It Shoulda Been You at Segal Centre – Montreal

I have a very vague, distant memory of the It Shoulda Been You Tony Awards performance back in 2015, though I was much too wrapped up in my rooting for Fun Home to really be paying attention. I mostly forgot that the show existed until Segal announced its production of it this season.

It Shoulda Been You tells the story of a wedding, told from the point of view of the bride’s sister, which joins together a Jewish and non-Jewish family. But first, some context.

The Segal Centre puts on a couple of Yiddish translations of English plays every season, but I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing one until tonight. This feat of trilingualism (there were both French and English subtitles) was probably my favourite part of the production. Having never seen one of these translated plays before, I assumed it would be a straight translation, serving the act of translation rather than serving the story, but the translators integrated the Yiddish so seamlessly into the storyline, the characters, and the dialogue. The translation supports the story, and the way the characters weave in and out of different languages is a totally realistic portrayal of bilingual families.

As a choice for the Segal Centre Yiddish repertoire, this show was a total success. Musically, it’s not the most memorable of musicals, with only a few stand-out songs–and perhaps they only stood out to me because of the actors performing them. There were a couple of very strong actors with crazy singing chops, such as the two mothers (Karen Karpman and Joanne Cutler), both of them very much caricatures of the judgemental, manipulative mother figure who the audience loves to hate–and Albert (Marc-André Poulain), the wedding planner who’s a bit of a drama queen, with a big musical number to show for it.

But the star of the show, Rosie Callaghan playing Jenny Steinberg, totally blew me away, and indeed lived up to her title as the star. She’s a powerhouse, both as an actor and singer, and her two big numbers were the highlights of the show. Her emotional range is huge, covering Jenny’s insecurities about her body image and her explosion of confidence when she refuses to be walked on.

The story starts off a bit slowly, giving the illusion of a predictable family comedy, but then steers the audience off into uncharted territory. The twists and turns keep the audience members on the edge of their seats, and though most of the comedy is a bit cheap and some of the jokes fall flat, the show absolutely captured my attention for the full hour and 45 minutes of it.

Also, I always love a good audience plant.

The Segal Centre took a somewhat mediocre musical and, I believe, successfully turned it into a story about a clash of cultures and body positivity, with the trite but nonetheless important underlying moral that it’s always better to be yourself, and that a family that supports you deserves to have you in their lives.

It Shoulda Been You runs at the Segal Centre until June 25th, and you should catch it if you’re in the mood for a fun, light, short musical. Tickets are $24.50 for students, $35 for under 30’s, $54 for seniors, and $60 full price.

Image source: Segal Centre

Heathers the Musical at McGill University – Montreal

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Photo credit: AUTS

In case you don’t know me personally or are new to this blog, musicals are kind of my jam. Like, I have seen a lot of musicals, and I’ve also seen my fair share of university theatre productions, from a half-assed Rent to a mind-blowing production of Angel in America.

Basically, university theatre can be pretty hit and miss. Luckily for the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society at McGill University, their production of Heathers was a total hit.

Heathers as a movie is way up there in my favourites, and the same goes for the musical. However, it was the first time I saw it live, despite my being very familiar with the show, so it was super exciting for me. If you’re not familiar with the story, I like to say that it starts off looking like your typical John Hughes-esque 80’s high school movie, then MURDER happens and it stops being cute and gets really dark.

Also, it’s hilarious.

It’s quite a tough show to put on, because the roles are super demanding and most major singing parts require huge ranges. Mariel White shone as Veronica, successfully keeping her down-to-earth and intelligent instead of boxing herself into the broody teenager archetype, and she’s a powerhouse vocally. Caroline Portante as Heather Chandler – the so-called “mythic bitch” of the school – totally killed (heh, see what I did there?) the queen bee role. She commanded attention onstage, just as her character does in the cafeteria. Two other stand-outs were Colin McCrossan and Darragh Mcardle as jocks Ram and Kurt respectively, bringing me and the rest of the audience to tears with laughter. Finally, Esmée Cook bulldozed through her small but hilarious role of hippie teacher Ms. Flemming; she stood out to me, particularly in the song “Shine a Light”, which she leads.

Overall, the cast delivered that perfect balance of humour and darkness that can be so difficult to achieve, and they rocked the choreography during big dance numbers. As an ensemble it was obvious how much they clicked, and their movement as a group was so tight. Basically, it was really clear how much work every single person involved with the production put in to the show. If you like pop-rock scores and have a dark sense of humour, you have to see this production.

They only have four performances left: Saturday January 21, then Thursday the 26th through to the 28th, at Moyse Hall on the McGill campus. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for general admission. You can buy tickets at the door or reserve them on their website.

The Watershed at Centaur Theatre – Montreal

I just want to start by saying that this piece is particularly relevant in the wake of a man being elected as US president who doesn’t believe in global warming. This kind of activist theatre has to go on existing if we want to change minds. The Watershed by Annabel Soutar is that kind of theatre.

The first thing you need to know about The Watershed is that it’s a piece of documentary theatre. Documentary theatre is pretty much what it sounds like: a documentary for the stage. In it, playwright Annabel Soutar (played by Liisa Repo-Martell) investigates the cut in federal funding to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a research project examining pollution in lakes, and takes her husband and kids on a road trip to see the oil sands in Fort McMurray.

She uses verbatim text from interviews, news broadcasts, radio programs, and even dialogue at family gatherings to tell her story and examine the complex environmental and economic issues surrounding the event. We see and feel her frustrations, successes, and failures on her investigative journey. Yes, it’s political, but she really took the time to humanize the story, to make it about the characters just as much as it is about the issue. It was particularly interesting to me, as someone who is interested in playwriting, to see her process.

Soutar’s most recent play, Seeds, follows this same concept of her placing herself in the play as a character. Watershed director Chris Abraham (a close collaborator who had the initial idea of inserting the playwright) also featured as a character in this play, and the original production in Toronto had Soutar’s husband playing himself. Just some interesting facts.

This production was simply gorgeous. As someone who grew up in Ottawa with parents working in the government, I’m aware of how slow-moving government can be, but this play turns a subject that wouldn’t normally be exciting into a riveting story. It also manages to stay away from preachiness: despite having some biases, it remains somewhat objective in its journalistic approach.

Sound isreally important in this production, and the sound design really brings each setting alive. Water, of course, is a repeated element, and the noise of a single drop of water is effectively used to highlight an important point or indicate a transition in scene. There was a weird mix of prop use and mime: using props for some things but not for others (holding wine glasses but miming the wine being poured, for example) sometimes came off a little awkward, but that’s pretty nitpicky.

The show is quite long: it clocks in at just over two and a half hours, including an intermission. The two acts are a bit disjointed and almost feel like two separate plays: the first investigating the ELA cuts and the second documenting the family’s road trip.

The Watershed runs until December 4th at Centaur Theatre. Student tickets are $28, under 30 is $36.50, senior tickets are$43.50, and general admission is $51. There’s also a $5 fee.

(Photo credit: Centaur Theatre)

Prom Queen at the Segal Centre – Montreal

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Photo credit: Segal Centre

WOW.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m always here for new musical theatre. I was lucky enough to see Prom Queen on its opening night at the Segal Centre tonight, and I’m pretty sure I cried all the makeup off my face. Don’t worry, it was definitely happy crying.

Prom Queen is a brand new musical by songwriting team Colleen Dauncey (composer) and Akiva Romer-Segal (lyricist) and playwright Kent Staines. It tells the true story of teenager Marc Hall who tries to take his boyfriend to prom and is banned by his Catholic school. Led by the incredibly talented Alessandro Costantini, this show features broad themes such as discrimination, self-acceptance, and the freedom to express yourself. The whole company was simply stunning, but Costantini and his bright blue hair really stole the show.

The score is filled with upbeat, fun, and sometimes corny tunes. Although they often rely on cliches (we get it, a starry sky makes us all feel “infinitely small”), the songs gave the story heart and were extremely well-placed in order to make the audience feel all of the emotions. ALL. OF. THEM.

What came as a total surprise to me was the choreography! It’s incredibly complex and fast-paced, and the dancers move in perfect synchronicity and so fast that they basically blurred my vision. Choreographer Sean Cheesman has really been around, working with people like Michael Jackson, Prince, Tina Turner, and Britney Spears. That’s quite a resume. Marcia Kash’s direction was clean cut, with tight transitions and a clear but dynamic focal point. You may remember her from last year’s The Secret Annex at the Segal.

There isn’t much to complain about, except for a subplot involving a straight couple at the high school getting back together. Classic bad boy with a heart of gold, who’s consistently called a “man-whore” (?!) and literally has a lyric that basically says, “she stopped taking my calls, but she never told me whyyyyyyy.” Another headline to add to the Guy Demands To Know Why Girl Refuses To Date Him category, and another girl who has given up on boys but eventually softens as said boy pursues her. Cringe.

All in all, it was a super fun night, especially with the real Marc Hall coming onstage at the end. I did NOT see that coming.

Prom Queen is running at the Segal Centre until November 20. The tickets are a bit pricey, but honestly totally worth it: $32 for students, $40 under 30, $58.50 for seniors, and $65 regular. Get your tickets soon, because they’re going fast.

Chlorine at Centaur Theatre – Montreal

Creature/Creature’s Chlorine Slays, Theatre Blogger Deceased

Just a quick public announcement that I am dead and writing from beyond the grave after having seen this show at Centaur Theatre. Chlorine, part-play-part-ballet, was originally written and choreographed by Florence Longpré and Nicolas Michon in French, and this production was translated into English and directed by Johanna Nutter.

Narrated by teenager Nathan (a bumbling, fast-talking Augustus Rivers), it tells the story of Sarah Campbell (Cat Lemieux), paralyzed from the neck down and unable to speak after being force-fed chlorine as a kid, and Nathan’s burgeoning friendship with her. It also paints a portrait of Sarah’s parents: Meredith (Linda Smith), her self-sacrificing mother, and Raymond (Brian Wright), her father frustrated by his daughter’s condition.

The ballet comes in with Mélanie Lebrun, Catherine Gonthrier, and Érika Morin, who, as Nathan explains, turn into set pieces and stage hands to aid in the transitions. Their light, fairy-like dance balances Sarah’s lack of movement and is juxtaposed next to the harsh, often uncomfortable reality of disability. Chlorine refuses to sugar-coat as the ideal of the ballerinas becomes lost in the real world of the story. Despite its fast pace, the play allows the audience time to observe and be forced to face this reality that able-bodied people often choose to ignore in their daily lives.

The performers were simply incredible and led with agility by Rivers, who is the quintessential awkward teenager trying to figure out how the world works. Sometimes obscene but always endearing, he mirrors the audience as he grows fond of Sarah. Smith also shines as the mother, a busybody who wants what’s best for her daughter but becomes overwhelmed by the toll the condition takes on the family.

Not for the faint of heart, Chlorine is sweet, sad, funny, and most of all surprising. Running time is one hour and a half. With only two performances left (Friday evening and Saturday matinee), you need to RUN to get tickets to this show, which are $25 for students and seniors and $28 for adults.

The Halloween Tree by Geordie Productions – Montreal

I had a really good time at The Halloween Tree, a theatrical adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story by Amanda Kellock of Geordie Productions, last Sunday afternoon. It’s an exciting, colourful production perfect for families with young kids. The show runs 60 minutes without an intermission, and the children have the opportunity to participate in a costume contest.

The Halloween Tree tells the tale of five kids who lose their friend Joe Pipkin on Halloween night and their journey through time and space to find him. Led by the mysterious Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, the children learn about the origins of and cultures associated with Halloween, as each stop in their travels corresponds to their individual costumes.

Speaking of costumes, the visual design of this show is just stunning. It’s incredibly playful and imaginative, using fabric and projections to help tell the story. Although it’s meant for a younger audience, it still takes its viewers seriously as beings who don’t need everything to be explicit all the time. There’s a great many subtleties in the show, from Moundshroud’s use of certain signs in American Sign Language to punctuate his dialogue to the deeper subject of death tackled by the story, which makes this show just as much fun for the older people in the audience.

The Halloween Tree only has three performances left: two this Saturday October 29 and one on the Sunday. Tickets are $13.50 for children, $15 for teens, $17.50 for students and seniors, and $19.50 for adults. The show has a home at the D. B. Clarke Theatre in the basement of the Hall building at Concordia SGW campus.

Last Night at the Gayety at Centaur Theatre – Montreal

Image source: http://www.centaurtheatre.com/gayety.html

Hey all! It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve seen a show, and that is honestly so blasphemous. But I finally made it out last night to Centaur Theatre to catch Last Night at the Gayety, a new musical by the writing team Rick Blue and George Bowser. You may know them if you’re a native Montrealer from their show Schwartz’s: The Musical, based on the iconic Montreal smoked meat sandwich shop. I didn’t get to see that particular show, but I’m so glad to have made it out to catch this one.

These two guys have been doing this sort of thing for a long time. They’ve been working together since 1978 and have written 17 shows together, so I’m really grateful to have been introduced to them. And their experience absolutely shows in their writing.

Gayety is set in early 50’s Montreal and discusses the morality laws that were attempting to shut down burlesque and vaudeville shows. The plot revolves around Pax Plante, chief of police, and Lili St. Cyr, a famous burlesque dancer, and is narrated by Gayety club owner Tommy. While the plot itself is a bit weak and doesn’t have a clear direction, the use of Tommy as a narrator and kind of MC was very strong with his awareness of our present and his role in history. Very meta.

Which brings me to the direction and set design, a smaller stage on the main stage with an opening and closing red curtain, creating an awareness of the theatricality for the audience. For those of you who are familiar with Broadway shows, it was actually quite similar to the Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder set. It allowed for quick set changes and emphasized the fishbowl quality of the events transpiring. Totally effective, and also allowed for some fun shadow puppet moments.

And that’s what this show is: fun. If somewhat predictable and repetitive, the humour written into the dialogue and the song lyrics had me laughing all night. These guys really know how to write.

The music was advertised as having a sort of bluegrass feel, but to me, Bowser and Blue wrote an entirely Broadway score. I could feel the Gilbert and Sullivan influences in the music. Perhaps the score would have been more memorable if the songs had been more interconnected or if there had been some returning themes, but it certainly did the job of entertaining the audience. The songs did tend to draw on a bit long, however, without actually advancing the plot any further, which tends to drag on the show a little.

Despite this, it was an excellent musical, and I can’t wait to see and hear what these guys come up with next. The performers were also immensely talented and radiated energy, which really brought heart to the show. If you grew up in Montreal, you will adore this show!

Last Night at the Gayety is playing at Centaur Theatre until May 15th. Tickets are $55 for adults, $47.50 for seniors, $41.50 for under 30, and $33 for students. Video footage and audio available on their website.