Oscar Best Picture Nominations 2016

Saturday, January 30th, 2016


Blood Relations and Mother May I

Monday, April 1st, 2013

 Blood Relations by Theatre UBC 

A little bloodless
but some good acting

Okay before I get to the show – what the hell was going on with the audience at the Frederic Wood Theatre? My companion and I could not hear great portions of the show because of the lady repeatedly open and closing a plastic bag loudly enjoying a snack. As if that wasn’t bad enough all the tiered seats below us had people texting and flashing videos. It’s no longer enough to ask them to turn things to silent it appears. 
It was not a symptom of our side of the audience – at intermission we switched sides and there were even more people on their phones and yet another plastic bag!!

As annoying as it was it might also speak a little to the production.

Sharon Pollock wrote the award winning stylized play back in 1980 about the infamous 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s stepmother and father. She was acquitted but the real murderer was never found leaving room for speculation.
As written the piece weaves back and forth through time and the older Ms. Borden decided to finally answer her actress lover’s question of “Did you?”. Questions of women’s right and self-determination, status and class structure swirl around as various characters appear and disappear. The script has no clear entrances and exits written in. It’s supposed to flow and fold in on itself.
Jeanette White is an MFA Directing Candidate in the department of theatre of film and her cast is mostly comprised of senior students. She and design student Diana Sepulevda Navarrete have set the play in a giant birdcage that opens up at the beginning of the play.

The costumes by Elliott Squire are quite handsome, particularly that yellow dress Emma Borden (Georgia Beaty) wears. The projections by Clayton Brown works some of the time but mostly seemed random. The giant heads of the jurors were abstract and the shattering picture as Lizzie recounts the horror of the murder of her birds feels forced and obvious.
The actors – many of them playing well out of their age range do admirable work with the two actors playing Lizzie bringing a lot to their roles. As the young Lizzie – Mercedes de la Zerda has grace and desperation combined. She is often vital and spontaneous. Courtney Shields plays the older Lizzie with a righteous smugness and wicked sensibility, she also play the family maid Bridget. 
The whole show is paced way to slow and there is no real sense of risk or danger despite the axe. I saw it later in the run and sometimes stakes drop, as the actors get more comfortable in their roles. There was a distancing effect that made the whole show feel like it was being treated too reverently. You admire the work but aren’t pulled in.


Which may partly explain why so many in the audience were on their phones.

Until April 6th



Mother May I by Ghost Light Projects

Heartfelt and actors to watch
but bigger doesn’t always mean better


This is the second version of Mother May I Vancouver has seen. Last year we got the one act 5 actors 60-minute version that was slightly melodramatic story of a young gay man’s remembrances growing up in a prairie nuclear family.

This new version has the same time-trippy, layered story telling. A young man named Peter returns with his lover in tow to pack up the family home after his mother’s death. As artifacts are packed memories come to life and we see older Peter shift into childhood interactions with his beloved sister and less than warm parents.

The actors made the story work particularly Lesli Brownlee as sister Janie and the amazing Morgan David Jones as our main protagonist. Mr. Jones shifts between ages some seamlessly and his ability to listen and respond is never less than riveting and Ms. Brownlee mostly matches him while juggling some pretty intense shifts in the plot.

This version (written and directed and sort of lived by Randi Parliament) adds a new character – Aunt Sue played by Lisa Dahling, but her character adds nothing new to the storyIn the first version the drunken father play by Greg Bishop is distant and then abusive. The mother played by Brenda Matthews hard and then distant. Both value keeping up appearances over confronting reality.  Clearly these kids need an ally but all we see and learn about Aunt Sue is she likes to keep up appearances and gets distant when the going gets tough.
The inclusion of the Aunt also doesn’t help expand the relationship Peter has with his lover David played by Scott Alonzo. From the get go David is scolding and reluctant and then petulant as his boyfriend relives the horrors and overly sensitive when Peter mentions an ex-boyfriend. However the given circumstances is that if David had heard of Aunt Sue at all it would be Peter’s version of her and her interaction with the family in crisis. Even if he doesn’t know anything about Aunt Sue, surely he can see his boyfriend is quiet distressed in the house and more so when she is there. Yet when she arrives David immediately starts berating Peter for his treatment of her. A more interesting choice that might have added a new level is if in this David sided with his boyfriend maybe even learning later that she isn’t all that bad. It also would have allowed us a chance to see David putting his lovers feelings first for a change.

Maybe it was because it was a repeat viewing or the expanded text running at 90 minutes now but the melodrama was less involving now. As with Aunt Sue instead of adding more levels and layers, twists and turns, we just get more of the same.

Luckily we also get more Morgan David Jones and Leslie Brownlee. They bring life and heart to this drama about family secrets.

Until March 30th


Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see in Vancouver this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
35                        215                                             39                        16



Culture Vulture

David C. Jones



Here is the latest CultureVulture video BTW.

If the system is sick ….more than a pill is required

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

#23  Maladjusted by Theatre For Living (Headlines)


If the system is sick
….more than a pill is required


Theatre For Living (formally Headlines Theatre) works in communities using a variation of Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed technique. A topic is explored through community engagement, people connected to the subject matter shares stories and thoughts. That information gets boiled down in a workshop setting and then a cast is chosen to help create a play. The casts are often real people and not actors.


The play is about the mechanization of mental health system. People are compartmentalized for ease of care. Treatment cases are decided not on individual needs but on what box people fit into.


Danielle (played by Micheala Hiltergerke a survivor of diagnostic labeling and treatment) is a rebellious teenager who is still reeling from the death of a classmate. She skips class and is moody. Mom (Khoal Marks who has struggled with mental health issues) is concerned but because she has her own stresses she just wants her happy child back.  She finally takes her Dr. Paul Devreaux (played by former academic and administrative psychiatrist Pierre Leichner), who based on her answers to a questionnaire and a short interview immediately prescribes her a series of medication.


Jack Richards (played by Martin Filby who has lived on the street) is a homeless schizophrenic who on the advice of his over worked social worker Abby Neill  (played by youth counselor Erin Arnold) agrees to take a bed in a recovery home for addicts, he just has to say he is one and he gets a roof over his head. When he arrives the group home coordinator (Sam Bob) confiscates all of Jack’s medication.


It’s not long before Danielle is lost in a haze of medication and Jack has an episode without his. The path both young people are on gets increasingly desperate and dangerous. The end of the short play is quite distressing and your heart yearns not only for the youth but also the misguided and stressed out people trying to help them not recognizing that they are actually making it worse.


But the experience is not over. Artistic/ Managing Director David Diamond comes out and tells us they are opening up a dialogue. They are not looking for solutions necessarily but an exchange of ideas. They will re-start the play and whenever someone sees a character in a struggle they can yell, “stop” and with Mr. Diamond’s help the audience member steps into the play to try to change the situation. The only rule is you can’t ‘magically’ them, take away their work load or stress, give them lots of money or unlimited resources.


Each time the audience member is allowed space to interact with the other actors and after a time Mr. Diamond steps back in. He asks the audience member if they accomplished what they had wanted to accomplish. He asks the actors what would happen next had they situation really happened. He also asked if what was offered was plausible. Some times we fixed a small part of the bigger problem and sometime we couldn’t.


The audience was a mix of regular theatergoers, some mental health care workers, and some patients. The passion and pain and hope for change was palatable and the real issues were held up and examined. There was no feel of a documentary or lecture though, just real emotions, real stories inspired by real people.


That’s unique, important and powerful theatre.


Until March 24th




Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
31                         195                                             36                        14

Great songs sung well but could also be more “Alive”

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

#17 – Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Jacques Brel is a renowned composer of lyric driven songs with intricate and sly melodies. His writing is robust with wit and wisdom. Watching him sing you can see he has a flair for passion and the dramatic with a touch of a smile. He loves performing songs he has written about things that he feels are important and/or absurd. 
Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living In Paris was an American revue of his songs translated by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman in 1968. There are a few bon mots dotted throughout but it is mostly the songs.

The show leaps off with Marathon a jaunty tune that seems to celebrate progress only to reveal a cynicism about where we are all heading. You get the humour and dark of the composer right off the bat.
jacques 1
Other songs like the mocking and defiant Timid Frieda, the raging bar song The Middle Class, and the hilarious love struck Madeleine have an angry joy infused throughout. More serious songs like Desperate Ones and Old Folks have witty sorrow. 
You don’t have to be a great singer to sing Brel’s theatrical story telling tunes it is more about embodying and sharing them with the audience. They need to be felt deeply and shared freely with candor.

Erin Plam is one of four singers in the show and she gets this the most. A huge vocal range she often bites into the songs and tosses them with gusto towards the audience. She is having fun in all the drama and is dramatic in the fun. Mike Kovac also has some lovely moments and although his voice seems better suited to blues or rock he can command the stage.
Jacques 2
Another electric performer was the accomplished pianist Kerry O’Donovan. He was connecting with the singers and playing with vigor and even though his back was to us, you could feel he was playing for us. Not in an upstaging way but whenever you looked over you could see him deep in it, sharing.

That is (perhaps now obviously) the drawback I think with a lot of the show. Directors Brianna Wiens and Maddison Popov allow a sense of reverence to the material that often keeps the overall show at arms length and on display.  The staging has a solemnity and the interpretation of many of the songs lack complexity.

When actors are trying too hard they can ‘hinge’. They start to lean over their waist or stick their neck out. They are not in their body and living in the moment of the story of the song.

Seeing someone struggle against a negative emotion is compelling and makes the audience feel it. Indulging in it means the audience doesn’t, they can only sympathize.

Both these things contribute to a pushed feeling and a sense of importance that binds the material rather then letting it take flight. 

Jacques 3
This young company clearly loves this material and it is a great chance to hear Brel sung live. Especially when they get to the last two songs – Carousel and If We Only Have Love – the cast opens up and plays and the evening ends on a heartfelt and joyous note. Jacques Brel was alive and well!


A Point B Theatre production at Presentation House
Running Until March 2nd.



Jacque Brel singing Marieke

And singing Mathilde

And The Port of Amsterdam

You can see the joyous passion and his dramatic flair with a touch of smile.


Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
23                         148                                             28                        9

Two Classics – Absurd and Funny

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

I got some good news – my OUT TV Blog is back at the end of the month and expanded even.

In the meantime.


Boeing Boeing by The Arts Club Theatre

What in earth would possess The Arts Club to program Boeing Boeing as part of their 49th theatre season. It is a door slamming sex-farce by French writer Marc Camoletti in 1960.


Bernard has three fiancés all of them are stewardesses with a different airline. He just has to manage their flight timetables and as long they don’t build speedier planes he can juggle them.


So why produce this fluffy and kind of sexist material? They likely did it because they have the cities best actors and a great director and ace production team.


Boeing Boeing is one of the funniest plays I have seen in ages.


The majority of the cast are best known for their dramatic work and to see then cut loose in broad comedy is, well inspiring. Kimberly Sustad plays the very American Gloria with a warm and sexy sense of entitlement and Moya O’ Connell is the passionate and temperamental Italian Gabriella. Just when you think the ladies could not get wilder the always-great Colleen Wheeler enters at the blunt and loud German Gretchen.

What is lovely about these three actors and the thorough direction by David Mackay is that although they are broad, they are still appealing. You can see what attracted our protagonist Bernard to them. Lesser directors would just make then creatures of fun and leave out the romantic part that is needed to drive the story.


Speaking of Bernard – Jonathan Young is one of the cities best actors and as the cool and cocky man who would juggle three fiancés you really get that he loves them and wants what is best for all concern for as long as possible. One can only imagine how that character would likely be played in the 1960’s through 1990’s (and beyond) – a swinging bachelor more concerned with his own libido and needs, with superficial regard to the women in his life.


Things go wrong when his awkward and nerdy friend from Wisconsin arrives. Andrew Mcnee as Robert is hysterical. As the character goes from resourceful admirer to stressed out savior he starts crawling all over the set using big choices grounded in truth to punch the comedy situations in the throat. He is in each moment and his mounting horror, tinged with envy and lust and most of all kindness is the work of an accomplished actor.


In an already A-list cast the cherry on top is Nicola Lipman as the maid Berthe. She attacks the comedy from a completely different angle, deadpan and tossing her lines away she deservedly gets the final bow at the curtain call.


The sound track complied by Murray Price is all European 1960’s rock music that is buoyant and sassy. The set is all clean lines and austere apartment in France, wide-open spaces and sunken living room designed by Amir Ofek and the costumes by Nancy Bryant capture the time period without being parodies.


The whole show is treated with such respect and it would be good for comedy actors and directors to check out how it is possible to make bold choices that are rooted in truth, layered in needs and played in each moment with high stakes. How much funnier it can be when you bring the tools that are unusually only employed in dramatic work to a comedy.


Why did the Arts Club choose to do this show? They had the right team to pull it off with panache and make it a truly hysterical night out. So much fun!



Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
18                           106                                            22                        7


Rhinoceros by UBC

Eugene Ionesco wrote this Theatre Of The Absurd play in 1959. A small provincial French town is stricken with a curse or plague as it’s citizens start turning into Rhinoceros. Our protagonist is Berenger a young man scolded for being a drinker and tardy and the only one who seems to be resistant.


The analogy is one of conformity particularly with religious or political movements.


The piece was written a long time ago in style that flashed brightly in the theatre lexicon but it died out as a movement just as quickly, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is considered the best of the genre.


So the challenge to the director Chelsea Haberlin, in the MFA Directing Candidate at UBC is to find a way in for 21st Century audiences. She does this in the staging, using the Telus Studio Theatre and it’s tiny stage with audiences seated in three stories of balconies circling the stage. The feeling is we are judges or scientists watching the events unfold.


She also does this with getting some lovely performance from some of her student actors. Particularly Xander Williams as the Logician and Georgia Beatty as Daisy, they both bring nuance and charm. Joel Garner as friend Jean is full of weary bluster and he is the first person we see fully transform into a Rhino in a very fun scene.



I saw the show late in the run and it felt like the stakes were slipping. Sometimes actors, when they start to get into the groove of a show and start to get comfortable in the role they let that seep into the character as well. This may explain why some of the scenes felt languid particularly a late in the show scene between Dudard – a work colleague – and Berenger.


That combined with a repetitive plodding of the actors in the Rhino masks made the show drag out rather than ramp up. At first the movement was quite powerful and threatening but as it is repeated over and over again it loses potency and variety would have perhaps helped. At one point Daisy looks out the window and says with curiosity and longing how happy and playful the Rhino’s appear to be. But they are still plodding in the same stylized way they have been doing from the beginning of the play.


The students and their director had a great time and clearly dedicated a lot in mounting this challenging play. It was a great to see this script produced by such committed up and coming artists.



Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
19                             128                                       26                        8



I did not know there was a movie version made of the play starring Gene Wilder.



David C. Jones
Culture Vulture


Oscar’s Best Picture Nomimees

Monday, February 11th, 2013

So I took the time to see all 9 of the Best Picture nominees. I had to take time because some of them were really really long.

I have ranked them based on the following criteria.

Did the film immerse me into it’s world?

Was it a story that had to be filmed – not staged or done for TV?

– Did it touch me emotionally?


Silver#9) – Silver Linings Playbook
122 minutes

This was a fine and fun film with charming actors and touching story, but it’s climatic plot point was a dance contest and that is so Saturday Night Fever, the ending was a forgone conclusion including the relationships.


#8) Les Miserables 
158 Minutesles Miz

I am musical fan and a Les Miz fan but I found the film bloated and some really melodramatic acting. When Hugh Jackman wheezed  “I’m ready Fantine” I rolled my eyes and thought “hurry“. I loved Eddie Redmayne as Marius though and his song with Samantha Barks as Eponine in “A Little Fall of Rain” was the only time I was drawn into the story.


#7) Zero Dark Thirty
157 MinutesZero

Epic film-making, the attack on the compound was heart stopping at times. But it also telegraphed some of it’s moments. In any story when a mostly morose character is suddenly very happy I always know they are about to die or get seriously maimed. It’s called setting them up for the fall. I also found the politics troublesome.


#6) Lincoln
150 Minutes Lincoln

This is epic film making with sweeping Spielberg shots and it was really well done. The acting by Daniel Day Lewis and everyone was pretty spectacular. The political machinations were interesting but I found the story never got me emotionally involved. I was admiring it as a movie.


#5) Django Unchained
165 MinutesDjango

It was very Tarantino with it juxtaposed soundtrack and quirky characters. It was also super bloated and the first half of the film could have trimmed by 40 minutes, but I was always curious and loved the performances by Cristoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson.


#4) Life of Pi
127 MinutesLife of Pi

Wow! Gorgeous filmmaking and there were times where I was on the edge of my seat with the action. The special effects where dictated by the story where as most times the story is created to serve the special effects. I was transported into a world that was unique and there were many touching moments.


#3) Amour
127 Minutesamour

This was a film that rocked me and I bawled a lot. The director trusts the viewer to read his actors and get the story without over explaining or talking down. The actors are phenomenal and you forget they are acting and you are watching a movie. You get pulled in and care. I went for a long walk after pondering and reflecting.


#2) Argo
120 Minutesargo

This one is so high on the list because there were so many scenes where Mr. Affleck actually makes situations so tense that I was on the edge of my seat. The filmmaking mostly put you right in the heart of the story and I felt scared, nervous and I laughed and cared what was going to happen next. It is a movie movie and was not bloated although a tad obvious but still I suspect it will win.


#1) Beasts of the Southern Wild
93 Minutes

This film is filled with global calamity, imagination, wonder, and told through the eyes of a little girl. The supporting characters, as well as the leads all feel vivid and real and the world that Mr. Zietlan captures lives outside the confines of the scripted page. The prevailing sadness in a world of confusion and playfulness was fully realized and images are burned into my head. It is also coincidentally the shortest film to be nominated.



How would your order rank?



Spring Has Sprung!

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

So it looks like my column might come back to OUT TV, we shall see. In the meantime I continue writing for The Charlesbois Post and now occasionally for GayVancouver.net and Xtra.

Here is my take on Spring Awakening and at the end is my diversity tally for January.



Spring has sprung!
Studio 58 presents Spring Awakening

When Spring Awakening opened on December 10th 2006 the New York Times declared, “Broadway may never be the same.” Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) adapted the 1891 controversial German play by Frank Wedekind into a unique rock musical.


As with the play – the musical deals with teenagers in a repressive and religious provincial town in 19th century Germany.  The adults around them won’t guide them or answer questions about sex and sexuality and abortion, homosexuality, S&M, incest and suicide abounds. Only in the musical we jump from 19th century to 21st century whenever the music starts. They pull out handheld mikes not to project their voices but to indicate we have time jumped, showing their confusion is also felt by youth today.


Unlike some recent musicals where lyrics are stage directions, here we have lines like “O, I’m gonna be wounded O, I’m gonna be your wound O, I’m gonna bruise you O, you’re gonna be my bruise” in a song about sexual awakening, it captures the bodily violation, scariness and the longing for first sexual contact. Way more interesting than “I walk down the street to buy a latte when I noticed this girl”.


This show won 8 Tony Awards including including best musical and then the London production won 4 Olivier Awards including best musical and the then the soundtrack won a Grammy.


The Vancouver Playhouse scored the local rights but when a decades old financial shell game with the city finally shut down the company, we were out of luck. The only other big company was The Arts Club but they had their season planned for the year. It looked like Vancouver was not going to experience this show.


Studio 58 to the rescue! The professional theatre-training program at Langara College is one of the best in Canada and given their reputation they were able to secure to rights for their students.


The dynamic training and balls to the wall execution helps make this show rock, since the students are close to the age of the youth characters they connect to the lust and confusion and anger.
Spring Awakening 2

It is important to remember they are in an acting school with singing training. These are not Broadway stars – yet. They attack the material with vim and verve and there are plenty of standout moments under David Hudgins direction.


Melchior (noble Riun Garner) squeezing himself into the corner of the hayloft filled with shame and rage trying to block out Wendla (winsome Lauren Jackson); Martha (haunted Erica Hoeksema) and Ilse (deadened Stephanie Izsak) singing separately but together about sexual abuse both have faced in The Dark I Know Well – heartbreaking.


The cocky arrogance of the gay Hanschen (Dominic Duchesne) and the insane Fraulein Knuppeldick (Merran McMahon) were welcome laughs amongst all the angst.

Spring Awakening


Masae Day plays Frau Gabor and she also plays the violin, so she steps in and out of the band. When one of the youth who she denied help takes his own life she leaves the band and plays violin at his funeral it’s a very touching scene.


Some of the students play a couple of smaller parts and even though he is too young Arthur MacKinnon distinguishes himself as Herr Stiefel and Father Kaulbach to fully realized characters.


The choreography by Shelley Stewart Hunt especially with the set pieces (by Shizuka Kai) blocking and yielding the youth from one another was sensuous fun. Big group numbers such a Totally Fucked and The Bitch of Living are fueled with big voices and fiery passion.


The band under musical direction of Andy Toth is stellar, simply stellar.
Spring Awakening 3

The show is not perfect – there are some notes that make you winch a little and one song (Left Behind) doesn’t even come close to the Broadway soundtrack but when you have a moment like Alex Strong playing Ernst singing out in a beautiful tenor “Touch Me, just like that” that erases any doubts, we are lucky this show is here.


Thank you Studio 58 for taking on the trouble and undoubtedly the expense of finally bringing the show to Vancouver and thank you upper term students of the acting program for bringing such power and passion to the stage.


Until February 24th


A video from the rehearsal !


David C. Jones




Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013 – January update
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

I saw 14 shows in January (Thank you Push Festival) 5 were one person shows. One featured an all Asian and South Asian cast (7 total) and one featured its diverse cast in film clips.

I am not meaning to say anyone one company or director is responsible but we need to consider as a community who are shows are connecting with and how we portray the world we purport to be holding a mirror up to.



# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
14                           74                                            17                        4



Carried Forward into February


# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
16                          95                                               20                        6



Christmas Shows 2011

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

This is a re-post. This was my last column for OUT TV for the time being. They are considering stopping local coverage though the Ambassador program. At the recent Ovation Awards some of the performers asked me about my reviews for these shows. So I am re-posting my last column here it was from December.


Holiday Shows Jump Start a Cynic

I am not a Christmas guy.  I am tried of the pressure; I am tired of the stores trying to get me to buy stuff; I am tried of the lights and the trees, I am tired of that stupid Paul McCartney song and I am super tired of Christians saying there is a war on Christmas (save that from when you are barred from your places of worship).


As someone who goes to a lot of shows – I am tired of seeing holiday shows (Sorry zealots – not Christmas Shows – all shows produced in December are not about Christmas – just like all Canadians are not – wait for it – Christians. Yep, there are Jewish and Muslim and Hindus and well, dozens of types of people here who don’t actually celebrate Christmas. )


So in an attempt to discover what is the fuss I went to three different shows and tried to watch them through my companion’s eyes. You know in case I am the problem.


First up that ubiquitous holiday tradition – the Panto.


Phantom of the Panto by The Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society


I am not a fan of the British Tradition of the Panto. It’s skewered fairy tales, classic jokes (“walk this way”), cross-dressing actors are likely more fun for the kids then the adults who have seen variations of the same thing over and over.

Luckily the FVG&SS gang had something clever up their sleeve – they had a super talented cast and pretty polished staging.  Written by Clive Ramroop, Directed by Mike Balser, with music direction by Timothy Tucker and Choreography by Carol Sietz, together they pulled out all the stops to have some fun with The Phantom Of The Opera.

It’s not really satire or even parody,  – but there is a lot of silliness as the cast of 44 community actors ham it up belting out 80’s classics and Broadway show tunes, with stops to Bollywood and of course Gangham Style.
The grandness of the Surrey Arts Centre allowed for flying drops and big set pieces. Highlights in the cast include Chelsea Rose Tucker as a rich voiced Christine, Samantha Andrews as the comic diva Firmin Full and Jacob Hildebrand as a sort of effusive narrator/ side kick Joe Bouquet DeFleur.

The brightest light was Joni Hayden-Summerton as Christine’s suitor Raoul. Her lanky body appears at times double jointed as she struts about and her phrasing and delivering jokes is quirky and original. She didn’t just re-create what has been done before in other Panto’s – she re-interpreted.

I took a young cultured Italian friend and asked him what he thought of Panto’s – he was befuddled. He had never seen anything like it – ‘they are so big in the acting’. He loved the kids as rats, thought the singing was great and enjoyed the dance troop but wondered why the male dancers were dressed for volleyball. Mostly he was confused as to what he was experiencing but he started to watch the audience and just as I was living the show through him, he started to watch the show through their eyes. “They are loving it.”

WARNING: Diversity rant.

Speaking of audience – looking around it was an eclectic mix of Caucasian, Asian and South Asian families, but once again I am watching a cast of 44 actors and all of the 11 leading parts are Caucasian. If any of those kids were looking for someone like them in this ‘community’ show – they would have to once again scour the chorus, in the background, behind the leads.

Rant over.

In the end though both my friend and I had a good time but both thought we should have brought some kids. Thank you Phantom Of The Panto to raising the bar in terms of production and polish.


White Christmas by The Arts Club Theatre
Until December 23rd

Speaking of Caucasians, here is White Christmas, I kid I kid. This cast of 20 features a little bit of diversity and most of the cast are killer singers and dancers.

This musical based on famous 1954 film (the first released in Vista Vision!) is a sentimental tribute to a bygone time and features some of Irving Berlin’s best songs. The Arts Club has produced it several times and I never got the fuss – so I went with a friend who’s husband did not want to see it again. My friend adores the show.

“It’s so sweet and nice.” He exclaimed. I sighed and settled in.

The story is about two hoofers who survive World War 2 to become big musical stars. They sort of fall in love with two singing ladies and the four of them try to help save the boys former General who’s Vermont Inn is about to go under due to lack of snow.

My friend loves the songs and when Todd Talbot and Monique Lund romantically perform “The Best Things Happen While You Are Dancing”, or when Sara-Jeanne Hosie powerful belts “How Deep Is the Ocean” or Jeffery Victor warmly croons “Blue Skies” I too admire the skill and talent.
He also loves the humour – the high-strung stage manager (Daniel Pitout) “It’s a pig-sty with an actual pig” – the crusty old custodian humorously played by Mark Weatherly and when our hero’s dress in drag to perform “Sisters”.

There are big production numbers with tap dancing and singing and so many songs the show almost clocks in at three hours.

Sure the script is thin, most of the drama comes from misunderstandings that could easily be cleared up if they would just talk – none of this “well, if you don’t know I am certainly not going to tell you” stuff. And sure, some of the choices were odd like a weird projection of a Hawaiian (?) beach with a tree that disappears part way through as if the song was longer than the footage

Trying to relax and seeing it through his eyes – I got caught up in the sentiment and the sincerity – giggled at the little girl (Jada McKenzie-Moore) mimicking the brassy Martha Watson (Susan Anderson) and visited tears with as the General (Allan Gray) thanks his troops for saving his inn.

So it was a fun Christmasy time out – mostly because of my companion though. But that is something – when I saw the show four years ago I left at intermission.



Fiddler On the Roof by Gateway Theatre
Until December 31st

Wow!! As soon as that Fiddler started and the orchestra played the opening notes of “Tradition” a wave of warm and excited feelings flooded me. Although not really a Christmas tradition – it’s about the Jewish village of Anatevka in 1905 Tsarist Russia – this is one of the finest crafted musicals. They don’t make them like this anymore.

Book by Joseph Stein (based on the story Tevye The Milkman by Sholem Aleichem) Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock – it so skillfully constructed it is revelatory.

What modern musicals would not only think to write a song based on the parents perspective of a wedding – not the more obvious bride and groom’s – but also give one verse to the bride’s younger sister and her love to advance the plot as in “Sunrise, Sunset”? What modern musical would give the entire emotional and expository weight of a character motivation in song “Far From The Home I Love” and what modern musical would think to weave in the threat from our antagonists into a enthusiastic bar celebration by having them dance joyously “To Life”?. There is a reason it ran for years on Broadway. It’s really good because is it is complex and surprising.

This is a pro/am community production meaning there are 5 Equity members and the rest of the 30 member cast are up and comers with varying degrees of experience and skills.
Fantastically the Gateway not only found some of the best ‘am’s’ and ‘pro’s’, it is also a complied a diverse and tuneful cast – all masterfully directed by Chris McGregor.

Warmly performed, Mr. McGregor does not allow his actors to get overly sentimental. When the sisters (Ranae Miller, Kat Palmer and Maddy Kriese) sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” they give a measured and truthful rendition hitting both the teasing and the scared qualities perfectly.

Mr. McGregor also encourages bold comic choices when the script requires but keeps it grounded in reality. The gruff Golde played with heart by Patti Allan and the brassy Yenta played with skeptical wisdom by Barbara Pollard are fully portrayed but in the hands of the pro’s it can be expected. But is when Teyve’s makes up a dream to get out an arranged marriage deal does the directors handling of comedy and drama shine. Sue Newman as the ghostly Grandma Tzeitel is shrill but passionate and when Sharon Crandal as Fruma Sarah swoops in atop of a 12 foot rolling tower she is scary, funny and again brilliantly justified.

Speaking of Teyve – David Adams does an astounding job in a very demanding part. He has to sing a boatload of songs and carries the entire story. He is loving, passionate and accommodating but he is also cruelly cold when Teyve is pushed too far. It is a commanding performance.

Sure there are a few missteps – the women crying during the rabbi’s speech at the wedding reception is over the top and phony, as if they are in a farce. More disappointing is when the Russian soldiers invade the reception. This part of the musical is written to pack an emotional wallop but instead the soldiers don’t cause that much grief – some stuff isn’t even knocked over, certainly the gorgeous lantern arrangement by set designer Drew Facey is not disturbed. They puffed up their chests knocked over some chairs and then left.

Here it appears the director erred on the side of not wanting to upset the audience. This underestimates their ability to enjoy the peaks and valleys in good story telling. To see the light, we need the dark, the bleaker the better because that makes the good stuff shinier. Remember Bambi’s mother got shot at the beginning.

I went with my friend who is a musical theatre practitioner of considerable ability. She thought the show was very well done. The chorography by Dawn Ewen was organic and joyous.

It is just a powerfully written musical passionately performed. It is about family, perseverance, standing your ground, compromise and celebrating.

Of the three – this musical capture Christmas for me. Ironic, huh?



Holly Happidays!


David C. Jones
West Coast Ambassador

What an amazing ride!

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Ride The Cyclone by Atomic Vaudeville at the Arts Club as part of The Push Festival
Until February 16th


What a rush! 90 minutes of sheer emotional overload. You laugh, you cry, you are outraged, stuck dumbfounded and left in dazzled wonderment. Ride The Cyclone is a twisted gift of a show that keeps on revealing discoveries and surprises, a few may be horrified but most will know that are in the presence of something groundbreaking.


It is a little cynical and cruel though earnest and with a big heart and an acidic sense of humour.


Atomic Vaudeville’s mandate is to encourage and develop new talent and material though a diverse variety of disciplines. Ride The Cyclone is likely their biggest hit so far and it is evolving and growing quite likely into a Canadian classic.


Six teenagers from Uranium, Saskatchewan and all members (well, for sure 5 of them were) of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir have climbed aboard the Ride The Cyclone roller coaster after visiting the automated fortuneteller Karnac. He foresaw but could not warn they will would all die when the roller coaster would derail. Then they sing.


Yep we have a musical about dead teenagers and one of them has a doll’s head! Karnac is deadpan with a caustic sense of humor. He has temporarily brought the teenagers back and told them they must sing their hopes and dreams and one of them will be brought back to life. He has a large rat band – well, the band is just a four piece but the rats are large.
The cast is phenomenal: Kholby Wardell is Noel the only gay in town, non-pussed and droll his unfulfilled desire is desperately tragic. Rielle Braid is Ocean the A-type leader of the group who feels she is the most deserving to live. Elliott Loran is the awkward nerd with dreams of being space hero. Kelly Hudson is Constance the nicest girl in town with a secret. They sing and dance with unbridled passion and outrageously brave but tragic characterizations.


Sarah Jane Pelzer is the teen sporting a creepy doll head without any memory as to who she is. Haunted but trying to emulate the others, her quirky skips and hops are heartbreaking and funny, and her soprano is haunting. New to the cast this run is Jameson Matthew Parker as Miscah the wannabe badass gangster rapper. Check him out when he and the other youth are often ‘magic’d’ into back-up dancers; he disappears into each persona without grandstanding. He is remarkable.


Carey Wass is the sardonic voice and James Insell the puppeteer of Karnac and the band are also spot-on talented artists.


This version has a few new songs, richer stories and a higher stakes plot, which gets layered into this already rich musical. We still have the over size paper masks, the spacesuit, the garter belts, the lightshow carnival, the varied and witty choreography by Treena Stubel.

Britt Small and Jacob Richmond directed this delirious treat. Jacob Richmond writes the book with music by Brooke Maxwell. They are unsentimental and bizarre creators and it packs an emotional wallop. Ride The Cyclone is mostly insanely funny but the dark desolation underneath and surrounding it burrows into you.


My companion kept saying “amazing” between gasps of laughter. My teeth were clenched in a stupidly happy grin and there were a few tears. If you give yourself over to the crazy ride you will feel and feel and feel as it bobs, weaves, loop de loops. It’s a wild ride you will want to experience again and again.


Check out the trailer here.


David C. Jones
Culture Vulture




Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art hold a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also in urban centre’s) is still all-Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

Sadly for all it’s greatness Ride the Cyclone did not bump up are diversity total.

# of Plays           Total Actors         # Diverse          Plays with Diverse Casting
9                             58                          16                                    3

My friend Terry Costa thinks this describes me

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

“My soul is impatient with itself, as with a bothersome child; its restlessness keeps growing and is forever the same. Everything interests me, but nothing holds me. I attend to everything, dreaming all the while.” ~Fernando Pessoa

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