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.

3 Musical Thrillers to Get You Pumped for Halloween

Long, long gone are the days when musicals were nothing but happy, sappy sugar-coated pieces of theatre meant to distract from the harshness of the everyday world. We’re lucky enough to live in an age where almost anything can be turned into a musical. That includes…

American Psycho

Just appeared on Broadway last season, with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). It’s now closed in the wake of Hurricane Hamilton, but still a noteworthy piece of theatre and totally appropriate for the season. Yes, it’s based on that movie with Christian Bale based on that book by Bret Easton Ellis. The soundtrack is that dancy techno that I really don’t know anything about (house? electronic? I don’t know what the kids call it these days). It also brings the story into the present with lots of projection work, for which Finn Ross won the Drama Desk Award. Personal favourite song from the musical is the opening number “Selling Out”.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A classic, with oddly catchy tunes for such a dark story. Thank you Stephen Sondheim for gifting the world this spooky play. Another musical serial killer, this time set in 19th-century London and involving cannibalism – sort of. If you aren’t familiar with this one I suggest the 2001 concert version with Patti LuPone and and Neil Patrick Harris. I’d avoid the Tim Burton movie version with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter unless you’re drunk. It’s actually a great movie when you’re drunk. I’m a big fan of the 2005 revival cast album (again with Patti), as they made the score all folksy, but if you aren’t familiar with the music I’d suggest listening to the original first.

Jekyll and Hyde

One of Frank Wildhorn’s more memorable (i.e. not a flop) pieces, based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Yeah, another serial killer. Notice the theme. Anyway this one involves a split personality case and is hugely dramatized compared to the original source material. Honestly half the characters in the play don’t exist in the novella. But it’s cool, because we as musical theatre fans get another hooker with a heart of gold character to add to our list of favourite Mezzo Ladies Who Suck at Love. Also the guy playing Jekyll/Hyde needs a HUGE range of emotion, which David Hasselhoff can absolutely pull off. A professionally filmed version of the stage production can be found in full on YouTube.

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.

Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show

Fox’s Rocky Horror: queering the mainstream or mainstreaming the queer? Is one better than the other? Which did this anticipated remake achieve?

Last Thursday October 20, Fox aired a remake of the cult classic as a continuation of the trend of creating musical events for television. With the success of Grease: LIVE this past February, it makes sense that Fox would want to follow up with another musical event.

Yeah, it didn’t do too well. Let’s take a look at what went wrong, but also at what they did right.

First and foremost, IT. WAS. NOT. LIVE. I guess I didn’t read up on it as thoroughly beforehand as I should have, because I expected a live event, not a bad lip syncing one. Immediate disappointment. I had to do a quick search to confirm that yes, nowhere did it say that it would be sung and recorded live. A pity, really, considering the talent on board. (I’m mostly referring to Annaleigh Ashford, originator of Lauren in Cyndi Lauper’s musical Kinky Boots. What a sweetheart.)

All that to say that you’d think that Fox would have learned its lesson from Grease, that a live event as well as a live audience can absolutely make a show. The whole TV movie was begging to be live: there was even a band in the room for most of the film. A missed opportunity, unfortunately.

Of all the TV musicals so far, Rocky Horror had the worst ratings. Which is really unfortunate, because I had a good time watching it. But there’s a very simple explanation for this, and it honestly comes down to the choice of the musical.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as mentioned above, is a cult classic. This means that it not only has a large fan base, but a very dedicated and passionate one. However, this production was not made for them: it was cut down and cleaned up. Touching the property of such a loyal fan base is dangerous, and changing it at all means implosion. In attempting to make it more accessible, Rocky Horror alienated its fans.

So who was this created for? Not families, it’s too sexy for that. But anyone who isn’t a fan of the original and doesn’t know what to expect will be totally shocked if they do watch it, but here’s the thing: very few of them didn’t watch it at all.

The thing is, Rocky is too eccentric for the casual fan. Either you’re die-hard, or you’re left feeling slightly uncomfortable and confused. Where families were often a target for these past events, Rocky just doesn’t jam with those demographics. I believe that one of the main reasons that this production in particular flopped was for lack of a target audience.

HOWEVER, I do feel like I should defend this production, as I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit watching it. I don’t want to make this too long, but I do want to address some of the complaints that other reviews had. The main one being that this version was too sanitized, too Disneyfied by director Kenny Ortega, most well known for directing the High School Musical movies (what were you thinking, Fox? HSM and Rocky should be as far from each other as possible). While this version was cut down quite a bit – skillfully I might add, as the original plot is pretty messy – this production felt almost as radical and shocking as the movie, and that’s thanks to our lady and saviour, Laverne Cox.

If you’ve never heard of Laverne Cox, she’s a literal angel and transgender actress most known for her role on Orange Is the New Black. In the original movie, gender identity isn’t really a factor – Frank N Furter is a cross-dresser, yes, but he’s still considered a man. What was truly shocking at the time was the fact that he – a man – was creating another man as a sex object. I read a few articles criticizing the choice to cast Cox in the role, as the story isn’t as radical if it’s a woman creating a male sex toy. How hetero, these articles said.

But let me ask you this: when was the last time you saw a trans actor on mainstream television? Take a minute to think about it. Done? Yeah, that’s right: trans actors are rarely hired, even to play transgender roles. The simple fact of having a trans woman in a lead role is incredibly radical as it is. By including transness in the conversation, Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show brings the story into the present. What was radical in the 70’s isn’t as radical now, but Fox succeeded in altering the conversation with only a casting choice, and for that reason I absolutely respect this most recent attempt at a TV musical.

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.

Bus Stops at Centaur Theatre – Montreal

Photo Credit: Centaur Theatre / Theatre I.N.K.

I just got back literally two seconds ago from seeing the English-language world premiere of Marilyn Perreault’s play Bus Stops at Centaur Theatre, and man, I want to write this now before this show slips away from me.

I should mention I went in with high expectations. It’s unusual for me, but I’m seeing this show toward the end of its run (the last performance is on Sunday), and I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it since it opened. This production completely blew me away. Like, ejected me from my chair and catapulted me through the roof. I’m just now finding my footing.

I mentioned this show slipping away from me, and that’s the thing. It’s very slippery. It leaves you with a feeling, this creepy, profoundly moving feeling. It’s very, very hard to describe, but I’m going to do my best. Honestly, I wish I could see this show five more times, and then perhaps I could more coherently write about it.

So, the story: a bomb goes off in a bus, killing the driver, a waitress, a nurse, and a student. This is not a spoiler. The story traces the backstories of these characters with the help of the ghost of a teenage girl (the ever-bubbly Victoria Diamond) herself died in that same bus. We follow the coroner (played by the playwright and director, Ms. Perreault) as she attempts to solve the mystery of who detonated the bombs.

It confronts issues of prejudice and islamaphobia, as the main suspect is a Muslim man, the student, carrying a suspicious-looking backpack, violence against women, mental illness, alcoholism, and the news coverage of tragedies. And man, does it do it well. Using unchronological storytelling (a favourite tactic of mine), these ideas are explored separately by the various characters fighting for the spotlight to tell their story to the audience.

Pretty good plot, right? But what truly makes this piece special is its use of movement and music. Certain parts are choreographed and many of the actors are trained acrobats, and they tumble around the bus, reenacting their deaths in slow-motion. They pull themselves up to watch from above, they throw themselves on the ground, they roll and somersault and do handstands, sometimes while eerily dancing to the background music.

ALSO, the use of video. Quite a lot of things were projected onto the walls of the bus, from text messages to headlines to a video captured by a cell phone camera to footage captured live of the actors in the bus and projected for the audience to see. We get this sense of media-overload, and it’s fantastic.

And, and, AND, the actors. Each one of them was so, so great. I felt for all of them, and they perfectly captured these nuanced characters, all flawed, all imperfect, but all with stories to tell. The use of both French and English actors and the bilingualism was perfectly, authentically Montreal, as the play is set in the city and name drops metro stations and squares.

I’m not at all capturing this play the way I want to, both for anyone interested and for myself, because I honestly wish I could see this show again. If you have the time this weekend, I highly, highly recommend it. It’s probably my top play of the year so far.

All in all, wonderful play, AMAZING direction, just all around a gorgeous production. This is something you want to see for yourself.