Monday, April 25, 2011

Locals Know - The Grapes of Wrath

Over the weekend the Festival posed the question “How would you celebrate the Bards birthday”? Well we went to see a play of course. We had the pleasure of seeing the opening preview of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Although it wasn’t classical Shakespeare it is a classic American story, and this production is a beautifully intimate nugget.

First of all the audience should go into this play with the realization that the story being portrayed here is not a happy one, this is a slice of life from a tumultuous time period in American history, but what makes it beautiful is the story’s portrayal of the sense of family, and the struggle to survive no matter what heartbreaks we are faced with.

We had very close seats for this production and this had positive and negative effects on our overall opinion of the production. One of the positives of sitting so close was that we were drawn into the play. It is a play where you need to feel for the characters, and the kindness they exude. The production became very intimate for us, but we wondered whether that same feeling was conveyed to the patrons at the back of the theatre.

Although minimal the set is beautiful. There are moments when the truck is alone on stage, and it gives you the feeling of isolation this family endures on this daunting journey. In the next minute they transform the stage into such wonderful visual images the likes of which, we had never experiences on the stage before.

One of the negatives of sitting so close was that we could see into the wings and saw far too much of the set entering and exiting. We hope that this will be worked out as the crew becomes more comfortable in moving the set on, and off, and we have to admire the work that goes on back stage to make the transitions in this play so seamless.

In terms of great performances there are many. Janet Wright is perfect as Ma, and Chilina Kennedy pulls off another magical chameleon like performance and transforms herself into a naive country girl who must face new harsh realities of life. (The final image of the play with Chilina is breathtaking.) Tom McCamus has a hit in his portrayal of Jim Casy while Evan Buliung holds it all together with his strong portrayal of Tom Joad. The cast understands the rhythm of this play, and work in ensemble to pull off the nuances needed to make this play work.

Friends have told us they left this production depressed, but we left filled with the spirit of family and the strength to survive. No matter what this production will inspire many conversations and debates this season.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Locals Know - Camelot

With the weather we have been having lately it is hard to believe that yes indeed, it is spring time in Stratford. But last weekend we had the opportunity to see one of the first previews of the season…. “Camelot.”

It was wonderful to see a patron filled Festival Theatre. The room was filled with anticipation and excitement for the new season and we were not to be disappointed. This production is a delicious dose of classical, and romantic Musical Theatre. Director Gary Griffin has created a production that is a true both to the script, and plays homage to the timeless romance of the 1950’s Musical format.

This production doesn’t take itself too seriously, and many of the characters are presented with a tongue in cheek sense of frivolity. This keeps the production light and entertaining, but isn’t as over the top as “Kiss Me Kate” was last year.

The songs themselves were a pleasant surprised for us. We went into this production with few expectations, as we knew the storyline but didn’t really remember the show itself. As each musical number developed we found ourselves saying, “Oh, I forgot this song was from this play.” There were plenty of magical moments, but one that really stood out was Jonathan
Winsby’s rendition of “C’est Moi.”

As always the set and costumes are spectacular and our hats go off to everyone involved in the backstage departments of this show. The show is a visual feast from the opening moment, (which takes your breath away), to the majestic scene of pomp and ceremony where Arthur knights Lancelot in front of the entire court. We sat in the balcony this time, and the shapes and patterns created by choreographer Warren Carlyle, during the show are breathtaking.

We had the privilege of sitting next to the family of Jimmy Mallett, who plays the young Arthur, and Tom of Warwick. He did an outstanding job for a youngster on the Festival Stage, and the pride and support of his family made the show that much more memorable for us.

This show has been promoted as this year’s family friendly production and we completely agree. The story being about kings and knights should be enough to capture the interest of a younger audience. (The sword fights won’t hurt either) The feeling that we left with was that we had seen a great introduction to the musical theatre craft that will hook a young audience.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Looking Forward to a New Season

Everyone appears to be ready to bust down doors in order to get out of the house and welcome spring with open arms. We too are excited, anticipating another wonderful season at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Last season we posted our views on each performance as we saw them throughout the season. We will try to do this again this year, but at this time would like to share what we have heard about the upcoming play list.
While perusing the Visitor’s Guide we have noticed a re-occurring theme this year. That theme is amazing casting. This may be because we are now heading into our fourth season and becoming more and more familiar with the company and their amazing talents. Each and every play seems to have at least one cast member that we can’t wait to see in a given role.
In Merry Wives of Windsor, we are awaiting the performances of Lucy Peacock, Tom Rooney and Geraint Wyn Davies, for we anticipate their antics will be very amusing. As always we are suckers for the musicals and this year will be no different. We are expecting great things from Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy in Jesus Christ Superstar, as they have such great chemistry on stage. Ross is longtime fan of Brent Carver so will be waiting to see him in Camelot.
A lesser-known face to the Stratford Audience is Melissa O’Neil. Melissa was originally from Calgary and won Canadian Idol, and we can’t wait to see her on the Stratford Stage.
We think that Brian Dennehy could single handedly draw in the masses to both Twelfth Night and The Home Coming but the rest of the casts are extremely talented as well. On the heals of his success on Broadway in The Importance of Being Earnest it will be great to see what Brian Bedford will do with The Misanthrope both as an actor and director.
Corner Gas fans will see a different side of Janet Wright in The Gapes of Wrath. Another reason not to miss this American Classic will be to witness the chameleon like talents of Chilina Kennedy. Last year she did this with her lead role in Evita and Lois in Kiss Me Kate.
We can’t write about casting without noting the roles of Seana McKenna. We have never see Richard III cross cast but if anyone can pull it off Seana can. In opposition to this it will be great to see Seana’s more feminine side as Shakespeare’s widow Anne Hathaway in Shakespeare’s Will.
With the passing of Peter Donaldson it will be interesting to see the re-casting of Titus Andronicus. David Ferry is stepping into the role originally slated for Peter to play, so we wish him well in this endeavor. We will also be watching the performance of Amanda Lisman.
We have always had a special fondness the productions performed on the Studio Stage. This space is so intimate and the productions are always new and fresh. With this predisposition we look forward to seeing Yanna McIntosh & Chick Reid in The Little Years. And that leaves us with Hosanna. With the breathtaking success of Michel Tremblay’s For The Pleasure of Seeing Her Again last year we think that this play is going to be the hard to get ticket of the season. We are curious to see Gareth Potter journey as he transforms himself into a transvestite. Furthermore in light of the recent loss of the iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor this production should prove to be even more timely and poignant.
So as the buds try to break through the surface of their frozen beds we too await the opportunity to bask in the light of the many brilliant performances of the upcoming season.