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Tuesday, May 07, 2019




Today family and friends would normally be celebrating another birthday for my sister Suzanne (she would have been 58 today), but that is tempered by preparing to mark the 1st anniversary of her passing in a little over a month from this otherwise annual cause for celebration.

Hard to believe so much time has gone by already, and yet in many cases the work on her legacy and memory is not only still ongoing, it is barely getting started. 

Her Suzanne St.Yves Amani Peace Prize was topped up late last year to allow that initiative to continue.

She left me a lifetime of personal journals and writings that make my own output seem tinier by comparison, and my hope is that will find the light of day along with her photography work.  

She had left a request asking me not to allow her Facebook page to become a tribute space, but I am inclined to use that space to keep those close to her aware of the progress on anything related, as her reach was literally around the world.

So, just a short note to say there will be more to come from Suzanne, while she didn't get to be here as long as we all would have preferred, I think she will continue to affect people in teh ways only she seemed capable of.

 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Gentleman's Guide To Love & Murder, Stage West Calgary

A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder
Stage West Calgary
runs to June 23

5 out of 5 stars



Scoring the Canadian premiere of Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak’s Tony Award-winning “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder”,  Stage West Calgary left nothing to chance. A top-shelf cast, a keenly sharp house band, and a returning solid gold director at the helm make this one of the best bets that you’ll leave at the end with a broad smile on your face.

Of course, the writing helps immensely, as the story and songs allow each actor to propel both the story-line and the assorted characters along to an ending with a hilarious twist. The entire production is truly tongue-in-cheek but in a way that allows the audience in on the jokes, and possibly even rooting for a happy ending for a goodnatured murderer. I guess all those TV anti-hero hits over the past decade or so have leavened our senses, or the humour is just that strong.

As is the case with this blog review, I’ll be leaving much out to have appear in my official Calgary Herald review, which should come out over the next week. That said, I can give you some highlights and high points.

In the case of this production, we are forewarned at the start by a chorus of mourners to leave while we still can, given the gory proceedings about to be shared. well, as gory as a comedy will afford, and none actually seen on stage…

In a nutshell, which is kind-of what the retro footlights onstage look like, our “hero” is Montague “Monty” Navarro (Sayer Roberts), who discovers that he comes from a far more prominent bloodline than the one has been forced to live out his entire young life. His mother was a D’Ysquith before she was cast out for marrying beneath her own rank, so in a dizzying round of information from Miss Shingle (Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan) Monty must wrap around the news that he is in line to become an earl, should the multitude of other D’Ysquiths depart this mortal coil ahead of him. 



As you may imagine, the temptation to escalate that opportunity offsets the ethical merits of enabling those demises, and Monty begins to eliminate his relatives in a series of seemingly accidental deaths.

Man, it’s hard to hold back given how good all this is, so maybe I had better utilize point form to hit on a few highlights before I wrap this up:

* Roberts is a talent, with his ability to convey the transformation from the innocent youth into the scheming murderer. Great vocalist as well.
* Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan always delivers, and in this case she plays a somewhat minor role that may or may not be so minor.
* Kate Blackburn is Sibella Hallward, a schemer in her own right that loves Monty but won’t marry a poverty-stricken sort. What a stellar voice - perfectly suited for this genre of musical theatre.
* Ellen Denny plays Phoebe D’Ysquith, Monty’s betrothed once he moves upward towards his place in the D’Ysquith standings. Another astounding singer.
* Tyler Murree plays most members of the D’Ysquith family, and I can’t say that restricts him to male roles. Absolutely a standout on every level here. 
* Mark Bellamy & Konrad Pluta as director and musical director respectively - each one producing exceptional results.

This may be the longest short review I’ve ever given - all I can say is that the Calgary Herald review is longer, and more informative. I’ll add a link once that is live online to share.

Photos courtesy of Stage West Calgary, John Watson Photography.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Drinking Habits 2 Caught In The Act


 Drinking Habits 2 Caught In The Act

at Stage West Calgary to April 14
2.5 out of 5 stars
Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary


I really expected to be writing an entirely different review today, given how much I LOVED Drinking Habits back in 2017 (see review posted in at the end). 

That first production was a terrific farce blessed with frantic plot twists, fantastic actors, and above all, tight comedy that worked to great effect. The sequel falls quite a bit short in recreating all of those elements.

Drinking Habits 2 Caught In The Act actually feels a bit like the writer picked up fragments from a discount comedy bin to weave the fabrics together, but couldn’t quite complete a whole cloth from the effort.

Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary


I do have to keep something aside for the official forthcoming Calgary Herald review, but let’s see what might have been missing from this production:

Director - no, that is still the acclaimed and highly competent J. Sean Elliott, who I have complimented here frequently before, especially when it comes to farces. He certainly keeps things moving, and was able to cast this outing with the original actors from the prior production, but the comedy seems to be stretching much too thinly. For example, the hypnosis bit that telegraphs obvious outcomes was old back when Bugs Bunny was pulling it on Saturday morning cartoons, 40+ years ago.

Cast - no, as I mentioned a moment ago, there is a lifeboat full of highly talented actors on this wayward raft. Jeremy LaPalme (Paul) and Charlie Gould (Sally) are the unrequited lovers torn between career paths and marital bliss. Luc Trottier (George) and Kate Madden (Kate) liven the proceedings up as a couple about to enter parenthood, notwithstanding participating in a hastily crafted fundraising event to save an orphanage. 
As the Mother Superior and The Sisters Of Perpetual Sewing, Elinor Holt, Esther Purves-Smith and Natascha Girgis are tasked with underpinning the comedic moments - mostly to good effect, but in Girgis’ case she has a scene-stealing moment that is the sole great comedic moment. And Robert Klein as Father Chenille returns, but this time balances hopeful retirement with a budding career as a magician for that aforementioned fundraiser. 
For the most part, these are all likeable characters, even if sometimes just a slight step aside from caricature. 

Writing - herein lies the rub in this outing. Confusing even after a recap of the first production to get started, overdone for much of the early proceedings, there are only hints of the comedy that buoyed Drinking Habits. I don’t know if it was too much ambition in commandeering a credible storyline with the same characters, or just a mish-mash of comedic features that didn’t mesh this time around, but the laughs were clearly hard won.

For a facility that often meets or surpasses with sequels, this was a rare miss. I’ll post a link to the full review when The Calgary Herald goes live online.
Photos courtesy Stage West Calgary


Drinking Habits 2 Caught In The Act

at Stage West Calgary to April 14


Calgary Herald review of "Drinking Habits"

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Photo courtesy Son Of Town Hall
My audio podcast interview with Son Of Town Hall

Had an absolute blast chatting up the gentlemen from Son Of Town Hall, my first ever live three-way. Interview.

While one was in the U.S. (presumably his home in Texas, the other was in London, while I anguished over the magic of the technology that is Google Hangouts. All went well, and the accompanying interivew can be found here:


David Berkeley and Ben Parker are a captivating blend of showmanship and craftsmanship, featuring sharp songwriting skills and harmonies that only enhance each other's outstanding vocal abilities. Their senses of humour are also razor sharp...

Give the episode a listen, either from that link, or DL it for free from iTunes, ThatDanGuy's Podcast!



Tuesday, January 08, 2019

My conversation with Troy Kokol of Calgary Songsmiths

Logo courtesy of Calgary Songsmiths
I've been pretty remiss for some time now with this site, after getting a little lost in where my writing career was going to.

I'm going to try and get better with where I used to be in this space, moving forward.

To kick things off, check out my conversation with singer and songwriter Troy Kokol, a principal with Calgary Songsmiths (visit their Facebook group page to get all the details), and learn about this amazing resource for songwriters here in Calgary!

Troy Kokol of Calgary Songsmiths

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Jersey Boys joins ranks of top-notch musicals at Stage West

Jersey Boys
Stage West Calgary

Photos courtesy of Stage West Calgary - John Watson Photography 


Stage West Calgary is in an enviable position as a theatre - they can present original, new productions that become so popular that they spawn sequels - especially their musical revues. 

They also present traditional, intimate versions of well-known plays that can perform just as well.

Then there are their impressive Broadway recreations on that same intimate stage- Spamalot, Dreamgirls, Chicago, and The Producers - most often rising above and beyond the best efforts in any of their other categories.

The recently opened Jersey Boys, a hit Broadway production (and eventually a movie) on the rise, struggles and successes of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons rubs shoulders with those aforementioned accomplishments - right alongside some of my favourites seen there.
Photo John Watson Photography, courtesy Stage West Calgary


It doesn’t hurt that this jukebox musical has been such a massive success, and with good reason - the stories and music are interesting, the actors are sharp, and the director has fit all those parts together to keep things as brisk as intended. There are not a whole lot of lulls to slow things down, aside from the opening bits - fairly typical of any story as exposition slowly unfolds the direction of the narrative…

I’ll have far more to say in my official Calgary Herald review, but for now, let’s touch on some highlights:

Casting - Director Liz Gilroy has assembled yet another boffo cast to bring these characters to life, and in many cases even a few more characters along the way for some of the actors. While I had not yet seen any big touring production of this show, I had seen THE Jersey Boy himself live, and I can say without hesitation that Evan Taylor Benyacar (in his Stage West debut) handles the Frankie Valli vocals effortlessly. This is crucial for the audience to buy into the illusion, and I’d say the enthusiastic response when I attended supported that buy-in.

Direction - Liz Gilroy continues to expand her catalogue of hit productions at Stage West with Jersey Boys - alongside Legally Blonde and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to mention just a couple.

Choreography - Phil Nero has recreated the ’60’s in every aspect of the dancing in this outing - pure authenticity.

Costumes - like the choreography, reminiscent of the era, and relevant to maintain the sincerity of the story.    

It's a big cast to give shout-outs to, but Matt Alfano (Gyp De Carlo), Niko Anastasakis (Joe Pesci), Daniel Greenberg (Nick Devito, Norm Waxman), Jonathan Gysbers (Bob Gaudio) Douglas Walker (Bob Crewe) Josh Wiles (Tommy Devito) and Tristan Hernandez (Nick Massi) are at the heart of the story as either Four Seasons members or closely related key players.
John Watson Photography, courtesy Stage West Calgary


As I say, I’ll expand on all of this in my official Calgary Herald review, but for now I have to say, Stage West keeps adding to their proud tradition of executing stellar Broadway productions, especially in the musical biography vein.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Jersey Boys runs at Stage West Calgary until Feb 3, 2019.  

(make sure you catch their special holiday offerings in the buffet, before the end of the year!)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The World Goes 'Round, now at Stage West Calgary

Stage West Calgary 

The World Goes ‘Round

The Songs Of Kander & Ebb

Photos Courtesy Stage West Calgary, credit John Watson Photography

There is plenty to like about Stage West Calgary’s The World Goes 'Round, their latest foray into a musical overview of Broadway and Hollywood hits, but as things ultimately wrap up, there’s also something hard to pinpoint with respect to the overall enjoyment of the show.

I’ll be a bit more general here as I have a full review to prepare for The Calgary Herald, but there’s as much good as there is lacking in this tribute to the composing team of Kander & Ebb, the duo that gave us enduring musical theatre hits like Zorba, Chicago, Kiss Of The Spider Woman and Cabaret. 

Strong actors, soaring vocals, and a house band reinforced with horns and an upright bass just don’t seem enough to overcome whatever it is that’s missing in the end.  

It could be the addition of many songs and plays that are lesser known, or it could be the isolation of iconic performances that are stubbornly familiar from the original productions. Somehow it comes across in The World Goes ‘Round as a version of the songs for sure, but often not nearly as captivating.



You sure can’t fault the cast. Director and choreographer Tim French assembles his usual collective of talented performers, and things really do get off to a rousing start by Sarah Horsman with her powerful rendition of the title song. Each and every actor has showcase moments along the way. And each proves amply able to reach the rafters vocally when they are tasked to do so.

Not enough humour? Odd arrangements that include a barbershop quintet/Manhattan Transfer version of Cabaret? I’m hard-pressed to pinpoint any single aspect that leaves you wanting more, given the catalogue of hits that John Kander & Fred Ebb composed for Broadway and Hollywood productions. 

In some regards, the context of the storyline perhaps escalates the meanings of the songs as the original play unfolds, so maybe plucking them out of that environment dilutes the proceedings? Perhaps it’s just me?

At any rate, there is no faulting some strong performances. Troy Goldthorp shines in selections from Woman Of The Year, Chicago, and even a lengthy dance routine later in the show. Sarah Higgins is just as strong with songs from Funny Lady, Flora The Red Menace, and The Rink.

Tyler McKinnon stands tall figuratively and literally performing I Don’t Remember You from The Happy Time, and Kiss Of The Spider Woman. Sash Striga gets the closest to the familiar staging on All That Jazz from Chicago, and is part of that aforementioned dance sequence with Goldthorp.



Along the way, there’s rollerskating, a ukulele segment, and some neat staging with footlights at one point. Marquees frequently illuminate to give viewers a clue to the lesser-known musicals. On the surface, all would seem like another musical revue hit, but whatever it is that is missing, takes just enough wind out of the sails to not quite make it to that intended destination. 

More to follow in my upcoming Calgary Herald review, I’ll link here once that is live!


3.5 out off 5 stars, runs until November 11.