Morpheus Floats Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers in 2013

Here’s a 2012-2013 launch I missed earlier – Morpheus Theatre’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Their choice for next spring is The Gondoliers or The King of Barataria.  This was G&S’s last successful operetta.  According to wiki, “it premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 7 December 1889 and ran for a very successful 554 performances (at that time the fifth longest-running piece of musical theatre in history)”. Check out the wiki link for more on the show and the fascinating story of the conflict between the two creators that resulted in its creation which started when librettist  Gilbert told his partner he was fed up with having his brilliant lyrics subverted by Arthur Sullivan’s (boring) melodies – my words, not his.  As those of you who read my post on my little list of shows that will not be missed will know, “I’m with you there, W.S.” 

Kudos to Morpheus for trying something a little more out there. I’m curious enough to want to check it out. I just featured Yeomen of the Guard at my June Strictly Show Tunes Sing-Along at the Auburn, at the request of some of the G&S fans, and it was quite fun. Who knows, maybe you folks will make a convert of me yet.

Morpheus Theatre’s The Gondoliers runs March 19-23, 2013.

Review: The Marvelous Wonderettes is Neither Marvellous Nor Wonderful

I attended Roger Bean’s The Marvelous Wonderettes at Stage West with the Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group on Friday night (I’ve just added the + because I want to start including some straight plays next season). This show is a nostalgic romp through the 50’s and 60’s with a girls group that performs at the 1958 Springfield High School prom (and then in Act II, at the 10-year reunion), and shows us a little bit about their lives and loves and interrelationships along the way.  It’s a 1999 show that played off-Broadway and has been widely performed and won a few prestigious awards around the continent since then. It’s even been successful enough to spawn a sequel, Winter Wonderettes, which features the girls singing popular Christmas songs.

As you know if you’ve been following my blog, I’m not a fan of this genre of musical, however I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the shows I’ve seen of this type this year, whether at Stage West, Jubilations or Lunchbox. This doesn’t happen to be one of them.  While the performances of the four women (Laura Caswell as the ditzy Suzy, Melanie McInenly as the tomboyish Betty Jean or BJ, Melanie Piatocha as the boyfriend-stealing Cindy-Lou and Nancy Silverman as the geeky Missy) are first-rate, they couldn’t do much to save a really, really thin story and overdone juvenile humour (how many butthead, bubblegum and pregnant-woman-trying-to-sing-and-dance jokes are really necessary – 10? 5? 0?). 

Act I was a complete bore for me, but fortunately things picked up a bit in Act II when there was a little  – and I mean a little – more plot and even a hint of drama. I enjoyed the opening numbers “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop”, and then it was Act II before they piqued my interest again, with great performances of songs like “Needle In a Haystack”, “The Wedding Bell Blues”, “You Don’t Own Me”, ” Heat Wave”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Respect” and “Rescue Me” (or maybe it was the rush of Stage West’s fabulous dessert bar kicking in :?)?

If you really like the music of these eras, you may enjoy The Marvelous Wonderettes anyway –  plus there is a kind-of-fun audience participation segment in which a poor schmuck is dragged on stage to play Missy’s teacher and love interest, Mr. Lee – but unless you’re a die-hard Stage West fan, you might want to give this one a miss and take in one of the many other shows happening in and around Calgary this summer (see 2012 Schedule).

I don’t normally read other reviews until I push the “publish” button, but I just found Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian‘s review of Stage West’s Toronto production last summer  (same show and director (Tim French), different cast), and I thought he captured my sentiments even more eloquently than I have, so I am posting the link here for your entertainment and edification. In particular, I echo his comment at the end: “… the only thing I kept wondering is how many more crappy jukebox musicals I’m going to have to see before I die”.  Me too, me too.

The Marvelous Wonderettes is playing at Stage West until August 19. Ticket prices range from $69 to $99 ($59 for Seniors 65+ on Wednesdays only). For more information and tickets, go to Stage West.

Review: Movies to Musicals – CSI or What Do These Movie-Musical Stars Have in Common?

Look at all the pictures and answer the question before scrolling down – no cheating!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Monday afternoon, I snuck away from work for an extended lunch hour to take in Movies to Musicals – CSI with Bonnie Gratz and Mary-Jean Uszy, part of the “Lifelong Learning at the Jubilee” series. The event was advertised as follows:  “It’s criminal! Those changes that are made to musicals when they are adapted into movies. Enjoy a fun sing-a-long … as we uncover and expose some of the most famous musical to movie crimes – ever!”  I run a Strictly Show Tunes Sing-Along at the Auburn on the fourth Monday of every month (the next one is coming up on June 25!), so that was enough to entice me (and in case my employer is reading, I DID make up the time later, OK? :)).  

While the sing-along was fun enough in its own right, as it turned out, the only “crimes” uncovered in this event involved the many stars who were dubbed in movie-musicals. Natalie Wood (West Side Story) and Audrey Hepburn (My Fair Lady) were no surprise, but did you know that even Harry Belafonte didn’t get to sing his own songs? That was in Carmen Jones, not Porgy and Bess, as Gratz and Uszy asserted, the latter of which starred Sydney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge, both of whom were dubbed. Neither did Debbie Reynolds, which is ironic, since the whole premise of Singing in the Rain is that she’s the voice behind the star, and like Harry Belafonte, she CAN sing. As for Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, I’d always assumed that since his singing was so bad, that it must be the real deal.  Not so!  And in case you’ve always marvelled at Oliver (Mark Lester)’s high, crystal clear voice in “Who Will Buy” and “Where is Love?” – yup, you guessed it, not only is it not him, it’s the voice of a girl (Kathe Green)!

We also learned about the biggest uncredited singer of them all, Marni Nixon, who was the voice behind Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood, as well as Deborah Kerr (The King and I, An Affair to Remember) and several of the nuns in The Sound of Music (she appeared in that movie as Sister Sophia). Nixon also shared dubbing duties with Betty Wand for Rita Moreno (say it ain’t so!) in West Side Story, and sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” for Marilyn Munroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Come to think of it, the Marni Nixon story would make an interesting musical in its own right. I’ll have to get working on that.

It’s kind of mysterious to me why movie studios would hire actors who can’t sing (or worse, some that can), and then have someone else sing their songs, but that’s show biz (and the importance of star power for selling tickets). At least in the case of Jessica Lange (Patsy Cline in Sweet Dreams) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Ritchie Valens in La Bamba) they used the voices of the original artists. Fortunately dubbing has gone out of fashion, so when we see a movie-musical today we can be pretty sure the person singing is really singing – although the music tracks are still usually recorded ahead of time. (The new Les Miserables movie coming out late this year is braving new territory by having the actors sing and act at the same time – it will be interesting to see if we can tell the difference).  On the other hand, after listening to Pierce Brosnan in the Mamma Mia!  clips on the Agony Booth website while I was writing my Father’s Day post,  I might argue that maybe we should go back to the good old days (or, what the heck, hire actors who can sing instead of being so gosh-darned good-looking!) 

Movies to Musicals – CSI was good enough that I’d consider going to another Lifelong Learning event at the Jubilee, although I wish it had been closer to that advertised. I’m sure there are other crimes, like changing the story or messing with the songs, that would have been interesting to explore.  I know my husband decries the way two of his favourite stage musicals, Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, were ruined when turned into movies, although I liked them well enough. And ever since I bought the vocal selections for Grease a few months ago, I’ve been wondering if John Travolta REALLY sang all those “dirty” Greased Lightning lyrics in the movie … (now, I have to look it up… yes, it really was him… phew!)  

The Jube holds several theatre-related lunchtime seminars through the year as part of this series, both in Calgary and at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton.  Recent events in Calgary include “Intro to Bollywood Dance” with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks and “Exploring Stage Props” with the Calgary Opera.  For more information on Calgary offerings (which presumably will start up again in the Fall), go to: Lifelong Learning.

For a very long list of who’s dubbed whom in movie-musicals, go to: Movie Dubbers

Is It Time for Manly Men to Come Out of the Closet?

It’s Father’s Day, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about musicals and men. There’s a stereotype that if you’re a man and you like musicals, you’re probably gay (or Jewish, or intellectual) – if you haven’t seen Neil Patrick Harris’ opening number from the 2011 Tony awards, Broadway Is Not Just for Gays Anymore, you must. (If you have seen it, I’m betting you’ll probably click this link to see it again…).  I have fallen victim to this stereotype myself, I’m ashamed to say, when a friend of mine told me about a bunch of married men he knew who were in New York and chose to go to see Mamma Mia! while their wives were out shopping. I supported his wife’s assertion that they were probably gay (whether they knew it or not). Later, I reflected that most men would prefer going to a musical than go shopping (another stereotype, perhaps?), and of course, I know lots of straight men who willingly and sometimes even enthusiastically go to see and participate in musicals, including mine. Why should homosexuals have a monopoly on good taste, after all?

So, if you’re a man looking for a musical or a woman looking to take a man to a musical, what shows might you choose?  To answer this question, I mined the data from my Calgary Musicals MeetUp Group, which includes about 20% men, most of whom are straight, as far as I know. I ask everyone when they join for a short list of a few of their favourite musicals (see my earlier post on this topic for my list).  This is admittedly a biased sample, as it includes the minority of men who a) join groups and b) are self-declared (and unashamedly) musical theatre buffs, but it gives you a bit of an idea of what men say they like. 

Most of the big names were there, but the top three mentions were: Les Miserables, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera. Other popular suggestions were Wicked, Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, The Sound of Music, Godspell and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Were these on the women’s lists? Absolutely. Were there many shows on the women’s lists that weren’t on the men’s lists? Not really. This would suggest that Applause Meter’s Jessica Goldman might not be on the right track when she divides up her theatre review recommendations by gender. I know the men I took to Pinkalicious  and Little Women (musicals that are as chick-friendly as they come) liked them as much as I did, which just goes to show that a good performance of a great story can appeal to just about anyone (or maybe they were just intellectuals ;)).

I think you might get a different answer if you were looking for shows that a man, especially a younger man, who’s not normally interested in musicals (or theatre at all for that matter) might like. In that case, you might get more votes for contemporary shows that are unabashedly funny, sexy, spoofy, familiar, and/or action-oriented, like The Rocky Horror Show, Evil Dead The Musical (coming to Calgary in August), Avenue Q, Spamalot, Little Shop of Horrors, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Spiderman, or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  Musicals like Queen’s We Will Rock You, Green Day’s American Idiot, or Rock of Ages (the latter of which is coming to Calgary this Fall) might also be appealling, if they’re a fan of the music/group. My husband would add rock musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar (me too!), Hair, and Tommy to this list (but definitely NOT Mamma Mia!). Check out some of the links below for more suggestions by other “real” men, some serious and some not so much. 

Perhaps it’s not that heterosexual men don’t like musicals; it’s just that they’re afraid to admit it!  To quote my favourite manly musical man, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, “It’s time to take some action boys. It’s time to follow me,” and come out of the closet.  All you dads out there, how about taking your son to a musical this year and showing him that real men really DO like musical theatre after all? Maybe you’ll both be pleasantly surprised.

 Happy Father’s Day

Fun links about men and musicals:

The 8 Manliest Musicals (by category):

And if that’s not enough, how about 31 Manly Musicals:

An online chat from men on the topic of musicals for the hairier sex: Empire On-line

A great U-Tube Video by a young bald man in a Hummer T-shirt: Top 5 Man Musicals

Video “reviews” of  TV shows and movies, including several movie-musicals, by a balding young man in a lumberjack shirt – is there a pattern here? – because he’s man enough to take it : Thoroughly Manly Musicals (The Agony Booth)

Take a Quiz: Identify the musical from these imagined marketing ploys targetted at men: Musicals for Real Men

And finally … why a man shouldn’t let his woman watch too many musicals if he values his love life: West End Geek

Review: Oil and Water – A Warm-Hearted Play about a Cold-Water Tragedy

I’m just home from Robert Chafe’s Oil and Water, the opening night performance of the 2012 Magnetic North Theatre Festival, “Canada’s National Festival of Contemporary Canadian Theatre in English.” The after-show reception is still going on at Vertigo Theatre as I write this, but I’ve got a 6AM wake-up call so couldn’t stay too long to enjoy the festivities, nor stay up too late to write a long review.

Oil and Water is produced by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland and is the heartwarming true story of Lanier Phillips, one of only 46 men, and the only black man, who survived when the USS Truxton ran aground near a Newfoundland outport in February 1942. This story is juxtaposed against an older Phillips trying to foster tolerance in his daughter Vonzia, during the Boston riots of 1974, when that city started busing black children to formerly white schools in order to integrate them. It is only when he explains the story of his rescue in Newfoundland by a family who’d never seen a black person before, that he is able to help her get past her hatred of white people and get back on the bus.

Although it took me a while to get into it (and it wasn’t really a musical in the conventional sense – having only periodic humming and a teeny bit of singing in the style of African-American gospel and Newfoundland folk music), this was ultimately a fine performance of a very moving show. It really came into its own in Act II when the ship went down. I loved the set by Shawn Kerwin, much of which was composed of buckets and boards, and yes, real water. The focal point was a large triangular structure which was cleverly used at various times to represent the rocking ship, the cliffs up which the sailors had to be carried by their Newfoundland rescuers, and the stairs to the upstairs bedroom in the house of Lanier’s hosts. The acting was top-notch. I particularly liked the portrayals of Lanier at 20 and at 50 by Anderson Ryan Allen and Jeremiah Sparks, respectively, and of his daughter Vonzia (Starr Domingue). The presentation was rounded out by a touching lobby display of photographs from the time of the accident and a 2008 reunion of Phillips and his rescuers in Newfoundland.

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is usually held in Ottawa, but every other year it goes to another city in Canada. We are fortunate to host it here as part of our 2012 Cultural Capital celebrations. The festival runs until June 23 and includes a number of interesting-looking plays with high-caliber performers from across Canada, as well as opportunities to meet and interact with the artists, and a headline performance by comedian Rick Mercer on Friday June 22.  Oil and Water is the closest thing they have to a musical and it is only playing until Saturday June 16th. Shows are at 7PM (plus a Saturday matinée at 2PM) and tickets are $45.

For more information, go to: Magnetic North Festival

Forte Musical Theatre Guild Presents Maria in 2012-2013

Maria Rasputin (right) with her parents

The last of the launches to date (I think):

Back in April, I attended a reception at the home of Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s artistic director, Joe Slabe, where we got a sneak-a-peak of  Slabe’s 2012-2013 show, Maria Rasputin Presents. His musical tells the story of the assassinated Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, from the perspective of his daughter Maria (Matryona) Rasputin, who wrote a number of books in his defense. The evening included a few songs performed by Slabe and Forte favourites Daniel Mallett (recently seen in Vertigo Theatre’s Sweeney Todd),  Selina Wong (recently seen in Forte’s Jeremy de Bergerac), and Allison Lynch (recently seen in Sweeney Todd and ATP’s Ash Rizin). I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one or more of these great singer-actors in the cast.

Following on the heels of Slabe’s Jeremy de Bergerac and his previous Austentatious, this is another show which demonstrates Slabe’s love of classic literature/history.  As Slabe explained, however, if all we know about Rasputin is from the classic Tolstoy novel Anna Karenina, or worse, the 1970’s euro-disco hit single Rasputin by Boney M, then we’ll find this show enlightening. From what I saw and heard, it certainly promises to be entertaining.

As far as I know, Maria Rasputin Presents will premiere in Forte’s January slot at the Pumphouse Theatre.  There’s no information up on the Forte Musical Theatre Guild website yet, but presumably there will be more details come Fall. call for guest bloggers for summer is looking for people active in the Calgary musical theatre scene (whether as participants or spectators) to do a guest blog post here during the slow summer season. I’m looking for articles between approximately 750 and 1500 words in length. It could be an opinion piece, an interview, a funny story about some of your experiences in musical theatre (in Calgary or elsewhere) or anything else you think would interest readers. Just send me an email and a sample of your writing, tell me what you’d like to write about and we’ll take it from there.