Review: 'Hand to God' at The Coal Mine

Review: 'Hand to God' at The Coal Mine

Robert Askin’s ‘Hand to God’ might come dangerously close to brash irreverence for fundamentalist or deeply devoted/devout Christians.  For this practicing Catholic who still holds the tenements of the faith close to his heart, I wasn’t offended whatsoever at the very dark elements of black comedy hidden within the tightly wound script.

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Review: ‘Copenhagen’ at Soulpepper Theatre

Review: ‘Copenhagen’ at Soulpepper Theatre

There has always been something about Michael Frayn’s three hander ‘Copenhagen’ which has always intrigued me. West End actors were keen on performing the piece. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but one of the characters mentions an important context involving all three which made me gasp along with other audience members sitting around me. After seeing Soulpepper’s production of Mr. Frayn’s complex play, tautly directed by Katrina Darychuk, I’ve now understood its fascination for actors and their desire to add this production to their resumes.

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Review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Story' - Canadian Tour

Review: 'Beautiful: The Carole King Story' - Canadian Tour

I am so glad that I got up that morning because the beautiful Chilina Kennedy as Carole King and an extraordinary company put a smile on my face at the terrific opening night of ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’.  I’m still grinning as ‘Beautiful’ is that feel good show we all need right now.

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Review: ‘Angelique’ at the Factory Theatre

Review: ‘Angelique’ at the Factory Theatre

From my high school days in the late 70s, I can recall in my French as a Second Language class the story of Marie-Joseph Angelique, an enslaved Black woman, who was publicly executed for supposedly setting fire to various residences in the merchant area of Montreal (including that of her owner’s along with a hospital) in 1734. ‘Angelique’, now on stage at Factory Theatre, uses the backdrop of 1734 New France to mirror our modern culture.

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Review: ‘Mozart's Idomeneo’ at the Ed Mirvish Theatre

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

As this opening night production was my first visit ever to an opera, I will be honest in stating that I had no idea what to expect. Yes, a bit of trepidation and some hesitation as well - Would I get it? Would I enjoy it? Would I return to see another opera?

Much reflection last night on the GO home and today has led me to understand that Sir Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ pales horribly in comparison to this remarkable genre. I hold no background whatsoever in opera so I will not make any comments on the singing except to say that it was exceptionally superior to anything that I have heard before.  I will make comments on the theatricality and the staging of the production.

A quick review of the synopsis of ‘Idomeneo’. This Greek hero (an exquisitely vocal Colin Ainsworth) is forced to choose between the life of his son, Idamante (electrifying work by mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta) and a promise made to Neptune, the god of the sea (an impeccably buffed Douglas Williams combined with his flawlessly vocal bass baritone). Throughout this tale, the audience is also introduced to other characters involved in love triangles, broken hearts and chance meetings all sung in glorious arias with every inch of the stage used for a striking and emotional impact for the eyes, the ears and the heart thanks to Marshall Pynkoski’s careful direction. In an opera, I discovered that even a slight movement of a singer or dancer can convey nuanced character development within seconds.

Visually, this production of ‘Idomeneo’ excels. Jeannette Lajeunesse Zing’s choreography of the dancers is marvellously impressive and fluid. Michael Gianfrancesco’s stunningly gorgeous costume designs made me pay careful attention to each principal singer and dancer.  Jennifer Lennon’s lighting design was tautly sharp to superb effect. For me, tremendous emotional impact was felt from the clearly defined spot light for an aria in one moment while in the next I was swept away in a lush palette of colours for special effects in entire company movements.

Gerard Cauci’s set design immediately captured my attention when I sat down before the performance began. I was immediately transported to another world from long ago and I wanted to enjoy every moment I was there. An opulent and lavish scrim painting of stormy waters made me note every single colour I wanted to take in before the performance began. Further paintings of a three-dimensional setting of a palace room with burgundy red walls created a world of ornate taste. In Act Three, Mr. Cauci’s scrim colour design of the outside of the palace with fountains suggested the hopes that all will be well with all as the story and plot progressed.

I have always wanted to hear soprano Measha Brueggergosman sing and one item on my bucket list was ticked opening night. Her performance of Elettra is divine. Meghan Lindsay’s Ilia is sweetly demure in her growing affection and eventual burning love for Idamante. In the third act, Ms. Lindsay’s vocal work was wonderfully demonstrated in a moment where she will do anything for Idamante and his love.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was hearing the breathtaking work of the Chorus under Daniel Taylor’s Chorus Master. At one point, I was so engrossed with the action on stage at the top of the production, I couldn’t figure out where the chorus was singing. My guest gave me a slight nudge and told me to look up in the boxes Stage Left.  Wow! How did they enter so quietly before their moment to sing?  Nice work indeed to not draw attention to themselves.

Final Comments: Would I attend another opera in the future? Yes, I probably would, but I would most certainly try to read as much as I can about the plot before I attend. When I return, I know that I won’t feel hesitation in wondering what I am about to see.

If I did have one very minor quibble as a first-time attendee at an opera, it would be the fact that I was trying to pay close attention to too much all at once.  At times, I felt as if my brain, thoughts and ideas were in overload as I was trying to cram in so much to remember from this experience. I’m certain I won’t feel this same way the next time I attend.

If you’ve never attended an opera, I invite you to at least try a different experience.  It was an enjoyable evening. I might not have got everything from the story, but at least I appreciated very much what I saw presented before me.

‘Idomeneo’ runs to April 13 at The Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto.  For tickets, please call 1-416-872-1212 or visit www.mirvish.com.

Running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes with one intermission. ‘Idomeneo’ is performed in Italian with English surtitles.

The Cast: Colin Ainsworth, Measha Brueggergosman, Bradley Christensen, Wallis Giunta, Olivier Laquerre, Meghan Lindsay, Douglas Willliams.

Conductor: David Fallis, Director: Marshall Pynkoski, Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, Set Designer: Gerard Gauci, Costume Designer: Michael Gianfrancesco, Lighting Designer: Jennifer Lennon.

Review: 'A Doll's House Part 2' at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Review: 'A Doll's House Part 2' at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Confession: I have neither seen nor read Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ (I know, shame, a retired English teacher and lover of drama) so I’m unable to make any connections to the original story. After seeing this wonderful production, I felt there was no need for me to have seen the first story as Mr. Hnath’s script is spot on with excellent performances delivered by four sensational actors who certainly know their way around a stage. Will I attend a production of Ibsen’s play if it is staged?  Absolutely.

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Review: 'Chicho' at Theatre Passe Muraille

Review: 'Chicho' at Theatre Passe Muraille

I was pleased upon my arrival at Passe Muraille and being told the production is not pronounced ‘Chico’ as in Chico & The Man but ‘Cheech’o (as in comedians “Cheech & Chong”). I am hoping you are old enough to remember these two references. Mr. Bitter also refers to this fact at the top of the show.

Theatre Passe Muraille has billed ‘Chicho’ as “an ashamed-queer-Catholic-man-boy from Venezuela who hilariously attempts to feel beautiful despite his warring identity politics”.  So much inferred within this statement that I had no idea what I was about to see; however, what I’ve been discovering lately is the theatre of which I know nothing about leaves an indelible mark. This was my first visit to Passe Muraille so I was looking forward to attending.

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Review: "New Magic Valley Fun Town" at the Tarragon Theatre

Review: "New Magic Valley Fun Town" at the Tarragon Theatre

A rather odd and quirky title, but man, oh, man the Toronto premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s ‘New Magic Valley Fun Town’ masterfully said so much for me in those moments where not a great deal was said. This will make sense when you see the production as I’m trying not to spoil where the story leads.

And when an exceptionally remarkable cast played and toyed with my emotions and thoughts right up to the play’s enlightening conclusion, I was completely taken and moved by the journey I had just experienced. Another bonus was the talkback after the performance so, future audiences, stick around for the dialogue and post show conversation.

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Review: "Better Than This" at Fabulist Theatre

Review: "Better Than This" at Fabulist Theatre

Better Than This: The Evolution of Women in Musicals is an informative journey of the history of women's roles in musical theatre. Anyone who is a musical theatre buff will enjoy their favourite songs and commentary performed by four distinct personalities bringing emotion, humour, and pure womanly talent to the stage.

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Review: ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ by Cahoots Productions

Review: ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ by Cahoots Productions

Cahoots has billed this world premiere of ‘Good Morning, Viet Mom’ as authentic and irreverent. Franco Nguyen travels to Vietnam to look for inspiration for his first feature film and he finds an unexpected subject, his mother.  Mr Nguyen then delves into the personal and shares stories about visiting Vietnam for the first time and being re-introduced to the mother he thought he knew.

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Review: "The Father" at The Coal Mine Theatre

Review: "The Father" at The Coal Mine Theatre

I would bet that Coal Mine’s production will probably be nominated for some Dora awards this year. The social justice issues of examining dignity confronting a debilitating and ultimately life destroying disease has been handled with great respect in ‘The Father’. Beg, borrow or plead to get a ticket and to see true ensemble perfection.

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Review: ‘Little Menace: Pinter Plays’ at Soulpepper

Review: ‘Little Menace: Pinter Plays’ at Soulpepper

Rarely have I ever had a chance to see a Harold Pinter play because one hasn’t been done so far.  So, when I heard Soulpepper would be doing a series of Pinter one acts, I was intrigued and ventured forth to the Distillery District. 

I don’t remember reading Pinter plays during my undergraduate years at Western in studying English Language and Literature.  For shame, for shame, I know but I learned more about the term ‘Pinteresque’ from conversations with others in my involvement in community theatre or in discussions with other actors there.

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Review: "Oslo" by Studio 180 Theatre

Review: "Oslo" by Studio 180 Theatre

In this humble guy’s opinion, ‘good theatre’ should entertain an audience while ‘great theatre’ should entertain and teach us something extremely important about the human condition.

For me, playwright J. T. Rogers has created great theatre with ‘Oslo’, but it is a text richly laden with dialogue so the audience will have to pay close and careful attention. Under Joel Greenberg’s astutely-handled direction, thirteen actors channel emotional and passionate driven performances highlighting the first-ever peace deal between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. (PLO).

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Review: "Mules" by Scotiabank Community Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest

Review: "Mules" by Scotiabank Community Theatre at Streetcar Crowsnest

‘Mules’ is a dark comedy about choices, trust, friendship, circumstances, poverty and drug smuggling. In ninety minutes with one set and three actors, this play achieves what plays aspire to be. It is dramatic, suspenseful, comedic and emotional. The dialogue is engaging, the characters are complex and the performances are superlative.

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Review: "Boom X" with Theatre Calgary

Review: "Boom X" with Theatre Calgary

Serendipity or the theatre gods must have been at work when I was in Montreal in mid February and saw that Rick Miller was in previews for his production of ‘Boom X’ at the Segal Centre. Back in 2008 when I was still teaching before retirement, I had attended a performance of Rick’s MacHomer: The Simpsons Do Macbeth at Toronto’s Massey Hall, was captivated by his vocal prowess and thought, “Here’s my hook for kids” to get into Shakespeare’s play of witchcraft and murder since the television series was at its’ height of popularity. I met Rick after the show and learned he also performed a condensed version of the play to high school students.

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