Month: August 2013

Flashback Fridays – Patricia Zentilli on A New Brain

Jump back with us to 2009’s A New Brain, William Finn’s autobiographical end of the century musical about a songwriter with creative block who suddenly experiences an attack from an arteriovenous malformation, landing him in hospital and threatening his life. As he proceeds on the journey to wellness through surgery, we are transported through Gordon’t hallucinations, inviting us simultaneously into Finn’s head when he too was hospitalized for the same thing. Patricia Zentilli played Rhoda, Gordon’t agent and ex-girlfriend with charm, humour and a killer set of pipes – and she brought her own photos to the table this week as well! More

Monica Dottor’s Triple Threat

Monica Dottor

Introducing Monica Dottor, a true triple threat herself! When not seen across Toronto stages, Monica is a spectacular choreographer with a real understanding of stage physicality and movement. Monica has been nominated for six (!) Dora awards, including one for her choreography on Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata which she will be working again when we launch our first national tour in the winter. Here’s what makes Monica’s musical theatre gears click.

What musical will you always remember for its choreography?

Definitely West Side Story. Jerome Robbins is one of my choreographic heros. His quirky sense of timing and musicality make him a master of choreographic ingenuity and originality and his choreography has stood the test of time in my opinion. I can watch it again and again and still be as awe inspired as the very first time I watched it.

You’re on a desert island and you can only bring on cast recording. What do you choose?

Jesus Christ Superstar. Because it makes me want to dance.

What musical will you always remember for its score?

Sweeney Todd. The intricate and clever composition of the score is pretty incredible.

What movie would you love to see musicalized?

Musical Theatre Gangsters: Brushin' up since 1949
Musical Theatre Gangsters: Brushin’ up since 1949

That’s easy. Goodfellas. It’s my all time favourite movie. I’ve seen it a hundred times. Imagine it being a musical? Dream come true.

What musical will you always remember for its book/virtuosic acting?

Into the Woods. Again, it is so cleverly written. The way Sondheim blended all of the fairy tales and managed to create an intriguing story of his own was very impressive to me as a young girl and I still feel the same way.

What is your dream role that you’ll never get to play?

In a musical – Gypsy. In a play – Nina in The Seagull. Is it too late? I’m still hoping. 😉

You can catch Monica’s choreography in A Craigslist Cantata when it hits the road in January.

Producing Notes – Dress Big, Dress Bold, Dress Large

sleep no more mask

Two weeks ago, an article was published in the Guardian titled: “Edinburgh festival: what makes a memorable piece of theatre.”

The article suggests that the experience of seeing a show might actually be more important than the content of the show itself when it comes to memorability. Both the author and her friend saw a show last year that they didn’t care for but that required climbing up and down a mountain in the dark. A year later, her friend called it “a fantastic show.” When reminding her that she had disliked it the year previous, her friend noted: “I still think about it, and I can barely remember what I saw last week.”

The author makes a parallel to the experience of children at the theatre: “Many years ago… I tried to get children to review children’s theatre. But I often found that it was difficult to get them to actually talk about the show. They were always much more keen to talk about the flavours of ice cream available at the interval, the wallpaper in the lavatories, the other children in the audience. Those things were as important to them as what they had seen on stage. It made me realise that the experience of seeing theatre can be as important as the show itself.”

It’s an interesting thought, and one that is being embraced more and more in the theatre today. In the last few months alone I put on an extremely creepy mask and explored a sprawling warehouse while watching an ambiguous physical performance inspired by Macbeth in Sleep No More, I walked through the Danforth enjoying Outside The March/Convergence Theatre/Sheep No Wool’s Passion Play, I chased characters down the alley behind The Drake Hotel in The Mission Business’s really effective Visitations, and I line danced with Imelda Marcos (well… someone playing her at least) in Here Lies Love at the Public. On top of that, there were many other site specific/participatory shows occurring locally that I was not able to attend.

For me, as an audience member, some of the participatory shows that I have seen have been highly successful as activities, but lacking on the storytelling front. There is something about sitting in a dark room, watching a story unfold that is both satisfying and engaging. Sometimes though, when I’m being asked to simultaneously dance, play, and walk, I am less engaged. I become too self-aware and self-conscious. That’s not to say that I don’t love attending – I certainly do. It’s just that I thoroughly enjoy the experience as a living game or an urban community activity more than I do as story-driven theatre.

But the author has a point. Regardless of whether these unique types of productions speak to me as theatrical experiences, they are unforgettable. Far more so than trying to remember 80% of the regular theatre productions that I have seen over the last year. In a society where time is so valuable, we want to make sure that we are ‘wowed’ by our entertainment. A great story or innovative staging can – and will – do that. But a unique setting and an unusual engagement can make even the most mediocre story inventive and original.

Some argue that immersive theatre is the future of our discipline. I am less sure. I think that it’s an important and exciting new form of art – one that allows for a superb artist/audience engagement. But can it replace the age-old art of spoken word storytelling that has stood the test of time? I’m unsold.

Regardless though, as this new type of presentation begins to trend it poses challenges for musicals. When you are only concerned about the spoken human voice, it’s easier to have an audience travel with an actor across the city or to encourage audiences to play a role in the unfolding of a story. But when singing is added, you face a series of challenges: Roaming singers are possible, but how do you move musicians and their instruments? What do you do about the technical demand for amplified sound that is often required while on-the-move logistics require wireless systems? Can you respond to the need to improvise as audience behaviour impacts the plot when music is rigid and synchronized? As site specific work tends to benefit from the raw reality of the immersion, does breaking out into song detract from that effect?

All I know is that musical theatre is certain to play a role in the future of immersive theatre and – once the logistics are sorted out – immersive practices could stand to change our field forever. I for one am excited to watch it all unfold (and maybe even play a role in figuring it out?). As Lyn Gardner suggests in her article, it may not be perfect, but it will certainly be memorable.


Thomas Tony Tuesdays – Gypsy

Marcus Gypsy

If I had the chance to go back in time to see one Broadway production that has passed me by, it would be the 2008 production of Gypsy.  I know…I know…it has only been a few years but the divine casting choices of Patti Lupone, Laura Benanti, Boyd Gaines, and Leigh Ann Larkin put this show above the others for me.

Featuring music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (heard of him?), and a book by Arthur Laurents, Gypsy is a true masterpiece and a shining example of the musical form.  More

Wayne Gwillim’s Triple Threat

Wayne Gwillim

We love Wayne Gwillim: an Acting Up Stage perennial, Wayne has music directed 4 of our shows, including our very first production Tick, tick… BOOM! Wayne could most recently be heard tickling the ivories for Mirvish’s Wizard of Oz, and will soon be heard doing the same for Les Miserables. Before he hits the barricades, we caught up with Wayne in anticipation of his return to Acting Up Stage for our reimagined revival of Elegies.

What musical will you always remember for its score?

Believe it or not, I’m going to say Les Misérables. It doesn’t apologize for having operatic scope, and I enjoy how it endlessly re-structures a very limited set of melodies/motifs, yet remains fresh throughout. If it one wants to see how an impression is made, Les Miz does it in spades.

What musical will you always remember for its book/virtuosic acting?

West Side Story. I love the economy of the libretto – lots of plot and detailed character traits are revealed in a brisk manner, yet we’re entertained the entire time. I enjoy a musical book that knows how to put focus on its protagonists, but still gives interesting conflicts/ambitions to the remaining characters… in the case of West Side Story, this is given to every single character on stage.

You’re on a desert island and you can only bring on cast recording. What do you choose?

About twenty years ago I found a ’93 UK revival recording of West Side Story that blew me away. You get an exciting score paired with great voices and a BIG orchestra. The audio engineering on the recording is brilliant too – it feels like you’re in a front row seat at a live performance.

What is your guiltiest pleasure musical?

Fun Fact: Broadway Star Judy Kuhn was the singing voice of Pocahontas
Fun Fact: Broadway Star Judy Kuhn (not Wayne Gwillim) was the singing voice of Pocahontas

Any of the Disney animated musicals from the nineties. Those films comprised the majority of my exposure to music theatre as a kid. A slightly embarassing story: I sang “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas for my first audition back in Saskatchewan (I used to perform in my youth). I auditioned right after this teenage guy who I thought had a decent voice, but my song choice was perhaps a bit stronger – his name was Paul Nolan. The directors behind that audition panel have remained friends ever since, and they LOVE reminding me of how much they were amused by my choice. It would have been cute if I was ten or eleven years old, but I was… fourteen.

What musical will you always remember for its choreography?

The Broadway revival of Chicago. Again, there was such economy to the work – small, compressed choreography had such a large effect. I saw Chita Rivera play Roxie on the national tour and she had such a visceral approach to everything – song, dance, and scenes were seamless… a total delight.

What movie would you love to see musicalized?

A musical adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 could be very interesting. Everyone loves a dystopian, politically-chaotic musical – just look at CATS… right?

You can catch Wayne’s music direction in March’s Elegies.