The UCCB Dramagroup created their production of Cinderella in the early seventies as a collective theatre piece. I saw it for the first time in the late seventies at the Lyceum when Jo-Anne Rolls was a radiant Cinderella and at the end of the show, there was free ice cream for everyone.
But I think, for me, the most fun of the four productions I’ve seen, is the fifth and most recent which had a marathon two week run in May at the Boardmore Playhouse. While most children’s plays exhaust the attention of their young audiences in about an hour, this Cinderella held its audience enthralled for close to two.
Although the play’s over twenty years old, director Harry Boardmore keeps the show fresh by including contemporary references and songs by the Spice Girls and Hanson. The sets and costumes are big and glittery and the audience was encouraged to participate every step of the way (a sizable bunch of them were even brought onstage to dance).
Laurel MacDonald was as enchanting as always as Cinderella (although she did struggle with her singing). Kelly Peck, as Prince Charming, kept the audience in the palm of his hand during a difficult participation song. As the two cruel stepsisters, Dawn White (with a great full singing voice) as cowgirl Marlene, and Karen Peters as the punkish Darlene, were funny, mean and oddly likeable. And as their boyfriends, Keith Morrison as cowpoke Orville and Richie Wilcox as bikerboy Crash, were big fun (as were their costumes). Phonse Walsh (last seen as the transgendered Our Lady Pain in North End & Attic) looked and acted very dapper as the Prince’s manager. Amy Kokoszka was a wonderfully ditzy Fairie Godmother. As the wicked stepmother, Valerie Patterson (who was an equally wicked witch in last year’s Wizard Of Oz) gave a child frightening performance that bordered on the cathartic. Musical director Michael MacDonald kept the arrangements peppy and toe-tapping. Harry Boardmore brought order to the whirlwind of activity, and, even if there was no free ice cream, created a wonderful show.
A couple of years ago, I reviewed the Riverview High School show Calender Girls and parenthesized that perhaps some student involvement in the writing would have added to the strengths of that production. This year’s show A Dhachaid A’Rithist (“Home Again”) assembled and directed by Robin McKittrick, made good use of that idea, and three of its funniest skits were written by Riverview student Stephen Gillis.
The show followed the familiar Summertime Revue format (many of the songs debuted in the Revue) but the skits drew a pleasantly wide variety of work – Glace Bay novelist Hugh MacLennan, Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe, Monty Python, a poem by R.J. MacSween and a monologue by David Wayne McKay that incorporated the story behind the classic poem “Lady of the Loom” by Lillian Crewe Walsh and the creation of the Cape Breton Tartan (which cleverly pro-vided the silver, black, green and gold colour scheme for the sets and costumes). An added treat was a high energy set of rock’n’reel fiddle tunes by 3 A.M., a talented new band well worth keeping an eye on.
With an enthusiastic cast of twenty-five, I only have enough space to mention a few personal favourites: Stephen Gillis’ fake pitch for UCCB as a place where parents can keep an eye on their kids’ drinking habits (with James F.W. Thompson as the falling down drunk student); the insanely high energy SeaGulls (Amy Fedora, Kenna MacLean and Mary Smith) in “Hmm Job Parody” another Stephen Gillis piece (with no apologies to the Hanson’s tune “Mmm Bop”), a nicely performed recitation of the poem “Evangeline” done en francais by Denise LaCroix, Jaina Dicks, Melanie Pronko and Ashleigh Patterson; Shannon MacFarlane’s evocation of Lillian Crewe Walsh’s love for her island in the “Lady of the Loom” monologue; Mary Beth Doucette’s eloquently simple recitation of R.J. MacSween’s “Small Fire Poem”; an hilarious Cape Breton version of Monty Python’s “Working Class Playwright” skit with Matthew Favaro as the bellicose writer Dad; and Stephen Gillis performing an extended barroom rant on Cape Breton independence (written by this author). Of the songs, arranged with sweet harmonies by Jan MacQuarrie and Adam Young, many of them favourites by Leon Dubinsky and Allister MacGillivray, my favourite was Duncan Wells’ beautiful classic “Small Town Wind” sung by Schoel Strang with backing harmonies by Denise LaCroix and Amanda MacDonald.
Along with shaping the sincere enthusiastic performances of his talented young cast, McKittrick made each skit or song visually interesting with effective movement, tableaux and silent vignettes. His cast obviously were enjoying themselves onstage and that helped the audience to enjoy themselves.
On the fifty-fourth anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy (I know that because the History Channel re-ran “The Longest Day”), I saw the latest local production of John Murrell’s Waiting For The Parade (Festival On The Bay did a production of the same play about 10 years ago). The timing was appropriate since the play deals with the lives of five Calgary women facing the hardships and uncertainties on the homefront of the Second World War.
Each of the women has their own problems: Margaret worries over her two sons, one on high risk corvette duty, the other jailed as an anti-war subversive; Catherine who, her soldier husband fading from memory, drifts into an affair; Janet who overcompensates for her husband’s army exemption by cheerily browbeating the other women during their volunteer activities; Eve a schoolteacher with a schoolgirl crush on actor Leslie Howard who only sees the murderous waste of warfare which puts her into conflict with her warhappy older husband; and the painfully ostracized Marta who worries about her German born father who has been interned after the authorities discover pro-Nazi literature in his basement.
While there are many familiar elements of wartime travails in Murrell’s play, the playwright does an excellent job of sketching the depth and intelligence of his characters through short monologues and precisely written scenes. Murrell also expertly evokes the cultural ambiance of the war with the little details – references to film stars and radio shows – that can transport an audience back in time.
The unique cast of this production featured three sisters and two sisters-in-law. As the wayward Catharine, Jeanette MacDonald nicely showed how a woman’s love for her husband could express itself in infidelity. Carole MacDonald keenly expressed Margaret’s fear for the lives of her sons and of her own loneliness. And as Janet, Wanda MacDonald captured the anger behind her smiling tyrant character. Rhoda MacCormick with her clipped speech and stiff posture ably showed how her character tried to maintain control of her emotions as her world collapsed. Beth MacCormick, as Eve, gave a wonderfully expressive and nuanced performance – she even did interesting work just listening to her cast mates. Besides the fine ensemble performances, the audience was treated to some sweet sisterly harmonies on vintage forties tunes.
Gary Walsh, as director, emphasized the rapport among his cast and used it to develop some fine performances. His pacing within the individual scenes was brisk but somewhat undermined by numerous blackouts which sapped some of the play’s momentum. An added treat was the closing tune “We Will Remember” written and performed by Leon Dubinsky (Beth MacCormick’s husband) with additional vocals by Ella Dubinsky. All in all, an engrossing, heartwarming play.
So until next time, I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.