StageWorks Toronto’s Cabaret: Sexy, powerful and boldly staged with a sharp ensemble

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Toshi Murohashi, Jean-Paul Parker & Rachel Hart in Cabaret – photo by Michael Yaneff, Foreshots Photography

Berlin in the early 1930s: a city teaming with life, creativity and possibility. The Kit Kat Klub: a seedy palace of edgy, playful and raunchy entertainment. And a political storm is brewing that will change everything.

StageWorks Toronto opened its fifth musical, Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret (book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood), at the George Ignatieff Theatre last night.

Directed by Michael Yaneff, with Music Director Tom Kerr and Choreographer Camille Dziewurski, this production of Cabaret plays all the conflicting dimensions of this story: love and lust, fame and mediocrity, hope and despair. It is both funny and moving, going from entertaining to disturbing – but even the brighter moments have a dark edge.

An excellent, energetic cast does the playful raunch with gusto – and all the while, we know these characters are literally singing and dancing, and sexing, for their lives. The lighter, entertaining atmosphere of the first act grows increasingly foreboding as darkness descends in the second act when the Nazi Party gets a grip on Germany – and this place of song, dance and camaraderie becomes a place of tears, desperation and betrayal. This production goes big on the seedy lust and malevolent politics in its staging, so be prepared for some nudity, sexy times and discomfiting moments.

Shai Tannyan & Hugh Ritchie in Cabaret - photo by Michael Yaneff, Foreshots Photography
Shai Tannyan & Hugh Ritchie in Cabaret – photo by Michael Yaneff, Foreshots Photography

Jean-Paul Parker shines as the Emcee, going from playfully saucy in “Wilkommen” and naughty in “Two Ladies” to darkly edgy in “The Money Song” and drunkenly despairing in “I Don’t Care Much.” Shai Tannyan’s Sally Bowles is a vivacious and sensuous British girl gone wild in her search for fame and fortune on her own terms, her flippant attitude covering a fragile heart. From her sexy crooning at the Kit Kat, to her more introspective moments in the driven but vulnerable “Maybe this Time” and the spiralling desperation of “Cabaret,” Tannyan finds the diva entertainer and the lost girl in Sally. As Cliff Bradshaw, Hugh Ritchie doesn’t get as many opportunities to sing as he did as the Balladeer in StageWorks’ Assassins, but he gives a strong performance as the wide-eyed, passionate and somewhat naïve young novelist who comes to Berlin longing for adventure and excitement, and experience – be careful what you wish for.

Deva Neely and Buck Delaney have lovely chemistry as landlady Fraulein Schneider and her fruit seller tenant Herr Schultz, making an adorable couple with “It Couldn’t Please Me More;” and when their relationship goes off the rails, Neely gives a heartbreaking performance with “What Would You Do?” And really nice work from Eric Synnott as the affable, mysterious and crisp Ernst Ludwig, and Melly Magrath as the cheeky and opportunistic Fraulein Kost.

With shouts to the sexy fun talents of the Kit Kat Boys and Girls: Michael Manning (who stepped in to cover another part last night – thoughts go out to Paul Silvestri and his family) and Danik McAfee (who, as the Soldier, also gives an eerily beautiful, foreshadowing performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”), Emily Brown, Kathleen Doerkson, Karen Frank, Rachel Hart, Toshie Murohashi and Émilie O’Brien; and Lawrence Stevenson as their stern and lascivious boss, Kit Kat owner Max.

And shouts as well to set/costume designer Michelle Tracey and the orchestra.

StageWorks Toronto’s Cabaret is sexy, powerful and boldly staged – featuring a sharp ensemble.

Cabaret runs at the George Ignatieff Theatre until July 26; you can purchase tix in advance online. And you can follow StageWorks Toronto on Facebook and Twitter.

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Toronto Fringe opens today!

20150701_104248Hey all –

It’s my first day back from my June hiatus and the first day of Toronto Fringe – all happening on Canada Day!

Here’s what I’ll be seeing at Toronto Fringe 2015 (July 1-12):

Morro & Jasp Do Puberty
Perceptions of Love in the Pursuit of Happiness
Peter ‘n Chris present: Here Lies Chris
Bout
The McComedy Show
Twelfe Night
A Lesson in Gabby
Gavin Crawford: Friend “Like” Me
Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl
Merry Wives of Windsor
pool (no water)
Ninety
Exposure
Meet Cute
In Case We Disappear
Rukmini’s Gold
Hanger
A Nurse’s Worst Nightmare
Becoming Burlesque
Aspergers: A Tale of a Social Misfit
To all the productions that have been in touch inviting me to your shows, I’ll try to squeeze more in if I can. All the best with your shows – please keep me on your mailing lists and keep in touch.
Happy Canada Day and Happy Fringing, all! What are you seeing this year?

Interview with writer/poet/cabaret mistress Lizzie Violet

img_1052Lizzie Violet is a Toronto-based writer, editor, poet, blogger, cabaret organizer/host and horror aficionado. She is a huge fan of zombies. She’s also an awesome person and a great friend.

Lizzie hosts Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN), which features music, poetry/spoken word, vaudeville and burlesque performers, as well as open mic artists, at The Central. She recently launched Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic at Amsterdam Bicycle Club, and has ongoing shared organizing and hosting duties for The Beautiful and the Damned poetry and music cabaret at The Central. All this in addition to performing at a variety of other poetry/arts events throughout the City – including WordSpell and Songwriters Circle of Jerks at Free Times Café – and writing (poetry/spoken word, fiction, blogging, music video story and playwriting). I interviewed Lizzie via email about her various projects – and got a peek at what the New Year will bring.

LWMC: So, wow, you’re a very busy gal and I was having a bit of a challenge coming up with what to ask – given your multidisciplined work – so let me first ask about LVCN. You launched it almost a year ago at the former Q Space before moving it to The Central in the fall, and it’s developed quite a following. Tell us a bit about the format and what made you want to launch a cabaret format show.

LV: I certainly do have my fingers in a lot of pies and even with everything I was involved in, I decided to scratch an itch I had for many years. I’ve been obsessed since I was a child, with Vaudeville its history and that entire era (Edwardian/Flappers/1920s). When others find it to be just entertainment, I see the complete beauty in this wonderful art form of performance.

Currently, I only have three features and a true Vaudeville show has anywhere from 12 or more acts per night. Keeping in mind they have an intermission. My dream is to do a full Vaudeville show with a Lizzie Violet twist. There is a lot of preparation that comes with this type of show and I am working to bring that dream to fruition.

LWMC: What’s in store for LVCN in 2014?

LV: In 2013, LVCN grew very quickly into a wonderful night of entertainment. 2014 is about making it bigger and taking it on the road. I absolutely adore our current home at The Central and plan to remain there, but I also want to start taking the event around to other venues in Toronto and eventually other cities in Southern Ontario.

LWMC: This past summer, you wrote the music video script for Toronto band I Hate Todd’s debut single “Zombie Love,” then worked crew for the video shoot. (And I had a blast working crew with you guys that weekend.) Tell us about that experience. What was it like combining your love of writing, zombies and music?

LV: It’s like sitting at a table with all my favourite people, eating all my favourite foods, watching all my favourite movies and laughing till your belly hurts. The whole process from beginning to end, though long hours, was a total blast and I can’t wait to do it again. On top of it all, I got to work with my favourite band and spend three very long and fun filled days with my favourite zombies and friends (both old and new).

LWMC: Your work was published in several poetry/art magazines/collections in 2013 alone, including Carousel, Big Art Book 2, NorthWord and Nest. What can you tell us about the importance of getting published on paper, as opposed to digitally online?

LV: Even in this day and age of digital, publishers and anyone giving out grants to the literary arts, want you published on good ole paper. Plus, there is something about being able to pick up a physical book or magazine and see your words in ink. It’s euphoric. Plus, it’s easier for my Mom to put on her fridge.

LWMC: 🙂 You’ve also been working on a TV pilot script and a stage play. What inspired you to write these? What have been the challenges and delights as you tell stories in these very different formats?

LV: Both the TV pilot and the play have been inspired by real life and the people in it. The most recent project is the play. A really dear friend of mine Nelson Sobral wrote a song called “Arsenic & Turmeric,” and something about this song grabbed at me and this story formed in my head. I wrote the first draft of the play in one evening. I haven’t been this excited about writing something in a long time. At this moment, I have finished the second draft and am hoping to do a reading in the spring.

The TV series is based loosely on the antics of my single life. My dating life has been like a bad sitcom, so I figured, why not turn it into a TV script. It will be true dark comedy. I have changed names to protect the not so innocent.

My current challenges right now are finding the time to sit and be able to write. The bug has bitten me in the ass again, I’ve been writing like I’m on a mission. This all started right before Yule.

LWMC: Writing is a very solitary pursuit, while performing as cabaret host and feature poet is very public. What’s it like being in front of a live audience with your work after spending so much time crafting it in solitude? Does the prospect of performance influence your writing – and, if so, how?

LV: When writing poetry and spoken word, I keep the page and performance pieces separate in my writing process. Though everything can be read to an audience, I have only been performing pieces that I specifically have written to perform. Oddly, those are the pieces that have been published in print.

LWMC: What else is coming up for you in 2014? (See January events here.)

LV: I have a few features coming up. The next one is January 22nd for the Queer Snow Ball, and a few more that will be happening over the next few months. Currently, I am putting a lot of my energy into the Cabaret and Poetry Open mic. I’m hoping to build on the Cabaret and at some point in the near future have a full Vaudeville show.

Other than performing, finish the play and a full season of the TV series and get them produced.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

LV: Well, firstly, a great big thank you for interviewing me. You truly are an inspiration to me. I’m looking forward to 2014. There is a lot of amazing stuff happening and I can’t wait to find out what else is waiting around the corner for me.

LWMC: Thanks, Lizzie!

The January edition of Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir is tomorrow night (Sun, Jan 12) at The Central with featured artists Brock Hessel, David Bateman, and Cap & Kev (who are both also in the band I Hate Todd) 7 p.m. open mic sign-up. PWYC – $5 suggested.

Upcoming music, theatre & spoken word awesomeness

It was some big fun, not to mention a great pleasure, as I worked the door at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN) last night, with feature artists Andrea Thompson, Frenchie Fatale and Hugh Wilson. It was LVCN’s first night at its new home at The Central – and the place was packed, with an incredibly engaged audience.

There’s still all kinds of awesome goodness coming up in T.O. this month, my friends. Here is just a small sample of what’s happening on the small stage and indie scene:

David Hustler & the Trustworthy EP release – Wed, Sept 11 @ Horseshoe Tavern @ 8:30 p.m. – $5 cover

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – Thurs, Sept 12 @ 8:30 p.m. @ Free Times Café, featuring Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona from Big Name Actors (among others), Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot and I Hate Todd, and David Hustler of David Hustler & The Trustworthy, with guest Meghan Morrison – PWYC

Eclectic – September Group Exhibit – opening Thurs, Sept 12 from 6-8 p.m. and running till Sept 29 @ Fran Hill Gallery

Jeff Cottrill’s tour fundraiser show Keep Calm & Get Rid of Jeff – Sun, Sept 15 @ 7:00 p.m. @ Black Swan, with a whole line-up of music & spoken word guests – $10 cover

Studio BLR punk rock production of A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show – Sept 19 – Oct 5 @ 8:00 p.m. – show starts in Dragon Alley at the northwest corner of College/Dufferin

Alumnae Theatre production of The Underpants – Sept 20 – Oct 5 on the Alumnae Theatre main stage

Anglewalk Theatre production of tick, tick… BOOM! – Sept 21 – Oct 6 @ Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio

The Beautiful & the Damned – Thurs, Sept 26 @ 7:00 p.m. @ The Central, hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Heather Babcock, Brock Hessel & Nelson Sobral

Matt Gerber CD release – Sat, Sept 28 @ Tranzac, doors @ 7:00 p.m. – $15 cover

Look out for Big Name Actors and I Hate Todd as the play various dates and venues around the city.

So long, Q Space

I had the pleasure of attending two arts events at Q Space last week: The Beautiful & the Damned (TB&TD) on Thursday night and Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LV Cabaret Noir) on Sunday; check out Duncan Armstrong’s TOpoet blog posts of these recent editions of TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir. Both events showcase local performing and literary artists, and provide opportunities for established and emerging artists to get up in front of an audience for open mic segments. It was the last time that both events would take place in the intimate storefront space. Q Space will be closing at the end of the month.

In addition to being the home of Quattro Books publishers, a gallery, book shop and licensed café, Q Space has hosted numerous poetry/spoken word events (including the weekly Art Bar poetry series and various poetry slam events) and workshops (the monthly Renaissance Revival), book launches and visual art exhibits, as well as cabaret shows like TB&TD and LV Cabaret Noir, which present a variety of literary, music and performing artists. Artists, especially those who are starting out, need a supportive space to showcase their work and try out new material in front of an audience, and have the chance to meet and network with other artists. There aren’t a lot of spaces in the city for such opportunities – and Q Space was one of those spaces. And proprietor Luciano Iacobelli, always the congenial host, would even keep the place open late to accommodate an event.

On a personal note, not being in the mood for a birthday party this year, I decided to celebrate my 50th at the June edition of LV Cabaret Noir, which had just launched its monthly program at Q Space in the spring. It was an amazing evening of friends and artistry – and the atmosphere at Q Space had a lot to do with that. Thanks to Luciano and his staff for staying open late for us that night. LV Cabaret Noir will be moving to the main floor of The Central in September and TB&TD are in the process of finding a new space.

So here’s to Q Space. Here’s to Luciano and his staff, and all the folks who organized and attended events there throughout its history. To the café, book shop and gallery. To the Portuguese custard tarts, which for some reason I never bought at the local bakery when I lived in Little Portugal, but enjoyed at Q Space. You will be missed.

You still have a chance to pay Q Space a visit – they’re open till the end of August.

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TB&TD – Brenda Clews performs her last poem of the evening in mask
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TB&TD – Adam Abbas entertains, reading dirty limericks & other works
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TB&TD – Andrea Matchett gives us sweet sounds in her acoustic set
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TB&TD – Duncan Armstrong, in yet another awesome t-shirt, reads a selection of poems
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LV Cabaret Noir – Our lovely hostess with the mostess, Lizzie Violet
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LV Cabaret Noir – Andraya performs one of three sensual & explosive dance/movement pieces
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LV Cabaret Noir – knot rivals recites some powerful words
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LV Cabaret Noir – Tania Joy brings a heart & soulful acoustic set

Big fun sexy party times @ Bella Fox’s Burlesque Birthday Bash!

WARNING: This blog post contains adult content and images.

Last night was some big fun, sexy times with burlesque and music (aka “boobies and tunes”) at Bella Fox’s Burlesque Birthday Bash: Dirty Thirty Dance Party at Lee’s Palace.

The extravaganza of sights and sounds kicked off with Pavlov’s Dogs Handbell Ensemble (who also appeared at the Theatre Passe Muraille Michael Jackson Songbook Series event), from traditional to contemporary, including their Songbook Series rendition of “Beat It” and “Under Pressure” – highlighting tunes from the 80s in honour of the decade in which our birthday girl hostess was born.

Nerd Girl Burlesque got the hot dancing times going, performing a sexy Spice Girls tribute number. The British invasion continued on stage with The Cocksure Lads – well, half of them anyway. Think Moxy Früvous meets The Beatles – fun, kicky, 60s-inspired Brit pop, right down to the classic Paul McCartney bass (except played right-handed) and acoustic guitar painted with the British flag – and these boys are working on a movie too. If you have a case of the dropsies, this band is the cure.

The lads were joined by burlesque performers during their set, seguing into more sexy fun times with red hot ladies with tassels on their nipples – from devils to super heroes – plus one hot dude. Lucky Fremont the Downtown Experience lit up the stage with a sexy Hydro worker number.

In between set-ups, Bella drew numbers for the treasure trove of raffle prizes on hand, adding a special contest to see who could guess how many drinks she’d had, and went on to introduce the final act of the evening: kick-ass, wise-cracking punk rockers High Heels Lo Fi (Cynthia Gould on guitar, Mandy Wells on bass and Doug Lea on drums). Check out their YouTube channel. From original tunes to covers – these guys rocked it, joined onstage by a variety of burlesque performers in a mash-up set that put the boobs in drunk rock. Fox joined the band doing a sexy fur-clad (but only at first) dance to a cover of “Hungry Like the Wolf.” The band also had their own go-go girl ensemble – the Hi Lo Go-Go dancers – and the evening’s big finale featured a packed stage of the evening’s entire talent roster, all dancing and singing to High Heels Lo Fi original “Big Dumb Rockstar.”

No doubt about it – that Bella Fox sure knows how to through a birthday party. Big shouts to the two bands, and guest burlesque performers Ginger Rigby, Nerd Girl Burlesque (Delicia Pastiche, Ruby Pixel, Loretta Jean & Kenickie Street), Lucky Freemont the Downtown Experience and our hostess with the mostess, goddess of the raffle tickets Bella Fox.

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for burlesque shows around the city. You won’t be sorry.

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Pavlov’s Dogs Handbell Ensemble
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The Nerd Girls Burlesque ensemble heats up the stage with a sexy Spice Girls number.
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Half of The Cocksure Lads cure us of the dropsies
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Ginger Rigby – pretty in pink. Pretty sexah, that is!
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Sexy Hydro man Lucky Fremont the Downtown Experience works that tool belt.
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Our birthday girl hostess with the mostess Bella Fox, with one of the many birthday beverages she consumed throughout the evening.
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L’il Devil Loretta Jean sports some awesome ink in addition to her, well, other fine assets.
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High Heels Lo Fi drummer Doug Lea rockin the bunny ears.
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The Hi Lo Go-Go dancers.
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High Heels Lo Fi bass player Mandy Wells.
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Nerd Girls Burlesque performer Delicia Pastiche – fighting for truth, justice and the sexy burlesque way.
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High Heels Lo Fi guitar player/front gal Cynthia Gould.
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Birthday girl Bella Fox with one of the Hi Lo Go-Go gals during the finale.