Say I Do to Mamma Mia at Arts Club

MammaMiaFrom the opening notes of the overture to the final sing-along curtain call, Mamma Mia now play at The Arts Club Theatre Company Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, will have you dancing in your seat.

The feel-good jukebox musical inspired by the hit music of Abba is composed by Abba’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and written by Catherine Johnson with this production directed and choreographed by Valerie Easton.  Set Designer David Roberts’ beautiful set transports the audience to the beaches and tavernas on the fictional Greek Island of Kalokairi.

Mamma Mia opens as Sophie Sheridan (Michelle Bardach) prepares for her wedding to fiancé Sky.  Raised by single mother, innkeeper, Donna, Sophie seeks to know who her father is and discovering her mom’s diary she discovers three possible fathers.  Inviting all three, Sam, Bill and Harry, to her wedding unbeknownst to Donna, with none of them, other than Sophie, really sure why they are all on the island, all sorts of miscommunication comedy ensues.  Donna is supported by her two long time girlfriends and former girl-group bandmates, Rosie and Tanya.

Throughout the 2 hour musical the story of love, female empowerment, and friendship is perfectly woven into the familiar Abba songs.  Amongst the solid storytelling, some numbers are just for the sheer fun of it, enter Donna and the Dynamos who’s camp costumes takes the audience back to the heyday of the Swedish quartet.  The Dynamos, Rosie and Tanya, are played with just the right blend of slapstick and camp by Cathy Wilmot and Irene Karas Loeper (respectively), while Stephanie Roth brings a perfect balance of power and emotion to Donna’s vocals.  With Ms Bardach vocally matching Roth’s, the two leading ladies anchor Mamma Mia with the grace and strength.  Among the male leads Michael Torontow as Sam, stands out with a strong voice and leading man charisma.  Local theatre veterans, Warren Kimmel as Aussie Bill and Jay Hindle as Harry, while not carrying as much of a musical load, bring a nice blend of comedy and fatherly friendship to their roles, in spite of Hindle’s distractingly wavering British accent.

While there appeared to be a couple prop and wardrobe slips on opening night, not surprising in such a physically challenging song and dance production, the veteran cast improvised their recovery with seamless ease.  The overall spirit of Mamma Mia and the joyous Abba music is sure to win over even the hardest demeanour with smiles and laughs throughout the show, especially during the rousing encore as the company (and many audience members) reprise Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen and Waterloo.

Mamma Mia plays at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Theatre until August 12th, with special sing-along performances on July 28th. Visit artsclub.com for showtimes and tickets.

Bakersfield Mist at The Arts Club Theatre

The Arts Club Theatre Company’s Bakersfield Mist, now playing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, reminds the audience just how subjective the art world really is, and who decides what makes a masterpiece.

Award-winning playwright Stephen Sachs based Bakersfield Mist on a true event. Detailed in the documentary “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock” tells the story of retired truck driver Teri Horton’s $5 thrift shop painting that was possibly a Jackson Pollock.  The story follows Teri’s, or Maude Gutman as she’s now named in the play, attempt to have the painting authenticated and the fight against the established art world.

Bakersfield Mist takes place completely in Maude’s Palm Springs trailer, filled with her art ‘finds’. The contrast of the tchotchke laden trailer with the supposed Pollack masterpiece shadows the contrast of foul-mouthed Maude, played by the brilliant Nicola Cavendish, against the uptight, pretentious art expert Lionel Percy, played by Jonathan Monro.  The performances from both players make the character feel authentic as they try to cement their viewpoint.  I’m sure we’ve all had debates like this about subjectivity of art, Bakersfield Mist is the amplification of all of those debates – who decides what makes art.

While the trailer-park perfect set may seem cluttered and the language is colourful, the simplicity of having just the dynamic duo on stage and no intermission grabs the audience and drags them along on the pairs back and forth as they find they have more in common than first meets the eye.

Bakersfield Mist is now playing at The Arts Club Theatre’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, running until November 20th.

Dream a Dream of Les Misérables at Arts Club

les-miserablesThe classic Broadway hit musical, Les Misérables, is filled with everything one could hope for in a musical. Drama, passion, history, humour and timeless songs are all part of the show and the Arts Club Theatre’s production.  The compact staging and auditorium make for an intimate experience and allows the passion of the music to hit home.
The players lead by Kieran Martin Murphy’s Jean Valjean and Warren Kimmel as Inspector Javert are all outstanding, bringing believability and emotion to all the roles in spite of telling a story crossing decades of time and history. With songs like I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own and One Day More transcending the musical, these performances, respectively, by Rebecca Talbot as Fantine, Jennie Neumann as Eponine and Murphy’s Valjean more than live up to expectations.  Touching and heartfelt the whole performance tugs the heartstrings, and from the sounds of the buzz, leaving no audience members untouched after the 3 hour show.

The Arts Club Theatre Company’s Les Misérables plays at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until August 16th, now held over until August 23rd, you won’t be sorry if you see it, only if you don’t.

“One Man, Two Guvnors” – Lots of Laughs

one-man-two-guvnorsNow playing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, One Man, Two Guvnors is an uproarious funny comedy starring Andrew McNee as the ‘one man’, Francis Henshall.  Set in 1963 Brighton, England the play is performed in a classic British farce/vaudeville style.

Between scenes the cast take turns performing musical numbers alongside The Craze, the on-stage skiffle-band who ushered in the acts and perform songs that help reinforce the Swingin’ 60’s British invasion ambience. The plot, based on the 18th Century Italian comedy Servant of Two Masters,  revolves around the confusion of Francis trying to hold down two jobs, with subplots of mistaken identity, con-artists and love-triangles.  The juggling of predicaments results in hilarious slapstick and physical comedy, coming mostly from McNee and Andrew Cownden’s senior citizen character, Alfie. The remainder of the brilliant cast enhance McNee’s antics and even when playing the straight-man tongues are firmly planted in cheeks. Many break the ‘fourth wall’ for a wink and a nod to the audience but McNee smashed it down to venture out and speak directly with the audience and to choose unsuspecting audience members to ‘assist’ onstage for added hilarity.  The show makes the audience feel like they’re participating in the fun rather than just watching from the pews.

One Man, Two Guvnors runs at The Arts Club Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until February 22, 2015, catch it before it sells out!

 

Hairspray – The Big Fat Musical

Telling a story of race relations in 1960’s Baltimore as played out through the story of a ‘pleasantly plump’ girl’s struggle for acceptance in high school and as a dancer on the American Bandstand-esque, “Corny Collins Show”.

Jennie Neumann shines as teen, Tracy Turnblad as we follow her quest for fame, love, acceptance and equality.  Her journey takes place under the watchful eye of mother Edna Turnblad, as played brilliantly by Andy Toth – who took over the role after original lead Jay Brazeau suffered a mild stroke onstage during previews – and loving father Wilbur (Laurie Murdoch).  Along for the ride are best friend Penny Pingleton (Robyn Wallis), posterboy heartthrob Link Larkin (Adam Charles) and Seaweed (J. Cameron Barnett), who all help Tracy learn and blossom from a bullied, chubby girl into a womanly activist fighting to end segregation on the Corny Collins Show.  The quartet are aided and hampered by a colourful array of supporting characters highlighted by the amazing voice of Alana Hibbert’s Motormouth Maybelle, who hosts “Negro Day” on the Corny Collins Show on which Tracy thinks it should be “Negro Day” everyday!  The dynamic duo of Tracy’s teen rival Amber Von Tussell (Anna Kuman) and her menacing mother Velma Von Tussell (Cailin Stadnyk) stand in Tracy’s way as best they can.

Hairspray is not all activism and ‘message’, after all it is set during a song & dance show in the 60’s, there is plenty of opportunity for great music & lyrics, by Tony and Grammy award winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The witty and innuendo laced dialogue also won a Tony award for Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell.   Having seen the movie version it was easy to get into the ‘swing’ of the beat but even without seeing any previous version, the songs are based on a late 60’s simplicity that makes the whole show easy and entertaining and each piece definitely made the audience bop along from start to finish.

From the wide demographic at the performance, Hairspray is a feel good fun time that everyone can enjoy! Go see it!

The Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hairspray is now playing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until July 10, 2011

August: Osage County

August: Osage County – Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage – February 8, 2011

August:Osage CountyOne hot summer meltdown (literally & figuratively) in the life of the Weston Family is portrayed in this Tony award winning play by Tracy Letts.   The story plays out over the course of a swelteringly hot summer in the American South as a large family gathers to deal with love, loss, betrayal and intrigue. Throw in a dash of drugs and drinking to this perfect recipe of dark comedic family angst.

Directed for the Arts Club Theatre Company by award winning director/actress Janet Wright (Corner Gas) this production features a large ensemble of seasoned actors who bring this family to life…larger than life at times.  The two female leads bring some truly scenery chewing moments to the stage in the, often loud, battle of wits between matriarch and eldest daughter.  A couple of the characters seemed a bit underwhelming in the shadow of the great force of the leads but overall the cast was solid throughout.  The amazing set, bringing an entire three story house on to the stage, was almost another character as the family’s sense of ‘home’ was questioned throughout the play. Without the solid set to ground the play in reality it may have slipped closer to being a farce. Instead we get to peak into this family’s dramatic unravelling and feel for the characters instead of just laughing at them…although there are many moments of dark laughter throughout the memorable 3 hour performance.

If you are able to see this play live do it now, then you have something to compare the inevitable film version.   You can very much see this play being perfect for a screen adaptation and a movie version is in development.  The latest news is Meryl Streep and Julie Roberts are due to begin filming in March 2011. Let’s wait and see!