Hello from beautiful Stratford, Ontario, dear readers! C and I have been here a full 2 days now. We have so far enjoyed 2 shows (no Shakespeare yet), returned to Balzac’s coffee shop, and satisfied our craving for Anna Mae’s potato salad. We’ve reacquainted ourselves with the sights, sounds, and charm this place has to offer, and beginning tomorrow we will be diving headlong into the majority of the plays in our itinerary.
We mentioned the possibility of posting updates prior to seeing Shakespeare’s plays and here we are. Read on to find out about the plays we’ve seen so far this season!
Yesterday evening we saw a production of The Aeneid as adapted by Olivier Kemeid. It was staged in the Studio Theatre, a black box space in which we had yet to experience a show. Not to be mistaken for a faithful staging of Virgil’s epic, this Aeneid is a modern – almost abstract – retelling which pits the audience against the realities of refugee crises throughout the world and throughout time. It is a profoundly timely play with a powerful message that is most successful in its delivery during act 2. The first act was slowed by first-person narration which felt odd onstage… where the story typically unfolds through action as opposed to narration. The minimalist use of set also meant that the ensemble of actors was used to create pieces of scenery, create sound effects, and warp the space utilizing their bodies. This was at times a distraction, but ultimately used to great affect in the journey to the underworld in Act 2. Standouts included: Karen Robinson as Allecto/The Sybil, Lanise Antoine Shelley as Elissa, and Saamer Usmani as Achates. (Sammer Usmani, btw, is SUPER handsome.)
*This afternoon we saw our first Stratford musical (ever!) at the Festival Theatre – A Chorus Line. This is a show which is near and dear to my heart as I was fortunate enough to perform in a production of it 2 years ago. It’s a show which explores the heart and soul of dancers as well as the hardships that they undergo as they pursue passion as a career. This is my life. This is why I love this show so much. It allows an audience to get a small taste of how shitty/exhilarating an audition can be. It’s a window into the backstage world of musical theatre and it is about love. I was nervous to watch this production since I was fortunate to have an incredible experience with KD Smith (who played Val under Michael Bennett’s direction on Broadway) in the director’s seat. KD was one of three dancers Bennett entrusted to stage and direct his vision after he died, so our production consisted of all the original Tony-award-winning staging and choreography. I will admit the attachment I have to the originally conceived work was a bit of a disservice to me while watching Stratford’s production because my critical view was heavily skewed.
I immediately perceived this version was new choreography with the inclusion of bits and pieces of the most recognizable movements from Bennett’s ACL. This became a distraction to me if only because I couldn’t understand why some pieces of the choreography remained intact and some had been completely disregarded. That being said, the staging was beautifully executed for such an oddly configured thrust stage and the choreography was stimulating to the eye and powerfully performed. The harmonies were incredibly tight, the group dynamic was thoroughly fleshed out, the band was magnificent, and the use of lighting became a story element on its own. With a very few exceptions, everyone hit their mark. Energy was high throughout and it was a production worthy of its standing ovation. Standouts included: Ayrin Mackie as Sheila, Julia McLellan as Val, Nicholas Nesbitt as Bobby, and Genny Sermonia as Connie. Oh, oh, oh! We also saw Juan Chioran as Zach! We saw him last year in Love’s Labour’s Lost and Hamlet and thoroughly enjoyed him. We did so again this season.
*Note: the thoughts on A Chorus Line have officially been hijacked by yours truly, A. C’s opinion of the show was one as a musician and someone less inclined to musical theatre. She would like to add that the music was good and the performers were “sparkly”.
Tomorrow we will be back with some thoughts on Shakespeare in Love and Macbeth! Stay tuned!