Flashback Friday – Stratford 2015

As I ready myself for a weekend of theatre at the Stratford Festival, I want to take a quick look back at the remaining shows which I saw from the 2015 season.
On August first I was lucky to get to take in two shows: Carousel and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Both of them were fairly new to me (I saw Carousel when I was young but didn’t remember the production), and made for a memorable day of theatre. 

Carousel was a visually stunning show which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had a great personal attachment to this show as a friend of mine from school, Alexis Gordon, had the lead role of Julie Jordan. This was her Stratford debut and she blew me away! She paired so well with Johnathan Winsby, and I was amazed by her beautiful voice. She was one of a great many amazing actors involved in this production.

The carousel itself was AMAZING! Such a beautiful, intricate piece of machinery that immediately solicited “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience. The glowing full sized carousel horses were stunning. It truly sets the stage for the rest of the play: the allure of the carnival, the light it brings into their lives, and the darkness that settles when it leaves. 

What made me sad was how the reviews of the play focused so heavily on the domestic violence aspect of the play, rather than the story as a whole. While the subject is rather jarring, and certainly unacceptable by modern standards, it is truly just a portion of a much larger story. The play, as a whole, is beautiful, and while the ending is a little strange I feel like there are larger issues at play like love, forgiveness, and learning from the past. It was an emotional journey with sensational singing and dancing; truly a joy to behold. 

Later that evening, I was fortunate enough to take in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. Upon good advisement, I read the play on my way there, and yet the language was so beautifully crafted that it was easily understood. The play is funny beyond measure, and while it lacks the clear resolution we all desire, its self awareness of this fact made it all the more enjoyable.

One aspect which I found especially intriguing was how the play looks at learned men. Both depictions have major flaws, and yet Holofrenes’ ignorance comes off as merely comical, while Navarre’s lack of will power (along with the rest of his men) is slightly more disconcerting. Neither of them truly exhibit all of the qualities they claim to have, and so we get a glimpse of how similar “learned” men were viewed in the period.

In direct contrast to them are Moth and Don Adriano de Armando, and while they provide a level of comic relief, Moth is the most observant character in the play. These two stole the show, making us laugh and question what we were watching throughout the show. It’s amazing to see this articulate child be far smarter than the grown men he serves.

I found that this was an exceptionally well cast piece, with every bit of the puzzle fit in so perfectly. It was also a fun mix of Festival favourites and newcomers, which was such fun to watch!

The following afternoon, We got to experience The Sound of Music. This show has always been a favourite of mine, yet this production easily stood on its own and didn’t even warrant comparison to the film. I actually found it to be great fun to get to fall in love with this story all over again. 

The while production, every little element of it, was awe inspiring; I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the show. Stephanie Rothenberg, who played Maria, was so genuine and emotional, she did an amazing job with the kids, she was a pleasure to watch. She sang beautifully, as did the Mother Superior, and I felt that she played off Ben Carlson very well.

The set itself deserves special mention, as they had a full size gazebo which collapsed and expanded like an umbrella and a little tree on a hill for Maria’s hilltop scenes. This, paired with the grand staircase which was able to be transformed into every location required, shows the true extent of the marvel the Stratford Festival is able to inspire.

The children in the show were absolutely adorable, and performed like such professionals. We even found out later that one of the young ladies was the understudy, but you would never have known. They brought a happiness and light to the show which totally made it the incredible show it was.

Overall, the Startford 2015 season was one of pure delight. From old friends to new discoveries, dramas to musicals, thought provoking to light hearted; 2015 had it all! I’m so glad I got to see as many shows as I was, and I look forward to what 2016 has in store.

The Grand Theatre “Shrek the Musical”

My friend Joseph and I decided to take a last minute theatre journey up to London on January 2nd to go and see a few of our friends in Shrek the Musical just before it closed. It was quite the experience and the show was adorably wonderful.

So amazingly enough, we got to sit in the front row despite having only gotten rush seats, and that was definitely a great choice. This was a play that was just too much fun to not be in the middle of!

The sets were wonderfully fanciful, and I especially loved the story book that the characters could walk right through. The costumes were likewise whimsical and very much akin to what was seen in the movie that the musical is based on. I liked that they added in some new characters and/or gave more recognition to characters that were only minor parts in the movie, like the Wicked Witch or the Sugar Plum Fairy. However the Dragon’s costume was hands down the most impressive. The dragon itself was a giant puppet divided into 6 pieces that weren’t actually attached. Therefore it forced the actors to keep very close together and be very in sync to give the illusion of a whole dragon. The voice of the Dragon (in our case Ayrin Mackie) was then dressed in a fabulous sparkly/scaly dress whose colour was the same as the dragon. It was amazing to watch and the children in the audience responded well to it.

The story itself stayed very true to the movie, including some dialogue direct from the movie, while also adding in several new musical numbers for the play. I was particularly happy that they left in a good deal of the dialogue, it made the play recognizable for the children (and the young at heart) but it didn’t make you feel like you were just seeing the same thing either.

The acting was superb, and a great job was done by all. It would take me forever to mention all of the people involved in this show, but who I do want to point out are the young ladies who played the two young version of Fiona. They had very difficult roles in terms of playing not only Fiona but then other of the forest creatures. They performed well both vocally and dramatically, and Joseph and I were very impressed. I can say rather confidently that if either of those girls wants a career in acting, they will have no problem at all making that happen.

Overall, it was a wonderful family show. I heard just as much laughter from the adults in the room as the children. I was very happy that Joseph had asked me to go as it wound up being a wonderful adventure.

Stratford Festival’s “Man of La Mancha”

I was so fortunate to attend Stratford’s Man of La Mancha on Sunday, June 29th with my whole family this time! It is so much fun for me and my family to share our love of Stratford and musicals with the rest of our family. Everyone loved the show and talked about it long into the ride home. Man of La Mancha is definitely geared to a more adult audience than Alice or Crazy for You, so while I highly recommend this play, it is not one for the little ones in your life.

I’m going to try not to use too many spoilers, but I figure this musical is well known enough that I can talk about the plot without it ruining too much for anyone.

Man of La Mancha is a beautiful, powerful, emotional musical that I simply couldn`t get enough of. At intermission, I was disappointed, because I knew the show was already half over. The story itself is engrossing and enchanting, carrying the audience away into the beautiful mind of Don Miguel de Cervantes, and his legendary character Don Quixote de La Mancha. I loved the frame narrative of Cervantes in jail during the inquisition, and how he is able to almost transform his fellow inmates through his story, just as Don Quixote is able to change Aldonza into Dulcinea by allowing these other people into the worlds of their imagination.

The songs in this musical are so anthemic and inspirational and beautiful. It is a very 60’s musical, without a definite overture and with very powerful songs. It reminded me of Fiddler on the Roof in this was. This production was so wonderful. The songs were played beautifully by the band and sung incredibly by the actors. I was blown away at how beautiful the singing was, especially the leads Tom Rooney, Robin Hutton and Steve Ross. But really, the whole cast sang beautifully; I wish they could make a cast recording of this show as well!

The sets and costumes for this play were out of this world. I love that they didn’t try to hide the set, they just let us take it all in and visually explore the space, which I really enjoyed. There was so much to take in and to watch even before the play began. As soon as those actors appeared, they brought that beautiful set to life, and kept it alive until that last note was sung. It was a visual feast, with an ever changing sky and windmill arms, many nooks and crannies for the actors to use and explore, and an overall grunginess that sealed the feel of a Spanish jail. The contrast between the Conquistadors and the prisoners was stark: the inquisitors dressed in gleaming armour and helmets and yet there is Don Quixote wearing worn armor and a shaving dish as a helmet.

The actors were just superb. I was so thrilled with everyone in the play. I know I often say that I can’t find a weak link in these shows, but that is just the calibre of theatre that is produced at Stratford and I’ve learned to expect nothing less. As I previously mentioned, the 3 leads were impeccable. Tom Rooney was an entrancing Cervantes/Don Quixote. Robin Hutton’s Aldonza was rough but beautiful, just perfect to become the inherently regal Dulcinea. Steve Ross’ Sancho was loveable and so loyal, you can’t help but adore him. The rest of the cast should not go without mention; everyone was wonderful, and they all sang so beautifully. When they all get together and sing “The Impossible Dream” at the end of the play, it gave me goose bumps and made me tear up; their voices blended so well together and the song is so powerful, that to have so many people singing it was overwhelming in the absolute best of ways.

I really can’t say enough good things about this play. As usual, I must urge you to see this play, it will be an experience you shall not soon forget, I can promise you that!

If you’d like to purchase tickets, here is the link to do so! : http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24353&prodid=52399

Stratford Festival’s “Crazy for You”

On Sunday, June 22nd I had the delight of seeing Stratford Festival’s production of Crazy for You, a sweet and energetic Gershwin musical that was a joy for the entire audience. There are a few spoilers, but I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum.

Crazy for You was a bundle of laughter and song, all wrapped in glitzy western wear. First of all, the premise of the show itself was adorable. I loved that it was a man who was trying to break onto the theatre scene and not the stereotypical female character. I felt that it gave a whole new spin to some of the songs that I knew from other places, as well as making the plot unique and interesting. The one-liners in this play were amazing! We laughed so hard at the dialogue, and some really slapstick scenes as well, that my cheeks hurt by the end from smiling. The songs that are used in this play were wonderfully familiar. It makes for a great time of toe tapping and humming along, listening to these catchy and familiar tunes. I still have “I’ve got rhythm” stuck in my head! And when the songs are already so amazing, to have such entertaining dialogue in between makes the show a pure joy to be a part of.

The sets and costumes were beautiful and made a feast for the eyes as well as the rest is for the ears. The stage especially caught my eye; it embodied the beautiful colours of a southern sunset, but was able to endure the intense amount of dancing that occurs throughout the show. The changes between New York and Nevada were beautiful, and each set was very distinctive and flashy all its own. I loved the curtain and tassels that you see when you first walk in the theatre; it sets the stage for the beautiful story that was about to unfold.

Speaking of the dancing, it was absolutely incredible. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such impressive tap dancing as I did at this show. There were so many actors and for all of them to be so in sync was mind blowing. Donna Feore, who both directed and choreographed this beautiful show, derives a huge BRAVO for this one! While I am always impressed by the plays that she is involved in, this one was a cut above the rest, mostly because of the number of people who are involved at any one given time. It seemed like there were huge tap ensemble numbers every other song, and it just made the play so invigorating. It made me remember why I used to love to dance, because I wanted to be able to dance like that!

I thought that the play was very well cast. I especially enjoyed the singing cowboys played by Marcus Nance, Steve Ross and Stephen Patterson. They were adorable, and their harmony was just amazing. The lead couple Bobby and Poppy, played by Josh Franklin and Natalie Daradich, were absolutely lovely. Their voices were beautiful, and they sounded so good together and danced so well. Tom Rooney was just hysterical. I loved his character and the scenes that he did were so funny, I could hardly stop laughing. Not to mention he’s a great singer and dancer!  Another fan favourite was Lally Cadeau’s portrayal of Lottie Child, Bobby’s mother. She had the perfect voice and presence for the role and left a lasting impression on the audience. Monique Lund and Shawn Wright’s performances were also hilarious and should be mentioned. They had us all rolling with laughter. Truly, there was not a weak link in the show!

This is definitely another family friendly play! While I didn’t see as many young ones as at Alice, I certainly think this is one the whole family can enjoy, especially if you want to introduce your kids to the Gershwin brother’s fabulous music.  I would certainly recommend this show to anyone and everyone looking for a fun and entertaining theatre experience! Who could ask for anything more?

If you’d like to purchase tickets, here’s the link: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24041&prodid=52392

Also, the Stratford Festival has recorded the songs from this show and made their first ever Original Cast Album! Here’s the link to the store if you’d like to purchase one! (I highly recommend it!) http://store.stratfordfestival.ca/Crazy-For-You-CD-Stratford-Festival-Cast-Recording-688368-CD/