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Nestruck on Theatre

Critic J. Kelly Nestruck keeps an eye on what's going on in theatre

Entry archive:

King and Bacharach’s Brill Building brilliance, rearranged for the stage

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Sooner or later, Broadway was going to set its sights on the Brill Building and the teenage tunes penned therein by legendary songwriting teams such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

After all, contemporary pop-chart competitors have already formed the basis for Jersey Boys (doing boffo box-office since 2005) and Motown: The Musical (a surprise smash since it opened last March).

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The Daisy Theatre: Less script makes room for more variety

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights … almost.

Word recently leaked out in Variety that Disney Theatrical Productions has been testing out a stage version of The Muppet Show, causing widespread excitement among fans of Kermit and the gang who have always wanted the chance to watch their favourite characters not on a screen but from Statler and Waldorf’s seats.

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The National Theatre School suffers from 'Montrealcentrism,' report contends

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Is the National Theatre School of Canada on its way to becoming the national theatre school of francophone Quebec?

That’s the fear expressed in an independent assessment of the Montreal-based school commissioned by the federal government two years ago – and which landed in a semi-censored, access-to-information form on my desk recently in an envelope accompanied by an anonymous (and slightly hysterical) letter asking me to look into it.

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An irreverence for classics plays well in Berlin. Why not in Canada?

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Thomas Ostermeier, artistic director of Berlin’s famed Schaubuhne theatre company, has made a name for himself internationally over the past decade with his productions of Henrik Ibsen’s plays.

But what does the German director really think of the 19th-century Norwegian playwright who penned such classics as A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler?

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Factory Theatre: It's time to end the boycott

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

As fall arrives, the temperature cools – and tempers cool, too. No surprise then that as Labour Day came and went, Toronto’s tumultuous Factory Theatre had a much-needed week of positive news.

Finally, board chairman Ron Struys and his fellow directors put the search for a new artistic director on hold and entered into mediation with the man they fired from that position a little over two months ago, Ken Gass.

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Plummer keeps his distance in one-man show

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

For star rating and full review, see Saturday’s arts section

Last seen at Stratford as Prospero, Christopher Plummer – a couple years older and an Academy Award heavier – opens up his personal magic books, quoting from poets, playwrights and authors who have cast spells over him since he was a shy boy growing up in Quebec.

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Is Slings and Arrows on the way back?

J. Kelly Nestruck

Will Slings and Arrows be coming back for a fourth season? Co-creator Bob Martin has been hinting that it might on Twitter, making fans of the late, lamented theatre-themed television s eries giddy with excitement. (Well, making me giddy with excitement, anyway.)

"Slings may live again," Martin tweeted recently under his handle @drstoper , a reference to the character he played on the short-lived CBC comedy, Michael: Tuesdays and Thursday.

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How to bring theatre to an increasingly multicultural Canada

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Has Jovanni Sy solved the biggest problem facing Canada’s theatre establishment – what to do about shrinking (white) audiences in a growing (multicoloured) Canada? As he prepares to unveil the programming for the first Chinese-language Gateway Pacific Theatre Festival this week, the artistic director of Richmond’s Gateway Theatre is certainly pointing toward a possible solution.

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Legend Has It: Taking audience participation to the next level

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Would you like to be a star at the Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays this year? Well, thanks to Legend Has It, you can be – and all you have to do is buy a ticket.

Rebecca Northan’s new comedy, set in a fantasy world called Jaro, opened this week at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary – and every night the actress and improviser is plucking a member of the audience to become the hero of the story, and save the Mumplings from the evil Haldor and his dragon,

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Did you get an end-of-year bonus this year? Everyone at the Shaw Festival did

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

How well did the Shaw Festival do in its 2013 season, financially speaking? So well that the not-for-profit theatre paid out bonuses to 461 artists and employees.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., repertory theatre announced a $1.2-million surplus at its annual general meeting on Friday evening. It had already revealed a record box-office haul of $16-million in November, along with healthy attendance of 270,570 for its 10-show season.

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Why ‘original practices’ Shakespeare is just the ticket for status-seeking consumers

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Broadway’s theatre critics, I’m sorry to report, have been gulled. They’ve been turned into a mass of Malvolios, sporting absurdly over-the-top grins (if not cross-garter’d stockings), thanks to a Shakespeare comedy currently playing at the Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street.

Twelfth Night, in an “original practices” production imported from Shakespeare’s Globe in London, is directed by Tim Carroll. That’s the same fellow whose Romeo and Juliet at Ontario’s Stratford Festival last summer – done, similarly, in a style meant to approximate how the play might have been presented in Elizabethan London – was the worst-reviewed classical production in artistic director Antoni Cimolino’s first season.

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The Last of Romeo and Juliet: A love story that’s truly ageless

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Nurse: Gentleman, can any of you tell me where I may find the young Romeo?

Romeo: I can tell you; but young Romeo will be older when you have found him than he was when you sought him. (Act II, Scene IV)

 

Last year, David Ferry received a most unusual offer from his agent – unusual for a 63-year-old actor, anyway. “David, I never thought I’d be asking you this question: How would you like to play Romeo?”

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How actor Tony Nappo’s tattoos tell a triumphant tale

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

In the cheap Thai restaurant in Toronto’s Roncesvalles Village that’s his local haunt, actor Tony Nappo puts down his knife and fork and, at my request, rolls up his sleeves to show the tattoos on his beefy arms. Two tell the story of what did and did not help him beat his addiction to cocaine.

On his right arm, in Chinese letters, is the word “discipline” – a tattoo he got when he first went to rehab in 2000. But as Nappo says now, “Discipline’s way easier to write on your arm than to actually do.”

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How Steven Hoggett finds the movement in every body

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

It was Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland’s hit about the experiences of a Scottish regiment in the Iraq War, that brought Steven Hoggett’s brand of physical theatre to worldwide attention. Since then, the British movement director has found surprise success on Broadway, earning kudos for the startlingly original ways he’s helped actors and dancers move their bodies in shows such as American Idiot, Peter and the Starcatcher and the upcoming Rocky: The Musical.

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Annie: The sun won’t come out for this production

J. Kelly Nestruck

Annie – starring Tony nominee Louise Pitre as a nasty, herky-jerky Miss Hannigan – is this year’s holiday show at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. In his program notes, director Allen MacInnis asks: “Why are children drawn to stories of orphans?” An interesting question, for sure, but not one of five that popped into my head while watching his pared-down, emotionally empty production of the 1977 musical.

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Two Obsidian Theatre shows with strong gravitational pull

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Whichever end of Toronto you find yourself in right now, there is an Obsidian Theatre Company production that’s worth your time. If you prefer your drama emotional, go west; if you prefer it experimental, head east.

Obsidian, which has developed one of the strongest artistic records of independent theatre companies in the country, is dedicated “to the exploration, development, and production of the Black voice.” Like all good theatrical institutions, however, it not only attempts to fulfill its mandate, but also constantly questions it.

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Happy Days are frequently delightful

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

How should a play be?

All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, author Sheila Heti’s play with songs by Dan Bejar of the bands Destroyer and the New Pornographers, has languished in dramaturgical limbo for more than a decade due to its unconventional nature. Many plays end up in a similar state, but Heti’s may be the most famously unproduced Canadian script ever as her semi-fictionalized inability to finish it was a plot point in her much-buzzed-about 2010 book, How Should a Person Be?

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Tartuffe in prewar Newfoundland? Praise be to Andy Jones

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

The National Arts Centre’s English Theatre has always been a conundrum – it’s a theatre with a national mandate, but a regional audience, charged with putting on artistically ambitious works in a commercial-sized house. I don’t want to jump the gun, but new artistic director Jillian Keiley may have finally figured out how to solve the puzzle.

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Anything Goes revival feels more like Everything Goes

J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Cole Porter’s Anything Goes premiered in 1934, a decade before the rise of so-called “integrated musical theatre” – that is, musicals such as Oklahoma! in which the song and dance are integral to telling the story and developing characters, rather than a break from such matters.

And so director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s Tony-winning 2011 revival – now on tour and playing at Toronto’s Princess of Wales – treats the show as a series of loosely linked vaudeville routines and cabaret acts. That’s fair enough, because the plot, rejigged and rewritten many times by half a dozen writers since the 1930s, really doesn’t matter. You’re the Top; Blow, Gabriel, Blow; I Get a Kick Out of You – you could put the song list on shuffle, switch around which characters sing which hits, and the musical would still make about as much sense. There are Cirque du Soleil shows with greater narrative complexity.

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Entertaining Mr. Sloane: A 50-year-old satire that retains the power to shock

J. Kelly Nestruck

British playwright Joe Orton would be just 80 today – if he hadn’t been hammered to death by his lover on an August day in 1967.

It may be foolish and romantic to ascribe prescience to those who die young and under tragic circumstances, but there’s still something chilling about how ahead of his time Orton seems now. The playwright who grew up poor and gay certainly saw his society much more clearly than most of his contemporaries did – as if he were looking back on it from 50 years on, but without having ever lost the unforgiving anger of youth.

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J. Kelly Nestruck bio

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