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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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Theatre Review

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Theatre Review

It's not often that I see a show that sends me straight to the internet to look for other people's opinions. I like to see a production without added bias, experience it directly, and try to express to you, my readers, how it felt to be there, what it was like to be immersed in the experience. But this play requires something a little more, because this is a story that has a neuro-atypical person as its lead character, and everything in this magnificently produced show is meant to show us how he moves through the world. 

I'm neuro-typical – that is, my brain works in roughly the same way as those of most people in my culture. Christopher Boone, the heart of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, is not. He is fifteen years old, loves animals, math, and machines, and doesn't like to be touched. He embodies some stereotypes about autistic people and is, at the same time, a unique and very real person. His story is one of the struggles and growth that come with growing up and leaving the safety of what's known, and it's also about living in a world that's not made for you. For this reason, I think it's really important that I include the voices of people who actually are on the autism spectrum as I tell you about this show, because it's a beautiful and innovative piece of theatre that I hope will raise questions in the audience about recognizing and acknowledging other voices. And I hope you see it, because whether you're a regular theatre-goer or more of a once-in-blue-moon viewer, I guarantee you won't have seen anything like this. 

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Strictly Ballroom The Musical - Theatre Review

Strictly Ballroom The Musical - Theatre Review

Baz Luhrmann is one of those directors whose aesthetic is immediately recognizable – and not to everyone's taste. Personally, I love the technicolour glossiness of a Luhrmann film. I love the staginess taken to extravagant lengths, the lush visuals and golden light, the swooning romance and sneering villians. Clothes are never just clothes, but costumes. Places have a feeling of unreality about them. In Luhrmann's world, everything is fake, but that doesn't mean it's not true. He makes movies where we know everything is artificial. Everything has been designed, chosen with care, for the single purpose of showing us an emotional truth. In other words, the more unreal it seems, the more it resonates in the heart. 

When it comes to competitive ballroom dancing, think of the athletically choreographed steps, the illusion netting, the million-watt smiles. A good dancer never lets the audience see her bleeding feet or his bad knees. Yet the grace and fluidity they bring to the stage is breathtaking. Their bodies tell a story and become part of the theatrical experience. In fact, the only thing I can think of that's more stagy than competitive dance is a musical. So the creation of a stage musical using Baz Luhrmann's 1992 film Strictly Ballroom as source material is a pretty natural progression. In fact, Luhrmann adapted the movie from his own stage play – a rare example of a story going from stage to screen to stage again. The show has its North American premiere run right now in Toronto.

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The Bodyguard - Theatre Review

The Bodyguard - Theatre Review

I’ve always loved the Academy Awards. Even as a kid I would watch them every year, from the red carpet pre-show to the very last thank you speech. When the nominations for this year’s Oscars came out, the category for Best Song prompted a conversation with a friend about the best movie songs of all time. We both agreed that, even though it wasn’t eligible for the Oscars, our favourite movie song was Whitney Houston's version of “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, which we both loved. It got me thinking about how good that entire soundtrack is. I vividly remember listening to it – on cassette! – and dancing around to all the songs. Given that it’s still the best selling soundtrack of all time, clearly I’m not the only one who loved it. So of course when the trend of adapting popular movies into Broadway musicals proved to be successful, adapting The Bodyguard for the stage seemed like a no-brainer. 

The story of The Bodyguard centers around the character of Rachel Marron, a six-time Grammy winner who has just received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Original Song and is determined to do whatever it takes to fulfill her childhood dream of winning. Unfortunately for her, a mysterious stalker is hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to stop her. When a sinister letter appears backstage during one of Rachel’s concerts, her management team hires expert bodyguard, Frank Farmer, to protect Rachel, her son Fletcher and her sister Nikki. While Rachel and Frank’s relationship starts out as contentious, they quickly grow on each other as romantic feelings begin to develop.

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The Audience - Theatre Review

The Audience - Theatre Review

In the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, there is a small, quiet park by Queen Square. I came across it by accident, years ago – I was looking for Virginia Woolf's former home – but once I found the park I wanted to stay. It's full of mature trees, shady, tranquil. At one end is a small monument. It's a broad, shallow bowl planted with flowers, nothing extraordinary, until you come closer and find a poem engraved on the ground. 

1952-1977
In times when nothing stood
But worsened or grew strange
There was one constant good
She did not change. 

It seems cryptic, doesn't it? Yet the meaning is simple; Philip Larkin, England's poet laureate, wrote those lines on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. I've been thinking a lot about that small monument, humble and sturdy, and that poem since watching The Audience. It's a play in which governments rise and fall, wars are waged and lost, momentous events pass by at dizzying speed, and a small, steadfast woman stands at the middle of it all. The Audience is sharply written and sensitively performed. Nothing happens – and yet everything happens.

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