This is the beginning of our 2nd decade of Arts Review’s TOP TEN (or 16th as our own publishers). As always, choices are made regarding the educational; entertainment or professionalism values of events we attended during the calendar year.
5 @ the 1st; a January concert titled ‘Czech Celebration’ made for a warm Saturday afternoon featuring compositions by Dvořák; Pichl & Martinu. The presentations; arrangements and technical expertise exhibited- earned this chamber group their first inclusion in our annual list.
Theatre Unlimited; all of our contributors; due to the ubiquitous nature of ‘The Sound of Music’ know the music & lyrics ad nauseum. But the competence of direction; stage crew and cast – especially the Von Trapp kiddies; made this iteration a standout and proof positive that community theatre can off-times hold its own with the professional producers.
West End Studio Theatre; another example of the blurred line mentioned above is WEST. Once again, they’ve challenged us with having to decide between two equally amazing contesting presentations. So, a tie! “The Mumberley Inheritance” was staged as pure comedy with so many local in-jokes that some dialogue was actually drowned out. It enlivened our February ‘Blahs’. The team then invited us to a “Perfect Wedding” that was a second marriage with the same cast & team that 1st staged the Hawdon comedy nine year earlier. The play, ceremony and reception were all PERFECT!
Theatre Erindale, Mary Vingoe’s “LIVING CURIOSITIES” was amazing enough to merit our writers returning to UTM in order to hear & meet the playwright and director Sten Eirik. This story of Barnum’s NYC ‘freak Show’ including an 8-foot Anna Swan from Nova Scotia. The individual interpretations, both physical and emotional, were heartrending and in the truest sense; pure theatre. The writing; directing; staging and makeup all blended seamlessly in what turned out to be an iconic tribute to the director and his final thespian effort.
University of Waterloo Drama Faculty; A bit of a schlep to Waterloo to see their presentation of Ionesco’s “RHINOCEROS”, but like ‘Acton’ …it was worth the drive. All of the playwright’s allegorical intentions and the instinct to conform has always been theatrically challenging. The director (Martha Ross); stage crew and especially the cast all met and overcame the challenges.
Marquee Productions, Aurora Incredible but true; we had never seen the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. An invitation to drive (almost to Barrie) north proved another extremely worthwhile trip to see an impeccable ‘Les Miz”. The staging; musical accompaniment; direction; crew expertise and top drawer actors brought all the pathos, determination and even the heroic failures of the protagonists to the fore. The emotional spectrum displayed by J.P. Gedeon’s ‘Bring him home’ has made that piece a new personal Broadway musical favorite.
Shaw Festival; It’s been over a decade since Sheridan & director Ron Cameron-Lewis introduced us to Neil Simon’s “SWEET CHARITY”… saw it twice! Niagara’s Shaw staged a slightly different but just as impacting version under the direction of Morris Panych that will also serve as a benchmark rendering. In addition to writing a complimentary review, we actually phoned friends to suggest seeing ‘Charity’ as well as ‘Peter; the ‘Top Girls’ & ‘Pygmalion etc. for a surefire entertaining culturally enjoyable visit.
Stratford Festival, Director Antonio Cimolino brought a new definition as well as a new interpretation to Shakespeare’s tragic “HAMLET”. The change of era; costuming and especially the dialogue emphasis all showed a new insight into the despondency, and uncertain dichotomies of thought and intention. The audience; even though completely aware of the plot and ramifications were still held spellbound as the story unfolded.
If this were not reason enough to attend the Festival, director Jillian Keiley’s “DIARY of ANNE FRANK” had the performers self-introduce themselves before curtain; including personal associations with the Holocaust. Obviously heartrending, this iteration was not depressing but rather – hopeful and positive. Sara Farb’s ‘Anne’ is an iconic sample of indomitability!
So another TIE situation.
Clarkson Music Theatre, She was (& is) the stereotypical ‘Molly Brown’, determined to support herself and succeed in every endeavor. “HELLO DOLLY” is a difficult role given the imprimatur of the actors who created the role on Broadway & the movie version. Carol Channing was replaced on Broadway with everybody. Gene Kelly cast Streisand for the movie. CMT’s director Michael MacLennan chose veteran singer/actor Jo Kemp to characterize Dolly Levi and she captured all the chutzpah and spirit that the playwright bestowed on his character. It was a perfect depiction. The chorus number where the waiters welcome her back was so well choreographed that it almost overshadowed Kemp…incredible!
Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, in spite of a year of artistic director candidates and ultimate selection, the H.P.O. is sufficiently professional enough to have presented two outstanding concerts. A September event under the baton of Bernard Gueller was entitled ‘An Enchanted Evening’ and it was! Two months later; an evening directed by Ivers Taurins and dedicated to Mozart; including his 40th Symphony. Like that major work’s subtitle the entire evening was certainly “Great”!
Ten selections (actually 13) BUT… there were also some other performances that were deserving and memorable; but ineligible – the Toronto & Hamilton Fringe Festivals. The former had such entries as “People Suck”; “How may I HATE You”; ‘Rounding the Bend’; and “Summerland” that were outstanding. Hamilton reprised “10/10/10” & ‘Rukmini’s Gold” as well as “Rowing” and the amazing & modern version of “Much ado About Nothing”. Much Ado’s producers should make their offering available to High Schools around the Province, while the others will hopefully end up going Mainstream.