Tag: Albert Schultz

I Will… Follow.

One of the most delightful evenings in theater in recent memory began with a chat about Spider Man: Turn The Dark Off. My companion had seen the much-gossiped-about Broadway show in December, and … she had a few opinions. I haven’t seen the show, and in all fairness, it hasn’t technically opened, so I’ll refrain from commenting, but I will say that our conversation ended with the lights going down, and there beginning a show that couldn’t have been more different in terms of its technical demands.

The Fantasticks doesn’t have any high-flying stunts or special effects. At one point, a painted wooden moon is hung by hand and later flipped, to become a coppery, painted sun; in another moment, a quasi-Spanish would-be kidnapper makes a dramatic leap off of a less-than-perilous (try three inch) perch. And in a piece of absolute stage hilarity, we witness a grand (if joint-challenged) stage actor making a slow exit… out of a wooden box. As I said, hardly high-tech. But it’s these small moments that makes the show so special.

The Fantasticks emanates joy. That simple quality is frequently the hardest thing to try to get right in musical theater, especially without looking like you worked for it; as Michael Cohl et al might tell you, you can go through millions trying to make things look effortless, but that one quality – joy -can remain frustratingly elusive. Simplicity -or the illusion of it -can be a powerful element to making an audience believe in the magic of live theater. Toronto company Soulpepper Theatre are currently staging a gorgeous, elegantly simple production that plays up the meta-theatrical elements of the 1960 piece while simultaneously reveling in the joyful heart that beats, quietly and consistently, at its center.

The work, with book and lyric by Tom Jones (not that Tom Jones) and music by Harvey Schmidt, is the world’s longest-running musical, with an off-Broadway run of 42 years (or 17,162 performances). It’s loosely based on Edmond Rostand’s first play and concerns two lovelorn teens and their dueling fathers. Now, you may be scratching your head (as I admittedly did) and saying, “But how can this be so successful? I don’t know the music!” Ah, but you do. Try to remember the kind of September / when life was slow / and oh-so-mellow… and if you remember / then follow…

See? You do so know it. The Fantasticks has become so ubiquitous culturally that it’s almost taken for granted. Almost. In director Joseph Ziegler‘s careful, capable hands, no small detail is overlooked, no moment overplayed, no pause too long. Everything in the Soulpepper production (running through March 24th) feels simple and effortless. It undoubtedly isn’t -musical theater is always hard -but we, the audience don’t see that. Result? Joy. But you knew that.

Krystin Pellerin, perhaps best-known in Canada for her role as the tough-as-nails cop Leslie Bennett on CBC TV’s Republic of Doyle, plays the young, wide-eyed Luisa in The Fantasticks, with the kind of exuberant zeal that you can’t take your eyes off of. Along with her impressive theater CV, Krystin has done a raft of film and TV work -and, as I found out, has one hell of a good singing voice. The Newfoundland native and I recently exchanged ideas about love, voice, and the joy of being a Fantastick.

What was your first thought when you were approached to play Luisa?

I was thrilled when (Soulpepper Artistic Director/actor) Albert (Schultz) and Joe (Ziegler) asked me to play Luisa. I was a huge fan of the musical and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. I was immediately on-board. One of the biggest challenges for me was balancing all the different elements in my mind and in my body.

Initially it felt quite daunting but luckily (musical director) Paul Sportelli and (choreographer) Tim French were there to help us all along and explain how to live within the convention. I learned that I need to keep three brains at work through out the show for singing, acting and dancing and that at different times in the show I need to negotiate how to spend my energy and thought in order to fulfill all the elements involved.

Playing Luisa, one could easily fall into a pastiche of “cute young singing girl” or an ironic winkyness; what did you feel was important to emphasize in terms of making her sincere?

I felt it was important to connect with Luisa’s sense of wonder and determination and her elation that comes with being in love at 16. She also experiences great heartbreak and confusion in her growing up with El Gallo (Albert Schultz). These are all feelings that I was able to identify with and it helped me to stay anchored in the role.

Was there any one role you drew from in approaching this role?

I’m also playing Emily in Our Town this season so she has been in my mind through out the whole process. Her and Luisa sort of co-exist in my brain. I feel that there are a lot of similarities between them. They live in completely different worlds obviously but they are both strong young bright passionate women who learn that what they had longed for most was right in front of them the whole time. They both experience a rough awakening: Luisa, when she is shown the world and abandoned by El Gallo, and Emily when she is allowed to return to her life for one ordinary day. Luisa and Emily inform and complement each other a great deal I think.

I haven’t heard you sing before – what’s that like?

It feels wonderful to be singing again. Luisa is a big sing but the amount of growth that I experienced in rehearsal was amazing and Paul Sportelli was such a huge support to me.

I would love to do more, absolutely 🙂

How does your stage history with Jeff Lillico (who plays Matt, Luisa’s love) influence your interpretation?

Jeff and I will also be playing opposite each other in Our Town and that will be our third time playing lovers together. I feel like we know each other really well in a very specific way. We’re usually on the same page when it comes to scenes, we can talk things out very easily and get to the bottom of it a little quicker maybe because we’ve worked together so much. I’m finding that our stage history allows us to play more freely. I feel at ease with him and I think that helps the performance.

When you go from TV and back to the stage, is there a certain amount of nervousness, or nervous anticipation, at performing live in front of people again?

I was really excited to shift from playing a cop to playing a princess. It’s a complete reversal of roles and media and I think it’s the best thing I could have done. There are a normal amount of nerves that come with performing live again but I think it’s invigorating and I think it’s important to come back ‘home’.

I am loving the bouncing back and forth right now. I feel like I am being stretched and I think a lot of good comes from being out of your comfort zone.


Angry Magic

Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre has remounted its hit production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s running at the beautiful Young Centre in the Distillery District through June 5th.

In prepping for my live radio interview with actor Jordan Pettle last week (he plays tough nut office manager John Williamson), I returned to my review of last year’s production. Shock and awe aside (“I wrote that?! No, really… I wrote that???”), I was struck by how much had changed, and how much had stayed the same in this year’s version. The chemistry between the six cast members is as pungently male as ever, its energy as snappy and smart as the salty dialogue. Director David Storch has the performers -Eric Peterson, Albert Schultz, Kevin Bundy, William Webster, Peter Donaldson, and Pettle -play, literally and figuratively, with their own energies, reactions, and relationships with one another. Most noticeable in this year’s revival is the sheer physicality on display; chests and chins jut forwards like prize fighters daring their smarmy mugs for a loud, proud shiner. Spit flies around with as much aplomb as big promises and dead contracts.

There’s a kind of manic, angry magic at work here; between Ken MacDonald’s sexy, shiny design and _’s slithering sound design, a kinetic energy comes sparking from the stage, full-throttle. It’s exhilerating, exhausting, and ultimately enlightening. Jon Stewart and his gaggle of writers are equally foul, fierce, and funny about financial ruin -in a way, they’re Mamet Circa 2010, with every ounce of anger, wit, and that alchemical transformation that happens in the arena of performance; a kind of magical inversion of “reality” happens, with equal gasps and guffaws bouncing off sets, sofas and stages. There’s something so powerful about the mix of funny and angry -it makes the underlying rage all the more bitter, and strangely, cathartic.

Storch nicely captures this magical combination. You’ll leave wanting to either jog a twenty-mile marathon, or take a long, hot shower. Maybe both. Whatever you do, channel that energy into something positive that doesn’t involve selling bad stocks or properties in Florida.

A Toe-Tapping War


So sang Edwin Starr, and later Bruce Springsteen. War is hell, yes, but how do you translate that onstage without pummeling your audience with a pile of sloganeering and agitprop? British playwright Joan Littlewood confronted this question when she set out to write a work about World War One. Back in 1963, memories of “the Great War” -to say nothing of WW2 -were still fresh, and there were plenty of veterans about to share tales. Littlewood was never exactly a conformist; determined to go to America as a young woman, she tried to walk from Liverpool to the sea dock, but collapsed after 130 miles. Having already directed and starred in the well-received British premiere of Brecht‘s Mother Courage and Her Children, Littlewood, like many theatre artists of her time, was sick of the chest-strutting proud model of British military excellence in the First World War, but seeking a creative way of staging her ideas.

Working with longtime love Gerry Raffles, radio producer Charles Chilton, and the rest of her theatre company, Oh, What A Lovely War made its debut in March 1963. The work, carefully monitored by government officials, was a huge hit and opened on Broadway the following year, where it garnered four Tony nominations. It’s unique for the ways it combines dance, song, drama, clowning, and vaudeville. Yes, you read that right: clowns are in a war drama. What starts out as an innocent celebration turns into something considerably darker by the piece’s end. Deeply theatrical and unrepentantly musical, generations of directors have longed to staged it, and now Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre gives it a go, using current members of their Academy to flesh out Littlewood & Co’s vision. Soulpepper Artistic Director Albert Schultz has staged the piece with an eye to times past and present, using white Pierrot-like costumes and the Academy’s considerably musical talents to create a heightened world that seems strangely familiar.

I had the chance to interview cast and Academy members Raquel Duffy and Brendan Wall about the challenges of the production, as well as the play’s incredible staying power.

What was the hardest part of Oh, What A Lovely War? It isn’t ‘realistic’ in any sense and yet you have to bring a lot of truth to the roles you play.

Brendan: One of the most difficult things for me to embrace with this play is the fact that we all play very particular –and sometimes isolated -pieces of an elaborate puzzle. The whole picture and its effect on the audience is something that I’m not ever fully aware of. This is a show, perhaps more so than any other, where I have no idea what it’s like to sit in the audience and experience from beginning to end. I’d love to watch this show.

Raquel: The most challenging part of the piece for me was working out the technical aspects of transitions – both on a physical level and mentally. Jumping from scene to scene, all of which carry very specific and varying energies or, for lack of a better word, ‘moods’, and not letting the effect of one spill into the other. The convention of us all being a group of “performers” helped me deal with the fact that we aren’t attempting to make the piece realistic as much as we are attempting to tell the story as clearly as possible.

What sort of direction did Albert Schultz give you in terms of balancing the music with the work’s other elements?

Brendan: Albert and Marek Norman (the show’s Musical Director) had a beautiful working dynamic. Both aspects of the storytelling -the music and scenes –influenced each other. I always felt like I was in good hands. I think I play a half a dozen characters and a half a dozen instruments in this show, and I certainly don’t stop moving once the curtain goes up. There are moments where a scene is being played out and a single chord is struck and it crystallizes the whole essence of what’s going on. The play grew out of these songs.

Raquel: Both (Albert and Marek) wanted the songs sung by the soldiers to be less ‘musical’ -by that I guess I mean the songs still have historical context or a sense of the period. We did a lot of research regarding how these songs came about. It was very common for the soldiers to sing while spending endless hours in the trenches; for example, the song set to “Auld Lang Syne” only has the lyrics “we’re here because we’re here because we’re here, because we’re here.”

How timely a piece did you think this is? Littlewood’s work feels very tame by today’s standards, even quaint. How did you give the work immediacy?

Brendan: I have two young sons and I’d like them to live in a world where the notion of war is something that is only seen on a stage as a quaint piece of theatre from bygone days. I can’t think of a timelier piece. As for the show being tame or quaint, yes it is at times -that’s an important part of the show. A play that screams at the top of its lungs about how war’s is bad is not telling us anything new. I think we always have to be mindful in the theatre that we’re here to entertain first and that only by doing that can’t we hope to have any effect on our audience.

Raquel: In my head I hear the phrase, ‘Lest We Forget’. It was very different from the war we are presently engaged in and yet there are a number of parallels that I believe the audience will recognize. The piece was formed through a collective and we’ve embraced that through all of us playing various instruments, making the gunshot noises, moving the set…I think the idea of a group of players trying to tell the story of that war through the convention of a music hall lends itself to being as present as possible.

Who is this for in the 21st century?

Brendan: First and foremost, this play is for anyone who wants to see a great ensemble of artists working and playing together to create an entertaining evening of theatre. This play is also for my two little boys who, at the age of five and two, know too much about war in that they know anything at all.

Raquel: We lost our last Canadian World War I Vet while we were rehearsing this project. He spent his life trying to keep the history of that War alive. I feel this piece carries his legacy forward.

Oh, What A Lovely War runs through April 2nd. Check the Soulpepper website for details.

Try This (or this)

I’ve been so busy over the past few weeks, I haven’t been updating as much as I’d like. And I can’t blame the weather, because summer seems to have generally missed much of the country. Still, here are a few ideas for things that have been inspiring me lately:

1. Sundays @ the Young -Started by Albert Schultz when he announced his Resident Artists back in December, the series of Sunday shows is a nice, classy mix of urban sounds and crunchy Canadiana.

I attended this past Sunday’s tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, which featured the talents of Patricia O’Callaghan, Gregory Hoskins, Andrew Craig, Miranda Mulholland, Lori Cullen, and others, all under the direction of actor/musician Mike Ross. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was a real highlight, with a swampy, Raising Sand-esque vibe, and the sight/sound of the feisty, gorgeous Mulholland belting out “That’s What You Get For Lovin’ Me” was just… excellent (Lightfoot’s work definitely takes on a whole new spirit when his words are sung by women!). Actor Kenneth Welsh, currently acting in Soulpepper’s production of the David French play Of The Fields Lately, joined the musicians, offering his own rousing, passionate interpretations of Gordie’s work.

If this concert is anything to go by, the series -running through to mid-August -should be sizzling. Oh, and one more thing: this is just the kind of proper, adult entertainment I happen to really like for a Sunday afternoon. Good music, beautiful surroundings, and easy access to nice bars. Well done, YC.

2. Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel -I was initially a bit nervous about attending a Tasting Wednesday. Would it be full of hippie farmers wagging fingers at me for eating meat and wearing leather? or populated by urban foodie snobs rolling their eyes over the latest resto reviews? Turns out I was wrong on both accounts.

While the Gladstone’s beautiful second floor did, indeed feature hippie farmers and in-the-know foodies, everyone was super-friendly, informed, and extremely helpful. The crowd was a nice mix of old and young, urban, suburban, and rural -everyone was interested in talking, connecting, and sharing ideas over plate-fulls of fresh veggies and glasses of wine or beer. The vibe was refreshingly relaxed, if also equally curious. There was a live two-man band playing good roots-style music, and there were plenty of smiling faces in every room.

Now, what exactly is Harvest Wednesdays? Well, exactly what it implies. No, they don’t make you go into a yard on Queen West and pick berries or husk corn. Rather, every Wednesday features either a tasting (monthly) or a prix fixe meal (three consecutive weeks), with a spotlight on local growers and seasonal ingredients. On the night I attended, Chef Marc Breton’s menu consisted of lovely little nibblies served by chatty, friendly servers who walked around and offered their edible wares to people who were perusing and interacting with food producers of all stripes spreading across the rooms on the hotel’s second floor space. My favourite tastings: lamb meatballs and sausages, + dessert crepes made with red fife and filled with strawberries and lavender-rhubarb cream. Mmmm.

Tasting Wednesdays are a great way to meet and connect with other casual foodies, as well as with those who grow the food (and sometimes feature their own neat foodie evenings!). Also, to quote a friend I met up with the next day, “it seems like a really nice, fun, adult thing to do during the week.” Yes! And delicious too!

(Photo courtesy of the Gladstone Hotel’s Flickr Photostream)

3. Amadou and MariamThe Magic Couple -I love this album. I wish I’d seen them live when they were here in Toronto. Bah. The Malian pair are currently the opening musical act for a little band called Coldplay. Chris Martin & co. are not the only famous fans they have, though. Keith Richards and Robert Plant are also fans. If you’re into blues sounds -heck, if you just plain love rock and roll – you’ll love Amadou amd Mariam. Their best-of compilation is the perfect introduction to their work. I dare you to listen to “Beki Miri” without dancing.

(Photo courtesy of Wrasse Records)

4. The Beaches Jazz Festival – Now in its 25th year (eeek, I’m getting old), the big outdoor music party officially kicked off this past Friday. I interviewed rapper PHATT Al from the band God Made Me Funky and will be seeing them play live this Thursday along Queen Street East. As with Amadou and Mariam, if you haven’t seen/heard GMMF play -especially live- this is one show to put on your calendar. Their infectious brand of fusion-funk, with traceable influences of Stevie Wonder, Grandmaster Flash, and of course, George Clinton, is ideal music for chasing away the clouds, be they mental or physical.

5. I still haven’t found a book to satisfy. I’m looking for fiction, in the vein of Miriam Toews-meets-Nicole Krauss-esque. Anyone have suggestions?

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