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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Stage West Calgary offers glimpses into relationships with latest musical

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change
 Stage West Calgary

Photo courtesy of Stage West Calgary - credit: John Watson

In addition to being the latest Stage West Calgary new season opener, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change also marks the enduring venue’s 200th production, a landmark by any standard. 

The hit off-Broadway musical takes the audience through a variety of relationship vignettes, and gives back to the community here on top of that with $1.00 from every ticket sold donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. 

The musical comedy explores every aspect and age of relationships - from dating and navigating the etiquette of being a couple, and on into managing your online dating profile as your years are advancing. One of the most poignant moments comes in Act 2, with "Shouldn't I Be Less In Love With You”, as a husband muses over how he still feels about his long-time partner.

In between, the pace moves forward with four actors playing a wide variety of roles, each allowed showcases for their considerable vocal abilities. Director Phil Nero has assembled a compelling cast in Daniel Greenberg, Kyla Musselman, Andrew Scanlon, and Cailin Stadnyk. Given often marginal material to work with, they each take turns belting their songs way up into the rafters, three of them of them for the first time in this space. Greenburg returns in his second play from book and lyric writer Joe DiPietro.

 An early (his first actually) musical from the creator of All Shook Up (music for that production supplied by Elvis Presley songs), DiPietro’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change became the second-longest running Off Broadway musical after its debut in 1996.

L-R: Daniel Greenberg, Kyla Musselman, Cailin Stadnyk, Andrew Scanlon. Photo courtesy Stage West Calgary, credit: John Watson

I’ll have my official Calgary Herald review to link to sometime next week, so I’ll hold back on details for that feature. However - some highlights:

  • The aforementioned  "Shouldn't I Be Less In Love With You?”. In an era of televised Bachelors and Bachelorettes, it’s refreshing to see a relationship of substance reflected, rather than shallow personalities’ rhinestone shimmer and scripted “reality” drama. It's a brief scene, but a powerful song and performance.
  • Tear Jerk”, and “Satisfaction Guaranteed” - despite reviews indicating hilarity, the belly-laughs are a bit sparse. There are a couple of great scenes though, and both of these vignettes elicited healthy laughs from the audience. “Scared Straight (To The Altar)” also provided plenty of creative humour.
  • Relevance to all ages, given the wide arc of overview in each age group - from young singles to young parents, and on into handling flirting again after losing your spouse. If you hadn’t considered some of your options, there are plenty of suggestions in this production!

OK, more to follow from my Herald review (link here when that is live) - for now, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change is a night of talented actors and singers, along with something that should jump out for you regardless of where you fall in the dating or relationship spectrum. 

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Runs until November 12 at Stage West Calgary  

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Musical Whodunit Spoof Dances On The Creative Ceiling

Murder For Two
Stage West Theatre

John Wascavage, Bradon Lambert - photos courtesy Stage West Calgary, John Watson

Your dinner theatre experience may never be the same again…

Stage West Calgary’s presentation of the musical comedy Murder For Two takes the popular venue into territory that vaults past anything you could possibly imagine - trumping even their guaranteed house-packing musical revues and Broadway production mountings.

Murder For Two is a champagne theatre experience that is right at home in this facility, yet offering a new plateau for the audiences fortunate enough to roll the dice on a feature they may have never heard of before. Tough call, as name recognition often rules the pocketbook when venturing out for an evening.

If you do attend, be prepared for manic mayhem possibly unlike anything you’ve ever seen before on any stage - two actors, multiple roles, and a musical whodunit that tests the limits of how many lines an actor could possibly memorize without being an actual teleprompter. 

In the case of the two actors last night, Brandon Lambert (Marcus, the budding detective) and John Wascavage (everyone else), despite having a runaway rollercoaster of dialogue and lyrics between them each were flawless and I think at times even tried to outdo each other. 

Add in both sharing piano duties (often at the same time!), and you still don’t come close to having any idea how anyone could pull off their assigned tasks without at least hitting a snafu once somewhere along the way. 

Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary, John Watson 

As I have to hold back a few comments for my upcoming Calgary Herald review, I’ll offer up a wee summary here - and of course I’ll post a link to the official review when that is live online.

Murder For Two sets about to showcase a hopeful detective yearning within small-town policeman Marcus Moscowicz (Lambert) hoping to attain his career ambitions by solving the murder of great American novelist Arthur Whitney at a surprise birthday party. 

Photos courtesy of Stage West Calgary, John Watson

His suspects are many, yet each one bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Wascavage - your only clue that he is a variety of distinct personalities are rotating accents and affectations - each one incrementally (and hilariously) over the top.

 While the early going is slow and a bit confusing, once you’re in on the gag, both actors showcase skill sets and talents that propel the entire proceedings on to what might be the conclusion, but there are some plot twists thrown in to suggest otherwise.

As important as each actor is, the talents of director J. Scott Lapp and choreographer Wendy Seyb contribute amply to make what seems impossible seamless and satisfying.

This is theatre at a creative high, exceeding any expectations. 

Murder For Two runs until September 3 at Stage West Calgary

5 out of 5 Stars

NOTE: Calgary Herald review is now live!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Stage West’s Rock Of Ages Catches Stride In Time…

Rock Of Ages
(Chris D'Arienzo/Ethan Popp)

Stage West Calgary, until June 25th

(Photo Courtesy Stage West Calgary)

Rock Of Ages

Stage West Calgary

As far as modern musicals go, Rock Of Ages is overall harmless fun - the show takes aim at 80’s rock and trends of the era, skimps on even trying to create 3-D characters, and yet still found success - the original production ended up the 27th longest running show in Broadway’s history.

Stage West’s recently opened production features plenty of talented actors, and by the end of the show, you can’t help but get caught up in the revelry. 

As I have to write my official Calgary Herald review, I’ll just touch on highlights here - however if you’ve heard of the show, you’ll know to expect doppelgängers for 80’s rockers like Bret Michaels (Poison), and snippets of hard rock/heavy metal favourites from the likes of Asia, Europe, and Foreigner. 

Despite the leather, big hair and frequent guitar solos, it’s the typical boy meets girl, boy follows dream, dream gets dashed, boy loses girl, but all’s well that ends well after all those things get sorted out by songs and humorous sight gags. 

The plot (such as it is) drags down the first act, but the second act roars with some laughs ands powerhouse performances - most notably Daphne Moens in the dual role of Justice (the owner of a local gentlemen’s club), and Sherrie’s (the girl) mother. Man, can she belt out a Pat Benatar song - and more…

Show stealers are the combo of German developers Hertz Klinemann (David Talbot) and his son Franz (Mark Allen), who knock their roles out of the park as the storyline progresses.

For the rest of the cast and ensemble, director Tracey Flye has brought in actors that seem nicely suited to their roles. Narrator, and rock club fixture Lonny (Michael De Rose) balances booming vocals with his character’s ongoing hijinx.

As the love interests and main characters, Drew (Scott Beaudin) and Sherrie (Sarah Horsman) each get moments to strut - Horsman in particular finds her stride during Harden My Heart.

I’ll expand on all of this in my Herald review, and post a link here when that is live online and in the physical paper. 

Until then , I hope you’ve got a bit of a sense of what to expect with this wee review. 

Rock of Ages runs until June 25th at Stage West Calgary

4 out of 5 stars  

Friday, March 17, 2017

11th Blog Anniversary!

While I surely don't blog as often as I used to in the early years (daily, no matter what), this space still sees some usage, and I plan to get back to making much more in the ruckus department here again soon.

Pictured above, just for shifts and giggles, the very first record I ever bought - after listening to 78 RPMs of Elvis on the floor in the family house living room, as a very young sprout. Recently picked it up on CD, so almost first circle, notwithstanding a digital copy from iTunes. 

Music has been a huge part of my life, and I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. One way or another...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Latest from Stage West Calgary: Drinking Habits, by Tom Smith

Drinking Habits

Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary

Given that religion is in the news in a very polarizing manner as of late, perhaps it is prudent timing to have this rollicking glimpse into a fictional convent on stage right now at Stage West Calgary.

A broad farce of human nature set behind religious trappings, Drinking Habits is both a wordplay on the dress of nuns, and a nod to this particular order’s penchant for brewing up a little bit of illicit vino to help keep their convent afloat. 

Utilizing every element of classic farces in the tool chest, playwright Tom Smith takes familiar stereotypes of the Christian faith and blends them with intrepid journalism (fake news?) to provide hearty and continual laughs, once the cast has been introduced, and the scene set.

I’ll have my official Calgary Herald review next week to follow this one, so just a few highlights here:

The Sisters Of Perpetual Sewing is a very small order, barely scraping by, alongside an even smaller neighbouring parish. A note from Rome arrives to indicate there may be some scrutiny, and if necessary, both may be closed if not found sufficiently worthy (profitable).

Cue the paranoia around who the spy will be, the elaborate schemes to catch him or her in the act, add slamming doors and mistaken identities, and you have all those aforementioned farce elements, just then requiring an able cast to draw the audience along in a convincing enough manner. 

Here, director J. Sean Elliott has outdone himself, populating this little world with a stable of talent that brings exceptional comic timing to Smith’s well-conceived story - it’s worth noting that there’s already a sequel to this fun-fest, and an award. The play picked up the Robert J. Pickering Award for Excellence in Playwriting in 2004.

Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary

Alphabetically, the cast includes Al Braatz as George, the gentle-natured, goofy groundskeeper that gets recruited into Mother Superior’s plan to root out the holy spy sent to investigate. But he ends up having an even greater deception that plays into the results.

Natascha Girgis is Sister Augusta, one of the two denizens of the sparsely populated convent - and she is a delight in every aspect of her role here. Whether that may be conspiring to keep the illicit wine business on the down-low, or as she develops her detective skills to make sense of the added population introduced by happenstance from afar, Girgis draws plenty of belly-laughs from a well written role.

Charlie Gould is Sally, the runaway bride bent on elevating her journalistic career to a rightful place, or basically any place aside from where she has been languishing in that effort. She goes undercover in the convent with determination. And a nun’s habit…

Elinor Holt is a marvellous Mother Superior, somewhat oblivious to what her fellow nuns have been doing behind her back, but well determined to prevent whatever that might be from coming to an abrupt end. To that end, she directs espionage to out the spies that would be right home in an episode of TV’s Get Smart.  

Robert Klein is Father Chenille of the tiny parish next door, wrought with anguish that he is about to be replaced by a younger priest. Jeremy LaPalme is Sally's partner in the undercover press, Paul - also her ex-fiancé, but maybe not so ex as she might be thinking. 

Esther Purves-Smith is the other nun in the order, and her Achilles Heel appears to be a lack of any ability to lie, which plays out towards the build-up to the finale in a scene-stealing display of emotion. 

The final element is Sister Mary Catherine (Arielle Rombough), who is not quite yet a nun, but she’s still very vital to how this all unfolds. It is after all a puzzle that must fit together for the twists and turns at the end, which may be there on display all along for intrepid mystery fans in the audience. 

Based on the laughter last night, I think this stands out as one of the strongest farces in recent memory.

5 out of 5 stars.

Link back here when the official Calgary Herald review is out!

Drinking Habits runs to April 16.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Just Like the Movies, at Stage West Calgary...

Hollywood Hits
Stage West Calgary

Nov 18 to Feb 5

courtesy Stage West Calgary

Breaking from their more consistent tradition of pop or country music hit showcases, Stage West has taken a chance on gathering big songs from the movies as their focus on the brand new revue Hollywood Hits. The gamble pays off. You won’t go too long without recognizing most every song that creators Timothy French and Howard Pechet have included here.

That includes a wide variety of songs from an even wider variety of musical styles, Hollywood Hits brings back the backdrop of movies that became cultural icons for a variety of generations - Bond movies, Beatles movies, coming of age films, and even animated classics. 

Once again I have to hold back much of my commentary ahead of my upcoming official Calgary Herald review (link here as soon as that goes live!), but I can say that plenty of thought went into curating these soundtrack classics, many of which have gone on over the years to become standards played at weddings, or fill dance floors when djs spin those tracks. 

Many familiar faces return to the stage to bring the songs to life - David Cotton, Chelsey Duplak, Daniel Greenburg, Tara Jackson, Andrew McGillivray, Tiera Watts, and Jesse Weaver. New talent showing their chops include Élodie Dorsel, Eric da Costa, JJ Gerber and Cary Shields. As I have recently screwed up the names of various actors TWICE in various roles, I’ll stick this time around to just highlighting performances - of which there are plenty of standouts.
courtesy Stage West Calgary

Going back in time, early films are mined for songs like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Rock Around The Clock, and Hard Day’s Night. Adele’s Skyfall is bang-on, as tracks like Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero, and a handful of Sixties-era folk rock hits.

In between these segments of songs (far too many to perform in their entirety) you’ll enjoy the over-the-top hilarity of host Andrew McGillivray, who gets a chance to portray a number of figures from the movies, and a few figures plucked from a fertile imagination. As hilarious as he gets to be as this collection of characters, when you hear his all too brief version of Bare Necessities, you’ll wish he had a few more opportunities to sing - which that man can 
do exceptionally.
courtesy Stage West Calgary

By the time this settles down though, you’ll have been walked through a smattering of disco, a trio of funkers via Prince from Purple Rain, love songs, rap and hip-hop, right up to Pharell’s Happy. Most all of those tracks brought appreciative hoots and hollers from the audience, as well as a standing ovation by the end.

If you’re a fan of memorable songs from movies, you’ll certainly enjoy Stage West’s Hollywood Hits - 5 out of 5 stars!  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Million Dollar Production Of Historic Music Moment

 Stage West Calgary presents:

"Million Dollar Quartet"

Sept 9 - Nov 13, 2016

Million Dollar Quartet

All photos courtesy Stage West Calgary / John Watson

 I will confess up front to having seen an earlier big, fancy production elsewhere of the latest show opening this week at Stage West Calgary.

I thought I was seeing it again last night - this is one flawless outing for fans of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet! It is without question every bit as good as the Vegas version, which at the time I attended featured one of the Broadway cast members among the stars.

This version here at home starts with a terrific set. It builds with the introduction of the cast members, and follows through with great renditions of the songs and story of this one-off event in pop music.

In December 1956 three of the biggest stars in pop, country and rhythm and blues convened in the legendary Sun Studios with an brand-new up-and-comer for the Sun Records stable of recording stars, mostly by happenstance. The storyline features a number of plot lines that build to the finale, but along the way you hear some iconic music from the rockabilly era, and much more.

J. Sean Elliott moves away from his usual director’s chair to tackle the role of Sun founder Sam Phillips. In a dual role narrating the event in asides, he brings considerable skill to making Phillips believable, yet not taking anything away from his fellow actors.

Matt Cage is a young Elvis Presley, returning to where it all started for him. The story line links Presley and Phillips to a possible future collaborative reunion, kept somewhat secret from the other musicians in the impromptu gathering. Cage’s acoustic version of Peace In The Valley with a haunting chorus from fellow cast members is worth the price of admission by itself.

Tyler Check brings rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins to life, and he also harbours a secret along with Johnny Cash (Maxwell Theodore Lebeuf) that ultimately serves to make the finale bittersweet for the group. 

Check and Lebeuf also share musical moments that sparkle, and like the Broadway version, everyone on stage is playing their own instruments.

A natural firebrand cast as the original firebrand, Gerrad Everard clearly has a blast in the role of the young Jerry Lee Lewis, caught somewhere along the fine line between religiously aware, but bawdily centred. Has it really been 8 years since he brought other musical legends to life here? Too long!

Laura Mae Nason returns to Stage West playing Elvis’ girlfriend, and she gets to perform a couple of songs herself. Again, much like the Broadway version she almost steals the show from the formidable legends gathered in the room - she can truly belt out with the best of them.

Filling out the group are Scot Carmichael (Fluke) and Zachary Knowles (Jay Perkins) as the background musicians for Perkins' session - plenty capable themselves musically. 

Directed by Alex Mustakas, with musical direction from the ever-present Konrad Pluta, there is not one misstep along the way. If you’ve seen this before, you can do no wrong by seeing it one more time.

5 out of 5 stars.

Check out my official Calgary Herald review, live online now!