Wednesday, December 30, 2015


James Karas

Toronto Operetta Theatre deserves credit for plugging a hole in the amusement availability gap between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This year’s lifter-upper is Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince. It is an energetic and enjoyable production done, as usual for TOT, on a modest budget.

If the “Overhead moon is shining,” and you are in your “Golden Days” of “Student life” and “Drink, drink, drink” when the garlands are bright deep in your heart in Heidelberg then you are in operettaland or in Karlsberg watching The Student Prince. If all of those things are happening to you and you are not at the St. Lawrence centre, you are delusional.

                Stefan Fehr, Jennifer Taverner, Adam Norrad and Ernesto Ramirez. Photo Gary Beechey
The classic 1924 operetta is based on Old Heidelberg, a play by German playwright Wilhelm Meyer-Förster with book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly. Director Guillermo Silva-Marin takes advantage of the beautiful melodies, the rousing ensemble songs, the comic elements and the romantic entanglements to provide an entertaining evening at the theatre.

The student prince of the title, sung by Mexican tenor Ernesto Ramirez, is sent to Heidelberg University to study. He meets some rowdy students and Kathie, the innkeeper’s lovely niece.  I will let you fill in some of the blanks about what happens after that. Ramirez has lovely voice and he can sing piano and even better forte where he belts out his lyrical phrases. My only complaint about him is his enunciation. He can use a bit more drilling to cease obscuring parts of some words.  

Soprano Jennifer Taverner is the winsome Kathie – lively, sweet-voiced and the type of girl a prince will fall for, put her “Deep in my heart” and dream of living happily-ever-after with her alone.

Three members of the female vocal ensemble take on solo roles as well and do a good job, namely: soprano Carrie Parks as the haughty Grand Duchess Anastasia, mezzo soprano Dina Shikhman as Princess Margaret, a woman who knows how to get her man, and mezzo soprano Katerina Utochkina who has a similar talent.

The operetta has its share of comic characters from the overbearing but ineffective prince’s valet Lutz, (played struttingly by Sean Curran) to the waiter Toni (Ryan Moilliet) to the students and members of the Saxon Corps. Some of the comic business misfired but the audience enjoyed the comedy overall.

Bass-baritone Curtis Sullivan sang with his usual resonance, the role of the humane Doctor Engel.

Derek Bate conducted the small orchestra, almost a band really, which nevertheless gave a spirited performance of the score.

Toronto Operetta Theatre is in its thirtieth year and it bears repeating that it is the conception, creation and continuation of Guillermo Silva-Marin. For The Student Prince, he is credited with stage direction, décor and lighting design. The production succeeds because of his talents but suffers from shortage of funds. More funding would provide better decor from the few items to indicate a palace antechamber, an inn garden and a palace. A bigger orchestra would help and a more plush theatre would be a definite asset.

He does a great deal with the sparse resources at hand. Toronto owes him a great debt for bringing and keeping operetta in the city almost single handed.

TOT’s next production will be Los Gavilanes by Jacinto Guerrero, a zarzuela dating from 1923, that, as happens so often, will be getting its Canadian premiere.          

The Student Prince by Sigmund Romberg opened on December 27, 2015 and will be performed five times until January 3, 2016 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel:  (416) 366-7723. or

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Reviewed by James Karas

Ross Petty is shameless. For twenty years he has used and mostly abused fairy tales to produce riotous laughter, ferocious theatrical energy and enthusiasm to make all competitors green with envy.

This year he takes on Peter Pan (again) and sends him Wonderland (no, not Canada’s, Alice’s, if you please) in a show that has all the characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph.

Petty revels in playing the “bad guy” and in Peter Pan in Wonderland he is none other than Captain Hook. The audience is informed, indeed provoked, to boo the nasty Captain at every opportunity and young and adult alike relish every opportunity to do so. Petty speaks directly to the audience, goes off on tangents, overacts and stops at nothing to get a laugh. He is a very funny man and the laughs come pouring in.

Ross Petty as Captain Hook Photo: Racheal McCaig Photography

Dan Chameroy is another hilarious performer as Tinkerbum. Dressed in drag with hair that looks like a couple of dried haystacks, Chameroy sports a riotous accent and movements that never failed to provoke laughter. He does not get as much stage time as Petty but his every appearance is a delight.

In addition to Tinkerbum, we have Tweedle Dum (Eddie Glen who doubles as a funny Smee) and Tweedle Dummer (Jessica Holmes who also has the more substantial role of Queen of Hearts). The Mad Hatter (Lamar Johnson), the Cheshire Cat (Taveeta Szymanowicz) are also there.

Peter Pan (Anthony MacPherson) is an energetic and agile young boy who can fly, sing and perform acrobatics. He does leave his home base of Neverland and ends up in Wonderland. Captain Hook is there up to no good, as you may suspect, and he wants to marry the Queen.

Alice is there as well and Jordan Clark who plays the part is able to belt out songs and dance with marvelous energy but that is just the beginning. The girl can perform acrobatics that would give those Russian Olympians pause. This is an athletics showcase as much as a musical.

Dan Chameroy as Tinkerbum, Anthony MacPherson as Peter Pan.Photo: Racheal McCaig Photography

The dancers are just as athletic and amazing in the numbers by choreographer Marc Kimelman. The sets and costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco are a riot of colour and a perfect background for the show.

Petty (again shamelessly) incorporates commercials in the production. The Toronto Star, Hilton Hotel and Sick Children’s Hospital put on ads. He has enough sense to make the commercials fit the show by garnering a few laughs while satisfying the sponsors.

The humour goes all over the place. Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, The Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays and others are all included in Petty’s insatiable search for laughs.

Singing, dancing, broad comedy, some political satire, slapstick, a plot built on two familiar stories, both fractured to good effect – that is a major achievement. Add to that the energy provided by the audience. Everyone one seemed to be on a sugar-high, screaming, booing, laughing, applauding.

There is no by-line in the programme but Chris Earle gets credit as the writer near the end of the credits and well after FLYING BY FOY. He cribbed Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie, of course.  The choreographer is listed at the bottom. I suppose this is the Ross Petty Show and everyone lines up behind him.

Mr. Petty, you should be ashamed of yourself for abandoning ship after only twenty years of great shows!

Peter Pan in Wonderland  opened on December 3, 2015 and will play until January 3, 2016 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


By James Karas

P@ndora is a complex and provocative play about teenage angst, pornography on the internet and the fundamental problems of growing up. It veers between dream or let’s say “unreality” and reality and is frequently surreal.

That may seem like an unlikely choice of play for Young People’s Theatre but Sarah Berthiaume’s work is a remarkable vehicle for inciting thought and discussion in the young and not so young.. The opening day audience consisted of high school students who are no doubt living through some of the issues raised by the play and can identify on some level with the characters.

Bria McLaughlin and Sean Colby

The all-gifted Pandora of Greek mythology was given a box by Zeus containing all the evils of humanity. She disobeyed the order not to open the box and thus unleashed all the evils that you can imagine on us. The @ in the title no doubt suggests that the internet is a great gift to us but it also contains  a great deal of evil.

Pandora of the play (played marvelously by Bria McLaughlin) is a high school student who meets a pervert in the washroom. She opens the website that he mentions and discovers pornography. We get a fairly sanitized description of what she sees. One of the participants in the video is a person with a chicken’s head. At the end the chicken’s head is removed and Pandora sees her own face.

Pandora is worried about her looks – every part of her body looks bad, she thinks. Her friend is prettier and all the boys are after her. Pandora finds herself at a party and in a bedroom with Alex (Sean Colby), the boy that she likes and there are awkward moments of attempted sexual contact.

The pervert that Pandora met in the bathroom is Firefox (Sean Colby) and he is a constant presence in her life. Is he the tempter, a reflection of her inner soul, the devil - you can decide for yourself.

Sean Colby plays Firefox as well as Alex and he has considerable room for acting the evil as well as the good character. A fine performance indeed.

Alex and Pandora find themselves in a field of hydroelectric poles and it is impossible to tell if Pandora is dreaming or if they are in fact in this strange surrounding. The play is multi-layered and it grabbed and kept the attention of the audience. Among the layers there is a strong message about self-assertion, about not being sucked in by the evils of the internet and about finding your way out of the field of hydro poles and the addictive attraction of trash on the internet without fear.

Michel Lefebvre directs this fascinating play. It is acted in a black box (the Nathan Cohen Studio) with a large display case in the middle of the stage with fluorescent lights in it designed by the director.    
P@ndora was commissioned by Quebec’s Youtheatre and is here produced in a translation by Nadine Desrochers. 

P@ndora by Sarah Berthiaume opened on November 30 and will play until December 11, 2015 at the Nathan Cohen Studio, Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


By James Karas

Seminar is a play about writing, becoming a writer, drink, drugs, ambition, sex and the life of a certain segment of New York society that exists mostly in the imagination of hoi polloi.

Theresa Rebeck’s 2011 play has five reasonably well-developed and distinct characters who engage in some or all of the above-noted practices with wit sarcasm, meanness, lust, pain and brutality. In other words, they are very entertaining.

The cast of Seminar. Photo: Dylan Hewlett
The key player is Leonard (Tom McCamus), a formerly successful novelist who has fallen on bad times. He is drunk, high on drugs, rude, crude, offensive, and obnoxious.  Apparently he is also a very god judge of writing.  

Four young would-be writers pay Leonard handsome amounts of money to have him comments on their work. They gather in a nine-room apartment in the Upper Eastside of Manhattan and Leonard who is as usual high on something starts tearing into the young hopefuls.

He reads about five words of Kate’s (Andrea Houssin) short story that she has been writing for years and tears it to shreds mercilessly. He does find some positive things to say about a couple of the other writers before axing their hopes  but we can only discuss literary ambitions for so long. We need sex.

Izzy (Grace Lynn Kung) is beautiful, desirable and available. She gives Martin (Nathan Howe) the best sex he has ever tasted and Leonard partakes as well. Yes, there are moral issues here but let’s just forget them.
Leonard does zero in on the abilities of his students between being insufferably insulting and cruel. The well-connected Douglas (Ryan James Miller) can write a workman-like novel but his best bet is to go to Hollywood. This advice comes after he calls him whorish.

Kate manages to get approval when she pretends that the piece she submits is by a Cuban transvestite. But Leonard does espy a true voice in what she writes. He beds her and helps her get a ghost-writing job.

 Nathan Howe and Tom McCamus in Seminar. Photo: Dylan Hewlett
Martin is poor, idealistic and afraid to submit his work to Leonard. Eventually he does and sees the work that Leonard is doing and the play reaches its climactic end.

McCamus could hardly do or be expected to do a less than superb job in the role of Leonard. His lined face, his rumpled hair and clothes, his gravelly voice all combine to give a splendid performance as the obnoxious but tortured and talented writer/editor.

The rest of the cast give impressive performances. Andrea Houssin garners laughs and sympathy as she eats to get fat when she is depressed until she finds a way to get approval and sex from Leonard. Miller’s Douglas is cool, ambitious, uppity and well-connected and must swallow the bitter criticism that Leonard shovels at him.

Kung’s Izzy is a sexual magnet with some writing talent. Howe’s Martin is intense, sensitive and at times childish but he does grow up during the play.

Stewart Arnott’s directing is sensitive and precise. The acting and reacting is finely modulated so that we see the aim of every insult and bit of praise painted on the face of the recipient and the faces of the other actors.

Seminar is a well-crafted play that combines the high ground of literature, the middle ground of ambition, fear and search for a way to literary success and the lower floors of sex, insult and drugs. Just the sort of place you want to visit.

Highly enjoyable.

Seminar  by Theresa Rebeck opened on November 14 and will play until December 6, 2015 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St. Toronto, Ontario.