Editorial & Administrative opinions
With the exceptionality of the 2016 surfeit of Top Ten-ers (19), we usually end up with a dozen or so contenders for inclusion. Twenty-seventeen was no exception. Due to reader response, we intend to continue our 2016 protocol of also including ‘Honorable Mentions’.
THEATRE UNLIMITED, This Mississauga community organization started our year with an amazingly well-staged and presented ‘LITTLE MERMAID”. It was a surprisingly adult interpretation of what is obviously a children’ story. Then, they closed out the year with one of the best interpretations of the Rogers & Hammerstein blockbuster “SOUTH PACIFIC” that had us singing the lyrics all the way home. So, a double-play (pun intended)
MILTON PLAYERS GROUP, a surprise invitation from this theatre company gave us the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy ‘RESURRECTION of SHERLOCK HOLMES’. The direction by Dennis Curley brought out the best talents of the cast who managed to keep a straight face in spite of overwhelming laughter from the audience. A personal thanks for some of the play’s memorable quotes we still use in critiquing other offerings.
SHERIDAN COLLEGE, This consistently pinnacle-level producer staged the teen-age-angst offering ‘FOOTLOOSE’ as a showcase for the college’s thespian talent under the clever baton of David Connolly. The acting, dancing and singing were all faultless and augured surefire careers for all, post-graduation. Sheridan then presented Frank Loesser’s ‘HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS etc.’. Having seen the Broadway original, and many subsequent offerings, this turned out to be as professional & as much fun as our 1963 viewing. Another double-play win.
MEADOWVALE MUSIC THEATRE, may be local; inbred and slightly nepotistic but the intensity of effort and dedication shows in every one of the group’s offerings. The musical version of the Dicaprio/Hanks roman-a-clef ‘CATCH ME IF YOU CAN’ relies on two major protagonists and the interpreting duo Nicholas Cunha & Martin Buote contribute yeoman efforts to bring out all aspects of their portrayals. The chorus numbers were choreographed as though for a professional line, but the cast-members were fully up to the challenge. The sets and staging too, were noteworthy.
BOOK OF MORMON, New Yorkers Trey Parker & Matt Stone decided to re-tour their hilarious musical with an opening stop at Toronto’s Mirvish Theatre. We were so impressed that we reviewed same immediately upon our return home and wrote until the wee hours… such was our enthusiastic mood. Review was published in some of NYC’s dailies!
CITY CENTER MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS. We’ve seen, enjoyed (and occasionally endured) countless versions of Rogers & Hammerstein’s 1940’s OKLAHOMA. So, the plot, sets, costumes and especially the lyrics are as familiar as if we were members of the cast. CCMT’s incarnation was about as great as it gets. Overcoming monetary constraints they created an on-stage ambiance of a pre-Statehood territory and of the diverse attitudes and agendas of its residents. We not only re-sang our way home, we actually loudly joined in in vocally declaring that “♫ Yip a yo e yay – – -OKLAHOMMMMMA,!!! “O.K.” ♪ ”.
THEATRE ERINDALE, The Arts Review has been attending this faculty’s stagings for 14 years, and we’d have to check to see if a year even went by without it being listed in our yearly accolade roster. Oscar Wilde’s ‘IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST’, play can be either passe & boring’, or as fresh and contemporary. Directed by Patrick Young, this iteration was definitely in the latter category. The protagonists, played by John Wamsley & Thinh Nguyen have their character’s differing psyches down pat and easily discernible. As in all Erindale offerings, detailing is meticulous and completely professional.
SHAW FESTIVAL, This iconic Ontario theatre attraction had a hat-trick season. Tim Carroll’s directed interpretation of ST. JOAN; with Stratford’s Sara Tophma in the title role, was a digression from most renderings. In this reading, Carroll chose to emphasize the Machiavellian manoeuverings of the British Warwick and the Archbishop; thus a study in realpolitik and challenges of diplomatic manipulating. If a video was made of this presentation, it should be a course requisite for anyone hoping for a career with government!
HAMILTON PHILHARMONIC Shakespeare’s delightful MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM was the major work of a superb April HPO concert. Incorporating the Ham’n Children’s Choir and students of Glendale Secondary into the visual interpretation, maestra New had the audience mesmerized to a point of actually reciting some of the play’s quotable lines. We all ‘extended hand in friendship ‘with Puck aka Robin Goodfellow. As said on TV- “but wait, there’s more”. the talents of harpists, Erica Goodman & Angela Schwarzkopf were also showcased. Also, see the “Honourable Mentions” section below!
STRATFORD FESTIVAL Last year Stratford substantially raised the bar with six (count ’em-6) listings… an O-M-G season. This year Donna Feore’s GUYS AND DOLLS was perfection. From a tricky opening surprise to final curtain, even Damon Runyon himself would have loved it. Our review’s closing opinion ♫ it’s a probable 12 to 7 ♪ – you’ll love it too is, and was a surefire bet. Everyone we personally recommended seeing it wrote back concurring.
The Festival’s Lezlie Wade directed a superb take on G & S’ “HMS PINAFORE” that was so affecting that we were embarrassingly caught singing & dancing along Downie street while humming Admiral Porter’s biographical ‘When I was a lad’.
Martha Henry staged TWELTH NIGHT and though the Dennehy musical version of a few years back at Stratford was a watermark, this effort was truer to the playwright and certainly worthy of every Eng. Lit’s student attendance. Thus, a ‘hat trick’ for the Festival.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS –
SHAW: – In addition to ST. JOAN, Two close contenders, both starring Michael Therriault, were the hilarious ‘ANDROCLES’ and the lilting ‘ME & MY GIRL’, both of which we also verbally recommended to everyone we met or knew.
HAM’N.PHILHARMONIC. Gemma New’s Stravinsky’s Patrouchka incorporated puppetry and interpretive dancing. Given the work’s incorporating numerous solo opportunities, performances off-times have glitches, Not this time! The concert opened with Korngold’s challenging violin concerto and featured Lara St. John of NYC. (ex Toronto), she aced it. Lastly, the September “Russian Celebrations’ highlighted Martin Chalifour (Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto). Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Cappricio”; Borodin’s “Polovetsian Dances” (‘Kismet’ source) and then Stravinsky’s “Firebird’, all of the above, personal favorites.
WEST END STUDIO THEATRE, Yo Mustafa directed “BLOOD BROTHERS’ in a manner highly stark and intensified. The impact on both the audience and especially the lead characters was visceral. and wrenching. Giving away a twin; having them reunite as friends and the stark finale make this play either a catharsis or a recurring bad dream. We experienced BOTH reactions. “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, directed by Paul Groulx, was semi=plagiarized in a recent ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ plot, and seeing as the playwright is Agatha Christie, any plot-line would be a ‘spoiler’. So, suffice to say, it was well staged and thoroughly enjoyed .
PENINSULA PLAYERS. To best describe this organization’s “NO TELL MOTEL is to simply re-quote our review- ” both entertaining and engaging. However, it is also something of a thought-provoker and given the median ages of the opening night audience, something of evocative…if only wishful thinking or of opportunities foresworn”. Like the rest of the audience we enjoyed it sufficiently to return a few month’s later for ‘SKIN FLICK’. This comedy was equally enjoyable.
TORONTO FRINGE, age and infirmity forced us to reduce this usual amazing opportunity to one afternoon and only three offerings. Hopefully, 2018 will see us accomplish our usual amount of coverage attendance.
SOULPEPPER THEATRE. Albert Schultz’s organization has established itself as a ‘penthouse level’ of staging & talent. This year’s “WAITING FOR GODOT” gleaned the following comment from our critic :- . “It is a play that needs to be experienced, rather than understood intellectually. This production showed me a new facet of the play, as well as recalling familiar lines and actions”.
TEATRON. Ari Weisberg’s direction of the Arthur Miller 1994 play “BROKEN GLASS” interpreted the start of the Holocaust & ‘Kristallnacht’ in such a dramatic way that it touched both our writer and the audience members who offered their own visceral reactions. The theme may be Jewish but the message is universal.