jump to navigation

“The Boys in the Photograph” stirring new musical in Toronto October 4, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Theatre, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

The Boys in the Photograph, the reworking of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Beautiful Game, opened last weekend in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. This is a stunning work of theatre not to be missed this season.

boys-photo2-wide

Where The Beautiful Game told the story in big-budget West End style, this is a pared-down, more intimate production. It explains the goings-on more clearly for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. Call this the “Belfast West Side Story” and you have a close approximation of what to expect — a politically/religiously charged romantic story, set amongst the dreams of soccer, with tragedy thrown in. There’s plenty of pop rock score to keep it all abuzz, and a few terrific ballads thrown in as well. There’s a well-choreoraphed Soccer game; star performances from the young leads, and something to think about on the way out the door. The very fine no-name all-Canadian cast is sure to jump-start some of the careers of these young folks, and set a few hearts aflutter (straight and gay) in the audience as well.

In particular, Erica Peck wrings every note of emotion out of the ballad “If This Is What We’re Fighting For.” It’s an instant theatre classic, and hers will be the rendition people remember, the way Betty Buckley’s “Memory” has been passed down in Musical Theatre history or Jennifer Holiday’s “I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” became Dreamgirls’ iconic moment.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the story plays out in the late 60’s and early 70’s in Belfast Northern Ireland, amidst the religious and political turmoil of the times. It speaks of love, and the things that keep us human, and the reality of dashed dreams. There are lively anthems and rock songs; and a very gritty love story. It’s about commitment to a cause, as well as those who just try to sit back and stay out of it.

The show is more similar in style to Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind than it is to his mega-musicals like Phantom. Playwright (and novelist and screenwriter) Ben Elton also directs this production – and he knows exactly what he wants from each actor in each scene, and he knows how to make it all play out in a style that keeps it true to its British roots, while making it more accessible to North American audiences. You don’t need to know much about the violence in Belfast before going in, and creative use of video and newsreels explains everything you need to know in between. But a few minutes into the show, you will feel as if you are in an intimate theatre in London, not one in modern day Toronto.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre itself is a jewel — now 102 years old, most of us will remember it as the longtime home of Mamma Mia! in Toronto.

On a final note, some curious changes were made between this production as The Beautiful Game as I saw it in London and The Boys in The Photograph in Toronto, including some musical changes and the dropping of at least one song that had become a standard. I am looking forward to the new cast recording of this production, because of the significant differences in the score. But the final product is a stirring, emotional, and lovely work of musical theatre. And its rare that modern musicals have a heart as big as this one. Very Highly Recommended.

The Boys in The Photograph continues at the Royal Alexandra Theatre until November 1st (unless it is extended, which it very well could be by the time you read this). Go to http://www.Mirvish.com  to buy  tickets.

Advertisements

Superb cast salvages “The Producers” at Croswell Opera House June 22, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

First — there are huge fans of Mel Brooks’ musical THE PRODUCERS, and there are those who are not (me) 12 Tonys notwithstanding (I voted for “The Full Monty”). It’s an actor’s dream to perform these roles — its another task entirely to sit for three hours in an audience being inundated with mean-spiritedness.

The Producers is an example of a show that worked so well on Broadway with its primarily NYC-based audiences; and a show that faltered in its national tour, and eventually closed when NYC audiences dissipated and it needed to rely on tourists, who didn’t find it as funny nor as entertaining as the apparently more-informed NYC audiences did. It also relied on the star power of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick — two performances permanently burned into the retinas of audience goers for these roles.

That being said — the cast at Croswell Opera House is as superb as you can expect in an amateur production of the show. Steve Antalek is a fine Max Bialystock, and Patrick Toth a fine Leo Bloom (even if he is 15 years too young for the role). Lucy Hagedorn shines as Ulla, and Jim Craig is a funny Roger DeBris. Special kudos to Jesse Montie who has a pitch-perfect interpretation of Carmen Ghia, and Stephen Smith’s athletic Franz (another actor who is at least 20 years too young for the part).

There is also more good: the orchestra sounds wonderful under the direction of Jonathan Sills, and the costumes by Susan Eversden are literally stunning.

But then there is the bad: the sound is spotty with several mic problems during the course of the performance – but more importantly, some totally missing mic-work — solo lines are inaudible in the house; important lines in songs disappear; and when the ensemble sings one primarily hears only the leads who are on body mics. The opening number is a cacophony of mumbo-jumbo that even those of us who know every word of this show had a hard time making out. “We wanted to stand up and hiss….we’ve seen shit, but never like this” was completely unintelligible, and it’s one of the funniest lines in the show.

The choreography is lacking. “I want to be a producer” is sloppy and poorly choreographed. The taps can not be heard through most of the number, and this is the one place in the show where clean, efficient tapping is required. It’s not the girls fault — they do what they can with a mess of tap steps that do nothing to emphasize the rhythm of the song nor to build to any type of climax. Time steps and shuffles alone do not make for a Broadway tap number. “Springtime for Hitler” is inherently funny — the choreography in this production does nothing to build the number to what it could be; and at times seems to work against it by forcing motions into space that doesn’t fit. The swastika-dance looks great on a big stage when a mirror can be flown in to show the “Busby Berkley” effect of the swastika rotating on stage…here, it just looks like messy marching.

Then there is the ugly: the set design. This is just plain old gawd-awful. It ranges from serviceable (Roger’s apartment) to Junior-High quality (the scenes outside the theatre; and the “Springtime for Hitler” sign that flies in at the end of Act I — which is so awful that Junior High quality might be giving it too much credit.) The paint is not thick enough on the canvas drops, and light shines through from behind (a problem that plagued last year’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Croswell also). The lettering throughout is sloppy and unprofessional. The lettering for the Whitehall and Marks backdrop looks like a high school cheerleading sign hanging in a hallway. The set design is cringe-inducing in it’s awfulness. Even the better pieces have problems — Roger’s apartment doesn’t fit together well on stage (or they missed their marks during the Sunday afternoon performance that I saw) and the lovely Little Old Ladyland heart is fronted by a poorly painted sloppy looking bench.

Therein lies the crux of the matter — The Producers, despite spoofing the “worst show ever” can’t LOOK like the worst show ever. It’s a budget-squashing show that is far more expensive than it looks in the finished product, and it is exactly because of that budget that the show works in professional venues.

What Croswell has is a fine ensemble cast that is stunningly costumed standing in a shell of a set — and it doesn’t work that way. Sloppy graphics and lettering, poorly painted drops, and slow-moving scene changes undo the effort that the cast has put into this show.

I laughed. I know the show inside and out. Everything that worked in this show worked because of the fine and funny script, the great singing voices, and the fine direction of Mark DePietro whose sense of timing, comedy, and efficient stage-work is clearly seen throughout the show. I wish I could say more positive things about the show, but I can’t.  Perhaps my expectations of the Croswell have become too high over the years — but they SHOULD be that high — this is the best Summer Stock in the region.

For the record, Croswell is the only non-professional theatre where I would personally audition for a show. My heart is in directing and choreography, not in performance. But I respect certain directors and some specific shows. I was in last year’s Croswell production of Titanic, the Musical, because it is one of my favorite shows. I was indeed cast in this production of The Producers, but chose not to participate for personal reasons. I look forward to auditioning at Croswell again if the right combination of show and director comes along down the road and my schedule permits. I am also a supporting member of the Croswell Opera House.

There are a slew of other productions of THE PRODUCERS slated for local venues, including one in Ann Arbor this fall. Word of warning to all of them — this is going to be the most expensive musical you have ever produced, and if you don’t have the money to spend, tread carefully.