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Stratford’s Romeo and Juliet Satisfies But Never Truly Finds its Originality

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Drumming up a goddess in white, she sings from the opening monologue that lays the groundwork for Stratford Festival‘s Romeo and Juliet. It’s a sparkling starry opening, drawing forth images of star-crossed lovers that look to the heavens for guidance. Captivating and engaging in its creation, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is getting the full treatment this year playing well and true. Directed with determination by Sam White (Stratford’s Wedding Band), the production digs its heels into the traditional, holding on to a visual that feels more historical than forward floating. It’s a pleasurable outing, giving these fine actors ample opportunity to do what they are trained to do, with the older guard finding an authentic connection to the material. At the same time, the younger, less seasoned souls deliver their lines compassionately and with respect, but did not manage to find an earthy grounded nature to their unpacking. They say lines cause they are written, not because they feel them moving through them.

Jonathan Mason as Romeo and Vanessa Sears as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

The famed star-crossed lovers, dressed in color-coded costumes by set and costume designer Sue LePage (Shaw’s Brigadoon), are utterly sweet and endearing in the first half of their love story. Romeo, played warmly and compassionately by the handsome Jonathan Mason (Stratford’s Little Women) finds ample opportunity to give us a youth who falls quickly in love with his Juliet, played wide-eyed and giggly by the lovely and captivating Vanessa Sears (Stratford’s Twelfth Night). Following the straightforward path to love and marriage, these two come together as if following the stage directions of the play, rather than us feeling the electricity in their actions. It does feel sweet and engaging when they talk about love to others, especially in the first half, but when the actually falling in love happens, it comes too fast and somewhat forced, saying lines about love, attraction, and devotion as if they know they are famous lines, long before we even feel the spark of lust or fascination flying between them. In the second half, filled with despair, grief, and anger, these two struggle to find the emotional truth hidden deep down inside their young hearts. They stay, following the text and emoting as instructed. The lines are delivered with force, but never feel like it is in their bones or their flowing in their red hot blood.

From left: Glynis Ranney as Nurse, Andrew Iles as Mercutio, John Kirkpatrick as Balthasar, and Steven Hao as Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

The same can not be said of Glynis Ranney (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing) and Scott Wentworth (Stratford’s Twelfth Night) as the Nurse and Friar Laurence, who find clarity and deep connection to every line uttered. Ranney’s Nurse gives a well-rounded and clever portrayal that is both touching and lovely, making every line have a personal journey and meaning. And “Holy Saint Francis“, Wentworth’s Friar also unpacks frameworks and understanding into every movement he makes and every line spoken. It feels rooted in the here and now, and motivated by what is happening around him and what is being said to him. This can not be said of the majority of this production.

The same can be said of the always reliable and talented Graham Abbey (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing) as Capulet, Juliet’s father, who has to manage his emotional state through a range as large as a roller coaster. He first has to be open and accepting when he sees Mason’s Romeo at his masked party, a party that is filled with sexual tension and energy. Abbey’s Capulet must chastize the overzealous (and not all that believable) Tybalt, portrayed by Emilio Vieira (Stratford’s Grand Magic), to settle his fury down. He instructs him to just enjoy the party, as Romeo is doing no harm, and he hears he’s quite likable. Yet, later, he must shift to the father figure who is ready to throw his daughter down and away almost violently when she says she does not want to marry the good, somewhat bland, Paris, played by Austin Eckert (Stratford’s Twelfth Night). It’s a difficult and dutifully performed swing that Abbey must make, and we believe it, drinking the shift in authentically.

Unfortunately, Jessica B. Hill (Stratford’s Richard III) as Lady Capulet doesn’t achieve the same level of understanding. She, like the somewhat forgettable 郝邦宇 Steven Hao (Tarragon’s Cockroach) as Benvolio, the underused Michael Spencer-Davis (Stratford’s Love’s Labour’s Lost) as Montague, and Antonette Rudder (Stratford’s Hamlet-911) as Lady Montague, never really finding a strong footing within this rendering. They all, like the two leads, deliver fine presentations, without discovering a unique framework or motivation for them to actually speak those famed lines. [On a side note, I’ve always been curious about the disappearance of Lady Montague in the second half for reasons of plot. leading me always to question why Shakespeare doesn’t include her for that emotional final scene when all the other parents and players arrive. I wonder if some double-casting complications prevented Romeo’s mother from being present in that final scene. Did the same actor also play the Friar? Or Paris? The reasonings are there and reported by Montague, but they don’t seem necessary to the plot or the play, and are somewhat imposed upon.]

Andrew Iles as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

One of the better performances of this production lies within Andrew Iles (Stratford’s Three Tall Women) and his double-duty portrayal of Mercutio and another hooded role that surprisingly makes us sit up and take notice in a production that does not have a lot of surprises within. The sword scenes are generally thrilling, produced by fight and intimacy director Anita Nittoly (Stratford’s The Rez Sisters), although the epic battle between Romeo and Tybalt felt awkward and misrepresented. Romeo doesn’t actually stab the fiery cousin of Juliet, but strangles him in a way that looks more like a neck and shoulder rub than anything remotely deadly, yet they continually speak of blood being shed. Now in a production that took a lot of liberties with the language, this could be forgiven, but this is not the construction of this Romeo and Juliet. It’s literate and determined to follow the text to a level that almost hurts their unpacking. And speaking of literate, Thomas Duplessie (Stratford’s Grand Magic) as the illiterate servant Peter also manages to find moments of charm and engagement that feel honest and clever. I wish the production took more chances like it did with these two, delivering moments of unique thoughtfulness and earthiness that live deeper in the soul and soil of the play. Many in the cast, thanks to White’s direction need to dig down much deeper below the obvious surface to create more complex formulations, contemplations, and emotional states that would make us sit up and pay more attention. Giving us a slightly different vantage point to unpack, Like they did with the apothecary casting.

But as delivered here on Stratford’s Festival Stage, with lighting by Louise Guinand (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs) and musical composition and sound design by Debashis Sinha (Stratford’s Casey and Diana), this Romeo and Juliet delivers a Shakespearean staple that isn’t all that deep or unique. It’s genuinely straightforward and unpacked in a clear obvious manner – beyond the seasoned pros who find some captivating weight. It keeps us tuned in but not dazzled or fascinated by this well-known story. This Romeo and Juliet needed some freshness and a formula that didn’t feel so standardized. It needs some originality stitched inside its well-wornness. The Stratford Festival can do better than this. It’s definitely not unwatchable nor is it terrible, but it does hang out in the world of fine and functional, and I was hoping for more. I guess I’ll have to hold my breath and wait to see what is in store for me this week when I see the new West End production of Romeo & Juliet, directed and produced by Jamie Lloyd, and starring Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet.. It just opened a week or so ago at the Duke of York’s Theatre, and I’m seeing it tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me. And for these two star-crossed lovers.

Jonathan Mason as Romeo (left) and Vanessa Sears as Juliet with Scott Wentworth as Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet. Stratford Festival 2024. Photo: David Hou.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Out of Town

Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End Soars Three Times Higher Than Expected

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As the dawn breaks” over the houses, a songbird’s tender melody flies this new musical forward over the three mornings, decades apart. As three households are revealed, dated and notated above as 1960, 1989, and 2015, we are welcomed most harmoniously to the brutalist iconic housing development in Sheffield, and the emotionally clever and connecting musical, Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Sitting forcibly on top of the world, with a forever fussy neon sign giving us a glimpse into some form of engagement ahead, the musical, as written by the wonderfully talented Richard Hawley (“Soldier On“), digs into the personal ramifications of the nation’s political upheavals that bubble up into the lives of these families from the 1960s through Thatcherism, immigration, Brexit, and beyond. With a strongly layered book by Chris Bush (The Changing Room), Sky’s Edge unearths deeply felt, intertwined connections in the three families of three generations over six decades. The opening feels almost Shakespearian, with subtle flavors that remind us of that opening monologue from Romeo & Juliet (a show we were seeing hours after this show), with these somewhat stereotypical family dynamics moving steadily forward in life and love. Planted inside this boxy structure of many layers, these characters find greater depth with each passing emotional moment as they move forward through a classic gentrification dynamic all within one concrete iconic housing estate.

Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy, Elizabeth Ayodele as Joy. and Rachael Wooding as Rose in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

All adventures are scary,” we are told pretty straight up in this fascinating creation, and we lean into the melodic unveiling before us. The three stories of differing social situations are riveting, engaging us in ways that resemble more of a play with fantastic deliverable songs sung in a more performative fashion rather than sung from within the storytelling. Delivered like rockstars standing at their microphone stand (sometimes), and arranged and orchestrated by Tom Deering (Almeida’s Tammy Faye) with musical direction by associate music supervisor Alex Beetschen (RADA’s Spring Awakening), this midnight train is a clever layering filled with many little treasures that add energy and emotional clarity to the piece. As the characters open up their doors to us, they keep deepening their directive, revealing their dilemmas and dynamics with sharp contrast and emotional compassion.


Elizabeth Ayodele as Joy and Samuel Jordan as Jimmy in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg.

The cast is completely fantastic across the board, giving us chills in their unity of action, striking forward the distress and pain of the world they live in while struggling to hold on to the few crumbs of gratitude and humble acceptance. They find harmony in their collective, drawing us in, even as they stand together in a more choral arrangement. The leads are particularly good, with Samuel Jordan (“Sex Education“) in the pivotal role of Jimmy giving us an anchor to hold onto, with his counterpoint, Elizabeth Ayodele (NT’s Small Island) as Joy, the one who catches his eye (or is it the other way around). The circumstances that plant her here are complicated and emotionally stirring, delivered well by the family of actors that surround her, including Sharlene Hector (Barbican’s Strange Loop) as her Aunt Grace and Baker Mukasa (RSC’s The Winter’s Tale) as cousin George. Also tugging hard on our heartstrings are the young married couple who move into the flat with the view in the 1960s, played strongly by Rachael Wooding (Dominion’s We Will Rock You) as Rose and Joel Harper-Jackson (West End’s Cock) as Harry. Their heartbreaking unraveling is the key to the Sky’s Edge puzzle that slowly comes together with grace and dignity. But they are just part of the formulations.The whole is what makes this musical sing and stride forward so effectively.

The most modern entry into that flat is the compelling story of Poppy, played strong and true by Laura Pitt-Pulford (NT’s The Light Princess), and the complexities that surround Nikki, played engagingly well by Lauryn Redding (Vaudeville’s The Worst Witch). Redding delivers the song, “Open Up Your Door” with a force that knocks us off-center, mainly because we see it one way, until we are thrown a curve ball to look at it in a different framing of light. Poppy’s story is the looser connective tissue, keeping itself one knot removed, unlike the other two tales. But it somehow stays tied in, even if the grief and the sense of loss are played out in reverse. They still register, and give us a new doorway to walk through.

Lauryn Redding as Nikki, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy, and the cast of Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

Tonight, the streets are hot,” and the show unpacks a wealth of interactive complications and connections in a series of tender boxes that have been dutifully crafted to keep the tumultuous rain out, laid out with style by set and costume designer Ben Stones (Leeds’ Hedwig and the Angry Inch), with sharply tuned in lighting by Mark Henderson (Chichester’s Flowers for Mrs. Harris) and a strong sound design by Bobby Aitken (West End’s Ghost). As directed with care and focus by Robert Hastie (Sheffield/Donamr’s She Loves Me), the framing embraces our curiosity continuously, and engages our attention throughout, leading us through fireworks, love, despair, and grief that touch our collective heart and soul in abundance.

This magnificently moving three-layered story, with stunningly searing songs and sharply tuned-in choreography by Lynne Page (Broadway’s American Psycho) is billed as a musical, but carries the heavy weight of a play that is unpacking modern Britain and its politics. Delivered and unpacked through the stories of the landmark Park Hill estate. this view from the sky’s edge is a powerfully performed and sung exploration of the connective tissues of community and family, and what it means to take shelter in a brutialist box that will keep out the rain.

Rachael Wooding as Rose and Joel Harper-Jackson as Harry in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Photo Credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg.

The musical engages, pulling us gently into a dramatic tension that surprises and enlightens. Standing at the Sky’s Edge gives us a stunning view to take in, three times stronger than anything I could have imagined, and one that we won’t easily forget. Winner of the 2023 Olivier Award for Best New Musical, UK Theatre Award for Best Musical Production, and the South Bank Sky Arts Award, Standing at the Sky’s Edge soars to the highest of heights and holds us tight. Now playing until August 3rd at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, London.

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Billy Joel and Roger Sichel Quiet Brunch Turned Newsworthy Thanks to Justin Timberlake

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The night before Justin Timberlake was busy drinking and talking with his friends. Timberlake was stopped by police just after midnight on Tuesday. Billy Joel and artist Roger Sichel the next morning were having brunch at their usual hang out at the American Hotel, next to each other. Joel and Sichel were bombarded by photographs due to the late breaking news. What was scheduled to be a  quite afternoon turned out to be what has taken over the news.


Timberlake who is in the middle of a world tour that includes upcoming Madison Square Garden told the officers he had just “one martini.” According to sources he was inhibited on them and refused to take the sobriety test.

Billy Joel is busy working and lives within walking distance of the hotel.

Sichel just finished an art show in Beverly Hills and will be opening in Sag Harbor Kramois’s art gallery two doors down from the American Hotel next week.

Seems that the American Hotel is the place to hang this summer, well it always was.

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Out of Town

Jamie Lloyd’s “Romeo & Juliet” in the West End Finds Unparalleled Amplification in its Microphoned Words and Limited Movements

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Behind a large industrial gate, Verona stands hard and dominant in the stark white light. It’s 1597, as projected, but the energy is utterly contemporary and fascinatingly modern. Designed to shock and startle from the get-go, this Romeo, as directed with a sharp focus by Jamie Lloyd (Broadway/West End’s Betrayal), strides in through the backstage hallways in dynamic fashion, destined to illicit a guttural response. “See where he comes,” we are told, and as movie star Tom Holland (West End’s  Billy Elliot the Musical) makes his way confidently forward, we must come to amplified terms with Lloyd’s very distinct version of this famed tale, one that will either excite or disappoint, but it will never be a bore.

Maybe because I came into West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre just days after seeing a more traditional (and somewhat lackluster) Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival in Canada, I was game for some changing of the rules, and inside the editing of the iconic text, fascinatingly created in layers by Nima Taleghani (“Heartstopper“), this radical reappraisal by the Jamie Lloyd Company unpacks more emotional layers while barely moving a muscle than many a traditional staging does. Delivered with clarity and an extreme understanding of what’s at stake in the storyline, it simmers with taunt muscular sexuality, anchored in their tight formulations and delivery, and held together by the star-powered force that is Holland and company.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Tom Holland, starring in Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

More importantly, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers (“Bad Education“), as his ill-fated Juliet, unmasks layers of unapologetic strength and passion giving the delivery and the play’s text its captifying edge. She is a hopeless romantic, but more of a determined woman than a cowering child. The power dynamics are reframed and realigned with this more stripped-away staging, giving Amewudah-Rivers’ Juliet more room to engage with that overpowering chemistry that exists between her and Holland’s Romeo, even when she almost ridicules the young man when he attempts to swear by the moon. That isn’t going to fly with this engaging creation.

This Juliet is a powerfully profound unpacking, supported most brilliantly by Freema Agyeman (Trafalgar Studieo’s Apologia) as her confidently embodied confidant; the multilayered Nurse. Her in-tune performance adds weight, connection, and energy, humorously stroking Holland’s impressive biceps, while proclaiming Juliet “will be a joyful woman.” But she also masterfully delivers despair and angst, possibly because the sharp edit has cut down the external paternal voices to only one per household. Juliet’s mother is nonexistent, giving all matters to her father, Capulet, masterfully maneuvered by Tomiwa Edun (NT’s Macbeth). This sliced-down rendering elevates the positioning that the maternal Nurse must take. The actor must balance both the emotional engagement and the hierarchy at play within the household. The mother-subtraction ultimately adds a jolt of energy into the whole, especially the pivotal scene between Juliet, her father, and the maternal Nurse, when the marriage to Paris, played engagingly by fresh-faced newcomer, Daniel Quinn-Toye, making his professional debut, is being forced upon the young already married daughter. It’s a captivating unraveling that lives and breathes inside a construct that completely makes sense.

The same is true for Romeo’s parental force. His mother, already barely a presence in the text of the play, especially at the end, has been given full command and sole ownership of the Montague household. Played well and true by Mia Jerome (Punchdruck’s Lost Leading Library), she delivers the required emotional force but leaves a special space for the paternal Friar, normally portrayed by Michael Balogun (Gillian Lynne’s The Lehman Trilogy), but was delivered with intensity by Phillip Olagoke (Old Vic’s A Number), to step in and engage with Romeo as if he is the son he never had. It’s a spectacularly astute repackaging that really shows its full worth when two scenes of the young married lovers’ angst are played on top of each other with the four: Nurse, Romeo, Juliet, and the Friar, lined up intersecting their lines straight into microphones on the stand.

Tom Holland (center) and cast in Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

When I tried to explain this to someone, their reaction was, with all those microphones and cameras on stage, projecting images that overlay one another, that it must feel stalled and somewhat boring. But in many ways, Lloyd’s creative engagement in stillness and striped-away engagement elevates the dynamic, creating a telling of this tale that is sexy, intense, and completely haunting. It’s filled with suspense and understanding, played true and confident by a cast that is completely engaged with the text. The electricity lives and breaths within these assured performances, and I was enraptured from beginning to end.

The editing pen also solidly pulls out all the excess in the play’s denouement, leaving the two to deliver their hopelessness without a soul in sight to get in the way and muddy the water. Played out on that bare cavernous stage, crafted with intent by set and costume designer Soutra Gilmour (West End/Broadway’s A Doll’s House), with meticulous lighting by Jon Clark (West End/Broadway’s The Lehman Trilogy), a solid sound design by Ben & Max Ringham (West End’s An Enemy of the People), composition by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (NT/The Shed’s The Effect), and assisted by the tender and captivating video design and cinematography by Nathan Amzi & Joe Ransom (Savoy’s Sunset Boulevard), this unpacking is as dark and engaging as one could possibly hope for. There is no Paris to do battle with, and the Friar doesn’t run in and out attempting to, and failing, to save the two from their breaking hearts. It’s just the two broken souls, overcome with grief, unable to move forward without their other.

Casting stares into the audience, the two leads deliver the goods in spectacular fashion, given that violence and hate are hovering behind them in the smokey darkness. The force is as exacting as the expert mashing and cutting of truth, side by side. There is more authentic emotion than many other pairings (and foursomes) that I have seen over the years, giving this tragic love story the undeniable edge and intensity that electrifies Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Even when it flies sometimes a bit too far from the stage, Lloyd’s distinctive directorial style lands hard and true.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Tom Holland (center), and the cast of Romeo & Juliet, a Jamie Lloyd Company production at West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner.

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Crow’s Theatre, Musical Stage Company, and Soulpepper Theatre Company Take Home Numerous 2024 Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards

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After a four-year hiatus, the Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards (S) returned to honor excellence from the 2023-24 professional theatre season. The 11th TTCAs, announced Tuesday morning, June 11th, boast 19 winners across 14 categories, including a special citation for artistic achievement.

Crow’s Theatre and Soulpepper Theatre Company were the big winners this year, each receiving seven awards, with the sensationally well-received Crow’s Theatre/Musical Stage Company co-production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. The production led the musical division with three wins, including Best Production of a Musical, with two members of its company; George Krissa and Heeyun Park 박희윤, jointly awarded for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

Soulpepper Theatre Company followed close behind with two wines for the fascinatingly dynamic world premiere of De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail. Damien Atkins, the production’s star, won the award for Best Lead Performance in a Musical. Gregory Prest, who directed and adapted the production from its source material; Wilde’s original love letter of the same name, was also recognized as Best Director of a Musical.

Damien Atkins and Colton Curtis in Soulpepper Theatre’s De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

In the Musical Division

  • Crow’s Theatre and Musical Stage Company co-production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812: Best Production of a Musical, and George Krissa and Heeyun Park박희윤 were jointly awarded the prize for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.
  • Soulpepper’s production of De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail: Damien Atkins won the award for Best Lead Performance in a Musical, and Gregory Prest, who directed as well as adapted the material from Wilde’s original love letter of the same name won Best Director of a Musical.
  • Kelly v. Kelly, Britta Johnson and Sara Farb’s new musical inspired by true events, produced by the Musical Stage Company in association with Canadian Stage won Best Ensemble in a Musical.
Sean Arbuckle (left) as Thomas and Krystin Pellerin as Diana in Casey and Diana. Stratford Festival 2023. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

The Play Division

  • Nick Green’s drama Casey and Diana, which ran at Soulpepper after premiering at the Stratford Festival, won the award for Best New Canadian Play, and actor Sean Arbuckle received the prize for Best Leading Performance in a Play.
  • Michael Healey’s satire The Master Plan, produced by Crow’s Theatre, also won Best New Canadian Play, and the cast won Best Ensemble in a Play
  • Amaka Umeh also won Best Leading Performance in a Play for their performance playing two characters in Soulpepper’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead.
  • Two actors were awarded the prize for Best Supporting Performance in a Play: Jadyn Nasato, for her performance in the Studio 180 Theatre production of Four Minutes, Twelve Seconds, and Oyin Oladejo for her turn in Three Sisters, co-produced by Soulpepper and Obsidian Theatre Company.
L-R: Antoine Yared, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Ben Page, Qasim Khan, and Daniel MacIvor in Canadian Stage’s production of Matthew López’s The Inheritance. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
  • Crow’s Theatre’s production Bad Roads won Best International Play, and Andrew Kushnir won Best Director of a Play. The work by Ukrainian playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit is based on real-life testimonies from witnesses to Russia’s invasion of the Donbas in 2014.
  • Leora Morris also wins Best Director of a Play for their work on Coal Mine Theatre’s production of The Sound Inside by Adam Rapp.
  • Canadian Stage’s production of the two-part drama The Inheritance won Best Production of a Play.
  • Best Design, Play or Musical went to Nick Blais (lighting), Heidi Chan (sound), Anahita Dehbonehie (set), and Niloufar Ziaee (costumes) for their collective work on A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, co-produced by Outside the March and Soulpepper Theatre Company.
  • Theatre legend Daniel MacIvor received a special citation for his work over the past season, which included a memorable performance in The Inheritance, and the revivals of his plays Monster and Here Lies Henry, both produced by Factory Theatre.
Mike Shara (front and center) and the cast of Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
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Out of Town

Hairspray – High Stepping in Houston

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Returning to the Broadway at the Hobby Center series for one week only, the high-stepping, toe-tapping, raucous romp good time known as Hairspray the musical. Join “The Nicest Kids In Town” for a three hour escapade through history, teenaged angst, a powerful message against the evils of segregation and the importance of inclusivity. With joy peppered in to its oh-so-beating, never ending, joy ride, heart, this Tony Award-winning musical comedy brings smiles to the faces, as well as a few well-earned tears of joy to the eyes, of every audience member.
Let’s quickly revisit the history of all things Hairspray. This material originated back in 1988, in John Waters and New Line Cinema’s cult classic movie of the same name. Launching the career of then newcomer, Ricki Lake, and featuring Water’s frequent onscreen collaborator, Divine, with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono as the scheming baddies. Fast forward to 2002, Hairspray was brought to the stage as a full-fledged Broadway musical, winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as trophies for Marissa Jaret Winokur and Harvey Fierstein, as the dynamic mother/daughter act. The cast also and included a pre-Glee Matthew Morrison and a pre-Xanadu Kerry Butler.

Caroline Eiseman

In 2007, the movie-turned-musical, returned to cineplexes, this time starring A-list Hollywood royalty including John Travolta as Edna, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah. Almost a decade after that, NBC remounted a live television musical, including Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth, EGOT Jennifer Hudson, pop princess Ariana Grande and Dancing With The Stars Emmy-winner, Derek Hough, in the cast. Today, however, the show has returned to the stage in a gloriously remastered national tour.

Caroline Eiseman, Greg Kalafatas

The story centered around plucky teenager, Tracy Turnblad, played with aplomb by Caroline Eiseman. We are under her delightful spell from the moment she began the opening number “Good Morning, Baltimore.” The spirited, zaftig teen has one ambition, to become a council member and dance on “The Corny Collins Show” an American Bandstand type program based in Baltimore. Her worried mother, Edna (a scene stealing Greg Kalafatas) frets they won’t put a girl as heavy as Tracy on air, and that her daughter is setting herself up for a massive disappointment. With best friend, delightfully dorky, Penny Pingleton (a dynamite Scarlett Jacques) by her side, Tracy headed to the studio where she came face to face with her onscreen crush, teenaged heartthrob, Link Larkin (Skyler Shields) an Elvis wannabe with dreams of stardom of his own. The roadblocks to her teenaged-dreams becoming a reality, racist television producer, the villainess, Velma Von Tussle (Sarah Haynes) and her daughter, and Link’s current girlfriend, Amber (Caroline Portner), both putting Turnblad squarely in their nefarious sights.

Josiah Thomas Randolph, Kalab Quinn, Gabriel Yarborough and Company

Frequently sent to after-school detention, Tracy met a slew of kids of color, and quickly befriended Seaweed J. Stubbs (an electrifying Josiah Rogers). His rendition of “Run and Tell That” paired with his precision dance moves, proved Rogers should have a long and celebrated career ahead of him. A little cultural appropriation later, Tracy “borrowed” all of Seawood’s singular sensational dance moves, and secured herself a spot on the show. Believing everyone should have the right to dance together, Tracy then started a movement for equality that set the racially-segregated Baltimore on its ear. Her student activism fueling the engine on this exciting train ride of a narrative. Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle (standout Deidra Lang) delivered the emotionally impactful, gospel-tinged power ballad, “I Know Where I’ve Been” to thunderous applause.

Greg Kalafatas, Ralph Prentice Daniel

The talent team behind the show is a who’s who of Tony Award-winners and Broadway legends. The music and lyrics, written by Tony Award-winners, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is a combination of silly shenanigans and poignant prose that has stood the test of time. “Welcome to the 60s’, sung by The Dynamites (Ashia Collins, Leiah Lewis and Kynnedi Moryae Porter) is an act one standout, arguably the three strongest voices on the stage. The closing number “You Can’t Stop The Beat” is an anthem of equality and progressive momentum that will stay with you long after the curtain has dropped. William Ivey Long’s costume design is so well honored here, you would think they are all his Great White Way originals.

Greg Kalafatas, Caroline Eiseman

It wouldn’t be Hairspray, without the gravity defying wigs and hair design, credited to Paul Huntly and Bernie Ardia, with visual nods to the rock band The B-52’s, former first lady, Jackie O and the silhouettes of ancient Greek statuary. David Rockwell’s technicolor set proved the importance of coloring with every crayon in the box. Robbie Roby energetic choreography paid tribute to the original signature moves of Jerry Mitchell. The same Mitchell behind hits Kinky Boots, La Cage aux Folles, On Your Feet!, and Pretty Woman: The Musical fame, just to name a few. Finally, Jack O’Brien’s brisk direction has been wonderfully reproduced at the skilled hands of Matt Lenz.

Does the chubby girl get the guy in the end? Will the Corny Collins Show become fully integrated? Will the devilish Von Tussle’s be undone? Well, you have to see the show for answers to all of these questions and more. Well worth your time, the charms of this Hairspray continue to hold tighter than Aqua Net in a rainstorm. Consummately sung, skillfully danced and packed to the gills with scene stealing comedians, Hairspray the musical is a pre-summer Houston treat to beat the heat.

Stephen Best

Hairspray played Broadway at the Hobby Center in Houston from June 4-9, 2024

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