For the 11th time; the seventh as our own publishers, we acknowledge those events of 2011 that – to our minds were paramount. Readers recalling previous year-end analyticals know that our selection process is based on impact- whether amusing, educational or thought-provoking to the audience. The selection process is demanding & occasionally stressful; but it’s always challenging. While Fringe offerings are by definition, under one hour, our coverage of the Toronto shows gave us some efforts that we decided deserved special (albeit special) inclusion Herewith our editorial team’s selections in calendar order…
“Black Coffee” Agatha Christie’s iconic whodunit was produced by W.E.S.T. and seemed deliberately presented to make this particular Top Ten listing. With actors who we admit are personal favorites; an admired director and an elaborate set; this offering was a treat even though we already knew the culprit! WEST has had a string of OAR inclusions and their winning streak continues.
“Journey to Jerusalem” We can’t recall if previously there has been a totally new & original work that made our list, but this oratorio composed and performed by Eyal Bitton with solos by Michele Tredger that musically retells with respect and affection, the early history of Judaism. In the original review, this paper suggested that one aria, ‘The Gift of God’ should become part of synagogue liturgy…we still think it should!
“Once Upon a Mattress” and “Amadeus”. Attending well over 200 cultural events in 365 days seldom gives one a desire to see something twice. SHERIDAN College‘s Arts Faculty staged the musical version of ‘Princess and the Pea’ so well that another visit – sans pen & paper was mandated. Then, an equally enjoyable and professional presentation, directed by Diana Reis, of Peter Shaffer’s drama about the conflict between Wolfgang Mozart & Antonio Salieri. This costume drama was as professional as theatre gets! Not wishing to toss a coin – we decided to call these two wonderful productions – a tie!
“Peter Pan”, J.M. Barrie’s eponymous tale about not wanting to ever grow up, still touches most of us, but as a stage presentation – incurs great challenges. Stratford’s 2009 version was a ‘Top Ten’er’ but for City Centre Musical Productions to undertake and succeed with such a hurdle-laden challenge makes it a worthy inclusion in our list!
“Twelfth Night” William Shakespeare oftimes included dances and songs in his creations, but STRATFORD’s McAnuff and composer Michael Roth gave this comedy a definite Broadway style touch that made it a definite CD necessity. Dramatic stars Dennehy, Carlson & Ouimette evolving into a credible jazz trio gave proof that ‘music be the food of love’. This offering was a sumptuous banquet except for those post-curtain ‘belches’.
“Carmen” Classical Opera is a love it/hate it genre. We’re in the former category and have probably seen or heard it at least a hundred times. When the Nat’l Academy Orchestra’s Brott Festival undertook to stage an almost-full-fledged presentation, it was both a dedication to and a heroic challenge; artistic and financial. Renowned Italian creative artists and divos/divas joined superb local talent to bring this dramatic tragedy to the McIntyre stage. The Brott family contribution to Canada’s national & international music stature is undeniable. Bravo.
Hamilton Philharmonic. The start of artistic director Jamie Sommerville’s 5th season was one of those evenings where everything just came together. The interpretation, execution and guest soloist all shone. Sept. 25th‘s program featured Dvořák’s 9th symphony, the so-called ‘New World’. A personal favorite and thus very familiar, the composition explored some new nuances and yet still maintained the appreciation the composer felt on his North American visit.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Heartbreak House” – Another noses-at-the-wire tie. SHAW’s 50th year had a full complement of successes but our writers felt that Tennessee Williams & G.B.S.’s masterpieces were presented so professionally and with such depth & thespian intuition that picking one over the other proved impossible. While both subjects deal with relationships, the plays are dissimilar and the directing skills & intent diverge. Both succeeded and word-of-mouth response assured full houses for the season.
“1917: The Halifax Explosion” UTM’s Theatre Erindale has been a consistent receiver of accolades for our writers. Though still presented by undergraduates, the professionalism and skills exhibited by cast and crew is mind-boggling. For 3rd -year students & director Meredith Scott to help create, and then so empathetically and realistically portray the horrendous Mt. Blanc event; earned a rare ‘must-see’ recommendation from this paper.
“Memphis” and “12 Angry Men” Maybe we should numerically increase our Top Ten because November gave us another dead-heat…both from new [to us] production companies. Aubrey Dan’s DANCAP put on one of the most professional and perfectly executed examples of theatre. Non-pareil acting/singing/dancing and a roman-a-clef plot that was familiar even to our young-ish editor! Wish we had bought the CD! Director Willard Boudreau and Hamilton’s PLAYERS GUILD undertook to present Reginald Wood’s visceral and very human personality portrayal in the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men. There was nary a weak depiction, nor a let-up in the tension and interaction between the twelve major and one support actors. The stark setting and functioning props helped increase both realism and the sense that we –the audience were but flies on the wall. After curtain, an understandable reaction that was overheard… “Glad I put on deodorant before we left home”!
Ten, (13!) out of 265. But there were some other very serious contenders. Ottawa’s NAC Orchestra concert under Barenboim; Opera Hamilton’s ‘Barbiere di Siviglia’; Hammer Entertainment’s “The Producers” [very professional and creative, given the limitations of LYRIC]; Stratford’s ‘Little Years’; and Factory Theatre’s “his Greatness”. Folks, there is a world of talent out there and we truly love to hear or read that a concert or show is ‘SOLD OUT’…its music to our O.A.R. ears.
TORONTO FRINGE ‘11 We prefaced with a mention that many Fringe entries deserve recognition. In this year’s 145 entries, our staff managed to cover & critique 27 in five days. Some standouts – CELLAR HOTEL by Chicken Coop Theatre; MISPRINT from Spiel Theatre; PITCH BLONDE (Judy Holliday story); MUTE which was named a ‘must-see’ and a “best of Fringe” contender by our OAR writer; and the hilarious “SACRILICIOUS”
New Year’s resolution – do at least 30 Toronto Fringe presentations in 2012!