Only on PEI in Harbourfront’s Lights, Camera, Island!

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A Review by Cindy Lapeña

What happens when big time movie stars from Toronto come to small town PEI to shoot a film? To find out, you really have to see Island author Karen Slater’s Lights, Camera, Island! The Harbourfront Players’ latest offering is a charming comedy that had just the right mix of Island humour and sentimentality. It’s a full-blooded Island production that can only be pulled off by an Island cast and crew. It’s great community theatre that no one will appreciate more than Islanders, as evidenced by the laughter and enjoyment elicited from a highly appreciative opening night audience. Harbourfront Theatre’s relatively new Executive Director Kieran Keller welcomed the audience back to what promises to be a wonderfully entertaining season and it was good to come back and be welcomed by Slater’s ribald slice of Island life.

What makes the script more delectable is how Slater adopted the classic plot of cross-dressing and mistaken identities, not unlike Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will. That, coupled with your friendly countryside folk and the small town gossip mill, became the grist for Lights, Camera, Island! While anyone will enjoy the classic humour, only islanders will immediately pick up on certain jokes such as the gasps and the real reason for the big surprise kitchen party. That said, more of the jokes would have had greater impact if there were much quicker pick-up between lines. Or is that an Island thing as well? One sign of experienced stage actors is how well they are able to ad lib when they forget lines or cues and there is no dead air between lines. Nonetheless, recovery was successful, the audience clearly overlooked those few moments, and a good night was still had by all.

Director Marlane O’Brien must have had as much fun as I hear the cast and crew did while rehearsing this play, which they started working on in workshops, until it finally shaped up into this rollicking piece. What gave the performance that great community theatre flavour is probably the fact that the cast was not comprised of professional actors, just a big group of friends having great fun together. It’s completely plausible some added humour came from the mixed identities that extended to a general confusion in almost interchangeable names of two brothers and brother-like cousin—who sometimes reminded me of the Three Stooges—that added to the merry mix-up that became all the more confusing until it was all sorted out in the end. It’s the kind of play I would have loved to be part of!

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Eight Signs Aladdin is a Comedy

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A review of Aladdin: A Fairly Tall Tale

By Cindy Lapeña

There are certain definite signs that a play at the Confederation Centre for the Arts Homburg Theatre is not a going to be a serious play. Let me elaborate. For the majority of performances, the first person you see or hear is Monique Lafontaine announcing the entrance of PEI’s very important members of the audience (VIMA, for those who haven’t met them) and the token reprise of O, Canada!, followed by her announcement of the theatre rules in English then French, before the lights dim and the first characters enter.

The first sign that this is not a serious play: When a story claims to be a “fairly tall tale” it’s a dead giveaway for humour with a capital H. This is all reminiscent of Mark Twain and his classical humorous short stories, better known as his ‘tall tales’. But this is PEI and the farther away from center you go, the taller the tales.

The second sign: When the program announces at the top of the cover that “This Christmas, Aladdin gets an Island twist!” Unless they meant a new kind of McCain’s French fry twists, this can only be interpreted as the somewhat quirky twisty sense of humour you get from being an Islander, or living on the island long enough to be almost indistinguishable from the rest.

The third sign: Highly unusual program content, such as Gordon Cobb on Aladdinthe cover with a silly face; Graham Putnam playing a suspiciously-named character called “Widow Twanky”, never before heard of in the fairy tale world; another suspiciously-named character named “Baron Wasteland” played by Dennis Trainor who sounds just like Bawwy Kwipky (from The Big Bang Theory); a cross-over character, Sarah Macphee as the Town Crier from last year’s Cinderella: A Fairly Tall Tale.

The fourth sign: Adam Brazier wrote the script and Scott Christian, who was the musical director, is working on his fourth panto. For those unfamiliar with this term, the panto is short for ‘pantomime’ but really isn’t one; it’s the 18th century British take of the traditional commedia dell’arte, and instead of the traditional Italian characters, they turned fairy tales into comical musical plays for Christmas. Knowing what kind of play it is pretty much explains it all, which makes this our ‘Ah, I see,” moment. But it doesn’t end there.

The fifth sign: Instead of Monique Lafontaine, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Adam Brazier walks onto the stage apron before the play begins and, like a TV show cue-master coaches the audience to “boo” or say “we love you Widow Twanky” at the appearance of certain characters, you know it’s a play made for kids and the young at heart, and it’s not going to be serious. Just how much?

The sixth sign: The evil Jafar with Rejean Cournoyer’s larger-than-life presence and distinctive rich booming bass-baritone voice uses a classic mwah-ha-ha laugh and interacts with the audience.

The seventh sign: The explosive and rib-cracking opening number is all about Vic Row in Downtown Charlottetown and Aladdin played by the boyishly charming Gabriel Antonacci is actually a Cinderella-boy.

The eighth sign: People can’t stop laughing when Graham Putnam is revealed as the hilarious Widow Twanky who has at least 3 jokes for every nugget of well-concealed wisdom. The Widow Twanky is also our source of adult humour, which, hopefully, none of the little kids in the audience understood.

I am going to stop at eight signs because if I keep on, then there would be too many spoilers to this insanely inane comedy that had me laughing so hard tears actually came to my eyes. Unfortunately, another spoiler alert I can’t help revealing is that the music is original, funny, and on the verge of copyright infringement—but if you listen to the dialogue and lyrics closely enough, they already know that.

There was really just one major spoiler to this panto and that was the problem with the mikes. I know miking for a huge cast in a musical play is difficult, to say the least, but the mikes were often out when they should have been on and it was very distracting for the voices to suddenly blare on mid-sentence or mid-word. Thank goodness, the audience was laughing most of the time they would have drowned out the dialogue anyway. Really. I miss those days when actors did not have to depend on microphones to be heard and that you really had to learn how to project your voice without losing it after the first show.

That said, everyone needs to catch this performance before it’s over, because it will certainly bring you cheer and laughter for the Christmas season.

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Evangeline Revisited

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A Review by Cindy Lapeña

When Evangeline premiered in 2013, a new world-class musical was born and PEI stage was THE place to be. It’s 2015 and the Charlottetown Festival has brought back Evangeline with a few changes, and I must admit that I quite liked what I saw.

Except for two major actors whose roles have been reprised and a couple of members of the ensemble, this year’s cast of Evangeline is totally new. Whereas, Josée Boudreau played understudy in 2013, she carried the role of Evangeline Bellefontaine marvelously with her powerful soprano and forceful character. Jay Davis, whom I first saw in Bittergirl, played an admirable Gabriel Lajeunesse opposite Boudreau’s Evangeline. His wonderful voice, at times gritty but always very masculine and powerful, dominated the ensemble. I’m hoping it was a matter of balancing the wireless microphones, but he literally drowned out Boudreau in at least one of their duets. At times, it felt as though the songs were not really composed for him. All the Broadway-style belting is overpowering, and I would have appreciated a great deal more sensitivity, texture, control, and subtlety in the interpretation of some of the songs besides full-volume delivery. Réjean Cournoyer as the invented character, Captain Hampson played the perfect villain as he did the first time around, just as Laurie Murdoch as Colonel Winslow revealed the conscience behind the whole idea of the Expulsion of Acadiens, reprising the role that humanized a reprehensible historical event.

The backdrops made use of video technology, as they did in the premier showing, but rather than using the bright paintings of Claude Picard, a generally darker atmosphere pervaded the new sets designed by Cory Sincennes. I loved most the water scenes, with the actual waves moving in the projected backdrop, which added to the feeling of realism. The images projected on the backdrop were more carefully chosen so that they blended much better with the scenes. There was greater use of the revolving stage, which enhanced the movement across space and time, and eliminated the more realistic sets used in the premier. The basic set of rough-hewn lumber beams crisscrossed over the movable wings, was repeated in the stylized boardwalk that became decks, ladders, shelters, ships and boats. I would have liked to see that same feeling of roughness and simplicity in the crucifix used in the final scene. I’m glad water scenes were kept, because those were some of my favourites, especially with Gabriel and Evangeline rowing through the swamps, although Boudreau’s boat was not moving too smoothly, which occasionally jarred the illusion. It was a tad distracting, as well, to see movement under the sets when characters who were not part of the scene remained partly hidden, something that can so easily be solved by perfect stillness to maintain the illusion that they are not even there. Another tiny technical issue: the notice of Expulsion was tacked to a beam, but thumbtacks were not invented until 1903. I would have expected the soldier who posted the notice to use a nail and hammer. I would also think that he would have done this less surreptitiously as it symbolized the beginning of the tragedy that was the Expulsion.

I did not care very much for more than one ensemble dance number to end with the same parallel arms raised uniformly stiff above their heads; I felt that was somewhat awkward and neither very aesthetically nor symbolically significant. I seem to remember a little more dancing in the premier as well.

There were moments in the gala performance when I felt that the cast had not completely gelled together, and that some of the actors were still feeling their roles and not quite their characters. As well, I missed the completely smooth transition from one scene to another throughout that I have come to expect from the Centre’s performances.

That said, I would watch Evangeline again and again and again, because, as a theatre person, I know that no two performances will be exactly the same, and the gala performance was but one show. It is still, and always will be, a powerful story with beautiful music and lyrics. This new version of Evangeline has so much going for it and I am sure that, when everything falls into place, the brilliance of writer and composer Ted Dykstra and the vision of director Bob Baker will shine through.

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This review is also available on onrpei.ca

The premier performance of Evangeline was also reviewed by this writer. Read the review here.

The Darkness in Comedy: Another Look at Blindness

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I caught a performance of Blindness: A Dark Comedy, a play by Mariève MacGregor, one of several performances in this year’s Charlottetown Fringe Festival. For those who are not familiar with the Fringe Festival, it is a frenzied weekend of one-act plays and one-person shows that have audiences running all over the downtown area with barely 20 minutes in between performances to get to the next venue. Or you can get a schedule ahead of the weekend and plan your 4 days so that you can leisurely stroll to the ones you want to see beginning at 5 p.m. and straggling home around 11 or midnight. Each show is staged at different times on each day of the festival, so it’s quite possible to catch all of them within the earlier hours of the evening. More risqué topics, however, are restricted to much later hours. All performances are free entrance with donations recommended.

Back to the play I saw. Blindness is a biographical play that is based on the playwright’s actual experience of blindness from an unusual condition whereby the body produces too much blood, causing it to leak into the retina, which prevents a person from seeing. There was humour, no doubt, as the dialogue made light of a variety of situations encountered by blind people and how others can be oblivious to it or not know how to deal with it. More than just humour, though, the play was extremely enlightening in that it explained a great deal about the condition and the situation from first-hand experience. Something like Helen Keller’s autobiographical stories, but with fun. I have to admit that, while I did find the humour funny and the monologues informative, it was an awkward kind of funny–which was the general feeling I also got from the audience, who seemed unsure whether to laugh or not at times. It’s pretty much like when we make jokes about disabilities, race, and cultures. Political correctness and politeness keeps us from making jokes that might be seen as offensive especially if we aren’t the ones with the condition/race/culture. It’s okay for the Irish to make fun of the Irish, but if anyone else does it, it becomes offensive. In that vein, it might have been perfectly all right for the playwright to make light of her condition, but I thought the audience was not too sure if it was all right for them to laugh at her situation. I guess that’s where the dark comedy part comes in. 

Is there something you know is funny but have a hard time laughing at? Share your moments of dark comedy on The Writing Pool !

The Silliness in the Looking-Glass: A Review of Alice Through the Looking-Glass

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The Silliness in the Looking-Glass: A REVIEW*

By Cindy Lapeña

I have great memories of Lewis Carroll’s pair of books: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which I first read as a very young child in a single-volume Children’s Classics Edition. Back then, I didn’t know what to make of the jabberwocky or brillig and no dictionary search could help me, yet the poems did make sense in my child’s mind. Watching James Reaney’s stage adaption of Through the Looking-Glass as interpreted by directors Jullian Keiley and Christine Brubaker for the Confederation Centre of the Arts’s 2015 Charlottetown Festival brought back wonderful memories of my childhood reading and the zany characters that populated the pages of Carroll’s timeless stories. Kudos to set and costume designer Bretta Gerecke for the amazing and innovative sets. I thought that it was extremely clever to show the scene changes by having the cast wheel them about with bicycles. The stylized and whimsical designs for the sets felt like something out of a cross between Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, and Tim Burton—straight out of a child’s imagination.

Admittedly, there was a lot of cheesiness and tongue-in-cheek acting, but it enhanced the story so much so that, instead of the existing film interpretations, which feel like literal and somewhat serious interpretations of the book, the stage production created humour and evoked hysterical laughter from the audience at almost every turn. It was so entertaining with so many surprises dropping down or popping out at the audience that one could not help but be completely engaged with the performance. The use of human Zorb bubble balls was another huge surprise and I could only think of how much fun it would be. There was a great deal of complicated and complex choreography by Dayna Tekatch, interpreted by the Confederation Centre’s resident choreographer Kerry Gage and executed perfectly by the cast.

Speaking of which, the casting was brilliant, and way the chorus was dressed and acted was largely responsible for chortles that broke out from different parts of the audience each time they appeared. I had always read Carroll’s two books as somewhat serious adventures where the well-mannered Victorian Alice just could not understand why everything had to be so illogical and so silly, but this interpretation has given me a totally different and fun perspective on the story. It has made me see this from a child’s point of view, which could be just what the author intended in the first place. That the looking-glass world was also funny was evident throughout and magnified by the silliness of the acting.

I have to admit that I was taken aback by Natasha Greenblatt’s powerful and lower-register voice, which is the opposite of the almost shrill falsetto childishness of the Alices of film, but once you get over the it in the first scene, it grows on you and becomes a warm, conversational tone that does not jar the eardrums. The Red and White Queens, Charlotte Moore and Eliza-Jane Scott were spectacles on their own. Qasim Khan as the White Knight was a walking—or rather, rollicking, bouncing—comedy and the knight’s horses were a riot. While Hank Stinson as the Red King uttered nothing more than snores, his sleeping presence commanded enough attention to keep the audience in stitches. The White King, Rejean Cournoyer, on the other hand, stole his laughter as he executed his single-square moves in his scene.

As town councilor Greg Rivard said, it was a bit slow starting but was thoroughly enjoyable and interactive by the second act, so that his kids enjoyed it very much. That children will enjoy it is undoubtable, as one little child yelled out answers to Alice’s questions, adding to the entertainment value. Unless you are an avid reader, I would not suggest reading the books, though, as the turn-of-the-century language lacks the vibrancy, humour, surprises, and pacing that the play brings. The 2 ½ hours it took from beginning to end didn’t seem like 2 ½ hours at all, except, maybe, before Alice stepped through the looking-glass.

I could go on and on about each cast member’s performances and the clever costumes and props, but that would be giving too much away. Suffice it to say, there were surprises in every scene and you just have to see it for yourself. I do not know if the original performance of this play was meant to be interpreted this way, but I couldn’t care less because this version is what I want to remember from now on.

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 *Also available on www.onrpei.ca

Anne & Gilbert: Island Through and Through

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“You’re never safe from surprises till you’re dead” is what Rachel Lynde always reminds Marilla. It’s perfect advice for the first-timer to a performance of Anne & Gilbert The Musical, running at The Guild until October.

As I do every time, I entered The Guild with no expectations and a lot of questions in my head, all wondering how this play would connect with my experiences watching Anne of Green Gables The Musical. I have been to The Guild several times and from the moment I learned that Anne & Gilbert would be staged there, I was thinking that the small stage and narrow hall would constrict the performers and box in the performance too much. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the black box had been completely transformed. The whole orientation was shifted 90 degrees so that the performance space included the whole length of the theatre, as did the audience space, which was transformed by several risers providing every row of the audience with perfect sight lines. Already, I was pleased.

Soon enough, the play began with the lively opening number of Avonlea schoolgirls in a passionate rendition of “Mr. Blythe” led by Brieonna Locche as Josie Pye. This song establishes the fact that Gilbert Blythe is the most sought after bachelor in town and Josie is out to make sure he becomes hers despite his known love for Anne. Margot Sampson’s portrayal of Rachel Lynde is livelier, wackier, and more endearing than the same character in Anne of Green Gables The Musical, albeit somewhat sedate in her first number “Gilbert Loves Anne of Green Gables.” Carroll Godsman’s Marilla Cuthbert still bustles around but her role as Anne’s adoptive mother has become stronger and more assertive. Ironically, it is through a letter to Anne at College that she reveals a depth of love for a former beau, which begins Anne’s journey to accepting her feelings of love. PEI’s most beloved character Anne Shirley, portrayed beautifully by Ellen Denny, is only slightly more restrained as a young adult, but still passionate and dramatic. Ellen Denny’s sweet, clear soprano voice reveals itself little by little and is at its best in her solos, my favourite being “Someone Handed Me the Moon.” Her best friend, Diana Barry, is played wonderfully by Brittany Banks, and shares Anne’s trepidation for married life. Unlike Anne, however, Diana is more excited, as she already has a beau and eagerly plunges ahead into marriage, while Anne continues holding Gilbert at bay, denying that she has any feelings for him. Patrick Cook is the perfect Gilbert, somewhat cocky, but utterly devoted to Anne, and certainly the best-looking guy in town. With his voice and looks, he most certainly will find not only all of Avonlea’s schoolgirls, but all of Charlottetown’s, hankering after him.

In the same way she instantly befriends kindred spirits, Anne befriends the wealthy Philippa Gordon, played by Morgan Wagner, whose bubbly but ever-pragmatic personality dominates the stage so that the fiery red-head seems quite sedate by comparison.

The projected backdrops were amazing, the proximity to the audience making one feel part of the scene, especially at the end of Act I. The sets were completely manageable and the execution of scene changes was disciplined and efficient. The costumes were reminiscent of the times. The music original, varied, and covering every range of emotions felt by the characters. The lighting was spot-on although I wonder if the space restricted back lighting and side lighting so that larger-than-life shadows were thrown about on the floor and backdrop, sometimes in more than one direction. Because the stage was much wider than it was deep, certain scenes had characters at opposite ends beyond peripheral vision, which limited the view for the rows nearest the stage. Having to turn your head to one side then glance quickly to the other just to see if something significant was happening there was a bit of a stretch. The best thing, however, was the absence of mikes. Hearing natural stage voices is something I really miss, because so many productions take advantage of wireless mikes, which can be a problem with a big cast and a lot of movement. Overall, though, the technical aspects of the production enhanced every minute of the performance and helped to draw the audience deeper into the atmosphere of Anne & Gilbert’s Avonlea.

Indeed, the surprises were plentiful in this play and, I am happy to say, they were wonderful surprises! The thrill of courtship, the warmth of a close-knit community, and the cheer brought on by song and dance were conveyed over and over again throughout the play. Brittany Banks’s lively and masterful choreography enhanced every mood and the Young Company players and cast executed it precisely and enthusiastically.

Patrick O’Bryan, a gentleman from Chicago sitting a seat away from me at the performance aptly summarizes what everyone in the audience must have been thinking by the end of the first act: “I am very impressed with the professionalism. The dancing, the singing, the music—all excellent!” To add to that, I say Broadway move aside, Charlottetown is here!

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Inimitable Anne

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No other heroine of children’s stories will match the spunky freckle-faced red-headed Anne Shirley of Green Gables as is proven once again in the 2012 production of Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. Her shoes are big ones to walk in, but that didn’t seem to bother Tess Benger, who hollered it out for the second year in a row with her best dramatic flair captivating the audience from the first moment she appeared on the stage until the final bow at the curtain call. She was well-matched by Justin Stadnyk, in his second year as well as Gilbert Blythe, although his voice seemed a tad bit hoarse in the second week of performances. New to the cast and certainly well-added attractions are veterans Marlane O’Brien as Marilla Cuthbert and Tim Koetting as Matthew Cuthbert. Add to that a solid cast of strong singers, actors and dancers and an excellent live orchestra and you have the perfect mix for this ever-popular long-running musical that is as much an institution on PEI as red lobsters.

The audience was greeted by soft nature sound effects with pealing church bells in the distance, a leafy gel-shadow canopy on the stage and, instead of the traditional masking for the wings, stylized floating legs that served as extensions to the multimedia backdrop that added to the realism yet pushed the boundaries of creativity by providing changing and animated scenery. The realism was just so good that there was even a scene-stealing mouse scampering around on the stage while Anne and Marilla bewailed her green hair in the upstairs bedroom set in the second act. Oops. Was the mouse not supposed to be there?

As if foreboding a technical disaster, the voice-over recording greeting the audience at the start of the play had a bad glitch and stopped at the same spot twice over—to the amusement of the audience, eliciting much laughter—before finally playing smoothly through—which then elicited applause. At least the audience, you knew, would be appreciative. The second glitch in the sound system was when someone’s mike rustled loudly in the first classroom scene. Finally, the mikes just squealed their feedback and up and died in the second act for a part of some dialogue. Other than that problem, everything else technical was superb. The sets, which were a mixture of old and new, were changed with amazing efficiency and speed so that there were barely any breaks in between scenes or even during some scene changes, which went on with the singing and dancing.

The other new aspect of the production that definitely made it more lively and more entertaining was the refreshing choreography, which challenged the performers much more. There was just so much exuberance in the chorus numbers that the whole musical seemed completely new. I’m pretty sure even the way the songs were performed was updated, because the whole play seemed more jaunty and upbeat than I last remember it. Or maybe it was just Anne of Green Gables meets 21st century stage technology. Either way, it was a smashingly good way to start the week and it will most certainly be a crowd-drawer and a crowd-pleaser this summer.

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Great Performances and the Lack Thereof

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In staging their First Annual Student Showcase, the students of the Holland College School of Performing Arts gave it their all, a performance that was much applauded by the full house present at The Guild the evening of the 21st.

To say the least, the title of the show was interesting, considering it’s not the easiest thing to title a musical revue, which was essentially what the show was all about. Certainly, there were snippets of scenes from plays as well as an original scene by a couple of the students. Transition poems and music were very cleverly used and kept up the pace so that there was not a single dull moment.

Before I launch into any comments on anything else, I must commend the band. They were just great! Plain and simple. I must mention that the first time I heard Max Keenlyside play was as an extra act after Canada in Love and his original ragtime compositions and improvisations on O, Canada were just fantastic! Playing with a band, he was no less adept at the keyboard. Amazing talent was revealed by Zack Squires, whose virtuoso at playing the guitar shows a great maturity as well as creativity. His solo Guitar Seduction used oriental techniques for playing stringed instruments, quite unlike what Westerners are used to, but exactly how oriental stringed instruments are played. Deana Joka was just cool, cool, cool on bass. I would love to have heard her doing a solo, as well.

I thought it was really good that the students put the whole show together by themselves. The pieces selected were just right and worked well all together. The only piece that didn’t really contribute much to the show was the Al Green song “Let’s Stay Together” performed by Sarah Macphee and Kyle Sherren. The piece just didn’t work out that well.

I found Lauren Thomson’s dance to ”Too Lost in You” a tad bit too short. She has great potential there, but needs to work on dancing from inside, but as far her acting is concerned, she was just perfect in the scene from Crimes of the Heart. Kayla Shaw, on the other hand, had all the feeling and tension in her dance “Apologize.” As for “Inka,” Samantha MacKay was completely captivating and charming. What a surprise that she could also be powerful and expressive as a singer in her “Stepsisters’ Lament” with Justeann Hansen.

Ryan Rioux’s voice has a beautiful, clear quality as well as great control. His renditions of “Being Alive” and “They Were You” reminded me why I love musical theatre…If only their mikes didn’t share feedback for that one ruinous moment. Sharisse Lebrun has a good soprano albeit a bit thin (her voice, that is) but with great potential. She certainly has the makings of a good actress as far as expression and expressiveness goes, but she needs to learn how to maintain body tension in all her movements and gestures. Clearly, Dan Byrne sings from his heart and his toes. He is worth watching out for, but he needs to learn to sing more to the audience when doing a band act, as opposed to singing for himself. It is, after all, a performance. He was great in “Another Day” but could have been better matched. Hailey LeClair does well when she’s belting out, but needs to work on her higher registers as well as on internalizing her characters more deeply. Jenna McDonald needs to be mentioned as well. From beginning to end, she was just full of life and character and I can just imagine her in big musical roles! She was her characters and projected that every single moment she was on stage.

As a company, the opening and the closing ensemble numbers (“All You Need is Love”) were well done, although someone entered too early in the closing a cappella. The opening number singing wasn’t bad either, but the blocking was terrible and the movements needed better coordination.

That said, this was a showcase of raw and budding talent and with perseverance and training, this company will certainly be going places.

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Golden Moments in On Golden Pond

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The first time I watched On Golden Pond was the 1981 film version starring Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda with the screenplay written by the playwright Ernest Thompson. Definitely a hard act to follow, but I really liked that movie, so I was eager to watch the production staged by Victoria Playhouse.

It was my first time to ever watch a play at the Victoria Playhouse and I was eager to see this theatre that had been out of my reach until now. I’ll have to say that, apart from the really tight rows that have barely a hair’s breadth between your knees and the back of the seat in front of yours and no elbow room to either side unless you sit in the aisles, the theatre was pretty impressive. The seats were comfortable if not very roomy, the atmosphere cozy, the stage compact. The lights were more than enough for the stage, which was designed by the Playhouse’s resident scenic designer W. Scott MacConnell. Scott did a pretty good job of making the set look nice and cozy with a view of the pond from the porch window. I’ll overlook the fact that the walls and beams of the Thayer’s summer house didn’t look very much like real wood, if it was meant to look that way because all the other details were well executed anyway. I just thought the fishing rod rack right in front of the hall mirror was a little odd. I don’t imagine real people would want to see themselves in a mirror behind a row of fishing rods. The tiny love seat that stood in for a couch made some of the blocking just a tad bit awkward since the actors looked really cramped sitting on it. I like the fact, though, that there was a lot of seating around, although the dining table didn’t serve a whole lot of purpose and the bench seat next to the fireplace was hardly used. Neither was the door adjacent to the front door. Set design is not just about the appearance but the functionality of the set as well. But enough of that. This isn’t about the set.

As Norman Thayer, Bill McFadden did great justice to the role. He was as much of a curmudgeon as the character could be and he definitely commanded the stage when he was on it. That’s not to say that Sharlene MacLean in the role of Ethel Thayer didn’t keep up. It would be totally unfair to compare her to Katherine Hepburn in the same role, and I wasn’t always convinced that she was Ethel, but all things considered, she fit in nicely with the rest of the cast. Kathleen Hamilton as the daughter, Chelsea, seemed a mite too stiff in her role. Granted her character was carrying around a huge chip on her shoulder, the emotions she showed didn’t always seem very genuine. The opposite was true of Mark Fraser as the postman and Chelsea’s past summer love, Charlie, who was constantly jolly and carried on buoyantly. Josh Weale as Bill Ray was a perfect match to Kathleen’s Chelsea. Elijah Smith as the young Billy Ray was a delight to watch and was definitely less surly, more friendly and ready for action than Doug McKeon’s Billy Ray in the film version. All together, the cast played together very well. The pickup of lines was excellent and the jokes never fell flat. That’s also probably because of the very attentive and appreciative audience, and a full-house at that! Definitely a feel-good performance that was applauded with a standing ovation.

I must say that another thing I like about the Playhouse is the acoustics. I firmly believe that thespians must learn to project their voices as well as their characters and the high-tech sound systems in Charlottetown have spoiled actors so much that they need wireless mikes even in as small a venue as The Guild. The Playhouse holds as many seats as The Guild does (I estimated seating for 150) yet the actors’ voices were perfectly clear even in the back row, where I was seated. I am definitely coming back to the Playhouse!

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Get Thee to Nunsense Funsense!

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This being my first visit to Summerside’s Harbourfront Theatre, I must admit that I like the theatre very much. The seats are comfortable with good sightlines because even from the very edge of a row near the front, I had a clear view of the stage. The wings were well-masked and the sets were well-built with excellent and sufficient detail. I just wondered about the sort of vow of poverty the Little Sisters of Hoboken that they could have such a glamorous bed and frilly window dressing, not to mention the huge plush toy and plush bedroom slippers and robe owned by novice Sister Mary Leo. That is my one little quibble for the night, besides the couple of times a costume piece latched onto a mike. Everything else makes me want to just see the play again.

The musical accompaniment was provided by the Musical Director Leo Marchison a.k.a. Brother Leo, complete in clerical black with a signature white clerical collar on an electronic keyboard, which went well with the Little Sisters of Hoboken Benefit Show setting. Brother Leo certainly provided a rousing overture that set the audience in the mood for what promised to be interesting, to say the least.

I knew from a couple of times the play had been performed back in Manila that it was a riot, and all the more fun because the play poked a whole lot of fun at Roman Catholics and made several references to common RC practices. Dan Goggin’s script, on its own, is extremely funny especially if you are Catholic. Even if you aren’t, there is just so much witty repartee and banter, not to mention the completely hilarious if not absurd situation of a group of nuns who have to raise funds to bury four deceased congregation members who have been temporarily housed in the convent freezer until the nuns have enough money for the burials. What is new is the incorporation of a multimedia presentation with the nuns watching themselves in a silent-movie video “Nun on the Run.” This mini-feature is a unique, creative and certainly shameless but hilarious way to promote the city Summerside. A couple of localized jokes were especially funny and I thought the recipe for Stuffed Turkey Steven Harper very clever and pretty apt. The cast also interacted with the audience, making the play’s audience the audience of the play’s Benefit Show. Audience participation was rewarded as well, which added to the novelty of theatre.

Not unexpectedly, the five nuns who are selected to participate in the show all have the human frailty of wanting to be a star, having come from backgrounds where they had a taste of the spotlights. The nuns are led by the energetic Sister Mary Regina, played by Robin Craig, who does her best to be a role model, mother and mediator among the sisters. Regina has a performing background, having been one of a family of tightrope artists and who, through a fluke of fate, has to fulfill a promise to dedicate herself to religious life. From the start, Regina/Robin has the audience in stitches. She was at her most hilarious in the scene where she investigates a sniffing bottle and gets high, but her best number, by far, is when she gets into full throttle in the throaty jazzy Turn Up the Spotlight. The growling gets better when she sings in harmony with her No. 2, the Novice Mistress Sister Mary Hubert, played by Marlene Handrahan. Marlene shows off her tap-dancing skill as well as her powerful voice in a couple of numbers, and delivers the grand finale with a parody of a roof-raising singing Baptist preacher.

Brieonna Locche as Sister Robert Anne has the Brooklyn accent and swagger to go with her streetwise ways as she constantly tries to get into the limelight and finally does it with a smashingly hilarioius number. I remember a nun I used to know who also played with her veil but never in as many creative ways as Robert! Sister Mary Leo was the novice who hadn’t quite learned to suppress her desire to be a star or to be famous, but remains an expressive dancer, using ballet to express herself, including in prayer. Natalia Gracious is a skilled ballet dancer who, with her beautiful clear voice fits the role of Mary Leo perfectly. Her solo, “The Dying Nun Ballet” is a hilarious parody of “The Dying Swan.”

A great deal of the story hinges on Sister Mary Amnesia’s inability to remember who she was before she lost her memory from being knocked on the head by a crucifix. Natalia Sullivan, with her amazing soprano, plays Amnesia with a sweetness and innocence befitting a mindless nun who, nonetheless, is a great ventriloquist as well!

The music was wonderful, the singing was almost sublime—and I use almost because sublime is not exactly the word to use with the throaty belting and growling in the jazzy numbers—certainly accomplished, the acting was superb, the story absurd and the script hilarious. What more can you want of a comedy?

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