In an era filled with mega budget big screen blockbusters and movies on demand anytime, anywhere and on a multitude of devices, is there still a market for live theatre productions?
|PHOTO COURTESY NBC
Judging by critical reactions to the TV production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, one could come to the conclusion that people would rather be razzle dazzled with computer generated effects and 3D characters, than watch actors perform live on stage.
Granted, a large percentage of the bad reviews were directed towards Country singer Carrie Underwood, whose portrayal of Maria brought out the nasty in many, leading Underwood to tweet “Mean people need Jesus”, a comment that only fueled the fire for those who were less than "blown away" with her acting.
Country music sweetheart aside, others felt NBC’s The Sound of Music Live was a bore, with cheesy set designs and an unemotional, non-convincing feel to the entire production. Could such hostile reaction be signalling live theatre is a dying art form?
You needn’t look far to discover nothing could be further from the truth. Take for example two recent theatre productions in and around Niagara. Garden City Production’s The Full Monty and the Dunneville Community Theatre’s recent adaptation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives were proof positive that theatres are still very much alive with the sound of music, drama and laughter.
Scribbles had the opportunity to catch The Full Monty and Private Lives and in both cases, left the venues feeling thoroughly entertained and in awe at the amazing talents we have right here in our own backyards.
|PHOTO BY SCRIBBLES
THE FULL MONTY
The Full Monty was a bold new direction for GCP. The play, which had enjoyed movie success in 1997, was based upon the book by Terrance McNally and true to that bestseller, contained course language and a lot more skin than regular GCP audiences were used to seeing on stage.
I have always admired those who can get up on stage and perform, often thinking it takes a lot of balls to do that sort of thing. The Full Monty took that slang to new heights as 7 of the play’s male characters were featured wearing little more than a g-string and a nervous smile (as dictated by their out-of-work character’s modesty to performing in a strip club, as a way of making money.)
I always enjoy GCP plays for their high production values and The Full Monty was a shining example of that. The stage was magically transformed from a warehouse, to a men’s room (complete with urinal and toilet stall), from the homes of two of the main characters, to the streets of Buffalo (the location of the story.)
At one point there was a car on stage, with a distraught character attempting to kill himself with the exhaust fumes. The curtain was drawn when that scene was completed. Other characters performed front stage for the next scene and when the curtain was opened mere moments later, there was no car in sight. The same could be said later in the show, when we were at a funeral, complete with a large casket. Again only minutes later, the casket had left the stage as we were now transported elsewhere, finding me once again scratching my head and asking “How the Hell did they do that?”
Another reason The Full Monty held my interest was because I personally know two of the actors who “bared all” on stage and I was eager to see their best assets. LOL! What can I say? Nudity sells, although the revealing peels in The Full Monty were definitely story driven and far from gratuitous.
The Full Monty was an action packed, singing, dancing, emotional thrill ride and I give it two thumbs up. Kudos to GCP, who put a lot in to taking it all off.
OK, let’s get this out in the open. If you’re looking for a big broadway production, you won’t find it at the Dunneville Community Theatre. In fact, DCT cannot even be compared to Garden City Productions, whom we just sung the praises of above. And while this may sound like a slam, it is actually a quality that is both refreshing and endearing.
Even at the best of times, DCT works with limited funds and a bare-bones stage. Their recent production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives found the small close-knit theatre group dealing with an even greater deficit.
|PLAYBILL WITH CAST -PIX COURTESY DCT
Their theatre is located within the Dunnville Optimist’s Club, which is currently undergoing major renovations. As a result, Private Lives would be presented in an entirely different room and using a temporary make-shift stage.
Recipe for disaster? Maybe to some, but not when you’re the hardworking guys and gals of the Dunneville Community Theatre. Using minimal props, we were instantly transported to Europe.
“It is the late 1920s and divorcees Elyot and Amanda are honeymooning in the same French hotel with their new spouses Sibyl and Victor.
Inevitably they meet –they are, after all, staying in rooms with adjoining balconies –and so begins one of the most famous high-comedies ever written” [quote courtesy DCT’s Private Lives Playbill.]
Returning to the DCT “stage” were four veteran DCT actors. [Michael Maloney, Diane Morris, Lee Smith & Shayna Maloney] Although their faces were familiar to those who attend DCT plays on a regular basis, their versatility breathed new life and believability into the characters they portrayed this time around.
With act one completed, it was time for a set change. With no curtain to hide what is usually done behind the scenes, during intermission the audience got to see the stage transformed to a flat in Paris, right before their eyes.
This was something the play’s director Nancy Erskine [left] was not entirely comfortable with, telling Scribbles that they had tried to come up with alternative ideas, such as maybe a second stage in a another part of the room, but this would mean the audience would need to get up and turn their chairs to view act two and three, something that would be disruptive and probably not very well-received.
Not everyone was dissatisfied with the set change being highly visible. My sister Jane Storie, who had joined me for the show, said she found it interesting to get to see the activity which is usually hidden behind the curtain. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
There were no cars on stage, gentlemen striping and no off-colour vocabulary as authenticated in GCP’s The Full Monty. However, in keeping with the “artistic integrity” of the original play, which was written in the early 1930’s, DCT’s Private Lives did require the characters to light up cigarettes, with chain-smoking regularity. To appease the Smoke-Free Ontario act, stage “smoking” was brought to life with electronic cigarettes.
With a subtle, but amusing conclusion (with the divorcees reuniting and quietly leaving their new spouses bickering amongst themselves) DCT’s presentation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives drew to a close, receiving loud approving applause from the full capacity audience and the promise of a beaming review from Scribbles.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
While GCP’s The Full Monty and DCT’s Private Lives were as different as night and day, there was a similarity we just could let go unnoted. Both plays featured someone who had never performed live on stage before, and in major roles no less.
While we in no way wish to take away from or overshadow the superb talents they shared their stages with, we do wish to acknowledge Jeff Farquharson (“Dave” in The Full Monty) and Candace Stern (“Amanda” in Private Lives.) Had we not been advised otherwise, we would have sworn both had acquired quite a repertory of previous appearances, when indeed these were their acting debuts.
In Farquharson’s case, he also sang for the first time, performed on stage with his real life wife and appeared in the all-together. It’s little wonder he was lovingly referred to as a “freak of nature” by a cohort, as a source revealed to Scribbles.
Is there still a place for live theatre? Indeed there is. It has been around well before the launch of big screen movies and television, and it will no doubt continue to entertain and intrigue us in a way no high cost, computer generated special effects will ever be able to do.
Roll back the curtain (be it real or figuratively.) Cue the actors. Hit the spotlight. The show is about to start, and it is very much alive and well.