Tons of Money: Opening Night Review at Scarborough Village Theatre

imageI have always loved the saying, “My husband says that I’m the crazy one…but he’s the one that married me,” and this couldn’t be any more relevant than to the theatrical delight I had the opportunity of attending last night.

Yesterday evening at 8pm, curtain went up on opening night of the famous play, Tons of Money; performed by the wonderful actors and actresses of the Scarborough Players and directed by Jeremy Henson.

As I traveled out to the show’s residence, Scarborough Village Theatre, to attend its first show of a run that extends from now until April 22nd, I was buzzing with excitement. This was not only because I never attended a performance at this theatre before, but I had recently been informed by Toronto theatre sources that any show put together by the Scarborough Players is always destined for success.

And as I took my seat in the auditorium surrounded by a huge turnout, I immediately got my first glimpse into what wonderful things were in store for the audience. Before I fill you in on the show itself, I must give a quick shout-out to people involved in the construction of such a memorable set. As Tons of Money is set in 1926, the crew put together a stage that brought the decadence of the 1920’s to life…the lavish parlor surrounded by tall radius windows, overlooking the green fields and river in the distance. With the East wing ready for the maids and butlers, the west wing ready for surprise guests and the parlor set for the hilarious mayhem that was about to ensue with our main characters…the fun began.

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The story opens with Aubrey Allington (Christopher Wakelin) and his wife Louise Allington (Konstance Koutoulakis), as they sit enjoying their morning tea at the breakfast table. Surrounded by bills and final orders, spread among the cutlery, Aubrey and Louise joke carelessly about the debt collectors and how their lifestyle will remain as it is, thanks to their little friend…CREDIT. 

But after butler Sprules (Drew Smylie), maid Simpson (Ana Gonzalez) and gardener Giles (Rob Neilly) deliver a letter from the bank announcing impending bankruptcy and the cease of any continued credit…their care free ways are turned upside down. What are they to do? Where are they to go? What will become of their staff…and are they, themselves, destined to the life of a pauper?

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Suddenly, the arrival of solicitor James Chesterman (Kory Preston) brings some shocking news. Aubrey’s estranged brother in the United States has sadly passed away…but does his near bankrupt brother care? Nope! He has other worries, and his relationship with him over the years was nothing other but a rocky one. But as soon as it is revealed that his brother has left him $740,000 in his will, all history of sibling rivalry is forgotten.

Sounds like the answer to their prayers…right? Think again. Louise starts to add up all the debts that they have, and if her calculations are correct, the new-found fortune will be only seconds in their hands, before it’s gone.

Nevertheless Louise has an unusual, but what she sees as a foolproof plan. It all begins with four simple words…”I Have An Idea.” She reads the will and begins to understand that if Aubrey was to die, the fortune would go to his cousin George Maitland in Mexixo. Regardless that George disappeared many years ago without a trace and assumed dead by his family…he was never announced as deceased to the public.

Louise and Aubrey carry out the plan and fake Aubrey’s death. But why? For him to reemerge as long-lost cousin George, of course,  and claim a debt free fortune. Nothing could go wrong…could it?

Just when everything is going to plan…surprise characters are thrown into the mix, threatening to mess up their fraudulent scheme. First it is in the form of Louise’s resident aunt Miss Benita Mullet (Paula Wilkie), whose questionable nature throws a spanner into the works every-time she challenges Aubrey (in George disguise).

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On the other hand, little does the stressed out couple know that their staff are planning their own surprise resurrection of George, through their scheming pal Henry (Len Henderson), so they can claim the fortune and escape their lowly lives.

Who else wants to ruin Louise’s plan? Step on up…Jean Everard (Charlie Parkes-Patel), the real George Maitland’s wife. Will she recognize Audrey in disguise as George, or maybe Henry as the additional impostor? Not to worry…maybe the unexpected and shocking arrival of the real George Maitland (Neil Nicholas Kulin) will clear all this confusion right up.

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From beginning to end, I never laughed as much in a play, as I did last night. It was the type of show that had jokes in every scene, and the situations each character got themselves into, would have you crying with laughter. The production not only flowed well, due to the perfect story-telling and direction of each act, but through the wonderful interaction between one actor and another.

Every actor and actress brought something wonderful to this fantastic, humor-filled theatrical wonder. Drew Smylie and Ana Gonzalez were perfect as the indoor-help duo “Spruce and Simpson“, as they believably portrayed their dual intentions so well; waiting on every beck and call from their employers, whilst secretly plotting against them.

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Rob Neilly was a nice addition as gardener Giles, as he brought a somewhat innocent nature to the play, as he was the only character without a secret agenda.

Paula Wilkie was a breath of fresh air and provided many laughs throughout, as Auntie Benita Mullet. For a character whom everyone believes to be of little impact to their shrewd plans because of her airy-fairy nature and lack of hearing, she surprisingly is a ninja at breaking down stories that “just don’t add up”…codswallop in her opinion.

Neil Nicholas Kulin and Len Henderson were wonderful as George Maitland and his impostor, Henry, respectively, as their addition into Louise’s now crumbling plan only brought more giggles.

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Also Charlie Parkes-Patel was a joy to watch as the dramatic, energetic and extravagant addition Jean Everard. She, in particular, was one of my favorite characters, as she played her carefree, shallow and unquestionable nature so well.

And who could forget Kory Preston, as solicitor James Chesterman; who had wonderful control and ownership over each scene, as he comically reigned in each of his fellow characters, who were making his job as executor of the will a difficult one.

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But the funniest times you will have watching this show, is the scenes involving Christopher Wakelin as male lead Aubrey and Konstance Koutoulakis as his outstanding wife Louise Allington. Never have I seen an acting duo that worked so well together, where you couldn’t help but smile at the on-stage chemistry they portrayed to the audience.

imageChristopher exuded confidence in every scene and never failed to delight the great turnout with his fun energy and humorous antics. But it was Konstance who was the person who shone the most for me. She was without a doubt the best choice of actress to play the female lead, Louise. For those who attended the show last night, and for those planning to…you will be blown away by her performance. From her character’s initial plan to save the fortune, to her constantly failing ideas…you see how she transforms from the cheerful, untroubled wife…to a woman who gets herself into hilarious tricky scenarios with every new lie she creates. TONS OF MONEY definitely proved to the public that Konstance is undoubtedly an actress who blossoms on the comedic scene.

imageIn many ways, I drew similarities between their stage relationship and that of on-screen duo John Cleese and Connie Booth in 1970’s BBC show Faulty Towers; to which I was delighted with, as those comical relationships are the most memorable.

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For those wishing to go see this amazing show for yourselves, tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office. Information on box office hours can be found by clicking HERE.

If you prefer to book your tickets online in advance, you can purchase them by clicking HERE

I encourage everyone reading this to get down and see the show. It is a play that will have you laughing from beginning to end and one that will have you talking for months to follow.

In the famous words of the delightful Louise Allington, “I HAVE AN IDEA…GET YOUR TICKETS NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

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NOTE: Many thanks for the delicious Wine and Cheese reception organized by the cast, crew and volunteers on opening night. It truly showed a wonderful sense of community and highlighted how much Theatre Scarborough appreciates their patrons.

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Little Shop of Horrors: The Show that Bites Back

imageGot green fingers? Have an interest in the relaxing world of horticulture? Well think again! Having green fingers may be seen as a remarkable skill, but in this case, you need to be careful where you put them. These plants BITE!

On Saturday evening, I came along to the Lower Ossington Theatre’s brand new production of cult classic musical, Little Shop of Horrors, which premiered on March 24th.

As mentioned in my previous post, Little Shop of Horrors follows the story of Seymour (Hugh Ritchie), who works day in-day out in Mushnik’s Flower Shop, owned by his somewhat childhood guardian Mr Mushnik (Andrew Soutter). The business is failing, no-one is ordering bouquets with them any more…not even a funeral wreath. In reality, the business itself is the one that needs the funeral wreath, as it is dying around them by the second.

Working alongside them is beautiful and kind-hearted shop assistant Audrey (Jessica Harb), whom Seymour has a huge crush on…despite their awkward encounters. However, Audrey already has a boyfriend, Orin Scrivello (Joey Graff)… a most violent individual with a sadistic personality and an addiction to nitrous oxide…so what better profession for him to be in, than that of a dentist.

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When Mr Mushnik announces his intent to close up shop and throw the towel in, Audrey encourages Seymour to show their boss the botanical project he has been working on after-hours. Here we are introduced to his colorful, rare and unusual plant that he bought from a man during the last solar eclipse, which he has named Audrey II, after his secret sweetheart.

Audrey II immediately becomes an overnight sensation when it is placed in the window, attracting new customers and bringing back previous ones who had long ago lost interest in the failing florist. But just as customer numbers are booming, the attractive plant starts to wither. Seymour is anxious and uses every horticultural remedy known to man, with little or no success. In the midst of all this worry, he cuts his finger on the plant, which brings it back to life. He soon realizes that Audrey II thrives on blood and the only way to keep it alive and customer flow steady, is to keep delivering a fresh supply of blood to it each day.

The only problem is, as Audrey II increases in size, from the once tiny pot-plant to an enormous wonder, a few drops of blood from a paper cut isn’t going to suffice its ever-growing appetite. Seymour is left with the morally challenging situation…does he let the business fail, or does he use any way possible to make its success continue?

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Throughout the show, I could not stop laughing at the humor mixed into each fantastic scene and memorable dialogue. For those reading the initial synopsis, one may assume that the show is quite dark, but this is not the case. I have never seen a musical that could have you bellowing with laughter at the most unusual situations.

The musical numbers were phenomenal, but what more could you expect from music and lyrics written by the famous Alan Menken (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Sister Act, Enchanted). Songs like “Closed For Renovation” will have you moving your shoulders and hips to the catchy beat and fun lyrics, whereas others like “Somewhere That’s Green” will remind you of long forgotten dreams.

One thing I must not forget to mention was the absolutely mind-blowing set construction by Michael Galloro. Every time I attend any shows at the LOT, set design is second to none, as they surprise me every time. I do not want to spoil it for you, but you will be amazed with how the set transforms throughout the show, from the interior of Mushnik’s flower shop to the exterior streets scenes.

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But what about the stars of the show? The first actors you are introduced to at the beginning are school-girls/soul sisters Ronette*, Crystal and Chiffon, who were played by the fabulous Michele Shuster, Liana Lewis and Stephanie Megraw-Fabian on the night. These 3 characters are in almost every scene, and help to tie the whole story together with their musical interpretation, smooth moves and sassy personalities. Having already been introduced to both Michelle and Liana from previous show “The Life,” I was looking forward to seeing them in a whole new light, and once again, they did not disappoint.

Jessica Harb, as always, proved to be the perfect touch of sweetness to this incredible musical. She was made for the role of Audrey, as she portrayed her cute but shy personality down to a T. The scenes between her and Seymour were believable and professionally executed, and her voice was simply sublime when singing the romantic duet, “Suddenly Seymour.”

The laughs without a doubt came from the character of Dentist Orin Scrivello, played by comedically talented  Joey Graff. As soon as this bad-boy is introduced to the audience, as the violent, creepy lover of Audrey…you will surprisingly fall in love with him and his hilarious actions. He is the baddie that you cannot help but adore. And your admiration for this character is only heightened when you watch him perform the side-splitting songs, “Dentist!” and “Now (It’s Just The Gas).” 

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However, Hugh Ritchie, who played Seymour and Andrew Soutter, who played Mr Mushnik were the 2 performers who did it for me. The last time I saw Hugh perform, it was in the LOT’s production of West Side Story, where he was the male lead in this story also. Hugh is not just a pleasure to watch, but his strong talented voice has the ability to interpret the emotion of the lyrics perfectly. Andrew, however, brought that extra bit of fun to each scene, and this was truly evident in the musical number, “Mushnik & Son,” where both Hugh and Seymour treated audiences to a wonderful, flamboyant performance, where they salsa danced, pirouetted and even piggy-backed their way throughout the song; proving them to be a class act.

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Credit must also be given to a character duo, who are not seen throughout the show, but played a huge part…and this is Bryan Kling (voice of Audrey II) and Evan Sokolowski (Puppeteer of Audrey II). The combination of vocal and puppeteer talents was wonderful and I had huge respect for how they achieved the end result.

If you are looking for a great show to see, get down to the Lower Ossington Theatre from March 24th to May 14th 2017 to see Little Shop of Horrors. You will laugh from beginning to end, and is the perfect way to spend your weekend. With live performances from Fridays through to Sundays, what more could you ask for this Spring weekend?

Tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office at 100A Lower Ossington Avenue, Toronto, or can be purchased in advance online, by clicking HERE.

Hope you all enjoy this hilarious and fun-filled show. Let me know how you get on. And remember…DON’T FEED THE PLANTS.

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*Role of Ronette usually played by Jenna Daley