Tuesday, June 28, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

At the end of Act I of Too True To Be Good, Bernard Shaw through a part in his play called The Microbe, tells us the “the play is virtually over but the characters will discuss it at great length for two acts more.”  The Microbe’s statement is no doubt made ironically but after seeing the play you may think that there is much truth in it.

The Shaw Festival is producing the play (written in 1931 when Shaw was 74) for the fifth time since its first appearance in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1974.

Director Sanjay Talwar gives us a vigorously acted production with an excellent cast but the plot and Microbe’s information about discussing the play at great length for two acts provide some sections that force one’s mind to wander.

Donna Soares as The Patient (Miss Mopply) with (l to r) Graeme Somerville
as The Burglar, Neil Barclay as Colonel Tallboys, Jenny L. Wright
as Mrs Mopply and Patrick Galligan as The Elder. Photo by Emily Cooper.

The first act is fairly robust and Talwar gives it a brisk pace. The funny Microbe (an extravagantly dressed Travis Seetoo) complains about catching the measles from Miss Mopply (Donna Soares), a spoiled rich brat who is ill and in bed. Mrs. Mopply, her mother, (Jenny L. Wright) is vicariously hypochondriac and fusses frenetically about her daughter. The limping doctor (Martin Happer) prescribes pills as demanded by the mother whether they are needed or not. An officious Nurse (Marla McLean) arrives, she is joined by a Burglar (Graeme Somerville) and they take the patient and her jewels and take off for the beach in a mountainous country.     

There are witty lines that work and the act is acted splendidly and all works well.  In the second act the three runaways have changed character. Miss Mopply has become a servant of the nurse who has become a Countess and the burglar has become The Honourable Aubrey Bagot.  We meet Private Napoleon Alexander Trotsky Meek (Jonathan Tan) whose character is indicated by his names. Colonel Tallboys (Neil Barclay) is a typical inept officer almost straight from operetta.   There is some fun as we learn about the Private who resigned his position as a colonel to become a private. He is intelligent and efficient based on Lawrence of Arabia who also resigned his commission.

Religion, Politics, leadership and war are discussed with wit and interest but the plot is not there. The colonel is in the mountainous country looking for the bandits who abducted a girl from England. She is is in front of him with her abductors but he has no clue about it. In act III the Burglar’s father (played dramatically by Patrick Gallegan) arrives. We meet a Sergeant Fielding (played by Martin Happer), the discussion continues about everything almost, with exception of the crime that was supposedly committed in Act I and the search for the bandits that were supposed to have done it.

Donna Soares as Miss Mopply and Marla McLean as The Nurse in
Too True to Be Good (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

The set by Sue LePage is modified to fit the rectangular playing area of a theatre-in-the round. The necessary bed in the first act is replaced by a few poles that should be the beach and some rocks that are supposed to represent  a narrow gap leading to the beach. It is a minimalist set befitting the demands of the shape of the playing area.

The cover of the programme shows the symbol of Covid-19. The world of 1931 and the world of 2022 are in turmoil, the first because of the effects of World War I and the second because of the pandemic. There are memories of the Great War interspersed in the play the way the pandemic may be remembered a few years from now, as the world turned upside down and changing quickly and perhaps horribly forever.

During the very long speech by The Honorable Aubrey Bagot at the end of the play, two actors in their street clothes walk across the stage and out of the theatre. Has the political extravaganza run out of steam and everybody is walking out? Members of the cast finally come on stage, put Aubrey on their shoulders and carry him out. The Elder who has been listening to the speech in stunned silence is surprised at what is happening as the audience applauds the end of the show. The audience is relieved too.

Talwar has done impressive work in directing the play and bringing out the best of it with the fine cast. But at 74 Shaw had reached his best-before date and Too True To Be Good cannot be rescued completely from its verbosity however he may have tried.


Too True To Be Good by Bernard Shaw continues until October 8, 2022, at the Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival,  Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.

Jmaes Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspapr.

Friday, June 24, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

You may have heard of Patrick Hamilton’s Gaslight which played at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, about six years ago. The Shaw Festival has produced a new play by Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson based on Hamilton’s play and it is now playing at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Gaslight is a redoubtable mystery play in the original and new versions. In the Wright/Jamieson version, we have a happy couple, living in a large Victorian House in London in 1901. Make no mistake that Jack Manningham (Martin Happer replacing Andre Morin) loves his wife Bella (Julie Lumsden) and she loves him.

In theatrical chronology, that can only last for a few minutes. Who wants to watch a happy couple for longer than that? No one. Therefore, the authors start strewing breadcrumbs like Hansel and the audience tries to follow the various paths. Who took the picture off the wall? Who took Bella’s pearls? What are those noises coming from the attic every night? What is Jack doing at his club every night? Why is the gaslight dimming every night? Where are the rubies? There was a robbery in that house and worse. Not to mention the issue of Bella’s mother.

The evidence may lead to an inescapable conclusion: Bella is nuts and she has to be sent to a lunatic asylum.

André Morin as Jack, Julia Course as Nancy, Kate Hennig as Elizabeth in Gaslight 
(Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper.

Elizabeth (Kate Hennig) the old and faithful maid seems prepared to confirm that Bella is wacko. Nancy (Julia Course) the new, attractive maid raises more questions and suspicions. Is she doing something more than dusting with Jack? We refuse to believe it.

In the original version of the play, there is a police inspector and two policemen. These three characters are eliminated by Wright and Jamieson and the other characters are drawn differently.  

Happer, the understudy, replaced Morin in the performance of June 11, 2022, and he did a good job as the fine, sympathetic and understanding husband. The frightened and terrorized Bella is acted convincingly by Lumsden. Hennig makes a faithful and officious Elizabeth and Course’s Nancy is sassy and somewhat scary. The accents are Canglish with Course handling a broader if unrecognizable intonation that could be an amalgam of Irish and Scottish. I only wished that she would speak a bit more slowly so that I could understand all that she was saying.   

Julie Lumsden as Bella, Julia Course as Nancy, Kate Hennig as Elizabeth 
and André Morin as Jack in Gasligh. Photo by David Cooper.

The set designed by Jutish Bowden is a marvelous representation of a Victorian home of our imagination. The walls are dark, red velvet and walnut furniture dominate and the lighting dims at appropriate times to intensify the mystery before us.

There are a number of costume changes over the days (I assume) that the play takes place. Bella wears some very attractive long gowns and Jack wears what we must assume are Saville Row suits.

The changes in time necessitate breaks in the action and the time is filled with original music by Gilles Zolty. There is nothing wrong with the music, but there seemed to be too many such breaks which delayed our discovery of the solutions to the buildup of mysteries.

Kelli Fox does a fine job directing the piece and keeps us entertained.

Everything is cleared up in the end but, alas, I cannot tell you how.  


Gaslight by Johnna Wright and Patty Jamieson based on the play by Patrick Hamilton continues until October 8, 2022, at The Royal George Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com/ 

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared in the newspaper

Monday, June 20, 2022


By James Karas 

***** (out of 5)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is theatrical spectacle on a grand scale. It just opened at the dramatically-changed CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto after it conquered the rest of the theatrical world. It has been playing in London since the summer of 2016, on Broadway since March 2018, in Melbourne since January 2019, in San Francisco since October 2019, in Hamburg, Germany since February 2020 and is scheduled to open in Japan as well.   

In those venues it is played in two parts so you need two nights to see the entire play.  For the Toronto production, Harry Potter has been shortened to three and a half hours and is played in one sitting.

What do you get or what is the fuss all about?

You do get a mythical story involving J.K. Rowling’s characters. Most of them have appeared in Rowling’s seven novels that have sold some 600 million copies in 80 languages. You may conclude that there is a dedicated fan base for Rowling’s fiction.

That tells you very little to make you and millions of others to rush to the theatre. Let’s start with a few catchwords. Theatrical magic, relentless entertainment, unbelievable production values, simple magic, complex magic, continuous magic, wonderful story, thrilling stage effects, extraordinary effects, conjury, augury, transformation, time travel. and, yes, superb acting by a large cast. That’s a start.

(l to r) Sarah Afful as Hermione Granger, Gregory Prest as 
Ron Weasley, Trish Lindstrom as Ginny Potter, Trevor White as 
Harry Potter and Brad Hodder as Draco Malfoy. Photo by Evan Zimmerman

The Harry Potter empire is the creation of J.K. Rowling but she seems to have played a relatively minor role in the first staging of her work. She is credited with providing the original story along with John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. The latter wrote the play based on the story for which he is one of the three originators. Tiffany directs the production.

The programme has a SPOILER ALERT and advises us not to read the character list until after we have seen the play. I will mention the names of a few of the characters involved if only to tip my hat to their acting without any hints about the plot. We do have Harry Potter (Trevor White), Albus Potter (Luke Kimball), Scorpius Malfoy (Thomas Mitchell Barnet), Hermione Granger (Sarah Afful), Delphi Diggory (Sarah Farb), Draco Malfoy (Brad Hodder), Ron Weasley (Gregory Prest) Ginny Weasley (Trish Lindstrom), Professor McGonagall (Fiona Reid), Amos Diggory (Steven Sutcliffe), Voldemort (Shawn Wright).  

A few words about the plot may be allowed without disclosing any untoward information that may spoil your fun. In addition to all the spectacular activity mentioned in the catchwords, there are some intriguing facets in the play. The vagaries of a father-son relationship, the breakdown and restoration of friendship, the search for historic justice and a few other relationships are there to consider.

The programme provides a handy glossary of terms thar are “Good to Know.”  A muggle is a person without magical powers who is ignorant of the world of wizards and witches and consequently, I suppose, of the the world of Harry Potter. Therefore, there may be Harry Potter aficionados who can glean plot clues from the names alone but as a muggle I can’t tell how. I confess my ignorance and plead mea culpa, mea culpa.   

The magical world of the production is revealed as soon as the performance begins. There is a crowd on the stage and with the twirls of black capes faces change. We see suitcases which become train cars and the world of magical transformations is launched. We are caught by surprise and react with oohs and aahs for a good three hours.

The plot unfolds and people disappear through holes in the wall. There is rich movement of scenery on a revolving stage. This is a magical show so there is much use of flame-spitting wands. Don’t get near those bookshelves. And wait until you see what will float above you and across the audience. Not to mention the pulsating scenery.

The large creative team deserves unstinting praise for extraordinary accomplishments and fertile imaginations. There is a long list of them and I will mention a few. Director John Tiffany, Set Designer Christine Jones, Costume Designer Katrina Lindsay and Lighting Designer Neil Austin.  Illusion and Magic are provided by Jamie Harrison. No spectacle like Harry Potter can do without music and sound and that is the bailiwick of Composer and Arranger Imogen Heap, and Sound Designer Gareth Fry. There is judicious and masterful use of videos and Designers Finn Ross and Ash J. Woodward get the standing ovation for that.

I have not mentioned many or praised everyone sufficiently. What do you expect from a muggle? But I bow to their achievement and express my appreciation the way I along with everyone in the theatre did at the end of the performance: with a standing ovation.


Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne continues at The CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com

Jems Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press. This review also appears in the newspaper.

Saturday, June 18, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

If you were to holler “Damn Yankees” in certain areas of, say Georgia or Alabama, you are likely to get an expression of enthusiastic approval for wanting to dispatch people from the northern America states to a place that is not air conditioned.  The Shaw Festival is not contemplating that with its production of Damn Yankees, a musical about baseball with an unorthodox and unexpected twist. It combines the battle between baseball teams from New York and Washington with the devilish Faust thrown in for good measure.

Damn Yankees was a hit when it opened in 1955 but it lay mostly dormant for about 40 years with occasional revivals. A film was made in 1958 and there was a major revival on Broadway in 1994.

But I digress. What is Faust doing in a musical about baseball? Well, in the good old days of the 1950’s the New York Yankees dominated baseball to the humiliation of most other teams. The Washington Senators (the baseball team, not the legislators) were the losers of the era and a devoted fan sold his soul to the devil so he could become a great baseball player and defeat the hated Yankees.

Mike Nadajewski as Applegate and Kimberley Rampersad as Lola 
in Damn Yankees (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by Michael Cooper.

The Shaw Festival gives the old school try to the production and it scores some successes. Director Brian Hill has to deal with a very large cast while Music Director Paul Sportelli and Choreographer Allison Plamondon have a complex musical score and tough dance routines to handle. Set and Costume Designer Cory Sincennes has to deal with numerous scenes that require quick changes. In short, it is a tough and demanding  musical to stage.

The plot revolves around Joe Boyd (Shane Carty), the fanatic baseball fan and his hapless wife Meg (Patty Jamieson) who becomes a baseball widow for six months of the year when her husband is glued to the TV or in the stadium watching baseball. He sells his soul to “Applegate”, who is none other than Faust. Joe Boyd is transformed into Joe Hardy (usually played by James Daly but replaced by Drew Plummer on June 9, 2022) and becomes a great baseball player. We also have Lola (Kimberley Rampersad), Applegate’s seductive assistant.

If the Faustian story of your-soul-for-whatever-you-want is a myth but so is idyllic America in the 1950’s. The wives are dimwits who exist to endure their husbands during the baseball season and serve them during the rest of the year. That is not the fault of Director Brian Hill but the production failed to give us some borrowed nostalgia for the good old days. But Joe Boyd/Joe Hardy misses his wife Meg and and is prepared to throw everything away and go back to his beloved.

But the devilish  Mr. Applegate sends his assistant Lola to seduce him. Rampersad’s Lola  does try but, to our relief and approval, she fails. In case you are wondering, Joe does not forfeit his soul to the devil because his contract has a way out for him. We can assume that he had a good lawyer.

The acting and singing are generally good with some variations in quality. Same can be said about the dance routines and dancing that are generally good but lack the energy and consistence that we want to see in a major production. But the dance routine near the end of the production was exceptionally good.

Mike Nadajewski in the juicy role of the devil Applegate deserves special mention. He is superb especially as an audience manipulator. He sings “Those were the good old days” beautifully. A pause, a look, a gesture on his part and the audience reacted with enthusiastic laughter. What a performance.

Cory Sincennes’ sets were excellent with posters and pictures of the 1950’s that some may recall but most of us have seen at one time or another.

In the end what is missing from this production of Damn Yankees is a convincing dose of nostalgia for the largely imaginary past of love of baseball, miraculous change of fortunes, charming people and the triumph of middle-class morality over evil. There was some, but not enough.


Damn Yankees by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross (words and music), George Abbott and Douglas Wallop (book) continues in repertory until October 9, 2022, at the Festival Theatre as part of the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com. 

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press of Toronto. This review appears in the newspaper.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The title of the show, 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS, tells you almost nothing about what you will see if you go to the theatre. Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt are two brilliant showmen and talented pianists and the show that they have created is witty, intelligent, hilarious and totally unexpected.

Yes, it does involve two pianos that are played by Dykstra and Greenblatt but that is only, dare I say it, a small part of the show. The two men are on stage to play the piano and they do very well when they want to, but much more importantly, they cannot control their innate talent for comedy. They want to entertain us, they want us to laugh, they want to move us and they do.

They start with some Victor Borge type tomfoolery about bowing to each other, figuring out which piano to play and getting their own bench. They give us a dose of J.S. Bach’s music. But what they want to tell you about for starters is about piano lessons at a young age. Sister Loyola is drilling them about how to hit the keys – wrist down, fingers bent and then she goes off for a nap. They must learn about time signatures. What is 4 4? Yes, it is 4 on top of 4 but what is the top 4 supposed to mean? And the bottom 4? Think of a dollar; how many parts is it made of? Two bits. All of it done with the audience roaring with appreciation.

Parents trying to force kids to practice. No practice, no allowance. Practice or no TV.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt - Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Kiwanis Music competitions for kids under 11 with officious hosts and judges. The judge with an accent that tells them which “piss” they will play. And how many contestants are going to play the same “piss” over how many days?

Dykstra and Greenblatt are master imitators and they change their manners, voices and gestures to play parents, teachers, judges and hosts. They are natural comedians and excellent piano players. Even if you never had a piano lesson at any age, you would recognize their reactions.

There is the inevitable confrontation with the father who wants his son to get better marks in high school and go to university. The teenager wants to do nothing but become a pianist. A huge argument ensues. A talented musician thinks that practising a couple of hours a day is enough. The Conservatory judge tells him he will not get anywhere. Try practising five hour a day, he advises.

There are those who develop a passion, a determination to succeed at any cost and a dream to become a great concert pianist, a star. That dream is achieved by very few and most who have put in the enormous effort end up …who knows where. Perhaps playing in a cocktail bar.    

Dykstra and Greenblatt play sections from over twenty musical compositions for the piano ranging from the classics (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt) to modern composers (Hoagy Carmichael, Billy Joel, Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart and Richard Greenblatt himself). Some pieces are played for humorous effect but much of the time they display their high ability on the piano. Playing the gorgeous first movement of Bach’s Concerto in D minor and Schumann’s soaring Fantasiestucke No. 2 is no joking matter.

It is difficult to convey the charm, musicality and the enjoyment of watching and listening to these highly talented and simply wonderful musicians and actors. 2 Pianos 4 Hands originated 25 years ago and it has toured the world, one might say, and it is still with us.

Don’t miss it. It is unbelievably good.


2 Pianos 4 Hands created and performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt continues until July 17, 2022, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont. www.mirvish.com

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

Monday, June 13, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The 2022 season of the Stratford Festival opened with Hamlet and Chicago, both at the Festival Theatre. But there was another premiere of a production and a theatre and that was Richard III at the new Tom Patterson Theatre. Both are dazzling and “must see” by any measure.

The last resting place, if that is the right expression, of the murderous King Richard III who was killed in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, were unknown. But in 2015 his remains were discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester, England. That is exactly where Director Antoni Cimolino has chosen for the opening scene of the production under review.

We see people digging a hole in the concrete of pavement parking, presumably the parking lot in Leicester, and suddenly the Duke of Gloucester, soon to be King Richard III appears and the great and memorable opening lines of Shakespeare’s play are spoken by Colm Feore. We will go back to the beginning in the final scene but you should see that for yourself.

Colm Feore as Richard III. Stratford Festival 2022. Photo by David Hou.

Richard III is a long and at times complex play. With a total of 63 characters some with changing allegiances and murders, it would tax an astute memory to keep track of everyone. But the core of Richard’s character, his evil, his cunning, his humour and his sheer joy at his malevolence maintain the thrust of the play.

Cimolino keeps a firm grip on the action and aided by a brilliant cast and abetted by superb use of lighting, sound effects and movement, he delivers a riveting production.

Colm Feore gives a career-defining performance as the wiry, manipulative, depraved, psychologically and physically deformed duke who is able to get rid of his older brother, the Duke of Clarence, his nephews, including the heir to the throne and become king. Richard is a consummate actor and Feore has to handle the outward appearance and the inward reality of the vile king and he does so with impeccable acting.

He is in good company, especially the women in the play and the cast. Diana Leblanc going strong as ever plays the Duchess of York. She is the grieving and in the end cursing mother of the royals – King Edward IV, the Duke of Clarence and the murderous Duke of Gloucester who kills one of her sons and her grandchildren. Leblanc expresses grief, anger, hatred and nobility.

The veteran and outstanding Lucy Peacock plays Queen Elizabeth, the mother of the young princes that Richard murders and as if that were not enough is asked to persuade her daughter Princess Elizabeth (Hannah Wigglesworth), a silent character added by Cimolino, to marry the killer. A bravura performance.

The inimitable Seana McKenna plays Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI. Her husband and son were killed by the Duke of Gloucester and her loathing for him, her name-calling, curses and desire for revenge have no bounds. McKenna gives a masterful performance and there is no surprise in that. Eleven years ago, almost to the day, she played Richard III in the then Tom Patterson Theatre.

Jessica B. Hill deserves kudos for her performance as Lady Ann. Richard stops the funeral procession of her husband and shamelessly woos her. She resists and then gives in but gets to roundly curse him near the end. Well done.

Lucy Peacock (front) as Queen Elizabeth and Diana Leblanc as 
Duchess of York in Richard III.Photo by David Hou.

Cimolino gives several minor male roles to women but they are of little moment. James Tyrell, the murderer of the princes in the tower becomes Jane Tyrrell in the hands of Hilary McCormick.

Of the nobility, Andre Sills plays the wily and treacherous Duke of Buckingham, Ben Carlson is Lord Hastings,Jamie Mac is the victorious Henry Tudor, future Henry VII. Well-turned out performances.

The battle scenes are handled expertly with judicious use of sound, lighting, and well-orchestrated movements. The new Tom Patterson is a theatre-in-the-round like the old one but vastly improved. It proved its effectiveness again by having the audience close to the stage and the action.

Richard III has a solid pedigree at the Stratford Festival and using it to open the new theatre is commendable. It was the first play to be produced at Stratford in 1953 with the great Alec Guinness in the title role under the direction of Tyrone Guthrie. Alan Bates played King Richard in 1967 followed by Brian Bedford and, of course, a much younger Colm Feore in 1988. And then, as I mentioned earlier, came Seana McKenna in 2011. 

Go back to the beginning of this review and accept my advice to go see the production.


Richard III by William Shakespeare opened on June 4 and will run until October 30, 2022, at the Tom Patterson Theatre as part of the Strafford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

Chicago is the second premiere at this year’s Stratford Festival season and an array of superlatives will be required to give you some idea of the production. I said “some idea’ not justice. In an unusual twist, the superlatives will be shared with the opening night audience.

Before we discuss the show, you should know what Director and Choreographer Donna Feore, the local expert on musicals, has in store for you.  You know that Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse wrote the book and the lyrics and  John Kander composed the music for the 1975 Broadway production. It did not do well. It was revived in 1996 and became a huge hit and has received productions around the world and was made into a film which received the 2002 Oscar for Best picture. That is some pedigree.

Now here is what Donna Feore offers and you have to be sure that it is what you want. I will array a series of words and thoughts that occurred to me as I watched the production. The words “Over the top” occurred to me minutes after the performance started and repeatedly after that. They were not sufficient. Over, over the top, out of this world and such unsatisfactory phrases twirled in my mind but nothing seemed to do it justice.

Jennifer Rider-Shaw as Velma Kelly with members of the company in Chicago. 
Stratford Festival 2022. Photo by Davis Hou

How about a performance that is frantic, frenetic, frenzied and feverish? The words may be of limited help but the alliteration does have some fine force. Much of the energy created on the stage (yes, the frenetic etc.) is transferred to the audience who simply lap it up. As one friend put it, the message is you either enjoy this show or we will come to you during the night and drink your blood. No one took a chance.

The singing and dancing seemed to be powered by some superhuman generator of energy with performers of incredible stamina. Yes, there were some quieter moments and the second half was a breather for both performers and audience but that was because there had to be some room for the plot.

The musical is based in jazz-age Chicago in the 1920’s and it does have a plot but I will get to that shortly. In the meantime, there are acrobatic, relentless songs and dances played before an audience that was so primed, so quick to respond quickly and express extreme enthusiasm that I wondered what they were on. Yes, opening night audience can be extremely passionate but the levels reached by this audience went, well, over, over the top.

“All that Jazz,” “Cell block tango,” and most of the numbers of the first act were done with energy, physical movements, synchronized athleticism and spirited singing to leave you breathless in your seat. This was spectacle for the sake of spectacle and the audience was in on it for the sheer thrill.

Steve Ross (centre) as Amos with members of the company in
Chicago. Stratford Festival 2022. Photo David Hou 

Somewhere and at some time during the first act, a plotline surfaced. We meet Roxie Hart (Chelsea Preston) and Velma Kelly (Jennifer Rider Shaw). They are entertainers but the important thing is that they have both murdered their husbands. They end up in jail with women of similar habits under the supervision Matron Mama Morton (Sandra Caldwell). There is a huge cast but there is no need to worry about most of them. Their singing and dancing, the brightly lit stage, the twirling lights and the screams of the audience will keep you enthralled without much regard for the plot’s details.

In the second half things do slow down and there is more plot development. The excellent Dan Chameroy as the crooked and greedy lawyer Billy Flynn will show his flair for acting and singing. Steve Ross as Amos Hart, the hapless husband of Roxie will provide some humour and pathos when he sings of himself as “Mr. Cellophane,” a person that no one notices. He gives a fine performance, and the audience gives him the opportunity to do so for a few minutes until it erupts with enthusiasm in recognition of his accomplishment.

The musical turns into outlandish burlesque as Roxie goes on trial for murdering her lover and then picks up energy again to lead to a climactic finish with the audience jumping on their feet and applauding with unstoppable zeal. Everyone in the cast took an individual bow and the applause barely subsided.

It is an extraordinary evening at the theatre where the audience joins the stage or the stage draws the audience to the stage in a marvelous symbiosis of performers and viewers that will stay with you.


Chicago, with book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, opened on June 3, 2022, and will run in repertory until October 30, 2022, at the Festival Theatre as part of the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca  

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appears in the newspaper,

Tuesday, June 7, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The red carpet was laid out, the trumpets sounded triumphantly, and the pipes played joyfully. It was a moment of celebration for the traditional opening of the Stratford Festival but this year it felt like a celebration for the return of civilization. The season was launched with a production of Hamlet and the audience showed enthusiasm for the production, but I dare say just as much for the resumption of the great Shakespeare Festival.

Peter Pasyk was given the pleasure and burden of directing the production of a play that is remarkably familiar to most theatre goers. That means he must fight with people’s memories of other productions and with managing a highly demanding play. For openers he must find a fresh approach that illustrates his imagination while being faithful to Shakespeare. It is no small task.

Pasyk directs a modern Hamlet complete with cell phones, guns, security systems and fast-paced action. Gender-blind casting has become a cliché and Pasyk has a woman, Amaka Umeh, in the title role. Guildenstern is also played by a woman (Ijeoma Emesowum) as are some minor roles, but nothing hangs by that.

Amaka Umeh (centre) as Hamlet with Hilary Adams as Player, Ngabo Nabea as 
Player and members of the company in Hamlet. Stratford Festival 2022.
Photo by David Hou.

Umeh’s gender is of little consequence because for most of her performance she acts like a man. Pasyk does not make her Princess Hamlet and her movements and her voice which is low enough to represent a man do not betray her gender for the most part. Her Hamlet is youthful, slim, and athletic. She reaches some emotional depths, and her overall performance is satisfactory without achieving star distinction.

For the rest of the cast Pasyk relies on dependable Stratford stalwarts. Maev Beaty and Graham Abbey give superb performance as Gertrude and Claudius. Michael Spencer-Davis plays the garrulous Polonius straight and Pasyk avoids the temptation to make him a figure of fun.

Andrea Rankin’s Ophelia is a modern woman torn between filial fidelity and love for a disturbed man that leads to her suicide. A solid performance by Rankin. Hamlet suffers from the same condition with the need to avenge his father’s murder and endure his mother’s infidelity and perhaps complicity in his father’s death.

Austin Eckert as Laertes and Jakob Ehrman as Horatio do highly polished work. We expect the Gravedigger to elicit a good deal of laughter, but Matthew Kabwe fell short of expectations and it is probably Pasyk’s approach to the character more than the actor’s natural ability. There is considerable humour in Hamlet but we only got a small taste of it.   

The production opens with a glass covered mausoleum center-stage with a corpse in it. A person (turns out to be the guard), Francisco approaches it and he sets off an alarm system. Pasyk and Set Designer Patrick Lavender seem quite enamoured of the idea of using the centre of the stage as a place for a casket or a grave. We need the grave for Ophelia, but we also see a corpse that I was not sure whose it was. Must have been Polonius’s but I didn’t think his body was discovered and no one seemed to acknowledge it. In fact, Claudius walks over the glass-covered casket with no compunction.

From left: Michael Spencer-Davis as Polonius and Andrea Rankin as Ophelia 
in Hamlet. Stratford Festival 2022. Photo by David Hou.

When Hamlet greets his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the three of them start jumping up and down like giddy teenagers and fall on the ground. Good grief.

Claudius is aware of his offence and he confesses his guilt in his soliloquy that begins with “my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon it.” He is praying for forgiveness and Hamlet finds him in that position. In Pasyk’s version, Claudius is speaking with Polonius. I found it puzzling that he would open his soul to a courtier instead of God which I believe Shakespeare intended him to do. And Ophelia does not sing.  

In every production of a Shakespeare  play there are  numerous excisions of lines and minor changes. Pasyk goes much further. He omits some memorable lines from the “To be or not to be” soliloquy and adding the line “All the world’s a stage” from As You Like It. But he goes much further. He omits the Ambassador, Cornelius, Voltimand, Fortinbras, Osric and some other minor characters. This deletes a subplot and changes the ending of the play.

Hamlet dies with the words “the rest is silence.” Horatio delivers a short eulogy: “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” In Pasyk’s version, the play ends there. In the text, the heroic Fortinbras appears and orders a soldier’s funeral for the Danish Prince. In other words, this production of Hamlet  is Pasyk’s personal version of the play.

Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell has lights flash on and off accompanied by blasts of music and they are quite effective.

The production does have many virtues in terms of acting, design and pace. A glass-enclosed area on the balcony of the Festival Theatre gives information about Claudius and Gertrude’s relationship. We see the dancing and embracing; we see Polonius watching Hamlet. Interesting additions to our understanding of the play.

But I confess to a puritanical bias. There are changes to the text that may be essential and approaches that make us want to see the play at every opportunity. But there are limits. When Polonius brags about enacting Julius Caesar and being killed in the Capitol he does not say “et tu, Brute” in Hamlet. Why are you putting it in?


Hamlet by William Shakespeare opened on June 2, and will run in repertory until October 28, 2022, at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca

James Karas is the Senior Editor - Culture of The Greek Press, Toronto. This review appears in the paper.