Mr. Coward at the Watermark Theatre

Noel Peirce Coward, whose play “Blithe Spirit” is at the Watermark Theatre all summer, was born on December 16, 1899, receiving his first name because Christmas was just days away. From an early age, Noel was intelligent, temperamental, and an instinctive performer, making his first stage appearances in amateur concerts at age seven. He loved to sing and dance at any excuse and threw frightful tantrums if he was not summoned to perform for guests.

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With his mother’s encouragement, he launched his professional acting career at the age of 12, making his London debut as Prince Mussel in a children’s show called The Goldfish. He appeared in several West End productions, including the “lost boy” Slightly in two West End editions of Peter Pan.

In the early 1900s, England was a very class-conscious society. A boy actor born to poor parents would have been snubbed by the upper classes. However, Coward’s extraordinary determination and charm won him an entree into the chicest circles. His professional and social ambitions were insatiable.

I Leave It To You (1920) was Coward’s first full length play produced in the West End, with Noel playing a leading role – quite an accomplishment for a lad of 21. The brief run brought encouraging reviews, whetting Coward’s appetite for more.

The London production of his play The Young Idea (1923) was a mild success, with Noel playing one of the lead roles. That same year, producer Andre Charlot featured several of Coward’s songs in the hit revue London Calling. While all this was happening, Noel put the finishing touches on a daring drama that would change his career – and his life – forever.

He wrote, directed and starred in The Vortex (1924), a searing look at sexual vanity and drug abuse among the upper classes. When most producers refused to consider such a lurid project, the small Everyman Theatre in suburban London agreed to take it on.
On opening night, the audience was both shocked and fascinated by The Vortex. The combination of fiery acting and scandalous subject matter made The Vortex the talk of London. Other plays had depicted drug abuse, but not among the rich. Demand was such that the production soon moved to a larger West End theatre for an extended run, making Coward a sensation.

With the sudden success of The Vortex, Coward was in demand. Over the two years he starred in the London and New York productions, as well as an American tour. Coward also wrote the hilarious comedy Hay Fever (1925), which triumphed in London, and the hit West End revue On With The Dance (1925). He also turned out Fallen Angels (1925), Easy Virtue (1925), The Queen Was in the Parlour (1926) and The Rat Trap (1926). Most of these plays were at least partially successful, but he was working at a punishing pace.

Coward prospered through the worst of the Great Depression, enjoying a lifestyle most people could only dream about. A dedicated traveler, he went on a series of extended journeys to escape the pressures of show business. During one 1929 stay in Singapore, he finished the first draft of Private Lives (1930), which proved to be a highlight of his career. Coward co-starred with a then unknown Laurence Olivier, playing to packed houses in both London and New York.

Coward then wrote and directed Cavalcade (1931). Acclaimed on the London stage, the film version won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1933.

In 1942, he turned out a trio of hit plays, including the semi-autobiographical comedy Present Laughter (1942) and the cockney drama This Happy Breed (1942). His biggest wartime hit was Blithe Spirit (1942). The play proved one of Coward’s most popular successes, with character actress Margaret Rutherford winning stardom as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati. She repeated her role in a superb film version three years later.
The years following the war were difficult for Coward. Other than the London revue Sigh No More (1945), most of his new works met with commercial failure. Coward knew instinctively that his writing was better than ever, but it seemed that the public’s tastes had changed.

A 1963 revival of Private Lives took London by storm, sparking renewed interest in Coward’s plays on both sides of the Atlantic. Revivals and TV productions of his works followed and continue to this day.

In January of 1973, Noel visited New York for a gala performance of the off-Broadway revue Oh Coward! He arrived with longtime friend Marlene Dietrich on his arm. Bent with age and illness, he remained the personification of elegance. Friends sensed that he was declining, but no one realized that his would be his last public appearance. In the early morning hours of Monday, March 26, 1973, Noel Coward suffered a stroke at his home in Jamaica.

Mr. Williams at the Watermark Theatre

Tennessee Williams wrote “The Glass Menagerie” – on this summer at the Watermark Theatre! Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III was an American playwright and author of many stage classics. Along with Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller he is considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama.

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Tennessee was born on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, the second of Cornelius and Edwina Williams’ three children. Williams described his childhood in Mississippi as pleasant and happy. But life changed for him when his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. The carefree nature of his boyhood was stripped in his new urban home, and as a result Williams turned inward and started to write.

His parent’s marriage certainly didn’t help. Often strained, the Williams home could be a tense place to live. “It was just a wrong marriage,” Williams later wrote. The family situation, however, did offer fuel for the playwright’s art. His mother became the model for the foolish but strong Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, while his father represented the aggressive, driving Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

When he was 28, Williams moved to New Orleans, where he changed his name (he landed on Tennessee because his father hailed from there) and revamped his lifestyle, soaking up the city life that would inspire his work, most notably the later play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1940 Williams’ play, Battle of Angels, debuted in Boston. It quickly flopped, but the hardworking Williams revised it and brought it back as Orpheus Descending, which later was made into the movie, The Fugitive Kind, starring Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani.
Other work followed, including a gig writing scripts for MGM. But Williams’ mind was never far from the stage. On March 31, 1945, a play he’d been working for some years, The Glass Menagerie, opened on Broadway.

Critics and audiences alike lauded the play, about a declassed Southern family living in a tenement, forever changing Williams’ life and fortunes. Two years later, A Streetcar Named Desire opened, surpassing his previous success and cementing his status as one of the country’s best playwrights. The play also earned Williams a Drama Critics’ Award and his first Pulitzer Prize.

His subsequent work brought more praise. The hits from this period included Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.

The 1960s were a difficult time for Williams. His work received poor reviews and increasingly the playwright turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. In 1969 his brother hospitalized him. Upon his release, Williams got right back to work. He churned out several new plays as well as Memoirs in 1975, which told the story of his life and his afflictions.

But he never fully escaped his demons. Surrounded by bottles of wine and pills, Williams died in a New York City hotel room on February 25, 1983.

Festival Completes Casting of Mamma Mia!

It’s an early start to the season for the cast and crew of The Charlottetown Festival. Rehearsals kicked off last week for the P.E.I. theatre event of the year — Mamma Mia!, opening June 1 in the Homburg Theatre.

Complete casting has been announced for the mega-musical, which stars Eliza-Jane Scott and Katie Kerr as a mother and daughter on the eve of Sophie’s wedding. Sophie (Kerr) wants her father to give her away, and having read her mother Donna’s diary, secretly invites three guests to the wedding, bringing back three men from Donna’s past to the paradise they last visited 20 years ago. The three gents are: Irish-American architect Sam Carmichael (Réjean Cournoyer), Australian adventurer Bill Anderson (Stephen Guy-
McGrath), and British banker Harry Bright (Cam MacDuffee).

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Local audiences are acquainted with all three, with Guy-McGrath appearing as the fiddle-playing René in last fall’s Evangeline and Cournoyer playing the villainous Hampson in that show as well as the White King in Alice Through the Looking-Glass. MacDuffee starred in Ring of Fire and Dear Johnny Deere, and toured with Cournoyer for the Centre’s 2015 production, The Founding Father.

Sophie’s husband-to-be, the loyal and handsome Sky, played by David Cotton (Baptiste in the world premiere of Evangeline), while Donna’s two best friends are brought to life by Jan Alexandra Smith and Nicola Dawn Brook. For the full Mamma Mia! cast list, see addendum.

For a limited time only, the Festival is offering 20% off performances in the month of June. Use promo code ABBA when contacting the box office online, in person, or via phone. This offer runs from May 21 to 28, applies to Tier-1 and 2 seating only, and is not valid with any other promotion.

“I have seen a lot of theatre in my short 41 years,” says Artistic Director, Adam Brazier. “Never have I seen a party and celebration the likes of Mamma Mia! This show redefined the modern musical and set in motion the success of other jukebox hits like Jersey Boys, We Will Rock You, and Ring of Fire. This pop fable leaves the audience laughing and dancing in the aisles. Somewhere in the crowd there’s you. Join us on a nostalgic journey through the guiltiest pleasure of the summer.” Brazier is joined by Bob Foster, musical director, and Kerry Gage, choreographer.

Mamma Mia! opens June 1 and plays until September 3.

The complete cast in alphabetical order is:

Jak Baradell – Ensemble
Josée Boudreau – Ensemble
Nicola Dawn Brook – Rosie
David Cotton – Sky
Réjean Cournoyer – Sam
Josh Doig – Male Swing
Jessica Gallant – Ensemble
Troy Goldthorp – Pepper
Robbie Graham-Kuntz – Ensemble
Stephen Guy-McGrath – Bill
Aaron Hastelow – Ensemble
Kayla James – Ensemble (U/S Sophie)
Aisha Jarvis – Lisa
Katie Kerr – Sophie
Melissa Kramer – The Priest
Cameron MacDuffee – Harry
Jamie Murray – Ensemble
Sarah O’Brecht – Ali
Jade Percival – Female Swing
Eliza-Jane Scott – Donna
Adam Sergison – Eddie
Jan Alexandra Smith – Tanya
Sarah Vance – Ensemble

Luisa Marshall Brings Thunderdome to Summerside

Luisa Marshall is “Simply The Best” and her Canada-wide PTSD Awareness Tour HOPE BEYOND THUNDERDOME TOUR 2016 comes to the Harbourfront Theatre on Thursday, May 26th at 7:30 pm.

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Years ago, Luisa performed for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in a grueling show tour that included war-torn Bosnia, Sarajevo and later the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Israel and Egypt. The most requested song on both tours was ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’. Marshall wanted to add meaning to her tour so she chose her passion concerning the PTSD concerns with the Canadian Military and Firemen.

Luisa Marshall has appeared on Oprah twice and recently made a special appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to a 25-second standing ovation.

Join us for an evening of Tina Turner classics and help bring awareness for Military and Firemen living with PTSD.

From Art to the Arts, and Musicals, Too

The massive complex in the heart of Charlottetown might seem a tiny bit intimidating on first glance – imposing architecture, a full city block, four large sandstone cubes. But once you’ve stepped onto the property of Confederation Centre of the Arts, you soon sense the people-friendly atmosphere that permeates this cultural centre that is officially Canada’s memorial to the founding fathers. Visitors enjoy ice cream and a live brass quintet, families crowd into the amphitheatre for a rousing (and free) noontime show by a corps of young “triple threats,” and culture buffs study public works of art.

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Venture inside and the fun continues. Newly opened in 2015 is “The Story of Confederation,” a startlingly realistic replica (also free) of the original Confederation Chamber, where the 1864 Charlottetown Conference discussions led to the creation of a country. The original chamber in Province House next door is currently closed for conservation work, but the first-rate film and interpretation provide a full and entertaining explanation of nation building Canadian style. For more on Confederation, visitors take in a vignette or walking tour with the Confederation Players, easily recognized by their warm wool suits and charming gowns – really the only folks around town wearing top hats and carrying fluttering fans.

Stepping across the pavilion and into Confederation Centre Art Gallery, you find yourself in a completely new setting, surrounded by contemporary art exhibits and historical artifacts. The exhibits extend from the four upstairs galleries into the lower concourse of the complex, and the classic Brutalist-style architecture of the 1964 building protects the treasure trove of culture within, but a pleasant surprise in the partly underground hallways is the beautiful light-filled, marble-clad space called Memorial Hall, where the founding of Canada is officially commemorated.

It’s not possible to leave Confederation Centre without taking in some live theatre. The Charlottetown Festival is noted for its first-class Canadian musicals, most famously for Guinness-record setting Anne of Green Gables – The Musical™, in 2016 running alongside the blockbuster Mamma Mia! and Soulpepper’s latest success Spoon River. With tickets in hand, fully inspired by visual art and historical anecdotes, it seems a perfect moment to settle at a table in Mavor’s courtyard – the finest outdoor dining in the city – with dinner and a drink before the show.

Art for Music, Space and Time

Art for Music is a celebration of achievement in the visual arts and media. The performance at The Guild will feature four young, up-and-coming Island artists: Jenna Cyr, Angelina MacKinnon, Julia Dunn, and Emma Doucette. Art for Music is happening on Thursday, May 19th, at 7:30pm.

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During the event, Music PEI will be presenting industry awards for Media Person of the Year and Visual Artist of the Year. This year’s nominees for Media Person of the Year are: Blair Arthur Dewar, Karen Mair, Mikey Wasnidge, Todd Maclean.

The 2016 nominees for Visual Artist of the Year are: Sandy Kowalik, Ryan Hutchinson (Visual Communicator), sixeyedcatprintco.

The Gallery at The Guild will feature an exhibit with work from the Visual Artist nominees.

Admission is by donation.

Here Come the Fiddlers

The fiddlers are coming, the fiddlers are coming – from all across the Island to perform in PEI Fiddlers in Concert at Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside on National Fiddle Day, May 21, 2016.

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PEI Fiddlers in Concert is a unique opportunity to see and hear so many of your famous and favorite fiddlers and their tunes, including highlighting our most proficient fiddlers and stepdancers.

A great fun evening for the whole family to enjoy the young and old who carry on the great island tradition of fiddle playing. And we insist on clapping and toe tapping!!

A Musical Mess Up at the Guild

An obsession with Debbie Harry of Blondie turns awkward during a meeting after a concert. The sweet and sour notes of a father teaching his daughter how to play guitar. A musical mess up at a small town beauty pageant nets a prize. Do musical tastes predict compatibility in love?

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Seven people will share how music has helped shape their lives in ‘Playlist’: Dave Atkinson, Laurie Brinklow, Lindsay Carroll, Laura Chapin, Gordon Cobb, Lori Mayne and Dave Stewart.

“I ran a similar show in Prince Rupert, BC for three years when I was living out there,’ says ‘Playlist’ producer and participant Laura Chapin. ‘It became a very popular event that I was sure would work here.” The main difference with the PEI monologue show is that a theme focused around music has been added, giving the program a through line and a subject for the participants to work with.

“Our first read -throughs were such a delight, with one piece echoing another in small but surprising ways,’ says Chapin. ‘I think everyone came away from the rehearsal feeling pretty excited. We can’t wait to share this show. And I think people will come away from this show thinking about what music has meant to their lives too.”

Proceeds from the 90-minute show on May 14 at 8 PM will go to support PEI Literacy Allianceʼs Summer Tutoring Program for Kids

Raffi Brings Baby Beluga to PEI

Raffi is a singer, songwriter, producer, author, lecturer, and tireless advocate for children. He is best known for his work as a children’s entertainer whose string of gold and platinum-selling recordings in North America includes his classic song, “Baby Beluga”.

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Once called “the most popular children’s singer in the English-speaking world” (Washington Post) and “Canada’s all time children’s champion” (Toronto Star), Raffi is also a recipient of the Order of Canada and the United Nations’ Earth Achievement Award.

He has never advertised to children or made any commercial endorsements. His commitment to treating his young fans with respect changed society’s outlook on music made for children.

In 2010, Raffi founded The Centre for Child Honouring on Salt Spring Island, BC. With the motto “Respecting Earth & Child,” the Centre is at the heart of a global movement that views honouring children as the best way to create sustainable, peacemaking societies.

Don’t miss RAFFI and his Beluga Grads Concert LIVE at the Confederation Centre for the Arts on May 15th at 2 PM! Sing along to your favourites like Baby Beluga, Down By The Bay, Bananaphone and many more !

Proceeds benefit The Centre for Child Honouring.

Mary Poppins Lands in Charlottetown

Charlottetown Rural High School is proud to present Mary Poppins, the stage musical adapted by Cameron Mackintosh in 1993. Join us as Mary Poppins and her friend Bert lead the Banks family to break with social conventions and re-discover the real wonder of life before it’s too late!

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Mary Poppins needs almost no introduction. The Disney movie released in August of 1964 quickly set box office records as audiences fell in love with the magical arrival of Mary Poppins, complete with talking parrot umbrella and bottomless carpet bag, to take over as nanny to Jane and Michael Banks. With the help of her multi-talented friend Bert, Mary and the children set out each day on a series of adventures all over Edwardian London, circa 1910. Through many escapades, a near run on the bank where Mr. Banks works and in the midst of a dysfunctional home, Mary and Bert lead the whole Banks family to re-discover the true possibilities of life against the backdrop of social conditions, industrial capitalism and the suffragette movement of the day.

The movie’s audience appeal spread across all ages, garnered 13 Academy Nominations and Awards, a host of other film awards and was selected in 2013 for preservation in the National Film Registry for its historic and cultural relevance. A less-known fact about the movie is that it provided the huge financial backing Walt Disney used to purchase land in Florida and build Walt Disney World.

In 1993, Cameron Mackintosh acquired the rights to produce a stage adaptation of Mary Poppins from the author of the original books, P.L. Travers. In 2004, the musical opened in the West End, London and in 2006 the Broadway version opened in New York where it continued until 2013 when it closed to make room for the new production of Aladdin. In late 2014, Mary Poppins became available for amateur performance, perfect timing for Charlottetown Rural!

Mary Poppins is at the Confederation Centre on May 12, 13, and 14 at 7 PM.