REVIEW: The LOT’s “Dreamgirls”

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There’s no denying Dreamgirls is a tough musical to pull off; large cast, flashy sets, tons of costume changes and vocal scores meant to mimic the great Diana Ross & the Supremes, make for a show that is difficult at best. The production currently playing at the Lower Ossington Theatre does an adequate job, but as I have found with all the shows I’ve seen at the LOT, it’s inconsistent, and while they have some top-notch talent, there are others that leave more than a little to be desired.

Bobby Daniels shines as Curtis Taylor Jr., the car salesman turned agent. His smooth voice is the strongest of the male cast, and for the most part, his acting was solid as well. I did question his intention in some of the more serious scenes where he came across more melodramatic than sincere, but overall I think his casting was a wise choice.

Kyle Brown stole the show as the soulful Jimmy Early. His voice wasn’t quite strong enough to hit some of the harder notes, but what he may have lacked in vocal strength he more than made up for with his electric stage presence. He had enviable dance skills, and made a thoroughly believable character, especially in his second-act solo piece; Jimmy does indeed “got soul”.

I was surprised by the casting of Krystle Chance as Effie White, since much is made of the character being grossly overweight, and yet Chance was a fit, curvy beauty in her sparkled gowns. Personally, I would have padded her out some, as it changes the story to have her being switched out of the lead role over her weight when the actress is barely any bigger than her co-stars. Still, the attitude and vocal range made her a good match, and she wowed in numbers like “One Night Only”.

Other notable mentions go to Amanda Mattar as Michelle, Effie’s replacement in the Dreams, who had a lovely voice and a really magnetic stage presence, and to Alinka Angelova as Lorrell, who really found her voice in the second act. My favourite number of the whole show? Stepping To The Bad Side, beautifully sung and choreographed; I got chills.

Overall, the directing by Saccha Dennis was simple but effective. The stage movements were slick and well choreographed to move through the rapidly changing scenes. However, it seemed as though not enough time was spent on the character work, something painfully obvious in scenes like “You Are My Dream”, where there was a total lack of chemistry.

Costuming a show of this size is quite a feat, but I would have liked to see some more authentic and better fitting costumes; the sparkling gowns were lovely, but didn’t seem to fit the actresses. Kudos to lighting designer Mikael Kangas for his beautiful work, he really effectively changed the look of each scene and moved things effortlessly from “stage lights” to “real lights”, without anything ever looking cheesy or fake; really well done. Sound designer Curtis Whittaker might want to re-check some of his levels, as I found much of the dialogue difficult to hear.

In the end, I’d recommend the show. It has its faults, but it’s a big musical with a lot of fun songs that will have you dancing in your seat. Great for a fun night out.

-E.

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.

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Theatre Lovers

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Valentine’s day is just around the corner & I suspect many of you are scrambling to pull together something better for your loved one than the cliched flowers & chocolate. While I see lists for things like “Valentine’s Day Gifts for Geeks” or “Sports Lovers”, “Food Lovers”, us theatre folk are sometimes neglected this time of year. But while it may not pop up in the trending section on Buzzfeed, it’s certainly worth a list in my books, because really, what lends itself better to romance than theatre? Here are a few of my personal suggestions for Valentine’s gifts for the theatre lover in your life:

  1. Tickets to a Play:
    Ok, so this one is kind of a no-brainer, but it needs to be on the list because, for non-theatre folk, it may at first seem like too expensive a gift. While you can pay hundreds of dollars to see a big Broadway-type show at Mirvish, for a fraction of the price there are dozens of brilliant small stage productions in the city. Look up Toronto favourites like The Storefront Theatre to get an eclectic mix of shows from groups like Theatre Brouhaha and Red One Theatre. For musicals, The Lower Ossington (LOT), First Act Productions and many University groups often have a good sampling. Why not make it a theatre weekend? For the price of a pair of tickets to something like Book of Mormon you could instead hit up four or five local shows. Yes, it may be riskier than a big budget show, but you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. And at the very least you will get a chance to support some local artists and see what’s going on in the Toronto theatre scene.
  2. A Collection of Romantic Plays:
    What’s sweeter than a book of plays that says “I love you” in a beautiful, poetic way? Whether you go for some contemporary musicals (maybe throw in the soundtrack as well?) or scour vintage stores & Etsy for a hardcover Shakespeare, this is a gift that can be kept for a lifetime. Wanna get extra sappy? Pull some quotes from the book to put in a card, or leave a note for your special someone on a particularly romantic page.
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  3. A Vintage Theatre Poster:
    If you’re ever looking for a stunning poster to brighten up your walls, your first search should be for vintage theatre posters. From the intricate designs of the 1910s & 20s, to the bold, minimalistic 50s and 60s, there really is a design to match anyone’s style and taste. Check out Ebay or Etsy to get a vintage copy, or just hit up a local framing shop and you can likely nab a cheap print. Give it to them framed, for extra brownie points.
  4. Theatre Inspired T-Shirts:
    I’ll admit, I was surprised at just how many of these I could find. From shirts made up for major Broadway shows, to more obscure prints done by fellow theatre buffs, there’s really quite a range. If you know someone’s favourite show, try searching it first, otherwise, you can’t really go wrong with a classic musical or Shakespearean quote.
  5. Theatre Inspired Socks:
    What, socks aren’t romantic? Ok, maybe not to everyone, but as someone who, a.) always has freezing cold feet & b.) has made a point of wearing colourful or patterned socks her entire life (when you’ve had to wear a uniform for most of your jobs, you look for little ways like that to rebel), a cool pair is something to be cherished. Plus, look at these things! At the very least you’ll get points for creativity.
  6. Theatre Inspired Jewellery:
    From references that only fans will get (quick – what does the “24601” on that necklace mean?) to simpler statements like “theatre geek”, there is a VAST array of jewellery available for the theatre fan in your life. If you’ve got a musical lover for a beau, try a custom charm bracelet that features the Playbills of all the shows they’ve seen. (give up? It’s from Les Mis).
  7. Theatre Decor:
    Does your theatre lover have a home or a room to decorate? Then pillows, blankets, knick knacks and more can be added to your list. Rather than getting a cheap souvenir from a show, why not go all out and get a funky pillow, or even devote an entire bedspread to a favourite show. If you want something a little less intense, try a keepsake box for tickets or playbills.
  8. A Musical Theatre Scorebook:
    If your special someone is musically inclined, then a score book can be especially fun. While it may be easy to download movies & music online, the same can rarely be said for sheet music. I would recommend the Singers Musical Theatre Anthology Collection; they’ve got tons of songs & come with accompaniment cds. Tip: make sure you know their singing range before buying, if you’re getting a book for a vocalist. Unlike the scores for an entire show, they tend to be grouped as being for altos, or sopranos, etc.
  9. Theatre Classes:
    For actors and theatre production workers alike, there are a remarkable lot of classes and courses available in the city and surrounding areas. I’ve taken millinery & prop food courses from Off The Wall in Stratford, and our here places like The Social Capital Theatre offer various types of improv classes. Depending on the time of year you may find some really cool workshops as well, so I’d suggest hitting up google and seeing what catches your eye.10425384_987580231271930_1545698752391215054_n

    10. A Theatre Themed Night:
    If you have a particular show you know your lover likes, why not set up a night that revolves all around it? Start off with food inspired by the show; love Cabaret? eat all German dishes. A fan of Wicked? Sip some green cocktails. You get the idea. Then, nerd out while watching a filmed version (or live if you can!) and singing along; look up the lyrics beforehand if you have to. You can go as far with this as your imagination & pocketbook can take you, and whatever you do, putting in the effort to have a night all about something that your partner loves, whether it’s your sort of thing or not, is going to be one of the sweetest things you can do. After all, it really is the thought that counts.

 

Got any ideas you think are missing from this list? Give me a shout! Let’s help our fellow theatre folk out.

-E.