Stratford Reviews

As the inaugural inanutshell guest, I figured I would share my wealth of knowledge from what I consider my semi new passion: theatre. Not to mention, the other contributors to this website are much more versed in their respective fields of fashion, food, music etc. It just so happens that after my convocation, my parents decided to take their annual Stratford Shakespeare festival trip, and I insisted I tag along. How could I not jump at the offer to see great broadway budget theatre without a budget? (well that’s how I saw it at least).

GRAPES OF WRATH

The trip began with a Friday night drive into Stratford, only to run to the Avon theatre to make the 8pm seating of The Grapes of Wrath; a John Steinbeck classic about a southern family’s struggle during the depression and the literal and figurative journeys they took to survive dire circumstances.

The ambiance was set immediately when the entire cast appeared behind a silk screen, belting southern choral music, that simultaneously set a melancholy tone symbolizing the depression. The show was accompanied by a trio of musicians who sang and played bible belt gospel type music, to appropriately maintain the tone and keep the audience engaged .I soon became appreciative of this little trio as, the sometimes slow pace of the play or script itself,  performed in such a large venue, had us drifting away from the story.

I immediately became engrossed in the story again when this sharecropping Oklahoma family, on their journey to California in hopes of newer comfort, came across a river. The avon theatre had set up a massive tank where the cast actually went swimming. It was, for lack of a better word, refreshing. Later the tank doubled off as a trench, that swallowed all the torrential amounts rain created by a thunderstorm.

Though I don’t think this was my favorite production of the weekend getaway, the morals of the story really seemed to resonate with me. This family left their home, made due with what they had, helping complete strangers out of the goodness of their hearts,  experienced sheer poverty, the deaths of loved ones, and embarked on a blind journey towards California fueled only by an inkling of hope that there would be the possibility of happiness on the other side.

CAMELOT

The Next show I saw was a what I thought was going to be an outdated fatigued matinee of Camelot the Musical, the story of King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, you know the one. Wrong I was. I was pleasantly surprised to find an extremely engaging, hilarious, and incredibly visually stunning production that brought an overdone story I had dreaded, to life.

We walked into the theatre to see a stage whose floor resembled a turquoise and gold medallion (as tacky as that sounds, it was actually gorgeous) and a crooked 25 foot tree which the characters mounted frequently. Side note:  If you have a fear of large wild birds/hawks/eagles I would avoid this production, a rather large one makes a bold entrance in the first act.

That show stopping moment was quickly forgotten when I began to feel shivers down my spine when I was literally dazzled by the purest soprano-mix quality of Guinevere’s voice ( Kaylee Hardwood), and keeling over in fits of laughter at King Arthur’s wit and perfect comic timing. Did I mention that Lancelot is painfully attractive, and decked out in exquisitely ornate silver armor. Yum.

Applause has to be given to Broadway star Brent Carver of course, who single handedly carried the weight of two very different characters (Merlin and King Pellinore), while playing Pilate alternating nights at Jesus Christ Superstar.  He completely embodied both characters to the extent that I didn’t even recognize him when he became the crippled old, uneven and ridiculous King Pellinore.

Despite a long, less eventful, and arguably less musically pleasant second act, and odd plot twists, I would definitely recommend this show to all.  I may be a biased audience member, but I can honestly say this show is well worth your time (and money.. eish).

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Last but not least we saw Jesus Christ Superstar, graced my Stratford’s star players Chilina Kennedy and Paul Nolan (who are rumored to have begun an affair during their West Side Story run … hot gossip).  Though I would not jump to call myself an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, for his simplistic lyrics and themes, and rock opera tendencies,  I went Gaga when we realized that he was sitting in the orchestra to take in the Canadian interpretation of one of his most prized oeuvres. Pretty impressive.  The reference and relevance of  Gaga rang true later on when I too  saw Judas, and am “still in love with Judas baby” to this very day. His stunning legitimate tenor, rock god singing quality had me weak at the knees and wanting more. Jesus, alike, certainly took the cake when he delivered incredibly high rock scream after rock scream. I can’t imagine how much stamina these performers have.

I am not sure whether I enjoyed the tough girl interpretation of Marie Magdalene, or whether I was just turned off by the incredibly bright lights, modern and quite rigid chrome set that supported the rock opera.  Then again, despite being impressed by the incredible talent of the entire cast, including the infamous Bruce Dow who delivered a tantalizing performance,  this musical is not among my favorites.

It is a drawn out, unfocused version of a passion play, injected with a great title number “Jesus Christ Superstar”, awesome guitar  licks and a loud rock scream-esque score.  I would compare the show to more of a rock concert from the early 90s, than your idea of theatre at the Stratford Shakespeare festival.  Though perhaps that is the necessary spice to the Artistic Director’s big recipe.

Carry playing Rosalia in U of T's production of West Side Story.

Who might this guest be? Carry Quigley is a musical theatre student at Randolph Academy of Performing Arts in Toronto. She is nutshell contributor, Kaylee’s, oldest and dearest friend. If you want to hear more from Carry, follow her on Twitter (or look out for her on a stage near you!)

If you want to be our next guest contributor, please contact us at inanutshellca@gmail.com!

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