that seems more than enough, really.  That being said, the show suffers somewhat as being nice, but not particularly exceptional.

The opening scene promises more than the show ultimately delivers, with Luke Humprey's D'Artagnan in a flashy sword fight with the elder D'Artagnan, played by Stratford stalwart Wayne Best.  But when they finish, we find ourselves wanting for almost three hours.

As for the cast, Luke Humphrey is a likeable D'Artagnan, the young man determined to crack the lineup as it were and join the other "Three Inseparables", played by Jonathan Goad, Mike Shara and Graham Abbey.  Goad and Abbey are still heartthrobs to many a young woman; Shara seems a bit restrained as he follows his religious beliefs in the second act.

One of the standout performances comes from always reliable Steven Sutcliffe as Cardinal Richelieu, certainly a powerful figure in the outcome of the action.  Also good is Keith Dinicol as Louis XIII, the King of France, and Deborah Hay as the Cardinal's agent, Milady de Winter.

As mentioned, this Three Musketeers, while having many points of merit, pales in comparison to earlier productions at Stratford, and just seems to be a fair-to-middling show this season.  It rates 2 out of 4 stars and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 19th.

Enjoy the theatre!

July 18th, 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Two great shows at the Shaw Festival this season

Last weekend I spent Saturday at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake catching a couple of shows, both of which tie in with the Salvation Army in different ways, and both of which entertain from different perspectives.

Before I get to my ramblings on both shows, I wanted to mention the fact the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is running a daily bus service between the Niagara College campus and the Community Centre just on the edge of town, near the new library.  From there you connect with another bus that takes you to several stops in the heart of the Old Town.  I had reason to use the service last weekend when my wife decided she needed the car at the last minute.  Rather than argue the point, I have long since subscribed to the simple response "Yes, dear" and make alternative arrangements.  This involved having her drop me off at Niagara College on her way out and I caught the 12:15 bus into town.  It is only $ 3.00 each way and very efficient, but sadly is grossly underused.  If you need a way to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake sometime without your own wheels, this might just be the ticket.  I found my neighbour also at one of the evening shows so I was able to hitch a ride home with her, since the bus service ends after 6 pm.

Now on to the shows.  In the afternoon I caught the big musical this year at the Festival Theatre, Frank Loesser's classic Guys and Dolls, directed by Tadeausz Bradecki.  The show is based, of course, on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, with "Runyonesque" dialogue running throughout the show.  It is a portrait of New York City as it once was circa 1950 with floating crap games, gangsters seemingly everywhere and apparently, lots of fun being had by all.  Well, maybe not that last part, but that's  what we're led to believe.  Now, New York City is still big and bustling, but the vibe is different with a lot of the Runyon characters nowhere to be seen from what I have noticed when I have been there.

Anyway, this is one of the better Shaw musicals in recent memory, due in no small part to Bradecki's sure direction and a great cast that works well together.  Their music provided by Paul Sportelli and the band in the pit and the choreography of Parker Esse suit the show well, too. The sets and costumes by Peter Hartwell and Sue LePage respectively are great; the sets especially don't overpower the production and everything works with precision on stage.

One thing I did notice missing from the show, being a musical after all, is the presence of Neil Barclay in the cast.  I could see him so much in this show, but his considerable talents are used elsewhere this season at Shaw.

The cast we have includes Thom Allison as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a smaller part than his lead role in last season's musical Ragtime, but he does manage to bring down the house in the second act with Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat.  Also stellar work comes from Elodie Gillett as Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army worker roped into a trip to Cuba with gangster Sky Masterson, played by Kyle Blair, in order to win a bet with Nathan Detroit.  Of course, she eventually becomes Sky's love interest and that leads to all sorts of complications in the second act.

As Detroit, Shawn Wright is very good, balancing his gangster proclivities with his ongoing love affair with Miss Adelaide, played by Jenny L. Wright.  Jenny always finds great comedic value in these roles and her chemistry with Shawn (no relation, by the way) is genuine.  The other performance of note I found was Peter Millard as the father-figure to Sarah, Arvide Abernathy; he actually has a not bad singing voice in this production.

Guys and Dolls is not the best musical Shaw has staged but it is right up there with some of the best, and it will no doubt pack them in all season long.  The Shaw Festival is so sure of that they have already extended the run until November 3rd.  It rates a strong 3 out of 4 stars at the Festival Theatre.

There has been no Shaw play on the larger Festival Theatre stage for a couple of seasons now, and some are lamenting that fact.  The sad reality is the festival's namesake doesn't pack them in like he used to, so now we see his plays at the other two smaller theatres and this season, that seems just about right.  Major Barbara, one of Shaw's earlier plays, dates from 1905 and has remained one of his most popular.  So much so the Shaw Festival has revived it no less than six times now, and I have seen about four of them at Shaw.

Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell directs this production at the Royal George Theatre and she has managed to make this production seem larger than it actually is.  Credit also goes to designer Judith Bowden, using every inch of the small Royal George stage for this production.

The problem with Shaw plays of course, no matter when they were written, is the fact they are so wordy you really have to commit yourself to following the dialogue or else you'll miss so much.  It is wordy, yes, and long and tiresome at times, but Maxwell and her first-rate cast find a lot of humour in the play that really helps to make the long sit not seem quite so...well long.

The music chosen for the show is original music designed by John Gzowski and it adds another unusual yet strangely appropriate dimension to the show.  It is gritty and rather industrial-sounding at times, as befits a play about an ardent capitalist and his munitions-making factory.

As for the casting, I quite like the rather understated approach of Benedict Campbell as patriarch Andrew Undershaft, pitted against the intellectual yet neophyte industrialist Graeme Somerville as Adolphus Cusins, in love with Undershaft's daughter Barbara, played by Nicole Underhay.  Barbara is a Major with the Salvation Army and has her beliefs in the organization shaken to the core in the show, ultimately leaving the Army and making a new life for herself and Adolphus.

As Cusins, Somerville is quite good, as is Laurie Paton as Lady Britomart Undershaft, Andrew's wife and stickler for detail.  Also worthy of mention in this production are Peter Krantz as Peter Shirley, the down-and-out lost soul who shows up at the Army offices for help, and Jenny L, Wright as Mrs. Baines.  But it is Underhay and Campbell, playing the father and daughter long at odds with each other, that really make this production fly.

Major Barbara runs at the Royal George Theatre until October 19th and rates a strong 3 out of 4 stars.

Enjoy the theatre!

July 14th, 2013.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer Music Festivals underway in Ontario this month

Well, my apologies for not writing in this space over the weekend but I was knee deep in shows the past week at both Stratford and Shaw, reviews of which will be coming shortly on my blog.  Both festivals have some great theatre to offer this season, and I will be reporting on them over the next couple of months in this space.  As a result of all the summer activity coming up, we'll once again be writing twice-weekly for the balance of the summer in order to keep on top of things happening in Niagara and beyond.

This column will round up the myriad of summer music festivals available either in our own backyard or within driving distance of Niagara.  I won't be covering them all in this space, but events listings can always be found on the calendar page of my website at  It will be updated again shortly with the latest information once I get some technical issues cleared up this week.  In the meantime, here are some of the festivals you might want to check out this summer:

Our home-grown music festival kicks off their 15th season this Friday, July 12th with an opening concert titled Anuna at St. Mark's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  All the performances are at venues in and around the Old Town, at St. Mark's, The Epicurean, Simcoe Park Bandshell, Jackson-Triggs Amphitheatre and several other locations.  This is the premiere summer music festival in Niagara and always worth a visit, with musical performances ranging from jazz pianists Dick Hyman and John Sherwood to the Elora Festival Singers and the New Orford String Quartet and New Zealand String Quartet.  If you plan to attend any of the performances, call the box office at 905-468-2172 or go to for more information.  All performances are also listed on my website, by the way, at

Just over the river in lovely Lewiston, New York, in the shadow of the much more familiar Artpark summer music festival (details of which are on my website now), the Lewiston Council of the Arts presents their own music and events festival, ranging from Chainsaw Art at Olde Sanborn Days this coming weekend to the ongoing Blue Monday concerts at the Hennepin Park Gazebo.  Also at the Hennepin Park Gazebo this coming Friday evening the ever-popular Summer of '69 concert takes place, with special guest, Grammy Award winner Gary Baker joining the gang.  The annual Lewiston Art Festival also comes up August 10th and 11th all along Center Street in Lewiston.  Many events are free, by the way, and even the ones with an admission charge are very reasonably priced.  For more information and tickets if needed, call 1-716-754-0166 or go to

Back on this side of the border and just down the QEW from Niagara is the 26th annual Brott Music Festival, hosted by that Canadian icon of classical music promoting, Maestro Boris Brott.  The festival is already underway at several venues in and around Hamilton, and runs to August 15th.  Some of the July highlights include Hot Jazz with Michael Kaeshammer this Friday and Saturday and St. John's Anglican Church; Tango Terrifico and Best Bolero July 18th; Shall We Dance? - Tchaikovsky Favourites July 25th and Last Night at the Proms Meets Gilbert & Sullivan July 27th, all at the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre at Mohawk College.  Lots more coming in August, too, so for more information and tickets call the box office at 905-525-SONG or 1-888-475-9377 or go to

The 2013 season for one of my favourite summer music festivals, the Elora Festival, kicks off this Friday at the Gambrel Barn just outside of town with an Opening Night Gala featuring Verdi's Requiem to celebrate Verdi's 200th anniversary.  The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joins the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra with Noel Edison conducting for the opening night concert; also featured over the three-week festival are performances by the New Zealand String Quartet, Leahy, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Moscow String Quartet and the Jorge Miguel Flamenco Ensemble among others.  Some of the performances are in the intimate setting of St. John's Church and others at the much larger Gambrel Barn, which in the wintertime hosts all the town's snow-clearing equipment.  But the acoustics are great, so it is a wonderful venue for a summer concert.  If you go, make a point of joining the congregation at St. John's Church for the Sunday morning service, which features glorious music with the Elora Festival Singers.  It is always a highlight of my visit to Elora!  For tickets and more information, call 519-846-0331 or 1-888-747-7550 or log on to

This is the 13th season for the popular Stratford Summer Music Festival, which kicks off with an Opening Night Gala featuring The Grand Illumination to Music for a Midsummer's Night on Monday, July 15th.  This is one of the busiest music festivals anywhere, with six full weeks worth of music and entertainment at several venues in the city of Stratford, another of my favourite summertime escapes.  Looking over the list of events, there are far too many to list here, but they will be up soon on the calendar page on my website at  Included are performances by the likes of the Vienna Boys Choir, young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, Tafelmusik and the Creole Choir of Cuba.  Also featured are musical brunch concerts, coffee concerts and even something called Bicycle Opera throughout the Festival!  This is really an adventurous music festival, so to find out more call the box office for tickets and information at 519-271-2101 or 1-866-288-4313, or log on to  The Festival runs to August 25th, by the way.

This is one festival I have always wanted to go to but somehow the time just has not allowed me to.  It runs from July 18th to August 11th in Parry Sound, Ontario, as you head through lovely Muskoka country.  My far better half and I were up in Huntsville a couple of weeks ago and the brochure was already available for this season, so I was able to catch up on what's to come this season and soon include the information on the calendar page of my website at  There will be an Opera Gala celebrating Verdi's 200th birthday on Saturday, July 20th, as well as a Giants of the Saxophone tribute concert August 3rd and one concert August 10th intriguingly tiltled The Orford Six: Masterpieces performed on six pianos, 528 keys, by 12 hands and 60 fingers!  Other performances include the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Hannaford Street Silver Band and the two-piano team of Anagnosan and Kinton.  Performances are at the Charles W. Stockey Centre in Parry Sound on beautiful Georgian Bay.  For tickets and more information, call 705-746-2410 or 1-866-364-0061 or go to

Enjoy some summer music!

July 10th, 2013.