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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Cuisine & Confessions - Theatre Review

By: Angela Guardiani

Acrobatics. Music. Heartbreak. Dance. Love. Flight. Language. Guitars and memory and banana bread.

Readers, I can't wait to tell you about this one.

The current show from the Mirvish's 2016-2017 season is called Cuisine & Confessions, performed by a company called The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts). I'd never heard of them before, so I had no idea what to expect. All I could gather from the promotional material was that this show was food-themed and had some kind of circus aspect. What unfolded in front of me that night, though, was something incredible, something far beyond that rather prosaic description. It was indeed food-themed, in a set that was half dream kitchen and half gymnasium. Nine performers shared stories of their lives, from the beautifully mundane (the merits of round versus square kitchen tables) to the painfully raw (the loss of a father), and they did it through music, dance, and circus arts.

Remember the Rio Olympics this past summer? I remember watching those athletes, especially the gymnasts, and marveling at the beauty and power of the human body, at its flexibility and strength and the amazing feats of athleticism it can accomplish. Cuisine & Confessions is better, because all that same miraculousness of the human form is there but it's in the service of story and song, not competition and technique. Frankly, this was the most engaging, enjoyable show I've seen in a long time. If you are human, you will love this show.

Cuisine & Confessions has no intermission, so it flows organically from pre-show to finish. The show feels intimate, even in a theatre the size of the Princess of Wales. As you enter, the stage is fully lit, and the performers walk around freely, on and off the stage, joking, laughing, talking, eating gummy bears and offering them to the crowd. Normally, I hate audience participation – I hate the cutesy forced jolliness of it – but this was a different thing altogether. This was audience participation that was friendly, shared, consensual. It was something I could get behind – and I did, joining the performers on stage to julienne vegetables. The set is a completely working kitchen. The sink works, the oven works, the knives are real, the counters are solid, and the zucchini and peppers I chopped were absolutely real (and very delicious). Someone's always cooking something, right there on stage, in the background or in the spotlight.

All the stories are real and personal. One of the first is that of Melvin Diggs and Sidney Bateman. We hear their voices (pre-recorded) telling us about the difficulty of life as young Black men in St. Louis, of how hard it is to escape poverty and oppression. They tell us about the metaphorical hoops they had to jump through as they literally leap through Chinese hoops – wooden rings sometimes no wider than a foot - bodies alternately soaring and flowing like liquid. They look at each other with perfect trust as they support each other through complicated lifts and throws.

Anna Kichtchenko, the Russian aerialist, moves across the stage with slow, dragging movements as the other cast members read her grandmother's recipe for borscht and fling dresses over her head, more and more, until she rises out of the tangled mess of cloth into aerial silks – the burden of memory. And lovely Nella Niva, the Finnish acrobat, tells us the story of a childhood in the circus through clowning and song.

My favourite story, though, belongs to Matias Plaul. He performs on something called the Chinese pole, like a firefighter's pole but textured so it can be climbed. He tells us about his father, taken and presumed killed in the state sponsored terrorism of Argentina's Dirty War of the 1970s. There's an awful moment of total silence, and then he climbs the pole, past of the point of comfort, higher and higher. He stops at the top, turns himself upside down and is suspended for a moment, graceful, weightless, almost floating. Then he plunges straight down in a sickening freefall and catches himself with his nose no more than two inches from the ground. I have never seen death shown so beautifully.

Did I mention the music? It's fantastic, all original, created by New York jazz pianist Spike Wilner. And the juggling? And the corny comedy, the silly running gags? The multilingual cast? The food we watched being made and were invited to share at the end of the performance? There are so many things to love about this show. I want to tell you about all of them, but I would be doing you a disservice.

Thinking about this experience warms my heart. I honestly can't imagine a better show for right now.

Cuisine & Confessions plays until December 4, 2016 at The Princess of Wales Theatre. Tickets are $21 to $99 and are available at mirvish.com.

Photos by Alexandre Galliez. 

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder - Theatre Review

By: Paul Lewkowicz and Alison Silveira

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a Tony award-winning musical that tells the story of Montague “Monty” Navarro. A poor Englishman, Monty discovers that he was disowned by his wealthy royal family, the D’Ysquiths and is ninth in line to become the Earl of Highhurst. The comedy, which is loosely based on a 1907 novel by Roy Horniman, uses slightly dark humour to provide for an entertaining show as we follow Monty on his adventures to gain recognition from the D’Ysquith family and get closer to attaining the position of Earl. 

Monty goes on a tour of the D’Ysquith estate and begins to befriend each successor to the Earl, leading to him to gain the acceptance of the family. However, his sinister motives bring about tragic consequences in a wickedly humorous fashion. Monty is the unlikeliest of murderers and is after all, the protagonist in the story whom we cannot help but root for. Kevin Massey plays the leading role with earnestness and honesty. He brings charm and wit to his calculated, yet spontaneous plan to get closer to the title of Earl by eliminating his family members. 

Monty's mistress, Sibella is a self-interested woman who loves Monty, but marries another man for his wealth. Kristen Beth Williams plays a seductive woman we love to hate with brash confidence. Her over-the-top facial expressions and stinging one-liners make us giddy with laughter. Monty's cousin, Phoebe falls madly in love with him, which is all part of his big plan to become Earl. Adrienne Eller plays the prim and proper Phoebe with grace and elegance. Her soaring soprano voice is enchanting, delicate and matches perfectly with Williams' in many of their scintillating duets. Their stunning voices blend in perfect harmony. 

John Rapson is absolutely brilliant in all of the multiple roles he plays. Rapson switches from one character to the next with ease and does an incredible and hilarious job of portraying various female members of the royal family. He stole the show with his bravado and comedic timing. 

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is full of hilarious situations, great duets, and dancing and an engaging story throughout. The show concludes with a surprising and ironic ending. There's plenty of scheming and duping one another to get rich quick in this extraordinarily farcical musical comedy that's a rip-roaring good time!

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre until June 26, 2016. To purchase tickets, visit: mirvish.com.

Photos by Joan Marcus. 

Paul Lewkowicz is a fan of politics, the arts, travel and tennis. He lives in Toronto.

Alison Silveira is the founder and editor of The Charming Modernist, a lifestyle blog for curious minds. She also writes for The Hip + Urban Girl’s Guide and This Beautiful Day Blog. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonSilveira and Instagram TheCharmingModernist

Much Ado About Nothing - Theatre Review

By: Angela Guardiani

Much Ado About Nothing sounds like it would be one of Shakespeare's lighter, fluffier pieces, and certainly it's been produced that way. Joss Whedon's 2012 film adaptation was a cheerful, modern screwball comedy, and way back in 1993, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in a high-energy period piece. Both films are light-filled, set respectively in Los Angeles and Tuscany. This is a play about love, after all, about mistaken identities, about everything coming out fine at the end. It's no wonder the show has such an affinity for the sun. But what's happening in Unit 102 Actors Co. and Leroy Street Theatre's production is a little different. It's Much Ado with a shadow side. It's very funny and a little heartbreaking, completely entertaining but grounded in truth. Staged in the indoor/outdoor space of Majlis Art Garden, this play is a winner. 

First, the story. Hero, the lovely daughter of Leonato, is in love with Claudio, a handsome young soldier in the company of Don Pedro. He loves her, too. The young lovers are soon betrothed. To while away the week before they marry, their mischievous group of friends tries to reunite Beatrice, Hero's sharp-tongued cousin, with Benedick, Don Pedro's equally snarky right-hand man. Don Pedro's villainous half-brother Don John can't stand to see such happiness and arranges to smear Hero's virginal reputation by making it seem that she has been entertaining men in her bedroom (it was actually Hero's maid Margaret, but it's Shakespeare; everyone looks the same in the dark here). As the story unfolds, lovers are united and wrong-doers are punished.   

Much Ado lives or dies on the strength of its main couple. Beatrice and Benedick have lines and lines of quick-witted banter, wisecracks, and wordplay that need to be delivered with deft comic timing, but their characters have to carry emotional weight, too. They're well-served here. Anne van Leeuwen is tart but not bitter, throwing off zingers with a Beyonce-ish Single Lady verve – self-confident, take-no-guff, here for a good time. Scott Walker treats Benedick like everybody's best buddy who's just come off a bad breakup – funny, fast-paced, endlessly entertaining but with a streak of hurt running underneath everything. Both of them hurl witticisms at each other like plates at a Greek wedding, but after the spectacular crash, what really comes through in quieter moments is their wistfulness and yearning. Beatrice and Benedick try to talk themselves into confirmed singlehood, but are so quick to believe the exaggerated stories they're fed of how the other is pining for them. You can't help but see how ready they are to love and be loved again. 

That hint of sadness is carried through in the B-plot of Hero & Claudio's love affair. Unlike the film versions of these characters, director James Graham has made it clear that this couple is much younger than Beatrice and Benedick. Christopher Manousos is full of puppyish charm as Claudio while Clair Bastable's Hero is a fresh-faced girl, dancing with the sheer delight of being alive as the play opens. They love absolutely and completely, as first loves do – no shadows in their courtship. As the play progresses, though, their relationship becomes more complicated. I really appreciate the artistic choices Graham, Manousos, and Bastable made. 

This production is really funny. Chloe Sullivan and Melissa Williams steal the second act as a pair of jumped-up Girl Guides drunk on law and order (they're actually the constable Dogberry and her toady Verges, but trust me on this comparison). The whole cast, including the bit players, work well together and clearly get that fine line where physical humour crosses into high camp. They know how to goof around and they know where to stop. 

A quick word on the venue; Majlis Art Garden is hidden away in an industrial-ish area a bit south of Trinity Bellwoods. I've been visiting the area for years and had no idea that a small outdoor theatre was there. You enter through a garden gate into a petite stage with only three rows of seats. The actors are barely an arm's length away. As the sun sets, the fairy lights come on. It's all the good things of the Dream in High Park – the summer twilight, the thrill of outdoor theatre – but minus the crowds. You might want to bring a cushion – the show's about two hours and the seats have no padding – but in a nice touch, the company handed out blankets to anyone in the audience who felt chilly.

Much Ado About Nothing plays at The Majlis Art Garden until June 26, 2016. Tickets are $25 and are available at the door or at brownpapertickets.com

Angela Guardiani is a lady of strong opinions who lives and teaches ESL in Toronto. She is a food lover, grammar nerd, book junkie, and will try anything once. Follow her enthusiastic but sporadic tweets at @minorgoddess.