Saturday, June 29, 2019


James Karas

The Neverending Story is this year’s play for children offered by the Stratford Festival. The play and the production project such a wildly imaginary world as to fill and indeed expand your imagination. No doubt the youngsters watching the show have the capacity to imagine and absorb the play. After all it is directed mostly at them. My reaction, affected by my more limited imagination, was “holy cow, I never imagined such wildly imaginary things.”

The play is adapted by David S. Craig based on the novel by Michael Ende and its wildly imaginary and absorbing world is unleashed quite unprepossessingly. A ten-year old boy named Bastian (Jake Runeckles) begs his father (played by Tim Campbell) not to make him go to school. The father insists that he go. Bastian is viciously attacked by three bullies as he tries to make his way to school.

He runs into a bookstore and pleads for shelter from the Bookseller (Roy Lewis) but he demands that Bastian leave. The Bookseller thinks children are good for nothing because they play video games, watch television and never read books.  Bastian protests that he loves books, so much in fact that he gets completely immersed in the stories that he reads as if they were real. 
Andrew Robinson as Artax the Horse, Qasim Khan as Atreyu, Laura Condlln as Chancellor 
of the Ivory Tower and Roy Lewis as Cairon. Photography by Emily Cooper.
The Bookseller points to a special book called The Neverending Story which Bastian steals. He ends up in an attic at his school. Alone he starts reading the story and a new world opens for Bastian and the audience. We are transported to Fantastica where we will meet a werewolf, three purple buffalo, the hunter Atreyu and his talking horse Artax, a dragon, a huge spider, gnomes, birds and other creatures.

Some of these creatures are manipulated by actors (think of War Horse), other are played by puppets and we have a kaleidoscopes of colours and a plethora of movements that leave one aghast with admiration at the sheer magnitude of the imagination. As an example Artax the horse is manipulated by six actors handling his head, heart, hind and three for the saddle. Morla the Turtle requires eleven actors and so on.

Atreyu (Qasim Khan) is the hunter who rides the talking horse Artax. Fantastica is in danger because a shadow called Nothing is moving across the land. The Childlike Empress of Fantastica is dying and Atreyu must find a cure or else all will be lost. He sets out looking for Nothing and takes us to more fantastical creatures and situations.

All is done on a dark stage with stars glittering in the sky as the creatures come across in their fantastic shapes and colours. We meet Falkor the Lucky Dragon (Rylan Wilkie) and Ygramul (Laura Condlin), the huge spider. At all times we are aware that Bastian is in the attic reading the book and participating in the events related in the story. He is a part of the story as it is enacted and can influence events. And Bastian meets a character in the book, Atreyu, who is speaking to a character that looks like Bastian and of course it is Bastian. Freaky.

I will not spoil the show for you by giving more details. 
Qasim Khan (centre) as Atreyu and Andrew Robinson as Artax the Horse in 
The Neverending Story. Photography by Emily Cooper.
All the actors play several roles. Sean Arbuckle plays the werewolf Gmork as well as the Troll and the gnomes Urgl and Engywook. Tim Campbell has three roles in addition to playing Bastian’s father. Laura Condlin is Ygramul the spider and two other roles. Kim Horsman plays Morla, the Elder and Sassafranian Child. Mamie Zwettler play the Childlike Empress and Ryan Wilkie plays Falkor and the Caretaker.

Jillian Keiley directs and Bretta Gerecke has designed this incredible journey into fantasy. It will amaze you, astound you and expand your imagination.
The Neverending Story based on the novel by Michael Ende and adapted for the stage by David S. Craig opened on June 15 and will run in repertory until November 3, 2019 as part of the Schulich Children’s Plays at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, Ont.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. 

Saturday, June 22, 2019


By James Karas

The Lion King, the spectacular musical that has been seen by one hundred million worldwide is back in Toronto at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

It is a show that gets thunderous ovations during its two hours’ performance but the question is how can you top that thunder? Answer: get one of the animals to say “Go raptors.” All hell broke out when the hornbill Zazu (Greg Jackson) adlibbed those 2 words on June 14.

The Lion King, it goes without saying almost, has all the elements of a supremely successful musical: a very good plot, drama, humour, wonderful musical numbers, songs and dance sequences. All the characters are animals in Africa but for those with a certain bend, it has Hamletesque overtones. 
“The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING. ©Disney. 
Photo Credit: Brinkhoff-Mogenburg.
The most important and grandest element of the show is spectacle. From the minute that the curtain raises, we are treated to a parade of animals that come down the aisles and march on the stage in a grand display of colour, pageantry, shapes, masks and puppets that make your jaw drop. And that is just in the first few minutes. And it is only a foretaste.

It looks as if a substantial number of animals, via masks and brilliantly handled puppets have migrated to the theatre where they are menacing, funny, dramatic and thoroughly absorbing.

The music and songs are melodious, dramatic, humorous and enjoyable. Some of them like “Hakuna Matata” have become a part of popular culture. The singing is excellent and the wide-ranging dances from the portrayal of the green savannah to the frightful hyenas are superb.

The plot is simple and should be familiar. The good lion King Mufasa (an impressive Gerald Ramsey) has a rambunctious young son Simba (a lively Walter Russell III). Simba and his young friend Nala (a vivacious Celina Smith) go to the forbidden elephant graveyard against parental advice but on the recommendation of the evil brother of Mufasa, Scar (Spencer Plachy).

Well, Scar engineers the death of King Mufasa, takes over the kingdom and sends Simba into exile. The kingdom does very badly after that.

But adult Simba (Jared Dixon) and adult Nala (beautiful-voiced Nia Holloway) along with the hilarious meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz) return home and the rest is the fight for the happy ending.

In the meantime, we have treason, regicide, usurpation of power, dispossession of the rightful heir, evil rule and Shakespearean tragedy. Good grief, this is Hamlet, King Richard II and King Richard III reenacted in the animal kingdom.
Gerald Ramsey as “Mufasa” in THE LION KING North American Tour. 
©Disney. Photo by Matthew Murphy
Elton John and Tim Rice are credited with the music and lyrics but there are five more people who provide “additional music and lyrics” including the director, Julie Taymor.  The Disney organization sure knows how to put a show together.

A notable pleasure of the evening was the presence of a large number of children in the audience. Their enthusiasm was infectious but I noticed one little girl that had an aisle seat jump into her father’s lap and stay there to the end. Those hyenas that went within inches of her probably scared the delights out of her. A small boy enjoyed the show but when he saw the spurts of smoke he thought there was a fire and was ready to run out of the theatre. 

The average age of theatre audiences seems to be between that of Moses and Methuselah but the presence of youngsters in The Prince of Wales may have reduced it to barely above the drinking age. There is hope for the theatre.

Go Raptors. Go Lion King.  
The Lion King, music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice with additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, and Hans Zimmer, book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi continues until August 4, 2019 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

Brigadoon, the Shaw Festival’s big musical offering for the season, has a great deal to offer. It has marvelous melodies by Frederick Loewe and a wonderful book by Alan Jay Lerner. It has humour, love stories, the attraction of a simple life in a mythical village in the Scottish highlands, the triumph of love and in all it is a grand musical.

The Shaw Festival production directed by Glynis Leyshon and using a revised book by Brian Hill captures many of the virtues of the musical but it is also disappointing in some respects.

Two young New Yorkers are hunting in the Scottish Highlands as part of a bachelor party. Tommy Albright (George Krissa) is about to get married but he and his friend Jeff Douglas (Mike Nadajewski) lose their way in the woods. They end up in the magical village of Brigadoon hidden in the mist and mountains which does not appear on the map. 
Matt Nethersole as Charlie Dalrymple with the cast of Brigadoon. 
Photo by David Cooper.
They find out from Mistress Lundie (Patty Jamieson) that the village appears only for one day in every 100 years because the residents want to maintain their pristine way of life. If anyone leaves, the magical existence ceases.

The production has a cast to fill a village and most of them are kept pretty busy. They have a lot to accomplish in one day, I suppose. Jean (Madelyn Kriese) is about to marry Charlie (Matt Nethersole) but Harry (Travis Seetoo) is going into catatonic depression because he is madly in love with Jean. Maggie (Genny Sermonia) is crazy about Harry but that is not enough for him.

Fiona (Alexis Gordon) falls for Tommy (and vice versa) and the lively Meg (Kristi Frank) goes after Jeff. But the distraught Harry runs away thus endangering the very existence of Brigadoon. He meets an unhappy end. Tommy and Jeff return to New York but Tommy’s fiancée Jean has nothing to offer compared to Fiona and Brigadoon. The friends return to the highlands looking for Brigadoon. Amor vincit omnia.

Once you get past the atrocious Scottish accents of the cast, the idea and charm of the story will carry you splendedly. The idea of a simple life no matter if it is mythical is always attractive. The humour and the drama of the unhappy lover are handled well, romances are humorous or moving and we simply like where we are. We love the people, we love the place and we love the idea. 
Alexis Gordon as Fiona MacLaren and George Krissa as Tommy Albright 
with the cast of Brigadoon. Photo by Emily Cooper.
The singing and dancing are not always up to snuff. Many of the cast are barely adequate vocally and the few that can hold and belt out melodies are not enough to carry the show into the upper echelons of a production. The choreography suffers the same fate with few dancers that show superior talent.

The sets by Pam Johnson, from the environs of the village to Brigadoon itself are gorgeous. The lush greenery, the rising mists, the imposing mountains are all of mythical beauty. The costumes by Sue LePage are traditional and beautiful. The kilts, the bagpipes and the rest convince us we are in another world. Decent accents would have nailed the location as a Scottish other world. The projections by Corwin Ferguson bring reality to our faces with pictures of war.

Despite some disappointing aspects, this Brigadoon has many pleasures to offer.
Brigadoon by Alan Jay Lerner (book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) continues until October 13, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.

Monday, June 17, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

There are people in Toronto who have not seen The Book of Mormon yet. I go by the evidence of the full Ed Mirvish Theatre. The musical has had national and international tours to most civilized corners of the world since its opening on Broadway in 2011 and seems unstoppable. It is back in Toronto.

The Book of Mormon is a high-energy, funny, raunchy (really raunchy), well-scored, robustly danced and splendidly sung and acted show that satirizes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are better known as the Mormons and if all you know about them is that Mitt Romney is a Mormon you may wish to upgrade your knowledge. You don’t need it but you will enjoy the show more.
 The Book of Mormon Company - Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes 2017
The musical is the creation (book, music and lyrics) of Trey Parker Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, the people who gave the world South Park. It is an animated TV show that has been around since 1997 and is known for its clean language, civilized situations and wholesome image of everything.

We begin in a Mormon Missionary Training Centre where young men barely out of their teens are referred to as Elders and are being prepared to be sent out to the world to gain converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One of the new missionaries, Elder Price (Liam Tobin)   is smart, well-spoken, devoted, enthusiastic and ready to do his two-year stint provided it is in Orlando, Florida. His assigned partner Elder Cunningham (Jordan Matthew Brown) is a misfit, a schnook, you might say, who is the opposite of Price and his most distinguishing characteristic is lying.

Their assignment: a village in northern Uganda, a couple of hours from Kampala. This is a negatively flourishing community with its own Idi Amin type of dictator and, in addition to utter poverty, has AIDS, genital mutilation and a few other even more disgusting traditions, if that is possible.

The villagers’ view of religion is expressed in a three-word phrase in their local language "Hasa Diga Eebowai" which I cannot in good conscience translate but will give you a hint or two. One word refers to the Supreme Being, one is the second person pronoun and the third refers to fornication. Now that is not a society waiting to be converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
Monica L. Patton, Kevin Clay, Conner Peirson - The Book of Mormon. 
Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes 2017
The fun lies in the totally unsuccessful attempt of Price to baptize anyone and in Cunningham’s outrageous lies that rely sci-fi and Mormon teachings of sorts to get converts. The use of vulgar language is used regularly and hilariously. High marks to Tobin and Brown for their performances as comics and singers.
Most of the fun and horror of the musical comes from the Ugandan natives. They are no fools but they are the victims of a dictator. They do have hopes and dreams and Cunningham is able to convert them. But be prepared for subjects like sex with children, sex with frogs and the removal of the Book of Mormon from someone’s rectum. How did it ever get there?

We have the lovely Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni) who is attracted to Cunningham and who is attracted to her, who tortures her name and we have the wholesome love interest. 

There are appearances by Moroni, Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. There is a hilarious scene where the President of the Mission (Ron Bohmer – he plays several roles) is entertained with stories about the Mormons including the fact that sex with a frog cures AIDS. He orders the mission closed pronto.

The performances are spot on, the music and singing vivacious and quite terrific and the production values of the highest. Casey Nicholaw is the choreographer and he directs the show with co-author Trey Parker.

The Book of Mormon is not for everyone. I met two acquaintances in the crowded bar of the theatre during intermission as they were pushing their way to the door. I asked if they liked the show and they said no. They could not stand the vulgar names applied to the Lord.

The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone continues until June 23, 2019 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ont.  M5B 1V8. 416.872.1212 or 1.800.461.3333.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a pleasant suburban comedy that can be amusing in an ordinary production or quite hilarious with the right director and first class actors. With Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino directing the production, we can reasonably expect some of the Stratford Festival’s best people in the cast and our expectations are fulfilled.

The upgrade from amusing to hilarious falls squarely in the hands of the director. The production displays Cimolino’s creative talent and inventive imagination and the result is an evening of full-hearted laughter.

Cimolino sets the play in a small town around 1950, more or less familiar territory to everyone, directly or indirectly. The town is pleasantly alive with children skipping rope and playing, women going to the beauty parlor, men going to the barber or the bar and presenting a wonderful atmosphere. 
Brigit Wilson as Mrs. Page, Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff and 
Sophia Walker as Mrs. Ford. Photo by David Hou 
When it comes to provoking laughter, Cimolino does not miss a trick. There are double-takes and pratfalls, of course. When Falstaff tells the duped husband Ford (who pretends to be Brooke) how he hid in his house, he wipes his crotch with a towel and throws it on Ford’s head. It is hilarious and one of numerous directorial inventions that keep the laughs coming frequently without direct help from the text.

Geraint Wyn Davies is a riotous Falstaff. The braggart, the sponger, the would-be seducer of two upstanding wives of Windsor, can make us laugh with his ridiculous ambitions, his setbacks and humiliations. He is a scoundrel and we love him.

He has amusing if not faithful cronies in Bardolph (David Collins), Nym (Farhang Ghajar) and Pistol (Randy Hughson). You should see their 1950’s chic haircuts! But he also has powerful adversaries in the smart women of Windsor, Mrs. Ford (Sophia Walker) and Mrs. Page (Brigit Wilson). Sporting 1950’s suburban high fashion and intuitive intelligence, they plot sweet revenge on Falstaff and a lesson in the evils of jealousy on Mr. Ford (a hilarious Graham Abbey).

Watching Ford as Brooke reacting to Falstaff’s narrative of attempting to seduce Mrs. Ford is an absolute gem of comedy.

Ben Carlson is a riot as the pedantic Welsh parson and teacher and like Gordon S. Miller as the ridiculous Dr. Caius, he seems to be having as much fun as he is transmitting to the audience. Remember Miller was the evil Iago a few days ago? Michael Blake who shone as Othello earlier in the week shows that he can handle a comic role as Mr. Page.       
Michael Blake (left) as Mr. Page and Graham Abbey as Mr. Ford. Photo: David Hou.
Michael Spencer-Davis as Justice Shallow is well matched with Jamie Mac as his nephew Slender. We get the foolish justice and his even sillier sidekick who wants to marry the lovely Anne Page (Shruti Kothari). So does Dr. Caius but she will outwit everyone and marry her love Fenton (Mike Shara). What’s comedy if the young can’t outsmart the old?

Lucy Peacock gets the relatively minor role of Miss Quickly, Dr. Caius’s housekeeper and confidante of Anne Page. We remember the character better as Mistress Quickly, the inn keeper with tortuous English and quick at something. Peacock gets an easy night and we know she is one of the best.

The set by Julie Fox shows an indication of a Tudor house but it can be anywhere in a small town. There is an emphasis on beds and getting in and out of them for obvious comic reasons.

A great night at the theatre.         
The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare opened on June 1 and will play in repertory until October 26, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019


James Karas

Henry VIII is not the most frequently produced play of the canon by any stretch. It belongs to the “canon” most likely because Shakespeare wrote at least half of it. The other half is credited to John Fletcher by some but there is no agreement among scholars about who wrote how much. This is the Stratford Festival’s fourth production in sixty eight years, the previous ones being in 1961, 1986 and 2004.

There are more cogent reasons than authorship for the reluctance to stage the play. It has 47 characters and it is played in about a dozen locations. The latter is usually not a problem but when you have a grand banquet and masque thrown by Cardinal Wolsey, a courtroom scene, a coronation procession, and a royal baptism you would run out of space in the small Studio Theatre and out of dough in the bank.
Rod Beattie (left) as Cardinal Wolsey and Jonathan Goad as King Henry VIII. 
Photography by Emily Cooper.
Martha Henry risks neither eventuality by directing a pared down production that does justice to a play that treads very nimbly over the treacherous history of King Henry VIII and was produced either during his daughter’s reign or some years after her death.

We see King Henry VIII (Jonathan Goad) in his youth, strong, handsome, and virile. He rules over a treacherous nobility, has the brilliant, arrogant and ruthless Cardinal Wolsey (Rod Beattie) as his most trusted adviser and his conscience is bothering him about having married his brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon (Irene Poole). His conscience may more likely be pricked by the lack of a male heir and the presence of the beautiful and young Anne Boleyn (Alexandra Lainfiesta). Henry sees through Wolsey’s treachery and puts his thumb on the more troublesome nobles in a fine performance by Goad.

The most impressive performance is given by Irene Poole as Katherine. Katherine is being thrown over and her child Mary, the heir apparent, is being bastardized. She stands up to the nobility who would try her, speaks with poise and assurance and in the end finds a kind of victory in defeat. Admirable work by Poole.
Alexandra Lainfiesta as Anne Boleyn, Oksana Sirju as Jane Seymour, Irene Poole as 
Queen Katherine and Jacklyn Francis as Patience Maria. Photo: Emily Cooper.
The most disappointing performance is that of Rod Beattie as Cardinal Wolsey. We understand that Wolsey was the most powerful man in England after the king, he rose from the lower ranks and wielded ecclesiastical authority as a Cardinal and political power as Lord Chancellor of England. That authority and power must be made visible to and felt by the people around him and by the audience. Beattie displays neither. He speaks in a monotone that is more becoming to a modest lord than to an arrogant man.

Tim Campbell has an impressive voice and physical presence as the powerful Duke of Buckingham who is falsely accused of treason. The Duke is convicted of the crime but accepts his fate without losing his dignity.

Henry and designer Francesca Callow have opted for the colour black wherever possible. The nobles wear mostly black velvet hats and black fur capes. Queen Katherine and her ladies are dressed in black gowns and for all of them you had to watch and listen carefully to tell who is who.

The set consists of a balcony at the back of the stage which serves for the King and some of the lords to stand on when necessary. It serves the production well when we see the newly crowned Queen Anne Boleyn dressed in a white gown standing on the balcony with Katherine underneath her.

Henry VIII was a monster and Shakespeare and Fletcher crafted a politically safe, middling play about a part of his reign. Martha Henry does a fine job of doing the best within those parameters and giving us a chance to see the play. If you want to see the play four more times at the rate the Stratford Festival produces it, make arrangements to be around until 2087.            
Henry VIII by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher opened on May 29 and will   continue in repertory until October 12, 2019 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street East, Stratford. Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press

Thursday, June 6, 2019


James Karas

Little Shop of Horrors carries a highly contagious microbe that infected the audience in the Avon Theatre, Stratford, as soon as the lights went on the stage and the show began. The infection held them prisoners until the lengthy curtain calls at the end making everyone applaud, laugh and make noises of approval relentlessly. Theatre companies are well advised to find and adopt the microbe for their productions.

Little Shop, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, has a simple plot and a genial approach to some awful events. It is more of a cartoon but horror shows can be quite cartoonish. 
 Gabi Epstein as Audrey and André Morin as Seymour Krelborn. Photo by Chris Young.
The plot? A nerd called Seymour Krelborn (André Morin) works in a florist shop and he discovers a plant that likes human blood, talks and progresses to grow huge and feed on human flesh like whole human beings.

The flower shop is owned by the rough-and-ready Mr. Mushkin (an excellent Steve Ross) and the pretty and very tacky Audrey (Gabi Epstein) works there too. You guessed it, Seymour is hopelessly in love with her. In fact, he names the flesh-eating plant Audrey II.

There is a small problem. Audrey has an abusive and sadistic boyfriend called Orin (Dan Chameroy) and, let’s cut to the chase, he ends up as a meal for Audrey II. After a few meals and revelations, we find out to our horror that Audrey II is a far more nefarious plant and there is a plot that we could never have imagined. The apocalypse is upon us. No more hints.

The action takes place on skid row where we find the usual denizens as well as a fine parody of the Supremes with Vanessa Sears as Ronnette, Starr Domingue as Crystal and Camille Eanga-Selenge as Chiffon. They alone produce enough energy to light a whole town.

Morin as the nerdy florist is superbly entertaining as we watch him develop from a schmuck into a greedy American. The pathetic Audrey of Epstein dreams of a better, simpler life with Seymour. Dan Chameroy as Orin the dentist, wearing leather and riding a motorcycle, does an Elvis Presley impersonation and he seems to be enjoying the role as much as the audience loves what he is doing. And he plays a few other roles as well. Again, a super-charged performance.

The set of skid row and the interior of the florist shop first without and later with a fully grown flesh-eating monster is by Michael Gianfrancesco with costumes by Dana Osborne, lighting by Michael Walton and projection design by Jamie Nesbitt. Audrey II looks like a huge, nasty frog with a gaping mouth which can take whole human beings. There are puppeteers that operate it, of course, and Matthew G. Brown provides the voice.
  Dan Chameroy as Orin, the Dentist, Starr Domingue as Crystal, Vanessa Sears as Ronnette 
and Camille Eanga-Selenge as Chiffon. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann
The 1960’s rock music under the direction of Laura Burton had the same riotous effect on the audience as just about every movement by the cast.

Director and choreographer Donna Feore once again deserves much of the credit for overall thrust, indeed propulsion, of the uproarious and infectious production.

Little Shop of Horrors has been around as a stage musical since 1982 and it has been produced with great enthusiasm and success around the world. It is science fiction and comedy but it is also a serious parody of insatiable American greed in the glorious years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.     
Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) opened on May 31 and will run in repertory until November 2, 2019 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, Ont.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019


James Karas

The Stratford Festival has once again trod on the well-charted but somewhat treacherous field of Noel Coward comedies. They appear easy but they require a style of acting and detailed directing to bring out the best in them. Otherwise the thin plots may lead the production to fall on its face and the audience to fall off their chairs and nap on the floor.

This year’s offering is the old chestnut Private Lives directed by Carey Perloff with veteran actors Geraint Wyn Davies and Lucy Peacock.

The newly married Sibyl (Sophia Walker) and Elyot Chase (Geraint Wyn Davies) are standing on the balcony of a luxury hotel in the south of France on a moonlit evening looking at a large yacht in the water. They are on their honeymoon.
Lucy Peacock as Amanda and Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot. 
Photo by David Hou.
On the adjoining balcony, we see Amanda (Lucy Peacock) and Victor Prynne (Mike Shara) who are also on their honeymoon. We quickly find out that for Elyot and Amanda this is their second honeymoon because they were married to each other and still love each other.

You can guess the rest of the plot.

Coward provides scintillating dialogue as the two newlywed couples begin to bicker. Yes there is a rich trove of laughter if done properly. The laughter depends on gestures, pauses, intonations, facial expressions and reactions by the characters. In other words you need careful and detailed work by the director to get every ounce of pleasure from the dialogue.

Perloff directs, the actors deliver and the audience enjoys. Amanda and Elyot are usually played by relatively young actors. In this production they are mature adults with Davies (60 +) and Peacock (60 - ) but they are attractive, vivacious, witty and simply delightful.

A few lines into the play, the very feminine, younger and exultant Sibyl asks Elyot if he is happy. “Of course I am. Tremendously happy” he replies. Delivered straight, the line would land with a thud. But with a slight rise in the voice and a small pause in the middle, it becomes a funny line full of premonition. The cheerful Sibyl expresses her delight that the two are married and Elyot answers “Yes, things have come to a pretty pass.” Give the line right intonation and you get a good laugh. Say it straight and it makes no impression at all.
Geraint Wyn Davies as Elyot, Mike Shara as Victor, Sophia Walker as Sibyl and 
Lucy Peacock as Amanda. Photography by David Hou.
Victor and Amanda are the obverse of Elyot and Sibyl as they carry a parallel conversation on the balcony. “Do you love me?” asks the romantic but somewhat dense Victor. “Of course, that’s why I’m here” replies the sharp-witted Amanda. Lucy Peacock has a certain twang to her voice that simply sharpens her lines and makes a highly effective Amanda.
Victor insists on talking about Elyot and tries to paint a bleak picture of Elyot while Amanda tries to agree with him but cannot hide her love for her first husband. The result is wonderful comedy.

And so it goes on between the two couples until Elyot and Amanda are left alone and we get a taste of their former life together as they take off for Paris leaving their second spouses behind. All of these bits of dialogue and much more are funny because of the detailed directing and precise delivery by the cast.

The scene in Amada’s Paris apartment is the denouement as they have fun and then fight. The last scene with all four characters on stage that break into fights unfortunately misfires. The final scene where Victor and Sibyl go at each other and should create mayhem allowing Amanda and Elyot to escape unnoticed does not work as well as the rest of the production.

The set by Ken MacDonald representing the balcony of a luxurious hotel by the sea also looks like the deck of a luxury liner and is quite beautiful. With some modifications it serves largely as the set for the Paris apartment.

The dresses of the women by designer Christina Poddubiuk are simply gorgeous and the men are dressed nicely too but one’s attention is not quite focused on them. The lifestyle of Amanda and Elyot tickles the imagination by its lavishness and lack of normal impediments to human happiness.

What more can one ask for?
Private Lives by Noel Coward opened on May 30 and will run in repertory until October 26, 2019 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, Ont.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press 

Monday, June 3, 2019


Reviewed by James Karas

It’s a hit.

It is opening week at the Stratford Festival and Billy Elliot The Musical was only the second show to open. But there is no doubt that it will be the smash hit of the season. It is a great musical and Director and Choreographer Donna Feore gives it such a rousing, gorgeously sung and spectacularly danced production that  the audiences was enthralled from beginning to end.

Billy Elliot has been recognized as a great musical and indeed a masterpiece. It deals with a wonderful and heartwarming story of an eleven-year old boy from a working class background who wants to become a ballet dancer. He is an orphan and in his community the boys put on the gloves and box, and dancing is the simply not for boys, to put it politely. 
Nolen Dubuc (centre) as Billy Elliot with members of the company in 
Billy Elliot the Musical. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Billy Elliot is played by Nolen Dubuc, a spitfire of an actor, singer and dancer. He is an orphan who imagines seeing his dead mother (Vanessa Spears). He lives with his grandmother (Marion Adler) and his father Jackie (Dan Chameroy) and brother Tony (Scott Beaudin), both tough miners in a coal mining town in the throes of a strike and dissolution, Billy goes for ballet lessons, shows talent and courage but his father forbids him to continue.

Chameroy does a fine north England accent, sings with gusto and has to face the wrath of the striking co-workers by becoming a “scab” when he breaks rank and returns to work. A superb portrayal of a proud man who faces the disappearance of his world and needs to change attitudes about his young son’s preferences.

Billy’s brother Tony is just as tough and politically involved in the strike. Blythe Wilson plays the thin, middle age Mrs. Wilkinson who tries to teach young girls ballet. She is the soul of decency, patience and understanding. She can recognize talent when she sees it and is brutally honest about her talent as a dance teacher. Wilson has a hold on our heart from beginning to end.

Billy’s story is entwined with his gay friend Michael (Emerson Gamble), his grandmother, strong, funny and moving, and the miners, rough-hewn men facing an unthinkable future.
Their perseverance to save their jobs and way of life is pitted against the power of the government of Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher and the police. It is an ugly confrontation expressed in powerful song and dance sequences choreographed with surpassing beauty, muscle and precision by Feore.

Elton John’s music is in turn sinewy, powerful and lyrical. The musical deals with that rarity, the combination of a great social issue with the private life of a family and the fate of an entire community. Lee Hall’s book is dramatic, humorous and fast moving. But the real hero of the production is Donna Feore for her directing and choreography.

The highlight of the musical is the pas de deux danced by Dubuc and his adult counterpart, Colton Curtis. Dubuc soars through the air, assisted by a guy wire, but the dance by the two of them is an ethereal display of beauty in motion to the music of Tchaikovsky
From left: Scott Beaudin as Tony Elliot, Dan Chameroy as Billy's Dad and Nolen Dubuc 
as Billy Elliot with members of the company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The set by Michael Gianfrancesco is the essence of simplicity. We have the Elliot family kitchen with a spiral staircase leading to Billy’s bedroom, the school auditorium and union hall as the main scenes. Most is done by the use of judicious lighting and use of projections.

Billy Elliot has a huge cast from the strikers and policemen who clash, to the ballet girls to grandma’s suitors to puppeteers to a good size orchestra under conductor and music director Franklin Brasz.

Opening night audiences in their reactions are sometimes as trustworthy as Helen of Troy. But on the opening night of Billy Elliot the communication between stage and audience was simply electric. Almost nothing happened on the stage that did not evoke an enthusiastic reaction from the spectators. It was simply magical and highly enjoyable.

Just in case I have not said it, Billy Elliot is without a doubt the big hit of this Stratford Festival season. Go for it.
Billy Elliot The Musical by Lee Hall (book and lyrics) and Elton John (music) opened on May 28 and will play in repertory until November 3, 2019 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario.

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press