MacEwan Theatre Arts: “The Addelpated Nixie”

I had been looking forward to Stewart Lemoine’s The Addelpated Nixie for some time. A collaboration with MacEwan’s Theatre Arts Program, it was the first Lemoine-penned show I’d seen since Happy Toes at the Fringe last summer – I was ready to soak up some quirky, nonsensical fun.

The crux of The Addelpated Nixie is just that – a confused water-elf who has found herself on a 1950s college campus and is wreaking havoc in an effort to stay alive. This was entertaining enough and the high-pitched squeal of Mnimninmni (Ashley Plomp) garnered many laughs. The rest of the play – with subplots ranging from the coeds staging a show to helping a Soviet ballet dancer defect – was superfluous. It felt like the playwright had created roles to fill a quota of twenty, a cast inordinately large even for a Lemoine production. The show-ending non-romance between Irene and Press was also unnecessary, as their semblance of a relationship seemed forced, without chemistry between them to justify even flirtation.

There were a number of bright spots in the play, however, including the sparkling lead actress Robyn Wallis as Irene, who asserted herself just as she should have with spunk and sass. I appreciated Michael Davidson’s comic timing, in the role of the wandering groundsman, and Eric Wigston’s obvious potential as a leading man.

If anything, The Addelpated Nixie has renewed my excitement for the upcoming Teatro la Quindicina season, which starts at the end of April. For the first time, Mack and I are subscribers – I figured if there was a good time to support a small theatre company, that time is now. If you’re looking for a preview of their season, look no further than April 4, when Teatro will be revealing their season with snippets and interviews. Tickets are $20, $15 for subscribers. See you at the Varscona!

MacEwan Theatre Arts: “Hot Mikado”

MacEwan Theatre Arts wrapped up their season with Hot Mikado. From the website:

“The story is based on the Gilbert and Sullivan original The Mikado. In an imaginary Japan, the town of Tittipu has tired of the Mikado’s (emperor’s) law which makes flirting the only crime punishable by death. They appoint a lowly tailor, one Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner, since he has been condemned for flirting, and won’t execute himself or anyone else. Ko-Ko is about to marry his beautiful ward, Yum-Yum, but she is being pursued by a young man of her own age, Nanki-Poo, who is pretending to be a second-trombone player. He is actually the son and heir-apparent of the Mikado, having fled from his father’s court when accused of flirting with the elderly and formidable Katisha, who wants to marry him or have him beheaded. Will Nanki-Poo be executed? Will true love prevail?”

It’s not hard to guess the answer to that question, nor is it a huge leap to assume that the production relies too heavily of the charm on the cast to carry across a fairly trite story. In this case, as with most MacEwan productions, the cast was a mixed bag.

Corey Rogers (Nanki-Poo) and Yemie Sonuga (as Katisha) were both unfortunately unable to carry a tune. Thankfully, there were a few surprises (Adrianne Salmon and Matt Van Boeyen) to help balance out the group, but it was still a bit painful to have to sit through some pretty awful numbers.

Dickson and I were both looking forward to the appearance of Alissa Keogh, who even as a chorus Gentleman #7 in the first half of the production managed to outshine most of her castmates. The second act saw her take a turn as the Mikado, complete with a solo tap performance, which she nailed. Her ease with movement and song will be a loss to the MacEwan stage, but I am certain she will be on to bigger and better things upon graduation.

Also looking forward, the program included a listing of the 2008-2009 theatre season, which includes a play by none other than Stewart Lemoine, which will run from March 13-21, 2009. It seems his departure from the position of Teatro Artistic Director has allowed him the time and space to write for alternative venues like the Edmonton Opera and now MacEwan. Where will he pop up next?

MacEwan Theatre Arts: “Good News!”

After dinner, Dickson and I headed to the John L. Haar Theatre for the latest Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts production, Good News! From the website:

“At Tait College, football is the big game and star player, Tom Marlowe (Matt Van Boeyen), is a prime catch. While most students will drop everything to watch him practice, one girl seems oblivious to the football-mania – Connie Lane (Kim Bunka). An intensely studious woman, she is recruited to help when Marlowe fails an exam he needs to pass in order to play in the big game. Soon the football star and the tutor fall for each other. Inevitably though, their love can only survive if the team wins the big game.”

I had high hopes for a musical set in the roaring twenties – likely to be fun, flamboyant, and filled with flirtatious flapper fashions, I was expecting a great follow up to fall’s Little Women, which I enjoyed for the most part. While not a complete disappointment, Good News! didn’t live up to its potential.

Some of my issues with the play were unavoidable because the production ultimately must fulfill the needs of the theatre program. The cast, first of all, felt bloated – too many unnecessary coeds. Secondly (and Dickson disagrees with me), the set changes after every scene were excessive and distracting; the director attempted to pull the audience’s attention to the characters at the forefront of the stage while stagehands rolled away set pieces behind them, but to me, this created an amateur busyness that should have been avoided. Moreover, the oddly painted mishmash of a backdrop (really only utilized for the electric “stars” in the night sequences) should have been more versatile, hence eliminating the need for so many individual sets.

That said, Good News! itself isn’t that great of a play. There were no memorable songs, and the storyline doesn’t flow – scene transitions between character groups were jarring. Of course, it is true that great acting in some instances can save a play – here, the only notable standout was a supporting character. Dickson and I were in agreement that Alissa Keogh (our favorite in Little Women), stole the show again as the forward flapper Babe O’Day. Honorable mentions go out to Candice Fiorentino, who portrayed the mature and headstrong Professor Kenyon with a believable grace and Bunka as the ignored and very sympathetic bookworm Connie. The weakest link was Van Boeyen as the campus football star, as he didn’t have the charisma or the physical stature to carry off the role.

It was difficult to relate to the fervor surrounding college football (being the hockey mad country that we are), but the countdown to the big game did allow for the most hilarious sequence of the play – a slow-motion enactment of the game’s winning touchdown, complete with play-by-play commentary.

Good News! finished its run this weekend, but you can catch MacEwan’s last production of the season, Hot Mikado, in March.

Grant MacEwan Theatre Arts: “Little Women”

After dinner, the three of us proceeded to John L. Haar Theatre for Grant MacEwan’s production of Little Women. From the website:

“Set in New England during the Civil War, Little Women follows the adventures of four sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy March – as they grow up. After their father leaves for battle and under their mother’s guidance, the girls must rely on each other for strength in the face of tragedies both large and small. The story will captivate audiences of all ages while telling of the sisters’ progress into womanhood with the added strains of the romance, illness, the pressures of marriage and the outside world.”

The success of this musical wholly depended on a charismatic and talented Jo, and here, the casting was pitch-perfect. Alissa Keogh had a believable headstrong, tomboyish charm, and vocal abilities that put her stage mates to shame. I mean the following as nothing but a compliment: her voice is made for the wholesome songs of the Disney canon, and I have no doubt she has a bright future ahead of her.

As for the rest of the cast, the choice of Yemie Sonuga of African descent was an inspired choice for Marmee (with the backdrop of the American Civil War), but it was a shame that her acting was uneven and forced. Jaclyn Nestman as Beth and Kristy Neufeld as Meg were quite good in their roles, however, and Matthew Van Boeyen did his best to play with dignity a man at least thirty years his senior.

As for the rest of the production, I have an admitted difficulty avoiding obvious comparisons with other adaptations, and in this case, it would be with the 1994 Winona Ryder film. While the play’s Amy was able to redeem herself, and win over the audience (unlike in the movie), I sorely wished for the impossible appearance of a young Christian Bale to reprise his role as Laurie. As in the movie, I still find Jo’s “hasty” marriage to Professor Bhaer an unbelievable, unsatisfying ending. Though Jo’s happiness in finding a connection with someone literary, who challenged her and supported her work as an author is understandable, I can’t believe this happy ending would come so quickly.

For a student production, Little Women was quite good, and it was a treat to watch Alissa Keogh perform, undoubtedly a star in the making.

Theatre: “Crazy for You”

After dinner, Dickson and I went to the opening night performance of Crazy for You, the second production of the year for Grant MacEwan’s Theatre Arts Program. From the website:

“an artfully constructed show-biz tale of boy meets girl, but rather than Times Square they’re in the Wild West, where they spread good will, good tunes and, of course, good lovin’. It’s a high energy comedy that includes mistaken identity, plot twists, fabulous dance numbers and classic Gershwin music.”

As custom, the house was nearly full, packed undoubtedly with family and friends of the cast members. John L. Haar Theatre really is a beautiful facility, fully equipped with wide aisles, a gorgeous stage, and orchestra pit. It’s too bad it’s out of the way, and not in proximity to any large attractions, as their programming should be seen by a wider audience.

For a student production, it was quite well done. The costumes were great, as were the set pieces (in particular, the clown car was well built, leading to an unexpected routine that provided a good display of stage magic). My favorite character was hands down Irene Roth, the soon-to-be wife of the Saloon owner in Deadrock. She was played with great sass by Ashley Bjorndal, and carried off some great verbal exchanges with Bobby Child’s mother and her future husband.

I thought the first half as a whole was better than the second half, both in pacing and songs presented. Furthermore, the dancing was stronger than the singing in this show – the male lead had a fairly weak voice (Dickson said the actor who played Bela Zangler had the better voice, and here, I’ll defer to his trained ear). I was also surprised at the lack of a show stopping end number. “I Got Rhythm,” clearly the most catchy song, and the only one in length that featured the entire cast, fell just before intermission, leaving the audience vainly wanting more.

I was also surprised at their decision to use a projected backdrop to convey the different scene locations. Because of their elaborate sets, I thought this was unnecessary and rather distracting. Specifically, the image of the Gaity Theatre seats could be considered inaccurate, as usual musical-within-a-musical productions see the rehearsals conducted facing the imaginary audience, not upstage.

Despite my nitpicks, it was a fun production overall, and one that left me with a desire to dance!