Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’


Seven Sentence Reviews: Stratford Festival 2016

September 6, 2016

The 2016 Stratford Festival, with shows running through October, provides great diversions for theatergoers. I visited during the first week in August. I promised a friend I would review the plays, so I’m belatedly doing that. (Why does it take me so long to write seven sentences?) Ratings are on a four-star system, but please recognize that anything at Stratford is far and away better than theater nearly anywhere else.

Breath of Kings: Rebellion and Redemption  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 1 (only Henry V)

Breath of Kings Redemption – On The Run 2016

Members of the company in Breath of Kings: Redemption. Photography by David Hou.

Graham Abbey edited this two-part mash-up of four Shakespeare Histories: Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V, and also starred as Henry IV. The resulting productions moved entertainingly through the plots and historical events at a fresh and lively pace. The shows also highlighted the streamlined story arcs of both Henry IV and his son, the ne’er-do-well turned hero Henry V (Araya Mengesha). This portion of English succession might be compared to the Biblical succession of Saul, David, and Solomon, with Henry V combining the immature qualities of Absalom with the wisdom of Solomon.

The laundry list of speaking parts in four plays was juggled agily by the talented cast and inventive costumers. Standouts were Tom Rooney as the insecure Richard II, an intense Johnathan Sousa as Hotspur, and is-it-typecasting-if-he’s-perfect Geraint Wyn Davies as Falstaff.

The stage itself helped to provide continuity through the two parts of the production co-directed by Mitchell Cushman and Weyni Mengesha: covered in a thick mulch that was worn down and shoved away during Rebellion to find stone underneath, the stage was cleared for Redemption to reveal “stones” (aptly likened to ice-blocks) that were tossed and tumbled during the French battle scenes to find more mulch underneath—the hidden meaning?…hmph I don’t know.

John Gabriel Borkman  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

John Gabriel Borkman – On The Run 2016
Lucy Peacock as Mrs. Gunhild Borkman in John Gabriel Borkman. Photography by David Hou.

After one has been to Stratford more than a few times, one becomes willing make great sacrifices to see Lucy Peacock, Seana McKenna and Scott Wentworth on stage together—even see an Ibsen play.

This risk came with a great reward: John Gabriel Borkman is an intense, mysterious, mesmerizing, and wonderfully entertaining precursor to toppled-titan stories like Citizen Kane. Tightlipped at the beginning, the play unfolds to show how Borkman was a would-be Rockefeller, living in a self-imposed mental prison of might-have-beens.

Peacock, McKenna and Wentworth are adept at playing the complex and flawed characters that populate JGB, imbuing clear meaning into the subtlest text and stage-business.

The play itself requires a small suspension of disbelief, that all of the conversations happening on stage would never have come up in the long history that the characters speak of having together. Ibsen wrote JGB in 1896, but with a modern ironic twist—the two female leads are strong, unique, and ahead of their time—while the male dialogue concerning women is almost laughably backward in comparison.

JGB’s title seems like a mouthful and difficult to remember going into the play; coming out you’ll never forget the name John Gabriel Borkman.

The Aeneid  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Aeneid – On The Run 2016

Monice Peter as Creusa and Gareth Potter as Aeneas in The Aeneid. Photography by David Hou.

This newly commissioned adaptation of The Aeneid recasts Virgil’s epic poem of Aeneas (Gareth Potter), ancestor of the Romans, as a refugee story in an alternate-reality reflection of the current crises in the Middle East.

The production faced some significant hurdles to bridge a story written millennia in the past to modern-day sensibilities, politics, and culture. To a large degree it succeeded through the talented cast and, disappointingly for some, through its use of contemporary dance to help tell the story.

At times fully immersed in today—a dance club too loud to hear a military attack, an immigration official trying to explain bureaucracy to a young mother, refugees washed up on a resort beach—the story maintained its continuity when traveling to the underworld to find Aeneas’s father.

Director Keira Loughran didn’t create The Aeneid as light entertainment to while away a few hours; it is a serious piece of social commentary that challenges the perspective and opinions of the audience. If one is willing to be challenged and think about the meaning of the play and the implications of that meaning in our modern world, then The Aeneid can be transformative. The Aeneid at Stratford is not the play you want to see at Stratford this year; it’s the play you should see.

Shakespeare in Love  [++++]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Number of times I’ve seen the film: >10

Shakespeare in Love – On The Run 2016

Luke Humphrey (centre) as Will Shakespeare with members of the company in Shakespeare in Love. Photography by David Hou.

In the 1998 film’s DVD extras, it is noted the audience must believe the actor playing William Shakespeare is capable of actually writing the words of Shakespeare. Luke Humphrey succeeded on the whole in this, but was fighting an uphill battle against a script that undermined the idea at every turn, even adding Christopher Marlowe to the balcony scene with Viola de Lesseps in a quasi-Cyrano rewrite.

Director Decian Donnellan’s production used a bridge-like version of a three-tiered Elizabethan stage moving up-stage and down-stage to “move” the audience from backstage to the house effortlessly. Apparently Donnellan also envisioned the bridge as an elevated running track at a gym—Shannon Taylor‘s Viola spent several scenes doing sprint sets back and forth between her lines.

Besides Ms. Taylor’s cardio workout, the physical performance aspects were well done, including sword fights and dances that were impressively overlapped with prose conversations.

The play adapted and rewrote plot points to work onstage, but went out of its way to include some scenes, most notably a sweet, low-tech recreation of the rowboat scene. Perhaps necessarily, the Romeo and Juliet play-within-the-play was heavily overacted, unfortunately undercutting the mood of the closing scenes.

Macbeth  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Macbeth – On The Run 2016

Photography by David Hou.

Stratford’s artistic director, Antoni Cimolino, envisioned Macbeth in a medieval post-Roman empire forest—the society primitive, just above subsistence and appropriately rustic and superstitious. Cimolino often succeeds with minimalist productions, but this Macbeth is as dazzling as anything produced at Stratford.

The weird sisters (witches) scenes were gleefully chilling; Lanise Antoine Shelley‘s blind sister’s unnatural movements were especially effective. Macbeth’s return visit to the sisters is a masterful highlight fit for a horror movie.

Ian Lake, returned to Stratford after notable stints on stage and television, played against his previous leading man roles to deliver a brooding and delusional Macbeth. I’m unfamiliar with Krystin Pellerin‘s CBC work; I felt she succeeded well as the two-faced lady Macbeth.

Someone please inform Scott Wentworth (Banquo) that the Festival Theatre is large and he needs to speak something above a whisper in order to be heard—I don’t know why he does that sometimes.

A Chorus Line  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

A Chorus Line – On The Run 2016

Members of the company in A Chorus Line. Photography by David Hou.

Revamped for the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage and performed in one act, this production of A Chorsus Line is true to the original which holds up better after 41 years than one might expect. It tells character stories that are at once unique and universal, addressing adolescence, insecurities, and body issues. The only aspect that felt particularly dated was how drastically societal views have changed regarding homosexuality and drag shows.

The show connects emotionally with the audience in nearly every number and every character, which is both wonderful and draining at the same time. Someone noted, quite rightly, how the success of all parts of this show points to the depth of talent available at Stratford.

Dayna Tietzen as Cassie, as near to a starring role as anyone in the cast gets, seemed genuine and sympathetic in the part, except somehow during The Music and the Mirror; a song that should be a tour de force seemed to sag in energy compared to the rest of the show.

A Chorus Line forces the audience to acknowledge—and in a way celebrate—that dancing on Broadway is a risky career choice; the show challenges us to get in touch with our curiosities and passions, asking everyone, “What do you do for love?”

As You Like It  [+++1/2]

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

As You Like It – On The Run 2016

Cyrus Lane as Orlando and Petrina Bromley as Rosalind in As You Like It. Photography by David Hou.

Robin Hutton acted as the Hymen (MC, host, uber-narrator not included in Shakespeare’s script), who, along with stage musicians and some of the actors, created a 1980’s concert-party backdrop against and into which As You Like It was played.

Having splurged on a front row seat for this production, I was rewarded with a participatory audience experience modeled on Newfoundland “kitchen parties,” including forest branch and star props, bleating sheep noisemakers, campfire embers, and—for me—a few spoonfuls of ice cream at the bottom of a gallon bucket. 

Petrina Bromley and Trish Lindström were exuberantly youthful in their Madonna-wanna-be portrayals of Rosalind and Celia. Other characters were reimagined into 1980’s style personas, including Duke Frederick (Scott Wentworth) as a Wall Street big-shot complete with Donald Trump hair, Jaques (Seana McKenna) as a nature photographer, and Touchstone (Sanjay Talwar) taking fashion cues from Boy George.

Perusing the program later, I saw that the casual fun of As You Like It is not just a draw for the audience; some of the cast (and stars) from Shakespeare in Love took uncredited background roles in the show. At intermission, the person next to me asked, “Do you think it was this silly in Shakespeare’s day?” I never seem to have those answers on the spot, want to go back to her now and say, “I certainly hope so.”



Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, 25th Anniversary Production

April 15, 2012


National Tour, Indianapolis, April 10, 2011

Previous productions I’ve seen: 9

The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables is truly a revival—with reinvented sets, costumes and staging.  Galloping tempos and liberal editing (mostly verses and lines that casual Les Mis audiences won’t notice) cut the original running time by 40 minutes.

Some good changes included a hand-grab (one certainly can’t call it a shake) that leads Javert to remember Valjean, new antics for the Thenardiers, and a dynamic and versatile stage with projected backdrops inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings.

Bad changes were the relocation Gavroche’s climactic barricade scene off-stage (?!?) due to the new set, an absence of chairs and tables during Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and an awkward exit for the pivotal silver candlesticks during the finalé.

The rapid-fire tempos bothered me in two particular instances—the instrumental reprise of Bring Him Home with Stars after the barricades fell and the finalé reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing—both felt entirely too rushed.  But the heart of Les Misérables, the characters’ intimate solos, remained largely intact.

Ultimately, I’m glad Les Mis has been revived and reinvigorated for a new generation to enact and enjoy, but I’m not glad to see and hear 40 minutes less of my favorite musical.


2011: My Personal Highlights

January 30, 2012

A belated Happy New Year, everyone!

2011 was a year of firsts for me.  I attended my first pro football game (an easy thing to do during the Colts’ Manning drought).  Someone seriously offered me a partnership in a consulting firm (I turned it down).   I ordered my first drink from a swim-up bar (I did not drown).

My Most Memorable Moment in 2011

My cousin Maria, her beau Dimitri, and I were among the guests at the Bahamian wedding for Maria’s sister Joyce.  The night before Maria and Dimitri were to leave, she wanted a picture of the giant chess set near one of the resort’s bars.  The knee-high pieces were set up on a concrete chess board with benches around them.  The area wasn’t directly lit, but the building sconces and the most brilliant starlight I’ve ever seen made everything visible.

Dimitri and I, who’ve not spent much time together, decided to play chess.  We began at 10:00 PM.  We were both slow and methodical players—much to Maria’s dismay.

Other resort guests strolled by in the moonlight.   Maria complained to all of them how disgusted she was.

“They’ve been playing for over an hour!  Only one game!”  She wandered off multiple times to visit her sisters at their villas.

Joyce, the bride, made for the most surreal memory.  She was preparing to leave the next day as well.  She passed by us several times traveling back and forth to the main office.  The first walks were casual, later ones were more purposeful.  Finally, she eschewed the paths all together and was running through the grass.  She flitted past, laughing musically, her shear Tinkerbell dress backlit theatrically.

After I chased Dimitri’s king around the board, putting him in check on nearly every move, he defeated me at 1:00 in the morning.  Maria asked if we’d bonded during our game.  Dimitri and I looked bemusedly at each other said, “Sure.”

“What did you talk about?”



It was a great night.

The Best Book I Read in 2011

To all the Les Misérables book fans out there, I apologize.  My favorite book is generally one that I don’t want to end.  I was definitely ready for Les Misérables to come to an end.

I spotted Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch on a bookshelf in Stratford, Ontario in 2007.  I didn’t buy it because I wasn’t sure if I could stomach a whole nonfiction book about Shakespeare plays.  I was tempted into buying it last year at a used book store.

Becoming Shakespeare is not a how-to book for aspiring writers.  The back cover text sums up both the book and its delightful tone:

This is a book about William Shakespeare’s afterlife, but there’s nothing mystical about it.  It’s a book about sex comedies with no sex, about tragedies where everyone lives happily ever after, about a Shakespeare festival where not a line of Shakespeare was spoken.  It’s a book about a king’s teenage mistress and a prudish doctor afraid of blood. … It’s about a classic of children’s literature written by a murderess. … It’s about a regicide, a whore and a forger all contributing toward the production of a genius.  It’s a book about a provincial bumpkin who became the great portraitist of the universal human condition.  … [I]t’s a book about one of the greatest paradoxes in all of world literature … how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2011

I suppose if I’m going to be honest in this blog, I’ll have to fess up.  My brother nearly kicked the bucket this year.  He had a huge blood clot that swelled up his leg.  He had multiple surgeries, stints and fistulae.  It wasn’t pretty.  My parents made the trip to Michigan many times to be at the hospital and help with my nieces.

I stayed in Indy.  And stayed quiet.

There were a few rumblings that I needed to show some support.  So I sent a card.  It wasn’t completely impersonal.  It was a card left over from my grandparents’ collection in the desk I inherited.  But it didn’t mollify the family.  My parents were still calling and emailing—telling me that my brother’s in-laws were all wondering why I hadn’t called yet.

So why hadn’t I called?

The very thought made me nauseous.  My brother and I try to be polite to each other, but when push comes to shove, there’s no relationship for us to fall back on.  In the time we spent together as children and adults, my brother has left me with one overall impression of what brotherhood means to him: he doesn’t want one.

I’ve only ever been a thorn in my brother’s side.  During this year’s episode, my parents said he was lying in the hospital in a lot of pain.  A call from me would be the last thing to alleviate pain in his life—that was my opinion, at least.

After enough family prodding and counseling from Cecilia and Keith, I called.  My brother acted happy to hear from me.  On Keith’s sage advice, I let my brother do most of the talking.

So I guess things are marginally patched up now—physically for my brother, emotionally for the rest of us.  People in Michigan are still talking to me.  I’m not banned from seeing my nieces and the nieces themselves have not acted differently toward me.

But at some point in the future, despite the way our family neatly sweeps things under the rug, we’ll probably be forced to admit that my brother and I are only one step up the ladder from being estranged siblings.

My Most Uproarious Laughter in 2011

My friends Keith and Matt have been irritated with me because they do not appear in annals of Rubicon as important pillars of my life.  That’s by design.  Most of our conversations are virtually unrepeatable—either for their complete tastelessness or my unwillingness to provide background enough to capture the moment correctly.  The same has happened this year.  I would waste half an hour of my readers’ lives explaining why I fell apart with laughter when Keith said: “Land o’ Goshes!  Keith’s dead!”  But it’s simply not in the scope of this blog.

On the other hand, most of us have been exposed to the universal condition that married couples have difficulty communicating with each other.  My dad is regularly castigated for not remembering the words my mom speaks in his presence.  But there is another side of the coin, I discovered.

While taking down an address one night, I asked whether Utah was abbreviated UT.

“Yes, it is,” my dad said.  “I don’t know why the post office makes us abbreviate the four letter states—Utah … Iowa … Ohio.  Seems like it wouldn’t be that difficult to throw on an extra two letters.”

My mom looked up from her newspaper, “Ohio.”

“I already said that,” Dad retorted.


“Didn’t you hear me?”

My mom was irked to be caught in the trap she habitually sets.  But she was undaunted.  She drew herself up immediately and said, “No.  I didn’t suspend all thought while you were speaking.”

I imagined my dad giving the same response to my mom and couldn’t contain my mirth for a good little while.

My Most Memorable View in 2011

Flying over the Atlantic on the way to Exuma from Nassau, the sun was setting behind the propeller plane.  We flew around the towering clouds.  They hovered over the calm ocean, as if supported by a glass mezzanine.  The deep blue water reflected the white, orange and purple outlines.  A mysterious bright light shone up at me in the water; it flashed occasionally from behind the clouds.  After a few moments, realized it was the near-perfect reflection of the moon.

The Best Music I Heard in 2011

Do You Hear the People Sing was a concert of Boubil-Schönberg musicals premiered by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on October 7th and 8th.  I understand this will become a traveling feature for other orchestras.  Expenses were not spared in gathering singers.  Lea Salonga (the original Kim in Miss Saigon) and Terrence Mann (the original Broadway Javert) lead an elite cast.

A secret gem was hiding in the concert.  I’ve long considered the song Please to contain the most beguiling melody in Miss Saigon.  But it functions as a conversation that masks its beauty.  Ms. Salonga told us that this melody was actually intended as its own ballad.  That song, Too Much for One Heart,  was cut from the show, but has been given new life in concerts like this one.

Too Much for One Heart wasn’t actually my best musical moment.  I’ve seen Les Misérables nine times on stage.  I’ve read the book.  I’ve been to Paris.  All of these memories were scrolling through my mind as the orchestra played.

Naturally, one of the selections was Bring Him Home.  I know every note of Les Mis by rote.  But I hadn’t been fully attentive and in the moment with Bring Him Home in years.  Peter Lockyer sang the simple beginning.  The second line ended as it always did, “… you have always been there.”

I was bowled over anew.  Suddenly, I realized that Les Misérables has been with me for more than half my life.  It has been a cornerstone of my philosophy and a touchstone of what I think music is and should be.

Quite unexpectedly, I cried.

The Worst Music I heard in 2011

Perennially, some music makes me gag.

My cousin Genevieve gave me the first season of Glee on DVD to watch.  I have been actively avoiding Glee ever since it came out.  I prefer not to be addicted to TV shows at a particular time slot.  I have lived far too much of my life planning around the TV schedule; I refuse to do it any more.

I watched the entire first season at Genevieve’s behest.  I’ll admit that the show found a lot of talented people.  I’ll admit that Lea Michele can give me goosebumps.  I’ll admit that I would rate Matthew Morrison a solid 8 out of 10 for looks; I’m bewildered that he skyrockets to a 9.9 whenever he sings.

The high points of Glee are like miniature islands of paradise with Taj Mahal gazebos.  But the low points of Glee are like a crocodile infested sewage runoff surrounding the idyllic archipelago.

If I must pick one worst moment from the first season (and bottom-dwellers abound), I’ll select Bust Your Windows.  Apparently this travesty of lyrics and dearth of melody made it into the Glee Live show.  What sad commentary on the state of music appreciation in this country.

My New Friends in 2011

Since I’m belated, I can report that I’m already down by two friends for 2012.  Which is typical for me, I suppose.

But a happy thing happened near the end of 2011.  I was at Gregg’s (a gay bar) and, much to my astonishment, I saw Rob, someone I know through work.  When we were working together I suspected Rob was gay.  But Rob told me he had a daughter, so I assumed (like I normally do) that my first instinct was wrong.  When I saw Rob again at Gregg’s, he was there with his boyfriend.  My gaydar works!

The Most Craigo Moment of 2011

Cass, Michelle, Wes (Michelle’s heretofore unnamed husband) and I attended an Idina Menzel concert at the symphony in March.  An animated discussion followed the concert as we waited in parking garage traffic.  At one point, Michelle and Wes were trying to come up with a band name.  “Alien Ant Farm,” Wes said with satisfaction.

“Ah.” I chimed politely.

Wes laughed.  “I like when Craig says, ‘ah,’ as if he’s learned something, but you know he doesn’t care about it at all.”

Cass agreed, “He immediately clicks the ‘spam’ button and chucks it.”

I tried to defend myself.  “It’s not that I don’t want to know.  It’s just that there’s no category in the outline to file it under.”

Michelle seemed to think this statement encapsulated how my mind works.

For the record, I can name no current or past members of Alien Ant Farm or any of their songs.  You’ll have to look them up yourself.

Those were my highlights.  Hopefully 2012 lives up to all the hype.


Seven Sentence Review: Million Dollar Quartet

December 16, 2011


First National Tour, Indianapolis, December 13, 2011

Previous productions I’ve seen: 0

Million Dollar Quartet, riffing off the Jersey Boys theme, recounts the December 1956 Sun Records recording session with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.  All the performers played their own instruments onstage with an infectious joy; Lee Ferris’ (Carl Perkins) guitar, Martin Kaye’s (Jerry Lee Lewis) piano and Derek Keeling’s (Johnny Cash) voice were all crowd-pleasers.

The one-act show worked well as a concert, as a piece of nostalgia and as a documentary.  For a theatre piece, however, the story lines—while interesting—failed to be involving.  I was often thinking to myself, Oh, shut up and sing.

All of that notwithstanding, Cody Slaughter’s performance as Elvis is worth the price of admission.  Slaughter is not just a spot-on, energetic and charismatic Elvis impersonator—he is Elvis re-incarnated.

Cody Slaughter - yes, seriously


Seven-Sentence Review: Sandals Grande Emerald Bay

September 11, 2011

I visited a Sandals resort over Labor Day for a destination wedding.  I’ve never been to an island resort.  I thought I’d branch out and write a travel review:

The decadently appointed Sandals Grande Emerald Bay relaxes beside jewel-toned Caribbean waters, encompassed by pleasantly cool, fine sands and Elysian skies.  The setting easily seduces guests into tranquility—reading, sunbathing, and napping are popular pastimes amidst the carefully manicured flowers and palm trees.  For more active guests, the resort offers diversions including beach and water sports, Bahamas-inspired festivals and yoga classes—I didn’t even make it to the spa or the gym.

Local and international cuisine, most of it delicious, is available all hours from a variety of dining venues—including free room service.

Sandals’ staff personifies the easy-going, friendly nature of the resort, which can cause tension with high-strung Americans when punctuality is essential—such as finding an in-progress wedding reception or shuttling guests to the airport.

From a bigger perspective, the resort seems to adorn the island of Exuma like a shiny new wristwatch worn by a scraggly homeless person—cinder-block shacks dot the rest of the island landscape of mosquito-filled brambles.  This juxtaposition gives an eerie, Hitchcock-movie feeling to the experience—an artificial, adult Disney World created specifically for well-heeled indulgence left me unsure whether the vacation helped the local economy, or just perpetuated modern private-sector imperialism.


Top Ten Movie Scores That Trumped the Movie

August 21, 2011

I was recently ruminating on film scores that have outshone their movie in one way or another.  In a lot of cases, I’ve never actually seen the movie.  I thought I’d try my hand at making one of these pointlessly entertaining and endlessly arguable lists.  My nominations below include the year the film was released and its current user rating on

Chariots of Fire (1981) (7.2)

If someone broke into your house in the middle of the night, pointed a gun at your head and demanded that you hum the theme of Chariots of Fire, you could do it, true?  What if the same trivia-craving intruder demanded that you quote a line from the movie instead?  Aha!  You’d likely be dead, just as I would.

I have never seen Chariots of Fire.  I would wager that few people actually have.  In spite of its four Academy Award victories, including Best Picture and Best Original Score, I’ve never come across this film on television.

Most of us can hum another famous Vangelis tune, Hymne, but we’d probably identify it as the “Earnest and Julio Gallo commercial.”


The Phantom of the Opera (2004) (7.2)

I’ve not seen the movie version of Phantom.  I can’t imagine liking it.

I was never more ready to fall in love with a stage musical than when I attended my first performance of The Phantom of the Opera in 1990.  I have never been more disappointed in a musical before or since.  My primary complaint was that I didn’t connect with the characters—any of them.  They never credibly broke out of their typecast rolls.

But I still get goosebumps when I hear Phantom’s shocking overture begin.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986) (7.1)

The Great Mouse Detective shouldn’t be on this list.  I know.  It snuck in uninvited, like vermin.  I dragged my mom to see a mouse play Sherlock Holmes because I loved (okay, love) animation.  I doubt that many people who reside outside of my head are familiar with the musical theme of this movie.

My youthful assessment was that TGMD had a great score.  (Spare yourself the agony of listening to the song that follows the end credits.)  What is remarkable to me is that I only saw the movie once, yet I could hum a reasonable facsimile of the theme music to you yesterday.  (I only just now looked it up on YouTube.  I was about 80% correct.)  Perhaps I was a prodigy like Mozart; or perhaps they played the theme two hundred times during the movie.

Exodus (1960) (6.8)

I can’t remember how to hum the Ernest Gold’s theme from Exodus every time I’m asked.  (I can’t tell you how often this happens to me at cocktail parties.)  But it’s instantly recognizable when one hears it.

I’ve not seen Exodus, I had to search for a plot summary online.  I never could have told you that Paul Newman starred in it.  Nor that it deals with the creation of modern Israel.  Odd that no one wants to watch a film about that these days.

I seem to recall Darryl and Darryl playing Exodus on twin grand pianos during an episode of Newhart, but I couldn’t find it on YouTube.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) (6.4)

The Phantom Menace has been so derided and degraded that I needn’t add my voice to the chorus.  Being a child of the 80’s, I was drawn to the theater like ewoks to peanut brittle when Star Wars returned.  And, of course, I had to buy the soundtrack.  The track that stands out for me is No. 2, Duel of the Fates.  It seems that John Williams understood, more innately than George Lucas, what the back story of Anakin Skywalker needed to be.  Duel of the Fates is grand, quasi-religious, complex, tense and driving.  Love it.  Eight-year-old Jedi?  Hate it.

DragonHeart (1996) (6.2)

DragonHeart became marginally famous for being the first live action film with a completely CGI main character, Draco the dragon, voiced by Sean Connery.  It didn’t rise much above its notoriety as a novelty, though.

I saw DragonHeart in the theater, but I didn’t pick up on the music at the time.  The sweeping theme caught my ear as background music in the trailer for Disney’s Mulan, sending me on a decade-long search to find out where on earth it had originated.

Evita (1996) (6.1)

By the time I was attending live theatre performances in the 1990’s, the 1979 staging of Evita seemed tired to me.  The 1996 movie had a fresh take on the subject.  Personally, I feel Madonna’s singing nailed the character of Eva Peron, if not all the notes.

What makes the soundtrack stand out for me is You Must Love Me.  The volatile collaborators Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber buried the hatchet after seventeen years in order to write this song.  Their new music and lyrics display a maturity that wasn’t present in the original show.  The 1981 soundtrack was trying way too hard to be interesting.  You Must Love Me is effortless in its complexity; deceptive in its depth.


Sabrina (1995) (6.0)

I’ll admit I like the 1995 remake of Sabrina, even though Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford don’t have enough screen chemistry to fill a petri dish.  The film is most engaging during the sequence when millionaire playboy David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) is first smitten with the chauffeur’s daughter, Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond).

As I listened to the opening piano solo of the soundtrack, I knew I would own it.  John William’s lush and romantic theme is one of my favorites.

The Bodyguard (1992) (5.6)

Gather ‘round children and let me tell you a tale.  Once upon a time, Whitney Houston was America’s sweetheart.  It’s true, I tell you!  Uncle Craigo wouldn’t lie.  Whitney Houston was as sweet as apple pie with custard and American flag toothpicks stuck on top.

There was no time when Whitney’s popularity was higher than when The Bodyguard hit theaters in 1992.  Its soundtrack is filled with one broadway belter hit after another.  The crowning achievement, obviously, was her complete reinvention and annexation of Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.

Unfortunately, no one could sit through the movie without gagging.

The Wiz (1978) (4.7)

Can you sing Ease on Down the Road?  I’ll not bore you further, then.  I’ve never seen The Wiz.  Neither have you—I hope.  By all accounts, it wreaks.

So what did I miss?  Hopefully you’ll let me know.


Seven-Sentence Reviews: Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2011

August 6, 2011

As I sat in restaurants and cafés in Stratford, Ontario last week—typing away on my phone or computer; reading programs and scripts—I often fancied myself as a theatre critic in the eyes of those around me.  So I decided I should be just that.

I attended seven plays in Stratford this year.  In deference to my two gentle readers—who probably won’t be going to Stratford—I’ll devote only seven sentences to each.  I should note that my ratings were skewed by my surroundings.  Any production in Stratford would be a welcome addition to most cities’ theatre scenes.

Titus Andronicus ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

John Vickery was superb in the title role, a victorious Roman general besieged by those he conquered.  The slave-made-empress Tamora (Claire Lautier) and her not-so-secret lover Aaron (Dion Johnstone) were mesmerizing in their pursuit of revenge and evil.

Additional stage-business suggested that Tamora dominated Emperor Saturnine (Sean Arbuckle) partially through alcohol, which helped to explain the emperor’s strange decisions.

With a costuming nod to Edward Scissorhands, Titus’ daughter Lavinia (Amanda Lisman) was effectively employed by this production to exact her own revenge on the assailants who had cut off her hands.

Darko Tresnjak’s staging of the opening scene created an appropriate intensity and motivation for all the gruesomeness to come.  The play, both the script and this production, reveled in the violence portrayed, daring the audience to abhor it and simultaneously laugh at the insanity of it.  We weren’t so much depressed or stunned at the end of the show as much as relieved that it was over and nothing worse could happen.

Camelot ++½+

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

The first five minutes of Camelot promised a magical, epic story—a real hawk flew in from the balcony; a large celtic medallion rotated in the stage floor; the lighting sparkled; and Arthur grew from a boy to a man.  But I’ve not seen Camelot before—I didn’t know that the magic would end with Merlin’s death ten minutes into the show.

The leads were excellent—Lancelot (Jonathan Winsby) in particular, had a Grand Voice, reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston (whom Winsby has played).

The sets were sumptuously wrapped in jewel tones of sea green and gold with Celtic and French motifs; the rotating medallion element sat idle through most of the show, unfortunately.

Many of King Arthur’s speeches and sentiments seemed out of place in a musical; they struck me as propaganda for the United Nations.

Lerner and Loewe excelled at the character-driven musical—unfortunately Camelot is a plot-driven story.  Multiple songs that talked about the weather did not help to move things along.

The Grapes of Wrath ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 1

The Grapes of Wrath could have been overpowered by its scenery, with beautiful skies created through lighting, a swimmable river, and a thunderstorm.  Tom Joad (Evan Buliung) and Jim Casy (Tom McCamus) were key in keeping the impressive scenery in the background.

As hard as Randy Hughson tried to give Uncle John an Oklahoma accent, I still heard his lines in his Irish brogue.

Most of the costumes evoked hard work and poverty.  It was jarring to see one farm worker in a sweatshirt that appeared to be fresh off the rack from the department store.

Chilina Kennedy, a delight on any stage, was perhaps too sympathetic as Rose of Sharon.  The potency of the book’s final scene, for me, was predicated by Rose of Sharon’s whining, naive and irritating presence throughout the rest of the novel.

Jesus Christ Superstar ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Everyone was raving about JCS in Stratford—rightfully so.  The Broadway-bound production has modern and energetic choreography, concert-style sets and (happily) focused on pitch and blend in the music rather than just volume alone.

Paul Nolan and Chilina Kennedy were marvelous as Jesus and Mary Magdalene, respectively, but the sensational Josh Young ran away with the show as the conflicted Judas.

The production did not sidestep portraying the crucifixion (as others have), although it did put a heavy Las Vegas-style slant to it.

A Times Square ticker wrapped underneath a stage catwalk to update the audience about times and places.  After Jesus died, the ticker began a succession of bible verses that expanded across the entire backdrop in waves—an affective addition to the show.

This production made the music more likable for me—not good, mind you—just likable.

Richard III ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

Casting Seana McKenna as Richard of Gloucester was not a stunt or a gimmick; she did not play up irony or femininity in Richard’s character.  No, Ms. McKenna embodied Richard III and all his delicious villainy in a virtuoso performance.

Julie Scott’s brilliant makeup for Richard was reminiscent of the Penguin (Danny DeVito) in the 1992 Batman Returns.  (Was Stratford honoring Tim Burton this season?)

Brendan Murray (whom I had seen as an immature Roman prince in Titus) showed professional versatility in his understudy parts during our performance.  Gareth Potter as the late-entering Richmond possessed the necessary stage presence to counter and compliment McKenna’s hypnotic Richard.

I suspected that the ghosts of Richard’s slain enemies would be well-used at the end of the show, and indeed they were—to chilling effect.

The Merry Wives of Windsor ++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

I would recommend The Merry Wives of Windsor to anyone simply for the joy of watching Geraint Wyn Davies and Tom Rooney onstage.  Their portrayals of  Sir John Falstaff and Master Francis Ford were delightful and regularly stopped the show with their antics and laugh-lines.

Merry Wives is a fun and frivolous ensemble piece, mainly concerned with the hilarious exploits of Falstaff in his attempts to gain monetary and sexual satisfaction.  The ensemble was steadfast in making a merry production, with one—rather glaring—exception.

A famous Canadian TV actress was cast in a colorful role, one supposes to sell more tickets.  But she either had no energy for or no interest in playing the part—she arrived on stage, delivered her lines matter-of-factly and exited.  The audience noticed—even with other stand-out performances, a standing ovation was decidedly denied to the cast.

Twelfth Night +++ ½

Previous productions I’ve attended: 2

Des McAnuff (Big River, Jersey Boys) pulled out all the stops for this production of Twelfth Night.  The sets, costumes and staging were a mash-up of gaudy styles from Victorian to disco and included on-stage entertainments such as golf, tennis and a steam bath.  The many songs by Feste (Ben Carlson) were production numbers with eight to twelve band members, backup singers and concert lighting.

As big as the production itself was, nearly every actor on stage tried to steal the show.  Brian Dennehy (Sir Toby Belch), Tom Rooney (Malvolio), Stephen Ouimette (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) all gave knock-out performances.  Ben Carlson dazzled the audience as a musician, singer and actor.

The oddity, obviously, is that I’ve mentioned none of the leads, even though they were well played—indeed, it felt anticlimactic during the bows to honor the main characters last.