Saturday, March 19, 2011

Toronto's Billy Elliot

Truth be told right out of the gate, I don’t consider Billy Elliot a great musical. It’s a wonderful story, I’ll grant you that, but Elton John is capable of so much better than the derivative music he puts forward for this adaptation of the hit film. The choreography is lovely but the direction somewhat stale and the tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition of the pretty dancing and the macho miners more often than not undermines the serious stories (both the dancing one and the mining one- both have more gravitas than that). In the current Toronto production there are some strained accents, some shotty singing and the occasional overblown bit of acting. But there were great things too: Kate Hennig is a wonderful Mrs. Wilkinson, infusing the dance teacher with the perfect mixture of warmth and spunk; Armand Schultz is torturously engaging and empathetic as Billy’s dad and Patrick Mulvey is fiery as his brother Tony. The rest of the ensemble is remarkably strong, including the sublime Samuel Pergande in the mature balletic roles. I was particularly excited to see David Light from CBC’s Triple Sensation showing off his triple threat skills in the chorus; (also fun: So You Think You Can Dance’s famously lovable big brother Ryan Kasprzak is the dance captain).

Friday, March 11, 2011

CFA's Caesar

BU's School of Theatre took on Julius Caesar last weekend, staging the homosocial epic in the unique Studio 102 space in the College of Fine Arts with a fifteen person all-female ensemble. It was an uneven production that made good use of space (the wonderfully dressed up studio was a feast for the detail-oriented eye) and great use of its talented cast but fell short directorially.

While some of Christine Hamel's directorial decisions paid off (simple, suggestive costuming; well placed action; solid character direction), she got carried away when it came to some of her more high-minded artistic efforts. The ghost was staged with a complete lack of nuance, all drawn breath and wide eyes, never the least bit haunting. Many of the off-text moments fell the flattest, like when Titinnius declared that she would stab herself in the heart then preceded to slash her wrists (then keel over almost instantly- I'm not a science person but I'm fairly certain that's not how that works). But it wasn't until the fight sequences that I wrote off the direction completely. Whether the fault lies with Hamel or fight director Adam McLean is unclear, but the animalistic play on the murders of Caesar and Cinna the Poet read less like metaphoric interpretation and more like a scene from Mean Girls with all the irony taken out.

But there was redemption for the production, enough of it to make the show ultimately a success.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Our 2010 Performers of the Year

As we honour our hand-picked Performers of the Year we finally close the door on 2010 and settle into 2011.  Read on for our list of the 7 theatrical MVPs of 2010. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The 2010 My Theatre HONORARY AWARD

It's time for the 2010 My Theatre Honorary Award. This distinction, announced separately from the rest of the winners, is awarded each year to celebrate standout achievement in any given category. Winners aren't nominated in the regular My Theatre Awards. Rather, they're honored separately as the best things that happened in theatre all year (whether they be writers, directors, actors, companies, plays, etc...). This year's winner is a theatre actor who escaped our regular nominations because we never saw him perform live. Instead, My Theatre got to enjoy this phenomenal performance from the comfort of the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston as it was simulcast from the UK National Theatre in London.

This year's winner is...

Rory Kinnear

As much as I love Shakespeare (which is a lot, I'm not sure if you've been paying attention, but it's a lot), I've always considered Hamlet one of the world's more overrated things. It's hard for it not to be, considering it's often lauded as the single greatest thing written in the English language. But I've never quite gotten the fascination. It's long and I've always felt that it's stronger on the page than the stage, if only because I've never encountered an actor who can speak for 4 hours straight and come out of it on my good side. It's also full of allusions in need of footnotes and its title character is a whiny creature who is never quite engaging enough to justify how much of the text he's given to speak alone.

And then there was Rory Kinnear. I read a review in The Globe and Mail that said "He’s neither the craziest nor sexiest nor angriest Hamlet, but as he speaks the verse with water-clear simplicity, he might be the most believable". Kinnear isn't the "most" anything, and that's what makes him so great. So often, actors confronted with the Everest-like role participate in a Sophie's choice of adjectives: is he a soldier or a scholar? Noble or cowardly? Honorable or shady? When, in reality, all of us are all of these. Hamlet, in truth, is nothing, more or less, than a guy. And for the first time ever, Rory Kinnear had me on his side. He wasn't the anything Hamlet, he was the everything Hamlet. He was just there, living it out as if it were happening to him, no pretty gesticulations, verse hammering or cadence caroling. He said the lines exactly as someone would say whatever it was that Hamlet was saying in that moment. And somehow that little act of rebellion changed Hamlet forever for me.

In an interesting, if shaky, directorial product and supported by a truly underwhelming supporting cast, Rory Kinnear had me on the edge of my seat from his very first soliloquy. My love was incalculable by the time he reached his best scene with "Rogue and peasant slave" and I didn't let go until "the rest is silence". What happened in between was nothing short of mind-changing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The 2010 My Theatre Award Winners

Any theatrical production that one of our writers saw between Jan 1 and Dec 31 2010 qualified for our first annual My Theatre Awards. Between 4 to 7 nominees were announced in each of our 15 categories. Since the nominations were announced, 24 standout performers and directors from almost every category have participated in the My Theatre Nominee interview series.

Now we honour the best of the best from this exceptional group of 84 nominees.

Thank you so much to all those who participated in our interview series and congratulations to all the winners!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Theatre Nominees- Q&A with Dion Johnstone

Before we announce the winners of the 2010 My Theatre Awards, we're proud to present the My Theatre Nominee Interview Series.

When I reviewed the Stratford Shakespeare Festival's 2010 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, I cited Dion Johnstone and his costar Gareth Potter as "the inarguable top of the young-leading-man pyramid at Stratford". My Tempest review called Dion "one of the greatest talents on stage at the festival in recent years, making his way through many of the most challenging roles ever written". These aren't overstatements. Since his 2007 turn as Edmund in King Lear, Dion Johnstone has been on my radar as a Stratford favourite. His performance as Caliban last summer was extroardinary, earning him a 2010 My Theatre Award nomination for best supporting actor.

One of my favourite performers in Canada, Dion is the 24th and final member of our 2010 My Theatre Nominee interview series. The passionate and candid actor took a good deal of time out of rehearsing for Western Canada Theatre's current production of W;t to talk to me about his greatest roles, his approach to acting and how the 2011 Stratford season is shaping up. 

Read on for my full conversation with Dion: