Theatre Seen

Titanic –A New Musical
Story and Book  by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston
Director/choreographer Max Reimer
Musical Director Kevin Michael Cripps
Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
Until August 18th, 2012

Vancouver, BC: For an avid ballroom dance cruiser who has set sail, so to speak, on 2 ocean liners and several large and small cruise ships in the past three years, a musical about an "unsinkable" ocean liner that actually sinks could be deemed an odd choice for entertainment, especially just before boarding another ship as I will do in a weeks or so.  But previously, before leaving on a Cunard cruise round the British isles, I had read  quite a bit about the Titanic, and a visit to the Titanic Museum in Halifax on another dance cruise later that year ago was also a fascinating but sobering experience. Perhaps partly because of that, for me the emotional impact of this TUTS production was quite intense.

This Theatre Under the Stars production of Titanic - A New Musical is different from TUTS more usual style of musical theatre but under the direction of Max Reimer, it is definitely one of the best shows that I have seen there.  Obviously the subject matter does not lend itself to lots of upbeat song and dance musical numbers, but there were many moments of humour, and the singing, both individual and in the ensemble pieces was excellent.

The audience of course, unlike the passengers and crew who are full of excited anticipation on stage, knows from the first minute that these characters and this marvelous ship are doomed. Despite every minute of emotional angst that derives from the powerful impact of this dramatic irony (and I was almost moved to tears in several parts) the show is entertaining and is definitely well worth seeing.

The Taming of The Shrew by William Shakespeare
Directed by Meg Roe,
Bard on the Beach
Bard Mainstage, Vanier Park,
May 31 till September 22, 2012

Vancouver, BC: When I reviewed the 2007 Bard production of The Taming of the Shrew which I thought to be "one of the best productions I have seen at Bard", my opening remark was "What a great start to the 2007 season."  I can only echo that remark after seeing Meg Roe's entertaining and exuberant interpretation of the play. It's an excellent production and a definite "don't miss it" for Bard fans.

High Society
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter; Book by Arthur Kopit
Directed by Bill Millerd
Arts Club Theatre Company
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
May 10 to June 24, 2012

Todd Talbot and Jennifer Lines. Photo by Tim Matheson.Vancouver, BC: Having waltzed, foxtrotted and quickstepped across many ballrooms to many Cole Porter songs, I confess I am an unabashed fan of much of his music.

My favorite Porter musicals, "Anything Goes" and "Kiss Me Kate", are packed with songs that stick in your head and with versions by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra frequently playing as background accompaniment while I work, many of those lyrics are firmly engraved on my brain.

That being said, I have not seen either The Philadelphia Story nor the film version of High Society so after a light supper round the corner at Rangoli,  I came to see this musical with no preconceived expectations - and enjoyed the show a lot.

The cast of the Preview Opening Night  of Dragon's Improv Tank. Photo by Peter WilliamsDragons' Improv Tank
Created by Louise Moon and Roger Fredericks
Vancouver TheatresportsLeague
The Improv Centre, Granville Island

Vancouver, BC: Scary as I find the thought of being on stage with lines that I am supposed to have memorized, the thought of having to be spontaneous and improvise on the spot is even scarier. As one of those people who thinks of a witty comeback to a taunt hours after it would be meaningful, I have often thought it would be good for my too-serious, introverted soul to sign up for an introductory improv course to see if I could come up with anything smarter than "duh!"

Lori Watt and Lisa Dery, Photo by Wendy D.The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
Directed by David C. Jones
A Frolicking Divas Production
Jericho Arts Centre
March 8 to 17, 2012

Vancouver, BC: With Vancouver's theatre community reeling from the news that the Vancouver Playhouse Company is closing its doors, some light entertainment is sorely needed. Vancouver is rich in ambitious, new independent theatre companies and one such group, The Folicking Divas, has brought the female version of Simon's Odd Couple to the Jericho stage.

The Female Odd Couple, a version written by Simon for a female cast  some twenty years after his1965  original Broadway hit, features Olive Madison (Lisa Dery), an unapologetically sloppy, non-cooking independent gal and Florence Ungar (Lori Watt), an obsessive, housekeeping type, whose joy in life is to elimate any speck of dust and produce healthy home-cooked meals. When Olive lets the newly separated Florence move into her Riverside Drive apartment, it is anything but a "marriage made in heaven."

Poster at the Booth TheaterOther Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz,
Directed by Joe Mantello,
A Lincoln Center Theater production,
Booth Theatre, 225 West 45th St, NY
Jan 25th, 2012

New York, NY: This play was the fifth production I saw in my New-York-one-week-seven-play marathon. Amidst some really great theatre, this was the show that I found the most compelling. The story was gripping and the characters were fully developed and utterly believable.

Although I enjoy all the varied theatrical genres, my favorite form of play is one with a strong dramatic script where stakes are high and the arc of evolution of the characters is meaningful. I thus found it especially interesting to compare the emotional impact of the two dramas I saw back to back, namely Seminar and Other Desert Cities. Both plays dealt, albeit from different perspectives, with the way the creative act of writing and the written product, book or story, impacts both writer and reader. Both plays had first class acting and great production values, set, lighting, costumes etc but of the two plays, only Other Desert Cities had the "wow" factor for me; getting me right in the guts. I think the difference lies in the scripts.

Wall poster for Bob at New York Live ArtsBob
Conceived and directed by Anne Bogart
Created and performed by Will Bond,
Text adapted by Jocelyn Clark
SITI Company,
Bessie Schonberg Theatre at New York Live Arts
Jan 19 to 29, 2012

New York, NY: Inspired by the work of avant-garde theatre director, Robert Wilson, Bob is a homage to a man whose career in the theatre pushed the boundaries of performance though movement and manipulation of space and time. Commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, after it premiered  in February 1998,  the show moved to New York in April 1998, where it garnered Obies for both Lighting and Sound Design. In honor of Wilson's 70th birthday in 2011, SITI brought the show back to the stage for a limited run at New York Live Arts.

Although I had heard much about the teaching of SITI Company, their summer intensive programs, and their workshops in Viewpoints and Suzuki training, I had not until now had the opportunity to see a SITI production. So when I realized that Bob was on during the week I was in New York, I leapt at the opportunity to get tickets. I loved the show and watching Bond's elegantly controlled performance gave me a visceral understanding of the creative process in a way that I could not get from merely reading about it.

The program for SeminarSeminar by Theresa Rebeck,
Directed by Sam Gold,
101 Productions,Ltd..,
Golden Theatre,
January 24th, 2012

New York, NY: I had seven time slots to see theatre during my week in New York, and so many tantalizing possibilities to chose from. Seminar was one of my first choices, both for the subject matter, namely a workshop for young aspiring writers, and for the rare opportunity to see Alan Rickman on stage. Rickman and the other four cast members performed superbly, the on-stage energy and chemistry of the ensemble was remarkable and the design aspects were as excellent as I would expect of a Broadway production.

Yet I did not have a "wow - I really  want to see this again" response to this play and I left feeling vaguely disappointed. The next day I saw a matinee performance of Other Desert Cities and this helped clarify what for me was missing in Seminar.  I think the fundamental problem lies in the script which lacks tension and and is populated by shallow, facile characters.

audience mask from Sleep No MoreSleep No More
Directed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle
Designed by Barrett, Livi Vaughan and Beatrice Minns
Choreography by Doyle
Sound Design by Steven Dobbie
Lighting Design by Barrett and Euan Maybank
Costume Design by David Israel Reynoso
An Emursive and Punchdrunk production
McKittrick Hotel, New York
Held over till March, 2012

One of the hottest theatre tickets in town is the audience immersive experience, Sleep No More. Sleep No More is the creation of Punchdrunk, a British dance Company who originated the show in London in 2003, bringing it to Boston and then to New York.  Loosely, very loosely, based on Macbeth, with elements of film noir and Rebecca thrown in, it is physical theatre set in "found space." in this case the setting is the abandoned McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. The audience, each person wearing a mask, and bound to keep silent at all times follows actors around as the various stories unfold. Its New York run has been extended several times and is currently set to run to March 24th, 2012.

We arrived for our 7 PM time slot on a freezing cold night.  We lined up on the snow covered pavement outside the entrance to the old McKittrick Hotel. To quote from the Sleep No More website "Completed in 1939, the McKittrick Hotel was intended to be New York City's finest and most decadent luxury hotel of its time. Six weeks before opening, and two days after the outbreak of World War II, the legendary hotel was condemned and left locked, permanently sealed from the public. Until now..."  Tantalizing - because nowhere could I find any details about the building as a hotel and why the hotel was condemned.

Clara and soldiers from the 2010 Goh Ballet Nutcracker. The Nutcracker,
A Goh Ballet Production
Choreographer Anna-Marie Holmes
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Vancouver Opera Orchestra
Conducted by Leslie Dala
The Centre for  Performing Arts
Dec 15 to 18, 2011

Vancouver, BC: The Nutcracker has been a Christmas tradition for ballet companies all over the world for many years.  I remember way back as a child in Cape Town, being enthralled by the music and the fantastic visions on stage. That was an early event that led to my lifelong love of dance. Vancouver's Goh Ballet has established a tradition of its own with this year's show being the third  production of this version of the ballet. It has been a while since I have seen The Nutcracker, but it has lost none of its charm for me.  This production sparkled and I loved every minute of it.

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