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Interview: Storybook’s going BIG (the musical) this Christmas

Sending this post from holiday in London, England. Surprisingly, perhaps, I haven’t seen any West End musicals yet. Maybe next weekend. Could it be I’m finally getting my fill with all that Calgary has to offer? Dashing this off on a friend’s computer before catching a plane to Denmark, so if there are errors and typos, I apologize in advance.

As we wind up the Fall season, you might be looking for a Christmas musical. As it turns out (unless someone corrects me), the Calgary theatre offerings this year include only one musical, Storybook Theatre’s production of Big The Musical, which opened this weekend. This is a Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) version of the well-loved (at least by me) Tom Hanks movie of the same name. It’s the story of a Josh, a young boy, who gets tired of being treated like a child and wishes to be “Big.” He gets his wish and wakes up the next morning as an adult, and heads off to New York, where he gets a job designing toys – which of course he is “brilliant” at (a word Brits like to use, I’ve noticed), being a toy user himself. I’d forgotten that the show has a holiday theme (they are looking for the next big Christmas toy), until I was reminded of this by Storybook’s artistic director, and the director of this show, JP Thibodeau, when I interviewed him last week.

JP says this TYA version, which only came out last year,  places a bigger focus on the relationship between Josh and his best friend, rather than the romance, so parents who might be worried about the sexual elements in the movie, need not do so.  “We are excited to be the first company licensed to do it anywhere in the world,” says JP, “It fits well with our new mandate to do family shows that appeal to both adults and children, rather than having different shows for different age groups”.  He says that for kids the key message is about not growing up to fast. For adults, they may resonate more with the idea of remembering what it’s like to be a kid, and not to take life so seriously.

JP says Storybook’s new model has been a bit of an adjustment for its audiences, although people are surprised to learn they are actually doing more shows this year, rather than less (7 vs. 6). “We’ve got a good mix of shows, some of which are one hour-long and some two,” explains JP. “We want to challenge the notion and short shows are just for little kids, and produce shows that have something for everyone in the family, with a focus on professional quality.” .

To address the perception that they’ve lost their programming for 3 to 6 year-olds, Storybook is piloting a new “introduction to theatre” offering in 2014, which involves live story readings with audience participation. “I have two kids in that age range,” says JP, “and I can tell you there’s a big spectrum between age 3 and 6 in terms of what they like and how long they can sit still”.

Now back to Big, JP says people will enjoy the large cast, with 8 children and 23 adults. “We’ve got two great Josh’s and there are plenty of funny moments. The famous keyboard scene in the toy store will not disappoint. It’s the kind of show where the whole family can have a good time together. It’s everything the movie is – with music.”

Big The Musical runs at Storybook Theatre until Dec 22. For more information and tickets, go to

Interview: My Fair Lady meets Steampunk at Front Row Centre

Michael Brown and Allie Higgins-Pompu. Photo courtesy of Front Row Centre. Photo Credit Graeme Humphrey

Michael Brown and Allie Higgins-Pompu as Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. Photo courtesy of Front Row Centre. Photo Credit Graeme Humphrey

Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady is definitely high on my list of favourite musicals, but I’ve seen it so often that I might have given Front Row Centre’s current production  – its first at the Beddington Community Arts Centre  – a pass, if it were not for the fact that director Jamie Eastgaard-Ross has chosen to give it a Steampunk twist. I’m no expert on the subject, but as near as I can tell if you can imagine a cross between the Victorian-era (1837-1901) and science fiction (with lots of cogs and gears and such), you get the idea. I can see how the concept  – and especially the costumes – might be a good fit for story of an Edwardian-era (1901-1910) cockney flower girl who’s taken under the wing of a snobbish speech professor and turned into a lady.

Allie Higgins-Pompu, who plays Eliza, says that Front Row Centre’s production manages to keep the integrity of the script, while incorporating futuristic elements in the costumes (Danielle Demarais), music (Danielle Wahl) and choreography (Magz Ross). “It’s amazing how it’s all come together,” says Allie. “The Steampunk element makes it interesting for people who might not normally be into musicals (for example,  the local Steampunk club, who I’m told are coming), yet it’s still accessible to traditional My Fair Lady fans”.

Allie Higgins-Pompu

Allie Higgins-Pompu. Photo courtesy of Front Row Centre. Photo credit Andre Goulet

Allie was born and raised in Calgary and has been doing theatre for a few years – mostly with Storybook Theatre. “This is my first show with Front Row Centre, and I jumped at the chance to play Eliza,” says Allie. “Surprisingly, the show doesn’t get done that often, and it’s a dream role for a female lead. I’m particularly fortunate to be playing across from Michael Brown, who’s terrific as Professor Henry Higgins”

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964 film)

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (stage)

Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1956 Broadway production)

Allie says she’s been daunted by the size of the role since taking it on. “It’s insane how much there is for Eliza to do”, says Allie, “and of course people have images in their mind of Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews in the role – they are such huge stars. My goal is to give Eliza my own portrayal, while hopefully still living up to peoples’ expectations.”

Despite the fact they’ve only had 33 rehearsals since the end of August – a short rehearsal period by community theatre standards – Allie says they’re completely ready. “We’re a tight cast,” she says. “We really function as a team, no matter what size our role is, and it’s amazing how hard everyone works. This has been one of my best theatre experiences because of that”.

Allie says that her current favourite musical is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance. “I’m not normally a huge ALW fan,” she explains, “but Bernadette Peters is one of my favourite performers and I love the first half where she does a one-woman show. I have so many favourites, though, you could ask me again next week, and I’d give you a different answer.”

Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance

Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance

Allie is a first year Bachelor of Music student at Ambrose University College in Calgary, the only voice programme in town. “I’m still figuring out where I want to go with my music,” she says. “I’m studying classical voice, and considering opera at the moment. Regardless, I love musical theatre and hope I can keep doing that, no matter which path my career takes me”.

Front Row Centre’s Production of My Fair Lady opened this past weekend and plays at the Beddington Community Arts Centre until November 23. Tickets are $25 regular, $22 for students and seniors and $15 on Tuesdays and Matinees. If you’re thinking of going this weekend, you may want to book ahead, as tickets are starting to sell out. The Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group is going on Saturday night if you’d care to join us.

For more information and tickets go to

If you’re interested in Steampunk, check out the The Calgary Steampunk Assemblage on Meetup. If you want to go to the show dressed up (and you are encouraged to do so, I’m sure), check out this book: How to Steampunk Your Wardrobe.

A steampunk-themed photo (from Wikipedia)

A steampunk-themed photo (from Wikipedia)

Interview: Last 2 Weeks to see Canadian Idol star Steffi D @ Stage West

It’s not too late to catch former Canadian Idol star Steffi DiDomenicantonio (“16 letters, 8 syllables” – more pronounceably known as Steffi D – in Stage West’s first musical of the Fall season:  I Love You BecauseI spoke to Steffi  last month (and no, you’re not the first person to think she’s the spitting image of Liza Minnelli)  and here’s her take on the show and her experience at Stage West:
L: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get to Canadian Idol and Stage West from there?
S. I was born in Montreal and grew up in Ottawa. I was bitten by the stage bug very young – I’ve been taking singing, dancing and acting lessons and been involved in community theatre since I was eight years old.  Winning Canadian Idol in 2006 (season 4 of 6) when I was sixteen led to a two-year run with the Broadway North tour of Spring Awakening. After that I returned to Toronto to do some television and regional theatre. I auditioned for Stage West this past August and went right into rehearsals.
L: What can you tell us about your Canadian Idol experience?
CI might get a bad rap, but I have nothing but good things to say about it. It opened up different opportunities and created a following for me – people who care about what I’m doing and come see my shows because of that. On the other hand, they have very high expectations for my performances, having seen me on TV, so I feel the pressure . I don’t want to let my fans down.
L: This is your first time doing a show with Stage West. What’s that like?
S: It’s not just my first time with Stage West, it’s my first time in Calgary! And it’s been great. The crew is fantastic and the cast are well taken care of. Stage West knows a thing or two about hospitality and it shows, both back-stage and for the audience. Darcy Evans did a great job of directing (he directed the show for Angelwalk Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts last year) and the cast is first-rate.
L: What’s I Love You Because about?
S: I Love You Because is a musical about four friends – two couples – in New York City navigating through the turmoil of their relationships. My character, Marcy, is a bohemian, positive, and optimistic photographer who meets an uptight greeting card writer. Despite their differences, they fall in love. Adventure and mayhem ensue as they both realize they’ve fallen in love with the wrong person.
L: The show is supposed to be based on Pride and Prejudice? How closely does it follow that storyline?
S: Oh, it’s a pretty loose adaptation. I’d say it’s a little bit Jane Austen, and a lot TV’s Friends.
L: This is not one of the better-known musicals. What’s the appeal for you?
S: This is unlike any show I’ve ever done. It’s quirky and funny, with so much heart. Ryan Cunningham’s book [script] and lyrics are clever, and Joshua Salzman’s music is very catchy – contemporary, with a slight pop edge. There are lots of good toe-tappers. It had good success off-Broadway when it opened in 2006. But it’s got a more serious side. One of the major themes is about how scary it is to go into the unknown. That’s something I can relate to.
L: What’s next for you? 
I just finished a feature film by Serendipity Films called Stage Fright, with Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver that will be coming out soon.  (This is the same company that produced The Legend of Beaver Dam). It’s a horror musical about a snobby musical theatre camp that is terrorized by a blood-thirsty killer who hates musical theatre.  It’s campy in an Evil Dead  kind of way but also serious and scary. It was a lot of fun to do.  I also sing in a band called Good Together and continue to work in theatre.
If people want to follow me and my work, my YouTube Channel is SteffiD5 and my Twitter handle is @SteffiD3.
I Love You Because plays at Stage West Until November 10. For more information go to Their next show is Love Train: The Soul of Motown, which opens November 14.

Interview: Captain Louie Takes Flight for Hallowe’en @ Storybook

Captain Louie Cast, courtesy of Storybook Theatre

Captain Louie Cast, courtesy of Storybook Theatre

There aren’t a lot of Hallowe’en –themed musicals, so if you’re looking for something to get you into the spirit of the season (because it’s clear to me from the decor in my neighbourhood that Hallowe’en is more than just one night now), you might want to check out Storybook Theatre’s new production of Captain Louie, which opened this past weekend. Captain Louie is the story of a lonely teenager (played by Izaha Cochrane), who moves to a new neighbourhood and has trouble fitting in. He takes a flight of fancy to his old neighbourhood in his toy plane and meets up with his friends for Hallowe’en, thus learning the value of friendships, both old and new.

1394_10151928890617162_1812953014_n[1]I interviewed two cast members last week, Mollie-Risa Chapin (Roberta the Mouse) and CJ Moore (Amy the Broom) at the preview last week and asked them about their involvement in the show. Mollie-Risa is a recent graduate of the Theatre Arts programme at Central Memorial High School. She’s been involved with Storybook since 2010, having performed in Les Miserables and Camp Rock. CJ is a University student who’s performed with Storybook (Hairspray) and Morpheus Theatre since her days at Lord Beaverbook High School. Here’s what they had to say:

L: Why did you decide to audition for Captain Louie and what’s the appeal for you about the show and working with Storybook?Mollie-Risa Chapin 

M-R: I liked the story – especially its message about inclusivity. The music and lyrics (by Stephen Schwartz, of Wicked  and Godspell fame) are dynamic and very smart. Storybook is fun to work with and I’m always learning.

CJ Moore

CJ Moore

CJ: I love singing and dancing and am always look for opportunities to do that. I was attracted to Captain Louie when I heard JP (Thibodeau) was going to direct it – I like his style. There are a lot of things I could do with my spare time, but I want to keep growing as an actor, and Storybook enables me to do that.

L: What do you think audiences will like about Captain Louie?

M-R : It’s a cute story, and a great life lesson that will appeal to the entire family, especially younger people. Who hasn’t ever felt excluded from a circle of people and nervous about adjusting to a new environment? It’s very uplifting. You can’t help but leave the theatre feeling happy.

CJ: I agree. It’s a show both adults and children will enjoy. We’ve got a great cast and crew. Their passion for the theatre manifests itself on stage. Also, the Hallowe’en-themed costumes and set are terrific. We got lucky when one of the cast members’ mothers just happened to be a pumpkin-carving genius and had a collection of 200 of her own carved (plastic) pumpkins –  which are now an integral part of the set. [You can check out Storybook’s Facebook site for just a few samples – some of which I’ve posted here. LMC]

1005000_10151930579457162_405665665_n[1]L: Have there been any particularly funny or special moments for you in rehearsal?

M-R: The first day when they brought in the platform (catwalk) was pretty scary for me. I have an irrational fear of ladders, so it took me a while to get used to them, much to the amusement of the rest of the cast, if not for me.

CJ: You mean other than dancing with a two-foot pole on my head  (LOL)?  Seriously, it’s neat that we’ve got a wide age range of actors, from 11-22 (I’m the eldest). That’s kind of unique in theatre and it’s been interesting to see how we all work together.

1382388_10151932500467162_701969842_n[1]L: Having a theatre hobby can take a lot of time. What have you had to give up to devote yourself to Captain Louie?

M-R: I’m lucky, because I’m in my “gap year”, so don’t have the same work or school responsibilities as some of the other cast members. I work in retail, so I’ve been able to cut back my hours a bit, plus I pretty much give up all social liberties for the month of rehearsals.

CJ: I have a full course load in Geology at university, so I guess I mostly give up sleep :) – and I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a couple of weeks. When you’re working on a show, you’re basically in a different world than everyone else. The cast and crew become your “family”. Luckily this show had a short but intense rehearsal period.  It’s all-consuming when you’re doing it, but you know you’ll be able to get back to “normal” life soon enough, which helps you keep going. And what’s a little exhaustion among friends?

Captain Louie runs until November 2 at the Beddington Community Arts Centre. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students and seniors  – and only $12 for everyone on Tuesdays!  The show runs 55 minutes and is suitable for the whole family.

For more information go to

For a one-minute video preview go to Storybook’s Facebook site.

Captain Louie cast, courtesy of Storybook Theatre

Captain Louie cast, courtesy of Storybook Theatre

Fringe Preview: The Apple Kingdom

akpostergraphicEric Pettitfor’s The Apple Kingdom won the Outstanding Show prize (and a few others) at this year’s Calgary One-Act Festival, so one of the perks of that honour is a free spot at the Calgary Fringe Festival. It’s one of the few full-ensemble plays (5 characters and a chorus of goblins) at the Fringe and also one of the few shows that’s geared to children. Eric and his creative partner Amanda Elizabeth (Liz) Cutting disagree as to whether it’s suitable for ages 4 and up or 8 and up, but do agree that it’s a show that was written with adult enjoyment in mind as well.

The Apple Kingdom is a modern fairy tale about a young king who is king of … well, one tree and the bit of land that surrounds it. He is unhappy with his status so he goes to a not-completely-wicked witch who promises to make him more powerful in exchange for the king’s as-of-yet unconceived daughter’s heart when she turns 16. The witch needs this heart to turn into a skin cream to restore herself to her former beauty. The king, of course agrees to this bargain – only to regret it later when he in fact does have a beloved daughter. Enter the handsome prince who falls in love with the King’s daughter (because where there’s a princess…). Can the prince and his talking lizard sidekick foil the witch and save the princess, the king and the kingdom? You’ll have to see it to find out (but it’s a fairy tale, so you can probably guess).

Eric was born and raised in Calgary and worked in Vancouver from 1987 to 2011. The impetus for this show was a production he was involved in many years ago that was a satire on a fairy tale. “I thought it would be interesting to try to write a real fairy tale,” Eric explained, “But I didn’t want it to be too traditional. For example, I wanted a witch that wasn’t so one-dimensional, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other fairy tales with basketball in them.”

“The Apple Kingdom started as a full-length play that I wrote back in the ‘80’s.” says Eric, “but the music wasn’t written down and was completely lost. Liz convinced me to pick it up again for the One Act Play Festival”. Although Eric thought it was a crazy idea, he rose to the challenge and spent the month of February rewriting the music, writing new music and condensing the script. “Liz had more confidence in me than I had in myself,” Eric confessed, “and a lot of the credit goes to Charlotte Loeppky, who did the arranging. I’m delighted with how well it came together in the end.”

The show’s been so successful  they’ve been invited to mount the show at Fort McMurray’s InterPLAY Festival in August, which means they’ve had to bring in a second cast just for that. They also have some touring options in the works.

Eric says that like every fairy tale, there’s a moral. “The closest I can come is a quote by Kurt Vonnegut,” says Eric, “that what the world needs is a little less love, and a little more common decency.”

The Apple Kingdom plays on August 5, 6, 8 and 10 at the Alexandra Centre Society and is produced by Artists’ Collective Theatre. It runs 60 minutes and is suitable for a general audience. Tickets are $12. For schedules and tickets go to

Fringe Preview: La Cravate Bleue


La Cravate Bleue – a play completely in French at the Calgary Fringe Festival? “Pourquoi pas?” says Montréal-based creator and performer Jean-François (JF) Plante-Tan. “What a lot of people don’t know is that there are over 300,000 people in Alberta who speak French whether as a first or second language – and they’re dying to see French theatre. I think there will be a lot of interest.”

JF is taking his one man musical on a 5-city Fringe tour including stops in Montréal (St-Ambroise Fringe Festival), Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver. “In addition to being my first Fringe, I’ve never been west of Toronto before,” says JF, “so this is all a big adventure for me.” It’s also an adventure for the Fringe, which has never before hosted a play in French (or in any language other than English, as far as I know).

La Cravate Bleue is the story of a young man who aspires to be a musician but he is  metaphorically tied (by the cravate) to his desk job because he needs to make a living. His tie is blue because he has “Les Blues du Businessman” [allusions to my favourite Quebec musical Starmania? LMC]. Should he quit his job and leave his girlfriend to go to New York or keep plodding away at a job he hates? JF says the play explores, through comedy music, and yes, tap dancing, the reasons for working. “Is it just for money, or to realize a dream?” he ponders. “Even if you don’t understand French, you’ll be able to relate to the character and his emotional struggle. Who hasn’t had a day when they hated their work or their boss and felt like quitting or wondered if there was a better use for their talents?”

JF has always had an interest in music, but studied architecture and urban planning at CEGEP (college) and university. He continued composing while in school and with the encouragement of his friends, who thought his music sounded like film scores, decided to try his hand at writing a musical. “This creative process, the production, the marketing  – all of it is all new to me,” JF says, “I even bought a pair of claquettes (tap dancing shoes) and taught myself to tap dance in 10 days”. The only thing that isn’t new, he says is the ideas: “I’ve always been full of ideas… and dreams.”

JF says he is excited to be in Calgary performing La Cravate Bleue for a primarily anglophone audience. “The show did really well in Montreal,” JF said, “People loved it. Even my friends were surprised at my range of emotions. I’m usually a pretty easy-going guy, so for them to see me cry and be upset and get mad, was different for them – and for me too”.  He also says he’s very happy with the venue and the support of the festival organizing committee. “Everyone’s been really good to me, “ he says, “I feel very welcome here.”

JF says that although the French aspect will be a draw for some, don’t let that put you off if that language is not your forte. “It’s a musical, after all,” he points out, “you can still enjoy it even if all you get is the singing, dancing and great music.”

La Cravate Bleue plays August 5, 6, 9 & 10 in the Lantern Church Sanctuary. It runs for 45 minutes and is suitable for a general audience. For more information, schedule and tickets, go to You can also check out JF’s website at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Fringe Preview: More Power to Your Knitting, Nell!

Knitting2Melanie Gall hates knitting. So how did she come to tour the world with her one-woman musical called More Power to Your Knitting, Nell?  – currently playing at the Calgary Fringe Festival? “My sister Deborah is a big knitter, and together we started a podcast about knitting which became a big thing. People started writing in and telling us about all these humorous knitting songs from World War I and II,” she explained. “I started looking into them, and became a bit of a collector. Once I got over a hundred, I decided to put them together to form a show.”

Melanie is a New York- based classical singer, originally from Edmonton. She sings with opera companies all over the world, and has just come from a tour of the Czech Republic and performances for the Canadian Embassy in Luxembourg, and 4th of July ceremonies in Milan and Bratislava. “I even got a chance to perform this show at the National Museum of Military History in Luxembourg where the Battle of the Bulge was fought,” says Melanie. “It gave me shivers.”

This summer, Melanie is also performing at the  Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe Festivals and The Swift Current Chautauqua. “ I first performed at the Edmonton Fringe four years ago and now consider the Fringe circuit my summer vacation,” she explains. “It’s a break from my usual repertoire and a chance for me to perform my own work.” She didn’t make it into the Calgary Fringe Festival lottery this year and wasn’t planning to come, until she was offered a Bring-Your-Own Venue spot at the Stash Needle Art Lounge. “I’ve never done the show in a knitting store,” she said, “so I couldn’t resist the opportunity.”

More Power to Your Knitting Nell! is the story of Sadie Goldstein, an aspiring singer who lands a dream job job singing on the radio during World War II in support of the war effort. The only problem is … she hates knitting!

“The story of wartime knitting music in the US is fascinating,” says Melanie. “It started with a Red Cross campaign in World War I to get women to “Knit Your Bit” to replenish their stock of knit goods for soldiers. Tin Pan Alley composers started writing songs about knitting as a way to cash in on this trend. Then in World War II, the government offered composers military deferments to composers who wrote songs about war, in order to promote patriotism and knitting songs really took off.”

Melanie says the songs are from the 1916-1945 period, and are mostly American with some Canadian, British, French and Australian songs thrown in. “They are basically propaganda songs,” she says, “and there a lot of marches!”  She says the songs are cute and still quite funny – even if you’re not into knitting (although if you are, apparently knitting humour hasn’t changed much over the years, and there are lots of in-jokes only knitters will appreciate).  She’s also included some popular songs from that era that people are more likely to know (“We’ll Meet Again”, “Autumn Leaves,” “Stardust,” and the like).

Melanie says people should come to the show because it’s a cute, family-friendly show about love and war and it’s gotten great reviews (Best Solo Show (Orlando Fringe), and Most Outstanding Performance (London Fringe Festival)).  [Melanie didn’t happen to mention she’s a great singer, but I’ve heard her music via the links shown below and as you might expect from her resume, I can assure you she’s no slouch in that department. LMC]. “And did I mention you can bring your own knitting? ” she added.

So does Melanie still hate knitting? “Well, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a big knitter,” she says, “but through music, my podcast and this show it sure has become a big part of my life.”

More Power to Your Knitting, Nell! is produced by Sisterscene/Savvygirls  and plays at the Stash Needle Art Lounge (1B, 1215 – 13 Street SE) nightly at 7PM or 9PM until August 10th. Tickets are $15.

For more information and tickets go to Calgary Fringe Festival. You may also want to check out Melanie’s website  (including a YouTube preview of the show) and her popular savvygirls knitting podcast. She’s also put together her first CD of knitting songs, which you can purchase/hear at Knitting All the Day.

Melanie Gall will be taking another show, The $50 a Night Girl  (a musical about female Tin Pan Alley composers) to the Edmonton Fringe Festival next week.

Fringe Review: Nashville Hurricane (and a hint of 6 Guitars)

Q4BKyE9B-iJWd3QRXZN0jk97cLzm50ZSyFS76jfa7RkChase Padgett’s newest show, Nashville Hurricane, opened Friday night to a nearlyfull house at the Calgary Fringe Festival – something that’s pretty amazing by Fringe standards, which usually depend on word-of-mouth and reviews to bring in the crowds, especially on the opening long weekend. Much of that credit goes to the success Chase had with his previous sell-out show from 2 years ago, 6 Guitars. (He was here last year with The Bro Show, which was also popular but not quite as critically acclaimed, and did one performance of 6 Guitars at the end of the Fringe). It probably didn’t hurt that 6 Guitars was also the best-selling show at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this year.

Nashville Hurricane is a return to the Chase Padgett “brand” in which he plays multiple characters telling stories against a musical backdrop and is co-written with and directed by Jay Hopkins. It is the story of Henry – a shy, geeky, technical and musical genius born of a one-night-stand to a trailer park woman of dubious motherly qualities. After reluctantly appearing in a talent show to help his mother pay the rent, he is “discovered” and pushed to stardom by the unscrupulous, fast-talking “Smoky Joe” and then just as suddenly, he mysteriously abandons fame and fortune for life as the roadie of a blues man (a return appearance of Tyrone from 6 Guitars).

Chase tells the story in a non-linear fashion from the perspective of all four characters and his performance is nothing short of mesmerizing as he weaves from one to the next, forward and backward in time. Compared to his earlier shows, Nashville Hurricane is definitely more theatrical with a lot more narrative. There are lots of laughs and some poignant moments in this show and Chase’s sense of comedic timing is brilliant. Probably the only disappointment is that there is not much of his virtuoso guitar playing, although the two featured songs (“Amazing Grace” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), are, in Chase’s own words, “doozies”.

Chase hails from Florida and is currently living in Los Angeles. Up until 2010, when 6 Guitars gook the Orlando Fringe Festival by storm, Chase did a variety of work in theatre and music, including stints at Florida theme parks (he is from Orlando, after all). He says Nashville Hurricane is an extreme version of his own musical journey. “I first picked up the guitar at the age of 16, having gotten bored with the trumpet,” he said. “I played for hours and hours, teaching myself to play by ear, just like Henry. This led me to studying music at University of Central Florida and taking improv classes, which I just loved. That, in turn, led me to write 6 Guitars.”

yadpkCm4mWamYtFNKNt3A-DhaHQ1N_Xg_v4-quvhEmc“6 Guitars changed my life, “ he said. “I’m now kind of a professional hobo, spending summers in Canada, and focusing on touring at bring-your-own venue opportunities and the North American Fringe circuit.” He says he’s learned so much about every aspect of the theatre business as a result of his Fringe experience, since you have to do everything yourself – from performing to administration to technical production to marketing. “I can recommend it to any young performer who isn’t afraid to be flexible, persevere, and just plain figure it out,” he says. “I call it an “on-your-feet” apprenticeship”.

Chase also really appreciates the camaraderie that comes from performers who do the circuit, who are a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. “I’ve also learned never to take the audience for granted, because you just never know with the Fringe,” says Chase, “One night you may have two people and the next night you may have a full house. I am always filled with a sense of gratitude when people show up and like my show. If I am ever wildly successful  – as I hope to be some day – I will have my Fringe Festival audiences to thank for that.”

Both performances on Friday and Saturday night have gotten standing ovations and positive critical reviews. You can add my voice to those that insist that Nashville Hurricane should be on everyone’s “must-see” list at the Calgary Fringe Festival this year. Chase says he may extend the show in future by adding more music, something I think his (music-loving) fans will welcome.

Nashville Hurricane plays at the DaDe Art & Design Lab at 7:15 or 9:15 PM every night until August 10th, with the exception of Wednesday August 7th).   You’ll really want to consider getting tickets online for this one, as the show is sure to be popular. They hold back a percentage of tickets for purchase on site the day of the show, but go early in the day if you don’t want to miss out.

For those, like me, who have yet to see 6 Guitars, Chase will be doing a one night only performance on Tuesday August 6 at the DaDe Art Lounge at 9:15PM. On-line ticket sales are already closed, so you’ll need to go early to get a chance of same-day tickets on-site.

For more information and tickets on both shows, go to Calgary Fringe Festival. You may also be interested in checking out Chase’s 6 Guitars website.

If you miss him here, or can’t get enough, Chase is also performing Nashville Hurricane at the Edmonton Fringe Festival next week and he’s doing 6 Guitars in Vancouver after that. Then he’ll be back in Calgary playing guitar and keyboard with Orlando’s SAK Comedy Lab at the Calgary Improv Festival.

Fringe Review: Beethoven Rolls Over

2KzsFv7cughUdzguD9Z1p6IuBiJxojHhSa9cN-JSO6wI kicked off the 2013 Calgary Fringe Festival in style with a lovely dinner, a couple of glasses of $5 Sangria and some terrific guitar music, courtesy of Vancouver’s   “global guitarist” Colin Godbout who premiered his one man musical, Beethoven Rolls Over at Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro on Friday night. This is a return to Calgary for Colin, who impressed audiences at last year’s Fringe with his 2 to Django in the same venue.

The show is more music/cabaret than theatre and is divided into four themes: Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved (a reflection on Beethoven’s love for a woman he only referred to by that name), Romantic and Heroic Beethoven (in which Mozart and Goethe feature prominently), Afrocentric and Feminist Beethoven (who’d have guessed?), and Joni (Mitchell)’s Ludwig. “Joni Mitchell considers Beethoven one of her heroes”, explains Colin, “and has been described by friends as Beethoven in drag”.

While Beethoven’s music (often with other’s lyrics, including some of Colin’s own) is the glue that holds the show together, there’s also some of Colin’s trademark blues, jazz, and flamenco thrown in for good measure.  Much of the music will be familiar to people with only a passing knowledge of the classics. I can assure you that hearing Colin play Beethoven’s “Flatted” Fifth on the guitar is quite the treat. Although some people might find the instrument an odd choice for such music, Colin says Beethoven himself played the guitar (considering it a mini-orchestra) and wrote music for mandolin.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Colin – or rather, he sat down at our table while he warmed up on the guitar  – before the show. He was more than a little nervous, since he hadn’t performed this show in public before. (He’s doing the Fringe circuit this year with three different shows).   “I actually wrote Beethoven Rolls Over with this venue in mind,” he said. “Jacqueline Suzanne’s has a kind of “Orient Express” feel to it, and I find Calgary audiences are quite sophisticated, so that allows me to explore musical concepts that don’t work elsewhere.”

Colin studied music, theology and metaphysics in university and that cerebral intelligence comes across in his programme, his speech and the short monologues throughout the performance. Much of what he said was over my head, and I could not do justice to it by attempting to capture it here, but it was fascinating to listen to his explanations about the meaning behind different chords and musical patterns and the parallels between Beethoven and Chuck Berry, for example. Even so, Colin’s playing speaks for itself and you can enjoy his performance for its own sake, even if you aren’t a philosopher or academic.

The Friday audience got an added bonus when Colin finished earlier than expected, resulting in him having to do some quick improvising, throwing in a Joni Mitchell medley he’d used in his Winnipeg show and some poetry by Milton that rounded off the programme nicely. I’m sure the show will continue to evolve as he settles into it over the course of the week, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if every audience sees and hears something a little different. And isn’t that what the Fringe is all about?

Beethoven Rolls Over plays from 7PM to 8PM every night of the Fringe Festival at Jacqueline Suzanne’s Bistro, plus he is doing an extra performance after the Fringe on Sunday August 11. Tickets are $12, and you should consider buying online in advance to ensure you get a spot as it’s a small space and likely to be popular. If you want to go early and have dinner, make a reservation at the restaurant in advance. If you miss Colin here or want to see more of him, you can catch him at the Edmonton Fringe Festival next week, where he is doing another  show called Canuck Quixote.

For more information on Colin go to his website.

Go to Calgary Fringe Festival for tickets and more information on the festival.

[I know I said I wasn’t going to do any Fringe reviews this year, but since I didn’t get my articles posted beforehand, I figure I might as well write reviews of the two shows I saw on Friday night – Beethoven Rolls Over and Nashville Hurricane (spoiler alert- LOVED IT!) – and then I’ll get the rest of my previews up over the course of the next few days. I’m taking a couple of days off and will be back seeing more shows on Monday!]

Uptown Country Girls Kick Off Stampede in (Calgary) Style @ Stage West

Uptown Country Girls (and boys) "Getting Over It." Photo courtesy of Stage West

Uptown Country Girls (and boys) “Getting Over It.” Photo courtesy of Stage West

Stage West kicks off Stampede in style with Uptown Country Girls, a celebration of the music of some of our generation’s great female country music stars. I spoke to director and choreographer Tim French (who co-created the revue with Executive Producer Howard Pechet), earlier this week and here’s what he had to say about himself and the show.

Tim was born and raised in Toronto and got into musical theatre through dance. “I knew I wanted to dance from the time I was young”, he said, “but I didn’t start until the end of high school.” He was fortunate enough to get into former prima ballerina Lois Smith’s school (affiliated with Toronto’s George Brown College), for free since they were hard-up for male dancers. He then went to the National Ballet School where he studied ballet, pas-de-deux, Spanish and modern dance. “It was a bit strange dancing with everyone from 9-year-olds attending the regular high school to graduating dancers,” says Tim, “but it was a great experience which ultimately led me to Les Ballet Jazz and a few years of commercial work in Montreal on stage, in night clubs and television”.

Tim French

Tim French

“I loved Montreal”, says Tim, “but I knew my heart was in musical theatre and that if I wanted to pursue that, I’d have to go elsewhere”.  He joined the Banff musical theatre programme in the early eighties and got his first professional job as a dancer in the original Canadian touring company of Cats in the ensemble (Alonzo). That’s also where he also got his first taste of choreography, when he was promoted to dance captain (the person who learns all the steps and supports the choreographer in rehearsing dance numbers with the cast). After that he moved into their Resident Director role (“kind of like the Artistic Director of a regular theatre company”, he explains), where he worked on all the big Broadway touring shows.  From there he spent 5 years as a performer and associate director and choreographer with Brian Macdonald at the Stratford Festival.

“I was in my thirties at that time, and figured I had to start facing the fact that my dancing days were numbered,” says Tim, “so I started doing choreography and directing, which is mostly what I do now”. His first professional opportunity in that arena was for The Music Man for Edmonton’s The Citadel Theatre. “I actually thought I would continue dancing for much longer”, says Tim, “but I got more opportunities to work as a choreographer and director, so my career moved in that direction. It actually is a better fit for my personality. I still get the thrill of dancing as I design and demonstrate all the moves, but also get to work on integrating dance into story.”

Tim got involved with Stage West many years ago, first as a performer in their Mississauga (Toronto) theatre production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. He was later invited to help co-create one of the many revues for which Stage West is famous, Music for the Millennium, a tribute to the music of the 20th Century. Since then, he’s typically co-created and/or or directed/choreographed one revue a year for Stage West. Previous examples include Motown Gold, Love Train, Canadian Explosion and last year’s Two Hit Wonders (a sequel to his previous One Hit Wonders, of course) and Roger Bean’s The Marvelous Wonderettes.  

“Revues are a challenge because they don’t have a script or a plot,” says Tim, “but instead are a series of songs that must be portrayed in an entertaining way.” I asked Tim how they choose what music to include. “The process we used for Uptown Country Girls is pretty typical”, says Tim. “First Howard and I did the research on the top 20 or so artists based on record sales, #1 hits (Billboard and Country), Grammy awards, Platinum and Gold record sales, and top singles. Then we took this list and narrowed it down to 50-70 that we wanted to keep”. Tim says the the key criteria are how well-known they are to the audience and how well they can come across on stage. “That was a bit more of a challenge with this show”, Tim explained, “because country music doesn’t often naturally feature movement, say, the way Motown does.”

With the list of songs in hand, they next decide how to structure the show. Sometimes songs are grouped by artist, chronology, or type of music, for example. In Uptown Country Girls they looked at the music and what it said and it led them to group songs by theme (Looking for Mr. Right, A Love Gone Bad, Mr. Wrong, Revenge, etc.). “Dolly Parton and Anne Murray were prolific and interesting enough that they just had to get their own set,” says Tim, “and we also went for a grouping called Classic Country/Grand Old Opry featuring Loretta Lynne, Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline.”

“Once we’ve got the show together, we then have to find versatile singers who can cover the voice and style of a variety of artists,” says Tim. “Because revues appeal to peoples’ sense of nostalgia, we want the songs to sound like what the fan’s ear is accustomed to. Our goal is to remain faithful to the original music and artists without doing out-and-out imitations. Since it’s a small cast of five women and two men (the latter of whom who sing back-up harmonies and duets) who have to sing 65 songs in the course of a couple of hours, everyone has to be top-notch”.

Because Stage West’s theatres are in Calgary and Toronto (their Mississauga theatre just announced its closure last week, I was surprised to discover) and people come from all over the country to audition, Stage West has a big pool to draw from and there are also usually some Calgarians in the cast. Uptown Country Girls’ Calgarians are Amber Bissonnette (seen last year in The Marvelous Wonderettes and Evil Dead The Musical) and JP Thibodeau (recently seen in The Last 5 Years and If I Weren’t With You and last year’s Avenue Q).

“We chose the Uptown Country Girls theme, because, despite its Alberta roots, Stage West has never done a country music show”, says Tim. “It was an obvious choice for the summer production in Calgary, with the Stampede and everything.” Tim says they focussed on women instead of the whole genre, not just because there would be too much music to choose from, but “because in the last twenty years, women have come to the forefront and become a major force in country music, which makes for a really exciting stage show, especially when you throw in a live band, lighting, costumes, and the lot. It’s a show any fan of contemporary or classic country music is sure to enjoy.”

Uptown County Girls runs through July and August. Regular ticket prices range from $69 to $105 + GST ($59 for Seniors on Wednesdays) and  include a buffet dinner. For more information go to Stage West.

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