Dreamgirls Hits Toronto, and its the HOT TICKET this fall

imageLast weekend, the glitz and glamour of the 1960’s hit the Lower Ossington Theatre’s main stage, and set it alight. When hair was higher, moves were smoother and the only way to make it in the entertainment industry was to fight tooth and nail, the Dreamettes hit the music scene.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, Dreamgirls was and continues to be one of Broadway and the West End’s highest grossing shows of all time, delivering a memorable storyline, as well as a hot, soulful musical score.

Dreamgirls first hit Broadway in 1981, and was an instant hit with critics across the US. Starring broadway legends such as Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Devine and Sheryl Lee Ralph, it was simply impossible for the public to not fall in love with its debut.

And despite this musical being over 30 years old, its popularity just keeps growing. In 2006, Dreamworks and Paramount pictures produced the film version of the much loved show, starring queen of R&B Beyonce, as well as American Idol Superstar Jennifer Hudson.

And just when we thought it had hit its peak in global domination, the West End stage in London UK opened its doors in 2016 to the musical once more and continues to garner fantastic reviews for its lead actress… TV star and Glee alumni Amber Riley.

But regardless of whether you seen its debut in the 1980’s or in worldwide cinemas in 2006, the story has remained the same and continues to draw us in. It is a show that not only has a big heart, but shows how important it is to follow your dream, and never let anyone change you…because being successful means being yourself.

imageSo it was now time for Dreamgirls to hit the LOT Toronto stage, and I find myself trying to find the words to express how FABULOUS I found it to be. The show opens with our 3 main divas Effie (Krystle Chance)Deena (Maddy Eddy) and Lorrell (Alinka Angelova), hitting the stage for a talent competition, with Effie singing lead vocals. With an original song and killer moves, they shine like stars in front of the judges. Unfortunately, they do not win, but opportunity shows itself before the band lose faith.

Music mogul Marty (Richelle Tavernier) and opportunistic entrepreneur Curtis Taylor, convince the girls and Effie’s songwriter brother C.C (Julian Mignott) that the female trio should become R&B superstar Jimmy Early’s (Kyle Brown) backup singer…The Dreamettes. After much deliberation and arguments, the girls agree, but still maintain the hope to have a solo career themselves.

imageSoon we see eccentric Jimmy getting popular by the second, but The Dreamettes are all the public can speak of. However, when fame is concerned, the new manager Curtis puts popularity over obvious talent. He now reforms them as The Dreams, but his choice to put curvier lead singer Effie in the back and Deena up front, sends tensions through the once close friendship. Effie becomes temperamental and accusations start flying, leading to hurtful claims, threatening ultimatums and explosive exits. With replacement Dreamgirl, Michelle (Amanda Mattar) taking Effie’s place, what is to happen of our once leading lady?

As the years pass, we get to see the true story of Dreamgirls… a tale of success, dreams and love…and how they can all come and go in a blink of an eye. But from failure comes awareness and hope, and a way to not only redeem oneself, but to finally be the best version that you can be.

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All in all, I cannot express how much I loved the show. It made me laugh and cry…all at the same time. The stage was spectacular as the LOT shows always are, thanks to the magic of set designer Michael Galloro and lighting designer Mikael Kangas. But it was the fashion and style that I truly fell in love with. The 1960’s was well known for its sparkly gowns and elegant presentation, and costume designer Erin Gerofsky without a doubt kept true to that fashion era.

The cast of Dreamgirls, I can truthfully say; with hand on heart, were the best and most talented cast I ever had the opportunity of seeing perform at the Lower Ossington Theatre. Not only were their vocals and harmonies on the money, but the energy they spread out across the audience was infectious. With every scene and musical number, I found myself wishing that I had been a 60’s child in Chicago, and if that wasn’t possible… I would settle for dancing and singing on the stage with this amazing cast myself.

For once, it is impossible to pick out the stars of the show, because each and every one of them was fantastic in every way. Maddy brought elegance to each performance, Alinka was the heart of the show, Amanda provided the crowd with flawless choreography, Julian brought soulful creativity, Bobby portrayed his character with authenticity and confidence and Richelle was perfect as the no-nonsense, tell it how it is, Marty.

But extra credit for the performances of Krystle Chance as leading lady Effie and Kyle Brown as smooth moving, sweet talking singer Jimmy Early must be given.

imageA voice such as Krystle’s is one that comes along once in a lifetime, and I found myself understanding why the LOT wanted her to play Effie White; a character that everybody in the world has come to love. Her voice is one of the best I have ever heard, and when I listened to her perform group numbers like Dreamgirls, and Move, as well as legendary solo songs (And I am telling youI’m Not Going and One Night Only, not only were the hairs on my arms standing up, but the people from their seats too. I actually cannot wait to see her performing again in future shows, as more people need to hear the name Krystle Chance.

Kyle Brown…what can I say? This guy brought the fun factor to the show as Jimmy, as well as the most energetic performances I have ever seen. Although keeping true to the original character, Kyle made the role his own, and made the audience crave more and more. I looked forward to every scene with Kyle in it, as his dialogue was hilarious throughout, but his choreography brought the house down. Performance numbers like Fake Your Way To The Top showed what a talent Kyle is in the entertainment and theatre industry. But for all potential theatre goers, his crowd pleasing performance of Jimmy’s Rap will have you wolf-whistling, dancing and booking future tickets to see it all over again.

If you don’t get down to see DREAMGIRLS before it ends its run, you will regret it later. This is a show to remember, and even a week later, I still cannot get the songs out of my head.

Performances are currently running and will continue to do so until NOVEMBER 19th 2017. Tickets can be purchased in person at the LOT box office at 100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto, or by online advance purchase, by clicking HERE.

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“Enjoyable & Endearing:” On Golden Pond…The Review

imageAfter a brief hiatus from the theatre scene, it was great to finally get back into the run of things last weekend. When your life is a bit of a rollercoaster, it is both a joy and a release to escape into the world of fictitious live performance.

Friday evening approached and so did the long awaited opening night of On Golden Pond, performed by the Scarborough Players at Scarborough Village Theatre. As always, a buzz of excitement could be felt as the show attendees gathered in the theatre’s foyer.

For those, like myself, who were unfamiliar with this play, it was very interesting to finally find out what the whole story-line was about, and in the process, come to realize how popular it has been since its initial release. What with its debut onto Broadway in 1979, a 1981 movie adaption starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn & Jane Fonda, and a 20th Anniversary Live TV remake in 2001 starring Sound of Music power couple, Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, I was eager to learn of the backstory to the show.

On Golden Pond, written by Ernest Thompson, is a play that centres around an elderly couple; Norman & Ethel Thayer. Each summer over the past 48 years of marriage, they have come to their holiday home in Maine beside a lake known as Golden Pond. Each year is the same: Ethel keeps herself busy exploring the wooded areas; picking wild berries and watching the birds on the lake, whilst Norman reads his books in the study; not making much effort to socialize. To make things even more challenging for his wife, Norman is not only a stubborn man, but a pessimistic one too. To Norman, each year at Golden Pond will be his last, and despite this poor attitude, his wife Ethel remains positive. But, in truth, she has to. Norman is already showing signs of memory loss and is already becoming unfamiliar with his surroundings, so her optimism is not only therapeutic but necessary for her husband.

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But this summer is different. It’s Norman’s 80th Birthday and their daughter Chelsea is coming to visit them at the lakeside home. When she does, she brings her significant other, Billy Ray, along for the ride. Accompanying them is Billy Ray’s 13 year old son, Billy Ray Jnr.

From here, the story begins. Ethel asks Chelsea and Billy Ray if their son can stay with them for the rest of the summer, as they travel across Europe. Billy Ray Snr is delighted, but Chelsea remains reluctant, but eventually agrees. Chelsea had always a tricky relationship with her father growing up, and trying to imagine her stepson having an enjoyable time with her parents, is somewhat unimaginable.

The rest of the summer proves to be the most enjoyable the Thayers have ever had, as the young boy brings so much energy to their quiet lives and awakens the hibernating household. Along with this he awakens the inner child in Norman and brings him out of his reclusive shell with every day they spend together.

imageBut On Golden Pond is not all sunshine and buttercups. Although it acknowledges the happiness a child can bring to a family, it also examines the mistakes parents can be responsible for with their own kids, and ultimately how important it is for those to admit their faults and move on as one unit.

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So now that you have the background to the story, without too many spoilers (I hope)…how did the Scarborough Players do with this classic?

Although the play was slow to begin, it quickly picked up its pace, once the Thayers had properly introduced themselves.

Chris Hardess played our lead Norman Thayer, and did so with both heart and character. He kept loyal to the original character description, by portraying his stubborn, pessimistic side very well. We all have a NORMAN in our lives…that one family member or friend…male or female…who is constantly complaining about something or someone, and has the most dismal outlook on life. But we love them regardless. Although Norman’s strong-willed attitude was over the top at times, it was a joy to see how Chris was able to believably become a new man, once the child arrived at the house.

Kathrine Tomlinson was a breath if fresh air to watch, as lovable wife Ethel Thayer. She brought warmth, emotion and genuine relatability to her character. She successfully portrayed the hard work that goes into being a wife and mother, by allowing the audience to see what we all know to be true….that you have to remain positive for the sake of your family, that have to encourage those you love to be the best they can be, and most of all; as a wife and mother, that one cannot take sides. All in all, Kathrine definitely was a highlight within the show.

Kerrie Lamb played daughter, Chelsea. Although we only get to see her for small scenes, I enjoyed watching her performance. She depicted very much what a lot of kids go through. When you grow up in a family where a parent does not take the time to know their child, or take an interest in their lives, it can be heart-breaking. It can be even harder, in this case, when she brings her new stepson to visit her parents, only to watch her father give the attention she always hoped for, to someone else. Kerrie was very convincing as Chelsea, as she effectively showed the audience how pain can travel with you, regardless of time passed.

Greg Nowlan played Billy Ray, bringing a fun, uplifting and warm personality to his performance. Like the part of Chelsea, we only see Billy Ray for small scenes, but in those, Greg depicted the strong, protective and caring nature of his character very well.

But the two stars of the show, who really stood out for me, were Will van der Zyl, who played Chelsea’s childhood sweetheart/mail man, Charlie Martin, and of course, Fraser Schaffer who played the child lead, Billy Ray Jnr. Both of these actors brought something different to the table. Will had the crowd laughing in every scene, as he delivered some very funny one-liners and the fact that his character was so innocent in his thoughts and actions, it made their delivery more effective.

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However, young Fraser gave us all a delightful performance as the 13 year old Billy Ray Jnr. For such a young actor, it was refreshing to see how comfortable he was on stage in front of a big crowd. He depicted the impressionable nature of this child, as his character spent time with 80 year old Norman. His portrayal of this relationship was so easy to watch, as I loved seeing two generations coming together and teaching each other something they were unfamiliar with.

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All in all, the performance was both enjoyable and endearing. It successfully gets across a message surrounding 3 things. Firstly, life is for living and be happy you get to do so. Secondly, people aren’t perfect, and we are all guilty of not being the best version of ourselves at times. And lastly, there are always second chances if we just open our hearts to giving and receiving the necessary forgiveness.

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ON GOLDEN POND will be on stage on September 14th, 15th, 16th & 17th, as well as September 21st, 22nd & 23rd, at Scarborough Village Theatre, located at 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough.

Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in person, or can be purchased in advance online, by clicking HERE.

Just like our main characters Norman & Ethel, make sure you take a trip to Golden Pond also, before the summer is officially over.

*Production photos courtesy of Thomas Kowal*