Don Giovanni (Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre)

The COC’s new production of Don Giovanni replaces a much more casual, modern version that I loved but few others seemed to. In its place is a more conventional take with period costumes and the hulking cube set from Fidelio repurposed with doors in place of bars and modernized with fancy projection work. The production doesn’t do much to elevate Mozart’s sturdy and likeable opera but leading man Gordon Bintner does with a uniquely strong acting performance and the unteachable charisma that is fundamental to the story. Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto is bright and funny despite the somewhat repetitive story beats, making Don Giovanni a long but accessible entry to opera perfect to attract new fans.


The Cunning Little Vixen (Canadian Opera Company at the Four Seasons Centre)

100 years after its premiere, this baffling Czech opera is still a trip. Anchored by the ever-reliable Jane Archibald in the title role of an anthropomorphized fox named “Sharp Ears” and highlighted by a superb performance from Christopher Purves as the tragic forester who tries to domesticate her, Leoš Janáček’s score is well served by the COC under the baton of music director Johannes Debus. Director Jamie Manton’s counterintuitively stark staging, however, fails to capitalize on the story’s wildness, allowing little room for laughter or bewilderment. The result is a stern production determined to teach important lessons about nature but bogged down by battling itself.


The Laundry List (Vintage Taps at the Al Green Theatre)

Vintage Taps’ 2019 Fringe hit The Laundry List makes its return in an expanded form before heading out on tour. It’s a charming show, a swift 75 minutes, packed with dancing talent and retro fun. The concept of a female-centric bootlegger comedy-turned-tap musical is very fun but the writing could use some sharpening, as could some of the singing (featured singers Joanna Majoko and Donavon LeNabat are aces but the rest of the cast is hit or miss in their few moments of song). The tap, however, is perfectly on point, especially when writer/producer Trina Josdal is centre stage; she’s a dynamo highlighting the likeable ensemble. The Laundry List could use some polish on its storytelling but as a dance vehicle it’s a hoot.


Rockabye (ARC at the Factory Theatre)

ARC is a very capable company, their established artist-led approach giving any show a fairly high floor of proficiency. Their production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Rockabye is well paced and well acted (I had some quibbles with the stateliness of the RP accents but on the whole it is very well acted), it’s even well lit (lighting designer Jareth Li has a lot of fun with Susanna Feng & Hilda Chu’s delightful faux-Warhol painting). But ARC seems to keep butting up against a text problem that hinders the impact of their work. As a company, it’s part of their mission statement to be socially active and contemporary, and you can see that ethos very clearly in their programming choices. The problem is that by the time the ultra-modern work they like to program makes it into their season, it’s usually quite a few years old. Ultra-modern work tends not to age very well because it’s so tied to the specific societal/technological/political circumstances and cultural references of its day. The world spins really fast and discourse spins even faster, making Murray-Smith’s zippy script already brutally outdated. 2009 doesn’t feel that long ago but it was a thousand years ago and Rockabye‘s glib Britney jokes alone are enough to prove it. ARC and its artists so clearly want to make art that speaks to our current moment, and they’re well-equipped to do so, but a contemporary mandate requires truly contemporary work and this isn’t that.


Bonus Recommendations: 


Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Crow’s Theatre/Musical Stage Company)

I somehow missed the review invitation to this big event production but I’m going to endorse it anyway after seeing it as a civilian twice (Sundays are Pay What You Can!). It’s an odd but spectacularly rich musical staged with panache by the most reliable director in town (Chris Abraham). He’s assembled a killer cast with a standout performance by George Krissa as Anatole and very exciting new discoveries in Camille Eanga-Selenge (Sonya) and Lawrence Libor (Dolokhov). Kimberly Purtell’s lighting design is sublime. It’s a massive hit that keeps getting extended (currently through Feb 18) so don’t miss it.


Anders Yates at San Francisco SketchFest (Preview at Comedy Bar Bloor)

One of Toronto’s very best comedy performers is heading to the star-studded San Francisco SketchFest this week to showcase some of his solo sketch work. He assembled a lineup of fellow comedians at Comedy Bar on Jan 21 to help preview his set. The other performers in the lineup were a mixed bag, some a little shaggy around the edges, some delivering technically excellent work that just wasn’t to my taste, but Yates is as surefire as it comes. Hooking the audience with a meta opener that artfully combines relatable technological commentary with silly sight gags, Yates constructs a varied and deft set that transitions smoothly from sketch to sketch and circles back to form a satisfying complete picture (The Fandom Show‘s recent episode on Monty Python offers some great insight into Yates’ influences). If you’re in the SF area and looking to discover someone new, it doesn’t get much better than Anders Yates.


Casey & Diana (Soulpepper)

I’m not formally reviewing Soulpepper’s remount of Stratford’s multi-award-nominated world premiere but I thought I’d list it just to make sure you know it’s happening. There was much ink spilled on the topic in our Stratford season review.


Originally Published: Jan 29