It’s A Wonderful Life brings music to Gateway Theatre

Gateway Theatre brings the holiday tradition, It’s A Wonderful Life, to the stage, until December 31, 2018.

Based on Frank Capra’s 1946 film, Peter Jorgensen has adapted a new musical production with music from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s by some of the greatest songwriters of the period, from George and Ira Gershwin to Kurt Weill.  The Gateway Theatre also brings a wonderful 10-piece orchestra, conducted by Angus Kellett, onstage to fill the theatre with the live sounds of the holiday favourites and Broadway classics. 

Jorgensen has created a playlist for It’s A Wonderful Life that is bookended by the familiar Christmas carol “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” and “Auld Lang Syne”, and in between a selection of tunes that will be familiar to some, and brand new to others.  Nico Rhodes’ arrangements and orchestrations are lush and help to create the mood of the scenes, the songs’ lyrics fit with the spirit of the scene but don’t necessarily do much to move the already slow story along.  As with the film, the story is a slow burn, at once nostalgic but also melancholy, until the last scenes reveal with the heartfelt message about family and friends.

The story starts with George Bailey’s (Nick Fontaine) life at a crossroads and recaps what leads him to this point. Fontaine has a commanding stage presence and voice, but rather than making George Bailey his own, it felt like he was trying to emulate the great Jimmy Stewart. While he found a similar voice to Stewart, he didn’t quite nail the emotional range, instead seemed to be perpetually perturbed.  As George’s wife, Mary, Studio 58 student Erin Palm is a stand-out in her Gateway debut, charismatic and possessing a voice beautifully suited for the standards. Just like we could all use an angel on our shoulders, It’s A Wonderful Life was at its best when Clarence, the Angel, played by Greg Armstrong-Morris, was involved.  Armstrong-Morris brought a fun, kind-hearted portrayal of the wingless angel.  Gateway Theatre’s Artistic Director Jovanni Sy does triple-duty as George Bailey’s father, the sheriff of Bedford Falls and the villainous Mr Potter.  The evil Potter allowed Sy to have some fun with the egomaniacal character, he just needed a moustache to twirl.

Fans of It’s A Wonderful Life, the film, will find something new to add to their holiday repertoire with this new musical adaptation.  It’s A Wonderful Life, the musical plays at Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond, until December 31, 2018.

 

Picks of the Week – December 5, 2018

December has arrived and the Holidays are in full swing, Hanukkah is upon us and Christmas is just around the corner. Along the way fill your entertainment stockings with this great line-up of picks of the week

Dorothy & friends are off to see the Wizard in
East Van Panto – Wizard of Oz
photo: Emily Cooper

Wiz: Take off to see the Wizard as The Cultch and Theatre Replacement present East Van Panto: The Wizard of Oz at the York Theatre until January 6th.

Bands: Indie rock acts Yukon Blonde and The Zolas take to the stage at The Commodore Ballroom on Wednesday night.

Pride: Catch the follow up to Pride & Prejudice with Miss Bennet : Christmas at Pemberley at The Arts Club Granville Stage until December 30

Date: Until December 30, spend your date night watching Blind Date at The Arts Club Goldcorp Stage, each night is a unique show as a new audience member is the date in each show.

Life: Find out what happens when the bell rings as Gateway Theatre presents It’s a Wonderful Life, set to the music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, running December 6 to 31st

Whimsy: This week the award winning duo, James & Jamesy’s O Christmas Tree  visit Maple Ridge The ACT and Chilliwack Culture Centre with a Christmas cuppa brimming with holiday whimsy, cheer, and much more.

Merry Kiss-mas

Improv: Vancouver Theatresports presents Merry Kiss-mas – an improvised holiday comedy, parodying all the inane clichés and funny, awkward moments you’d expect to see in a holiday TV special or film at Improv Centre until Christmas Eve

Lights: Light up your nights by visiting some of the Festival light displays around the city like; Van Dusen Festival Of Lights, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park Canyon Lights, Glow Langley, and more

Bach: Early Music Vancouver presents Bach Collegium Japan, joined by acclaimed British soprano Joanne Lunn, performing the works of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, on December 9th at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC

Dance: Ballet BC presents the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Nutcracker at Queen Elizabeth Theatre for three days only, December 7,8 & 9

Pucks: On Saturday evening, the Vancouver Giants return to their old home at the Pacific Coliseum to host the Victoria Royals and the annual Teddy Bear Toss

Choir: The Vancouver Men’s Chorus annual Making Spirits Bright brings some festive holiday music to St Paul’s Anglican Church in the West End on Saturday and Sunday.

Gender: Pi Theatre presents the Canadian premiere of American playwright Taylor Mac’s Hir, exploring the dynamics of a family dealing with PTSD, gender politics & more, until Saturday December 8th, at Vancouver Civic Theatre’s Annex.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Pageant: Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive is the location of the Best Christmas Pageant Ever...or is it? Find out yourself December 6 – 16th.

Drama: Seven Tyrants Theatre presents John Patrick Stanley’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Doubt : A Parable from November 23 – December 14

Mumbai: The acclaimed play Bombay Black, by Anosh Irani, features a poetic text, bold theatrical imagery and a gritty twist.  returns to Vancouver with a run at The Firehall Arts Centre until December 15th.

Belle:  Join your favourite characters as a tale as old as time, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, returns to the Arts Club Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage,  until January 6, 2019

Juniors: For a different take, it’s a tale as young as time when Children’s Theatre of Richmond presents Beauty and the Beast Jr at the Massey Theatre, December 7-8.

Symphony: Saturday night, Vancouver Bach Choir and Surrey City Orchestra join forces to present Handel’s Messiah at the Bell Centre in Surrey

Market:  The Vancouver Christmas Market celebrates its 9th year as it returns to Jack Poole Plaza, until December 24, 2018

Puppet: There’s some marionette merriness as Ronnie Burkett’s Daisy Theatre presents Little Dickens, a take on the beloved holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, at The Cultch Historic Theatre until December 22nd.

Shopping: Tonight, Vancouver Foodster’s Holiday Market brings you tastes and tidbits from around town, then this weekend check out Got Craft! and Shiny Fuzzy Muddy, just some of the many Christmas Craft Markets happening around Metro Vancouver this weekend

Aurora Winter Festival

Festival: Aurora Winter Festival, Canada’s Largest Winter Festival, brings a a skating rink, a tube park, light displays, Christmas Market, amusement rides, food gardens, and many more activities to Concord Pacific Place November 23 – December 30

 

East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz is a Wicked good time

Dorothy & friends are off to see the Wizard in
East Van Panto – Wizard of Oz
photo: Emily Cooper

Returning to the York Theatre for the sixth year, Theatre Replacement’s East Van Panto : Wizard of Oz, paves the holiday road with laughter.  Until January 6, 2019 follow the yellow brick road to East Van as Dorothy and friends try to make it home to Poco.

Directed by Stephen Drover, the family friendly (not recommended for under 5 years) over-the-top musical combines the talents of playwright Marcus Yousef, choreographer Amanda Testini, and musician Veda Hille, who masterfully creates new lyrics for familiar pop tunes, with hilarious results.

East Van Panto
Christine Quintana stars as Dorothy in East Van Panto – Wizard of Oz
photo: Emily Cooper

Dorothy, skillfully played and beautifully sung, by Christine Quintana, lives in a Poco tiny house with her Aunts when the pipeline bursts and she is swept away to East Van, the progressive,  urban landscape of her dreams.  In order to make her way back to her beloved Aunts she must take that familiar journey to visit the Wizard. Along the way she meets a cavalcade of colourful, and familiar, West Coast characters, including a surprising Wicked Witch of the West, played by Craig Erickson.  Erickson and the supporting cast; Dawn Petten, Raugi Yu,  and Kayvon Khoshkam bounce between characters with gusto. Studio 58 students Angela Chu, Dylan Floyde, and Mallory James fill the chorus roles with the help of a rotation of adorable child actors.

In the long tradition of the British pantomime, the audience interaction adds to the fun and entertainment. The show starts with ‘the rules’,  which after this many seasons the audience has come to know, when to boo, when to cheer, show sympathy, and when to heckle the villain.  The joy of the unrestrained younger audience members’ participation brings an extra smile every year.

Craig Erickson as The Wicked Witch of the West
East Van Panto – Wizard of Oz
photo: Emily Cooper

The writing keeps the show accessible for all ages, everyone will find laughter in the slapstick, jokes or situations.  This year’s show is a bit more political than most, resulting in some very topical humour but also meaning some jokes might not land well depending on your leanings.  The Vancouver insider jokes are often told with an East Van-centric point of view, mocking other neighbourhood stereotypes as well as some Commercial Drive self-deprecating humour.  It’s hard to walk away from East Van Panto without having laughed and smiled for the previous two hours.

East Van Panto : Wizard of Oz plays at The Cultch York Theatre, 639 Commercial Driver until January 6, 2019. Showtimes, information and tickets available online at thecultch.com

Albireo, A New Musical, Shines

Like it’s namesake star, Albireo, a new work by Annahis Basmadjian, shines with potential. Albireo was brought to the Red Gate Revue Stage by producers Rushed Productions Ltd with support from UBC Players Club.  Liam Lazenby directs a cast of experienced and new to the scene actors and singers to bring Annahis Basmadjian’s light musical-comedy to life.

Telling the story of two estranged brother’s Charon Chambers (Colton Fyfe) and Wriker Writeov (Jed Weiss), who we learn are half-siren/half-human. Orphaned by their siren mother and deaf-father (therefore could not succumb to the siren song), the brothers fended for themselves using their power for a life of crime.  When Chambers took another young human orphan, Holly, under his wing to settle down and raise her, he left behind his brother and their grifter ways.  When Writeov finds Chambers and Holly about to host a party, some comedic and dramatic events occur that push the brothers to work together to save their family.  Realizing that the bonds of family make their power stronger they are able to fend off a rival.

Being sirens, music is a vital part of Chambers and Writeov’s lives and therefore the play.  Basmadjian has crafted some catchy, pop tunes for Alberio and witty dialogue to go along with them.

The actors’ varying skill levels come into play during the performance, creating a uneven rhythm to the musical as the players move between flat out comedy and dramatic portrayals of their characters.  Seasoned musical-theatre performer Colton Fyfe brings a fully developed character and a more dramatic turn to his Chamber.  Whereas, recent graduate Jed Weiss, in his theatre debut, brings an erratic Jim Carey-style to his comedic portrayal of Writeov.  Having more stage experience performing with his band, his singing and guitar playing skills excel.   Some of the ensemble also stand out, for the wrong reasons, lampooning or murmuring too loudly drawing attention to the background.  On a small space, like the Revue stage, it doesn’t take much to distract and requires creativity from the director, managers and cast to avoid excess noise and balanced performance volumes.

While this Rushed Production Ltd production has ended, if we are lucky enough, we will get to see Alberio again with different companies and stages as the musical continues to develop over the year, it definitely has the DNA for success.

Picks of the Week – November 7, 2018

The Holiday season is underway, but this weekend we also take a moment out of the entertainment to remember the 100th anniversary of the armistice of WWI.

Ceasefire Series : Three Winters
photo: Emily Cooper

Ceasefire: The Cultch honours the Armistice with the Ceasefire Series of three plays exploring the causes, effects, and traumas of war from different lenses,

Honour: Sunday November 11th, veterans will be honoured at the Cenotaph at Victory Square in Vancouver, starting at 10am, followed by a Remembrance Day Parade.

Dumplings: Tonight, get your fill of delightfully filled morsels as Vancouver Foodster and Tasting Plates YVR present Dumpling Fest 2018, an exploration of Dumpling dishes around Vancouver

Bloom: Thursday night, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre welcomes Troye Sivan: The Bloom Tour, with guest Kim Petras

Ache Brasil
Pic: David Cooper Photography

Brazil: Celebrate the Bossa Nova as Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre Society (VLACC) presents a dazzling concert showcasing Brazil’s multi-faceted musical culture in Aquarela do Brasil: An Explosive Celebration of Music and Dance, November 8 & 9, 20188pm at Vancouver Playhouse.

Gum: Until December, visit Mouthfeel at Western Front, a spectacular, peculiar exhibition commissioned by the City of Vancouver about gum, co-created by students

Clockwise from bottom left: Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy), Stefanie Stanley
(Mother), Brennan Cuff (The Old Man), Owen Scott (Ralphie)
pic: Emily Cooper

Ralphie: Align Entertainment brings the holiday classic A Christmas Story: The Musical to the Michael J. Fox Theatre stage in Burnaby, from November 2 – 17, 2018

Screening:  Thursday evening join MISCELLANEOUS Productions for a free screening for the Vancouver film premiere of Monsters, at The Annex, preceded by a new 5-minute short film, Ghosts of Productions Past.

Enemy: The Enemy at The Firehall Arts Centre is a topical, contemporary interpretation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, running November 10 – December 1, 2018

JTJustin Timberlake brings his Man of the Woods tour to Rogers Arena for two dates Thursday and Friday night

Son: Gateway Theatre remounts, the autobiographical one-man show, Empire of the Son, a son’s tale of an emotionally distant father, running November 8 – 17, 2018

Laughs: Just for Laughs presents French comedy star,  Gad Elmaleh at the Chan Centre for Performing Arts at UBC on Thursday evening.

Sweat: The Arts Club Theatre Company continues to Sweat at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, until November 18th.

Couture: The Vancouver Art Gallery presents Guo Pei: Couture Beyond is the first Canadian exhibition devoted to the work of Guo Pei, China’s preeminent couturière until January 20, 2019

Art: Visit Kimoto Gallery November 2 – 24, for a new series of paintings, Water, by Vancouver artists David Wilson looking at the natural watery surroundings and rain-soaked city streets of his hometown.  

Pop: British pop singer/songwriter Lily Allen brings her sounds to the stage at Vogue Theatre on Friday night

Youth Gives A Christmas Story : The Musical, A Leg Up

The youthful cast of Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story: The Musical.
photo: Robert Sondergaard

Align Entertainment kicks off the Holiday theatre season with A Christmas Story : The Musical.  The joyful musical is based on the film version of Jean Shepard’s semi-autobiographical anecdotal book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. The 1983 holiday classic comes to life with book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the award-winning songwriting duo behind La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman.

Set in the 1940s, A Christmas Story: The Musical opens on Jean Shepard’s Manhattan radio show, and takes us back to his youth and recollections of Ralphie Parker’s burning desire to find a ‘Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model BB Gun with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time’ under the Christmas tree. Along the way we meet the the Parker family; younger brother Randy, Mother and “the Old Man”, and Ralphie’s school friends and foes.

From left: Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy), Stef Stanley (Mother), Owen Scott (Ralphie), and Brennan Cuff (The Old Man).
photo: Robert Sondergaard

The musical brings all the familiar scenes from the film version to life; snowsuits,  Scut Farkus the school bully, Flick sticking his tongue to flag pole, The Old Man’s ‘major award’ – the famed leg lamp, Ralphie’s pink bunny suit, a tastefully updated Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant and of course, the visit to Santa to ask for the Red Ryder BB Gun.

While Trent Glukler as Jean Shepard, Brennan Cuff as The Old Man, Stefanie Stanley as Mother and Amanda Russell as teacher, Mrs Shields anchor the show with their solid vocals and characterizations of the ‘grown ups’, it’s the younger actors who steal A Christmas Story.  Lead by a charming Owen Scott as Ralphie, Georgiy Rhatushnyak as Randy, the company is filled with many more young actors, allowing co-producer/director Chad Matchette to create a tight, energetic, fun show.

Owen Scott (Ralphie) on table left and Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy) on table right.
photo: Robert Sondergaard

In this production, the ability to have up to 30 actors on the Michael J Fox stage, allows choreographer Melissa Turpin to create some fun Busby Berkeley-esque song and dance numbers.  Unfortunately, I feel that some of the fantasy pieces could be reduced or cut altogether, to trim the 2.5 hour run time.  While long, the youth save the day, their energy and joy at being part of A Christmas Story, invigorate the audience.  You can’t help but smile at the wide-eyed innocence portrayed by Owen in his lines and lyrics, bringing to mind the iconic film portrayal by Peter Billingsley, but making the role his own.

The detailed set by Conor Moore and great period costumes, by Maureen Robertson complete the picture and take us back to the 1940s. Having a live orchestra, under director James Bryson, ads extra depth to the performances and fills the theatre with the catchy tunes of Pasek & Paul like; It All Comes Down To Christmas, Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, Ralphie To The Rescue, and wrapping it all up with A Christmas Story, to send the audience home with a song in their heart and Christmas on the mind.

Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story : The Musical plays at Michael J Fox Theatre until November 17, 2018. Find tickets and showtimes at alignentertainent.ca 

It’s time for A Christmas Story

As the Halloween season wraps, the calendar flips to bring on the next holiday season. To start Festive season Align Entertainment presents the holiday classic A Christmas Story: The Musical to the Michael J. Fox Theatre stage in Burnaby, opening November 2nd. 

Owen Scott as Ralphie
pic: Emily Cooper

The multi-Ovation Award-winning producers at Align have assembled a talented cast of local stars and young up-and-comers for the heartfelt Broadway adaptation of Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark’s beloved 1983 film. As in the film, A Christmas Story: The Musical follows 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, who wants nothing more for Christmas than an official Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun.

The musical is set to an score by the Tony, Oscar, & Grammy award-winning duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan HansenLa La Land and The Greatest Showman).  The musical adaptation, updated for the stage, contains fresh surprises for fans of the film, while continuing to revisit its iconic scenes, including trips to Higbee’s downtown window displays, shopping for Christmas trees, and life lessons learned along the way (and, naturally, the leg lamp).

A Christmas Story is a quirky holiday classic about a wholesome family founded on unconditional love,” says director and co-producer Chad Matchette. “Generations have been drawn to the young protagonist, Ralphie, who is at the crux of childhood. His innocence and persistence remind us of a quieter and perhaps less-complicated era. It’s no surprise that this iconic tale was adapted into a musical. Through its utterly timeless score and evergreen optimistic message, our astonishing cast of triple-threat talents will set the stage with a festive reminder of the magic found in pursuing our dreams — big or small.”

Clockwise from bottom left: Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy), Stefanie Stanley
(Mother), Brennan Cuff (The Old Man), Owen Scott (Ralphie)
pic: Emily Cooper

The musical comedy premiered on Broadway in 2012, receiving three Tony Award nominations. The work’s enchanting songs include: “It All Comes Down to Christmas,” “Ralphie to the Rescue!” and the energetic “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”  From upbeat jazzy numbers to poignant ballads, the score is carried by a diverse company of Vancouver’s brightest local talent, ranging in age from 9 to 55, accompanied by a live 12-piece orchestra. 

A Christmas Story: The Musical runs November 2 – 17, 2018 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre, 7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby.  Tickets for Align Entertainment’s 2018/2019 Season, including A Christmas Story: The Musical, plus Annie (February 1-16, 2019) are available online at alignentertainment.ca