CATS IN BOOTS FOR CHRISTMAS

Actors in Red Sandcastle Theatre’s annual Pantomime. 2019-2020. Cats in Boots.

CATS IN BOOTS AT CHRISTMAS

For the past several years, there has been a Christmas season’s pantomime at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. Each year, Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle write a script, which features the recurring character of the Cheshire Cat, always played by director/actor Jackie English. Every year, new and veteran actors gather to put on a show that gives everyone the giggles.

Somehow, the theatre nabs top-of-the-line thespians for the event. Once assembled, the group throws caution to the wind, fully committed to dazzle and entertain.

Not only are the actors great, but Doyle has a special gift at building sets that are so preposterously inventive, you feel as if you’ve been thrown into Alice in Wonderland. Attending a holiday season Panto at the Red Sandcastle is a tradition, one that many have come to expect. I’ve attended the last five of them, and some are so fabulous, I feel they should play Las Vegas.

Taran Beaty in Cats in Boots!

On the surface, the shows seem to target kids, but the comedy has different levels, and adults enjoy the references to topical subjects, not to mention sly innuendos. There is a lot of dancing, singing, bad puns, and a high level of improbability. The character of the Cheshire Cat is no ordinary cat. Jackie English as the celebrated feline is charming, sporting a French accent and a dry, sardonic wit.

In this year’s story, Cats in Boots!, Taran Beaty (in drag) plays a mother of three children, two girls and one son. On her way to jail for debt, she gifts her boy, (Farid Yazdani), her cat. Naturally, the pussy turns out to have magical powers, and makes everything he wants come true, or nearly. Taran Beaty is not just an incredible actor, he’s also an accomplished musician, and in jail, he performs a terrific guitar rendition of Jail House Rock, in full drag, that turns all other version of this Elvis classic turn pale by comparison. There are moments in the Cats in Boots! that work so well, you want to get up and dance, which of course often happens.

All pantomimes usually involve preposterous plots and improbable resolutions. Cats in Boots! is no different. I could hardly follow all the twists and turns of fortune and misfortune. But of course, that is half the fun. All logic is tossed out the window.

A panto requires that you go along for the ride, and this is made possible by a tight team of experienced actors. There are wonderful details, too. For example, you can tell Taran Beaty’s facial make-up wasn’t just slapped on. It was designed by a professional.

The cast members are always individual and interesting. Farid Yazdani is that rare breed of sexy man with comic charm. I hope we’ll see more of him on stage, TV, and in film in 2020. Matthew Donovan this year is cast as “The Ogre” with a belly so swollen and beautifully rounded, you imagine it’s real. The lovely Linette Doherty returns this year, playing a variety of roles, including a judge of obvious authority. Danielle Getz is a princess and Rosie Callaghan sprouts mouse ears, reminding us that anything can happen in this show, and does. And Jackie English is everlastingly “the cat’s meow”, all pretty in pink, and hilarious as “The Cheshire Cat”, who navigates us through each and every panto.

This year, as an added feature, several well-known actors made cameo appearances, adding to the storyline and conjuring amazing wizardry.

David Huband

I should mention that without Rosemary Doyle, the theatre’s artistic director, and Deborah Ann Frankel, the general manager, nothing would exist. They keep the Red Sandcastle Theatre humming along, as well as most of the shows.

I hope this is not the last season for the pantos. They have become a staple of the entire Leslieville neighbourhood. In the past five years, this section of town has become ultra-trendy, filled with boutique shops and a hundred restaurants. Personally, I adore The Roy Public House, which has a genial bar and very good food.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, All!

TICKETS:

https://m.bpt.me/event/4455634?fbclid=IwAR3KnuCxoFIPtuXslDn3g3oYgtKka4eB3moTfR2l5rq34NIykdG8cnLUHO8

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MACBETH UNDER THE SKY

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a fable about how we hear what we like, until it’s too late. The drama is perhaps the Bard’s most concise, bloody; mysterious work. It’s a cogent study of how a person’s latent ambition is teased out by both supernatural and human forces, without any real consideration of the consequences. Viewed politically, it’s a portrait of self-sabotage, something we see a lot of these days…

The plot is simple. A man kills a king in order to grab the throne, and then, is doomed by his own guilt, escalating fear, and imprudent action. The play is also a testament to Shakespeare’s overwhelming influence on the English language. Almost every line in Macbeth is a phrase or expression commonly in use to this day, five centuries later.

Iain Moggach – Macbeth

Burro’d Theatre in Barrie, Ontario, has given us a stripped down version of the play, and also assigned certain male parts to women, and one role to a dog. Set under the open sky in a large backyard, with a single playing area at one end. We’re surrounded by fence and tall trees, so it feels as if we’re in a forest. The surroundings enhance much of the drama, which contains several outdoor scenes. Entrances and exits come from every direction and we’re caught up in a conspiracy to murder an anointed king.

There was a certain emotional daring in the actors that captivated our attention. The suggested set; and the bits of costuming added to the atmosphere. Music, bells, percussions, drumming all provide powerful ambiance, floating in the air. The sparseness permitted the audience to use its own imagination.

From the start, one is struck by the energy of the actors.  I personally am not keen on having females play male parts in Shakespeare. Men and women have different bodies, body language, and voices. The differences are only amplified on the stage. But in this production, set outdoors, and at such a clip, it hardly mattered. The script is shortened to an hour and a half, uninterrupted, so we are viewing a play that sacrifices certain details to expediency. Again, this seems justified as it all seemed to work.

The best role in the play is the trickiest. Lady Macbeth is the power behind her husband, and just as hungry for the throne. Even when she greets him after the opening battle, we know that she’s the boss, and Macbeth is really a servant of her ambition. In the opening scenes, Marissa Caldwell seems too lovely, gossamer, and cautious for the role. But as the play unfolds, her stature grows. As Macbeth begins to cower with the guilt over his treachery, his wife mocks him with a rhetorical slap, “Are you a man?” and the audience bursts into cheering. The Lady has him by his orbs and sceptre.

Marissa Caldwell – Lady Macbeth

It’s easy to find imperfections with any low-budget production, but I’m inclined to notice what did succeed here. First of all, 90% of good directing is in casting, finding the right actor for the right part. In this show, the whole cast had the “right look and feel” to convey presence, authority, and foreboding of a kingdom about to fall into turmoil.

Usually, I wince every time I see a Macbeth in which the Witches are dressed in ghoulish costumes, writhing all over the stage, like inmates in an asylum. In this production, “the weird sisters” are quite restrained, draped in soft cloth that has the look of pale stone. Together, they move like haunted dancers, foreshadowing the dark dreams to come.

For this Macbeth, the audience was fully engaged and enthusiastic. I came with a friend who felt the production was “memorable”. There was a certain ambiance and excitement about this event, and all were happy to invest in the moment.

If you missed the original production, it’s coming back for Halloween shows at the handsome Five Points Theatre.

Richard Varty - Director
Richard Varty – Director

P.S. I’d just like to say Harley Caldwell, Actor/dog as “Fleance”, was extremely handsome.

Harley Caldwell

All photographs by Burke Campbell

Producers:

Iain Moggach, Marissa Caldwell

Director: Richard Varty

Staged/Production Manager: Lesley Coo

Fight Choreographers: Emily Cully, Iain Moggach

3 Witches: Olivia Everett, Charlene Knapp, Kristen Keller

Duncan: Nancy Chapple Smokler

Malcolm: Stephen Dobby

Ross: Robert Knapp

Macbeth: Iain Moggach

Banquo: Candy Pryce

Lady Macbeth: Marissa Caldwell

Macduff: Heather Dennis

“Fleance” the dog:  Harley Caldwell

TICKETS

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THE CENOTAPH PROJECT

THE CENOTAPH PROJECT

“And what the dead had no speech for, when living,

They can tell you, being dead…”

— T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

History records facts, dates, and events. Individuals are rarely noted, except on monuments to the dead, a listing of those killed in war. The towering stone cenotaph to the fallen in Barrie, Ontario, is one such monument, dedicated to the sons of the city who lost their lives in great conflicts.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie. The project began in late 2018. Theatre by the Bay artists worked with Eastview drama students to investigate the legacy of WWII in 2019. Analyzing the stories of real soldiers who fought for their country, these students lifted their stories off the page. The Cenotaph Project is an attempt to remember history, generations after the events have passed.

But who were those men, whose names are listed, carved into the towering stone monument in downtown Barrie?  Most died young, before they had lived long enough to achieve their dreams. The details are scarce. And though women’s names are missing, many rendered service.

Photo by Laura Joy Photography

The Cenotaph Project, created by Danielle Joy Kostrich, and directed by Leah Holder, has opened in Barrie, Ontario, at the Five Points Theatre.

In the drama, we watch several of the students given their assignment, to research the names they are given, mostly of the soldiers who died during World War II. This group is told to comb the archives, books, letters, etc, to see if they can dig up information and understand the deceased better. And provide material for a drama.

In the opening scene, it’s apparent the young students know little of World War II, its causes and how the conflict spread like wildfire across the world. Few understand that an estimated 80 million people died, a number greater than double the present population of Canada. This great conflict, that ended less than 75 years ago, is now all but forgotten. It’s barely recalled that World War II nearly resulted in the end of all the democracies, replaced by a global police state, carved up by various ruthless dictatorships.

Photography by Laura Joy Photography

Initially, the students/actors are mostly indifferent to this task. As a refresher course, they act out the surface actions and events that led to war, waving the flags of the various nations and how they eventually divided up into two major and opposing alliances, the Allied and the Axis forces.

But as the students delve deeper into the facts about the men who gave up their lives in this titanic struggle, the dead begin to reanimate in odd ways, assert their presence. The students soon find themselves haunted, troubled, and even possessed by those who have lived in an earlier time. As the young begin to feel empathy with the fallen, they also find themselves, and their own personal awakening.

The cast is relentless in exploring the details and emotions of the ones who died in the war, which includes the thousands who died in training, merely being prepared for combat. It’s also discovered how many women worked as auxiliaries, joining the war effort in every area, their heroic work barely noted.

Young actors (students) preparing to play those who died in World War II. Image by Adrienne Callan Photography

The students enact a series of war scenes. There is one where a nurse has to perform an emergency medical operation on an officer. There’s a harrowing scene in which a warship sinks and a soldier drowns.

The total scope of The Cenotaph Project is epic, and the drama itself stands as a monument to the hard work of the playwright, actors, and director. Still, there are imperfections in this script, production, and performance. There are moments when the actors’ voices don’t carry in a theatre the size of Five Points. The actors shift from the present into characters of the past, and the number of storylines can become confusing. The play is long at two hours and a half, and it sometimes lacks the tension needed to grab one’s attention and hold it. But overall, it’s a highly worthy effort, and one must congratulate Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay’s new Artistic Director, for taking on this formidable enterprise.

Iain Moggach, new Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ontario, Canada

It is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But the truth is, learning isn’t an intellectual exercise; it’s an emotional experience. We are changed by our experiences and our stories, and The Cenotaph Project belongs firmly in that realm.

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

The Cenotaph Project is a new play inspired by Clint Lovell’s book, The Boys From Barrie.

Written by Danielle Joy Kostrich
Directed by Leah Holder

Starring:
Keelan Ballantyne
Alyssa Bartholomew
Drew Carter
Gabriella Circosta
Alex Clay
Alex Hurst
Avi Petliar
Madison Stewart

2019 Season Artists:
Production Manager: Rochelle Reynolds
Technical Director: Brittany-Ann Halbot
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Head Carpenter: Diane Frederick
Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Richardson
Sound Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Props Master: Brenda Thompson
Assistant Stage Manager: Lesley Coo

Cenotaph Project Creative Team:

Stage Manager: Khaleel Gandhi
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Assistant Director: Valeria Bravo

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SEX T-REX ROARS

49444791_1895038563924941_7219206834727419904_nSEX T-REX ROARS IN CRIME AFTER CRIME (AFTER CRIME)

Toronto theatre team scores in a phenomenal parody of crime film genres.

Period genres in the movies carry markings as distinct as leopard spots. For example, in film noir of the 1940s and 50s, everyone on screen smokes cigarettes, which adds to the look of the movie, creating a particular atmosphere. One thinks of the black and white crime flicks like the Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and a Touch of Evil. In films from the 1970s, the fashions are clingy and slinky, and the moves on the disco floor are highly identifiable. Movies like Saturday Night Fever or even the controversial Cruising, exposing the interior of a gay leather bar, come to mind .

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Kaitlin Morrow, in Crime After Crime, by the SEX T-Rex Theatre Company, Toronto

Parodies of such works give a wink and nod to nostalgia. This make us laugh, but such “gags” won’t hold our attention for long. They’re fun, as in a short skit on Saturday Night Live, but the joke quickly wears thin. To create a sustained parody is much harder. The storyline must grab us, and each gag must top the next, raising the stakes, driving the narrative. For a parody to succeed, it must be as interesting as the material it sends up. Think of the movie Airplane that brilliantly spoofs all the disaster films of the 1970s.
Sex T-Rex is a small Toronto-based theater company. Recently, I saw its sold-out show Crime After Crime (After Crime), staged in a large room, complete with pre-show “atmosphere” to get you in the mood. This includes a gaming table, speakeasy bar, and line-up where you can get “mug shots”.

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Julian Frid, Seann Murray, Conor Bradbury, and Kaitlin Morrow

The play, Crime After Crime is an extended parody of several crime genres, rather like three integrated plays, all wildly comic, and astoundingly inventive. The work is a three-part parody, composed of a Film Noir, a Heist Film, and a Buddy Cop movie. All the action takes place in fictitious Crime City, U.S.A., over a period of 50 years, including the 1950s, late 1960s and 70s, and the top of the 1990s.

Part of the sheer glee of watching Crime After Crime is recognizing the look and specific lingo of the genres, which reference a given epoch. As an audience, we’re jacked up by the nostalgia of the music and songs, along with the period lighting that propels the action. Crime After Crime is hilarious, robust with snappy dialogue.

But what makes Crime After Crime work is its careful construction. There is a wondrous glide to the dialogue, the narrator’s running commentary, the nonsensical storyline, until the whole audience gets punch-drunk laughing. The action is so fast and furious, so inspired, so inventive and theatrical, it makes us giddy. The stage is mostly bare, except for a rack of costumes, and a chair. Four dexterous actors move so quickly, we imagine we’re watching a cast of thousands.

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Seann Murray, Kaitlin Morrow, Julian Frid, and Conor Bradbury fill the stage with hilariously funny antics. The Sex T-Rex team is practiced so that even at high velocity, everything runs like clockwork. The actors know their lines, and all of their moves are as choreographed as dance. The team’s sheer physical prowess is key to their comedy. The whole show runs on imagination and a few basic props.

The cast collectively creates all the special effects. For example, they mime the wind that visibly flaps their overcoats as they dash about. Or, the troop rushes on stage in the dim, holding white clothes hangers to conjure an aerial combat battle, complete with gunfire. Finally, the cumulative lunacy causes the audience to lose it, and there is unstoppable cheering all round.

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I can only pray that Sex T-Rex lines up an American producer who tours them everywhere. The company would make a fortune performing at college campuses alone. This is a politically dark epoch, and people will pay good money to laugh without the fear without restraint.

Hats off to:
Alex Dault and Victoria Laberge, producers; Connor Low, technical director; Kyah Green, LX technician.
Sextrexcomedy.com
All Photos: provided by Sex T-Rex.
©Text by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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THE SUDDEN RISE OF IMPRESSIVE TALENT

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Iain Moggach: New Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay, Barrie, Ontario

In 2015, Iain Moggach was a theatre arts student at George Brown in Toronto, mostly centred on acting. But in 2018, only three years later, he would be named the new Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay, in Simcoe County, about an hour’s drive from Toronto. Moggach’s rapid rise from student to running an established theatre company is a dramatic tale all its own.

Born in 1990, in Ottawa, Iain Moggach had an unusually intellectual childhood. His father is a well-known academic, in the area of political science and his mother is an English teacher. Even as a child, Iain spent time in Pisa, Italy, and Cambridge, England, travelling with his family on sabbaticals. As a boy, he was exposed to Europe’s rich cultural landscape. Abundantly literate, by the age of 16, he had read all of the 38 plays of William Shakespeare. As a teenager, he attended the Foundation Year Programs at King’s College in Halifax, immersed in all the great literary works. This was a classical education, at its finest.
With such a pedigree, one might imagine Iain would have pursued a purely academic career. But Moggach has an unconventional bent. While attending courses in the humanities at Carleton University in Ottawa, he began working in theatre, his secret calling. At Sock ‘n’ Buskin, the university’s theatre company, he handled marketing, publicity, as well as a wide range of errands. After Carleton, he came to the realization that “Theatre is what I need to do.” He decided to enroll in the theatre program at George Brown College in Toronto. Shortly thereafter, an extraordinary opportunity occurred.

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Iain Moggach (left) Alex Dault (centre) and Samantha Holland in Barrie, Ontario

One day, in 2015, while Moggach was in school at George Brown, Alex Dault, the Artistic Director at Theatre by the Bay (TBTB), walked in. Theatre by the Bay is a professional theatre company focused on developing community stories and artists, producing plays that deal with current issues as well as historical events that have affected the local area. Dault explained that the theatre was starting what was called an Independent (indie) Producers Co-op, in Barrie, Ontario. For those selected, this venture offered hands-on training in the production of plays. Iain was aware that to enjoy a sustained career in theatre these days, it’s essential to have a working knowledge of producing drama. As Dault spoke, Moggach saw his chance.
Visiting Barrie in the summer of 2015, Iain discovered the natural splendour of a booming city built around water. There, along with another recruit, Samantha Holland, they worked on the production of Nine Mile Portage, a historical play about Barrie by Alex Dault. Performed outdoors, along the shoreline, Nine Mile Portage did well. Further, Moggach directed Romeo and Juliet in nearby Port Perry.

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Outdoor staging of Nine Mile Portage, Barrie, Ontario

After the summer, and unexpectedly, the post of General Manager became vacant at Theatre by the Bay. A phone call from Alex Dault persuaded Iain to move to Barrie for a year, filling the job. In 2016, Moggach was promoted to the company’s Executive Director.
The 2016 TBTB season proved to be momentous, with two shows produced in Barrie. One was the epic play, Faust, the masterpiece by the German playwright Goethe, directed by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey, with original music by Leslie Arden. The cast was astonishing and Faust was a sell-out.

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Also, the newly minted play “We Must Have More Men!”, co-written by Alex Dault and Danielle Joy Kostrich, about how local life in Barrie was affected during World War I was a smash hit. In 2017 came The Five Points, a dramatic work drawn from interviews with the townsfolk of Barrie, many of which Iain conducted. The Five Points provided a surprising look at the growing pains a small city suffers as it transitions into urban sprawl. In this large ensemble production, Iain Moggach played one of the more poignant roles. The drama itself made Barrie, Ontario, a symbol of a community struggling to hold on to its identity while undergoing disruptive expansion.
Making Barrie a Hub of Theatrical Activity

In Barrie, Moggach found himself working non-stop not just on main stage productions, but also on one of the major initiatives of TBTB, the Barrie Theatre Lab (BTL), which began in January 2017.

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Iain Moggach worked to bring the BTL to life, overseeing the monthly event. Moggach reads all the submissions, ensuring that each gathering showcases a diverse collection of scripts, in various styles and genres. The Barrie Theatre Lab isn’t just about reading plays. It’s a key way of connecting to the community, in terms of programming and outreach, allowing those attending, including theatre management, to hear all the scripts and view a large number of actors who might wind up in future productions. So far, there have been 24 Labs that have workshopped plays, musicals, film scripts, script breakdowns/concepts and poetry. There have been 66 pieces read over those 24 Labs by 44 playwrights from Haliburton to Toronto, but mostly in Simcoe County.

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As it has evolved, the Lab is a natural social environment where talent mingles with talent. Having personally attended several readings, the range of playwrights and scripts is astonishing. The Lab has also led to the doubling of the number of local actors auditioning for the TBTB season, and also tripled the theatre’s volunteer base. The local reaction to the Lab has been very positive, but as attendance grew, so did expenses. Additional financial support was needed for snacks, printing, and space for those attending. Anna Small, a local patron, learned of this need and stepped in as Title Sponsor. Again, this is the kind of community support that often appears when a theatre’s management shows genuine commitment.

Additional funding from the City of Barrie has also expanded the Lab’s activities. The Barrie Theatre Workshops were conducted in November and December of 2018. Instead of simply sitting and reading plays, the casts were sent copies of the scripts ahead of time, and acclaimed Canadian directors were brought in to workshop the script on its feet, with the actors moving about. Two such workshops were conducted by Jeannette Lambermont-Morey and Eli Ham, respectively. This allowed those attending to see more clearly what a professional rehearsal environment looks like. Since the Lab’s creation, with all these engaging activities, the number of local actors auditioning for the theatre’s season has doubled, and the number of volunteers has tripled.

A Turning Point for Theatre by the Bay

2018 turned into a triumphant season for Theatre by the Bay. Mary of Shanty Bay, written by Leah Holder and directed by Brandon Nicoletti, was sold out. Also, Alex Dault’s wildly comic farce, Northern Lights, was a huge hit. The play, based on the notorious raid of North America’s largest grow-up, in Barrie, was a critical and financial success.

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Poster for Alex Dault’s wild comedy Northern Lights. Photo by Jordan Probst.

In 2018, riding on a high, Dault stepped down as AD, pursuing other opportunities, and Iain Moggach was named new Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay. Only 28 years old, Iain Moggach now heads the theatrical enterprise. Genial by nature, he has abundant energy and a will to succeed. Also, his hands-on qualifications and genuine enthusiasm attracts support and resources.


Under Alex Dault’s vision, Theatre by the Bay pushed a mandate to write local shows, and use local artists whenever possible. This mandate will continue, and as Iain notes, “This model has spread to other theatre communities.” Regarding his new tenure as leader of Theatre by the Bay, Moggach remarks, “I’m excited about being Artistic Director here because the Barrie community is becoming more diverse and the stories here more complex. We have a new community of artists and we’re discovering what a strong local culture can mean.”

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But local history isn’t always squeaky clean. Throughout its history, Simcoe County has nurtured a dark underbelly filled with nefarious activities. The land was mostly wilderness, barely populated, and criminal gangs enjoyed fair pickings. At present, Moggach is busy writing a musical destined for the stage dealing with the shadier and more sinister elements of what was referred to as “uncivilized land”. This is just one of many projects. In March of 2019, Moggach will be busy directing the beautiful and haunting play Dancing at Lughnasa, by Brian Friel, at the South Simcoe Theatre.

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Iain Moggach and Alex Dault chatting before a show premieres.

Theatre by the Bay isn’t just a company. It’s a true “grass roots theatre movement”, deeply connected to its community. Iain Moggach is now in charge of it, and he is certainly an artist worth watching.
https://theatrebythebay.com/

All photos by Burke Campbell. Poster shot for Northern Lights by Jordan Probst.

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

Posted in acting, actors, arts, Barrie, Canada, comedy, drama, Entertainment, Ontario, play writing, playwright, theater, Theatre, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CHRISTMAS PANTO ROCKS SANDCASTLE

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Cast of Excali-Purr, the new Christmas pantomime at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, Toronto, Canada.

RED SANDCASTLE launches the New Year with theatrical fireworks!

A pantomime or panto is a kind of musical comedy, developed in England and performed during Christmas and New Years. Every year, Red Sandcastle Theatre premieres a newly-minted holiday pantomime. Originally, the panto was performed by family members involving zany costumes, music, dancing, bad word-puns, cross-dressing, and improbably plotline, referencing folklore or fairytale. Each year, playwrights Rosemary Doyle and Jane A. Shields collaborate, creating a new and dramatic comedy. At the Red Sandcastle, the art form has taken a giant leap forward. At this show, we see real actors putting on a first-rate production. These productions are SO splendid; the audience should be able to see them all year long.

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Jackie English as “The Cheshire Cat”

These annual pantos are always narrated by one permanent character, the Cheshire Cat. The Cat is always played by Jackie English, all in pink, with a distinctly French accent. Across the years, this feline character has become as famous as Canada’s moose, loon, or beaver. Hopefully, one day, the Cat’s familiar silhouette will grace this country’s flag, its paw on the maple leaf.

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Linette Doherty (left) and Rosie Callaghan (right)

This year’s panto, Excali-Purr, seems inspired by the legend of young King Arthur of England who must discover, through trial and error, his true lineage and destiny. In this, he is aided by the magician Merlin, and others. There are of course, counter-plots, to put Arthur’s brother on the throne. There are chivalrous knights, heroes, villains, and even awesome cupcakes available at intermission, home-made by one of the show’s super villains. (OMG they are addictive!)

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Taran Beaty

The cast consists of Jackie English, Matthew Donovan, Linette Doherty, Andrew McGillvray, Rosie Callaghan, Taran Beaty, and Farid Yazdani. These are all professional actors and they know how to entertain. The cast hits the stage running and the audience goes nuts with excitement. The adults and kids squeals at every tremendous costume change, and all “cheer” and “boo”. And with Deborah Ann Frankel at the technical helm, special effects sizzle! One minute the stage fills with smoke. The next, bubbles float from the ceiling. Gigantic emojis suddenly swirl about the stage. The very air throbs. Suspense is everywhere, as the whole cast slip and slide into dance numbers that astound.

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Taran Beaty

I must draw special attention to Taran Beaty, who appears in the panto annually, wearing increasingly spectacular costumes. Mr. Beaty not only acts, but he is the first Merlin that I’ve ever seen play an electric guitar.

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One of many dance scenes in Excali-Purr, all highly choreographed.

Everyone on stage is a slave to the music, such as Matthew Donovan, in full armour, playing a trombone and dancing up a storm. All the women, Jackie English, Linette Doherty, and Rosie Callaghan, gyrate and jive with delicious dexterity. In particular, I must mention Farid Yazdani, who pushes the boundaries of dance beyond anything imaginable. Anatomically, I had no idea a man’s gluteus maximus could undulate at that velocity, transcending the laws of physics. He also does an Elvis impersonation that left me with my jaw on the floor.

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Andrew McGillvray (left) and Rosie Callaghan (right).

Andrew McGillvray plays “Twanky of the Lake”, some type of cheerful “witch”. His character is the worst at spelling, inadvertently setting in motion much of the play’s intrigue. Mr. McGillvray sports a lean, athletic physique, and looks better than any man I’ve ever seen in a bare-shouldered evening gown. He looks particularly ravishing in an abundant wig he wears of a color not found in nature. I believe Rosemary Doyle has had a hand in the selection and creation of many of the show’s costumes, which spawn a near hallucinatory effect on the spectators.

I forget if this is the 7th or 8th panto at the Red Sandcastle, but I do wish that someone would collectively publish the works as a part of Canadian theatre. You’d be surprised how easily manuscripts get lost these days and it is imperative that the text be preserved and performed worldwide!

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Farid Yazdani

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Linette Doherty (left) and Jackie English (right) in Excali-Purr

Excali-Purr is great entertainment for adults and children, and personally, I think if you brought your cat, it would have a terrific time, as well. (You’d have to clear that with the management, I suspect).

God bless you all!

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Matthew Donovan

© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved. All photos by Burke Campbell

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UNHOLY FINDS A PERFECT SETTING

UNHOLY FINDS A PERFECT SETTING AT ZOOMERHALL

UNHOLY is a play about whether or not today’s women need religion. Primarily this is because most organized religions, dominated by men, have institutionalized virulent misogyny. These religions have mostly failed to promote women’s rights, causes, or aspirations. This is a controversial issue and therefore, ripe for dramatic conflict.

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Playwright Diane Flacks is a serious thinker. She does her homework, creating characters that represent the different points of view. She conjures four women, placing them in the context of a TV debate panel, three who believe in God and one avowed atheist. The women are played by Barbara Gordon (an ex-nun), Niki Landau, an orthodox Jew, Bahareh Yaraghi (a Muslim), and Diane Flacks, a Jewish atheist. Blair Williams plays the male referee of the debate, posing questions and working to keep the debate upbeat.

This production of the work is ideally adapted for and staged in ZoomerHall, perfectly rigged for broadcasting and taping TV shows, in Liberty Village. In this incarnation of Unholy, the audience is actually part of the taping of this production.

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The debate commences and the characters spar and verbal sparks fly. Flacks has fashioned characters who are more complex than mere mouthpieces for their various arguments. We get background on each woman. For example, Barbara Gordon plays a Catholic nun who was defrocked immediately after her male superiors discovered she had permitted a hospital abortion, in order to save the mother’s life. As the feisty ex-nun, she retains her Catholicism, and continues to fight the restrictions of her religion. As with all the women, we discover their private secrets during the debate, and off. We see what drives them to believe the things they do. We even look in on a behind-the-scenes lesbian affair.

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The actors are all accomplished and turn in convincing performances. In Unholy, it becomes apparent that the intellectual arguments support each woman’s emotional needs. Whatever a person says they “believe” is really an explanation for what they require to fill the emptiness they all seem to share. The way each woman “interprets” the Bible or the Quran depends on what they need to support their beliefs.

On the surface, Unholy is a drama concerned with matters of the soul. But somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. While the central tension of the play rings true, the conflict between belief and practice, some intangible ingredient is missing. Perhaps spiritual matters are best revealed through more dramatic action , not through discussion or debate. The play is full of verbal pyrotechnics. Still, the heated exchanges contain little of the power and clarity of a simple parable. The work is clever, but lacks a certain resonance.

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The only religions covered in Unholy are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, perhaps the most male-dominated and sexually repressive faiths around. In these male-ruled religions, women have traditionally played a minor role. To put this work in historical context, not all religions are as sin and guilt-ridden as the three “desert religions” described in Unholy. Watching the play makes one mindful of earlier pagan religions, populated by vibrant and powerful female gods. These include goddesses such as Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena, and Isis, the mother god of Egypt. Before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the pagan world was a landscape filled with marvellous deities, both male and female.

Adapting centuries-old dogma to fit the yearnings of 21st century women is a major task indeed. If one is passionate about religious beliefs, either pro or con, one should find this show engrossing.

Photos from ZoomerMedia website

Copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved.

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STONER FARCE FOR THE AGES

NORTHERN LIGHTS POSTER

Hit ‘stoner’ comedy takes off!

FARCE ON A GRAND SCALE

In January, 2004, the decent folk of Barrie, Ontario, had their innocence shattered. On a far-fetched tip, the police swarmed a huge building, once the site of the Molson’s brewery, and discovered that the vast space had been secretly converted into Canada’s “biggest indoor marijuana farm” or “grow op”. The police and the entire country were stunned by what was uncovered.

POSTER SHOT ALEX DAULT AND IAIN MOGGOCH

Apparently, and unbeknownst to all, teams of workers had toiled 24 hours a day, endlessly, “caring for more than 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants that produced an annual cash crop worth an estimated $100-million.” All this had gone on a few feet from the major highway, making it easy to ship the product. Barrie was scandalized. And the whole mess made national news.

Now, Alex Dault, artistic director of Theatre by the Bay, and a skilled creator of historical plays, has penned Northern Lights, a wild comedy, inspired by this amazing “mother of all police raids”.

While the idea for Northern Lights springs from the original drug bust, the work quickly vaults into classic farce, full of mistaken identities, misunderstood motives, unravelling strategies, and adventurous escapes.

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Farce, by its nature, is revelatory and perverse. It shows human society as having a thin surface of reason, decorum, and balance. In fact, that brittle surface can snap at any given moment, madness drowning all. Human institutions and personal aspirations are mocked. With farce, not much is sacred.

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In addition to a seditious plot, Dault imaginatively creates a wide array of screwy characters, everyone from respected townsfolk to the more sketchy types who labour away in the dank and purgatorial dope factory. Further, as the play unfolds, the successful drug business seems linked to other activities, implicating the exalted world of high art. All scandals are discreetly connected, and when one breaks, they all roll into full view, like pearls scattering across the floor.

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While specific to Barrie, Northern Lights is gleefully universal, and a tremendous amount of fun. You don’t have to love weed to love this play. The comedy also celebrates one of Canada’s most honored traditions, that of marketing illegal contraband. Lest we forget, many of the country’s most respected families got rich during the American Prohibition, smuggling whiskey into the U.S.A.

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Northern Lights begins when one of the young workers in the indoor farm gets caught crossing the American border. A great deal of marijuana is found concealed in his car’s tires. The frightened worker makes a call to his Mom back in Barrie, and asks her for an astronomical sum of money to get him out of mischief. Instead, she feels her son’s employer should bear the responsibility for his “work-related” problem. Angered, she marches right down to the “office” and confronts “management”. There, Mom is mistaken as the always unseen and murderous drug lord who remotely runs the grow op. From this point on, things get sorely out of hand and the lunacy escalates.

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Both set and lighting, designed by Joe Pagnan, are latent with subtle and shocking ambiance. We see only a row of low stools, each stool in the shape of an alphabetical letter, spelling out the name “MOLSONS”. The painted stage floor starts to undulate, if you stare at it long enough. With liftoff, Northern Lights is rather like Alice in Wonderland laced with all kinds of acrobatics, dance scenes, and visual tricks so unexpected, your eye brows nearly shoot off your face in amazement. While the play opens in the “grow-op” and it isn’t long before the whole audience is sucked down the rabbit hole, and dropped in Mad Hatter Land.

Alex Dault, who both wrote and directs this work, has assembled a wicked cast that works well together. One remembers each actor, but I must mention Tim Fitzgerald Walker, playing an incompetent American drug agent. Walker, a well-known Toronto actor, is surely a comic treasure. It’s worth the price of admission just to see his on-stage antics, not to mention the costumes he wears. As well, John Fray is an incredible chameleon playing the part of the intensely manic plant manager, Long Legs, not to mention another character, Fish Farm Johnson, who seems to have pioneered some type of fetishistic obsession. Barbara Clifford, Janet-Lynne Durnford, Joanna Keats, Tom Ketchum, Frank Kewin, Vivian Or, and Chloe Payne all bring high voltage energy to their parts. In particular, Chloe Payne is incredible at mime movements, so well suited to this kind of comic venture.

To me, Northern Lights is a breakthrough for Alex Dault, as an artistic director, playwright, and director. With meagre resources, and the hard work of the producer/general manager, Iain Moggach, Theatre by the Bay has created this wonderfully fetching and commercial comedy. I can only hope this cheeky farce makes it to Toronto, and every other city where audiences love to laugh.

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Crew of Northern Lights:
Director/Playwright: Alex Dault
Iain Moggach: Producer
Production Manager: Beth Elliot
Assistant Production Manager / Assistant Set Designer: Rosalind Naccarato
Stage Manager: Becky Wong
Assistant Stage Manager: Jenn Burns
Set Designer: Joe Pagnan
Costume Designer: Claire McMillan
Composer / Music Designer: Joshua Doerksen
Production Assistant: Emily Bradford
Voice Coach: Leah Holder
Fight Choreographer: Erin Eldershaw
Choreographer: Brandon Crone
Dramaturg: Emma McKenzie Hillier
Props Master: Vera Oleynikova
Assistant Director: Richard Varty

Photos by: Jordan Probst
Tickets:

https://secure1.tixhub.com/barrie/online/b_otix.asp?cboPerformances=1848&cboEvent=785

 

 

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MARY OF SHANTY BAY

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Glowing Production of New Work

“The dancers are all gone under the hill.” – T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

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Leaving home, or making a new one, is an essential part of human history. But if you ask anyone what home “is”, you’d get a thousand different answers. Home is really a state of mind. It can be where family is, or it can be a location on a map. One might even find “home” in another’s arms.

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Left to Right: Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic, Siobhan O’Malley, Leah Holder, Cesare Scarpone. Cast of Mary of Shanty Bay. Photo by Bryan Harris.

This notion of home lies at the centre of Theatre by the Bay’s new drama, Mary of Shanty Bay. The work, written by Leah Holder, is drawn from the diaries of Mary Sophia Gapper, who lived 200 years ago. Holder has taken these scribblings, creating both an adventure and romantic drama out of them, a tale of a woman and a man in love, and allowing their sturdy alliance to help found Shanty Bay, a village just outside of Barrie, Ontario. The resulting drama, Mary of Shanty Bay, is not only engrossing, this particular staging sets in motion ripples across time and imagination.

 

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Foreground: Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Background, left to right: Siobhan O’Malley, Isaish Thomas Kolundzic, and director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Bryan Harris.

The play is staged mere feet from where Mary and her husband lie buried, in the graveyard of St. Thomas Anglican Church, a church they helped to build. The play, in this setting, becomes timeless, and has echoes of a “village pageant”, a re-enactment of history that is really a continuation of generations. One is very aware, especially at the start of the play, that Mary is torn between leaving family and history in one land, and creating new ones in another. At the start, it’s as if her soul is being ripped apart, immigrating to a new country. But instead of dying, her spirit reaches outward, opening a new chapter in Canada.

 

The drama is taken from passages in Mary’s journals, which are details about what she sees, her feelings, her travels, and of the people in her life. Originally, her plan is simple. She intends to have a singular “adventure”, coming to Canada for a year, visiting her brother, and then, returning to England, to live with her sister. Her destiny, she believes, is to help raise her sister’s children and live life as a spinster, forever unwed.

But in the course of the year, all that changes. She is approached by Benjamin Thorne, a wealthy merchant who wishes to wed her, and then by the man she falls in love with, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer. In settling on Edward, she sets in motion their mutual destiny, helping to found Shanty Bay, and building a church.

Held in the community centre next to the church, this production is memorable, due to the committed work and imagination of everyone involved. The play’s language is articulate and eloquent, as Mary is of the gentry and is fluent in reading and writing. It’s always dicey to turn literary prose journals into living drama, with interesting dialogue and action. It can come off as stiff, forced, and boring. But with Mary of Shanty Bay, everything works. Director Brandon Nicoletti has taken this long work, which runs over two hours, and moved it at a swift pace, without losing any passion.

 

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Leah Holder and Cesare Scarpone. Photo by Bryan Harris

Leah Holder, the playwright, also plays Mary Gapper with a lovely mix of genteel curiosity and grit, giving us a woman who is tenacious enough to live in what is really a wilderness. But on stage, Leah Holder really comes into her own when she is matched with Cesare Scarpone, who plays her husband, Edward O’Brien, a retired officer on half pay. In this role, Scarpone displays an easy confidence, cheer, and masculine grace on stage. Together with Leah Holder, these two actors communicate a patience, respect, and enjoyment of each other that adds a terrific sparkle to the whole drama. They seem so genuine and determined, the audience believes such a couple could found a town, or survive any struggle.

 

Photo by Bryan Harris - Mary of Shanty Bay

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic in Mary of Shanty Bay, by Leah Holder. Photo by Bryan Harris

Siobhan O’Malley and Isaiah Thomas Kolundzic play several and distinct characters so convincingly, I forgot the entire cast consists of only four actors. Director Brandon Nicoletti shows a special talent here. He knows how to pick actors and he knows how to bring out the best in them. I’ve seen scores of historical productions that would put anyone to sleep, but Mary of Shanty Bay is alive with details, dramatic tension, inventiveness, and atmosphere that hold your interest. For much of that, one must credit Natalia Tcherniak (set design) and Claire McMillan (costumes), as well as sound designer, Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski.  Others essential to this successful venture include Jason Thompson (lighting designer), Vera Oleynikova (propsmaster), and Rosalind Naccarato, the assistant set designer.

By the way, tickets have sold extremely well for this show, and I urge anyone who can to make every effort to see it. Theatre professionals in particular would benefit from catching this little jewel.

 

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Director Brandon Nicoletti. Photo by Burke Campbell

St. Thomas Anglican Church
28 Church Street, Oro-Medonte (Shanty Bay), Ontario
May 25th- June 10th
(Previews May 23rd, May 24th)
7:30 PM and 2:00 PM performances available.

http://theatrebythebay.com/
Photos: Bryan Harris, of Bryan Harris Photography

 

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Triumphal Chariot

 

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Running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo: Christina Kuefner.

Chariots of Fire has opened in London, Ontario. It’s a stage version of the early 1980s Academy Award winning film of the same name. The original stage adaptation had its premiere in London, England in 2012, and now, the Grand Theatre is the first to produce it in North America. Those who know the movie remember the film is set during the 1924 Olympics, with the English and Scots competitors preparing and then traveling to France for the Games.

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Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

It’s impossible to communicate in words the vast, innovative, and moving spectacle that is the Grand’s version of Chariots of Fire. The building itself is the crown jewel of Canadian theatres, a gorgeous structure opened in 1901. But this time, director Dennis Garnhum and designer Bretta Gerecke have altered the gigantic space to envelop the audience, as if we all sit inside a giant music box, watching all manner of enchantment float about us. Racing tracks are installed so that the athletics can run about and through the audience seated in the orchestra, balcony, and sports bleachers installed on the stage. A vast reflective surface hangs high above the stage so that those facing it can also see action taking place in the balcony. The audience isn’t merely watching a play. The audience is in it.

The overall experience is one of time-travel. We’re inside of a theatre that easily dates back to the Victorian period and the 1924 Olympics, but it is being used with a technology and theatricality that clearly belongs to today.

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Erin Breen as Jennie Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

The drama of Chariots of Fire hinges on ethical conflicts that arise over the marathon races at the 1924 Olympics. One man from Scotland, Eric Liddell (Wade Bogert-O’Brien) runs for God, refusing to violate his faith by running on the Sabbath. Another, Harold Abrahams (Harry Judge), tarnishes the “gentlemanly” norms of his school by hiring a professional sports trainer to coach him for an amateur competition. Abrahams is clearly obsessed with “winning” at the Olympics, a rather vulgar “modern” notion, but what drives him is never clear to himself, or others.

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Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell and the running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

Such conflicts appear slight by today’s standards, hardly worth calling for the discreet intervention of the British government, as they do in the drama. After all, most today don’t see anything wrong with running on a Sunday, and it’s quite normal for an amateur to hire a professional coach. One must truly evoke a past era of Victorian class, morality, manners, and social norms to hold our interest. Director Dennis Garnhum seems to realize this, and drives his full cast and crew to pull us headlong into another time.

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Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell with running ensemble in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

Across the years, I’ve watched many directors, acclaimed for their flash and circus tricks, who cleverly sidestep depth or meaning. Dennis Garnhum is more serious, finding ways to illustrate the text, enhancing in large and small ways, what the play is actually about. In Chariots of Fire, you can feel him thinking about each scene, deciding how to make its points in the most cogent fashion. As he demonstrated in his holiday show, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Garnhum is a special artist. More than a director, he is an alchemist, using all the elements of the stage to conjure a heightened sense of amazement and expectancy.

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Ellen Denny and Anwyn Musico in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

There are special delights in each performance of the large cast, but the real “star” of the show is the fact that such a large group works seamlessly as one, like clockwork, and each actor has a special moment. There is also something so wonderful about the Grand, getting to see young actors like Josh Buchwald, Liam McKeiver, Leah Gliddon, and Connor Overton shine in a great and unique production.

One of the appealing qualities of Chariots of Fire is that it recalls a time when people conducted themselves in a more courteous and civil manner. But Chariots of Fire is not simply a nostalgic romp about a bygone era. Today, we view the Victorian period as one of sexual repression and rigid social conformity. To us, those people appear “quaint”. But the epoch was also a time of genuine ideals, politeness, of refined and respectful behavior. Inherent in this production is a comparison of two worlds. We get to contrast the times of “ladies and gentlemen” when viewed from the Age of Trump.

 

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Anwyn Musico as Sybil Evers and Harry Judge as Harold Abrahams in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

I recommend Chariots of Fire for everyone, especially those who work in theatre. Certainly every director and producer should see it, as well as actors and designers. For all those who enjoy theatre of the high standards of the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, or Broadway, I suggest you dash to the Grand in London, Ontario.

 

Full Cast and Production Team:
https://www.grandtheatre.com/event/chariots-fire

I’d like to mention that the title sponsor for “Chariots of Fire”/ Grand Theatre production is 3M. This type of corporate commitment to the arts is vital and a great gift to any community.
https://www.3mcanada.ca/3M/en_CA/company-ca/

All photos: Christina Kuefner

 

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Harry Judge as Harold Abrahams and Wade Bogert-O’Brien as Eric Liddell in the Grand Theatre’s production of Chariots of Fire. Photo Christina Kuefner.

 

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DEFINITIVE PRODUCTION OF A CLASSIC

 

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Sarah Orenstein as Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’ drama, The Glass Menagerie. The McManus Stage at the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario

“After watching several productions of this classic drama across a lifetime, for me, the Grand Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie is definitive.” – Burke Campbell

Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical drama, The Glass Menagerie, premiered in 1944, nearly 75 years ago. It is a simple story. Amanda, an aging Southern belle, deserted by her husband, lives in a dingy apartment in St. Louis, Missouri, along with her children, Tom and Laura. Laura, partially lame and chronically shy, attends business school while brother Tom spends his days toiling in a shoe manufacturing plant. In an attempt to snare her handicapped daughter a better life, Amanda pressures Tom to find Laura a “gentleman caller”, a suitable man who will marry and care for her. Amanda, a formidable parent, constantly reminds her children that in her youth, she was endlessly pursued by hordes of eligible suitors. She chose one, their father. This proved to be her one big mistake. He abandoned Amanda, and his children to their fate.

This, in a nutshell, is The Glass Menagerie, a work that instantly became a classic of the American stage. But out of hundreds of family dramas, why has this one endured?

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Stephen Jackman-Torkoff as Tom in Tennessee Williams’ drama, The Glass Menagerie

Part of its success lies in Williams’ gift of language. The writer was raised in the American South, where the spoken word carries the cadence of the Bible. Too, Williams was schooled in “gossip”, which shapes information into stories through repetition, inventiveness, and dramatic delivery. Gossip must also entertain, instruct, and draw the listener deeper into described events. By use of language, the playwright created a knowing and spoken music for the stage.

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Amy Keating as Laura and Alexander Crowther as “The Gentleman Caller” in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie is a “memory play”, drawn from events in Williams’ own life. Tom (based on the playwright himself) doubles as both the play’s narrator and a character in it. But the play is not merely a tale of events recalled. Profoundly, it portrays memory as an active and determining force in our existence. Memory can be a deceitful mirror of how we view our lives. What we remember and how we choose to see ourselves in memory often determines the path of all of our relationships. Memory itself is the central character in this drama — faceless, ghostly, and enormously powerful.

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Most productions I’ve seen of this work, on stage, film, and television, have been overly reverential, plodding, and shorn of fun. But the minute we enter into the McManus Stage at the Grand Theatre, we anticipate a radically new approach. The work is presented in-the-round, with the audience encircling the stage. The space feels both intimate and expansive. Above us floats a gorgeous rope of babbles, purple lights, reminiscent of a strand of large pearls or of intersecting circles. This abstract shape comes to symbolize many lines in the play. As in memory itself, one object suggest one meaning, and later, another.

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Amy Keating and Sarah Orenstein in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie

The action takes place in the 1930s, in the dreary apartment where the family lives. Traditionally, The Glass Menagerie is presented on a set, dimly lit; cluttered with furnishings. But for this production, designer Nick Blais leaves the stage mostly bare, only appointed with a few key items. In freeing the stage of a “realistic” look, we can more clearly focus on how memory functions. How it can both illuminate and falsify events. This gives the drama a greater echo, an echo amplified by the dreamscape of sound and music that designer Christopher Stanton provides.

Most important, director Megan Watson understands the “tone” of the work, and pays close attention to each line in the text. This is a very “talky” play, and Watson cultivates the vibrant humour of the work, as well as its abundant zaniness. The director’s attention to the comic elements in the drama makes this production both delightful and devastatingly poignant. Everything comes together under her artful orchestration, revealing the power, meaning, and intent of the words. This is one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of a directorial hand taking on a classic, brushing away old ideas, and fully revitalizing it.

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Amy Keating and Alexander Crowther in The Glass Menagerie

Sarah Orenstein, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Amy Keating, and Alexander Crowther — all accomplished actors — are each incandescent in their parts. But what is so wondrous is how effortlessly they work together, their interaction as flawless as the subtle music and thoughtful lighting that floats about them.

This Glass Menagerie will have a successful run. My only hope is that it tours, or at the very least, comes to Toronto. This is a production that deserves filming, as an example of the splendid talent this country has produced. Everyone associated with this show should be very proud, including the Grand Theatre’s Artistic Director, Dennis Garnhum. In fact, the city of London, Ontario, should realize it is creating theatre as important and sophisticated as anything done in much larger centres.

https://www.grandtheatre.com/event/glass-menagerie

All photos provided by The Grand Theatre.

© Burke Campbell

 

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SEX AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

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Maev Beaty and Jesse LaVercombe. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

First produced at the Stratford Festival, and written by Hannah Moscovitch, BUNNY is a play about a girl, Sorrell, nicknamed “Bunny”. Bunny grows up, discovers puberty, and takes to sex like a rabbit takes to carrots. Bunny enjoys a large number of lovers, most of whom would be inappropriate by any standard. Are her sexual adventures innocent and beyond societal judgement? Or do they represent a darker force lurking behind a child-like persona?

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Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Lights go up on a woman on stage. She begins to relate the tale of a young girl named “Bunny”. Slowly, we realize this narrator (played by Maev Beaty) is talking about herself at various stages in her development. The narrator soon morphs into Bunny, who then meets and interacts with a wide range of characters.

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Tony Ofori and Maev Beaty. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Maev Beaty plays Bunny with charm and a kind of moral blankness that leaves one with mixed feelings both about the character and the playwright’s intent. Is Bunny a person trying to find “herself”, an advanced woman, sexually liberated, or is she really a person with an incomplete soul, one who walks through life, leaving emotional wreckage, intentionally or not?

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Maev Beaty and Cyrus Lane. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Bunny’s parents are morally righteous academics, armchair intellectuals who abhor capitalism and consumerism. They dress Bunny in shapeless recycled clothing which hides her blossoming physique. Bunny doesn’t use computers and iPhones so she doesn’t actually relate to other kids or their lifestyles. Bunny’s only companions are the novels she reads, mostly Victorian.

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Rachel Cairns and Maev Beaty. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Intellectually robust, Bunny never really understands herself, which leaves her in the dark about what others might feel. She attempts to follow “social norms”, be a good person, and have sex with appropriate parties. Still, for Bunny, sex is more of a sensation, rather than an awakening. She loves it, but it doesn’t seem to teach her much. Importantly, she does not fully grasp that sex in any form has consequences. She seems particularly clueless in this area. Bunny rarely reveals her feelings. This leaves her in the dark about what she feels and how others feel about her. Even her nickname “Bunny” is meant to suggest her frightened, tremulous quality. Fearful people are often full of rage, and deploy it in ingenious ways.

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Maev Beaty and Matthew Edison. Photo: Cylla von Tiedeman

Everyone, especially a young audience, should see Bunny, if only because the cast is excellent. Rachel Cairns, Matthew Edison, Cyrus Lane, Jesse LaVercome, Tony Ofori, and Gabriella Albino are all quite terrific. It’s rare that one sees such a well-matched team of actors, and director Sarah Garton Stanley know how to showcase each one. Maev Beaty does a fine job as Bunny, but I would have preferred that she suggested more of Bunny’s cunning. There is something not very nice about Bunny, and I feel that on some level, Bunny knows she intends to hurt those she sleeps with, or wound those close to them.

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Jesse LaVercombe and Gabriella Albino. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Cast:
Maev Beaty – Sorrel
Rachel Cairns – Maggie
Matthew Edison – Carol
Cyrus Lane – The Professor
Jesse LaVercombe – Angel
Tony Ofori – Justin
Gabriella Albino – Lola
Directed by Sarah Garton Stanley

Tickets:
http://www.tarragontheatre.com/show/bunny/

All photos: Cylla von Tiedemann

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NOAH REID’S HAMLET

Noah Reid - Photo: Jim Ryce

Noah Reid as Hamlet. Photo by Jim Ryce

Tarragon Theatre’s presentation of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is not for purists. Those looking for a standard-issue staging of the Bard will freak at this production.
This show is bare bones and the stage is mostly stripped, with only a row of microphone stands and a few chairs. We’re in a smoky, darken nightclub, sliced open with harsh spotlights, and a piano stashed in the corner. While the production follows the text, the words are anticipated and followed by a musical score that snakes around the emotions of this unfolding tragedy. Many of the actors play instruments, including Noah Reid as Hamlet, wearing this generation’s moniker, a hoodie. He’s gads about this darkened world, like the unruly son of a corporation’s CEO, rather than a Prince of Denmark.

 

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Noah Reid as Hamlet. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

It’s a catchy idea, but what makes this production work, and what makes it fascinating, is the acting, the details, and the thinking that went into it. This show has flashes of intellectual rigour, and a capable cast. Tarragon’s Hamlet has solid team work, and when the engine is turned on, this Hamlet hums along at a clip, keeps you entertained, and jacked-up.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

If you’re game, you’ll love it. Not everything works, but most of it reminds us how sharp this play is.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Hamlet really stands or falls on the actor who plays the character of Hamlet. To my mind, Noah Reid delivers one of the most lucid, intriguing, and deeply felt Hamlet I’ve ever seen. He does so because he doesn’t play the Prince as some sort of tormented wreck, lurching from one scene to the next. Instead, he gives us a sharp, nibble prince, and one who is emotionally cut to the quick.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

As the play opens, the King, Hamlet’s father, has just died suddenly, of mysterious causes. Then, almost immediately, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, abandoned her widowhood and married Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, and the King’s brother.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

This has all happens so rapidly, it leaves Hamlet reeling. As if this isn’t enough, Hamlet believes he sees his dead father’s ghost. The ghost, represented only by a voice, explains that he, the King, was in fact murdered by Claudius who now sits, unlawfully, upon the throne, the King’s wife in tow.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

It’s often commented that all of these events cause Hamlet to fall into “melancholy” or depression. But Hamlet isn’t “depressed” in a conventional sense. He’s in shock. His reality has been blown away, and he’s left walking through a familiar world he no longer belongs to. He’s as alert as if he’s walking through a mine field, and weirdly, this gives the play a sense of dangerous fun.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Now, as Prince, Hamlet “feigns” madness as he plays the detective, trying to put together evidence in order to justify his plan to avenge his father’s murder. But is Hamlet mad? Or does he merely pretend to be so, to gain time for his plan. But Reid’s performance suggests that Hamlet himself is never sure if he’s mad or not. Reid dices with his internal demons, and as he does so, he gains our trust and deeper pity. Hamlet tries to act, but winds up merely “reacting”. This seems quite consistent for a man for whom reality has no hard lines, no hard walls. Where all are lies and whispers. Where the whole court holds power through “fake news”?
There are all kinds of stand out performances. Nigel Shawn Williams is a likeable, practical-minded Claudius who grows more desperate as Hamlet’s anarchy spreads across the court; Tiffany Ayalik is a strangely alluring, and genuinely tragic Ophelia, who finally succumbs to the stresses that press on her. Tantoo Cardinal gives the wondrous description of Ophelia’s body floating in her watery grave, in a way that almost makes one weep. Again and again, in this production, one could hear the feeling behind the words in this play. Jesse LaVercombe is terrific as Guildenstern and later as Osrich. And Cliff Saunders is a peach of a Polonius, judicious, misguided, funny. And as the gravedigger, full of practical shop-talk, he is a revelation.

 

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Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Hamlet is a play about a search for vengeance and justice. But as is usually the case, the consequences of attaining these are catastrophic. Justice is often more costly than a lack of it. Even life itself begs the question: is all this suffering worth it? And yet all these questions and mysteries lie at the centre of a whirlwind drama, full of frenzied activity. For all its flaws, and near misses, Tarragon’s Hamlet seems to me well worth it, especially to see Noah Reid in this very difficult, always compelling role.

CREATIVE TEAM
Richard Rose, Director
Thomas Ryder Payne Sound Designer, Music Director
Jason Hand, Lighting Designer
Kathleen Johnston, Costume Designer
John Stead, Fight Director
Helen Monroe, Assistant Director
Natasha Bean-Smith, Stage Manager
Alice Ferreyra, Apprentice Stage Manager

Hamlet
CAST
Tiffany Ayalik, Ophelia
Rachel Cairns, Rosencrantz
Tantoo Cardinal, Gertrude
Beau Dixon /Barnardo, Player Queen
Greg Gale, Horatio
Jesse LaVercombe / Guildenstern, Osric
Brandon McGibbon, Laertes
Jack Nicholsen/ Marcellus, Player King
Noah Reid, Hamlet
Cliff Saunders Polonius, Gravedigger
Nigel Shawn Williams /Claudius
Written by William Shakespeare
Cover photo: Noah Reid by Jim Ryce
All music composed and arranged by the ensemble.
Cylla von Tiedemann – production shots

 

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A TIMELY STORY

 

 

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

 

The Grand Theatre in London, Ontario, is one of the most beautiful in the country. Its interior is an architectural gem of the Victorian era, with a vast, cosy stage that provides the ideal frame for one of the world’s most treasured stories, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol 2017

A Christmas Carol was first published as a novella, 174 years ago, in 1843. Since then, it has been translated into plays, movies, and even cartoons. The story of the miser Scrooge, who is visited by a number of spirits on Christmas Eve, has proven both popular and timeless. In particularly, the coming of the spirits of “Christmas,” is foretold by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who in life was Scrooge’s friend and business partner. Like Scrooge, Marley dedicated his life to the acquisition of wealth, without a thought for the disadvantaged. Tormented, fettered by heavy chains of greed, Marley’s ghost now roams the city he once knew, tormented by the sight of all those he wishes to help, and now cannot.

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

Each interpretation of A Christmas Carol varies in tone from lightly comic to much darker, depending on who does the adapting. In this case, Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum delivers his own vision of the work, which has its dark moments, but is mostly cheerful, and intoxicating in its charm, quality, and inventiveness. Garnhum has a child’s imagination, and his special effects are born of a spirit that understands the art of theatre. He realizes the delight that can be conjured by a row of doll-size houses pulled about on wheels to mimic a neighbourhood or gigantic icicles that come down from heaven and rise up from hell. Garnhum and the Grand’s brilliant props department are masters of real magic. And the audience marvels at each new trick!

 

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

The opening scene is simple and dazzling. The theatre’s red velvet curtain rises and we are looking through a sheer scrim, at a massive, mostly empty stage. Through diffuse lighting we see snowflakes gently falling from on high. It’s as if the back of the theatre has been removed and we are looking directly into a winter’s day. Slowly, men, women, and children appear in full Victorian costumes, and we are transported back over 150 years, to the city of London, England. The effect is incandescent.

As a director, Garnhum knows how to cast each role in large play. He carefully takes individuals and forges them into a team, so that the characters move as one about the stage, like clockwork. The result is that when each actor has a dramatic entrance, a bit of dialogue, or a whole scene, the moment shines.

The celebrated veteran actor Benedict Campbell heads the ensemble in the central role of Scrooge. Aidan deSalaiz is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. David Michael Moote plays several roles including a younger version of Scrooge, who picks making money over love, and the Spirit of Christmas Future. Alexis Gordon plays Scrooge’s young sweetheart, Belle, and other parts, too. One would like to praise each member of the cast, but really, it’s their combined effort that leaves an indelible mark. However, I will say that I suspect Owen Barteet will be remembered as the most perfect Tiny Tim ever.

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

 

Purists may balk at the liberties Garnhum has taken with portions of the text and setting. For example, the Christmas party thrown by Scrooge’s nephew’s is moved outdoors. Garnhum has altered the location and changed it into a “skating party”. He does so because it makes “theatrical sense”. Frankly, it’s breathtaking to watch a bevy of characters, in full Victorian duds, skating around the Grand’s wide stage amid piles of snow, the air filled with singing.

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

It’s amazing to watch the entrance of each Christmas spirit. Effortlessly, the Spirit of Christmas Present descends while standing on a chandelier or the Spirit of Christmas Past, appearing on Scrooge’s bed in a hooped skirt that lights up. And it is shocking to watch the towering Spirit of Christmas Future, walking about on stilts.

A Christmas Carol 2017

The Grand Theatre – Production Photography. A Christmas Carol 2017. Photo: Claus Andersen

 

In many ways, we have come full circle since the time of Dickens. Today, people live in large cities, where increasing numbers struggle to find work and pay the rent, let alone find extra money for food and clothing. The divisions between the very wealthy and the poor grow more extreme. Worse, today’s urban architecture isolates everyone, rich and poor live in “cells”. The “cell” may be in a run-down high-rise or in a plush new condominium, but the overall effect closes people off from each other. Even on the street, individuals are mentally cocooned, reading e-mail on their iPhones, or wearing headphones, paying no attention to others or the view. Few have any sense of living in a physical community or any notion of “neighbours” or “neighbourhood”.

Dickens’ story is really a sweetly told warning that any society that looses its sense of “community” is in danger. Today, we are not that far away from the violence, revolutions, and wars of the 20th century, most of which were triggered when the few rich were set against a growing multitude of the desperate.

A divided community, where “mankind” is no one’s business, can quickly unravel. The Grand’s production A Christmas Carol reminds us of the healing and transformative power of an open and giving heart, and of the emotions that bind us all.

Cast and Production Team listed below:
CAST
Bob Cratchit SEAN ARBUCKLE
Tiny Tim OWEN BARTEET
Ebenezer Scrooge BENEDICT CAMPBELL
Mr. Fezziwig IAN DEAKIN
Fred / Dance Captain AIDAN DESALAIZ
Topper JIM DOUCETTE
Young Ebenezer / Peter Cratchit JUSTIN EDDY
Mrs. Dilber KELSEY FALCONER
Mrs. Fezziwig TRACEY FERENCZ
Fan LEAH GLIDDON
Belle ALEXIS GORDON
Belinda Cratchit MANYA HEGDE
Mrs. Cratchit RACHEL JONES
Abigail AMRIT KAUR
Boy Ebenezer NATHANIEL KEITH
Dick Wilkins / Fight Captain MICHAEL MAN
Spirit of Christmas Past BRENDAN MCMURTRY-HOWLETT
Jacob Marley PATRICK MONAGHAN
Spirit of Christmas Future DAVID MICHAEL MOOTE
Voice of Charles Dickens CHRISTOPHER NEWTON
Martha Cratchit JORDYN TAYLOR
Spirit of Christmas Present BLYTHE WILSON

PRODUCTION TEAM
Director / Adapter DENNIS GARNHUM
Associate Director MEGAN WATSON
Set Designer ALLAN STICHBURY
Costume Designer KELLY WOLF
Lighting Designer BONNIE BEECHER
Videographer JAMIE NESBITT
Composer JEREMY SPENCER
Sound Designer JIM NEIL
Music and Vocal Director JENNIFER FAGAN
Fight Director SIMON FON
Voice and Dialect Coach JANE GOODERHAM
Choreographer KERRY GAGE
Skating Choreographer GEOFFREY TYLER
Stage Manager KELLY LUFT
Assistant Stage Manager LANI MARTEL
Apprentice Stage Manager JORDAN GUETTER
Stage Management Intern NICOLE FONTES
Child Supervisors JEAN FAULDS
LINDA MARTIN
HEATHER RAYCRAFT
CINDI RYDE

© Burke Campbell 001

The Grand Theatre, London, Ontario, Canada

 

http://www.grandtheatre.com/

Production photos by Claus Andersen.
© copyright by Burke Campbell. All rights reserved

 

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SMOOTH & DANGEROUS: The Voice of David Michael Moote

© Burke Campbell - DMM

In 2017, David Michael Moote auditioned for OPERUS, a newly-assembled metal band with lush, symphonic overtones. Differing from most groups, Operus is composed of highly trained musicians and they needed someone with particular skills. In Moote, they struck pure gold.

© Burke Campbell 009

Operus, the band

With a background in classical music, as well as performing in musical theatre, Moote was welcomed as the lead singer. Soon after he joined the band in March, the group recorded their album, Cenotaph. It premieres worldwide this month, under Dark Star Records, an affiliate of SONY. On October 14, the band makes a special appearance at the Rivoli.

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Born on Valentine’s Day 30 years ago, Moote has the look of a matinee idol. His handsome features and athleticism belies that fact that he’s a gifted artist. At age 6, he began singing lessons, and by the age of 8, he had joined the Amabile Boys’ Choir in London, Ontario. Throughout high school, he appeared in special productions for students at the Grand Theatre, including musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver, and The Music Man.


More recently, David Michael Moote appeared in the title role of Jesus in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar at Hart House, at the University of Toronto. The show was a hit and after that, he appeared in Oh Canada, What A Feeling!, a flashy musical review of Canadian pop songs. The show played to big audiences at Caesar’s Palace in Windsor, Ontario, and the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. This past summer, Moote was the lead in a production of the musical Urinetown at the Stephenville Theatre Festival in Newfoundland.

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While a central figure in OPERUS, David Michael Moote plans to continue expanding his versatility as a singer, actor, and performer. Hopefully, it won’t be long before we see him on TV and in the movies. Moote is an accomplished song writer, too, so it would come as no surprise if he winds up writing soundtracks as well.

Sample of the Sound:

Tickets at the Rivoli, Saturday, October 14, 2017

https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1526830

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© Burke Campbell 001

David Michael Moote

 

https://darkstarrecords.net/

Photos by Burke Campbell

© All rights reserved.

 

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