Saturday, March 5, 2016

News and notes in the arts around Niagara this weekend

There are a few things on my plate at the moment I've collected in this weekend's potpourri of arts news and events, ranging from community theatre and theatre criticism to a master class coming up on Monday in St. Catharines.

First off, a tip of the collective hat to a group of volunteers who year in and year out continue to produce some great community theatre in Niagara.  I finally had a chance to attend a performance of the latest show by the Firehall Theatre in Niagara Falls last night, and I was very impressed.

Firehall is the region's only community theatre with a full season of plays and musicals.  They have their own rehearsal space and performance space available year-round, the former Niagara Falls firehouse on Walnut Street retired in 1967.  They are all volunteers, doing the job because they love live, local theatre.

The theatre group actually started as the Niagara Falls Music Theatre Society back in 1963, and they have continued to grow ever since.  But as you can imagine it is no easy task, and they depend heavily on ticket sales to keep the lights on and the actors on stage.  The formula seems to be working, as they have a devoted audience base to show for it.

The final weekend of the current show, Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, wraps up tonight with an 8 pm performance that I believe is almost sold out.  You can go online to to check seat availability and book online if you want to catch the final performance tonight.

Lend Me a Tenor premiered in 1985 and is set in a Cleveland hotel room during one hectic day in 1934.  It is a farce in the classic sense, although I found it not quite as harried as some British farces I've seen over the years, such as One For The Pot.

That being said, there is a lot to recommend this production of Lend Me a Tenor.  First off, the set is amazing for a community theatre production.  It looks elegant, solid and perfectly suits the era in which the play is based.

Director John Dickhout and his team have kept the pace moving and ensured the timing is bang on with this show.

The action centres around bombastic Saunders, an erstwhile theatre impresario in Cleveland who has landed the foremost opera star of the day to star in a single performance of Verdi's opera Othello, one of his signature roles.  The opera star is late arriving; Saunders is doing a slow boil waiting for the big moment to arrive, and he entrusts young, aspiring singer Max to supervise in his place when he has to attend to other business.

Wouldn't you know it, the opera star is unable to appear that night due to unforeseen circumstances, but both Max and Saunders have a plan...

Can't give anything more away than that, but suffice it to say there is plenty of farce-requisite door-slamming, mistaken identities and general shenanigans allowing the action to veer almost out of control.

The actors, all volunteers also, clearly love what they do.  Although not professionals in the true sense of the word, they take their jobs seriously enough that standout performances abound in this production.  Of particular note are Jerome Black as Max, Jim Kitchen as Saunders (love that name!) and Kieran O'Callaghan as the bellhop.  Also worthy of mention are Paul Lewis as the opera star Tito Merelli, Chelsea Di Franco as his hot-blooded wife Maria, and Nikki Morrison as Max's love-interest Maggie.

If you can get a ticket tonight and don't have plans already, why not catch the final show and see what great local community-based theatre is up to?  You will be entertained and not disappointed for sure!

In other news, I was very pleased to receive word on Friday Brock University Professor Karen Fricker has landed a plum role for herself:  the role of theatre critic for Canada's largest, most-read daily, The Toronto Star.

Karen is an assistant professor in Brock's Department of Dramatic Arts at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, and has been instrumental in educating her students in the fine art and difficult task of objective theatrical criticism.  She founded the blog in 2013 in order to publish critiques her students write and edit.

Fricker returns to the the theatre beat, actually, as she has 25 years of experience as a theatre critic for The Guardian and Variety, and was also founding editor-in-chief of Irish Theatre Magazine that operated from 1998 to 2014.

I first met Karen a couple of years ago when I was doing my weekly interview show Inquisitive Minds on the Brock radio station, CFBU-FM.  I regularly interviewed Brock professors about their research and other related stories, and Karen was busy that February organizing a panel discussion at Brock on theatre criticism.  She joined me in the studio to talk about the profession as well as the public forum that ran an entire weekend up at Brock.

There was no shortage of panelists over the course of the weekend, each one having an interesting take on the often-criticized role of theatre critic.  I spent part of the weekend in the audience myself, and found the discussions both enlightening and stimulating.

In an odd twist of fate, my new career as an on-call letter carrier for Canada Post meant I have often delivered mail on the route that includes Karen's home here in St. Catharines!

In addition to continuing her duties at Brock, she will begin her new duties at The Star later this month.

Good luck, Karen, and break a leg!

Finally, a musical note to end things this week.  The Department of Music at Brock and the Niagara Symphony Orchestra are presenting a master class with pianist Stewart Goodyear this coming Monday evening from 7 to 9 pm.  The event will take place in the Cairns Recital Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines.

Goodyear, Artist-in-Residence this season with the NSO, is a pianist who has achieved a great amount of acclaim in his career thus far.  His work with the NSO this season has included the kickoff Beethoven Marathon in which he performed all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos over the course of a weekend last fall.  He also performed his piano version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet score at the PAC in December; that particular work featuring Goodyear is now available on CD, and available through

On Monday, students in the piano program at Brock will play for Mr. Goodyear, and benefit from his direct commentary on their work.  Covering interpretation, technique and score study, the class is open to all Brock music students, although only a chosen few will play for him.

The public is also invited to attend and observe from the audience, free of charge.  However, tickets are required for the event, so contact the PAC box office at 905-688-0722 to reserve yours for Monday night.

Have a great weekend!

Much 5th, 2016.