The Life: Upcoming December Musical set to WOW audiences in Toronto

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Now, it does not go unnoticed that I am somewhat partial to a good musical now-and-again…wait, who am I kidding…I live for these theatrical delights.

We’ve attended musicals about Disney characters, movie adaptions and even childhood book-to-stage creations…but what we are missing is something gritty, raw and touching, as well as giving us a sense of reality mixed with much needed humour. And this is where The Life comes in.

imageIt first burst onto the Broadway stage in 1997, where it was an immediate hit; winning itself three Tony Awards for Best Musical, as well as an Outer Critics Awards and Drama League Award, during its run.

But I already know the 3 major questions that you are dying to ask. What is the musical about? What makes it so enjoyable? And what have the Toronto-based cast of the show got in store for us, with their revived re-telling of this Broadway classic?

Based on the book by David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman, Toronto theatre company, Call It A Day Productions, have decided to treat audiences to the life of Queen, a New York female prostitute, working on the city’s infamous 42nd Street.

Under the guidance of well-known Toronto director Danik McAfee, the show opens with Queen, whose dreams, aspirations and hopes for the future have been dashed, due to the destitute life she has been living. With no way to support herself and her partner, Fleetwood, she turns to the dark and dangerous world of prostitution, to make ends meet.

But as an employee of the world’s oldest profession, she quickly comes to realise that it may not be as easy to escape it, as it was to enter this seedy world in the beginning. Set in the 1980’s, the show gives us a glimpse into what the much loved city was like during this time, before the present era of glitz and glamour.

With both a strong female and male cast, headed by the fabulous Jacquie Martin (Queen), this show will undoubtedly please Toronto theatre-lovers, across the city.

With fantastic, catchy musical numbers and addictive lyrics by Ira Gasman, you will be sucked in by not only the honest storyline, but by how each empowering, passionate song connects each moving scene. Numbers like “My Body” will have you singing along with the cast, “The Oldest Profession” aims to inform the audience, and the musical addition, “We Had A Dream” will pull at the heart-strings of everyone there. With each breathtaking scene and performance, we get to know each character; their hopes, their passions, their strengths and their weaknesses.

imageThe Life has already proved to be a MUST SEE show, based on its past popularity on Broadway and now with its much anticipated arrival on a Toronto stage, but it’s also undeniably a musical that offers deep, challenging roles that many actors yearn to portray.

The characters are so loveable and mesmerising that even actress and co-founder of Call It A Day Productions, Lauren Mayer, has jumped at the chance to not only choreograph the production but also star as one of these mysterious ladies-of-the-night, Frenchie. With her recent performance as Vanessa; a sassy, edgy and seductive love-rival in Love You To Death: A Murder Mystery Cabaret, this new challenging role will reveal to theatre-goers how talented and diverse this lady truly is.

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This show takes us deep into the lives of those who seek to find their so-called “fix,” those who wish to exploit the less fortunate, and the innocent human beings who work with the aim to not just survive this ordeal, but to inevitably escape this profession…to escape their exploitation…and to escape THE LIFE.

The Life plays at the ALUMNAE THEATRE at 70 Berkley Street, Toronto from:

Thursday 8th December until Sunday 11th December 2016.

Tickets can be purchased at the theatre, but to avoid disappointment I would encourage online purchasing in advance, by clicking HERE.

Performances commence at 8pm. This show is surely NOT TO BE MISSED. 

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It’s (kind of) a Love Story…The Review.

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Whether you are in a relationship, just out of one, seeking a partner…or simply, Single as a Pringle and ready to Mingle, the one show you need to see this November is It’s (kind of) a Love Story, at the Commons Theatre, by Tree of Life Theatre Company Inc.

imageRunning from Nov 16-26th, the play tells us the story of two best friends; Alison and Michael, who are in two minds whether to take their simple, platonic relationship to new levels. The only thing holding Alison back is her fear of what will happen. Will this pursuit of happiness end up in disappointment? Will everyone else understand this new-found love? And most of all, will Alison be able to release herself from a negative past event, that has shaped the expectations and insecurities of herself, for such a long time.

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Sitting in the Commons Theatre, I was impressed at the spaciousness and comfort of the performance space. For a play that relies a lot on expressive, energetic dance & choreography, the theatre space allowed this masterpiece to be created; effectively and productively.

But what about the performance? Did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it? Was this a worthy new addition to the Toronto Theatre Scene? My answer? YEs, yes…and YES!

From the moment the lights dimmed, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it immensely. With only 3 actors on stage, I was blown away by the realisation of how effective a small cast can be in telling a thought-provoking and stimulating piece of theatre. With the support, guidance and expertise of a great ‘behind-the-scenes’ crew, of course.

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The writing talent of creator Naomi Peltz was spectacular, as she delivered a beautiful and realistic storyline, which many could relate to. At times during the show, I was nearly convinced Naomi had a crystal ball in her possession and had taken a glimpse into my past love life, in order to write this funny, heart-felt creation.

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We’ve all had that one friend in our lives that we have contemplated a relationship with. And believe me, I am no stranger to this crazy,yet human, predicament. As embaressing and fruitless as my love attempts may have been, Alison has much deeper issues that need to be approached, when it comes to her possible life with Michael.

Ellie Posadas (Alison) and JaeMoon Lee (Michael) played the passion-challenged duo with such emotion, personality and depth, that you fell in love with them & were always anticipating what would happen next.

The entire cast were fantastic in their given roles, but it was Denise Norman, in her role as Every Woman that had the audience laughing. Denise portrayed a wonderful range of narrative characters, who all had their own opinions on the coupl’s situation. Whether it was Alison’s friend, mother, or the crowd-pleasing Starbucks Lady (with her HEY GURRLLLLLLLL dialogue), Denise is a professional when it comes to delivering a powerful and memorable performance.

The original script by Naomi Peltz was brought to life by a hard working and creative stage-crew consisting of director Peter Van Wart, co-producer Sarah McGowan, stage manager Tory Johnston and lighting designer John Cabanela. Although unfamiliar with some of their previous work, I was able to appreciate the love and devotion each one of them put into this piece.

imageOne familiar face I did, recognise immediately was producer and co-founder of Tree of Life Theatre CompanySarah McGowan. I was originally introduced to Sarah in her recent performance as Gerry, in the popular comedy-cabaret “Love you to Death.” Now adding producing to her list of achievements, not only can this young girl act, sing and dance, but with her extensive theatrical talents…she is the the definition of a Triple Threat.

To top off a wonderful evening, the audience were treated to the musical delights of singer/songwriter CLAIRE HUNTER, who just released her debut EP, SOMETHING SAFE, this year. The perfect blend of strength and softness to her voice was without a doubt, a pre-show treat for all. After hearing only 20 mins of music, I immediately added her in my Spotify playlist; now on a loop.

One thing is for sure, about the show itself… Tree of Life Theatre Company, know how to please their crowds. Not only do they make you feel welcome and appreciated, but their personal nature and genuine gratitude will make you want to come back, again and again.

It’s (kind of) a Love Story runs from Nov 16-26th at the Commons Theatre, 190 Richmond Street East, Toronto.

Tickets can be purchased online by clicking HERE or in person prior to the show.

Run Time: 60 Mins

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It’s (Kind Of) a Love Story: New play by Naomi Peltz (November 16-26th)

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So people, it’s official. The season of winter is edging closer day-by-day, but that is no reason to lock yourself indoors. There is so much happening right now, and the theatre scene is buzzing with new, creative, interesting and inventive shows.

The Fall Season has been always known for bringing fantastic shows to the stage, and personally, I believe, it is a great time to attend the theatre. The struggle to buy Christmas presents has not yet begun, so how about treating yourself to some stage magic, before the madness begins. After attending musicals, plays and cabarets over the past few weeks, I thought I had seen it all for 2016. Well folks, there is something else on the horizon.

Appearing under the stage spotlight next week, is a new dramatic creation, written by the incredible Naomi Peltz, entitled, “It’s (Kind Of) a Love Story.” Performed by the talented cast of the Tree of Life Theatre Company (Denise Norman, Ellie Posadas & JaeMoon Lee) and brought to life by renowned director Peter Van Wart, this play tells us the tale of two close friends; Alison and Michael, who are faced with the difficult, risky and daunting dilemma as to whether they should allow their friendship to develop into a romantic encounter.

Unable to come to a consensus on whether this should be explored, they consult their friends along the way, who cannot help but inject their opinions and feelings of approval/disapproval on this possible elevation of relationship status.

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Not only is Alison conflicted about this tough decision, but as her initial image of life as a couple begins to blur, she is forced to  analyse a past event, which inevitably caused the existence of these mixed opinions.

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But what is LOVE in today’s society? Is it solely between 2 people or do outside influences have an effect on it? With the talents and skills of lighting designer John Cabanela, this train of thought is brought to life. Throughout the performance, Facebook statuses, tweets, memes, magazine articles and news headlines will be projected onto the theatre surroundings, illustrating how individuals today receive information at a much quicker rate. The only trouble is, does this readily available knowledge take away the control you have over your own life, and in terms of making a decision on love…who pulls the strings?

It’s (Kind Of) a Love Story is part of a new wave of plays that are giving Toronto something to talk about, as their ideas are constantly evolving and aiming to tell us stories, which we can relate to in today’s world.

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No stranger to gracing the stage herself, author NAOMI PELTZ strives to reveal to us the elements of our lives that we rarely acknowledge, or are hidden away from us. Asked about the origins of the play, she replied, “It was a story that needed to get out, and there was no stopping it.”

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So how about you all come along with me to see this wonderful and unique show, which is sure to be a hit.

Performances will be held at the Commons Theatre, at 190 Richmond Street East, from November 16th until November 26th 2016.

Tickets are priced at $15 (General admission) and $10 for groups, students and seniors. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online by clicking HERE.

Also, with the festive season quickly approaching, the Tree of Life Theatre Company have promised to give a portion of he proceeds to the White Ribbon Campaign, a movement by men and boys, in ending violence against women and girls.

“Suitcases” at The Sandbox Theatre, Toronto: The Review

imageTo all my fairy followers out there, who eagerly await the review of “SUITCASES” to be posted…then fear not…as it has finally arrived. On Tuesday night, I was given the opportunity to attend this new, theatrical production, created by the exceptionally talented duo, Rosanna Saracino and Linda Garneau.

As I quickly took my seat, in the comfortable and spacious theatre space at the Sandbox Theatre, the large crowd were treated to a pre-show musical performance by artist and singer Taylor Hubbard along with Tyler Burton; one of the stars of the show itself.

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Before I get to commenting on the theatrical performance, I must give credit where credit is due. With a voice stronger than any artist her age, Taylor Hubbard got the crowd warmed up and excited, accompanied by the beautiful, instrumental contribution of Tyler Burton. With tremendous control over her voice and ability to make the simplest of lyrics sound heavenly, Taylor was the perfect start to any show, and a delight to watch perform.

But what about the main attraction? For those who did not read Part 1 of this article, Suitcases is a play inspired by over 400 suitcases that were discovered at the Willard Asylum, NY. Closed in 1995, there was very little if nothing known about the patients who walked in through the doors of the psychiatric hospital. Behind a concealed wall of the asylum, lay the inspiration to our show. As each of the suitcases were discovered, photographs were taken of their contents, and the images made public. Through the creative and unique storyline by Rosanna Saracino, the play was created, and the patients’ characters formed around the contents that lay inside each case. They say a picture can tell a thousand words, and in this case, it could not be any closer to the truth. From the photos, our fictional characters were created, and brought to life right before our eyes.

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As the lights dimmed and the spotlight focused on the stage, it illuminated our characters  as they clutched their most prized and important possessions to their chests; stored away in their cases. One by one we are introduced to each of them, as they open their luggage and tell their story to the audience; many sad and touching, others surprisingly positive.

The monologues of each character not only tells the story of their feelings and condition within the asylum, but also their lives building up to their admission and their hopes of a future. For some, and we find that they were placed inside against their will…for others, it may have been for their own safety.

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Each biography entwines and flows naturally into the next. With the patients’ interaction with one another, it allows us to see the human element of these individuals deemed insane. As stated in my previous article, one of the objectives of this production was to show how despite social persecution, stigma and discrimination, those suffering with mental illness are able to find others like them, support each other and become a ‘tribe.’ Only through this network can we accept our weaknesses, our differences and imperfections, and escape the darkness that threatens to extinguish our true light.

The most touching element of Suitcases was that each character was relatable to, on some level. The habits, obsessions, and worries they portray to the outside world, can be observed differently by those who watch. The play makes you weigh in on the normal vs abnormal debate, whilst inevitably allowing you to question your own sanity.

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Upon attending this theatrical performance, I surprised myself with the realisation, that what we deem insane is sometimes an amplified version of the problems we encounter in our own lives. For example, whats the difference between regular, emotional outbursts and diagnosed anger issues,? When does talking to yourself becoming delusions? When does not acting your age change into reverting to a psychological child-like state? There is a very thin line between sanity and insanity, but through this show, we are able to explore this in depth..

Nevertheless, there is still a huge stigma attached to mental illness and this is the reason why Suitcases is timeless, despite being based on the 1910-60’s asylum period. Described by production staff, Suitcases “gives a voice to that which is too often kept secret; the little internal voices, impulses, desires, hopes and fears we dare never speak out loud.”

With a fantastic cast of 22 members, it is impossible to pick out who shone the most, as they were all stars on the night. However, the 4 characters who I could relate to the most were portrayed by the amazing & naturally gifted actors, Casey Hudecki, Luke Opdahl, Amaka Umeh & Jillian Rees-Brown.

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All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the production, as it was something fresh, new and stage-worthy. It is a topic that not many stage professionals delve into, due to touchy subject. But thanks to the professional expertise & belief of director, cast and production team, Suitcases does not shy from the challenge. Not as dark as many would think, it had equal moments of hopefulness, darkness and happiness layered throughout. I would encourage you all to go see this show before it ends on November 6th 2016. 

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Afterwards, I caught up with creator and director, Rosanna Saracino, and asked her a few questions in a brief interview:

After all the positive reviews from opening night, what were you feeling?

I was elated and so proud of the cast, crew and all the contributors to this production. The feedback after the show was incredible, but so was the experience of feeling an audience breathing with the cast; sharing and connecting with the story. It can be difficult to know if a piece will genuinely resonate with an audience. But you can feel it when that moment happens, and it certainly happened that night. I felt grateful and moved.

“Suitcases,” I found, touched on a lot of issues that many people dismiss or do not wish to admit to themselves? Was this an objective of yours?

One of the goals of Suitcases, is to give a voice to the unvoiced, to speak the secrets and to express some truth about a variety of psychological experiences. I am hoping to strip away the isolation and loneliness that come with these conditions. Mostly I want to humanise the invisible monsters, so that this work may reach out and say “it’s ok, me too…you are not alone.”

The characters were pretty unique, as well as both intriguing and relatable. How was each character created and what did the cast bring to the telling of their stories?

Firstly, each actor was asked to select one of the images from the Willard Asylum Suitcases Photos. They could select the case they were inspired by and from there, I generated a series of exercises designed to provoke character exploration. Providing the cast with text sources and actual patient interviews from the Willard Asylum period, the actors were able to bring themselves to the telling of each story. They brought their generosity, talent, own experience, sensitivity and respect, whilst honouring the real people and their lives. It was both a challenging process and a rewarding one.

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As a person who has encountered psychological health issues in both my friends and family, what do you think the message of the show is to us?

I hope for it to help destigmatize the experience, so that we can focus on each other as people and not as conditions. I think we all have moments when we are alone, and we face our own monsters. We are all just human beings; struggling toward, meeting challenges, and perhaps we need to be reminded that we’re not alone. Also, vulnerability carries no shame. It is through our fallibility that we appear most human, and even during the most difficult moments…it can be a beautiful thing.

Lastly, what’s next for you, Rosanna Saracino, after the run of Suitcases? Are there any more untold stories like this phenomenal one, which are just waiting to be awakened?

My greatest hope is that this project receives the funding it requires to move out of the independent production arena, and into a fully supported show. I want to share it with a wider audience, and without a production company and investors, it can be challenging. So, I will be working hard to get it to that place. However, beyond this, there are two other “untold” stories, which I am hoping to develop into new work,. These will happen one at a time; the first hopefully coming next summer. So stay tuned!!!

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Suitcases will be performing from November 1st until November 6th 2016, at the Artscape Sandbox Theatre (301 Adelaide Street West, Toronto)

Tickets can purchased at the theatre, but to avoid disappointment, can be purchased online, by clicking HERE.