Archives for June 2023

Million Dollar Quartet: artistry and marketing

publicity photo for Million Dollar Quartet at the Arts Club Theatre, Vancouver

The video design is the coolest thing.
(Set by Patrick Rizzotti. Actors: Emma Pedersen and Jay Clift
Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Director Bobby Garcia’s production of Million Dollar Quartet is so slick. His direction is tight, the design is fantastic, and the cast has talent pouring out of them. But I also felt like I was being marketed to and that significantly cut into my enjoyment. It might not cut into yours.

In Million Dollar Quartet, book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux fictionalize a real-life event. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins converged on the Sun Records recording studio run by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee — and they jammed.

All the singers were signed to Sun Records at some point, which places Phillips, their mentor, at the centre of this story. Lewis is desperate to be signed by him. Others may be moving on.

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Julius Caesar: splendid

publicity photo for Julius Caesar at Bard on the Beach

Publicity photo of Jennifer Lines as Mark Antony.
(Photo and image design by Emily Cooper)

Director Cherissa Richards’s production of Julius Caesar for Bard on the Beach is riveting from start to finish. I have never experienced such a successful interpretation of this play.

Part of the credit has to go to Stephen Drover’s driving adaptation, which cuts away extraneous text and exposes such a high-stakes drama that, when I glanced around the audience, I saw folks leaning forward in their seats, hungry to know what was going to happen next.

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Rotterdam: I liked its inhabitants

publicity photo for Rotterdam

Kai Solano Miranda and Clara Nowak in Rotterdam

This production of Rotterdam from the new queer company Under His Lyre features good work by emerging actors in a script that’s pretty bad.

In Rotterdam, playwright John Brittain tells the story of Fiona and Alice. They’re a couple, and Alice is just about to send a coming-out email to her parents when Fiona blurts, “I think I’m meant to be a man.” As Fiona starts filling out their trans identity — and takes a new name, Adrian — Alice struggles with her sense of herself as lesbian.

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As You Like It (most of the time)

publicity photo for As You Like It at Bard on the Beach 2023.

You go, buddy! Oscar Derkx shakin’ it as Orlando in As You Like it.
(Photo: Tim Matheson. Costume: Carmen Alatorre)

It’s wonderful. There are holes in it. But it’s still wonderful.

When I first saw director Daryl Cloran’s Beatles-inspired adaptation of As You Like It in its premiere at Bard on the Beach five years ago, I was smitten. Cloran has cut half of Shakespeare’s text and inserted Beatles songs. I thought that was a terrible idea when I first heard about it, but I was quickly won over in the flesh.

For most of the first act of this reworked remount, I was, once again, unabashedly delirious. I kept thinking to myself, “Actors are such transcendent creatures!”

In the story, the power-hungry Dame Frances — she’s usually a duke, but Jennifer Lines is playing the part here — has banished her sister Dame Senior from the court. In Cloran’s telling, the court is Vancouver in the 60s and the Forest of Arden, where Senior and her retinue seek refuge, becomes the Okanagan.

When Dame Frances also banishes Dame Senior’s daughter Rosalind — on threat of death — Rosalind and her beloved cousin Celia (Frances’s daughter) also hightail it in the general direction of the peach orchards. Hearing the news of his brother’s plot to kill him, so does Orlando, a disinherited young courtier, shortly after he and Rosalind have locked google-eyes with one another.

Because this is Shakespeare, Rosalind disguises herself as a youth named Ganymede and, when Ganymede meets Orlando in the Okanagan, he offers to teach Orlando how to cope with the vicissitudes of women.

Oscar Derkx’s Orlando is the stuff of dreams: all innocence, but possessed of precise comic timing — just wait till you see him struggling to find words when he’s first trying to converse with Rosalind. With emotional fearlessness and musical skill, Derkx hurls himself into numbers, including “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. And, in one of the evening’s most extraordinary moments, you can see his Orlando choosing to take the plunge into the sexual unknown of courting the boy/girl Ganymede.

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Beautiful (in some ways): The Carole King Musical

publicity photo for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Daniel Curalli and Kaylee Harwood on Cory Sincennes’s set (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

There are so many great songs in this show. And there’s so much talent on the Arts Club stage. But there’s so little story in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical that it often feels more like a concert than theatre.

Douglas McGrath’s slim book follows the legendary singer/songwriter from 1958, when she was 16 and sold her first song, to 1971 and the Carnegie Hall concert that followed the release of her smash-hit album Tapestry. The personal story is about King’s troubled marriage to her song-writing partner, lyricist Gerry Goffin, who had bipolar disorder. In this musical, as it did in life, this marriage serves up a bunch of hits, including “Take Good Care of My Baby”, “The Loco-Motion”, and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. King and Goffin’s pals, song-writing team Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, are also part of the story, which allows Beautiful to share their hits too, including “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

It’s a phenomenal song list. And it’s huge. There are 17 musical numbers in Act 1, and 11 in Act 2. Because there’s so little time left for storytelling, in the first act, the characters feel like figures in a rudimentary video game, mere types with limited functions. King’s mom Genie is a bitter divorcée. King is gifted and self-effacing. Her pal Cynthia is a wisecracker.

Interpersonal conflict is minimal and career success comes so easily that nobody needs to work very hard, which means there’s no narrative depth. When King’s marriage to Goffin falls apart in Act 2, it’s predictable, but at least there’s struggle, so the characters start to look more like human beings.

Okay. That’s what’s wrong with the material. Under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, there’s a whole lot right with this production.

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A Flea in Her Ear: There are powders for that

publicity photo for A Flea in Her Ear

Matthew Hamer and Brian Hinson in A Flea in Her Ear (Photo by Nancy Caldwell)

All sorts of people call A Flea in Her Ear one of the great farces.

I’m not sure if the script is salvageable.

Written by Georges Feydeau in 1907 and seen here in the 2006 adaptation by David Ives, Flea concerns a woman named Raymonde Chandebise who suspects her husband Victor of cheating on her. With her friend Lucienne, Raymonde sets out to entrap Victor in a place Ives calls the Frisky Puss Hotel. For complicated reasons, Lucienne’s husband Don Carlos thinks Lucienne is going to the hotel for an assignation with Victor, and things keep ramping up until, by Act 2, all the main characters, plus their friends and several of the Chandebise servants converge on the Frisky Puss and mayhem ensues.

I’m for mayhem. And I love a good farce when it’s working, as the saying goes, like a well-oiled machine. But two of the gears in A Flea in Her Ear are dangerously rusty.

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God Said This: bluntly

publicity photo for God Said This

Maki Yi, Yoshie Bancroft, and Stephanie Wong (Photo: Chelsea Stuyt Photography)

Leah Nanako Winkler’s God Said This explores important experiences, but does so in annoyingly sentimental and on-the-nose ways. Fortunately, in this Pacific Theatre production, there are significant rewards in both the performances and physical production.

In the central story, Hiro has just returned from New York, where she lives, to Kentucky, where she grew up — because her mom Masako is undergoing chemotherapy for a particularly pernicious form of uterine cancer. Hiro has a serious hate on for her father James, a recovering alcoholic who abused Masako and their two daughters when the girls were growing up. Although the play’s resolution is a foregone conclusion, its central tension is about whether Hiro will be able to forgive her dad in time to make her mom happy.

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