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.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up

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“You can’t be that attractive and funny” — well, not unless you’re Caitlin Robson and Eric Miinch. Catch the comedic duo in Caitlin & Eric Are Broken Up, produced by Squeaky Wheel, and playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Murder In The Cottonwoods

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When leaving the theatre after seeing Murder In The Cottonwoods, I had stuck in my head a line from Rocky Horror that I think perfectly summed up my experience of the show; “a mental mind-f*ck can be nice.” A bizarre tale of murder set in a town that could be 1950s middle America if it weren’t for the Seinfeld references, Murder In The Cottonwoods may be the strangest show you’ll see at this year’s Fringe Festival. If you are a fan of David Lynch, then this show is for you: it’s Twin Peaks meets Pleasantville in this surreal “romantic nightmare.” Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

White Wedding (Port Albert Productions) 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival Review

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White Wedding - 2017 Toronto Fringe

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing a new site-specific piece at Artscape Youngplace; Port Albert Production’s White Wedding. The show was staged in an upper hallway of the building, which nicely fit the plot, but did make it rather difficult to see; if you’re planning on going to this show, arrive early. I was 3 rows back and missed some key moments, you’re going to want to be right up front for the best experience.

Playwright/director/producer Taylor Marie Graham’s story was strong, and the majority of the writing felt sincere, though lead character Lisa (Kayla Whelan) seemed to often be off the mark, something which may have partially had to do with the writing of her scenes. While Lisa was the main protagonist, she seemed to be the only character to not have any real growth or development, and I found her to be unfortunately unlikable. I was confused by many of her moments of “emotion”, because they were meant to pop up suddenly, uncontrollably, but that was not what I saw from the actor. Hearing shouted, “oh no! I can’t cry again” when I see no tears made it feel cheesy and took me out of the moment.

The rest of the cast was strong, and two actors stood out for me in this performance; Cass Van Wyck as Heather, and Lauren Wolanski as Michelle. As a pair of old high school friends/ ex-lovers, the pair had unquestionable chemistry. Van Wyck excelled as the brash, fun-loving Heather, trying to play it cool despite still being desperately in love with her old high school fling. As Michelle, the now-married mother of a young son, Wolanksi effortlessly flipped back and forth between being the ideal (if not a little cold and repressed) wife, and the passionate, youthful girl that still lusts for her friend. Their relationship is by far the most compelling in the play, and I was happy to see it played honestly, rather than relying on caricatures or stereotypes. Special mention goes to Dave Martin as Dave, who did not have an especially complex character to play, but who was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. He also has a beautiful singing voice and accompanied much of the show on guitar.

The Verdict: Worth a watch, but show up early to get a good seat.
Rating: 4/5 Stars

Performance Times:

Sunday July 9th 6:00pm
Sunday July 9th 9:00pm
Thursday July 13th 9:00pm
Friday July 14th 9:00pm
Saturday July 15th 2:00pm
Saturday July 15th 6:00pm
Saturday July 15th 9:00pm

Tickets available online or at the door (while supplies last).

Toronto Fringe Festival Review: Adult Entertainment

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Sex, violence and morality battle it out onstage in George F. Walker’s Adult Entertainment, produced by Triple ByPass Productions and playing now at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Check out another one of my 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival reviews via Mooney on Theatre.

A Disappointingly Small Show for a Big Company: A Review of Starvox’s “Cannibal: The Musical”

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Before the curtain had even risen, I knew I was in for a mediocre-at-best production; when a theatre the size of the Panasonic doesn’t even have show programs, you get the feeling they really aren’t putting their all into it. Then, when the show starts late (after a couple false starts where the terrible pre-show music died down, and we were all sure the show was finally going to begin) you start to wonder what it is you’re paying all that money for (the Mirvish name doesn’t seem to be on synonymous with quality, just with high prices **EDIT: a helpful commenter just pointed out that this was actually produced by Starvox, but I’m still going to stick by this comment!).

I generally try to keep my reviews positive, so I’ll keep this one short; the book & score is, as I suspected, mediocre. The same type of jokes you know to expect from South Park and Book of Mormon creator Trey Parker, but considerably less sharp and clever than his usual work; it’s like he pulled out all the ‘B’ material that didn’t make it into those shows, and then mixed in a few references to random things like vintage video games and Disney’s Frozen. There isn’t much to the story, and there is even less to the characters. The only song that stayed in my head for more than a minute after it played was “Eat Me” (I’m assuming that’s the title, having difficulty finding the stage musical’s song list online). Admittedly, that one was sort of catchy.

The directing took what could have been a dumb but fun show and made it into something almost painful to watch. Bizarre choices were made with elements like the blood and gore; why choose to have the squirting blood pack in the opening number only to ignore it for the rest of the show? Going from decent effects to Halloween-quality props & gore later on just makes you think they didn’t want to spend the money, or put in the effort to clean up stage blood. The costumes were also disappointing in that there were several malfunctions; wigs falling off (more than once), a nun with a long slit up the back of her dress – it just felt like an amateur college show.

Despite the odds being stacked against them, the performers did do an incredible job. Many of the jokes fell flat, but the awkward delivery I would blame more on the directing than the actors, as it seemed to be consistent across the board. Like it was being put together by someone who had no understanding of the type of delivery needed to pull off Parker’s style of comedy. Still, they had a great physical presence, a couple very strong dancers, and the actors playing Parker (Liam Tobin) & Polly (Elicia MacKenzie) were fantastic singers. MacKenzie especially stood out in her various bit parts. When playing the angel in the “Eat Me” number she showed off some amazing vocals, and as the old woman she displayed some strong physical comedy skills. It should also be noted that the actors all played multiple roles, sometimes with little time in between; switching characters and costumes quickly is a difficult job, but they all pulled it off.

Overall, I’m sorry to say, the show is a waste of time and money. I was really surprised and disappointed to see something this poorly done at a big theatre, but I guess it goes to show that you can’t judge a company by its budget, be it big or small. Hopefully the actors will all be cast in something of this scale, but higher quality, again soon; they would be worth watching again.

-E.