The Illusionists: Live from Broadway - Theatre Review

The Illusionists: Live from Broadway - Theatre Review

Professional magic is serious business. 

Magic is a highly competitive field, with performers jealously guarding their techniques and participating in high-stakes competitions. There’s intense self-promotion and branding and a kind of swaggering machismo in this very male-dominated art form, and if I asked you - quick! - to name a modern magician/illusionist, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that the first person that came into your head was Criss Angel, better known for his broody, Goth-y persona than for sunshine and lollipops. 

It was a pleasant surprise to me, then, that The Illusionists: Live From Broadway was so much fun. Seven headliners give us a solid evening’s worth of pure entertainment, doing acts that have very different definitions of what “magic” is. The feeling that links them all, though, is amazement - a pure, exhilarating rush of OMG what did I just see? that far too many adults are missing in their lives. The audience was a mix of magic newbies and dedicated fans, but all of us participated in the same delightful suspension of disbelief.

As you approach the Princess of Wales Theatre, you’ll notice the abundance of promotional material for the show, mostly atmospheric pictures of seven men that could be Doctor Who (quirky suits, funky hair, guyliner,  and so many frock coats. Never let it be said that magic isn’t the most flamboyant of the stage arts). Once settled in your seat, though, you’ll find that many of the performers have a very warm and engaging stage presence. Darcy Oake, who goes by the stage name of The Grand Illusionist, has a very hard-rock aesthetic - leather, tattoos, driving electrical guitar solos - but in one of the most delightful moments of the show, he came down to the front row and made a card appear inside a bottle for an astounded ten-year-old. The glee he took in her obvious wonder made it clear that Oake is still a geeky kid from Winnipeg fascinated by his dad’s card tricks. (Then he made a motorbike appear out of literally nowhere, so perhaps the rock-star analogy is still a good fit for him.) 

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Theatre Review: Wicked - Toronto

Theatre Review: Wicked - Toronto

The highly successful Broadway musical, Wicked has made its return to Toronto at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. The smash hit musical is the winner of three Tony awards, as well as a Grammy award. I have had the pleasure of seeing Wicked three times, and it keeps getting better.

Set in the mythical land of Oz, Wicked tells the back story of Elphaba and her ascent to infamy as the Wicked Witch of the West. It is an exploration of how people can easily be misjudged, misunderstood, and how events can be misconstrued and distorted in the struggle for power.

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Flashdance: The Musical - Theatre Review

Flashdance: The Musical - Theatre Review

The smash hit movie, Flashdance has been adapted as a musical and had its premier last month in Toronto. The show features some of the biggest anthems of the '80s, including Flashdance...What a FeelingManiacGloria, and I Love Rock & Roll. Flashdance tells the story of Alex Owens, a young woman who works as a welder by day and who moonlights as a nightclub dancer. With big dreams of attending a prestigious ballet school, Alex finds encouragement and motivation from her friends and mentor. 

Sydney Morton is absolutely sensational as Alex, the ambitious and hardworking steelworker and talented dancer. Morton dominates the stage with her incredibly honed dance technique, melodic voice, and indomitable spirit. Corey Mach plays Alex's boss and love interest, Nick, who falls a little flat. The chemistry between Morton and Mach is sorely lacking, which makes it difficult to be drawn into their love story. Mach gives a slightly wooden performance and is easily upstaged by Morton. Kiki (Kyra Da Costa) plays Alex's confidante and she is one of the show's scene stealers, with her powerful vocals bringing down the house in her superb rendition of Manhunt. Her stage presence and vocal prowess is mesmerizing.

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The Lion King - Toronto - Theatre Review

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING National Tour. ©Disney

By: Alison Silveira

There is truly nothing like seeing the creative spectacle that is The Lion King live on stage. Tony award winning visionary, Julie Taymor creatively pushes theatrical boundaries as she brings wild animals of the jungle to life through intricate manipulations of puppets and shadow puppetry in her artistically dazzling adaptation of Disney's hit movie musical. 

Themes of betrayal, loyalty, redemption, and love are explored as the young lion cub, Simba is blamed for his beloved father Mufasa's death by his villainous uncle Scar. Scar's plan of assuming the kingship of Pride Rock is thwarted when the once exiled Simba returns to claim his rightful place as true king. 

Jelani Remy as “Simba” from THE LION KING National Tour. ©Disney.

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize majestically opens the show with her powerful vocals as the wise sage, Rafiki. Jelani Remy as Simba shines on stage in the title role. His spritely enthusiasm and energy are limitless as he effortlessly leaps in the air and conquers the stage with his dominating presence. Patrick R. Brown, brilliantly portrays the devious character of Scar, who at the same time evokes loathing and pity from the audience. Nick Cordileone is irresistibly comical as Simba's confidant and sidekick, Timon. 

Jelani Remy as “Simba” and the ensemble in “He Lives in You” from THE LION KING National Tour. ©Disney. 

African chants, songs sung a cappella, and power ballads are integral parts of the storytelling. Classic songs such as "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" are composed by the legendary Elton John and his writing partner, Tim Rice, who also received Tony awards for best original score. The cast as a whole brings magic to the stage as they depict wildlife with graceful, rhythmic movements and sing in perfect harmony.  

The Lion King is a groundbreaking musical worth seeing for Taymor's brilliant innovation in theatrical staging alone. Children and adults alike will be captivated, inspired even, by the enchanting, regal sights that unfold before them. 

Starring Jelani Remy, Patrick R. Brown, L. Steven Taylor, and Nia Holloway

Directed by Julie Taymor

Music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice

Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi

Choreography by Garth Fagan

The Lion King plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until June 15, 2014.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

Arrabal - Toronto - Theatre Review

Arrabal - Toronto - Theatre Review

Earlier this month, Arrabal had its world premier at the Panasonic Theatre. Mystery and romance follow Arrabal, the coming of age heroine, in Buenos Aires' underground tango clubs. On a quest to find the truth about what happened to her father many years ago during Argentina's political upheaval in the 1970s, Arrabal learns the lurid details of her father's shocking murder. Through her journey, she meets seedy characters and loses her innocence while trying to fit in.

The story of Arrabal is told entirely through dance and the enthralling music of Gustavo Santaolalla and his band, Bajofondo. The use of striking images of Argentina's political violence is very powerful. A visually arresting image of some of the 30, 000 dissidents who were murdered or missing during the military regime is quite a sobering sight. Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys and Memphis) and Julio Zurita, the show features talented performers in dynamic and complex routines. Explosive combative sequences are brilliantly choreographed and danced with high energy. Each one of the dancers oozes sensuality as they cavort through the stage dancing the intense and fervent tango. Arrabal's father, Rodolfo (Julio Zurita), visits her in a dream and they dance a beautiful and ethereal number together.

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