Category Archives: Theatre

Beauty and the Beast

We went to see the Ross Petty production of Beauty and the Beast last weekend. (Thanks Kerri for getting on the phone as soon as tickets were available and getting us third row seats!) Ross Petty has produced (and starred in) a pantomime at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto every Christmas for 15 years, and this is our third (or fourth?) year going to see them. It’s always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. Petty always gets some fairly big name people in the show: In past years, he’s gotten Kurt Browning, Alan Frew, Patty Sullivan (if you have young kids and live in Canada you will likely recognize her), Don Harron, Jessica Holmes, and even Bret “The Hitman” Hart. This year it was former Canadian Idol winner Melissa O’Neill and Kids In The Hall alumnus Scott Thompson. Petty himself always stars as the villain, and loves to be booed – so much so that if he appears on the stage and doesn’t get booed, he stops, looks at the audience, and waits until they start booing him, grinning all the while. Then he inevitably tells everyone to shut up, though of course he wants nothing of the sort. He likes to get some topical humour in there as well; last year he talked about Tiger Woods, and this year he called the audience a bunch of left-wing pinkos.

The shows are aimed at kids (and there are a zillion of ’em there), but there are enough “grown-up” jokes that we parents always get a good laugh as well. The best one this year was by Scott Thompson, who was dressed in drag as Aunt Plinky. (There’s always someone in drag in these shows.) At one point, they bring three kids from the audience (Nicky was chosen last year!) up on stage and talk to them a little. Scott was dressed as Queen Elizabeth at this point, and asked one of the kids “Have you ever been this close to a queen before?”, and gave a knowing look to the audience. This was funny enough for most of the kids but for the adults, knowing that Thompson is gay made it even funnier. After the little girl said no, Thompson replied “Well, you probably have but you didn’t know it.”

I love all the little unexpected things they throw in there – things that aren’t necessary, don’t advance the plot or anything like that, they’re just funny. Near the end of the play, when the problem has been solved and the bad guy defeated, the main characters come together and sing the “We Did It!” song from Dora the Explorer. Or when the main two characters (Bella and Prince Zack) are singing a romantic love song to each other, Aunt Plinky shows up with his her bubble gun and dances around silently blowing bubbles all over the stage. Every year, Petty picks a particularly silly dance sequence and says afterward “You won’t see that at the Nutcracker!”, which is not only funny because it’s absolutely true, but also because he is married to Canada’s most famous ballerina, Karen Kain.

Petty has a clever way of mentioning the sponsors – they take two “commercial breaks” and show very funny commercials featuring the actors and/or characters from the play. This year we had “Queen Elizabeth” (Thompson again) staying at the Royal York, Bella trying on dresses and Aunt Plinky getting drunk and passing out at The Bay, and “Busking Beaver” (Justin Bieber with buck teeth and a flat tail) buying wood at Lowe’s, among others.

If you get a chance to see one of Ross Petty’s plays near Christmas some year, definitely check it out, especially if you have kids. Just don’t get tickets too early, or you may get the ones that we should be getting. And if you’re going the same night as us, definitely do not go to Baton Rouge across the street for dinner beforehand. I’m sure the Popeye’s Chicken across the street is just as good.


Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles

For Father’s Day, Gail and the boys got me tickets for a show in Toronto called Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles, which we went to see this past Sunday afternoon. It was partially a gift for Gail as well, since just me and the boys went, so she had a day to herself. Given the events of the past few months, she hasn’t had a lot of time to herself, so it was nice to be able to give her a day to do whatever she wanted.

Anyway, I was a little concerned that we were paying quite a bit of money for a concert by a tribute band. Even if the band was really good, $100/ticket is pretty expensive for a concert. I saw a band called 1964 at Ontario Place a bunch of years ago (for free!), and they were pretty good as the early Beatles. But they were basically recreating a Beatles concert from 1964, and so they only played early Beatles stuff. Rain played songs from the entire Beatles catalogue, including many songs that the Beatles never played live. They changed costumes several times, and they had video screens to enhance the whole multimedia experience. It was much more than just a band playing Beatles songs.

The guys in the band kind of resembled the Beatles, though we were in the fourth row of the balcony so we weren’t all that close. I did notice that while they had video cameras showing the band, they never had close-ups of any one person. When they changed costumes, they changed hairstyles and facial hair as well. There were a couple of anomalies:

  • John Lennon has a full beard on the cover of Abbey Road, but the guy playing John did not have any facial hair while wearing his Abbey Road outfit
  • the guy playing Paul McCartney was not left-handed (though I imagine finding a left-handed musician who can play bass, guitar, and piano and sing like McCartney is rather difficult)
  • the guy playing Ringo was a decent singer. Obviously he didn’t do enough research.

During one costume change break, they played a few TV commercials from the 60’s which were quite funny; did you know that Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble smoked Winstons?

The first half of the show consisted of songs from albums up to and including Sgt. Pepper and at least three different outfits for each “Beatle”. Ryan was a little disappointed that they did not play “Help!”, his favourite Beatles song. The Sgt. Pepper songs were done in full Sgt. Pepper costume, which was very cool. They finished the first half with A Day In The Life, letting that awesome final chord shake the floor for a while before bringing the lights up.

The whole second half consisted of songs the Beatles never performed live, the only exception being “Get Back”, which was recorded when the Beatles played live on the roof of Apple Records.  They did a bit of an acoustic set, playing “Girl” and “Mother Nature’s Son” (I was waiting for “Blackbird”, but no such luck), and shortly thereafter cranked the amps up to eleven to play Revolution. From the Abbey Road medley, the only song they played was “The End” – I would like to have heard “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” as well.

Just before the show started, an announcement was made saying that no pre-recorded music was used during the show, but that’s not quite true. The band certainly played their instruments, but they made heavy use of the synthesizer for some songs. Parts of Strawberry Fields Forever and the orchestra swells and final chord in A Day In The Life would have been difficult to play live even with a synth, so I suspect there was either some sampling or at least those pieces were pre-recorded. Also, the seriously distorted scream at the beginning of “Revolution” sounded exactly like the one on the recording. The weirdest part was during Eleanor Rigby. The only instruments in this entire song are strings (violins, violas, cellos), none of which were played by anyone on stage. I’m sure they used the synth for this one too, but the weird part was that both “Paul” and “George” appeared to be pretending to play their instruments during the song. Seeing as how there is no bass or guitar in the song, I don’t know why they’d be doing this.

The three of us loved the show, and judging by the standing ovation at the end, the majority of the crowd did as well (one exception was the grouch sitting a few seats down from us, who never stood, clapped, sang, or even smiled through the whole show). It wasn’t the cheapest concert ever, but the musicians were really good, the music was obviously fantastic, and we really enjoyed ourselves, so it was a great day all around.

Star Wars In Concert

I’ve been a Star Wars fan ever since I first saw the first movie during the summer of 1977. When Gail and I started dating in early 1992, I found that she too was a big Star Wars fan, and immediately decided to marry her. Well, maybe not that second, and that may not have been the primary reason, but it was a significant contributing factor. Consequently, our kids are now big Star Wars fans as well, so when my friend Lisa sent me a link to a stage show called Star Wars In Concert [warning: web site plays music with no warning], I was immediately interested. When I showed Gail and the boys the trailer on the web site, they were excited as well. The show was this past Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, and we were definitely not disappointed.

Star Wars In Concert The show is a montage of clips from all six Star Wars films on a three-storey crystal clear hi-def screen, behind a full live orchestra performing the music from the films. For some of the music from The Phantom Menace, there was also a full choir behind the orchestra. What’s more, Anthony Daniels, the actor who played C-3P0 in all six films, introduced each segment, and James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, provided some voice-overs. When I read that Anthony Daniels would be narrating, I expected that he had recorded some stuff that would be part of the show, but was surprised that he was actually there. He only broke into the C-3P0 voice once, though his natural voice is similar enough anyway.

The music of Star Wars is not just pleasant sounds in the background of the movie; it is an integral part of the whole experience. The “Imperial march”, Luke staring out at the twin suns of Tatooine, the Jawa theme, the slow acoustic guitar when Vader/Anakin dies, Darth Maul’s haunting choir, even the cantina band songs are all so powerful, so meaningful, as part of the film experience that Star Wars without the music would be just another pretty decent sci-fi movie. My whole review of this show can be summed up in one sentence: Watching the movies on that screen with the music being performed live, right in front of you, was just unbelievable. The orchestra was amazing, and there were a couple of cameras on them as well, so we got to see close-ups of some of the performers in between movie clips. As a music fan and a sort-of musician myself, I love watching world-class musicians play, and these are some of the best. Daniels was very good with his introductions as well, even coming out at the end in a Leafs jersey with his name on the back. I’m sure he wore a Habs jersey in Montreal and a Flyers jersey in Philadelphia, but the crowd still loved it.

Gail is still kicking herself for not bringing our camera, but luckily Lisa brought hers so she and Gail took a bunch of pictures, one of which you can see above. Before the show, there were some memorabilia booths set up around the ACC, containing props from the films. We saw a Naboo backdrop next to a Queen Amidala costume, though the crowds around them were so thick that we couldn’t get close enough to take a picture – and since we hadn’t seen Lisa yet, all we had was my silly little camera phone. As expected, there were also little booths selling trinkets and shirts and stuff. I don’t usually go for the souvenirs at these shows since they’re way overpriced ($10 for a tiny little lightsaber thing that glows – you can probably also buy them at the dollar store), but we got the boys a $40 t-shirt each because we figured the show was so unique that they are unlikely to get the chance to see anything like it again. Plus the designs were cool – one is Darth Vader’s head made out of musical instruments, the other is Boba Fett’s head made out of musical notes and symbols.

Tickets were kind of expensive but it was a very unique show, and the boys loved it as much as we did. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you get the chance to see this, do it.

Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?

We went to see We Will Rock You in Toronto again last night. Gail and I saw it back in August, and we loved it, and since my dad’s 70th birthday is coming up, we decide to take my parents and my sister to see it. They all loved it, as did we, although the crowd didn’t seem to get into it as much this time as the first time. The guy singing the lead role (“Galileo Figaro”) was the usual guy, and he was very good, but when we saw it in August, the guy playing Galileo was not even the understudy, he was the second understudy, and he was simply amazing. He had easily as strong a voice as the regular lead, and I found his speaking easier to understand, since he didn’t have the slight French accent that the regular lead does. The female lead, Scaramouche, was played by a Toronto girl named Erica Peck in her professional stage debut. The fact that it’s her debut is unbelievable to me, since she was simply outstanding. Her acting was great, her singing voice is incredible, and she just looked really comfortable on stage. The entire cast was really good, but Scaramouche was my favourite character, and Gail’s too.

While looking through the program before the show started, I noticed a vaguely familiar name in the band — the drummer was a guy named Sean Kilbride, and it took me a few seconds to place the name. He was the drummer for Haywire, a PEI-based pop-rock band in the 80’s that I was a fan of. This is the second time I’ve noticed something like that at a musical theatre performance — when we went to see The Lion King a few years ago, I found that the musical director was a guy named Rob Preuss, who was the keyboardist for both Spoons and Honeymoon Suite back in the 80’s.

Blue Man Group

We went to see Blue Man Group in Toronto
on Saturday night. In a word, wow. Absolutely undescribably amazing.
“Undescribable” is an understatement — it was funny, it was musical, it
was percussive, it was interactive, it was messy (for those in the first few
rows, called “the poncho section”), it was without a doubt the weirdest experience
I’ve ever had in a theatre. The three Blue Men never break a smile, never speak
or make vocal noises of any kind, and yet still manage to convey their messages,
which is important when they bring audience members up on stage and want them
to do stuff. It’s a multimedia extravaganza, with not only music, but everything
from paint to marshmallows, Twinkies to Cap’n Crunch, as well as computer
animation, pixelboards, laser effects, and multi-coloured PVC tubes all over
the place.

I guess it’s not for everybody, but everybody we went with loved it. Highly