Category Archives: Reviews

Rockin’ in Memphis

If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. ~ Carl Perkins

Blue Suede Shoes opened things up. The set was a border of light featuring a recording studio full of gold records & vintage instruments. I couldn’t miss this Opening Night & I was not disappointed with this picture perfect Charlottetown Festival musical celebration last Friday!

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Million Dollar Quartet had a great storyline centred around Sam Phillips’ (played by Stephen Guy-McGrath) Sun Records, 4 legends from the 50’s and loyalty to the man who got them to the top of the game when Rock n’ Roll was in its infancy. A young up and coming Jerry Lee Lewis (Jefferson McDonald) was a Real Wild Child and was my personal favorite of the Quartet. He was outspoken and matched his over the edge comedy with high adrenaline musical portrayals of his best known songs.

The King of Rockabilly, Carl Perkins (Ed Murphy) had something to prove and played some awesome licks on the guitar, Man in Black Johnny Cash (Greg Gale) walked the line with a heavy heart, & The King Elvis Presley, (who was accompanied by his girl Dyanne (Alicia Toner), was the guest of honor.

Some of my favorite performances included Who Do You Love? By Perkins, That’s All Right by Presley, Fever by Dyanne, I Walk the Line by Cash, & of course, Great Balls of Fire by Lewis.

The players had the moves, the look, and most notably, the musical ability to make me believe I was transported in time to Memphis for an inside look at a session like no other. Great tunes, and a fast paced sentimental journey music fans of any generation can appreciate in a 1 act masterpiece. It is definitely happening at The Confederation Centre in Charlottetown in 2017!

 

Written by Cindy Lapena.

Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca. Used by permission.

What Lori MacDonald Said About Robyn Hood

We loved Robyn Hood! Every year we go to the Christmas shows and have always enjoyed each and every one! Mamma Mia, Anne of GG, Alice Through the Looking Glass, of course, were amazing too!

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Great performances, witty and fun! We are so fortunate to have Confederation Centre here in Charlottetown!

Rockin’ Robyn

When I first heard of the production Robyn Hood from one of my students in Seniors College, I thought it sounded like quite a riot, considering the play had a cast of 75—Charlottetown’s version of a cast of thousands—and the script by Adam Brazier and Graham Putnam wove several stories together with contributions from the cast. One must certainly investigate a claim of that magnitude. After opening night at the Homburg Theatre, I can say with certainty the claim is completely true.

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The Confederation Centre of the Arts kicked off the Christmas season with Robyn Hood, a comic musical adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, except this time, Robyn is a woman out to defeat the power-hungry Prince John of the Kingdom of Charlottetown. Maria Campbell, an alumna of the Confederation Centre Young Company, belted out a charmingly exuberant Robyn Hood supported all throughout by Friar Tuck, played Alana Bridgewater, whose powerful and lovely voice filled the theatre—the two were perfectly matched singing together.

Not to be outdone was Maid Marian, played by Jessica Gallant, who matched the mood with her music as she tried to solve her dilemma: to betray or not to betray? Sarah MacPhee’s signature Town Crier role was resurrected yet once again and given the opportunity to rise in the ranks, thanks to Matt Rainnie’s dastardly pouting Prince John’s machinations. He was joined on stage by his two daughters in the Charlottetown ensemble impoverished by being taxed to the max by Prince John.

The numerous scenes offered multiple opportunities to shift around the cast of 75—filling the stage was certainly not a problem in this production. Although the production was not technically perfect, the minute slips here and there were easily covered up by the ribaldry and jokes that spared no one. A great deal of the humor, however, is strictly local and anyone who is not familiar with PEI culture might not understand why people were laughing. There was a generous dose of tongue-in-cheek wit throughout the play and even the songs were selected from a wide range of sources to provide a lively musical tapestry.

Besides the occasional dancer with lower energy levels, the performance was bursting with rollicking fun. Garnett Gallant’s set design was just right and I wonder if anyone else picked up on the bit of irony with the Bundy clock, guitar, golf cart, and Maid Marian’s selfie during the wild chase through the Christmas-lit forest, not to mention the occasional hand microphone appearing on stage after Friar Tuck declared the play would bring us back to a time before cellphones, iPads, and Netflix! Deliberate or not, inconsistencies aside, it all added up to a great deal of fun that might have started a tad slow but certainly built up to a rousing end.

If you’re in for some Christmas cheer, this is just the performance to see!

Review by Cindy Lapena. Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.com.

A Quiet Riot

The English musical theatre adaptation of Les Belles-Soeurs, originally written by Michel Tremblay (his landmark piece of theatre, Les Belles-Soeurs, has been performed around the world in more than 25 languages), is a fun show to behold, but could also be a cautionary tale of commercialism and the perils of piety.

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When dreary housewife Germaine Lauzon (Lisa Horner, who is debuting at The Centre this year, having played in Kinky Boots, Wizard of Oz, Les Misérables (Mirvish Productions); Fiddler on the Roof, Good Mother (Stratford), & TV/Film credits for Little Mosque on the Prairie, Road to Avonlea to name a few. Lisa has also received two Dora Awards for her work in Wizard of Oz and Grey Gardens) wins one million customer loyalty stamps worth $100,000 of free catalogue items and is betrayed by her God-fearing friends and relatives during a stamp licking party, one has to wonder what they are really worshipping. Is it God, materialism, or both?

The performance runs rampant with religious overtones. Germaine’s favourite exclamation is: “St. Therese!”, a French saint who wants for everything in her childhood but joined a convent to serve God when she was 15 years old. Germaine hands out the stamps to her friends, almost as if they are a sacrament, to paste to redemption cards. The most notable, and entertaining, example is the Ode to Bingo stop action, slo-mo number, in the second act, which ends in a tableau reminiscent of da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

The play starts off with a bang amidst an invigorating performance of “I Want It All” with an all-female cast of jealous homespun ladies spanning the generational spectrum trickling in, drooling over the prospect of new furniture, reversible dresses, & 4-slice toasters. It takes place in the working class community of Plateau-Mont-Royal, Montreal, in 1965, in the midst of the Quiet Revolution, a time of cultural introspection for Quebec. The time period is after schools are no longer administered through the Catholic Church and before Expo 67, when French president Charles De Gaulle declared “Vive le Quebec Libre!” on the balcony of Montreal city hall.

The word ‘Free’ is a recurring theme in the script. Germaine and her party guests crave things they don’t have to pay for but also wish to be liberated from their dreary lives. They steal their host’s stamps, diminishing their respective portrayals of piety, leaving Germaine to question her own belief system.

The ‘holier than thou’ attitude of the party goers is most evident when Germaine’s sister Pierrette (played by Geneviève Leclerc in her debut at The Centre, having appeared in: Guys & Dolls, Lies My Father Told Me (Segal Centre); Les Misérables (US and Canadian tours), a club hostess and social pariah, makes an appearance at the end of the first act. Everyone seems scandalized and are hesitant to exchange words with her, even if they see her regularly at the club. Germaine’s daughter Linda (played by Elise Cormier, also debuting at The Centre, appearing in Les Misérables(Le Capitole, La Place des Arts) & Little Women (La Bordée) is anxious to speak with Pierrette about her lifestyle and how she was able to escape the drab existence that plagues the other characters.

One of my favorite numbers included a song of jealousy called ”It’s A Dull Life” featuring some unusual, yet surprisingly delightful percussion choices (by Peter Colantonio with pit credit for Belles Soeurs: The Musical (National Arts Centre) including pots, pans, a washboard & even a kazoo! Another song featured the use of a rocking chair & of course, there’s no other way to describe it other than to say It Rocked! Aside from the music & a story that I think a lot of people can relate to (6/49 & Chase the Ace wishlist fantasies have never been hard to come by around here), the use of gossip & perfectly timed passive-aggressive name-calling kept the laughs rolling throughout this kitchen party of a tale that surfs on the cusp of rags to riches.

This show is excellent and will give audience members a lot to talk about. The creative and technical aspects are all very well thought out and executed. The 1960s kitchen and costumes (Costume Designer: Mérédith Caron who has contributed to more than 150 works & is considered a leader in the field of costume design, having worked at the Stratford Festival & Cirque du Soleil: Criss Angel Believe (Las Vegas) & Amaluna since the beginning of her career in 1978) were brilliantly done, along with the second storey balcony where the characters could sing and emote without having to be on the stage proper. Audience members familiar with the story will recognize Pierrette almost immediately.

Eagle-eyed viewers may also recognize Lisa Horner (Germaine) as the Ikea Start the Car lady, from the iconic commercial (which, oddly, has similar themes to this play). In this show, Horner looks more like Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker, which is a testament to the skills of the makeup and costume departments. I enjoyed the costumes of Linda most of all. They were bright, fun, and fit the period; and were a stark contrast to the other ladies’ outfits. Germaine’s party dress is also a showstopper.

Any acting troupes looking for a fun musical with 12 strong female roles, an entertaining book and lyrics (Book and lyrics by Director René Richard Cyr & Music by Juno Award winner Daniel Bélanger), should take a look at Belles Soeurs: The Musical.

Belles Soeurs: The Musical runs from September 13th to October 1st, 2016 at the Homburg Theatre.

Review by Kimberly Johnston and PL Holden, Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca.

Mining the Mundane for Comedy Gold

British-born comedian Chris Gibbs, who opened for the sold out run of Stranger to Hard Work starring Cathy Jones last summer, has returned to Victoria Playhouse with his new one-man show about life, death, family, and fatherhood. Like Father, Like Son? SORRY (which premiered at the 2009 Toronto Fringe Festival, where it won Patron’s Pick) is billed as a stand-up comedy show but it’s so much more. Gibbs, the creator and star, mines his life for comedy gold. He brings us into his world of memorable characters and noble self-deprecation.

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Chris Gibbs (who has toured extensively as a stand-up comedian and improviser, written and performed 5 hit, award-winning one-man shows, & was a regular guest on NBC’s comedy series Howie Do It) now lives in Toronto with his Canadian wife and son, is sensitive to the fact audiences may be offended by words like “vaginal”, or “fallopian”. He mentions that words can be more palatable when spoken in a cartoon voice; so he says them like Scooby Doo. Gibbs is also apologetic when he says his son is blonde-haired, blue-eyed and tall for his age. But he doesn’t mean to brag; he’s only stating facts.

One of my favourite parts is when Gibbs makes light of the fact his good-looking son has all the dominant traits of his mother. He launches into the interaction that must have taken place between the sperm and egg to result in a complete lack of genetic representation on the part of the Gibbs family.

The most vivid scene Gibbs paints is the birth of his son, Beckett, by way of caesarean section. He uses voices, physicality & plenty of his patented Gibb-erish to introduce the different personalities taking part, one of which is an overly-sensitive anaesthesiologist. His Hugh Grant impression, I might add, was also right on.

Gibbs, who kept the laughs coming in rapid succession in this light-hearted & clean (which this audience, I’m certain, was very appreciative for) two set stand-up routine, was quick to point out his shyness but seemed very at ease on the Victoria Playhouse stage, appearing unwilling to leave it at the end of the night. He thanked his audience members profusely and asked them to tell everyone they know about the show.

And that’s what I plan to do.

Like Father, Like Son? SORRY is playing at the Victoria Playhouse September 9th to 16th.

Review by Kimberly Johnston and PL Holden Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca.

(Post) Mistress Delivers, First Class!

When you cross a truly unique set (Scenic Design by W. Scott MacConnell, who did a great job creating a post office/cabaret hybrid) & light show (designed by James Clement & technically executed by Dave Nicholson) with musical direction on keyboards by Holly Arsenault, & Ken Fornetran on Saxophone & then let Martha Irving go to town with her magical conversions of a bunch of random letters into song, you get a stage that absolutely beams of enthusiasm & star shine!

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Postmistress Martha Irving (Director of the musical Anne & Gilbert for 5 years) began her career at Victoria Playhouse in Barefoot in the Park in 1977 & returned last year to star in Sexy Laundry. This year, from August 6 to September 4, she owns the stage as a charming postal worker with a lovely French Canadian accent named Marie-Louise (whose raison d’être, she admits during the show, is her service to her post office), a role she originated at Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro, NS, in this dynamic one-woman show by Playwright Tomson Highway (who is the recipient of 10 honorary doctorates & is a member of the Order of Canada, today enjoying an international career as a playwright, novelist, pianist, composer, & songwriter). In The Postmistress, Irving is quick on her feet, hitting all the notes in a variety of catchy tunes from both of Canada’s official languages (the soundtrack album of The (Post) Mistress, received a Juno Award in 2015 for Aboriginal Album of the Year), & taking the audience to school in terms of comedic timing. She also makes very effective use of props.

In many songs she was shelling out the dirt on residential gossip, but nonetheless remains a class act the whole way through. Most of the numbers required a delicate balance of sentimentality, phrasing, & punch-line ad libs (usually with a nudge & a wink) & she was very impressive. I thought the story she told about her younger days in Buenos Aires was just adorable. Director Catherine O’Brien (who is also playing the role of Rachel Lynde in this season’s production of Anne & Gilbert at The Guild), who has demonstrated her talents as an actress & vocalist on many occasions over the years must no doubt be very proud of this performance.

I’m sure the collective abundance of theatrical experience between everyone involved had a lot to do with the seamless flow of a range of emotions from sadness, to madness, to seduction, to utter silliness (sometimes even bordering on going absolutely postal), & huge rounds of applause were definitely not in short supply. Unless you find the thought of listening to a French-Canadian accent for a couple of hours annoying there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have a great time watching Martha Irving strutting her stuff. If you can get a ticket to this feel-good, must-see PEI theatre event, it’s well worth the drive out to the Victoria Playhouse.

Review by PL Holden. Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca.

 

A Prism For Your Soul

The Glass Menagerie is 1,000 points of light being refracted into a kaleidoscope of emotion. It will give you many feelings, big and small. You may have feelings that you don’t know where they come from and you possibly never will. The performances are so raw they will reach you on a cellular level instead of an emotional one. Basically, The Glass Menagerie may break your heart into a million tiny pieces lying on the floor of the Watermark Theatre. You may not be able to mend it until you’ve had a good cry in your car after the show.

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In Watermark Theatre’s 9th season Robert Tsonos, in his 1st year as Artistic Director, introduced this classic written by Tennessee Williams who wrote his first play as a teenager in 1935. Williams was a cutting edge playwright & most widely recognized for winning two Pulitzer Prizes, with “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947) and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1955). This play, I’m told, is partly autobiographical based on his college years in St. Louis providing him with a time & place for his first masterpiece.

Tsonos also took time to thank the interns that are part of the company this season as part of their Mentorship Program. We were talking with one of the stage hands during intermission who was grateful to get some hands-on experience through this program. Another example of how much this theatre continues to care about giving back to the next generation of talent. According to the program: This is a great set for learning. The theatre is small enough to be nurturing & large enough to have processes & policies in place to keep an intern safe.

In the early moments of the first act, Gracie Finley (raised in Charlottetown, trained in London, England, Ms. Finley is best known for playing Anne Shirley at the Charlottetown Festival from 1968 to 1974 and again in 1984 and 1985, being the first Islander to play Anne. She has had numerous roles at The Watermark including The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the Nurse in Romeo & Juliet, & Lady Markby in An Ideal Husband) pranced around the stage cleverly decorated with antique furniture (compliments to set designer William Layton who created a convincing depression era St. Louis atmosphere on this unique in-the-round stage) as she reminisced about her younger days of entertaining her multitudes of callers. In a most intense performance, she plays a mother who is extremely worried about the future for her daughter & feels as though something has got to give for better or worse. Finley in my opinion is the face of Watermark this year & gets my vote for MVP of this company.

Leah Pritchard (who has worked throughout the Atlantic provinces & helped lead Watermark Theatre’s youth theatre conservatory for the past two summers) plays Laura, a china doll of a woman who has a penchant for collection glass trinkets. In the grips of the shyness of her character often loses her composure. She displays convincingly that she lives with a disability & very low opinion of herself. I had high expectations of Pritchard’s portrayal of the sensitive, delicate Laura and I was not disappointed. Similarly, Gracie Finley did an outstanding job in her interpretation of the aged Southern Belle Amanda Wingfield. The play was the perfect vehicle for both performers and they pulled out all the stops.

Daniel Briere (who has spent the last 3 seasons at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Recent credits include Hamlet (Shakespeare Bash’d), Antony & Cleopatra, & Romeo & Juliet (Stratford Festival) makes an appearance as the much anticipated dinner guest, and Laura’s high school crush, Jim O’Connor. He is charismatic and dapper, and everything Laura deserves. The scene where Laura and Jim sit on the floor talking may be my favourite part of the show. This is where we see Laura turn into the ethereal, beautiful creature she has the potential to be. And the kiss was pretty spectacular as well.

Rounding off the cast of four, Joshua Browne’s (who has worked at IFT Theatre, Circlesnake Theatre, Theatre Gargantua & more) portrayal of Tom Wingfield is an excellent case study in how raw emotion can be conveyed just by standing still. I’m not sure what method Browne used to master the 1,000-yard stare Tom adopts, during critiques of his character by Amanda, who accused him of being as eloquent as an oyster, but it was effective. And universal. I felt scenes much like that one, between mother and son, were being played out in households all over the world in a million different languages. Often times getting poetic, the young low-wage warehouse worker spoke of magicians, late night travels, & a thirst for adventure. I must admit I was a little surprised to see him smoking on stage, but I later learned it was actually an e-cig, which is apparently acceptable indoors.

I’m not sure how much information to give about the much anticipated second half, for fear of spoilers, but it may not incorporate the ending audiences were hoping for. However, it could be the ending we needed in order to realize how invested we’ve become in the characters.

Robert Tsonos, who directed the play and is doing great so far as Duncan MacIntosh’s successor as Artistic Director for the Watermark Theatre this year did an amazing job in leading the cast and crew to create something, I hope, they will always be proud of. After the show, I think I heard Tsonos’s voice crack as he invited the audience to a reception. He seemed to be quite moved by the performance, and rightly so. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay at the reception for long. I had to go to my car and cry.

This, much like other classics over the years in Rustico, is not light theatre, although there are plenty of laughs scattered throughout the script. The lesson I took from this play is the harsh reality present early in the Twentieth Century still holds true today that if we can’t believe in ourselves we simply cannot expect anyone else to & I can totally relate to that scenario, as I’m sure many others in the audience probably could at some point in their lives. Bottom line: Great show all around. If it is not the ending audience members are hoping for, they can read A Pretty Trap by Tennessee Williams. That oughta cure what ails them!

Review by Kimberley Johnston and PL Holden. Used by permission. Originally posted on http://www.onrpei.ca.