Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Locals Know - Dangerous Liaisons

Usually when we write these reviews we totally agree what to write, but with this particular show we have a slight difference of opinion.

I really enjoyed this production. I would however offer a word of warning, This production doesn't hold anything back, and if you are at all uncomfortable with the lascivious content of this play you might want to steer clear of this production. Personally I was really looking forward to this play and I enjoy it immensely.

My partner on the other hand didn't enjoy the play as much as I did. He felt that this is a very intimate play, and thinks it might have been better suited to the Tom Patterson stage.

We did agree on the fact that the entire play could be tightened up, in terms of timing and pacing. But we did see the very first preview so I am quite confident that this will improve with time. Another thing we agreed upon was the performances of Seana McKenna, Sara Topham and Martha Henry are spectacular and the costumes and set are beautiful.

After we saw this play we had a very lengthy discussion about it with friends at dinner that evening. This play is going to be the topic of many discussions at our breakfast table for the remainder of the season and that is exactly what good theatre should do.

Locals Know - For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again

I realize that we keep gushing about everything we have seen this season, but we can't help it. As Ross wrote on the Festivals facebook page " It just keeps getting better and better! It is the cherry on top of an already brilliant season and must not be missed."

This play is a beautiful slice of life that made us laugh and cry. I think everyone will be able to identify with Lucy Peacocks character. She portrays an exuberant woman that every audience member will connect with, and she will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride. Tom Rooney has also hit his stride this season and we tilt our hats to his performance. This was the play that I was most looking forward to this season and it surpassed every expectation. We don't want to give too much away but what we will say is "DON'T MISS THIS PERFORMANCE."

Bieber Fever is Alive and Well

Stratford Ontario has become famous in a new generation. Not for the long standing and world renowned Shakespeare Festival, but as the home of the teen heart throb Justin Bieber. I love the thought that not so long ago Justin was just another local teen performing on the steps of the local theatre and look at him now. The local tourism association has had over 9,000 visits to the Justin Bieber map and has handed out over 1000 printed versions!

We too have seen the effect of "Bieber Fever."
A few days ago I received the following e-mail.

"hello, good night...
i seeing your room, and i feel interesting..... btw, its available a set a house, or just a room?... *thanks.. "

I was curious about the message so I replied;
"Thank you for your interest. At our B&B we rent out bedroom suites, but with that you do get to use parts of the house and grounds. If you would like to book please let us know."

This was the response I received;
"ouwh, yeah its so nice thankyou... :) :) and, yeah, its must be so great..., i like it soo much... :) btw, i live in Indonesia (asian)... sorry for bothering and ask alot... but, im sorry i cant rent it for now, cz im still 15 yrs old...
i just soo interesting with your place, when i take a look about Stratford Ontario.....
At first i just wanna see Justin Bieber's place, cz im a Huge Fan of Justin Bieber.. :))

thanks again.. :) i hope i can take a rent in your place soon with Justin Bieber. ;) jk,... :) :)"

I guess the old saying that any press is good press would apply to this interaction. Thank you Justin for exposing us to a new market.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Locals Know - Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale is yet another success in what is proving to be a wonderful season. This production delivers a very well told story that is easy to follow, even for non-shakespeare followers.

The staging of this production is simple but effective, and the costuming is lovely. It has a well rounded out cast of characters that worked together to tell this lovely tale There are fantastic performances by a multiple characters. To name just a few, Seana McKenna has a strong stage presence about her in this role, and brings an energy and commitment that is often hard to find. As well, Yanna McIntosh captured the grace and style of Queen Mermione.

Once again the director has captured the comedic moments and managed to find the musicality in Shakespeare's words. Even the bear managed to make many audience members jump.
Simply put It is nice to see that Shakespeare can be performed traditionally and still be pertinent and current. Instilling intrigue and true emotion.

Locals Know - The Tempest

The highly anticipated production of the Tempest starring Christopher Plummer is up and running, and yes it was worth the wait. As expected, Mr. Plummer is fantastic, the way he commands the attention of his audience and his mastery of Shakespearian text is incomparable and those two aspects alone make this production a must see. There are also some surprise stellar performances in this production. The first of which is that of Julyana Soelistyo as the lovable sprite Ariel. Soelistvo brings an infectious energy and a childlike innocence to this character. So much so that it is hard to believe that in real life she is a married mother of two.
The play itself runs the risk of being a little dark, but Director Des McAnuff has managed to find the comedic moments in the script. Bruce Dow as Trinculo and Geraint Wyn Davies as Stephano lift the audience out of the darkness every time they walk on the stage. Dow's campy antics are absolutely hilarious.
A shout out should also be made to the many hands that are backstage making this show happen. All the technical elements from the slight of hand to big theatrical illusions are all presented with panache.
(As a side note, the first act is very long so be prepared and use the facilities before you are seated.)

Put all of these wonderful performances and technical talents together and the result is a show that should not be missed. It is no wonder that Bravo will be returning to record this production for the archives. I strongly suggest you take advantage of any opportunity to see it live.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stratford Summer Music

Stratford Summer Music is celebrating it's tenth season this year and the line up is spectacular. Last night we had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by the events Artistic Producer, John Miller who gave us some wonderful insight on what one shouldn't miss this year.

Opening the five weeks of festivities is a wonderful concert that will be held on Tom Patterson Island. Although the concert is a private event for sponsors the music and fireworks display can be enjoyed by all. The piece de resistance of this evening will be a barge decorated with Chinese lanterns which will float down the Avon river, flanked by two Dragon boats. On the barge will be a choir, and if Mr Millers enthusiasm is any indication of how spectacular this will be, we are in for a treat.

The festival will be full of amazing talent, and I will try to point out a few of the highlights;
Canada’s great tenor to the world Ben Heppner will be performing five times during the first week of the festival including a performance with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada right next door to Hughson Hall at Central United Church. The Lanley Ukulele Ensemble is the most requested group in the festivals history and they will be returning this year. If you have an opportunity take advantage of Picnic Basket auctions that will take place every Saturday during the festival. These picnics are supplied by local restaurants and always prove to be a wonderful surprise.

Another festival favorite has been the Saturday night Cabarets at the Church Restaurant. These are after theatre performances that begin at 11:30 pm but this year there is also a dinner and show option that should prove very popular. The tickets in highest demand this year are the Bach at Rundles performances. Winona Zelenka, acting principal cellist of Toronto Symphony Orchestra, presents J.S.Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello on the famed Guarnerius/Starker cello which was built in 1707. Additional performances have been added so there are still some tickets available at this time.

In week three keep your ears peeled for local 60's rockers "Reload" who will be performing classic rock on the barge. You can also catch the three act performances of "My Audia" in the downtown core. Each act of this three act tragicomic street opera will be performed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The basis of the plot is "what happened to the children of Hamelin after the Pied Piper took them away." On another level this opera will explore the power of sound and how it can save us.

In week four check out Jan Lisiecki, a 15 year-old piano sensation from Calgary. After his performance in Stratford Jan will be heading to Warsa to perform at the 5th International Festival “Chopin and His Europe” On the barge this week check out the sounds of New Orleans with the female Cajun Band, Swamperella.

Finally in Week five watch for the Tivoli Boys Band from Copenhagen Denmark, and don't miss the RBC Festival Finale featuring Jackie Richardson. This performance will also be held next door to Hughson Hall at Central United Church.

It looks like an outstanding event, so please try to take in "Stratford's Other Festival" this summer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Locals Know - Peter Pan

This production is a wonderful addition to the Stratford Festival play bill this season. Exposing a new generation of theatre patrons is never a bad thing. Offering a production that can be enjoyed by children and adults that are young at heart is even better.
As Antoni Cimolino has stated these children will be the next generation of theatre goers and this production is sure to leave them with a lasting memory that will draw them back to Stratford in years to come.
There are plenty of awe inspiring effects in this production that will be enjoyed by both young and old. The flying scenes are flawless, the alligator is highly entertaining. But the piece de resistance is the ship. WOW! The story line is darker than you may recall from your childhood memories, but the energy and dedication the actors put into their performances certainly transport you back in time. Michael Therriault's performance as Peter was awe inspiring! His movements, and speech pattern convinced us that he was indeed a fine example eternal youth. Playing opposite as his nemisis, Captain Hook, balances out this battle of good and evil.
We were fortunate enough to sit beside two young boys, ages 8 & 11, who's energy and enthusiasm made the show all the more enjoyable for us. At one point the 11 year old next to us exclaimed "Isn't this exciting! It's not every day that you experience something like this." We felt the same way, as the pirates scoured the audience for Lost Boys.

As a side note we have a challenge for you. There is one actor that plays two different characters in this production, can you figure out who it is? Best of luck and enjoy the show.

Check out this production clip.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Locals Know - Jacques Brel is Alive and Well

What a lovely nugget. We thoroughly enjoyed this production but the first thing we will address is the fact that this isn't really a play, but more of a collection of songs by the famous french songwriter Jacques Brel. If you are looking for a collection of beautiful songs that individually tell wonderful little stories you will love this production. The songs have been translated into English but have not lost their soul. A few songs are performed in their native language and although we are not french speaking we recognized the beauty these song held when performed in french.
The most impressive is the sound quality. This being the first musical staged in the Tom Patterson theatre the Festival has invested in a new sound system for the theatre. The result is superb and for the most part you could never tell the actors were mic'ed. This production also proves that this venue is perfect for intimate musical performances due to the fact that the audience is performed to from every angle. Making the audience feel as though they are an intimate part of the performance.
Another element of this performance that must be noted is Jewelle Blackman's rendition of "Carousel." I can't say that I remember her performance in Cabaret but after this show she will never again be forgotten.
In summary these enticing little nuggets exemplify the famous soliloquy from "As You Like It", this speech states that all the world is a stage and these little songs are further proof of that.

If you want to investigate the real life Jacques Brel check out the following link;
Jacques Brel Video

Check out this production clip.

Locals Know - Evita

I had the pleasure of attending the very first preview of "Evita" and the production was everything that I wanted it to be. As expected Chilina Kennedy absolutely shone. This production has gotten a lot of criticism even before it opened. Some Shakespeare purists believe a Lloyd Webber play shouldn't be a part of this festival, others simply believe that the real Eva Peron was a money hungry social climber and that there shouldn't be a play about her in the first place. To these nay-sayers I say expand your horizons. This is a lovely production with great performances, some catchy tunes and a wonderful set. The play manages to transport you to another time and place and that is what good theatre is all about.
One of the great things about this show is the set. They have developed a wonderful system that acts like the lens of a camera enabling the director to expand or focus the audiences viewpoint. I found this extremely enticing and loved the way the set was manipulated to help to tell the story. Furthermore the use of video imaging also enhanced the production making it new and interesting. The friend that I attended this show with made a comment at intermission that she found Chilina's voice a little shrill, but I assured her that I felt it was a part of her character, and as her character grew so would Chilina's voice and this was definitely the case. My hat goes off to Chilina for although she is a a very petite woman she caries the big role very successfully.
I have seen this show before many years ago, but over the years I have forgotten a couple of points. This show is somewhat a rock opera, and some of the songs reminded me a lot of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Having said that some of the music is loud and edgy so be prepared. Finally I had forgotten how abruptly this show ends. You discover that Eva Peron's body disappeared for 17 years and then boom bows begin. There is no big finale number to let the audience leave tapping their toes but this too is a representation of the the real life story. Eva Peron clawed her way to stardom, she eventually lived the flashy and glamorous life she had always dreamed of, but then suddenly it all came to an end.
I feel that this production is a welcomed and interesting alternative for Stratford patrons and I hope you enjoy the show as much as I did.

Check out this production clip.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Locals Know - As You Like It

In our last entry I referred to a statement made by Bruce Dow in which he said that if you see "As You Like It" you will get what Des McAnuff is all about. Well I think we got it, but what a wild and wonderful mind this man has. This years production of "As You Like It" has so many wonderful things going for it I will only be able to scratch the surface. First and foremost the cast is amazing.
Throw together Brent Carver, Ben Carlson, and Paul Nolan, fold in the delicious Andrea Runge and Cara Ricketts, and finally add a dash of Randy Hughson and Lucy Peacock and you cant help but come out with a winner. Even though this production is set in the 1920's McAnuff has successfully made Shakespeare contemporary. The set is inspired by the artistic works of Dali, Magritte and Glen Brown so if you are at all familiar with their work it will make even more sense. One note of caution is that the first act starts off a little slow, but this is due to the script itself. This play takes a while to introduce all of it's players and the story seems to take a while before it really gets going.
I don't want to give too much away on this one, but I think Mr. McAnuff succeeded with this one.
We enjoyed this play and think it will foster plenty of breakfast conversations over the course of the season.

Check out this Bravo clip from the production

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Insight on the Season

Last night we attended the Stratford and Area Bed and Breakfast Associations Spring Social.
It was a lovely evening hosted by the local restaurant "Pan Tapas & Grill," but the highlight of the evening were the guests of honor. The Festival Theatre House Manager Stephen Barber and Festival Actor Bruce Dow gave us a wonderful insight on what to look forward to in the upcoming season. Mr. Barber started off the discussion by saying he wasn't much of a speaker and that he would talk first because once Bruce got started he wouldn't get a word in. He went on to share many comical antidotes about his thirteen years working with the festival, but the thing I wanted to share with all of you was what he said about this years production of "Kiss Me Kate" Barber called this show "a valentine to theatre" He went on to explain that anyone who has ever been involved in amateur or community theatre groups will relate with the antics that are portrayed in this play. In his opinion this is one of the must see productions this season.
For the few of you that don't know him, Bruce Dow has been an actor with the Festival for eleven seasons. Many will remember him for his more recent roles in "Cabaret" and "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." Last year Dow had to pull out of the production of "Funny Thing." There have been a lot of stories circulating about the how and why this happened but he wanted to clear the air. Dow explained that it was a combination of things. First he injured his knees during the rehearsal process, then early in the run he contracted pneumonia which ultimately resulted in a paralyzed vocal chord. Fortunately his voice has returned and the Festival has asked him to return this season. This year Dow will be performing in the production of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" This show was done by the festival in the past, but unlike the previous production which he described as being quite dark he says this years production is going to be a blast. Dow also explained that a few years ago people were beginning to say that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival needed a change. Having been an actor both under Richard Monetts direction and the current artistic director Dow stated that we got that change in the form of a Tasmanian Devil named Des. (As a side quip Mr McAnuff made a brief impromptu appearance at the event as well)
Dow went on to explain that the La Joya playhouse has been an internationally renowned playhouse for many years and that Stratford is quickly gaining that same kind of international reputation. He went on to note that although McAnuffs productions of Shakespeare have been met by mixed reviews in the past this years production of "As You Like It" will show you what McAnuff is all about. He went on to explain that it will be an exciting season due to the fact that the directors of both major musicals this year are both Tony Award nominees and winners. Finally Dow described the production of "The Tempest" staring Christopher Plummer as glorious, stunning and magical.
With endorsement like these I am even more excited about the upcoming season, I hope you are as well.
As a side note, we have invited Stephen and Bruce to our home for an East Indian dinner, we will keep you posted.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Des McAnuff Documentary

Last night we had the pleasure to attend a documentary based on a year in the life of the Stratford Shakespeare Festivals Artistic Director, Des McAnuff. What an amazing man. With personal theatrical triumphs like "Tommy" and "Jersey Boys" under his belt, we in Stratford should consider ourselves very lucky to have him at the helm of our local theatre.

Check out the following links to get a taste of what we are talking about.

A Life in Stages -1
A Life in Stages -2

Delicious Stratford – a culinary celebration of Spring

There are two things that we love great theatre and great food.
Well most people know that Straford has great theatre, but if you are planning a visit rest assured the food will not disappoint. It doesn't matter if you are looking for high end, or cheap and cheerful Stratford has a great selection of restaurants to satisfy every taste and budget.

This spring the local Tourism Association is promoting "Delicious Stratford." During the months of May and June you can enjoy prix fixe menu selections at several local restaurants. These menus are well priced and sure to please.

For more information please check out this link:
Delicious Stratford
Food in Stratford is a wonderful thing.

Locals Know - Kiss Me Kate

This is the first entry in what we will call our "Locals Know" series.
We hope to give you an insight with our opinions of the Shakespeare Festivals productions as we see them.

Two weeks ago we had the pleasure to attend the first preview performance of the production of "Kiss Me Kate" and what a spectacular start to the season. This show is yet another Cole Porter masterpiece that is sure to entertain. For those of you that aren't theatre junkies the "play within a play" concept might be a little confusing, but once you wrap your head around it you'll love the story. The cast is extremely strong and although we saw the play in it's infancy we think it will only continue to grow and get stronger and stronger. We will defiantly go back to see this one again.
The costumes are very fun but for us it was Chilina Kennedy that stole the show. Last year Chilina played Maria in "West Side Story" and the blonde tart in "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum." This year Chilina will perform in both "Kiss Me Kate" and the lead in "Evita" In this play she plays a ditsy actress and you can't help but love her antics. It will be a great contrast to see her switch to the poised Eva Perone one a daily basis. Chilina is a true rising star and we feel everyone should take the opportunity to see her now as she is defiantly going places.
The other thing that really struck us about this production was the dancing. Coming from a dance background I can say that all too often musicals offer pretty fluff in terms of dance numbers, but as we saw last year in "West Side Story" this isn't the case in Stratford. These actors are really hoof'n and the "Too Darn Hot" number that opens the second act is just that, HOT!
So in closing we will say enjoy the show, because we certainly did.

Check out this production clip.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Rite of Spring

It is official spring has sprung in Stratford.
It was a beautiful day for the 2010 annual Swan Release.
Locals and Tourists aligned the street to great our majestic birds as they were piped back down to the Avon River after spending the winter in their cozy paddock. It was great to see both the excitement of the birds and the people to thinking yes it is time to get out of the house and enjoy the beauty of the town we call home.
Stratford seems to be buzzing as seasonal preparations have begun for what promises to be another exciting season at the Shakespeare festival. We look forward to seeing old friends return and new friends who will join us for the first time.
Happy Spring to all and we look forward to seeing you soon.