Paula’s Picks and Pans – Dec 11th 2013

THEATRE – NOW PLAYING (5 STAR RATING SYSTEM)

Young People’s Theatre. Annie, book by Thomas Meehan, lyrics by Martin Charnin and music by Charles Strouse. (3½ stars.) A pocket version of the popular musical in an intimate space. Despite some clunky scene changes, the musical does work on a small stage. There was a definite lack of oomph on the opening day, even from the great Louise Pitre as Miss Hannigan. Presumably, the show has picked up steam during the run. (Directed by Allen MacInnis, Young People’s Theatre, www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca, closes Dec. 29.)

Soulpepper. Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, adapted by Adam Pettle and Brenda Robins. (4 stars.) This show keeps turning up like a good penny, and is always worth seeing. The original Hungarian play inspired three great movies, The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail, but it’s great to experience the original, as two co-workers who hate each other discover that they are romantic pen pals. (Directed by Morris Panych, Young Centre, www.soulpepper.ca, closes Dec. 21.)

Canadian Stage. Venus in Fur by David Ives . (5 stars.) This utterly seductive, beguiling and clever Canadian Stage production was a smasheroo at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Oct. Now back for a second coming, Venus in Fur is simply one of the best of the year, maybe of all time, and the same can be said for the play itself. The premise is simple. An actress is auditioning for a role in a play based on Venus in Furs, the 1869 erotic novella by Austrian writer Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, but oh, the twists and turns. (Masochism comes from his name.)  A sex-drenched game of domination, and a definite run don’t walk. Carly Street gives the performance of a lifetime, with Rick Miller not far behind. Postscript: I saw it for a second time and it was even better! (Directed by Jennifer Tarver, Berkeley Street Theatre, www.canadianstage.com, closes Dec. 29.)

Ross Petty Productions. The Little Mermaid by Reid Janisse. (4 stars.) Ross Petty’s pantomimes get more slick and polished every year. This latest incarnation features a terrific cast, and gorgeous sets and costumes. Even the sponsor commercials are funny. Petty as the villain knows how to get his boos. The kids will have fun and there are enough double entendres to keep the adults happy. You have to love a show with treats like “Holy carp!” and “Shellphone”. Hans Christian Andersen must be rolling in his grave. (Directed by Tracey Flye, Elgin Theatre, www.rosspetty.com, closes Jan. 04.)

David Mirvish. Once, book by Enda Walsh, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova. (3 Stars.) This Tony Award-winning musical is more or less faithful to the 2007 Irish movie of the same name, written and directed by John Carney, in which an immigrant Czech girl helps turn around the life of a disillusioned Dublin street musician. The multi-tasking cast also acts as the orchestra. What worked in the film seems contrived on stage. The folk/rock music is on the dull side, and the acting is all on one monotone. Note: I’m definitely a minority opinion. (Directed by John Tiffany, Royal Alexandra Theatre, www.mirvish.com, closes Jan. 05.)

DANCE – NOW PLAYING AND UPCOMING

The National Ballet of Canada. The Nutcracker. James Kudelka’s version is the Big Kahuna of Nutcrackers, featuring wall-to-wall dance, and sumptuous sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto. After umpteen viewings, there is always something new to see. The best traditional Nutcracker on the planet, bar none. (Dec. 14 to Jan. 04, Four Seasons Centre, www.national.ballet.ca.)

Ballet Jorgen Canada. The Nutcracker. This Nutcracker is an absolute charmer inspired by the Group of Seven, whose pictures form the backdrops. Every aspect of the original story has been cleverly transformed into Canadiana by choreographer Bengt Jorgen. Look for snowshoes, beavers and iconic Hudson Bay jackets. Markham is as close as BJC’s production is going to get to Toronto his year. (Dec. 30, Flato Markham Theatre, www.balletjorgen.ca.)

OPERA, OPERETTA AND VOCAL CONCERTS – UPCOMING

Toronto Operetta Theatre. The Land of Smiles by Franz Lehar. Pure Viennese schmaltz, which makes TOT such fun. This beloved operetta, set in 1912, was banned by Hitler because of the romance between an Austrian noblewoman and a Chinese mandarin. Unadulterated romance as civilizations collide. (Dec. 27 to Jan. 5, Jane Mallett Theatre, www.torontooperetta.com.)

Roy Thomson Hall/Attila Glatz Concert Productions. Bravissimo. The concert has become an annual tradition. It’s a great way to spend New Year’s Eve in an orgy of opera, and still have time for a late dinner afterwards. Six international soloists (including Canada’s Wallis Giunta, mezzo-soprano, and James Westman, baritone), an 100-voice choir, and a symphony orchestra. The theme is the celebration of Verdi’s 200th birthday. (Dec. 31, Roy Thomson Hall, www.roythomson.com.)

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