Vancouver theatre review

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.

Richard Newman and Lindsey Angell. Photo by David CooperThe Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rachel Ditor,
Bard Mainstage, Vanier Park,
June 15 to Sept 23, 2011

Vancouver, BC: Of all the Shakespeare plays I have seen I find The Merchant of Venice to be among the most compelling yet certainly the most disturbing to watch. While taking into account the likelihood that the play's reception by a contemporary audience would be very different from an audience of Shakespeare's own time, the script sets up so many powerful and conflicting issues that one is on a non-stop rollercoaster ride.

The Cast of "Parkade: An Indie Rock Musical"Bridge Mix 2011
Presented by ITSAZOO and Enlightenment Theatre
at the W. Pender Metro Parkade between Burrard and Thurlow.
June 8 to 25 2011.

Vancouver, BC. It does not take long for newly graduated theatre students to realize that if they want to practice their art they have to make their own opportunities. The arts life of Vancouver, like other similar cities is enriched by by numerous small independent theatre companies, who must be venturesome and innovative to produce their work with limited budgets and resources. As would be expected, the range and quality of work varies greatly, and some enterprises are more successful than others,

Lois Anderson, Luisa Jojic, Ryan Beil. Photo by David BlueAs You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by David Mackay
Bard on the Beach,
Bard Mainstage, Vanier Park,
June 2 to Sept 24, 2011

Vancouver, BC: Bard on the Beach opens its 2011 season with As You Like it - and like it I did, a lot. Though I have always preferred watching the intense drama of Shakespeare's tragedies to the whimsical frolics of mistaken identities and gender bending of his comedies, I really enjoyed this production.

Kirsty Provan, Holly Pillsbury, Kyla Ferrier, Stephanie Elgersma and others. Photo by Ron ReedThe Great Divorce
adapted by George Drance and Magis Theatre
from the novel by C.S. Lewis
Directed by Kyle Rideout
Pacific Theatre
May 20 - June 18, 2011

Vancouver, BC:  On my last visit to New York one of the plays I saw was The Screwtape Letters, adapted by Jeffrey Fiske from the epistolary novel by C.S. Lewis.  The letters are written by Screwtape, Satan's chief demon to his hapless nephew, Wormwood, advising him on how best to tempt humans to sin. I was enthralled by  the charismatic and dominating Screwtape, amazed at the sinuous contortions of his demonic assistant Toadpipe, and the whole experience was devilishly wicked, funny and at all times entertaining.

The Great Divorce, originally published in serial form in a religious journal, was a complementary novella to Lewis's Screwtape Letters. I was therefore quite excited to see that Pacific Theatre was staging an adaptation of this book and hoped for a similarly entertaining show.

Jennie Neumann in Hairspray. Photo by David CooperHairspray
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Directed by Bill Millerd
Musical Director - Ken Cormier
Choreographer - Valerie  Easton
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
May 7 - July 10, 2011

Vancouver, BC: There is a bumper crop of fresh talent lighting up the stage at the Stanley Theatre, joining Arts Club musical regulars, Matt Palmer, Cailin Stadnyk  and Anna Kuman in a sparkling production of Hairspray.

MacHomer
Created and Performed by Rick Miller
Directed by Sean Lynch
Designed by Beth Kates
Wyrd Productions
Vancouver Playhouse
May 11-15, 2011

Vancouver, BC: Unlike reviewers in the international press I don't have smart writers coming up with headlines for my stories but  I could not resist the challenge in the MacHomer program where 12 of their favorite MacHomer headlines are listed. Since I loved the Vancouver show - and it is now closed.... well d'oh!

According to Rick Miller, MacHomer is "essentially a tribute to the creative vision of Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons) and the genius of William Shakespeare".

But it is also a hilarious and entertaining vehicle to showcase the vocal genius and on-stage charisma that Rick Miller has in spades.

From its casual origin in 1994 as a sketch for a MacBeth cast party, MacHomer in various incarnations, has toured  worldwide intermittently over 13 years, but somehow I missed seeing it until it came to Vancouver last week for a short run at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Andrew Laurenson and chorus. Photo by Michael SiderBEUTFL PRBLMS - a collectively devised production written by and performed by Andrew Laurenson, with Lesley Ewen, Billy Marchenski and Emelia Symington Fedy.
Director/dramaturge Paul Ternes
Radix Theatre Society
The Roundhouse Community Centre
May 13 to 21, 2011

Vancouver, BC:  The premise of this new work - Garry Kasparov's loss of a chess series to a computer - sounded intriguing. I was eager to see the way in which Laurenson and his collaborators would create a spellbinding story from this event. In May 1997, chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, world champion for twelve years running, took on the challenge of beating IBM's Deep Blue Supercomputer. Of the 6 games played, Kasparov won the first game, Deep Blue the second, three were played to a draw and the final game was won by Deep Blue. Had technology triumphed over humanity? Well not really. Since Deep Blue was designed and programmed by a team of 5 IBM scientists and one International Grandmaster, it would be more fair to say that one man was beaten by a collective.

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