A Review of the LOT’s “Buddy Holly Story”

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Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens -photo Seanna Kennedy.

Nigel Irwin as Buddy Holly, Thomas James Finn as the Big Bopper and Mike Buchanan as Richie Valens – photo Seanna Kennedy.

The challenge of mounting any Jukebox Musical is that you are taking songs people know and love and putting them in the hands of performers who, regardless of how talented they are, are unlikely to live up to the image we have in our minds of what they should be. When you have the added challenge of working with performers who simply aren’t as talented as singers they’re portraying you end up with a show that is unfortunately lackluster. Sadly, this was the case for the majority of the performers in the Lower Ossington Theatre production of The Buddy Holly Story, however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

…a show that is unfortunately lackluster…however, a few standout moments were powerful enough to still make for an overall enjoyable evening.

Alan Kinsella directed the show along with musical director Mike Ross. While I question some of the casting choices, the staging was effective and Mikael Kangas lighting and set design (Michael Galloro also worked on set) was simple but bold and engaging. They made excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights. As always, I’m going to be critical of the design; I found the costumes sub-par especially the women’s, and was surprised to see such a big name (Mark Boots) listed as “Wig Consultant” when I thought the wigs looked cheap and inaccurate.

…excellent use of a small stage and stationary set, creating a series of unique scenes primarily through the use of lights.

Any performance that requires actors put on accents risks sounding cheesy or inauthentic; with the exception of Thomas Finn, whose Hi-Pockets & Big Bopper were spot on, this was a common issue for the show. As the title character, Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required. In fact, the majority of the cast was lacking in energy, and moments like the fight scene between The Crickets and a music producer felt very forced. Similarly, numbers like “Party” that should have had the audience on their feet fell flat due to pitchy vocals and a dull performance.

Nigel Irwin’s Buddy lacked the charm, charisma and authenticity the show required.

Despite being too long and dragging much more than the first act (a fault of the writing, not performance), the second act was what made the show. Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper. Bursting onstage with all of the Bopper’s larger-than-life presence, Finn steals the show with on-the-spot vocals and contagious energy. You could feel the audience wake up during “Chantilly Lace”, and even less electric performances were given a much needed push with the help of Finn’s great stage presence.

Easily the biggest talent of the performance was Thomas Finn as The Big Bopper…Finn steals the show.

One number did stand out as a good Holly impersonation; “Guess It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”. That song has always been one of my favourites and I was happy to hear Irwin find his voice and channel Buddy beautifully in that song. Maybe some more work will add some consistency to his performance.

All in all the production has a definite amateurish feel, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable night out. Upbeat, lovable music and a few stand out moments make it a fun time for anyone with a love of the oldies. For tickets and more information, check out www.lowerossingtontheatre.com.

-E.

How Much Can It Be? – What It Costs to Take a Musical to the NYC Fringe

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If you haven’t tried to finance a show on your own before, chances are you have little to no idea how much it costs – and why would you? As an actor, you understand that money is needed for props, costumes, the venue, but chances are you don’t give much thought to the less glamourous expenses like insurance, printing fees, mileage fees, and small but essential purchases like batteries, notebooks and flashlights. If you’re only familiar with theatre as an audience member, you are likely even more removed, and may not consider how many hours goes into rehearsal for a show, and how much money it costs to rent a decent sized rehearsal space. Or the fact that your actors and crew need to be fed, need to be given print materials like scripts and dramaturgy notes; it all adds up. Fast.

Rope was performed in November of 2015 with a budget of only about $3000. Before that, Dial M For Murder was produced with a budget just under $6000.

Rope was performed in November of 2015 with a budget of only about $3000. Before that, Dial M For Murder was produced with a budget just under $6000.

Currently I am working on a show that is headed to the NYC Fringe in a couple of weeks; Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical. While the show costs are pretty comparable to what I am used to raising for a Bygone Show, taking a group of 12 to New York City for 10 days, and hiring a professional band has nearly doubled the budget from what I’ve dealt with in the past.

My handy-dandy pie chart clearly lays out where the majority of our costs are going.

To give you a basic idea of our costs for Kill Sister, Kill! A Musical, here are a list of the major expenses, also outlined in the above pie chart;

  • Fringe Participants Fee: $870.00
  • Insurance: $700.00
  • Travel Expenses: $1300.00
  • Accommodations: $3000
  • Band Fees: $2000.00
  • Set, Props & Costumes: $300.00
  • Production Fees: $200.00
  • Advertising: $200.00

TOTAL BUDGET: $8570.00

As you can see, the main expenses are our accommodations and the band. We managed to secure sponsorship from Pointe Plaza Hotel and got a great deal – 12 people staying for 10 days in a great area in Brooklyn – but it’s still a large amount overall. Likewise, the band is playing for a ridiculously low rate – we scored 4 professional NYC performers (plus our own Michael Zahorak, who is also the musical director) whose experience includes Broadway shows & national tours. For the talent we’re getting for 5 shows, it’s a very reasonable rate, but again, it adds up fast.

Renting out a professional theatre and building flats for Dial M For Murder were major costs.

Renting out a professional theatre and building flats for Dial M For Murder were major costs.

You may have noticed some of the above expenses are quite low, like, ridiculously low. Bygone’s previous shows usually have a costume budget of $500-$800 and that’s for a small cast. Props, as well, would generally be at least $300, and I’ve spent as much as $2000 on a set. However, there are a few things that make this show a little different; with a 15 minute set-up and strike time, our set needs to be minimal – no flats for us! Costumes are a bit less expensive as it’s easier to find cheap 70s looks than it is to say, find flapper dresses. Finally, with all categories, we are making a real effort to borrow EVERYTHING. At long last, my massive prop/costume collection is paying off! It pays as well to have friends in theatre, as all of us are working to source things for free.

Advertising as well is very low. We managed to get all our posters & postcards printed for under $100, and the remaining money will be used to make some buttons and to likely get a Facebook or other online ad. The benefit of living in this social-media-obsessed time is that there are lots of methods of free advertising out there; problem is, they all take considerably more time than traditional methods (mailings, newspaper listings, etc) do, which means more work for us on the production team.

I haven’t included on this budget some basic things like rehearsal space, printing costs, food, parking etc. because when doing a fundraising campaign I don’t think it’s necessary to outline every expense. Here I stuck to the major ones everyone is familiar with, but trust me, if you go through my producer notes you will see every cent accounted for, detailed potential revenue reports and a tracking sheet for all our receipts. I do daily updates to the budget and it’s essential that I keep on track of every expense, no matter how minor, because it is very easy to let things get off track.

For our countless hours of work we are about 47% of the way there.

So how are we doing so far? Well we’ve had some very generous donors, and have gotten gifts-in-kind from several local companies which has helped keep costs low. We hosted 2 fundraisers (Retro Radio Hour – Sin & Sensation and Fuck This City) and continue to push every day to spread the word and secure more donations. For our countless hours of work we are about 47% of the way there; if we raise another $2000 – $2500 we are unlikely to lose any money on the show, if we raise another $4000 we stand a chance of making a profit, and that means being able to pay the cast and crew.

So this is where the selfish part of the post comes in; we need your help. I personally have been working on this show since October, and for the past couple months have been spending 30-40 hours a week (on top of my two jobs) on the show, doing anything from poster design to budgets, marketing to rehearsal scheduling and much more. Our crew includes Michael Zahorak, the composer/music director (who hasn’t slept in days), Lyricist David Backshell (who has stayed up many sleepless nights to work with Mike), Associate Producer Tea Nguyen (who joined the tame late but was immediately thrown into the lion’s den) and writer’s Drac & Jamieson Child (Jamie is also directing, and so spends his evenings in rehearsals and his days perfecting the script). The cast has a tight rehearsal schedule so they too have nearly full-time hours, and again, none of us are getting paid.

If we raise another $2000 – $2500 we are unlikely to lose any money on the show, if we raise another $4000 we stand a chance of making a profit, and that means being able to pay the cast and crew.

A career in the arts is a hard thing to begin, and an even harder thing to maintain. While some may look at a show like this and say “well, they want to do it, they need to pay for it, it’s just fun, isn’t it?”, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure there are fun moments, but ultimately when you work in theatre you have resigned yourself to working 80 hour weeks for little to no pay, and to over and over be putting all your heart and soul into something that will be judged by total strangers. It’s exhausting. And stressful. And yes we love it but it really can be hard. But you can help make it a bit easier, and in doing so help to launch the careers of the 12+ young artists who are involved.

If you would like to make a donation, visit our website or indiegogo campaign. We have a bunch of wicked perks available to those who donate, and again, you’ll be helping to support the efforts of a large group of artists. If you are unable to make a donation, please consider sharing this post, or the links to our donation pages – getting the word out is important, and the more people who help spread the news the better chance we will have at success.

Thanks for getting this far, all for now.

-E.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder

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Tonight I had the pleasure of going to see the Tony Award winning Broadway hit, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, starring Bryce Pinkman and Jerfferson Mays. I had first heard of the show back in June when I saw them perform “I’ve Decided to Marry You” on the 2014 Tony Awards; I was instantly hooked.

The story is about a young man, Monty, who has recently lost his mother and finds himself penniless. A strange woman appears and informs him that his mother was actually a member of the D’Ysquith family; a wealthy but unusual lot who cast her out when she chose to marry for love rather than choose someone from her own status. Turns out, Monty is 8th in line for Earldom, a position that would give him money and authority, perhaps even enough to finally win the hand of his mistress, Sibella (played brilliantly by Lisa O’Hare). Initially, Monty intends to work for the family, but after Lord Adalbert (Mays) sends him a nasty reply he decides it would be better to murder off other potential heirs instead.

The show is set in 1909 and the costumes are stunning. I would love to meet the dressers for Jefferson Mays as he plays each of the 8 D’Ysquiths and often has less than a minute to change from one character to the next. His character changes and acting abilities are astonishing, but none of that would work without the amazing talent of the costume team and dressers to go with it.It’s not the strongest book I’ve seen, but the story is funny. And songs such as “I’ve Decided To Marry You” and “It’s Better With A Man” are sure to be stuck in your head for days. My personal favourite was “Sibella”; a darkly passionate love song that stands out from the rest as being far more serious and moving.

Most of the plot was predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.

**SPOILER**

The one part that did catch me off guard was the 9th D’Ysqutih who bursts out of the top of the faux stage in the final number, doing a mini reprise of “I’ve Got Poison In My Pocket”. Once again, brilliant set, character, and great comedic timing.

**END OF SPOILER**

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With Tony nominee Jefferson Mays.

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Stealing a kiss from the incredible Jefferson Mays

One of my favourite parts of seeing a show is standing by the stage door in hopes of meeting the stars afterwards. I’m not one who follows celebrity gossip and you wouldn’t catch me standing in the rain waiting to meet a Kardashian, but for Broadway actors, any day.I’m always so happy to see talented actors that are also friendly and down-to-earth. I managed to get the cast’s signatures as well as a few photos – and even a kiss! Not to fear, Mr. Mays wife was there as well, and she also chatted with us and admitted that he does (as many actors I have known do) sometimes slip into character at home. I asked him how he managed to change characters so quickly and he replied simply;

“Really, my head is still spinning”.

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With Tony nominee Bryce Pinkman

If you get a chance to see this show, take it. It was an amazing time and these are actors worth supporting.

-E.

My Fellow Fringers – My NYC Fringe Picks

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We’ve been in NYC for about a week now, and we’ve already seen a ton of amazing talent. What makes the NYC Fringe different from other ones around the world is that it is a juried festival, meaning all of these plays were selected by a team of judges. As another Fringer pointed out the other night, this basically means we’ve “all already made it”. Some criticize this method as being against the “nature of the fringe”, but it does mean that all the shows here are phenomenal. We’ve been to two teaser/promo nights so far, and so while I have yet to see any of the shows I do already have an idea of what I want to see. So here are my New York International Fringe Festival, 2014 Picks:

1. King of Kong
Starring the lovely and talented Amber Ruffin and Lauren Van Kurin, this musical parody tells the story of 2 men on their quest to hold the high score on the classic Donkey Kong game. Their song, “Billy’s Sauce” is absolutely brilliant and we’ve all been watching it on repeat. Check out a version of it here. These ladies are not only funny and talented, but really nice as well. This is top of my list for shows to see.

2. We’re Very Proud And We Love You So Much
Created by the comedy troupe His Majesty, The Baby, this sketch comedy is described as the “funniest bad dream you’ve ever had”. They performed a piece of it at the busking night on Thursday and it was brilliant; a couple finds themselves in a hilarious (and at times very touching) palindromic argument, repeating the same thing over and over changing only their intentions. Very well done. Another one to see for sure.

3. Fatty Fatty No Friends
I was blown away by Jason Sofge’s vocals at the teaser night, and I am very intrigued by a show that is described as, ” A dark spoken-word musical diving into the lunchtime of life, where bullies are delicious.” They sold out their opening night, so hopefully I can find a less packed performance!

4. Coming: A Rock Musical of Biblical Proportions
Saw a scene from this at the teaser the other night and it was phenomenal. Great voices, looks very funny – I don’t know a ton about it and I haven’t had the chance to chat with any of the cast, but I’m adding this one to my list nonetheless.

5. Absolutely Filthy
I got chatting to actor Curt Bonnem after the teaser night on Thursday and found him to be a very charming and funny man (and one who knows Toronto! woot!). While I don’t know much about this show either, it was one of the first that caught my eye, in part because the postcard boasts having won 3 L.A. Weekly Awards as well as Best of the Hollywood Fringe 2013. Can’t wait to check it out!

While these are at the top of my list, honestly, there wasn’t a show at the teaser night that didn’t look good, and if I had the time and money I’d see them all.If you’re checking out the NYC Fringe, be sure to look up our show, No Visible Scars.

All for now!
-E.