Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for ‘Miracle On 34th Street'

Theatre Sarnia: Miracle on 34th Street

A Period and A Message Coveyed With Warmth

Saturday November 24, 2018

by Brian Hay

The first look at the set piece used for the opening scene established clearly that the piece was set in the 1940’s or possibly, the late 1930’s. If that wasn’t enough the wardrobe, hair styles, and props (signs and other decor) have unmistakeable stylings that define the era. That’s a nod to the work of many people. Brian Austin Jr., Andrea Matthews and Bryanne Wood designed the sets while Cindy Dubois and Linda McLeish added the props. Drew Caldwell, with assistance from Lynn and Mary Cogswell, added finishing touches with the decor.

Wardrobe head Anthony Fracalanza and his team crafted the characters’ costumes while Makeup artists Zoe Little and Sydney Matthews dressed up their features. Barb St. Pierre headed a large group whose job it was to supply hair styles (or wigs) that fit the period. Andrea Matthews and her stage management team kept the changes flowing smoothly and the work by the ensembles was strong. The lighting, designed by Jennifer Caddock, was always slightly on the dark side, creating a sense of the production being done in black and white even though everything the audience saw was in full colour. It was like looking at an old film. Hats should be off to everyone who was involved in creating that accomplishment.

Two people whose work really shone in this production were newcomers. Erin Thomas seemed completely at ease in the part of ‘Dr. Pierce’. Her dialogue flowed effortlessly and her timing was excellent. Dallas Babb, who was just cutting her teeth on the stage as well, stole every scene she was part of. As the venomous (and pathologically disturbed booby) ‘Dr. Sawyer’, she was called on to be over the top and she did it with panache. It’s not often scenery gets chewed like that (and even less frequently that it works out so well) but she was a delight. Hopefully this is just the beginning of things to come from this pair.

Shauna Nelles depicted ‘Doris Walker’ as a woman whose submerged warmth flowered beautifully. The same was true of the passionate conviction within Craig Matthews portrayal of ‘Fred Gayley’. Watching that character come into his own was pure pleasure. Carly Allen allowed ’Shellhammer’ to serve as a foil for other characters to play off of. Ralph D’Allesandro and Jay Peckham balanced each other nicely as the flamboyant ‘Halloran’ and the more conservative ‘Judge Harper’. Brittany Jenkins was in great form as ‘Mara’, the prosecutor stuck in the unenviable position of trying to throw Santa in the booby hatch. She came through fabulously well when her mic shorted out. There was no panic, just one line that was inaudible before she raised her voice to project without seeming to yell.

Much of the warmth of the characters was generated by the children and from the players in the smaller roles. Joe Agocs showed a ‘Macy’ who was astute in business but not blind to the message of the season. He and Ron Pask had fun together when ‘Macy’ and ‘Bloomingdale’ (sort of) worked together. Olivia Moscone and Ava Droulliard provided genuinely touching moments as ’Susan Walker’ and ‘Janet Mara’, the children caught up in the events. David Engleson was nicely understated as ‘Kris Kringle’. Initially, almost too benevolent to be true, his frustration at the lack of willingness in others to believe who he was crafted the persona of a very real man who demonstrates that living by kindness and seeing hope where little seems to exist is a choice.

That’s the message of this story and it’s one that Director Jane Janes and her team conveyed well. She got strong performances from her people and used them to tell the story with the background serving as a frame for the events. There were a few blips in the sound but those happen at times and will undoubtedly be corrected.

It was the first night of what’s going to be a good run. The standing ovation at the finish attests to that.

This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Friday November 23, 2018. The production runs through to the 1st of December.

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Theatre Sarnia: Evil Dead The Musical

Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for ‘Evil Dead, The Musical'

Theatre Sarnia: Evil Dead, The Musical

And Now For Something Completely Different

Saturday October 27, 2018

by Brian Hay

‘Evil Dead The Musical’ has no relationship to anything by the Monty Python troupe. Nor is it an homage to their work. The elements that lift the piece above its own excesses by playing off them however were all devices used brilliantly by the “Pythons” as they paved their way into legend. That’s definitely the way of things with this piece.

The set, constructed by a large team working with Norm Francoeur, likely received creative input from several of its builders. The decor, created by Natalie Jackson and [Director] Trevor Morris, quite likely utilized ideas from both. The props were selected and set in place by Eve Vritsios, Raia Denley and Bryanne Wood. The lighting was designed by Catherine Souliere while choreography was set in place by Bethany Tiegs. The fight scenes (which also were dance numbers) were directed by Dave Mitchell. Under the guidance of Music Director Frank Seager (who also played the guitar parts), pianist Hannah Stalmach bass player Dan Martin and drummer Harlan Braichet created a melodic foundation to anchor the chaos that could otherwise have run away with itself. That it maintained order was due to the Stage Management Team of Ian Alexander, Justin Clendenning, Paul Richardson. Everyone knew what was needed and when to do it at all times.

The performances were very good. Julie Cushman dominated a lot of the scenes she was in as ‘Cheryl’, the beleaguered sister of ‘Ash’. Max Major and Bill Elliot dished up a nice balanced of restrained instants and over the top moments in the roles o the redneck country guy ‘Jake’ and the bullied wimp, ‘Ed’. Jeff Mantha excelled as the caustic (and possibly sexually confused) ‘Scott’ and Amanda Wolters was a delight as the “nice girl”, ‘Linda’. She also had one of the really lovely singing voices from among the performers.

Ultimately though, this show belonged to Samantha Regan and Ryan Metzler. Samantha Regan’s portrayals of both the bimbo ’Shelly’ and the bright ‘Annie’ called for comic timing and projection of both suppressed and raw sexuality that she conveyed with panache. She also adjusted her singing to fit the characters using a squeaky but still pleasing tone for ‘Shelly’ and a more dusky one that was like a velvet carpet for ‘Annie’. As ‘Ash’ Ryan Metzler owned the stage regularly, delivering the most outrageous lines as if they were completely straight while dishing up hilarious segments of physical comedy. His singing was good with conviction expressed in every note.

Under the Direction of Trevor Morris Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘Evil Dead The Musical’ never takes itself seriously. The opening scene featured a song and dance number that’s laced generously with slapstick. The first look at the set dished up a haunted cabin with a trophy head on its wall that suggested Bullwinkle the Moose might be looking for something. Supporting it, was intricate choreography, atmospheric lighting with emphasis on both form and keeping eyes directed accordingly, and great melodic hooks. That pattern runs through the piece consistently even as the “events” it contains continually surprise.

The group who created the musical along with Sam Raimi, the writer of the original film and actor Bruce Campbell who helped finance it, created something (a monster) that thrives because of its excesses. The music, written by the team of Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, Rob Daleman and George Reinblatt, is filled with hooks and humour that doesn’t let go. The action, which is constantly over the top, skewers the genre and itself. Everything is a show. Each character, the sets, props, music and even the audience are in on all the jokes. There’s no intended connection to the work done by the Monty Python troupe but it uses the overall perspective they created so effectively it could easily be described as “Pure Monty”.

It’s great stuff made possible by exceptional work from many people. It’s not intended for young children (or the politically correct for that matter), nor does it try to be. That’s stated clearly at the beginning of the show. The audience enjoyed the piece immensely, especially when it went over the top.

This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Friday October 26, 2018. The production runs through to October 31st. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there watching.

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Theatre Sarnia: The Producers

Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for ‘The Producers'

Theatre Sarnia: The Producers

Solid Realization of a Daring Satire

May 13, 2018

by Brian Hay

It’s worth mentioning that ‘The Producers’ was daring beyond most imagining when Mel Brooks first wrote it. That was back in 1967 but he idea reportedly began its gestation as early as 1962 when the realities of the Nazi regime were still very close to many people. Given its nature, that was probably one of the prime reasons for pushing the idea forward. More on that later.

A few areas stand above and beyond in this production. The imagination that went into developing the wardrobe is staggering. That’s particularly notable as the “play within the play” unfolds during the second act. Lisa Bicum and her team, Kelly Alexander, Willi Beckers Locke, Lynn Cogswell, Emily Johnson, Irene Judson, Sherwin Maliakal, Carol Ransley and Jan Seabrook did great work breathing life into the complexity and bizarre nature of the concepts.

Music Director Frank Brennan did an exceptional job of melding the contributions of Caitlin Mason, Marcia Case, Andy Lloyd, Cy Giacomin, Ralph DeLuca, Tessa Catton, Tony DeLuca, Blake Stevenson, Ken Foster, Rick McGregor, Tim Hummel, Christine Schofield, Bill Nelson, Jason Jamieson, Bob Parner and Joe Moscheck into a single unit. They played with the intuitive fluidity that stems from feeling a score as opposed to just reading it.

Choreographer Tia Colborne developed many complex routines that could easily have gone astray but for the cues set in place by Stage Manager Bethany Tiegs and her assistants, Tara Brennan and Kathryn Forristal. Keeping the proceedings flowing smoothly with the amount of scenery changes and the movement from the sizeable ensemble was no small feat.

The cast was excellent. Dave Evans gave a yeoman’s performance as the shady, but not heartless, ‘Max Bialystock’. His singing was also among the outstanding areas in the production. Just behind him came the work of Jonathan Lawrence as the spineless dreamer ‘Leo Bloom’. His delivery was good and he excelled at keeping his movements “in character” during the choreographed routines that he was part of. Adam Forristal was hilarious as the Aryan-oriented playwright, ‘Franz Liebkind’ and his singing was very good as well.

Rosalie Deschenes-Lebel crafted a side-splitting portrayal of the Secretary/Dancer (and Swedish Sex-Bomb), ‘Ulla’. Her singing, dancing and comic timing were impeccable. Mark Bandura put going over the top too great effect as the effeminate ‘Carmen Ghia’ and Shawn Chapman was brilliantly outrageous as the pompous, neurotic (and also effeminate) Director, ‘Roger De Bris’. Their shared scenes were amazing and Chapman’s dance sequence during the “inner play” was both magnificently outrageous and politically incorrect to a degree that was nothing less than spectacular.

Trevor Morris virtually owned the stage during the sequence that introduced the “inner play” to the landscape. But for the excellence of the costuming, set design and lighting that kept eyes directed to the action everything around him might have been rendered all but invisible. As things stood his jaw-dropping delivery as the Emcee was the property that balanced the spectacle with the human element that sent the audience into peals of laughter. The ensemble players around them — too many to list — were great.

The lighting done by Catherine Souliere along with the follow-spots operated by Katie Johnston and Luc Lacroix kept eyes focused the action very effectively. The sound operation done by Kathryn Forristal and Bethany Tiegs was strong as well. There were a few instances where microphones didn’t come in exactly as they should have but that’s almost inevitable in a production of this scope. The set pieces and projections designed by Brian Austin Jr. and Mark Bandura worked very well in tandem and, without close scrutiny, meshed well enough for the difference between hard material and projected visual to be unnoticeable.

Director Ian Alexander pulled outrageous facets from the performers liberally while having them rein it in and settle into being “just human” when it was important to the story. He also had the cast members whose dialogue necessitated using “foreign accents” apply it to a degree where they were present but still easily understood by people who were seated close to the stage; very important given that the more subtle humour depended on words from characters like ‘Ulla’ being instantly comprehensible while they were being ground into hash. He also displayed an excellent grasp of what was likely the point Mel Brooks was trying to make when he wrote the piece, that being that people had to have been willfully blind to allow the Nazi regime to come to power because the people at its root were beyond ridiculous. That’s something that’s still worth considering.

There’s a lot to enjoy and think about in this one.

This performance took place on Saturday May 12, 2018 at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia, Ontario. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be in the audience.Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘The Producers’ runs through to May 19, 2018.

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Theatre Sarnia: Exit Laughing

Theatre Sarnia’s Handbill for Exit Laughing

Theatre Sarnia: Exit Laughing Sends Audiences Away Doing That And More

Saturday April 14, 2018

by Brian Hay

That’s especially true near the end of the first act. Like all good comedies Paul Elliot’s play has deeper messages and relays them by pulling strings from all over the emotional spectrum. Having performers who can deliver those ups and downs along with nuggets of absurdity that defy all logic as if they’re about to explode doesn’t hurt either.

Under the Direction of Willi Beckers Locke, Theatre Sarnia’s production of ‘Exit Laughing’ achieves that. The cast of just five performers — six if the cat who kindly donated the litter-box is counted — was restrained when need be and outrageously over the top as the action demanded.

Carly Allen brought depth and understanding in her first appearance with the company as the repressed and slightly embittered ‘Rachel’. She seemed a bit nervous in her first moments but relaxed quickly and delivered the role with a flourish. Ryan Metzler, also relatively new to Theatre Sarnia, gave a performance that was virtually flawless. The role of ‘Bobby’ called for extremes to be believable and he delivered them nicely. Mary Anne Hucker was stellar as the priggish ‘Connie’, excelling both as the foil for the more outrageous characters around her and at sending out the dry one-liners the part contains.

The funniest moments came from Marney Austen and Rhonda Ross. Marney’s impeccable timing for both spoken and physical action along with an underlying pathos she placed at the character’s root established a the presence of ‘Leona’ as a dominant force in the production. Rhonda Ross delivered the air-headed ‘Millie’s’ outrageous (but somehow inexplicably logical) nuggets of thought(?) as if they were being dropped out of the blue and kept them feeling spontaneous even after the flakey nature of the woman had been established. The pair reacted to one another with consistent one-two combinations that pulled at all emotions; never a dull moment there to say the least.

The set was a neatly functional single piece unit created by Gary Locke and Bill Souliere. It and the decor, created by Drew Caldwell created atmosphere economically and didn’t require changes that could disrupt the flow of energy in the performance. The lighting done up by Catherine Souliere functioned subtly by keeping eyes focused on the action without drawing attention to how it was applied. Stage Manager Paul Richardson had the performers and wardrobe changes flowing briskly and the costuming by Jan Seabrook helped define characters while grounding them in the “real world”. The projections done by Ian Alexander gave the production the finish it needed very well.

The makeup was exceptional. Until the actors were seen after the show it was impossible to tell they were so heavily done up. Alice Jones, Barb St. Pierre and Maddy Taylor did an excellent job of “painting” the characters while making them look like everyday people when they were on the stage.

The cast and crew will have to read, react to, and occasionally wait on their audience because the production one that literally is funny enough to “have ‘em “rolling in the aisles”. Sound man Chris Matthews kept things clear most of the time and the actors projected well but they were all drowned out a few times when the crowd laughed uncontrollably. That’s a small complaint (and not a bad “problem” to have though) but some of what might have been the funniest dialogue was lost because of it. Given that it was opening night there’s no doubt they’ll address the issue.

It’s a funny and moving show that should be playing to good sized audiences before the run ends.

This performance took place at the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia on Friday April 13, 2018. It runs through to April 21, 2018. The article was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.  

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