Recent Events

It's been a while since my last post. Time to catch up with recent concerts and shows.

Virgin Unite: Lady GaGa @ Circa Nightclub

Virgin Unite is a charitable organization affiliated worldwide with Richard Branson’s group of companies that specializes in throwing swank, celebrity-fuelled evenings so people can party away, while contributing to the worthy cause of fighting Youth Homelessness.

The celebrity headline act for the evening’s concert was Lady GaGa, the singer behind last summer’s most infectious dance hit, and opening act was the 15 yr. old wunderkind who goes by the stage name of Shiloh, also with a current radio hit.

With the kind assistance of the club’s lighting crew I was able to position myself perfectly behind the lighting board for a photo that would frame the performer with the crowd’s hands, capturing the energy of the night’s performance.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, the Circa nightclub is an interesting environment with four floors of stylized nooks and lounges surrounding a large floor to ceiling central performance space.

A fun evening for a good cause.

TSO Afterworks Series - Holst’s The Planets

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra have started a new series aimed at the busy professional.

It’s called the AfterWorks Series, and the basic premise is that each of the three concerts in the series has an early start time of 6:30 PM with the aim of having patrons out of the hall by 8:00 PM at concert’s end.

This leaves you with either time for dinner afterwards, or an early journey home. The concerts have no intermission.

We went to the first of the series, Holst’s The Planets on a Wed. night and I think they are onto something here.

The standard start time of 8:00 is often a bit awkward, offering inadequate time for dinner before, or a late light snack afterwards as your only alternatives.
And with the busy lives we lead these days there is often homework to be supervised at home, or shopping and errands that need doing.

The early start and end times of this series takes a bit of the stress out allowing an enjoyable concert experience that can fit in with a busy lifestyle.

For The Planets the TO was in fine form delivering an impassioned performance of this classic piece that ostensibly assigns a movement to each planetary body in our solar system, but, arguably, the composition is really about the arc of life, from birth to death.

The orchestra showcased a huge dynamic range and precise, nuanced playing throughout.

Future concerts in the Afterworks Series will be; Mozart’’s Jupiter Symphony w/ Peter Oundjian conducting on Jan. 14, then Prokofiev and Ravel w/ Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting on Mar. 25

National Ballet’s The Nutcracker

A holiday classic, and an absolute must for the young aspiring ballet star in your family (and what little girl doesn’t want to be a ballerina?)

The Nutcracker is a stunning, lavish enchantment that brings a child’s fantasies to life with a rich, creative production that makes it an experience for the entire family. I know people who go every year as a Christmas family tradition.

And every year various celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds are given the opportunity to be part of the production as the ‘cannon dolls’.

For the opening night I photographed Dan Levy and Jessi Cruikshank, hosts of MTV‘s The AfterShow, hamming it up as the slightly inept cannon crew.

A treat for children of all ages, The Nutcracker runs until Dec. 28 at The Four Seasons Centre For the Performing Arts, Queen and University

COCC’s Dickens Of A Christmas

The Canadian Childen’s Opera Company presents their annual opera based on the Dickens classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s encounter with the ghosts of Christmas, and his conversion to the spirit of the season.

Staged at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre, always a warm and intimate venue that is perfectly suited to the larger ensemble numbers in the show, this production has it’s uneven moments but these are nicely offset by the charm of the youth performers who really give it their best.

The opera moves briskly along with the straight forward telling of a tale that needs no further embellishments.

A nice start to the Christmas season.

Tarragon Theatre: Moliere

A romp through the theatre world of France’s King Louis XIV, The Sun King, this play highlights the creative rivalry of the leading playwright’s of their day, Moliere and Jean Baptiste Racine, contrasting their diametrically opposing personalities.

Moliere’s lusty, bon vivant exuberance starkly contrasts with Jean Baptiste Racine’s tightly wound, obsession with tragedy and melodrama. Life is serious business in Racine’s world.

Throw in an scheming Machivelian Archbishop Prifixe, who may remind people of a certain current Prime Minister, and the play quickly achieves a undertone of menace as the dark forces of these two major manipulators move to squelch the light and laughter of Moliere’s world in service to their own personal ambitions and nation state manoeuvring.

It’s a cleverly produced production with simple yet effective staging that, with a simple swivel of a large proscenium arc allows for glimpses of the on-stage theatrics from both the audience and backstage views, as well as doing double duty to move the play ahead chronologically.

The performances are uniformly terrific, especially Richard McMillan as the lead character Moliere and Julian Richings as the Archbishop.

Pacing never lags, the humour can be broad and coarse in keeping with the era, but there are many subtle asides and ironic moments echoing our own recently perogued society.

This a hugely entertaining play with a stellar cast, even attracting the attention of film director Atom Egoyan, who was among the opening night crowd.

Moliere may not be seasonal fare, but it may just the thing when ’seasonal’ is beginning to wear.

Moliere continues until Dec. 28 at Tarragon Theatre’s MainSpace.

ROM’s Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine

Ukraine's First Lady, Mrs. Kateryna Yushchenko opened the ROM's new Mysteries of Ancient Ukraine: The Remarkable Trypilian Culture exhibition last week and there was quite the media zoo following her around the narrow display space, everyone trying to get the First Lady in the frame.

I've done this before in galleries (last time was the Govenor General and a Danish Prince) The key is not to get stuck in the pack. You pick a spot ahead of the entourage. This gives you the shot as they approach, puts you right up front for the talk about the display. Shoot a couple frames then duck out and move to the next spot on the tour. If you stay too long you'll end up at the tail end and have a marvelous view of the twenty other photographers in front of you for the rest of the morning.

But owing to the distorted perspective of the ultra wide angle 9-18mm, where things look further away than they really are, I think I accidentally got a little too close a few times.

On this shot I was literally shooting over the shoulder, almost touching him in fact, of the exhibit's curator as he was talking to her. I think the two well built fellows in the background who looked to be her security detail thought it was verging on too close as well. At 100 percent you can see they are both watching me intently.

Apparently National Geographic is coming up to shoot the exhibit. It's a very interesting glimpse into a little-known culture that thrived 7,000 - 5,000 years ago, then inexplicably disappeared. In their time the Trypilian societies built the largest human settlements anywhere in the world.

Mysteries Of The Ukraine runs until March 22 at the ROM’s 3rd floor Centre Block
Olympus E510 w Zuiko 9-18mm, existing light @ 1600 ISO

Canstage: It’s A Wonderful Life

In a small 50’s era radio station actors are bringing this classic story to life - which was actually produced as a radio broadcast before the movie version was released.

The play follows the production of It’s A Wonderful Life as a radio drama showing the behnd the scenes effects and personalities necessary for mounting such a production.

Adding authenticity are radio commercial breaks performed by the actors that evoke a Norman Rockwell era of innocence and a boundless future.

It’s A Wonderful Life presents to the audience a play within a play situation where one can watch the radio drama unfold on stage, or ocassionally sit back, close one’s eyes and listen to a very convincing radio play.

I found the second half a little long - although, who’s going to edit a classic like this?

And I wish they had explored the relationships between the actors off-mic more. There are some intriguing things going on by the front door during breaks in the action, but the characters personal lives are never delved into.

However, at the play’s conclusion the opening night audience gave it one of the most instantaneous, and emphatic standing ovations I’ve ever seen in a Toronto theatre, so suffice to say these small niggles didn’t hamper anyone else’s enjoyment of the production.

An interesting and unique treat for the holiday season. And Canstage are offering a special $25 for any ticket in the house deal on Mon.Dec. 8. The offer is available for just 25 hours on that day.
It’s A Wonderful Life runs until Dec. 20 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.

Adeona Productions: Someone To Watch Over Me

Okay. If you’re really sick of the holiday hoopla, here is your ultimate anti-seasonal injection.

This play is grim.

Grim staging, a stone cellar and single overhead bulb suffices for the entire length of the piece. Grim dialogue, three western hostages await their fate chained to a wall amid menacing overtones of violence and cultural clashes of hostility.

And grim monotony throughout. Not a criticism, it’s just a realistic depiction of the prisoner’s daily routine.

Deprived of sensory input or stimulation, the audience watches a slow madness creep into the character’s personalities as their fates play out over the 90 minute duration.
Director Tegan Shohet, a woman who’s real life gig includes serving with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, has done a good job exploring the monochrome existence of these ordinary lives held captive in a violent and unpredictable scenario.

R.H. Thomson is particularly outstanding, imbuing his character with a vivid back story through a lean, economical performance.

At one point in the second act the play veers dangerously close to ‘Actors Studio held prisoner’ territory, but at the play’s end people stood so quickly I swear a few shot right out of their trousers trying to keep up.

Well done, and well worth seeing, but … did I mention it was a wee bit grim?

Someone To Watch Over Me continues at Berkeley Street Theatre until Dec. 13
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