Fairy tale meets crime procedural meets romantic dramedy as music, hilarity ensue in the magical, imaginative The Adventures of Tom Shadow

Kevin Vidal, Mark Little, Christian Smith, Lisa Gilroy & Natalie Metcalfe—photo by Samantha Hurley

 

Theatre Lab’s ensemble of top Toronto comedy talent brings a revised version of their hit musical comedy The Adventures of Tom Shadow to the Factory Theatre Studio, directed by Peter Stevens, with music direction and accompaniment by Jordan Armstrong.

Created and performed by Lisa Gilroy, Mark Little, Natalie Metcalfe, Christian Smith and Kevin Vidal, The Adventures of Tom Shadow takes us on a multi-genre, super fun musical comedy ride—just the thing to relax you after a long, hard day.

Story time turns into a real-life adventure when fiercely determined cop Bev (Metcalfe) and sensitive, nerdish lit professor John’s (Little) kids Martin (Smith) and Angeline (Gilroy) disappear after they’ve been tucked in. What the distraught parents don’t know is the two kids have gone off on a hero’s journey with Tom Shadow (Vidal, think Peter Pan meets Willy Wonka) to his magical kingdom in the clouds.

Things go downhill for Bev and John, as the stress and public’s suspicion over their missing kids takes a toll. John joins a gang of skater kids called the Runaway Boys, led by John’s teen pal (Vidal). And Bev tries to get into the mind of a psychopath in hopes of finding a clue to where her kids are, turning to convicted cannibal/murderer Diane (Gilroy, as a female Hannibal Lector). Meanwhile, the police chief (Smith, of the wicked Jack Nicolson-esqe facial expressions) is tired of being labelled a loser, and assembles an angry mob of jealous neighbours and townspeople to arrest Bev and John!

Combining physical comedy with music and genre-bending themes, the cast kicks it at high speed, rolling out moment after moment of big-time LOLs.

Fairy tale meets crime procedural meets romantic dramedy as music and hilarity ensue in the magical, imaginative The Adventures of Tom Shadow.

The Adventures of Tom Shadow runs in the Factory Theatre Studio till October 22. Get your advance tickets online or by phone at 416.504.9971, or in-person at 125 Bathurst Street (at Adelaide).

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Backstage gangster shenanigans & romance in the delightful, sizzling Kiss Me Kate

Another opening of another show for Alexander Showcase Theatre last week with its production of Kiss Me Kate, music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Sam and Bella Spewack. Directed by Vincenzo Sestito, with music direction by Gwyneth Sestito and choreography by Jaime Robertson, Kiss Me Kate is currently running at Fairview Library Theatre. I caught the show yesterday afternoon.

Chock full of Porter favourites that have since become beloved standards, Kiss Me Kate combines Shakespeare with musical comedy. Director/producer/lead actor Fred Graham (Pat Brown) is in Baltimore with his company, opening a production of The Taming of the Shrew. With big hopes of being picked up by a Broadway theatre, he’s hired film star Lilli Vanessi (Finnie Jesson) to play Katherine opposite his Petruchio. Trouble is, they used to be married; and old feelings of pain and romance begin to surface—despite Katherine being seriously involved with mysterious man from Washington, D.C. Harrison (Ian Scott).

Meanwhile, Fred’s been friendly with ingénue Lois Lane (Sharon Zehavi), who’s been cast as Katherine’s kid sister Bianca; she’s hoping to land her big break with this show, as well as romance with young actor Bill Calhoun (James Rowan), who’s playing Bianca’s beau Lucentio. Bill likes to play the odds, but isn’t very good at it; and he’s racked up some serious debt with a local gangster—and signed Fred’s name to the IOU.

Cue the shenanigans when two gangsters (Brandon Chambers and Eliot Winkler) show up in Fred’s dressing room to collect the debt. Adding to the comedy of errors, a bouquet meant for Lois has wound up in Lilli’s hands and Fred is in the dog house—and the show in jeopardy. Fred convinces the gangsters that Lilli is vital to the show’s success—to hilarious effect as they thwart her plans to leave during intermission and begin shadow her, inserting themselves into the show in the process.

It’s all great good fun and the ensemble does a marvelous job singing and dancing their way through this tale of theatre folk working their tails off doing what they love. Jesson and Brown have fantastic chemistry as Lilli/Katherine and Fred/Petruchio—and both have excellent pipes. Jesson is luminous, especially with Lilli’s wistful longing in “So In Love” and Katherine’s impassioned rage in “I Hate Men.” And Brown shows great range with Petruchio’s comic, lusty bravado in “Where Is The Life That Late I Led?” and Fred’s heartfelt realization in “So In Love.”

Other stand-outs include Zehavi’s ditzy Lois, a starlet in waiting with a heart of gold and lots of love to give—maybe too much, in Bill’s eyes. She gives a slinky and playful performance as Lois pleads her case in the “Always True To You In My Fashion.” Rowan’s Bill is a likable young scallywag and leading man who’s got a lot to learn about the world. A great match here as well, with Lois and Bill’s duet “Why Can’t You Behave?” in Act I.

Christoph Ibrahim does a bang-up job as Fred’s dresser Paul, leading the ensemble in “Too Darn Hot” at the opening of Act II; featuring Jonathan Eidelman and David Shiff on solos. And Chambers and Winkler are full of LOL fun as the two gangsters, especially with their duet “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

With big shouts to the design team: Peter Thorman (set), Gwyneth Sestito and Cheryl Lee (costumes), Chris Humphrey (lighting) and Carlos Fernandez (sound effects); and to the orchestra, conducted by Gwyneth Sestito.

Backstage gangster shenanigans and romance in the delightful, sizzling Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate continues at the Fairview Library Theatre until April 8; for dates/times and online booking, scroll down on the show page. You can also book by email or by phone: (416) 324-1259.

Here’s directions to Fairview Library; accessible by TTC.

 

Rowdy, entertaining romp of mystery & music @ Alexander Showcase’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood

PromoReview
The Mystery of Edwin Drood – cast photo by Paul Brown

Alexander Showcase Theatre (AST) opened their run of The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Al Green Theatre (Jewish Community Centre at Bloor/Spadina, Toronto) last night. Based on the unfinished Charles Dickens story, this version of Edwin Drood is a musical by Rupert Holmes and was originally produced by Joseph Papp at The New York Shakespeare Festival. The AST production team includes director Vincenzo Sestito, music director Gwyneth Sestito and choreographer Jaime Robertson, and the show was produced by the Sestitos.

Edwin Drood is an engaging Dickensian musical, a play within a play as the audience is treated to the baffling story of young Edwin Drood by the company of the Music Hall Royale (reminiscent of AST’s radio play within a play, It’s A Wonderful Life). Even before the show starts, we’re introduced to some of the Royale actors as they mingle in the audience, preparing us for what’s to come in our part of the storytelling. As the story was left without an ending (Dickens died before its completion), it will be up to the audience to answer key questions, including one of coupling two of the characters as lovers, in order to finish the story. Actors also use this time to lobby for audience votes. I was briefed by Miss Janet Conover, who plays Helena Landless in Edwin Drood – both ultimately played by Mallory Smith. Once the show officially commences, the charming Chairman (Ilan Muskat, who also plays the town’s comic Mayor) introduces the headline players in old music hall style as each makes his/her entrance, the players pausing for a bow and applause before continuing the scene.

The show features a large, energetic cast, suitably raucous and bawdy for the music hall setting – ample cleavage and double entre abound – and the songs are delivered with great skill, style and enthusiasm. Stand-outs include, in order of appearance: Luke Hobbs, deliciously demented and conflicted as Edwin’s youthful uncle John Jasper; Jennifer Schembri is a treat as the diva male impersonator Miss Alice Nutting, who plays the boyish Edwin Drood; and Alexandra Reed reveals an outstanding set of pipes as Edwin’s lovely fiancée Rosa Bud, giving a moving performance of “Moonlight” and a beautiful duet with Schembri on “Perfect Strangers.” Mallory Smith, fetching and congenial as Miss Janet Conover, brings an exotic sense of mystery and passion to Helena Landless; as Princess Puffer, Sharon Zehavi works the audience – and her cleavage – stealing the show with a knock-out rendition of “The Wages of Sin;” and Seth Mukamal and Nina Mason are a sheer delight, bringing comic relief as the father/son duo Mr. Nick Cricker and Master Nick Cricker.

Adding to the great fun of this production, towards the end of the second act, the Chairman tells us that they’ve taken the story as far as Dickens’ writing, so it is now up to the audience to direct the company on how to finish it. At this point, Edwin is missing and presumed dead – and there a variety of plausible suspects and motives. Several key questions are put to a vote, the audience choosing from a selection of actors/actresses for each one. Votes are tabulated and the cast finishes the story based on the audience’s decisions.

With shouts to a fabulous design team, who transported us into this music hall production of Edwin Drood: Peter Thornton and Beth Roher (set); Gwyneth Sestito, Cheryl Lee and Linda Farquharson (costumes); Chris Humphrey (lighting – complete with follow spot); Sharon Zehavi (art director, graphic and projection design); Angus Barlow (sound); and Deborah Mills (props). And kudos to AST’s wonderful orchestra, all decked out in period costume – headed by music director Gwyneth Sestito, fabulously decked out in male drag as Maestro Thomas Purcell. Last night’s opening offered a special treat during an extended intermission: an abundant selection of mouth-watering desserts, served with coffee, champagne and fruit. My compliments to the chef and his team!

Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a spectacular, rowdy and entertaining romp of mystery and music – on at the Al Green Theatre until May 11. Go – have some fun!

 

 

Great big hair-raising fun @ Alexander Showcase’s Young Frankenstein – The Musical

top-banner2-685x269I had the great pleasure of seeing Alexander Showcase Theatre’s highly entertaining production of Mel Brooks’ and Thomas Meehan’s  Young Frankenstein – The Musical, playing now at the Al Green Theatre (Jewish Community Centre at Bloor/Spadina, Toronto) last night. The Alexander Showcase production was helmed by director Vincenzo Sestito and musical director/producer Gwyneth Sestito, with choreography by Jaime Robertson. Original direction and choreography was by Susan Stroman.

The stand-out cast did a splendid job with this zany horror story set to music. If you’re familiar with the movie, all your favourite characters and moments are there – this time, with music and song. And, yes, the Irving Berlin “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number is there, in all its song and dance glory, as is Elizabeth’s ecstatic “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” moment. And, boy, does this cast bring it with the song. Patrick Brown – mostly known for his handsome leading man roles – is outstanding as the nerdy and passionate scientist Frederick Frankenstein (that’s “Fronkensteen”), transitioning from a man intent on renouncing his family history to embracing his grandfather’s scientific legacy. Erin Hyde is hilariously flakey and glamourous as his self-involved fiancée Elizabeth Benning (and a great set of pipes too, especially on “Deep Love”), while Christine Lindo does a lovely turn as his smart girl meets blonde bombshell lab assistant Inga. Matthew McGrath is hysterically charming as the simple-minded but sweet Igor (that’s “Eye-gor”), and Andrea Brown gives a stand-out performance as the creepy and imperious Frau Blucher, who – in her sexy and sad tale “He Vas My Boyfriend” – we learn is full of longing and desire under that tough cookie exterior. And David McEachern gives us a fabulous monster – misunderstood, afraid and fumbling around the world he’s found himself in – like Blucher, a soft caramel centre under that hard shell. Other stand-outs include Seth Mukamal as the revenge-driven but somewhat inept Inspector Kemp, Bob Deutsch as the blind hermit, Ted Powers as  Frankenstein’s (deceased) grandfather Dr. Victor von Frankenstein, and Steve Kyriacopoulos (doing double duty as publicity guy) as Frankenstein’s neurology lab subject Mr. Hilltop. Nice work from the entire ensemble!

Set designer Peter Thorman did a terrific job, with moveable set modules shifting with the scenes – from the Transylvania town square, to a New York City college classroom to castle Frankenstein – with projection design by Dan Surman and lighting effects by Chris Humphrey adding to both the set and atmosphere. The most impressive set had to be the laboratory – with its giant electric switches, multi-coloured diodes, control wheels and wires, stone arch window projections on either side and flashes of lightning up centre. It was just as you’d pictured Frankenstein’s lab would be. Shouts to sound designer Angus Barlow; it was all I could do to not whinny along with the horses every time someone said “Frau Blucher”! Kudos to make-up/hair artist Rosalind McArthur, who did an amazing job with the look of the characters – especially Frankenstein’s Edward Scissorhands hair, and the make-up for the monster and Blucher.

Young Frankenstein – The Musical is most definitely some very big fun times. You still have a few more chances to catch it before the show closes on Sunday; please note the 7:30 p.m. curtain time for evening performances. Look out for Alexander Showcase Theatre’s next production this fall – Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – on the Alumnae Theatre main stage November 14-17 and 21-24.

 

Some wacky fun time theatre shouts

Hey kids! Busy times for this bloggergal last week, so happy to be slowing things down a bit this week. Wanted to shout out a few theatre events happening:

If you’re looking for some big, wacky, scary musical fun – check out Alexander Showcase Theatre’s production of Young Frankenstein – The Musical, playing now at the Al Green Theatre (Bloor/Spadina, Toronto), with its final shows this week April 18-21. Please note the early curtain time on weeknights. I’ll be going on Thursday – really looking forward to seeing this, especially as the cast includes two former Alumnae Theatre Lady Windermere’s Fan cast mates: Andrea Brown and Patrick Brown.

Speaking of wackiness, Alumnae Theatre Company’s run of The Killdeer continues on the Alumnae main stage (70 Berkeley St. – Berkeley/Adelaide St. E., Toronto). Performances are Wed – Sun until April 27, with a talkback following the matinée on April 21.

Wacky fun times continue at Red Sandcastle Theatre’s In Loo Of fundraiser, running April 17-20 (922 Queen St. East, Toronto) – proceeds go towards building a bathroom for the performers in the basement of the theatre. This will be a true open mic event – and anything can happen. Literally. Show starts at 8 p.m. – tickets $10 (or more if you can). If you can’t make it out, you can still make a donation – they’d sure appreciate it. Give Owner/Manager/AD Rosemary Doyle a shout: redsandcastletheatre@gmail.com  And when you drop by the website, check out the schedule for the rest of April while you’re there.