Vancouver theatre review

Ryan Mooney as the wily PseudolusA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Cathy Wilmot
Music Director Sarah Jaysmith
Choreographer  Dawn Ewen
Fighting Chance Productions
Jericho Arts Centre
Oct 4 - 22, 2011

Peter Stainton as Sennex with the courtesansVancouver, BC: What happens when that ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus meets twentieth century playwrights Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove,  figuratively of course? You get Pseudolus (the play) turned into A funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, where stock characters (young lovers, obstructionary old man, clever slave) play out slapstick comedy with storylines borrowed from ancient Greek theatre.

The cast of Ride the Cyclone. Photo by Fairen BerchardRide The Cyclone
Book by Jacob Richmond
Lyrics and music: Brooke Maxwell & Jacob Richmond
Atomic Vaudeville
Revue Stage, Granville Island
Sept 28 to Oct 15, 2011

Vancouver, BC: Wow! That was the erudite word that popped into my head a few moments after this show started and when it ended 90 minutes later the "wow" was still there, even more so.

Sarah Jane Pelzer as Jane Doe. Photo by Feiran BerchardSo ride your bike, car, take a bus or ferry or walk down to Granville Island and catch this show before it closes here next week to head up to Whitehorse for a run.

Jennica Grienke, Agnes Tong, Stephanie Moroz, Andrea Houssin: Photo by David CooperThe Crucible  by Arthur Miller
Directed by Jane Heyman
Studio 58 at Langara College
Sept 29 to Oct 16, 2011.

Vancouver, BC:  "The play's the thing!" and Arthur Miller's play written almost 60 years ago has not lost one iota of its power to captivate. The Crucible is set in Salem village, Massachusetts in 1692, notorious for the witch trials resulting in nineteen people hanging for supposedly being witches. Miller's play premiered on Broadway in 1952, five years after the House Committee for Un-American Activities had begun an investigation into communist influence in the Hollywood movie industry.  Several hundred actors, directors and screen writers accused by this committee were blacklisted and their lives and careers ruined. The Crucible serves an allegorical function, the religious hysteria of seventeenth century Massachusetts stands in for the anti-communist hysteria of the 20th century. Both forces  were driven by rabid believers who forced innocent people into the moral dilemma of false confessions or naming names of associates, to save their own lives.

Emma Middleton, Scott Button, Jordan Kerbs Top: Alex Pangburn. Photo by Tim MathesonThe Trial of Judith K by Sally Clark
Directed by Tom Scholte
Theatre UBC
Frederick Wood Theatre,
Sept 29 to Oct 8, 2011 - shows at 7:30 PM

Vancouver, BC: Black Comedy? Absurdist theatre? Whatever genre this play falls into, "The Trial of Judith K" would be a difficult script for even a professional company to pull off well and this student production did not entirely succeed in doing so. Without a copy of the script in front of me I am also finding this hard to write about, since other than Jordan Kerbs who plays the title role, each of the other cast members play at least three separate characters (twenty in total) and it's hard to keep them straight in my mind. But here goes.

Anita Wittenberg, Donna White, Brian Linds, Emilee-Juliette Glyn-Jones, Alex Diakun. Photo by David Cooper.Circle  Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker
Directed by Nicola Cavendish
Granville Island Stage,
Arts Club Theatre Company,
Sept 22 to Oct 22,2011

Vancouver, BC:  The best aspect of this production for me was the way David Roberts' set design and Ted Roberts' lighting came together to create a realistic setting of a typical studio space in a school or community centre. At first we see only a opaque, reflecting rear wall of the studio up stage but back lighting reveals a corridor with more rooms opening off the far side.  I really liked this effect - it transported me back to some of the weird and wonderful classes I took at local community centres.

Warren Kimmel, Caitriona  Murphy and Eric Morin. Photo by David CooperNext To Normal
Music by Tom Kitt
Book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey
Directed by Bill Millerd
Musical Directors Bruce Kellett and Ken Cormier
An Arts Club Theatre Production,
Stanley Theatre Industrial Alliance Stage
Jan 27 to Feb 27, 2011

Vancouver, BC:  Go and see Next to Normal. It's powerful stuff yet poignant, at times comedic and the characters will grab at your empathetic emotions and not let go. This rock musical garnered Tony awards for best score and orchestrations, as well as a somewhat controversial 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Millerd and his stellar cast did justice to every aspect of the show.

Todd Talbot and Lauren Bowler. Photo credit TUTSAnything Goes
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Original book by PG Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Russell Crouse, Howard Lindsay
New book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Director Sarah Rodgers
Music Director Christopher King; Choreographer Dayna Tekatch
Theatre Under the Stars,
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
Alternating nights July 13 to August 20th, 2011

Vancouver, BC: As we sat at a window table enjoying an exceptionally good pre-show meal at the new Ensemble restaurant, we watched raindrops spattering on the pavement. It looked like the weather forecasts were  correct and the opening night of Anything Goes would take place under wet skies.

Seth Little and Andrew Cownden. Photo credit TUTSBy the time we walked into Malkin Bowl to find our seats the sky had temporarily cleared but before the show began the drizzle started up again and the TUTS volunteers were handing out transparent ponchos to keep everyone in the audience dry.

But not even the rain could decrease my appreciation of Cole Porter's marvelous musical. Anything Goes is one of my favorites because almost every tune is a "stick in the head" kind of melody.  My IPod ballroom dance music collection has quickstep versions of "It's De-Lovely", "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick out of You", and I think I  have most of Porter's clever lyrics permanently implanted in my brain. So I sang along silently in my head, and enjoyed the show a whole lot.

Cast members of Bye Bye Birdie. Photo credit TUTS.Bye Bye Birdie
Book by Michael Stewart; Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Lee Adams
Director Shel Piercy
Music Director Kevin Michael Cripps; Choreographer Shelley Stewart-Hunt
Theatre Under the Stars,
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
Alternating nights July 12 to August 20th, 2010

Vancouver, BC: It is summertime in Vancouver - sort of - and Theatre Under The Stars is back for its 65th season.  After an early meal at Le Bistro de Paris, we were looking forward to the opening night of Bye Bye Birdie, which runs alternate evenings with one of my favorite musicals, Anything Goes, which is packed with songs  by the fabulous Cole Porter.

Lalainia Lindbjerg as Rosie. Photo credit TUTSIt's easy to see why Bye Bye Birdie is a favorite musical for high school and college shows. Inspired by the 1958 drafting of Elvis Presley into the US army,  the storyline centers around rock and roll idol Conrad Birdie (Erik Gow), who is about to go overseas to serve his time in the army. His agent Albert (Daniel White) worries that this is the end of his business. His girlfriend / secretary Rosie  (Lalainia Lindbjerg) who wants Albert to give up the music business, marry her and became an English teacher, has an idea for one last publicity stunt to make them rich. Conrad will record Albert's new song, One Last Kiss, and one lucky teenage fan, Kim (Amy Jean Mcelwain) from small-town Sweet Apple, Ohio, will be kissed by Conrad on the Ed Sullivan show. Of course nothing works out as planned but everything turns out happily in the end. 

Scott Bellis (Duke of York) and Josue Laboucane (Henry VI): Photo by David CooperHenry VI: The Wars of the Roses
adapted and directed by Christopher Weddell
from Henry VI Parts I to III  by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival,
Studio Stage, Vanier Park.
June 30 to September 21, 2011

Vancouver, BC: With Henry VI and Richard III, Bard in the Beach completes the  History Cycle of Shakespeare's plays about the 14th and 15th century Kings of England and the civil wars between the Houses of Lancaster and York, rival families within the royal House of Plantagenet. The play cycle at Vanier Park commenced in 2009 with the production of Richard II and continued in 2010 with Falstaff and Henry V.

The cast fights one of the many wars. Photo by David BlueHere's a quick summary of the saga related in the Kings' plays. Henry IV who had deposed Richard II established the House of Lancaster (red rose) on the throne of England. His wild young son matured into the warrior king, Henry V, he of "once more unto the breach, dear friends" fame. Unfortunately Henry V died young, and his infant son became king Henry VI. Richard, Duke of York (white rose) challenged young Henry's right to the throne and a series of battles between the armies of Lancaster  and York took place over the next thirty some years. Finally a Lancaster, Henry Tudor, defeated Richard III of York. Henry VII married Elizabeth of York to unite the warring houses, and the Tudors ruled England over the next century.

For more background see my 2009 interview with Christopher Gaze on Presenting Shakespeare's Kings History Cycle.

Anthony Shim, Kendra Anderson, James Pizzinato. Photo by Ronan ReinartThree Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Victor Ayala,
Ninja Pirates Theatre Company
Studio 16
June 28 to July 3, 2011

Vancouver, BC: I was about to join friends for a farewell dinner at Salade de Fruits Cafe at the French Cultural Centre on West 7th.  The Centre is also home to the Studio 16 black box theatre. As I entered, the poster for the play that was opening that night in Studio 16, caught my eye. It was Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg, the first play in a book with a 4 play collection by Greenberg, that was sitting on a bookshelf in my apartment. I remembered that on reading the play some time ago, I had thought  what a fantastic acting challenge it would present and I was curious to learn who was tackling it.

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