Review from Stratford – West Side Story

The hype around Stratford all summer has been Stratford Shakespeare Festival‘s hit production of West Side Story. This is a show I’m sure you’re all familiar with, for all intense purposes the show is a musical version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  This time the rivals are the Sharks and Jets two gangs and the lovers are Tony and Maria.  A couple of songs from the show are America, Cool, Tonight and I Feel Pretty.

Before I get very far into my thoughts of West Side Story I should say that I’m not huge fan of the show, the song I Feel Pretty is enough make someone want to inflict pain on themselves.  With that said for West Side Story is this is a good production.  It’s far from the greatest show ever done at Stratford, unlike some of the reviewers are saying, this year alone I would say A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is better.  Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy are both fabulous as the leads in this show.  The balcony scene is wonderful especially when Nolan pulls himself up the side of balcony for their big kiss.

The show has been getting so much attention that a commercial was made:

I had the opportunity to be a shadow for the show last night and it was a wonder experience. I got to spend the night with stage management during the run of the show. Because of my involvement with theatre as a stage manager I was really looking forward to doing that. It was a great experience.


Theatrical Thursday – The Importance of Being Earnest


The first show that I saw at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  For any theatre fan this would be a show you’ve probably seen it several time and probably involved with the show in someway.  But it’s a show I absolutely adore.  It’s almost sad how well I know this show, I could deliver the lines along with the cast.

There are a few interesting points about this particular production that are worth pointing out.  First is Brian Bedford is back at the festival.  That is enough to make it worth the trip to Stratford for this show.  He’s a great classic clown.  Bedford is wonderful in all that he does.  If you’ve never been to Stratford the name may not mean much to you unless you take into consideration Brian Bedford is the voice of Robin Hood by Disney.  Bedford is playing Lady Bracknell as well as directing the show.  The other exciting part of The Importance of Being Earnest is that Desmond Heeley is the set designer for the show.  Anytime he creates a set you know your breath will be taken away.

The cast of this production is amazing, you have Sara Topham, Ben Carlson, and the incomperable Stephen Ouimette.  It’s a show I could watch over and over again this season.  Wilde is a wonderful playwright and I find, no matter how many times I watch this show, I laugh so much.  If you’re looking for a comedy this is the show for you.  The players do a wonderful job of playing off each other bouncing off each others lines as if it were everyday banter.  

Shows that deal with babies left in handbags left in train stations (Victoria station of all places!) are just not done often enough.  The only problem with this show is the final line.  I love this show very much but every time I hear the last line I cringe, it’s horrible.  

It’s also important to note that the festival is doing the three act version of the show rather than the original four act.  There is some interesting trivia surrounding the the creation of the three act play but I wont get into that.  

I’ll leave you with the webcast where the general director of the festival (Antoni Cimolino) talks with Brian Bedford about his involvement in all things Wilde this season at the festival.

Be sure to watch the second part of this video.

Theatrical Thursday – Spring Awakening


I don’t typically go to a show without at least being familiar with one of the tunes.  I like to have some idea of what I’m getting myself into before I get to the theatre, because sometimes it requires some mental preparation.  Now I wasn’t completely oblivious about Spring Awakening before going but I really didn’t know a lot and wasn’t familiar with any of the tunes.  Because I’m such a huge theatre geek/nerd/dork/loser (feel free to throw in any other suitable description I watch the Tony awards every year (June 7th this year) so I know what’s hot and what’s not in the theatre world.

That means my first encounter with Spring Awakening was this:

I do need to say that I don’t fully understand the use of microphones and don’t think that it’s necessary.  I was able to look past while watching the show.  That was really the only down side to the musical version of Spring Awakening.  

The only other thing I knew about this show is that it was written as a drama in 1891 by Frank Wedekind.  He was ahead of his time because of the subject matter that he would write about (sexuality, teen issues, and suicide).  This show was then banned everywhere it went because of the subject matter.  It was until this show was produced in its current musical form that this show saw the footlights of the stage.

Just recently I was able to get my hands on a copy of Spring Awakening from my book people at The Book Vault.  The script was translated and introduced by Jonathan Franzen (yes the Jonathan Franzen).  I haven’t read it yet but I’m really looking forward to it because it’s supposed to be much darker than the musical, which is only fitting given the subject matter.  It should be great.

The musical is fantastic and has many wonderful songs.  I’m going to leave you with a number of songs for you to listen and watch.  I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

There are so many other songs in this show I wish I could put more on here. But I hope you enjoyed what I’ve provided.

Caesar and Cleopatra

This summer the Stratford Shakespeare Festival had Christopher Plummer playing George Bernard Shaw’s Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra. It was a show that got so much attention that the show was filmed in HD and presented at Cineplex theatres across Canada. Now for those of you that didn’t get the chance to see this amazing show, directed by Stratford’s new Artistic Director Des McAnuff, you can watch it tonight on Bravo at 9pm. If you can you should definitely watch it tonight. It’s a chance to see a show Stratford is famous on of the thrust stage that made Stratford famous. Here’s the trailer for it’s first release, it went over so well that they did a second screening:

Here are some of the cast talking about the show and some behind the scenes:

Be sure to catch the other 2 parts of this webcast.

Theatrical Thursday – Jersey Boys

Given what this Theatrical Thursday is about not all of these will have a link to a novel of any kind. Even though this isn’t book related I wanted to talk about it anyway because I love theatre and once the Festival gets going I’ll be talking about a number of shows that have no other literary history than that of a theatrical production. But I also think that plays has a place in the literary world and that’s why I’m using this place to talk about them.

There were a number of reasons for wanting to see Jersey Boys. The primary reason for wanting to watching this particular show is because the director, Des McAnuff, is the new Artistic Director of the place I work, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. This year he is directing our flagship production Macbeth and one of the musicals this season A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. So needless to say I felt inclined to see this production dispite its one major downfall, the fact that it’s a jukebox musical. I really don’t like the jukebox musical because the stories are contrived and are just a way of drawing people to the theatre because they already know the music.

I saw the all Canadian cast at the Toronto Center for the Arts last week. There were four of us that took the trip from Stratford to Toronto. Sadly the most exciting part of the evening was when we saw Fred Penner come through the front door. He was someone I remember watching on television all the time growing up. So it was really exciting to see him. You may better remember him for this:

After that excitement we entered the theatre to see this production. Jersey Boys, for those of you don’t know, is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The story is good and the music is fantastic but as a show it’s not anything spectacular. I just couldn’t understand why it continues to win all the awards it’s won or won the Tony Awards it got. The best that could be said for this show is that it’s entertainment. It’s enjoyable but I don’t think it’s something people should rush out to see.

My first encounter with this show was watching the Tony Awards. You’ll get an idea of the energy of the show from the clip below from the Tony Awards. For those of you that know the music of the Four Seasons you’ll enjoy the tunes in this show and it may be of interest to see the show.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

Okay, maybe it’s not completely different but it is something new. I was inspired by this weeks Booking Through Thursday and wanted to spend sometime talking about my other passions on this lowly blog. So, the idea came to me, it was like the proverbial light went on. Not only do I love books but I also love movies and even more than that I love live theatre. So, every Thursday I’ll be doing a new feature called Theatrical Thursday.

On Thursdays I’ll be talking about movies and theatre that are based on or inspired by works of literature. Well, theatre is a work of literature in itself but I’ll try to talk about works that have their start with the written word. This obviously will not always be possible because I work for a theatre that deals with classical works, and I see all their shows so I’ll be writing about these on Thursdays as well. But I think you know where I’m going with this.

To tickle your taste buds for the first installment I’ll tell you it’s going to be all about my favourite colour….The Color Purple. This story has been reincarnated both for the big screen and for the stage. I’ll leave you wanting more with this clip:

Weekly Review #8

Well I guess this past week made up for the previous week.  I got three books finished and got a giveaway started.  I guess I have several reviews I should get working on and posting on here but I keep finding other things that I want to talk about on here so the reviews get left behind sometimes.  Another bookish type thing that I got do yesterday was a trip to Toronto to see The Color Purple: The Musical.

If you’ve been reading this post for a while you’ll know that I spent some time talking about Canada Reads last year and I’ve started to keep tabs on what’s going on in the world of Canada Reads 2009. So to celebrate great Canadian literature I’ve decided to host a giveaway.  I’m going to give the drawn name the winning novel in this years Canada Reads.  I’m really excited to see what others have to say their best Canadian novel is.  Since some people have asked already the giveaway is open to everyone!  Enter and good luck!

This week I finished reading Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow then I got several other started and finished.  This week I also had the joy of reading Fruit by Brian Francis (this is the first book I read for Canada Reads 2009), Murder at the Prom by Peter DePietro (this was actually some required reading for the community theatre group I’m helping get off the ground), and the 3rd installment of the Fables graphic novels (Fables: Storybook Love by Bill Willingham, with illustrations by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha).  Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for some reviews to come.

Well it’s been a busy week and it was nice to end it off yesterday with The Color Purple and then the Oscars.  A great way to end a week.  Until next time happy reading!

Let the Games Begin

Wow, it’s that time of the year again. CBC is gearing up for it’s yearly Canada Reads competition. I always look forward to debates that happen on CBC radio 1 to see what the defenders of each book has to say about the novels. When I get a chance to read the selections I’m often pleasantly surprised how wonderful the books really are.

I must say I wasn’t a huge fan of Canadian fiction until just a few years ago when I took a Canadian Literature course at the University of Manitoba. After reading doing the required reading for the course I couldn’t get enough of the writers from my country. Canada has some wonderful authors and I try to find more of them yearly.

Well, I walked into The Book Vault yesterday to pick up the books that I had ordered for the book club at work (John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines). Before leaving home I took a look at the list of books up for Canada Reads 2009 and decided I would pick up two of the books up for debate:

bookofnegroesSince this book won the Giller prize I’ve been drawn to it. Then the book continued on to win the Common Wealth Writers’ Prize for best overall book. So I thought I would pick up this book and attempt to get it read for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge. The motivation became even greater since it became a selection for Canada Reads.
I must say I’m trilled to be reading this book and without having read any of the books I’m kind of thinking this will be hands down the winner of Canada Reads 2009.

ladynextdoorSince the first time I watched Les Belles Soeurs I fell madly in love with the dramatic writings of Michel Tremblay. And since that first encounter with his work I try as hard as I can to see everything he’s written for the stage. I’ve never read any of his fiction and seeing The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant on the Canada Reads list I couldn’t resist reading this. So I grabbed this one as well.

After reaching for my copy of The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill I looked up and saw another book on the list for this seasons Canada Reads 2009. So, I made the mistake of pulling it off the shelf .

fruitOn my cover of the book just below Fruit it said “a novel about a boy and his nipples” after reading that I knew I had to see what this book was about. Upon turning the book over and reading the very first sentence taken from a review published by Entertainment Weekly I new I had to read this book. The review stated, “Peter Paddington is a 13-year-0ld, fat, gay cross-dresser with two selfish, annoying older sisters and an overbearing mother” nothing more needed to be said I knew right there that I wanted to read Brian Francis’ book.

There are two other books in the contest but I didn’t pick those up so for the time being I’ll just wait to see what the debaters have to say about them before I rush out to pick them up.

Weekly Review #5

I spent the last weekend in New York City.  It was my first time in the city that never sleeps and it was wonderful.  While I was there I took in three shows, most of which were fantastic.  I also worked on completing the books I started last week.  I should get The Devil’s Picnic finished early this week and I’ll replace it with T.H.E. Hill’s Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of Monterey Mary which is a preview copy.

While in NYC I took in Equus, Marry Poppins, and August: Osage County.  The last two were amazing, Mary Poppins gets great kudos for the technical wonderment.  It included a bed made out of a cloth and Poppins sliding up a banister.  Equus (written by Peter Shaffer) was not very good.  Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t any good in the show (I must say I really wasn’t surprised by this) but then the woman playing Nurse was awful.  Then on top of that the lighting was probably done by a 5 year old.  August: Osage Country (written by Tracy Latts – and won the Pulitzer Prize)  was perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen.  It was amazing, if you get a chance to see or read it you must!

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

Since being back in Stratford I’ve been to see many shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. My first introduction to this season was Joe Masteroff, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret staring Bruce Dow as the Emcee and Trish Lindstrom as Sally Bowles. Since being home I’ve already watched Cabaret twice. Needless to say I loved the show from Wilkommen to the finale.

This is not the Cabaret of Liza Minnelli this is a Cabaret that is both fresh and exciting.  It’s a show full of energy and sexuality.  And it’s the kind of musical that I love, one that makes you think.  Not many musicals are thought provoking, they are rather a toothy all is happy and wonderful with the world.  It’s not very often that you see Natzis in a musical.  The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has done a wonderful job bring the pre-Nazi era to it’s stage.  The Nazis are even more disturbing in this production as you cannot see their faces, they covered with a black cloth.

I cannot leave this post without talking about another amazing set design by Douglas Paraschuk.  Every time he does a design you know you’re in for a treat and have a lot to take in.  With the simple yet complex design of Cabaret Paraschuk has out done himself.

Cabaret is an amazing production and it was an amazing way to start the start my first season at Stratford. It’s true what the Emcee says to open the show, ” So – life is disappointing? Forget it!  We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful…The girls are beautiful…Even the orchestra is beautiful”