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Legends. . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll pays tribute to music greats

17 Aug
Michael Clark, Michel LaFleche, Gerrad Everard and Yvan Pedneault in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Michael Clark, Michel LaFleche, Gerrad Everard and Yvan Pedneault in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

GRAND BEND – I have been very fortunate to catch every musical offered at the main stage of the Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend this season. I was wondering if Artistic Director Alex Mustakas’ most recent creation (yes, he dreamt up, wrote and directed the Legends . . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll) would be a favourite as it would be hard to top the other shows, especially Chicago. Yet this musical flashback of the tops tunes from the 50s, 60s and 70s had me dancing in my seat on opening night!

The theatre was packed again and as soon as the audience finished the traditional Huron Country Playhouse “one-clap” recognition of the sponsors, the lights dimmed and the audience was taken back to a more simple time with old advertisements and other video footage playing on two retro televisions on either side of the stage to set the mood. The premise of the show is a popular television host, Roy Solomon, is signing-off after 20 years. The “theatregoers become the live studio audience” who get to relive the best moments of the show.

The 13-member ensemble each has superb talent and individuals got the opportunity to shine while bringing back to life moments

Laura Mae Nason, Jennifer Kee and Valerie Stanois in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

Laura Mae Nason, Jennifer Kee and Valerie Stanois in Legends … of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2015 Season. Photographer: Hilary Gauld-Camilleri.

from music history. One cast member who really stood out to me, Yvan Pedneault, was able to capture so many different musicians beautifully but two that really moved me were rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. My parents used to play Simon and Garfunkel to help me sleep when I was little.

Right away, I was impressed by the vocal strength of Christine Glen in “Proud Mary”. This continued in “Son of a Preacher Man” and my favourite, “Respect”. Jennifer Kee nailed Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and, along with Laura Ma Neson and Valerie Stanois, brought The Supremes hits to a cheering audience.

Lee Siegel has such a rich voice that he had the audience singing along to “Mony Mony” and “Pretty Woman” to name a few. Gerrad Everad had the audience in stitches over his Mick Jagger portrayal and rocks the keys as Jerry Lee Lewis.

Michel LaFleche does it all from the rockin’ Chuck Berry to softer hits from The Lovin’ Spoonful. He teams up with Pedneault as Sonny and Cher…words can not even describe the comedy when those two are together. Michael Clarke goes from Stevie Wonder one minute to Ray Charles the next. His voice changes ever so slightly for authenticity of the artists.

It is the funny man Michael De Rose who ties it all together as the announcer, Sheldon Lubliner, of this Ed Sullivan style television show that gets the audience laughing throughout.  De Rose brings the audience some great belly laughs – especially in his rendition of “Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips with Me.”

A warning to those who end up with front row seats. You may become a part of the show as De Rose selects audience members to be past American presidents and one First Lady. Two lucky ladies were picked out by the performers and became the focus of their amorous songs, which provided the rest of us some great laughs. Fortunately, the audience members did not seem to mind in the least little bit.

The ensemble  encouraged audience participation throughout the show and I did not hold back! Clapping to the rhythm of each song and singing along when appropriate (okay, maybe singing very quietly along with the cast to most of the songs) secretly hoping that I would be pulled up to dance with one of the cast members.

I look forward to seeing what this talented ensemble will be performing in for the 2016 Drayton Season. Did someone say Mama Mia?!

Legends . . . of Rock ‘N’ Roll runs through Aug. 29. Regular performance tickets are $42 for adults; $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Huron Country Playhouse, online or by calling the Box Office at 519-238-6000 or 1-855-drayton (372-9866).

 

Mary’s Wedding is comfortable but has classic elegance

13 Aug

marysweddingBy Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – If the secret to a successful play is for the audience to see a bit of themselves reflected in the characters, then Mary’s Wedding at the Blyth Festival should be a box office hit.

Every senior citizen – that age demographic that is predicted to soon comprise the majority of the population in Huron County – will surely be able to see themselves, or at least wish it for themselves, in the two young lovers whose sweet romance is interrupted by the start of World War I. And certainly, the audience for the matinee performance on Tuesday was a sea of grey-topped heads that hummed and tapped along to familiar-to-them wartime songs that played while they waited for the performance to begin.

The story itself is pretty standard stuff. Girl meets boy of lower social status. They have an adventure and fall in love. They get separated by life’s circumstances, yet continue to try to get back to one another. And yet, playwright Stephen Massicotte has taken this simple story and given it classic elegance, with a crisp script, clever handling of timeline, and repetition of phrases about fear and regret in the dialogue that serve to drive home its messages.

Sophia Walker, as the high-spirited new girl in town, Mary, is an incredible force on stage. She is entirely and equally believable as a precocious young woman who sees every bit of life as a great adventure or as a gruff and compassionate military sergeant. Eli Ham, as the dirty farm boy with a sense of duty to country, Charlie, is a competent actor who’s strong enough to share the stage with Walker, but gets less opportunity in his role to really shine. There are a number of lovely scenes where the two actors seem to be completely in synch with each other, as Mary reads from his letters while Charlie lives war experiences like being shot in a skirmish and riding full throttle into a line of Germans.

Director Gil Garrett has fully and effectively carried the audience through a story in which they could easily become lost if it weren’t well executed.

There are also a few really creative elements on the set, including a unique horse that you’ll have to see for yourself.

The setting for Mary’s Wedding spills far beyond those pieces of polished wood where the drama of this wartime romance unfolds. Although the acting is restricted to the stage only, it’s complemented by the building that is home to the Blyth Festival, a structure called Memorial Hall that was built by the will and spirit of the community to commemorate its fallen during the First World War, and by the nearby small white building that serves as the social centre for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 420 and its ladies’ auxiliary, both of which are sponsors of this theatrical production. This is a play with relevance to the community.

If you want to see a play this summer that allows you dream, then Mary’s Wedding is it.

Mary’s Wedding runs until Sept. 12. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., evening performance days 9 a.m. -9 p.m.; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0.

The Daisy Theatre: Puppeteer takes audience far over the line

12 Aug

ruralchurchBy Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH – For stretches at a time, it was easy to be invested in the cast of colourful marionettes artfully manipulated by puppeteer Ronnie Burkett.

During opening night of Edna Rural’s Church Supper at the Blyth Festival’s intimate Phillips Studio, the beautifully crafted marionettes playfully poked fun at Blyth and rural living, had fun with a few patrons – include the Blyth Festival’s board chairman David Armstrong, and slipped in more than a couple raunchy thrills, as Burkett made good on his promise that he would “go as far over the line as you goad me to go.”

Small marionettes with huge personalities trotted out lounge numbers, vaudeville acts, French chanteuse solos – all with a parodic twist, and looking smashing in their clever costumes and detailed features.

If there were any doubt whether the 100 or so people in the audience were supposed to laugh, all we had to do was to look upward to the puppet master and see how much fun he was having to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were indeed meant to laugh.

Burkett tugged at our heartstrings with unexpected emotional monologues from the elderly Edna Rural and the fairy-like Schnitzel that left us in near despair. Sweet, innocent Schnitzel could easily have found a new home in a snap after her poignant appeal to the audience.

Buried under the dazzle of the characters is the brilliance of the guy who dresses in black and tries to blend into the background above the stage. The script was a blend of humour and heart-warming moments that were embraced by the audience. And I wonder if we – if I –underestimate the skill required for the timed movements and distinct voices of the marionettes because Burkett made it look so darned easy. Certainly, there were people at the performance who have watched Burkett’s career and were keen to have the opportunity to see him and The Daisy Theatre in Blyth.

There will be some disappointments for those reading this review. First of all, every show has improvised elements to it, so there’s no guarantee the remaining shows will have all the characters noted here. Secondly, there’s a rumour circulating that the four-day run is now sold out.

Also, there’s no pie at Edna Rural’s Church Supper.

Edna Rural’s Church Supper runs until Aug. 15. While it is sold out, there are other plays still running, including Fury and Mary’s Wedding. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., evening performance days 9 a.m. -9 p.m.; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0.

Fury: Life, love and loss on stage in Blyth

2 Aug

 

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

Fury at the Blyth Festival.

By Diva Shari Parsons

BLYTH – Though waves may crash, this play doesn’t.

Having never before attended any production of the Blyth Festival, I looked forward to the opening night performance of Fury, along with a girlfriend who had also never attended.

The Blyth Festival is summer theatre that celebrates original Canadian theatre. The professional productions are held in the cozy and comfortable theatre housed in the historic red brick Blyth Memorial Hall.

Fury is a thought-provoking and, in the end, heart-wrenching look at the effect of The Great Storm of 1913 on the lives of five different people from various walks of life in the Port of Goderich.

I found that the script, written by playwright Peter Smith, was intelligent, sensitive, witty and even humorous at times.

Jeff Irving did an excellent job playing the boyishly handsome Michael Grey, a young farmer from Carlow with a mischievous grin, a twinkle in his eye and a devil-may-care attitude.

Michael’s love interest, the slightly repressed yet opinionated Margaret Mackey, niece and ward of Judge Cassidy was given what I felt was a somewhat wooden performance by Rachel Cairns.

Comedic relief and camaraderie was wonderfully provided by Keith Barker in the character of somewhat simple-minded and kind-hearted Bernard Smoke, the offspring of an Aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. Bernard may seem simple, but his “mind roads” can lead him to some profound places.

David Fox was a very convincing autocratic Judge Cassidy. His speech and mannerisms exemplified the character of a crotchety old man who was more concerned about public appearance and his standing in the community than he was about his niece’s happiness. But he is hiding a painful past and his frosty reserve thaws slightly in the end.

The young and up-coming lawyer, David Cooper, was well portrayed by Jason Chesworth. David, who comes across as slightly, annoyingly, obsequious and ingratiating has struck a bargain with the Judge that will give David career advancement and increased standing in the community. Margaret is the unwilling pawn in this agreement.

The stage setting, designed by Ronnie Burkett, was simple but very effective. There were four separate sections constructed to resemble a wooden pier. These sections were moved around to create the various settings, including what I thought was an ingenious rowboat. A large structure in the background served as both the stone balcony of the Judge’s house and the bow of the ship, the Wexford. The effective use of lighting and sound created the necessary changes in atmosphere and mood. The storm scene upon the Wexford was particularly well done.

Fury literally explodes upon the scene, pops up unexpectedly in the audience, makes you think, makes you laugh and if you are sentimental like me, may even bring a tear to your eye. My girlfriend and I both really enjoyed it.

Fury runs until Sept. 12 at the Blyth Memorial Hall. Tickets are $30 & $34 for adults and $15 for youth. Tickets for preview performances are $22 & $26. Tickets may be purchased at the online box office; by phone at 519.523.9300 or 1.877.862.5984 during box office hours: non-performance days 9am-5pm, evening performance days 9am-9pm; in person at 423 Queen St., Blyth; or by mail with cheque or credit card information and including a $4 service fee to Blyth Festival, Box 10, Blyth ON, N0M 1H0

Snow White: The Panto – Happily ever after in Huron County

1 Aug
Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season. Photo by John Sharp.

Jamie McKnight and Sarah Higgins in Snow White: The Panto in the 2015 Season at Playhouse II. Photo by John Sharp.

By Diva Shari Parsons

GRAND BEND – If you like corn on the cob slathered with butter, then you will like this play – Corny with a capital “C” and slathered with silliness.

Having never attended a “panto” I did some research before setting off to see this production. Unlike the name may suggest, a panto is not made up of actors in white face going through strange silent routines. It is, in fact, a very British tradition of winter musical comedy theatre based (somewhat loosely) on well-known fairy-tales and children’s stories. A panto is filled with slapstick, Vaudeville routines, risqué innuendos, contemporary wise-cracks and, of course, lots of music, singing and dancing. It is also famous for its noisy and cheerful audience participation.

The opening night performance of Snow White: The Panto at Huron Country Playhouse fulfilled every one of those British panto traditions.

The scenery was painted to look like those wonderful illustrations in my childhood fairy-tale books. The staging, though simple with just painted backdrops and a prop or two, created the necessary atmosphere but also allowed for the maximum amount of movement – of which there is a lot!

As a person who enjoys history, fashion and fabrics, I greatly appreciated the design and detail of the costumes as well as the designer, Rachel Berchtold’s, decision to create costumes that are reminiscent of all those wonderful illustrations in our favourite childhood stories, but with the occasional modern flavour, such as glittery shirts for the dwarfs or maids uniforms reminiscent of early Hollywood musicals. I must confess to being somewhat envious of Queen Diabolica’s wardrobe – sassy and sexy  with form-fitting designs created using luxurious fabrics and lots of bling, although I don’t think it would look quite the same on me!

I was very interested to learn that the musical accompaniment was performed by a live band. The four musicians and Music Director Scott Christian  did a wonderful job performing a wide variety of musical styles from hip-hop, to Broadway, to R&B.

No musical would be complete without dance numbers and this play did not disappoint. Routines included tap dance, ballet, ballroom, jazz and hip-hop. Choreographer Gino Berti put together an absolutely brilliant routine that required precision timing on the part of the dancers or some serious whacking of heads and thwacking of shins would have taken place. A nice touch to a number of the dance routines was the inclusion of a troupe of 14 children   of various ages and sizes (extremely cute in animal pyjamas.)

The characters in the play were exaggerated versions of many of those we know and love. Snow White, played by Sarah Higgins was predictably sickeningly sweet while Prince Justin of Timberlake portrayed by Jamie McKnight was youthfully handsome, in a pale vampire kind of way.  Sexy Queen Diabolica, portrayed by Jackie Mustakas (who has great legs by the way), reminded me a bit of Bette Midler dressed for the Oscars. Cutie pa-tootie Tim Porter played the Queen’s hapless woodsman, Woody, with an almost perpetual grin on his face (made my cheeks ache) and restless energy in his movements. The portrayal of the dwarfs was both surprising and amazing. Stephanie Pitsiladis stood out as Grumpy, complete with Bronx accent, attitude and a voice that could fill a stadium.  Another favourite of mine, performed by two members of the Ensemble, was Prince Charming’s white horse , Avalanche, who had attitude, could tap dance and wouldn’t let anybody ride him.

While all the actors did a great job, hubby and my favourite character had to be buxom and flirty Nurse Tickle, who was brilliantly portrayed by Justin Bott. This continues one of the old British theatre traditions of having male actors play female parts.

While I am not sure that panto is exactly my cup of theatre tea, I did enjoy many aspects of the production and my hubby thoroughly enjoyed the entire production.

When you go to see this performance, be sure to bring your best booing, hissing, and cheering voices along with your waving, clapping hands because they are sure to be busy.

Snow White: The Panto runs to Aug. 29 at the Huron Country Playhouse II.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

I am telling my friends: Go cut Footloose!

27 Jul
Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

Colin Sheen and Company in Footloose, 2015 Season. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke.

By Diva Caroline Thuss

I am feeling a flashback after enjoying another stellar musical at the Huron Country Playhouse near Grand Bend yesterday.

From the neon coloured clothing, teased hair with scrunchies, acid washed jeans and large wads of chewing gum, the cast of Footloose: The Dance Musical in Sunday’s opening performance had me looking through old photos from my childhood and reminiscing about what growing up in the 1980s was like (even though I was very young when the original Footloose movie was released).

Having the pleasure of taking in several of the offerings so far this Drayton Entertainment season, I was excited at the opportunity to see another hit.  This time I was up in the balcony and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the view was. The rows were staggered so that even if the person in front of me shifted a lot in his seat it would not affect my view of the stage. Definitely worth considering getting tickets up there the next time.

As soon as the curtains open, the audience starts to feed off the high energy of the ensemble of “Footloose” and it allows us to get the feel for Colin Sheen as the defiant outsider, Ren McCormack. Sheen oozes talent (who can rollerskate like that anymore?) with his vocal talents, dance moves and looks the role of the teen heartthrob. I enjoyed Sheen as Gilbert and Danielle Wade as Anne in Anne of Green Gables earlier this season. The chemistry between Sheen and Danielle Wade, who plays Ariel, is evident in the pair’s rendition of “Almost Paradise” although my theatre companion thought it was a bit corny…that was the traditional love ballad of the ‘80s! Wade is able to portray the multiple sides of Ariel with ease and belts out one of my favourite tunes “Holding Out for a Hero” with passion.

I found that as good as Sheen and Wade are in their leading roles – and they are both excellent – my favourite scenes are the ones with Nick Settimi as Ren’s dancing challenged friend, Willard and Jade Repeta as Ariel’s friend, Rusty. The number of one-liners that Settimi delivers has the audience cheering for him and Repeta’s rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” had me dancing (and very quietly singing) along in my seat.

Director and choreographer Timothy French has put together a solid cast filled with amazing talent and backed by a great orchestra led by the incredibly talented Craig Fair. The ensemble was great as well with some very talented dancers. It was easy to hate David Cotton’s character of Chuck Cranston, Ariel’s abusive boyfriend. I was hoping that Ren would knock him out at several points.

Victor A. Young delivers a very moving performance as the Reverend Shaw Moore. In his song near the end of the show, “Heaven Help Me,” Young wrings every ounce of emotion out of it he can. Susan Gilmore as the Reverend’s wife, Vi, Rebecca Poff as Ren’s single mother, Ethel, and Wade come together beautifully for “Learning to be Silent”.

Once the cast kicks off their Sunday shoes for the finale, the audience was all up, clapping and dancing along with the ensemble. I can almost guarantee that you will leave the theatre dancing and singing too!

Footloose: The Dance Musical runs until August 8.

Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for preview performances and groups of 20 or more are $34. Tickets may be purchased online, in person at the Drayton Entertainment Box Offices, or by calling (519) 238-6000 or toll free 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Workshops explore working with fabric, textiles

16 Jul

blyth1419paintbrushesBy Diva Heather Boa

BLYTH -A blank canvas of burlap lay on the table. Surrounding it were small pots of coloured paint, a handful of brushes, bits of sponge and even a couple of toothbrushes.

Various painting techniques yield varying results.

Various painting techniques yield varying results.

“Do you do any fabric painting?” asked Jennifer Triemstra-Johnston, a university fashion and textile arts instructor who is leading two weeks of classes created for Blyth Arts & Cultural Initiative 14/19 Inc., an ambitious arts and culture endeavour taking root in this small community.

“No. I do absolutely nothing,” I replied, with a sense of déjà vu, recalling that just last month I stood in front of a canvas in an art shop, preparing to paint my first masterpiece.

And so we started at the very beginning, my painting companions and I. We each chose two colours of paint and began to experiment on a scrap of burlap. We dipped and dabbed, wetted and flicked, sponged and sponged again. We tried watery paint, viscous paint, and even spray paint. We took aim at our canvases with toothbrushes then ran our thumbs across the paint-laden bristles, drops of paint raining down on the fabric. We sprayed paint from bottles, sometimes finding a dud bottle that squirted paint to the left or right of where we aimed. We tinted and shades.

A trio of stencilled patterns  adorn a book bag.

A trio of stencilled patterns adorn a book bag.

While we played, Jennifer gently guided us through various fabric painting styles, sharing stories from her days as costume designer for the Blyth Festival and her experiences teaching. Conversation about careers, grandchildren, clothing and other topics in which strangers find common ground filled the moments when we weren’t engrossed in our projects.

When our burlap canvases were crowded with our experiments, we started again.

Lorraine Brophy, of Goderich, pulls back the stencil to reveal her handiwork.

Lorraine Brophy, of Goderich, pulls back the stencil to reveal her handiwork.

We played with store-bought stencils and patterned doilies, layering colours and experimenting with brushes, then carefully lifting the stencils, never knowing what the final results would be. We tried stamps in the shape of flowers and stars. We oohed and aahed at each other’s work, comparing styles and admiring techniques.

And for the finale, we each completed a project – a burlap book bag with a trio of red stencilled damask-like pattern for me and an apron adorned with stamps of pretty Dutch-blue flowers for my class companion.

I’m pretty proud of what we accomplished and plan to go back next week for a rug hooking class.

This diva tries her hand at stencilling.

This diva tries her hand at stencilling.

Other classes include fabric dyeing, pattern drafting, rug hooking, lace knitting, millinery and jewellery. There is also a sustainable fashion workshop that will involve a clothing swap and alteration and styling tips with sewing machines on hand for re-designing.

Prices range from $10 to $25 for a class or workshop, or $45 for a day pass or $100 for a weekly pass to unlimited classes. (Materials are extra).

There are also Open Artist Studios with experts on hand to answer questions and offer advice and demos. Open Artist Studios are free to anyone who wants to drop by and work on their own projects, continue working on projects started in class or just visit.

For a complete listing of classes, workshops and open studios and signup details, visit online.

 

 

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