A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Left-right: Ross Petty’s twisted pantomime Sleeping Beauty; St. Michael’s School Choir and the ever-popular Soulpepper family-based Alligator Pie are part of this festive season’s activities around Toronto.
Holiday Listings 2016
Only in a town like Toronto is where you can probably find an eclectic grab-bag of winter holiday entertainment between now and New Years’ Eve as a returning Harry Potter parody will get to rub shoulders with Charles Dickens’ Scrooge twice to a dystopic comedy cabaret mingles with a twisted fairytale to getting a slice of Alligator Pie to go along with a cup of Christmas cheer for all ages.
For the traditionalists there’s old-fashioned carols offered by the St. Michael’s School Choir’s annual concert series at Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street) December 3rd and 4th in Old School Yule!, only this time the Juno-nominated singer/songwriter and 1997 alumnus Matt Dusk will join them with conductor Vincent Cheng and the True North Brass to perform the usual holiday classics in addition to Saran Quartel’s “Snow Angel,” an arrangement of “In dulci jubilo” by John Rutter, the Caldwell and Ivory arrangement of “Go Where I Send Thee” and the pop culture Christmas carol mash-up of all mash-ups, “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” as famously sung together by that odd-coupling of Bing Crosby and David Bowie on a Christmas TV special back in 1977.
Soulpepper Theatre’s Family Festival melange returns with holiday favourites A Christmas Carol (December 2-24), kiddie-friendly fun of Alligator Pie (December 27-31) and illusionist David Ben’s Hocus Pocus (December 10-31) at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Tank House Lane) to some new additions to this year’s program with It’s a Wonderful Life (December 9-24) recreated as a 1940s live-radio broadcast stage play reading at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front Street East); plus a few musical treats, A Very Soulpepper Christmas (December 20) concert and the concert play Rose (December 16,17 and 22) based on the Gertrude Stein poem “The World is Round.”
A Scrooge of another kind comes to the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street) as a parody of the Dickensian A Christmas Carol (and a few other yuletide chestnuts to get roasted on a open fire) undergoes by the name Twist Your Dickens (December 2-30), as performed by the Toronto chapter of The Second City. Written by The Colbert Report ’s Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, they’ll take on the three Ghosts, Scrooge and Tiny Tim – and maybe Peanuts ’ Linus might make an appearance to explain what Christmas is all about – with the local comedy troupe joining Seán Cullen as Scrooge, The Red Green Show ’s Patrick McKenna as Marley, Sarah Hillier as Tiny Tim, Jason Derosse as Bob Cratchit, Karen Parker as Mrs. Cratchit, Allie Price as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Nigel Downer as Heckler.
Not to be outdone, The Second City will also have their holiday wares at their downtown location (51 Mercer Street); the skit montage Eat, Buy, Repeat: The Second City’s Guide to the Holidays (November 24-January 5) of new and old material from past shows and two family-suited shows What the Elf?!? (December 17-18 and December 26-January 1) and the musical-adventure superhero spoof, Superdude and Doctor Rude (January 3-7, 2017).
Comedy cabaret Live from the Annex fast forwards into the space-time continuum with their “non-denominational show” holiday show FUTURE Tense! as set in 2028 speculating on what might come ahead in the glare of global warming, war and the rapid rise of technology as mocked by duo The Harbingers (Laurie Murphy and Sasha Wentges), house troupe Lisa Merchant & Friends, local theatre hero Rick Miller, performance poet Stephanie Baptist, theatre artiste Anna Chatterton, designer/futurist Maggie Greyson and Toronto-based band Ronley Teper’s Lipliners on December 17 at Lee’s Palace, Upstairs Cave (529 Bloor Street West).
He may have retired from the panto stage, but Ross Petty hasn’t given up on his always fun holiday tradition with the latest fairytale send-up Sleeping Beauty – The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical (November 25-January 7) at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street). The Kingdom of Torontonia is under threat by a evil sorceress – HGTV’s Love It or List It’s Hilary Farr steps into baddie role – to redesign it in her own fashion that only crown Princess Rose, as played by Kinky Boots ’ AJ Bridel; her shy music teacher and secret crush James Daly as Luke the lutist, along with a few of their friends that includes Paul Constable as the draggy good fairy SparkleBum that can save the day.
And Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff is back in Toronto just in time for the holidays (December 15-January 15) as it wraps up its cross-Canada tour at the Panasonic Theatre (651 Yonge Street), bringing a condensed satirized version of the Harry Potter universe (minus the recent The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them additions) to the stage all under 70 minutes.
Tickets now on sale. For information, call 416-872-4255 or roythomashall.com (St. Michael’s Choir); 416-866-8666/soulpepper.ca (Soulpepper Theatre); 1-855-985-2787/ticketmaster.ca (Twist Your Dickens); 416-343-0011/secondcity.com (Second City); universe.com/explore?ll=43.65408%2C-79.39779&query=future tense (FUTURE tense!); 1-855-599-9090/rosspetty.com (Sleeping Beauty) and 416-872-1212/www.mirvish.com/shows/potted-potter (Potted Potter).
Moana (Walt Disney)
Voice Talents: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jermaine Clement, Temuera Morrison
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams
Producer: Osnat Shurer
Screenplay: Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Pamela Ribon and Taika Waititi
Disney carves a new heroine out from the Pacifica region by merging Polynesian folktales with an original character and adventure story as their best effort in awhile – next to this year’s Zootopia – with Moana, all stocked with interesting characters, brilliant song writing, brisk humour and their top-notch animation.
Going back thousands of years ago on a the South Pacific island of Motunui, Moana Waialiki (Cravalho) is the teenaged heir to the tribal chieftain father Tui (Morrison), who’s overprotective in allowing his restless daughter to venture beyond the reef which comes at a crucial time when the fish stocks are slowly being depleted and their crops are dying from a unknown force slowly destroying the world.
She learns from her eccentric Gramma Tala (Rachel House) that their tribe were once “way-finders” or seafarers and explorers that travelled the vast oceans, but have now long forgotten their roots. Seeing that going out into the unknown is their only hope of saving her people blessed with the spirit of the tides since infancy, Moana bravely sets course along with her crazy rooster sidekick Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk) to find the long-lost demigod Maui (Johnson) so that she can fulfill her chosen destiny in replacing the Heart of Te Fiti, the goddess of creation that’s being blocked from a evil lava monster named Taka that, among other things, hampers their quest.
The filmmakers behind The Princess and the Frog and Bolt have created a worthy masterpiece from a well-crafted script and balancing Oceanian culture and lore by Jared Bush, Ron Clements, John Musker, Pamela Ribon and Taika Waititi; complete with snappy and smart musical numbers composed by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man behind the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical stage smash Hamilton ; that fit like a glove with “How Far Will I Go,” “Shiny,” “We Know the Way” and its peppy centrepiece theme song for Maui, “You’re Welcome” – expect a sure-fire Academy Award nomination for this tune – highly reminiscent of Aladdin ’s buoyant “A Friend Like Me.”
Fourteen-year old newcomer Cravalho embraces the titular character on all points on presentation, delivery and good singing voice as Disney’s best feminist character since Beauty and the Beast ’s Belle; House being wise and funny as her beloved tribal storyteller grandmother who guides her along in the journey and Jemaine Clement voicing Tamatoa the giant tortoise is a secondary, if comical villain worth noting, while taking a cheap shot at The Little Mermaid ’s resident crustacean Sebastian.
Johnson, himself being half-Samoan; is a sheer delight as the egotistical muscle-bound trickster where he stretches out his comedic talents here from interacting with his animated tattoos acting his conscience in reluctantly helping Moana’s journey face the ocean’s dangers in return of getting back his magical hook he lost fighting Taka and digs a little deeper into how he fell from grace that triggered off the current threat to her island home – plus he sings pretty good on “You’re Welcome” and throws in a pretty groan-worthy Twitter pun, too. Moana is the best animated film of the year (sorry, Finding Dory) which inspires on going up against the odds in life and overcoming fears as a stellar quest story about destiny, self-discovery and redemption.
And preceding short Inner Workings, which got its premiere screening at this year’s TIFF Short Cuts programme; about the human heart versus mind conflict about an average office drone, Paul, between the constants battles of his living-for-the-moment heart, while his cautionary brain micromanages every aspect of his existence and second-guessing consequences that may arise to the point of emotional suffocation.
Creator/director Leo Matsuda, who also worked on Big Hero 6 and Zootopia; does a charmingly sweet and humorous parable about exploring and enjoying this short thing called life’s joys and possibilities through traditional and computer animation without dialogue where you feel for the body organs that war about moderation and excessiveness as a thoughtful thing to learn in our otherwise hectic lives and appreciate the time that we have.
Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features/Universal)
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford
Producers: Tom Ford and Robert Salerno
Screenplay: Tom Ford; based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
Fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford (A Single Man) tackles his latest cinematic effort with a neo-noir psychological-thriller Nocturnal Animals where fiction blurs with the factual in story-within-a-story-within-a-story linear structures that aren’t easy feats to achieve, but he makes it fully work out in keeping the guessing games going as it delves into the darker sides of human nature.
Los Angeles art gallery owner and dealer Susan Morrow (Adams) lives a pretty well-off life with her businessman husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), yet it feels so strangely empty at times to her, including a daughter (India Menuez) in a faraway college. A proof copy of an upcoming book written by her novelist ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), whom she hasn’t seen in over nineteen years since their split; suddenly shows up on her desk and upon the first page, she’s immediately if uncomfortably drawn into the story.
Entitled Nocturnal Animals, it weaves a nightmarishly tragic tale about mild-mannered mathematician Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) travelling alone on a darken highway out in the middle of western Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) one night, when they’re terrorized by a group of troublesome punks giving them plenty of trouble involving the kidnapping, rape and killing of his family, turning Tony into a anguished mess of a man out for retribution over his loss.
Reading the book makes Susan reflect on their younger days meeting up as New York grad students, their idyllic courtship and slowly but surely starts to connect the dots in what’s written in the pages and whether or not this work of fiction is a seemingly disguised metaphor about their marriage, what caused it to end and the feelings unravelled in the book and within herself.
The film is heavily layered with intense perspectives Ford neatly adapts from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan it’s based upon, building up the intensity every minute during the novel’s segments, especially when the story starts moving into some moral ambiguities being tested for all involved.
Powerful performances come out of Gyllenhaal in his dual roles of the frustrated, sensitive writer and the novel’s meek antihero and Adams as the artistic former debutante retrospectively grappling with the choices she’s made in life, as outsiders sharing a commonality that could have made it, yet failed, both in marriage and their careers in certain aspects.
Supporting cast choices stand out with Michael Shannon as the crusty, sympathetic Texan lawman Bobby Andes who isn’t beneath doling out frontier justice for Tony’s cause to Aaron Taylor-Johnson being the remorseless leader of the gang with Karl Glusman and Robert Aramayo as his accomplices, are at their chilling best during the highway scenes and the book’s climatic end.
Themes of anger, guilt and revenge are felt throughout Nocturnal Animals’ nuanced character study on relationships helped out by the cool colours and sepia tones of Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography in this edgy piece of work without convoluting the storyline or its trifecta structure.
Chasse-Galerie (Kabin/The Storefront Theatre/Soulpepper Theatre)
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane
Monday, November 14; 8 p.m.
A new Canadian theatrical-musical classic is born out of an old Québécois folktale from Chasse-Galerie, delivering a high woodlands adventure swished with whiskey-swilled laughs, a spirited folk and bluegrass score and mired in salty brine – what could be more Canadian than that? – as boldly retold by Soulpepper Theatre in conjunction with The Storefront Theatre.
Four coureuses des bois (fur traders), the sensible leader Toba (Shaina Silver-Baird), hard-drinking Michelle (Kat Letwin), naïve Lea (Nicole Power) and the religiously pious Alex (Tess Benger); are cold and miserable in a lumber camp out in the middle of the Québec forest one New Year’s Eve and long to be back in Old Montréal at least for the celebrations. Staggering into their cabin from the frozen night is a stranger named Damien (Tyrone Savage) – the devil incarnate himself – who offers the four friends a magic flying canoe to get them to the city in no time with only three conditions: they have to be back to the camp before daylight, they can’t blaspheme and mustn’t come into contact with anything resembling a crucifix or it will cost them their very souls.
As they get to Old Montréal, they’re drinking and carousing with the likes never seen as Alex is reunited with her beloved fiddler Jaune (Alicia Toner), Toba hooking up with musician Francois (James Smith) and Michelle and Lea finding out they have something in common with a smooth operator named Michel-Paul (Michael Cox). Aiding Damien to make the ladies break the deal is his more than eager minion Lucy Ferr (Ghazal Azarbad) and his archangel brother Uriel (Hunter Cardinal) to make things more interesting as the night wears on.
Done within a centralized stage and a live band, Chasse-Galerie is an absolute delight and Soulpepper’s heartiest musical production since Spoon River that totally pulses throughout as being fun, reverent and silly, helped by Smith’s songs bouncing with francophone folk, bluegrass and country music (best tunes are “Old Montréal,” “I Love Whiskey (And You Do, Too),” “Living Carefree,” “Raise A Glass” and the saucy “Estée Tabernac”) that will have you hand-clapping and foot-stomping along Savage’s solid adaptation a old European folktale told by generations of Québécois.
Throwing themselves completely into their roles are Letwin, Azarbad, Cardinal and Savage himself doing triple duty as actor, director and playwright, but the remaining cast and musicians all keep it tight with Ashleigh Powell’s choreography under Melissa Joakim’s lighting design and in the wilderness wear costuming of Holly Lloyd upon Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s rustic set and prop designs. Daniel Briere’s puppetry also works here, although the digitally animated projections only work depending on where you’re seated in the venue space provided, yet they’re just as effective.
It’s a play focusing on the sacrifices made out of friendship and an underlining female empowerment theme in Chasse-Galerie that isn’t seen too often in a modern musical. And if you’re not able to see it during its run, not to worry as The Storefront Theatre will be remounting it for a special New Year’s Eve sing-along performance on December 31 complete with a party at their 955 Bloor Street West location.
Chasse-Galerie continues through December 1. For tickets and information, call 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca; For the Storefront Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Sing-Along event on December 31, visit thestorefronttheatre.com.
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