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Live Theatre in Toronto

Benc7

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The Normal Heart- Studio 180-Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

I know I’m watching a terrific play when I forget I'm watching a play. That's a rare occurrence, and Studio 180's production of "The Normal Heart", Larry Kramer's 1985 autobiographical take on the early years of the AIDS epidemic New York, is one of those rare occurrences. “Theatre in the square†(the floor is the stage, surrounded on all sides by the audience), gives no room to hide; every nuance is exposed, every movement visible. From the get go, I was drawn into the lives of these men, their utter disbelief at the what was happening, how it was being allowed to happen, how reticent many gay men were to question the sexual liberation that had been the earmark of the gay movement. Jonathan Wilson (who I loved in his one-man show “My Own Private Oshawaâ€) takes on the Larry Kramer character, named Ned Weeks. Rage, anger, loneliness; he’s man who shouts when others whisper. He takes no prisoners in his mission, a loud, obnoxious voice in a wilderness of apathy and downright hatred. Jonathan Wilson convinced me he was that man, a man I was happy to let take charge, and just as happy I didn’t know personally. It was a riveting performance, supported by a terrific cast. Congratulations to Studio 180, and to Larry Kramer, who has never shut up.

two hours, 30 minutes. Two acts, one intermission.
http://www.buddiesinbadtimes.com/show.cfm?id=772
 

Tewder

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I was hoping the Buddies production would be good. The recent Broadway revival was tempting me but unfortunatley I had to miss it.
 

PinkLucy

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I saw Chess last night. I thought that the components -- the performances, the vocals, the choreography, the costumes, the eye candy :) -- were all superb, but it just didn't all come together. The love story was less than compelling, and the characters were neither all that interesting nor likeable.

Quite a few people around us left at intermission. I also heard people commenting that it was difficult to get some of the nuances because much of the story is told through the lyrics, and they couldn't always understand them (I agree). Despite some very strong vocal performances, there wasn't a song that got stuck in my head as is usually the case after a musical.

I'm glad I saw it, and I enjoyed it for many reasons, but I was disappointed in the sum of the parts.
 

Tewder

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I agree, I just don't understand the hype over this from a certain reviewer. If we look beyond the voices (we could cast voices equally good or better in Toronto or New York) and accept the material for what it's worth we have to look at the production /vision which I found to be extremely dated. It pulled its punches in almost every direction: if you're going to be campy be Campy, if you're going to be provocative then push the envelope! All of this was incomprehensible amateurish schlock that did test the resilience of one's backside, no matter how ardent a fan of musical theatre one might be! At the end of the day I still remain unconvinced about Chess, and I guess there's a reason it seems to work better in concert or as a concept.
 

Benc7

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Another Africa-Volcano Theatre-Canadian Stage

I agree with Tewder and Pink Lucy: Chess was less than the sum of its parts.

Another Africa", that debuted at Luminato as part of “The Africa Trilogy", has too many parts, all thrown on the stage at once.

There are two plays: "Shine Your Eye", is about Becka, a young computer programmer in Lagos, the daughter of an assassinated political hero. Ever wonder where that spam mail, offering you multi-million dollar fortunes in exchange for banking information comes from? Becka can tell you.

The second play, "Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God" has two couples, medical professionals gather for a wine-soaked dinner. One couple has just returned from six years’ service in Africa. The other stayed home, made money, bought a house, had a child. Discuss.

The actors are terrific in both plays, especially in "Peggy Picket". But they have to deal with the conceits of the writers and directors. The especially aggravating conceit in "Peggy" has characters stepping out of a freeze-frame, talking about what is happening, or what will happen, then stepping back into scene, rewinding five seconds, and repeating what we just saw. It destroys the dramatic tension, which is considerable. It makes us aware we're watching a play, and frankly, it’s amateur. I’m suspicious of expository monologues: they’re easy ways to dump information on the audience that should be woven into the work. Both plays have good, powerful stories; why not trust the actors to tell them?

It’s too bad: good acting, and parts of two good plays.

Two hours, thirty minutes-Two act, one intermission
https://www.canadianstage.com/Onlin...ticle_id=3412C857-2EB2-49EB-B30E-F4D797CCF6EE
 

Benc7

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White Biting Dog-Soulpepper Theatre

Last night was the final performance of Soulpepper's production of "White Biting Dog" Judith Thompson's 1984 Governor General's award wining play.

"Cape Race, a desperate lawyer, is prevented from committing suicide by a small white dog as he stands atop the Bloor Street Viaduct: Cape's mission, the dog says, is to save his father's life. Soon, Cape is serendipitously joined by Pony, a girl singing about a long-dead dog that fits the description of the white dog on the bridge. Together, Cape and Pony attempt to restore the family life that Cape's father, Glidden, has lost, to fulfill the dog's command...Cape clings to the vision of the white dog, channeled by Pony, which drives his quest to reunite the dying Glidden with his estranged wife, Lomia."

I'd never seen this play; I was intrigued by Cape's (Mike Ross) description of what it's like to live without feeling ANYTHING. Intrigued more by the arrival of his mother, her young boyfriend in tow, who also confesses she feels nothing. She and her son have a lot in common. I looked forward to an examination of these "sociopaths" . What I got was a mess of stuff, particularly in the second act. Cape seduces Pony, a young woman who had the misfortune of passing by the wrong house at the wrong time. He believes she's the conduit between the white dog and his conviction that he must reunite his mother and father; by saving his dad, he's saves himself from a final encore appearance at the bridge. Excess ensues. Cape seduces his mother's boyfriend, lies to both parents, drives Pony to the edge and beyond. Just when you think you've seen it all, more is piled on, including at least three endings. I loved the cast; Fiona Ried was spot-on. But, sweet Mary, the play was too much of everything, and not enough of what counts.
 

canmark

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Last night was the final performance of Soulpepper's production of "White Biting Dog" Judith Thompson's 1984 Governor General's award wining play.
* * *
But, sweet Mary, the play was too much of everything, and not enough of what counts.

I thought that play was a mess. Despite being "award winning," I thought it played out like something written by a theatre student: full of every "arty" dramatic cliche imaginable.

Soulpepper's Ghosts was much better, although not entirely satisfying. Beautifully designed (lush, yet gloomy sets, costumes, lighting) and full of Nordic reserve, Ghosts shows us a world where society's moral codes repress natural energy and desire--not to mention common sense and personal enlightenment. But, of course, these things have a way of coming out. Sordid family secrets are revealed (STDs, baby daddys, secret love involving the clergy) like an episode of Oprah (or Jerry Springer!) and I wish these scenes had been overacted and revealed the zest and passion that the characters cannot repress.

Studio 180 Theatre's stirring production of The Normal Heart, however, puts all the passion front and centre. Playing out like a documentary about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City, Larry Kramer's searing 1985 play is effectively staged in the round (rectangle, to be more precise). The play is well-paced, well acted, and provides some delightfully moving and scathing speeches by Ned Weeks (Kramer's stand-in character) and some of the other characters that are insightful, persuasive, intelligent and fraught. The play has received 4 and 5 star reviews across the board and this time the critics are right--terrific stuff. Go see it.
 
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canmark

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Fela! immerses you in the world of Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musican and activist. A pioneer of the Afrobeat sound (a fusion of African rhythms, jazz and funk) his music criticized the corruption, brutality and globalization infecting Nigeria and he was routinely harrassed and beaten by the police and government soldiers.

The show invites us to Fela's 'final' show at his club, The Shrine, in '70's Lagos. Fela's beloved mother had recently died following a brutal attack by soldiers, and Fela himself was recovering from a beating. He contemplates leaving his homeland for greener pastures in Europe and America and recounts significant moments in his life. But you need not know anything about Fela to appreciate this show, for it is a riotous theatrical experience of music, dance and song, brash costumes, evocative lighting and video projections which make the show a feast for the eyes and ears.

Playing until November 6 at the Canon Theatre.
 

canmark

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Love Lies Bleeding, a dance show by Alberta Ballet. Has it come to this, that Toronto is importing culture from Calgary? ;)

Using over a dozen songs (both well- and lesser-known) from the Elton John/Bernie Taupin catalog, Love Lies Bleeding features a blend of ballet, Broadway and contemporary styles of dance along with flashy costumes to tell the story of the highs and lows of the life and career of the legendary Elton John. Alas, I was not overly impressed by the choreography, which communicated very little to me. As the whole piece is a sort-of ballet, I expected to get more meaning, more story, from the dance, but it seemed a bit more style than substance.

The exception for me was the scene where the Elton John character (an energetic Yukichi Hattori), in a lavish costume and powdered wig, is tempted by a "demonic" with a box of cocaine. "The Marie-Antoinettes," dancers dressed in costumes worthy of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and others dance around in the background. Elton would take a sniff (a puff of white powder emanating from the box) and would become woozy or high. Later, he was torn between the temptation of the drug and a male dancer. This one, I could at least interpret as story. Another scene, for example, with male dancers in gold loincloths... I don't know what that story was. :rolleyes:)

There is also a nice male-male pas de deux, and "The Drags," three men in drag (dancing remarkably well in heels--I bet they don't teach that in ballet school), were quite funny during the bows at the end of the show.

The show is to be broadcast by the CBC on April 9th of next year. Behind-the-scenes video.

======================

Saw the touring production of The Addams Family musical, now playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Although panned by the critics in its Chicago and Broadway incarnations, they've re-tooled the show for the tour and I thought it was pretty good. A simple plot (reminiscent of La Cage aux Folles) involves the straight-laced parents of Wednesday's boyfriend visiting the Addams' manor and meeting the eccentric Addams for the first time. Really nice design (sets, costumes, lighting). True, one doesn't leave the theatre humming any tunes, but it's light entertainment that stresses the bonds of family. Nothing wrong with that. Particularly liked the performance of Douglas Sills as the loquacious, Spanish-accented Gomez, and Blake Hammond as Uncle Fester.
 
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Benc7

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I saw "The Adams Family" too, and I agree with you, Canmark; it was fun! I loved the set! The production was very slick, and some of the numbers were very touching, especially Uncle Fester's ode to the moon!

I have to encourage people to go and see "The Sankofa Trilogy", d'bi.young anitafrika's one woman, one act, show at the Tarragon. She is superb! She describes herself as a "storyteller"; she is that, and so much more. One of the best productions I've seen this year.



http://www.tarragontheatre.com/season/1112/the-sankofa-trilogy/

http://www.dancaptickets.com/pages/addams
 

canmark

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I can recommend Red, the 2010 Tony Award-winning best play that's now playing at the St. Lawrence Centre (a co-production by Canadian Stage and theatre companies in Vancouver and Edmonton). The play is about the abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko as he's working on a series of paintings for the then-new Four Seasons restaurant in the landmark Seagram Building in NYC. The play is fictionalized, but Rothko was in fact commissioned to do these works, although he changed his mind before finishing and returned the money (many of these paintings are now in the Tate Modern in London).

It's a two person play (Rothko and his young assistant) and done without an intermission. It's a beautifully designed production, well directed, and the show seemed to fly by. Good performances, particularly Jim Mezon as Rothko. A very intelligent and compelling play about art.
 

Benc7

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Memphis-Dancap-Toronto Centre for the Arts

"Memphis" is a rare bird;a musical about the integration of the American music scene in 1950's Memphis that resisted becoming a "jukebox", forcing top-ten hits to fit a narrative. Instead, we're given new music, inspired by the era, but original to the play. With one of the largest, most gifted casts I've seen in a long time. They sing (what voices!) and dance(what dancing!) and ACT(what acting!) so well, I was sucked into the story and didn't emerge until the final curtain call. The leads, Felicia Boswell (playing Felicia!)and Bryan Fenkart (Huey) have that magical chemistry that turns make-believe into truth. But, without the incredible supporting cast (and there's a BIG supporting cast), they would have been swimming upstream.

Frankly, getting to the Toronto Centre for the Arts is a chore for me;getting the Dancap subscription provided a nice kick in the pants to make the effort. Memphis is one of the best kicks ever!

Two acts, one intermission.
http://www.dancaptickets.com/pages/memphis
 

PinkLucy

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We saw Mary Poppins last weekend. Lots of children in the audience who seemed to be enjoying themselves (i.e., they weren't restless or fidgety). They especially loved when Mary swoops out over the audience near the end -- lots of oohs and aahs for that.

I enjoyed it but didn't love it. Some great work on scene changes and with props. Bert dancing upside down for Step in Time is marvellous. I thought it was a little long though, especially the first "half" which everyone in the group I was with found draggy a bit. The second half is much more lively and upbeat. There were also a couple of songs that could be cut back (or even cut out in the case of the toys coming to life) that would shorten it up a bit and keep things moving.

Some excellent performances all around, although I do wish they wouldn't force children to use fake British accents. We all found the children a bit difficult to understand at times. On the other hand, they were some of the best young performers I've seen.

Lots of fun, especially for the family, and Mary Poppins fans of all ages will be smiling and tapping their toes.
 

Benc7

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Mary Poppins-Princess of Wales Theatre

Mary Poppins...Mary Poppins... I agree completely with Pink Lucy; I enjoyed, but didn't love it. The ingredients for a top-notch musical were there: excellent voices, dancing and a really marvelous set, but there were too many spoonfuls of sugar to make it great. Pink Lucy, I'm glad you told me the children on stage were trying for a British accent; at one point it sounded as if they were speaking Danish! Often incomprehensible, they were, unfortunately, the weakest link in the show. Far more entertaining were the children in the audience: they LOVED it! So much fun for them!!!

2 hours and 35 minutes including intermission

http://www.mirvish.com/shows/marypoppins
 

Benc7

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Red-Canadian Stage

I'm glad to agree with Canmark's review of this play, and after my sugar overdose at Mary Poppins, it was refreshing to be fed some high quality protein. Red, features Jim Mezon (Mark Rothko) and David Coomber (Ken). In 1958, Rothko was commissioned to paint murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York City. As his project unfolds, he uses Ken as foil for the questions and doubts he has about his own place in the art world, and about the nature of art itself. The set is marvelous; the audience face a large cube that opens to reveal the Rothko studio. But everything hinges on the quality of the performances, and that quality is very high. Part art history lecture, part therapy session, it is thick, adult conversation, and I was drawn right in. It closes on Dec 17.

one act, ninety minutes

https://www.canadianstage.com/Onlin...&menu_id=B78B09F6-74A7-4E03-A8A8-FEC29A55F2F3
 
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