Each year at the end of the summer theatre season, I review my favourites – so here’s my take on the state of theatre in southwestern Ontario in 2013:
If you were just looking for laughs this summer, Grand Bend was the place to be. Neil Aitchison brought back “Sorry, I’m Canadian” go Playhouse II, and his Red Skelton-style humour cracks us up every time. Also good for a laugh was the hilarious Canadian farce, “Too Many Cooks” starring the always funny Keith Savage – an exceptionally zany play directed by the author Marcia Kash, set in Niagara Falls, Canada during prohibition.
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia had the best musical revues this year – First with the remarkable “Fiddler on the Loose”, starring Jesse Grandmont, fiddler/violinist extraordinaire. Then “Hollywood Sings”, now on stage at VPP, brought together a cast of seven magnificent voices singing all the movie musical favourites. Susan Gilmour and June Crowley lead this cast of powerful vocalists.
The most interesting play staged this summer was “Beyond the Farm Show” at the Blyth Festival – an update of the original Farm Show which ignited the Festival 40+ years ago. Another interesting Canadiana play was “Prairie Nurse”, also at Blyth – a fascinating true story about young nurses coming to Canada from the Philippines. For those wanting a play that will tug at their heart strings, “Tuesdays with Morrie” at Playhouse II in Grand Bend was excellent. TD Bank TV ad character Ian Downie was a perfect Morrie, while Jeffrey Wetsch was very good as Mitch in this two-hander.
This brings us to my favourites – the musicals. I mean, why go to the theatre for a play and just see acting, when you can go to a musical and see and hear singing, dancing and acting?
There were several good musicals on stage across southwestern Ontario; in particular, “Guys and Dolls” still playing at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and both the rock opera “Tommy” and the classic “Fiddler on the Roof” still available at Stratford Festival. In “Guys and Dolls” Thom Allison’s “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” is worth the ticket price alone. “Tommy” is outstanding, if only because it’s a chance to see an update of the original Broadway show, by those who started it in the first place. And Fiddler offers the most amazing Russian dancing and bottle dancing! Watch for ticket sales on twitter or rush seats and take advantage, see these shows before they close this fall.
A fun new musical “Yorkville” was presented at the Blyth Festival. It was cute and comical, and fun because it was all-Canadian.
Drayton Entertainment’s “Mary Poppins” was presented at the opening of the new Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge earlier this spring, and then Huron Country Playhouse offered the same show for the month of August. Drayton favourite Jayme Armstrong, along with Mark Ledbetter who played the role on Broadway, were perfect as Mary and Bert. With the large cast and lively choreography, this show was a hugely popular with the younger crowd, and the funny and talented performers kept the parents and grandparents enjoying themselves, too.
So this brings me to my favourite show of summer 2013 – “Spamalot”. I thought about this a long time. Why did I enjoy “Spamalot” so much? Was it just because my son was in it? I really tried to look at it objectively, and still, I think this show was among the most enjoyable because it was unique. Many people told me afterwards that they didn’t consider themselves Monty Python fans, yet they really enjoyed the zany humour in Spamalot. The show was very well-cast, with some of Canada’s funniest actors. Victor Young as King Arthur, travelling with Nick Settemi as Patsy, the horse with coconuts, were a perfect pair. All the knights were fantastic funny guys – Stephen Patterson, Eddie Glen, Aiden deSalaiz, Mark Uhre – while Kristen Peace was exceptional as the Lady of the Lake with her amazing voice. Thomas Alderson had eight roles, and was particularly memorable as Not Dead Fred, The Minstrel and Prince Herbert. Sets and costumes were extraordinary, and the ensemble’s singing and dancing was all high energy. With one laugh piling right on top of the next, “Spamalot” is the definitive summer theatre musical.
Thomas Alderson as The Historian on left, with the ensemble dancing and singing the fish-slapping Finland song in Spamalot at Huron Country Playhouse, summer 2013.