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Archive for the tag “storybook theatre”

March Musicals in Calgary

March is sure coming in like a lion with some bitter cold temperatures in yyc. You COULD hunker down in front of the tube, but why not get off the couch and out to the theatre instead? We’ve got a few new musicals opening, along with Elvis, who’s still hanging in there, of course :). For information and tickets for any of the following shows, go to the links for each company.

If you’re looking for people with whom to go to shows, check out the Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group, that I also run. We go to most musicals as well as a number of other events that interest our members.

Opening in March

Read more…

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 http://www.storybooktheatre.org.

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 www.storybooktheatre.org.

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

Preview: Freckleface Strawberry Spotted at Storybook

Cast of Freckleface Strawberry courtesy of Storybook Theatre

Cast of Freckleface Strawberry courtesy of Storybook Theatre (L-R: Shelby Leiding, Sue Gray, Lucas Seeger, Jill Bauer, Logan Teske, Justine Westby, Hannah Kerbes)

Storybook Theatre’s current show in their “Cookie Cabaret” series for ages 3-6 is Freckleface Strawberry The Musical, which is based on the children’s books of the same name.  It just opened this weekend, and I went on Friday (opening) night.  With mutually busy schedules this week, I wasn’t able to arrange an interview with the production team, but I just happened to sit beside the director and musical director/choreographer/set designer, Kathryn and Hal Kerbes and grabbed a few minutes after the show with an enthusiastic but exhausted Artistic and Executive Director JP Thibodeau (fresh from TWO productions of If I Weren’t With You at Lunchbox Theatre, in which he is starring), so have gleaned a few insights from them, as well as from my own viewing of the show, with additional help from the programme notes.

While I wasn’t familiar with the Freckleface Strawberry series or musical, it’s very popular with young children, or so I hear. Freckleface Strawberry is a seven-year-old girl who is teased by her playmates because of her freckles (who appear to her in a nightmare), much to her shame. She tries to make them disappear and even shows up to school in a mask in an effort to hide them, only to realize that she’s different – just like everyone else - and her schoolmates really like her after all. The show is heavy on music with 19 songs in 55 minutes.  With songs like “I Can Be Anything,” “I Want to Be Like Them,” “Lonely Girl, ” and “When You’ve Got Friends, the story attempts to show kids that the things they think are important when they are young – like looks - aren’t such a big deal when they’re older, and in the end it’s important to accept yourself as you are (ironically, the same message as The Rocky Horror Show, which just closed this weekend – to a vastly different audience than the Storybook crowd, I’m sure ;) ).

The cast includes Jill Bauer in the role of Freckleface Strawberry (recently seen in Central Memorial High School’s Beauty and the Beast, and performing in their upcoming production of Thoroughly Modern Millie), as well as Sue Gray, Hanna Kerbes (recently seen in Pinkalicious The Musical), Shelby Leiding (recently seen in Assassins - in my review of that show I noted I would have liked to have heard more from her, and I’m glad I finally did), Lucas Seeger, Logan Teske, and Jane Westby. All of these are emerging actors from the Calgary area.

Storybook is following on a recent trend of bringing in local theatre professionals to direct their shows in order to “up their game” and give their typically young casts quality coaching. Their last show, Camp Rock was directed by well-known Calgary actor-singer Tory Doctor (recently seen in Cats and Jeremy de Bergerac , the latter of which is now known as Crossing Swords for its New York Musical Theatre Festival premiere this summer). For Freckleface Strawberry, they brought in the experienced duo of Kathryn Kerbes (direction) and Hal Kerbes (musical direction, choreography and set design). Kathryn and Hal have a long history with the Calgary professional and community musical theatre scene, having directed or acted in shows at Vertigo, Stage West, Theatre Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects and the like. They also have a Storybook connection in that Hal directed and choreographed their 2011 production of Annie, and Kathryn has been teaching theatre classes there since 2011.  Hal is a recipient of the Greg Bond award for contribution to musical theatre in Calgary and both he and Kathryn received the Martha Cohen Award for sustained and significant contribution to theatre in Calgary, primarily related to their work with Stage West for Kids (1988-2008). JP Thibodeau says that Storybook considers itself fortunate to have been able to bring such a pair on board to work on this show, and hopes to continue to do more of this type of thing in future.

Freckleface Strawberry The Musical runs until April 21 at Storybook’s new space in Beddington. Tickets are $14-16. They’re currently running a promotion of $10 tickets for Wednesday and Thursday shows if booked by April 15. For more information go to Storybook Theatre.

Preview: It’s Summer at Storybook with Camp Rock

event_189697302.jpegI’ve been asleep at the switch for this one – I knew it was coming, and even posted it on my milestones, but it’s been so quiet lately, I forgot I hadn’t contacted Storybook for an interview or written an article. I happened to sneak a peak at a rehearsal when I was at the theatre for Rapunzel and think this one could be more interesting than I’d originally thought – and it has a huge cast, which is always fun. You can hear the music on publisher MTI’s website, to get a sense of it.

Here’s what the Storybook website has to say:

Based on the hit Disney Channel Original Movies Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (starring teen idols Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers) will fire up your stage with over a dozen songs, including “This Is Me,” “Can’t Back Down,” “It’s On,” and “We Rock.”  A classic story of rivalry and power, Disney’s CAMP ROCK: The Musical opens with Mitchie and her friends arriving at Camp Rock, ready to spend another summer jamming out and having the time of their lives. But the new, flashy Camp Star across the lake now threatens Camp Rock’s very existence. To keep the doors open, Mitchie steps up, rallies her fellow Camp Rockers, and gets them into top shape for the ultimate showdown

155969_10151467092527162_736750368_n

Storybook’s Camp Rock Cast, Courtesy of Storybook Theatre (OK, I stole it from their Facebook page, but I’m sure they won’t mind)

Camp Rock runs Wednesday to Sunday at Storybook’s new theatre in Beddington from March 1 to March 17. It’s suitable for age 8 and up. For more information, go to Storybook Theatre. Tickets are $12-$26. The Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group is going on Wednesday March 13, if you’d like to join us.

Reviews: From Aladdin to White Christmas – ending 2012 with a bang, not a whimper


AladdinPoster

Well, I finished off 2012 with a bang, not a whimper, with four shows in two days on Friday and Saturday – I don’t think I’ve done a blitz like that other than the Fringe Festival . Two of these, Conni Massing’s Oh, Christmas Tree at Lunchbox Theatre, and Theatre Calgary’s  annual production of A Christmas Carol (by Charles Dickens, of course), wouldn’t be called musicals, unless you count the carolling (and you could, if you were so inclined). These were terrific shows and I’d recommend them both – apparently so have others, as the latter is sold out and the former is getting there.

One of the two musicals I saw was Storybook Theatre’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at their new theatre in Beddington. That sounds really far, but it was only a 15 minute drive from my place in the inner city – no more than it takes to get to their former space at Currie Barracks (or the Epcor Centre, if you consider taking time for parking). That show just finished yesterday, so I’m not doing a full-fledged review here. I will be adjudicating it for Calgary-Acts, so I can get my judging needs met that way :). Suffice to say, that it was a great performance by all leads and chorus with lots of great singing and dancing, and the set and staging were top-notch. I don’t think White Christmas will go on my list of favourite musicals of all time (my tastes in music are a little more contemporary), and I had some quibbles with sound and smoke (!), but it was a pleasant enough show, and well done. It sold out fairly early in the run as well.

I had a free night on Friday and wanted to celebrate my last day of work before the holidays, so I squeezed in a visit to the Pumphouse to see Morpheus Theatre’s Aladdin, a pantomime, by Damian Trasler, David Lovesy, Steve Clark and John Dowell. I have to thank Derek, one of the followers of this blog, for directing me to this one. I thought a pantomime was a show without words and music (and definitely not my thing), so didn’t consider it on my original programme. What I didn’t know is that pantomime or “panto” as it’s colloquially called, is a long-standing British Christmas tradition for all ages, kind of like a vaudeville show, with corny jokes, several songs (either popular songs or familiar tunes with new lyrics) and lots of audience participation. For obvious reasons, it’s popular with community theatre companies like Morpheus, which is also known for its annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta in the spring (2013′s show is the Gondoliers). I believe this is the only one done in Calgary. The young kids in particular enjoyed being able to boo the villain AbanaZER (Steve Hansen Smythe) and cheer on the hero, Aladdin (Alicia Pagnotta) of magic lamp fame. And yes, there were lots of Brits in the audience with grandchildren in tow.

This isn’t quite the Disney version of this fable, although the story will be familiar to young and old alike. Its first recorded performance was in London in 1788, but it’s not dated – there are lots of contemporary references to keep it fresh and funny, and even a great rap song by Princess Jasmine (Maria Fernandez) and her assistant So-Shi (not Sushi!), played by Erica Ho. Curiously, it’s set in China, not Arabia, and centres around the Widow Twankey (a cross-dressing David Young) who runs a Peking (Beijing) laundry and is the mother of Aladdin and his not-so-bright, insecure brother Wishee-Washee (Ryan Patterson). This should give you a bit of an idea of the kind of humour you might expect here.

The cast, directed by Jane Phillips Taylor (musical direction by Graham Wrightson and choreography by Terry Wood) was fine on all fronts – singing, dancing and acting – although without mikes, it was sometimes hard to hear the singers. I enjoyed all the leads, especially veterans Dorie Wrightson (Slave of the Ring) and Gary Silberg (Genie of the Lamp). Special mention must be given to young Matthew Baxter as Mini-Wishee, who was adorable and did a fine job keeping up with the grownups on the dance steps.

All in all, not high art, but a thoroughly silly and engaging evening.

Aladdin, A Pantomime is playing at the Pumphouse Theatre until Dec 22. Tickets are $20 regular, $15 for seniors and students. For more information go to Morpheus Theatre. If you’re looking for someone to go with, The Calgary Musicals+ Meetup Group is going on Thursday December 20.

Storybook To Have A White Christmas in its New Home

This from the Storybook Theatre newsletter … sorry they had to move, but looking forward to seeing what the new space has to offer.

Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre
375 Bermuda Drive NW  Calgary, AB  T3K 2J5

We’ve Moved!!!

The big news for Storybook this summer is our move to our new permanent home at the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre.  Five years in the making, this move finally addresses the need for a new facility, as we have known for some time that our current building is scheduled for demolition, to make way for condominiums. As of July 1st, we have signed a 15 year lease with the City of Calgary to operate this facility in partnership with Front Row Centre Players.

In addition to having a new home, we are bringing sustainability to some fantastic existing community programs like the Before and After School Program, Beddington Heights Community Association, and numerous other diverse community activities.  This partnership between arts and recreational groups is unique to Calgary, and we hope to set an example for the strength of this model, that can be applied to other struggling facilities.

It will take some time to renovate and revitalize, but over the next couple of years we expect to have a far superior facility then we had at the Currie barracks. There is more parking, larger rooms, it’s cleaner, and really easy to get to.  It sits directly on the number 3 bus route, and if you are driving, it’s easy to get there from Beddington Trail, Deerfoot Trail, Centre Street North, 14th Street North and Crowchild Trail.  If you are skeptical about the drive, we ask you to try it once, and see for yourself. It’s very accessible.

In addition to a new, larger theatre space, we’re creating new rehearsal spaces and other resources to help improve our own programming.  For example, the new theatre has air conditioning, which will be welcome to anyone who has sat through a performance on a hot afternoon in the Easterbrook or Pumphouse Theatres.  All of our shows for the 2012/13 season will be performed in the new theatre at Beddington Heights.

2012/13 Season Announcement

Speaking of the season, tickets will go on sale September 15th, 2012 and we have some great shows planned for you!  Due to the move, we’ve had to shorten our season somewhat this year, and so rather than presenting two separate fall shows, we’re presenting one grand Christmas Musical which will be part of both the Cabaret and Adventure season ticket packages.  So each season will include the Christmas show plus two other shows in the Winter and Spring.  Detailed season information will be posted and emailed to you in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s a teaser of our first show:

Inline image 1
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
November 23 – December 16, 2012
Audition: Sep 5 – 9, 2012  (Audition sign-up forms will be posted soon)

2012/13 Theatre School – Registration is now open

Registration is now open for FALL, WINTER, SPRING and SUMMER Theatre School sessions, which will now be taking place at the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre.  For more information and to register, please visit: http://www.storybooktheatre.org/theatre-camps

ATP’s 2012-13 Launch: ‘Tis the Season, Charlie Brown

Well, it’s spring, and that’s when artistic directors, and more importantly producers, turn to thoughts of … releasing next season’s programme in order to try to entice subscribers before they lose them for the summer. Fast on the heels of Front Row Centre’s launch this past weekend, Alberta Theatre Projects came out with its 2012-2013 season programme on Monday.  Just like last year, ATP are doing a family musical in November/December.  As George Smith and Walt Disney and apparently ATP Artistic Director Vanessa Porteous know, kids like music.  And I, for one, am glad they change it up every year.  I mean, do you really have to see A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker EVERY year, as good as they might be, when there are so many great shows out there?

2012′s holiday show is the 1967 musical comedy, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the Peanuts comic strip (as if I needed to tell you).  I really like this show and the music. I’d say it has a kind of Anne of Green Gables feel to it – not flashy, but definitely a “feel-good” musical.  The show gets produced a fair bit (it was done by Front Row Centre in 1993 and Storybook Theatre in 2010, for example), and is a staple of school and community groups because of its small, young cast, family-friendly theme and easy staging.  I first saw it at Acadia University in the late 70’s, with campus funnyman Ron James (now well known to CBC radio and TV audiences) in the title role of Charlie Brown. And yes, we knew he had a special talent even then. I’m glad he’s been able to make a living doing what he does best – make people laugh.

ATP has also included a sort-of-musical in the 2013 annual PlayRites Festival. The God That Comes, by Canadians Christian Barry (2b theatre company in Halifax) and Juno award winner Hawksley Workman, “fuses the chaotic revelry of a rock concert with the captivating intimacy of theatre”.  A contemporary take on the Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, it’s not a story most people are going to know (this is where Wiki really comes in handy), and it’ll be interesting to see how well it’s received.  Like 2012′s Ash Rizin, a show like this has the potential to draw younger people and non-traditional audiences to the theatre, which is always a good thing, even if they do want to tweet during performances :(.  It’s not the kind of show I would normally seek out, but I’m curious enough to give it a chance, which is what PlayRites is all about.

Although of course I’d love to see Alberta Theatre Projects do more musicals, if they’re only going to do two, I think they’ve made a couple of good choices for 2012-2013, and I am looking forward to both.

For more information and descriptions of all the shows (even the non-musicals!), go to Alberta Theatre Projects

Q&A with … George Smith (Storybook Theatre)

George Smith LOL'ing

This is the third in a series of monthly interviews (this one in writing with only minor edits from me, to give credit where credit is due) with some of the movers and shakers in the Calgary Musical Theatre scene.  George Smith is Executive and Artistic Director of Storybook Theatre.

Storybook Theatre is well known to Calgary community theatre audiences. What can you tell us about the company and your involvement?  What makes Storybook unique?

I’ll answer those in reverse order.  Storybook is unique because its primary mandate is to create opportunities for young people, and we try to do that in a way that allows the whole family to participate and enjoy the process together.  We’ve got four ways families can participate.  The easiest way to start is to become a supporter and buy a ticket to a show to see what it’s all about.  Then there is volunteering behind the scenes in areas like ushering, crew, supervision, fundraising and board duties.  If you’ve got the itch, the third way is to explore your creative side by acting or taking a production role and help make a show!  Then lastly, if you are not quite ready to dive into a whole show, and just want to put your toes in the water, we’ve got a great year-round theatre camp opportunity, where kids can learn all the basics of acting, singing and dancing, while producing their own mini-shows which they get to perform on our main stage for family and friends. Usually families participate in multiple areas and in doing so, find a common interest in community theatre that they can share together, and enjoy for years to come.

As for my involvement, well, you might have guessed that I started as a volunteer. I began in 1997, and then I joined the board as President in 2009 because the company had fallen on hard times in the recession, and I didn’t want to see it disappear.  We had to drastically cut staff and so I also volunteered as the interim General Manager during that period, so my days were pretty full.  Thankfully, I got a lot of help from other Storybook Alumni, family and friends in the community, and together we got it turned around and back in the black, as they say.  Then in 2011, I decided to step down from the board and apply for the position of Executive and Artistic Director, because that was where I felt I could make the most impact moving forward.  Oh, and after volunteering for two years I needed a paying job… LOL

You’ve got a few different series, targeted at different audiences. What are they?

The original product is the Adventure Series which is family-safe theatre targeted at all ages.  This is where we put our big shows such as Annie, or more recently, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  These full-length, large cast productions are the foundation of our programming as they appeal to a wide audience and provide the most opportunity for participation due to the large cast and crew sizes.  Then we decided to create our Cookie Cabarets, which are specifically designed and aimed at younger children between 3 and 7 years old.  Often that age group can’t sit through a whole Adventure show, so the Cookie Cabarets are always about an hour long, and the content is very much designed to complement what’s in their world at that age.   Our current show, Pinkalicious, is in that group. The last series is our Novel productions, which are generally aimed at a more mature audience.  We like to think of these as a chance for Mom and Dad to leave the kids at home and come out for a Date Night!

Most of your shows this season are musicals. Is that typical? What do you look for in a musical for children?

Yes, that’s typical.  Musicals have a much wider appeal and we find they are generally more accessible to our audience, which is why you don’t see too many Disney cartoons without accompanying music, right?  We’re very big on shows that are available in book form because there is a tremendous crossover benefit in reading the book and then seeing the show.  Not only does it encourage reading, but it also contributes to the overall enjoyment of the live performance.  We also love classics because it’s just great fun as a parent to be able to share those cherished stories with your children.  For example, we’ve got Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, which has been expertly adapted into a beautiful musical, coming up April 20th.  Many Moms have read this to their daughters (because their Moms read it to them), so to be able to share the live experience of it together is really special.  Then you have the ones who haven’t read it, and will come to the show, and it becomes the driver to go get the book and start the family reading together.

You’ve reintroduced the Novel series this year with your upcoming production of the Broadway hit Avenue Q. Why would a company like yours do a show that is decidedly not family-friendly (and might even make some adults squeamish)?

Ha-ha… yes, we have PG disclaimers all over that one.  The thing that people need to remember is that in order to create really great, inspired programming for our families, we need to have a lot of really talented artists who want to work with us to help guide the production of that programming. To be perfectly honest, sometimes they get tired of doing Disney over and over and want a bit of a break.  I think Moms and Dads can relate to this after watching Shrek for the 900th time right?  So we have the Novels in place to give our artists the opportunity to enjoy producing passion projects that make them happy, and we get a great response from the Moms and Dads that come out and laugh themselves silly, during a fun night out.

Avenue Q is particularly adult but also really, really funny.  This is the show that beat Wicked! for the Tony Award for Best Musical back in 2004, and it’s a worldwide hit.  It’s just never played in Calgary before and it’s a bit of a coup for us to get it first. Those in the know understand what a great show it is, but it is definitely not for the more conservative audience members out there.  So, to the people who ask, “why is Storybook doing it?”, I generally ask “why not?”  It’s a great show, our volunteers really want to make it, it provides much-needed funding, and if it’s not for you, don’t buy a ticket.

You have a “bums in seats” track record that must be the envy of many theatre companies, selling out many of your shows before or shortly after they open. What’s your secret?

LOL… yes we have been very well attended of late, and while we are enjoying that, we also remember the periods when this was not always the case.  The secret is the names of all the highly talented and energetic volunteers willing to give their time and abilities to these projects.  They do it on relatively small budgets, and it’s not easy.  In fact when you think about how many multi-million dollar movies that come out and are just terrible, and then you see the kind of entertainment that our volunteers are delivering with a few thousand dollars, I think that they should all get medals!

We’re also very fortunate to have a huge chunk of our audience who support us just because they believe in what we do.  They know that we funnel the majority of our ticket revenue right back into future programming, and bigger houses mean bigger production budgets, and even more spectacular shows.  So the more they give to us, the more we can give back to them, and that’s actually a pretty special deal.

What are your hopes and dreams for Storybook Theatre for the next 5-10 years?

Well, we’re moving to a new home – the first permanent one we’ve ever had – and the target date on that is Summer 2012. From there, we’re working with our partners to make it the most successful community arts centre in Canada.  So we’ve got some fun dreams to work on, but the main plan is to try to keep growing our support base to stay sustainable.  If you don’t have a LOT of volunteers working together, then the few that you do have tend to get burnt out and that’s the biggest threat we, and many organizations like ours, face.  We are on the hunt for more volunteers at all levels, so if your readers are looking for something new to try, may I humbly suggest sending me an email ? (chuckle) [George's email is ed@storybooktheatre.org]

What else can you tell us about Storybook Theatre that we may not know?

That we need and gratefully accept private donations… LOL.  Well, you probably know that, but the part you may not know is that if you give Storybook Theatre $20 or more, the Alberta Government’s Spirit program will MATCH your donation AND you get to claim it on your tax return.  So for example if you give $200, you’ll get about half that back on your tax refund, so it will cost you about $100, but Storybook will end up with $400.  It’s a great way to make your gift go a long way!

Storybook Theatre’s current show, Pinkalicious, runs until Saturday April 14th. Shows are 7:30PM on Thursdays and Fridays, and 12PM and 3:30PM on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $14.

Storybook Theatre’s Past Shows

Review: What’s The Hottest Ticket in Calgary This Season? Think Pinkalicious! (believe it or not)

In keeping with my fascinating ladies theme for this week, I celebrated International Women’s Day on Thursday with more  “chickplay” (well, if we can have chick-lit, why not?) at the preview of Pinkalicious the musical at Storybook Theatre with a small crowd of invited guests, including a colleague from the Calgary Musicals MeetUp Group and his six-year-old daughter.

Here’s another show that I would never dreamed of going to if I hadn’t committed to trying to see every musical in Calgary this year when I launched this blog. Not having children myself, I have never sought out Theatre for Young Audiences (or TYA as they say in the business), and this one is aimed at small children (age 3-6), so I thought it could be really painful. I was also completely unaware of the phenomenon/empire that is Pinkalicious – starting with the children’s book by Elizabeth Kann and Victoria Kann in 2006.  Its success led quickly to an Off-Broadway Musical in 2007 (still running in NYC and now touring in Toronto and throughout the US), which the sisters teamed up with emerging composer and lyricist John Gregor to write.

The story is pretty simple. Pinkalicious eats one too many pink cupcakes and turns (spoiler alert) pink – one of only two known cases of “Pinkititis”, as diagnosed by Dr. Wink (the charming Hannah Kerbes). Pinkalicious is delighted to have turned into her favourite colour until she is harassed by a bunch of insects who mistake her for a flower and she is unable to go outdoors any more. After some resistance, Pinkalicious discovers that the antidote, “Green Food”, isn’t as bad as she thought it would be, she eventually returns to her normal colour, happy to enjoy pink in (a little more) moderation thereafter.

Based on the above, you could see how the show could have been extremely silly (at least for grown-ups), but I have to say I had a fabulous time, as did the young girls who were sitting near me. There were more laugh-out-loud moments in this one-hour show than in any I’ve seen all year.  I was still smiling as I drafted this post up last night (almost 24 hours later), although I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Even though the humour is geared to young children, there’s enough to interest grownups, especially parents, who will recognize the antics of their own children, and perhaps themselves, in these characters. Hats off to director JP Thibodeau, a professional director (best known for his 10 years as artistic director of the Oh Canada Eh? Show at Canmore’s Cornerstone Restaurant and Theatre) and his young cast for making this show work for young and old alike. I can imagine it would be even more hilarious with a theatre full of little kids who are all in to it, especially since there’s lots of engagement with them, and their reactions are at least as amusing as the performance.

There are 23 songs in the short show, which keeps things moving along, and I found the music surprisingly good – another one of my prejudices shot to … heck (darnit). A few of the songs even reminded of the music from Wicked, without the drama, of course. And no, John Gregor hasn’t written anything else you’ve heard of, at least not yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear more of him down the road.

The acting and singing of the five-person cast was top-notch – just a few rough bits as you might expect in a dress rehearsal – and, quite appropriately, way over the top. I particularly enjoyed Katie Miller in the title role of Pinkalicious, especially her “Temper Tantrum” (complete with cartwheels), and Mitchell Lukinuk’s portrayal of the bee in the engaging “Buzz Off” number (as well as his hammy characterization of Pinkalicious’ father  - imagine Jim Carrey in a musical).

The cartoonish set by JP Thibodeau, Peter Cameron and Deb Miall will be immediately recognized by fans as being very much true to the book (I still haven’t read it, but they had a copy there, so I snuck a peek), and the costumes by Amber Smith were bang on. I’m still not sure how they managed Pinkalicious’ costume changes under her bedcovers.

While the book is targetted to girls, all the parents I talked to thought the musical would appeal to young boys as well. In fact, one of the “major” plot points is around Pinkalicious’ brother Peter (Joel Schaefer)’s secret love for the colour pink (he leads the cast in a great rendition of “Pink a Boo”, a blues song about pink), and how  - and more importantly, why – his father comes to terms with that. I was happy to see that the show espouses pink as being a power colour, not just a soft (i.e. weak) girly thing, something I’m always a little uncomfortable with on those rare occasions when I find myself in Toys “R” Us*. In fact there are lots of good moral lessons in the show, including eat your greens (there’s actually a song called “The Power of Anti-Oxidants”), have more fun, you can have too much of a good thing, be who you are, and my personal favourite, “You Get What You Get” (and you don’t get upset)  - a funny duet between Pinkalicious and her mother  (the effervescent Cassie Doane), and a message a lot of adults could take to heart, even if it doesn’t really rhyme.

If you think Cats and Jersey Boys are the hottest tickets this season, think again. But don’t believe me. Just check out the Storybook ticketing site (the show was over 90% sold and extended twice, even before last night’s opening) or better yet, ask any little girl.  If you miss out, don’t worry. In addition to the other books in the Pinkalicious series (available at the Calgary Public Library), The Kann sisters’ wrote a sequel in 2007 (Purplicious), which is no doubt being musicalized as we speak and will be coming to a theatre near you within the next few years.

Pinkalicious runs until April 8th (or one week longer if it’s extended one last time) at Storybook Theatre. Show times are 12:00, 3:30 and 7:30 PM (matinees on weekends only). The show runs one hour. Tickets are $14, including a Crave cupcake (guess what colour?) after the show (alas, something we missed at the preview).

For more information on Storybook Theatre, watch for my interview with Storybook’s Artistic Director, George Smith later this month.

*You may not know it, but it’s only since the 1950’s that pink has been associated with girls, and some say it used to be the other way around, i.e. baby boys were dressed in pink as a paler version of the more mature red power colour, while girls were dressed in blue. Click here to find out more.

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