Summer theatre really shines

If you like musicals with great songs and terrific dancing, get thee to the Stratford Festival and see West Side Story in as good a production as you’ll likely encounter of that classic show. The Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim songs never sounded better, nor has Jerome Robbin’s choreography been performed with more verve.

Director Kelly Robinson and choreographer Sergio Trujillo have added a few new touches without harming the original concept. They also deserve special praise for making such excellent use of the not-overly roomy stage of the Avon Theatre.

Tyley Ross is outstanding as Tony. In the performance I caught, understudy Tara Mucri was filling in for Ma-Anne Dionisio, and she did a creditable job of it. But what is most impressive about this production is the robust, energetic dancing of the whole company.

This is probably a minority report, but I wasn’t as taken with Pride and Prejudice as others have been. There is so much gimmickry — billowing sheets, drop-in drapes, etc.– that it almost suggests a lack of faith in the text. Jane Austen’s tale (adapted by Christina Calvit) is produced to within an inch of its fragile life.

Neverthess, there are winning performances, especially by Lucy Peacock, Lally Cadeau, Patricia Collins, Steven Sutcliffe and Brian Tree.

Shaw S’nuff
George Bernard Shaw revelled in thumbing his nose at convention. A fine example of this is his play Getting Married, currently on view at the Shaw Festival’s Court House Theatre.

Marriage was his target here — marriage and its numerous abuses, misunderstandings, various interpretations, lies and follies. This vastly amusing play takes pot shots at every aspect of the institution of marriage, and the ways in which society — in his time, as well as ours — abuses it. The cast, especially Sharry Flett, Severn Thompson, Barry MacGregor and Ian Leung, do a fine job of squeezing every possible laugh out of the script, and Jim Mezon’s stylish direction seems just right.

Shaw was in a somewhat bleaker mood when he wrote Heartbreak House, although it, too, has its share of amusing moments. This time he looked back at the waning Edwardian era with a mixture of nostalgia and darts — and towards the future with foreboding.

He began to write the play in 1916, but didn’t finish until 1919 and it was not staged until 1920. Curiously enough, it was first staged in New York, then in London.

Yet, despite the sombre tone of the play’s glance at a changing world, Shaw mined the wry humour found in the English society around him. The cast is uniformly effective, with particularly splendid performances by Douglas Rain, Sarah Orenstein, Jim Mezon, Kelli Fox, Gordon Rand and Fiona Byren.

Mel and Don
Music lovers around the world mourned the death of Mel Torme this past June, and quite rightly. He was, quite simply, one of the greatest jazz singers ever. He was equally great with popular ballads, but it was his gift for jazz improvisations that set him apart.

Sad, too, to learn of the death (also in June) of Don Warner, the Halifax-based trumpeter and singer. Warner was a talented and a most decent fellow. Anyone who knew him will miss his nimble mind and gentle ways.

Swinging Canada
You can credit CJRT jazz deejay Glen Woodcock with putting together a priceless collection of vintage recordings under the title Swing Canada. Band leaders are represented on 18 tracks first recorded between 1937 and 1948. Among them Trump Davidson, Stan Patton, Mart Kenney, Art Hallman, Benny Louis, Ellis McLintock and Capt. Bob Farnon and the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Among the highlights are Benny Louis’s swinging band on Leave us Leap, Ellis McLintock’s gorgeous trumpet and Art Wheeler’s tenor sax on Body and Soul and Wally Koster’s vocal on the same band’s A Fellow Needs a Girl. Plus the Farnon rendition of Begin the Beguine.

Admittedly, recording techniques of the time were imperfect, but I’d rather drink vintage champagne out of a styrofoam cup than ginger ale out of expensive crystal. This CD is Volume One. There’s more to come.

Rio bound
Aside to CARPNews reader Doris Hurst: The singer who recorded I Go To Rio in the late 1970’s was Peter Allen, on the Arista label. I hope you win your bet.