Friday, December 30, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The energetic and only-one-of-its-kind-in-Canada Toronto Operetta Theatre is never far from one of the best operettas ever composed – Die Fledermaus. This year marks its 6th production of Johann Strauss’s masterpiece since the founding of the company is 1985.

The current offering is a reprise of previous productions directed by the inimitable  Guillermo Silva-Marin and conducted by Derek Bate and it has many features that make it worthwhile seeing- if you can get a ticket. Most people know what Die Fledermaus is all about but a few facts may refresh your memory. We are in the house of the well-off Viennese businessman Gabriel Eisenstein (Keith Klassen). He has to spend a few nights in jail but he also wants to go to a grand costume party thrown by the wealthy Prince Orlofsky (Gregory Finney). His lovely wife Rosalinda (Kirsten Leblanc) wants to go to the party and so does their maid Adele (Andrea Nunez).

Eisenstein’s friend Falke (Colin MacKay) goes to the party but, as The Bat, he has a score to settle with Gabriel. Add Alfred (Scott Rumble), an Italian tenor in lust with Rosalinda who is taken to prison as if he were Gabriel and you have a fine mess to unravel. 

Andrea Nunez as Adele and Gregory Finney as Orlofsky
Photo: Gary Beechey

Silva-Marin shamelessly tinkers with the plot for laughs. When Alfred recollects singing to Rosalinda wonderful love arias it was done in Mississauga. Throw in presidents who go to jail and mention Mara-a-Lago and you get the laughs. Strauss’s effervescent music does the rest.

There is some fine singing especially by Nunez as the maid. She has a lovely bell-like voice and fine stage presence. LeBlanc has a big, brilliant voice but its size works against her because she tends to overwhelm the other singers in her duets and trios. She needs to reduce her volume and let the other singers be heard.

Finney sings melodiously as Orlofsky and has a sense of humour. Silva-Marin steals the show in the final scene in the operetta which takes place in the jail. As Frosch the Jailer he holds the mistakenly imprisoned tenor, Alfred. The latter gives Frosch singing lessons with the primary advice being to hold a dime between his “cheeks” while singing. Silva-Marin still has a few high notes left in him and he can provoke much laughter.

Klassen as Gabriel was not at his best in the performance that I saw. His voice appeared small and he was out-sung by his colleagues. The rest of the cast is mostly competent with some variations in quality.

Scott Rumble as Alfred and Kirsten LeBlanc as Rosalinda
Photo: Gaer Beechey

The chorus sang beautifully but when called upon to do a few steps of a waltz, which they did,  by shifting their weight from one foot to the next. They should have been taught how to do a couple of one-two-three spins that looked as if they were waltzing.    

Conductor Derek Bate has only nine musicians and slightly more choir singers but he brings energy to the effervescent music and beauty to the ensemble singing.

Silva-Marin and the TOT work with at least one hand tied behind their back. The Jane Mallett Theatre has little to recommend it except that it is there. It has no orchestra pit and the musicians are simply lined up in front of the stage. The sets are almost non-existent and the costumes are decent but nothing special.

It is all a matter of funding and unfortunately the only operetta company in the country survives by what it can get from donors and whatever grants come from the three levels of government. It is a sad situation. They deserve solid funding for more first-rate singers, designers, artistic staff and a bigger orchestra and chorus and more productions.    


Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss is performed three times on  December 28, 30 and 31 2022 at the Jane Mallett, Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.


Thursday, December 22, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is an early work by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice that has been on stage for about 50 years after a gestation period that started in 1968. According to Lloyd Webber’s company Really Useful Group the musical had been staged some 20,000 times by amateurs until 2008 alone. It has received numerous professional productions as well and one wonders if there is anyone left who has not seen it. The current revival at the Princess of Wales Theatre follows the 1992 production in Toronto and judging by the packed theatre there may be many Torontonians who have not seen it.

There was a significant number of young people in the theatre and at times it felt as if they were attending rock concert where enthusiasm and boisterous reaction to whatever was happening on stage was de rigueur.

Joseph tells the Biblical story from Genesis of Jacob’s youngest and favourite son. Joseph’s eleven brothers are jealous of him and get rid of him by selling him as a slave while telling their father that he was killed. Joseph ends up in Egypt where he does not have a good time until he interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes successful. His brothers do not do well and go to Egypt in search of food. The brothers meet and the musical has a happy ending.

The company of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Lloyd Webber and Rice have crafted a written-through musical based on the story using a Narrator (Vanessa Fisher) and, according to the program, 27 other characters and 16 children. That provides a lot of vocal power matched with lively music and high volumes that propel the musical through about two hours of almost relentless motion. There are variations in momentum but I think Joseph relies mostly on propulsion that keeps the audience in thrall to the music and singing.

After the lively prologue by the marvellous Vanessa Fisher as the Narrator and the lovely “Any Dream Will Do” sung by the fine-voiced Jac Yarrow and the children, the show picks up momentum with “Jacob and Sons” sung by the Narrator, Joseph’s brothers and their wives. It is followed with rousing verve by “Joseph’s Coat” and then the more sedate “Joseph’s Dream.”

A camel (on a bicycle) rolls by and Joseph is sold to slavery during several songs with variable tempos culminating in a raucous song and dance as the brothers celebrate the disappearance of Joseph.

The pace slows down when Joseph is thrown in jail, and he sings “Close Every Door” with the children. The mood and the pace pick up in “Go, Go, Go, Joseph” where he comes up as prophetic dream interpreter and we feel we are in a crazy rock concert. Lights flashing in a kaleidoscope of colours, vehement movement and excitement reaching a pitch. End of Act I.

Tosh Wanogho-Maud (Pharaoh) and the compnay. 
Photo: Cylla von Tiedeman
We then meet the Pharaoh (Tosh Wanogho-Maud). Even slow-paced songs end up on a serious crescendo. There is little emotional rest allowed for the audience in this show. The Pharaoh thinks he is a rock star as he grabs a microphone and raises the stakes, the speed and the volume as he sings with the ensemble. The audience goes crazy.

We slow down to see Jacob and his sons who are not having a good time. But not for long. We are given an opportunity to hear Yarrow’s fine voice until we reach the splendid finale with the ensemble and the children singing with Joseph and the Narrator and the energy and excitement generated are immense. 

The show is over but there is a postscript, a “megamix” where the full company joins in singing tunes from the show with extraordinary vigour and enthusiasm and the audience simply loves it.

The show relies heavily on the varied lighting designed by Bev Cracknell that enhance the singing and excitement significantly. The choreography by Joann M. Hunter adds to the momentum and Morgan Large’s set and costume design are rich and varied without any attempt or pretence to realistic biblical views.

Laurence Connor keeps a tight control on pace and momentum and the show is propelled to its dazzling end and a standing ovation.


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat by Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music) continues until February 18, 2023 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario.


Tuesday, December 20, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

As sure as Jacob Marley is dead, Campbell House is not a theatre. City of Toronto Records,  countless lawyers who occupied the place as a club and visitors to its current use as a museum, will attest that there is no doubt that Campbell House in the 200 years since it was constructed has not been and is not a theatre.

But the Three Ships Collective, supported by Soup Can Theatre, have disregarded all historical records and irrefutable knowledge by staging Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol in Campbell House again and again.

If you can get a ticket, you will have given yourself the perfect Christmas present.

This is a mobile production in which the audience of about 30 people moves from room to room in the House to watch different parts of the marvellous performance. We start in a room in the basement where there are seats for all the audience and we meet the ghost of Jacob Marley who will act as our host and guide to the rooms of the House where parts of the play will be performed.   

Photo: Laura Dittmann  

He introduces the mean-spirited and hateful Scrooge (acted by Thomas Gough in a powerful performance) as the skinflint miser who mistreats his faithful employee Bob Cratchit and is ready to evict people on Christmas day.

Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Christopher Lucas) drops by to wish his uncle Merry Christmas and invite him for dinner. He is given short and unpleasant shrift. A couple of gentlemen played by Jim Armstrong and Kat Letwin, come to Scrooge’s office collecting money for the less fortunate and he throws them out unceremoniously.

The very polite Marley leads us to another room in the House where we stand against a wall and Marley gives Scrooge the lowdown about the visitors that he is about to get. We know that there are three: The Spirit of Christmases past (Cihang Ma), the Spirit Christmas Present (Kat Letwin) and the one of Christmases Yet to Come (Melissa McGoogan).

We are taken to different rooms and visit Scrooge’s childhood, see him as a young man in love who turns greedy after the death of his wonderful employer, Mr Fezziwig (Jim Armstrong).

Photo: Laura Dittmann

Marley leads us to the entrance hall of the house, to a room on the second floor, followed by a bedroom. We visit the Cratchit family twice. Once when they are poor but happy and again in the end when they are on the verge of catastrophe but are saved but Scrooge’s transformation and generosity.

All the rooms are almost without furniture except for a few chairs in some of them. This is mobile theatre.

There is a violinist, (Cihang Ma) who plays pieces by Pratik Gandhi and we hear a rousing rendition of “Here We Stand A-Caroling) with Lyrics by Justin Haigh and music arranged by Pratik Gandhi

Dickens’ story has been adopted for performance by Justin Haigh. He is faithful to the story with the necessary changes needed for this production. It works very well. He is also an assistant director.

Sare Thorpe directs and co-produces with Haigh and their efforts provide a delightful and completely unexpected version of A Christmas Carol in a most unusual setting.

The movable settings to different rooms of Campbell House where for most of the time the audience stands in a small crowd provide an intimacy that is almost impossible to imagine in a larger theatre. The cast of a dozen actors most of who take on two or more roles seamlessly give outstanding performances. They are a joy  to watch at a short distance from us in a show that is simply magical, non-gimmicky and a resounding credit to the director and the actors.

It is 85 minutes of phantastic theatre in an unorthodox setting that works perfectly. 

Merry Christmas.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Justin Haigh in a production by  Three Ships Collective with the support of  Soup Can Theatre, continues until December 23, 2022  at Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario, M5H 3H3, 

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

Monday, December 12, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas

The fishermen of the title are a group of men from Cornwall who were in fact mostly fishermen and enjoyed singing in the the pub in the village of Port Isaac in southwest England. They were noticed by an ambitious music agent from London who undertook the highly unlikely task of promoting the men and some women into a successful singing group. Their story is the stuff of The Fisherman’s Friends, an entertaining musical now playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.

After some inevitable hiccups (they make up the plot of the musical), the singing fishermen   made a recording in 2010 that hit the charts and a movie of their success was made in 2019. It has been followed by an adaptation for the stage that opened in Cornwall in October 2021. The North American tour of the musical with the original United Kingdom cast has had its premiere in Toronto.

It is a a boisterous, energetic and at times powerful musical made up mostly of the singing of traditional sailors’ songs, many of ancient lineage, known as shanties. The plot follows the frantic efforts of the music agent Danny (Jason Langley) to get a recording contract for the group, the saving of the pub where they sing from being sold to an investor and a love interest between Danny and Alwyn (Parisa Shahmir).

Full Company - Photographer: Pamela Raith

I have had no exposure to sea shanties and I enjoyed most of them but there are about thirty of them in the musical leaving very little room for the subplots. The shanties have simple, in-your-face melodies and often repetitive lyrics that would be perfect for singing in a pub especially after downing several pints of ale.

The musical opens with “Nelson’s Blood” a muscular shanty about having a drop of the great admiral’s blood not doing them any harm.  “Pay Me My Money Down” or “I go to jail” is similar with numerous repetitions but you take it for what it is – an old folk song sung by simple fishermen in a pub in a seaside village.

The flaky Danny (who sings well) has a crush on  the daughter of Jim (James Gaddas) the gruff, no-nonsense member of the group who does not approve of the relationship. Danny develops as a character and as a music agent and Alwyn stands her ground against her father’s objections and the relationship becomes real love!

The pub is owned by Rowan (Dan Buckley) and Ann (Mel Biggs and Hazel Askew) and it is not doing well. And when the members of the group hear that the owners have sold the pub to an investor, they become understandably furious but even that has a happy ending. The pub is purchased and saved by Danny.

After some understandable and inevitable problems, the singers get a highly lucrative recording contract and are invited to sing at the legendary Glastonbury festival.

Parisa Sharmir, Jason Langley and full Company - 
Photographer: Pamela Raith

The fishermen sang a cappella in the pub but musicians are added for the musical and they (the musicians) are on stage. That may take away from the authenticity of the usual performance in the pub but without instrumentalists our patience may been tested to its breaking point.

The opening scene shows fishing boats bouncing on the waves of the sea on a windy and foggy night. Very effective.  Lucy Osborne’s set  for the pub is a multi-story structure that is quite superb. Most of the action takes place in the pub.

The book for the stage musical is by Amanda Wittington based on the movie screenplay by Nick Moorcroft, Meg Leonard and Piers Ashworth. The plot has humour and drama but it is of limited duration and therefore development.

Director James Grieve handles the whole thing with aplomb along with choreographer Matt Cole.

My introduction to shanties may have been too much of a good thing and the plot not enough. That’s probably just me. The audience reacted enthusiastically throughout the performance and gave the show a standing ovation.  


Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical with music as performed by the group Fisherman’s Friends continues until January 15, 2023, at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

Monday, December 5, 2022


 Reviewed by James Karas 

It was a dark and stormy night, sometime in the past, perhaps the 1950’s, in an isolated cottage with no telephone. It is a former family home and a smartly dressed woman arrives with her brother. She is waiting for her husband but he never comes. Her brother has psychological or mental issues or both and the siblings have distant bad memories of their dysfunctional family.

A handyman arrives as does her former boyfriend who happens to be in the neighborhood, accompanied by his girlfriend, maybe fiancée. There are birds attacking people and the menace they pose will be apparent intermittently throughout the play. These birds are vicious people-killers and they strike terror in the house. They may strike at any moment from any direction. By the end of the play three of the five characters will be dead. Who did it? This is a serious mystery.

That is a barebones summary of Emily Dix’s The Birds now playing at Hart Hose Theatre in a production by Bygone Theatre. The play is based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 horror story and was the basis of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie. This information is not mentioned in the programme but it is available on the Hart House Theatre website.

Anna Douglas, Chad Allen, Daid Harper, Oliver Georgiou and 
Kiera Publicover. Photo: Emily Dix 

When I first saw the title of the play, I thought we would be treated to a synonymous work by Aristophanes. A book by Aristophanes was on the bookshelf but this play has nothing to do with the Ancient Greek.

Now for the people in the house on the dark and stormy night. Daphne Daniels - Mrs. Daniels, she tells us - (Anna Douglas) has a loose tongue, argues with her brother about childhood and parental issues and she reveals that her brother has serious issues but we are never quite clear about what is wrong with him. As she enters the house, there is a radio on, blaring with static and all I wanted to do was scream “turn the damn thing off.” She did but not at my behest.      

Her brother Alex (David Harper) had a bad experience with a young friend but we do not find much more about him  except that he has a few loose screws.     

Mitch (Oliver Georgiou), Daphne’s former lover, is a jerk. He arrives with the hapless Annie Hawthorne (Kiera Publicover) and has a ring to give her or is the ring intended for Daphne? On the aforementioned night, Daphne’s marital vows and the imminent arrival of her husband are swept aside and she and Mitch “make up” or is it “make out.”  

Plot development. Hank (Chad Allen), the handyman, drops dead outside a window and we presume he is done in by the birds. He is just a handyman and is left there and not heard of again. Annie has an accident off stage while in the attic and is taken to a room in the house and not seen again. But she is found dead. Cause of death? You may guess if you want.

In the meantime, Mitch the jerk has reformed his asinine character and that is sufficient to win over Daphne as mentioned above.

There is a problem with the performance that is not all the fault of the actors. The acoustics of Hart House Theatre are such that they swallow conversations or at least words. You prick up you ears, of course, but there are words that you do not hear and they may be crucial ones. In a murder mystery you cannot afford not to hear everything. I did not hear everything of The Birds.

The actors do their duty and deliver their dreary lines on cue without any help from the acoustics. Emily Dix also directs. The birds may be in the title but there is not much you can do to show them. If they are meant to strike terror in the audience, they were not very effective.

The brightly lit kitchen and living room designed by Wes Babcock became dark only for a while when there was a power failure. Were the wires chewed by the birds and then somehow repaired? Perhaps Edward Bulwer-Lytton's entire phrase is not applicable to this play.

In any event, the play does conclude and the mystery is solved, I think. But the play does need some more work.


The Birds by Emily Dix, in a production by Bygone Theatre, continues until December 10, 2022, at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto, Ont. or

Thursday, December 1, 2022


Reviewed by James Karas 

The Shaw Festival has wisely chosen Irving Berlin’s White Christmas for its holiday season together with A Christmas Carol. It is based on the classic 1954 movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and I have no intention of comparing the stage version with the film. Suffice it to say that it took 56 years before the movie was adapted for the stage with book by David Ives and Paul Blake, not the same as the screenwriters.

The script is pure, imaginary Eisenhower era Americana. It is sentimental, feel-good and perfect for the season when reality may be pushed back. A song-and dance duo made up of a private and a captain in the American army in Europe in 1944 sing of their love for their general and of the longing for home. It is Christmas Eve and they are dreaming of a white Christmas just like the one they used to know. Their dream becomes our dream no matter how far-fetched it may seem.      

Ten years later Bob Wallace (Jeff Irving), the former captain and Phil Davis (Kevin McLachlan) are successful entertainers and they meet the “sisters” of a former army buddy. They are the singing Haynes Sisters, Judy (Mary Antonini) and Betty (Alexis Gordon).  The puritanical Bob is not interested in women but the romantic Phil falls for Betty. Now get ready for boy meets girl and with more than two hours to go the boys lose the girls and, you guessed it, there is a happy ending.

Jeff Irving, Alexis Gordon, Mary Antonini and Kevin McLachlan with the cast 
of White Christmas (Shaw Festival, 2022). Photo by David Cooper

The other plot strand is Bob and Phil’s attempt to help the former general out of his financial depression by organizing a show in the barn of his bankrupt inn in Vermont. Yes, it sounds hokey but Irving Berlin’s songs, a good dose of humour, some marvelous tap dances and love keep the show moving and draw our attention away from the not-that-great plot.

The musical comes from the era when songs had melodies and were a delight to the ear. Betty and Judy sing “Sisters”, Bob and Betty sing “Count Your Blessings” and all of them sing “Blue Skies.” We all join in singing “White Christmas.” The singing ranges from creditable to very good and the dancing choreographed by Allison Plamondon is superb.

Some of the humour may appear dated, some of it is very funny and the enthusiastic opening night audience lapped it all up.   

The American army and officer corps was all-white in 1944 (yes, there may have been exceptions) and the current production draws us away from that by using colour-blind casting. It’s nice to see a black General Waverly (a very good David Alan Anderson) and others on the stage and ignore what was happening in 1944 and 1954.

The cast of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Shaw Festival, 2022).
Photo by David Cooper.

The costumes by Judith Bowden were beautiful 50’s styles and the set by her showed some cost-cutting necessities and were adequate at best. In the final scene the entire regiment is supposed to have shown up at the General’s Vermont Inn for the show. And they were supposed to be in uniform. Only three soldiers showed up in uniform and we can ascribe that not to unpatriotic conduct by the soldiers who love their general but  by the Shaw Festival’s accountant who, I guess on no evidence at all, figured out the cost of making many uniforms and limited the expenditure to only three.

Paul Sportelli conducted the orchestra and Kate Hennig directed the production. Applaud everyone and remember that it snowed in Vermont at the right time, the general’s failing inn was saved, Bob and Phil and Betty and Judy found happiness and you got to sing “White Christmas” lustily and no doubt off key.   


White Christmas  by Irving Berlin (words and music), David Ives and Paul Blake (book)  continues until December 23, 2022, at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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