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Volume 17 Issue 4 - December 2011

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oth shows suffered from

oth shows suffered from unrealisticexpectations and bloated production values.Only after Seussical was down-sized to a90-minute version (which subsequentlywas further condensedto the 70-minute show onview at YPT), did it appealto critics and audiencesalike. While Caroline,or Change won criticalsuccess on Broadway in2004, and in London in2006, it failed to generateenough interest to garner subsequentproductions of note, or totour—the prime requisite formusical theatre longevity.For Marcus, this marksit as “an underdog it as a perfect choicefor productionby AUSC. underdog musicalas one “that wasso successful in a that it usually hassome momentumbeyond its originalproduction, eventhough it’s notgone on to becomea big commercialhit…” Invariably, suchshows—he cites TheLight in the Piazza (book by Craig Lucas,music and lyrics by Adam Guettel) as an musical theatre,” a central goal of AUSCwhich, Marcus explains, “seeks to producethought-provoking, contemporary, intelligentmusical theatre pieces, and to bridge thecommercial side of musical theatre —thelarge entertainment spectacle musical—withthe theatre scene in Toronto which I associatewith provocative plays in intimate spaces,with great cast members.”Even a cryptic description of Caroline, orChange mandate. Completely sung-through, the bookchronicles the relationship between CarolineThibodeaux, a black maid and single mother,and Noah Gellman, the eight-year-old sonof her Jewish employer. After the death ofhis mother from cancer, Noah increasinglyrelies on Caroline for guidance, especiallywhen his new stepmother, Rose, convincesthe maid to teach Noah a lesson about leavingchange in his trouser pockets by asking take money from a child, Caroline needsit for her own children, so she co-operates.Soon, Noah, deliberately, is leaving herchange, fantasizing that Caroline’s family cence.The situation grows complicatedwhen a bill goes missing …“From a book perspective, it’s more along piece of poetry than a forward-movingdrama,” Marcus suggests. “The audiencehas to be willing to accept the poeticjourney that Kushner takes it on, whichdoes move forward, but not as quickly asmost people expect. This is a musicalabout feelings. This is a musical aboutpeople…being…”The change in form that the in the music composed by JeanineTesori, best known for her scores forThoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek,the Musical, which, Marcus is quickto point out, differ considerablyfrom Caroline.Although fully sungthrough,Caroline doesn’thave a single songyou can isolate. It’sreally like récit inopera, with all thesedifferent musicalforms throwntogether. Spirituals,blues, classicalmusic, Motown,Jewish klezmer,folk music: the styleshifts whenever a newcharacter enters. Themusical palette soundslike a radio in 1963, withsomeone changing the stationevery few minutes …”The book further emphasizeschange by settingCaroline’s situation against a sweepinghistorical backdrop that includes the as- over the Vietnam war and the struggles ofthe Civil Rights movement. “It’s interestingto see a musical that focuses on the way anindividual reacts when the community ischanging around her. Artistically, the showpushes boundaries; socially, it offers somany opportunities for discussion …”To produce Caroline, or Change, AUSCis partnering with Obsidian Theatre, whosemandate stresses its dedication “to theexploration, development, and production ofthe Black voice.” Partnering, by increasingArlene Duncan inCaroline, or Change.production budgets, allows companies tomount larger, more ambitious productions(such as Parade, which AUSC co-producedwith Studio 180 last year). It also enablesthem to cast performers they otherwisecouldn’t afford. Caroline stars ArleneDuncan, a regular on CBC’s Little Mosqueon the Prairie, as well as seasoned professionalslike Deborah Hay who played ElizaDolittle in My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festivallast summer. But the move is more than justpractical, as Marcus points out. “By buildingrelationships with other independent theatrecompanies, we can pool our audiences,” amove essential for the evolution of musicaltheatre and the development of Torontoaudiences. “We are being entrusted to pushthe boundaries of this genre and, at the sametime, to develop new audiences for it, toopen their minds to the possibilities of themusical form.”Pushing boundaries, opening minds. As Ihurry home from my interview with Marcusin the cool autumn air, I recall MacInnis’comments about imagination and power,which lead me to wonder about musicaltheatre as an instrument of change. Seussicalbegins when the red and white striped hat inthe middle of the stage begins to slide across the audience. For the children at YPT, themoment equalled sheer magic. Unaware ofthe “smoke and mirrors” of stage-craft, theywatched in amazement as an inanimate objectmoved on its own—or so they thought.What will the Toronto audience think ofCaroline, or Change life’s tumultuous changes with the change ina person’s pocket?At the end of Kushner’s script, Carolinereturns to her employer’s basement to washthe laundry, resigned to her lot in life evenas she curses God. Change, it would seem,is beyond her.What would Horton say to her, I wonder?“A person’s a person, no matterhow…what?”Robert Wallace is a Toronto-based, retireduniversity professor who writes about theatreand performance. He can be contactedat RANKIN24 thewholenote.comDecember 1 – February 7, 2012

Theatrical Treats for YourMusical Sweet ToothMusic theatre is as prevalent as candy canes at this time ofyear, in and beyond the GTA. If traditional treats satisfyyour sweet tooth, check out A Christmas Carol – theMusical at Brampton’s Rose Theatre that runs from December15 to 18. This popular version of Dickens’ haunting of EbenezerChurch presents a dramatic reading of the poem on which it’sbased on December 4, with holiday music performed by BenHeppner, accompanied by a string trio and two choirs. SoulpepperTheatre offers a longer run of the yuletide treat, but without themusical icing, in Michael Shamata’s stage adaptation that opens onDecember 6 in the Distillery District, with Joe Ziegler heading anall-star cast.White ChristmasBing Crosby with music by Irving Berlin, has grown in popularitysince it premiered in San Francisco in 2004. Toronto’s CivicLight Opera presents the melody-fest from November 30 toDecember 17 at the Fairview Library Theatre, in a productiondesigned and directed by Joe Cascone. The Berlin show’s iconicsongs are unlikely to grace Angelwalk Theatre’s Off BroadwayOn Stage, a musical journey of a different sort that opens forone week on December 7 at the Studio Theatre in the TorontoCentre for the Arts. Conceived by Brian Goldenberg, with musicaldirection by Anthony Bastianon, the show includes songs fromThe Fantasticks, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living InParis and Altar Boyz, productions that succeeded in small venueswithout marquee stars.For less traditional treats, look no further than Like an OldTale: An East Scarborough Retelling of The Winter’s Taleby William Shakespeare. The score of this Jumblies Theatreproduction, composed by Juliet Palmer, showcases the remarkablesoprano of Neema Bickersteth, who plays Hermione; it alsoincorporates traditional Tamil singing by Sarada K. Eswar,and First Nations singing by Rosary Spence. Presented at 793Pharmacy Ave., the production runs from December 8 to Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works when Theatre Columbuspresents The Story, a new version of the nativity by Martha Ross,featuring rotating corps of local choirs and drummers under thedirection of John Millard. The show opens December 13 and runsto the end of the month.To usher in the new year, Toronto Operetta Theatre offers anunusual delight: The Gypsy Princess, a comic opera by Hungariancomposer Imre Kálmán starring soprano, Lara Ciekiewicz, opensat the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, onDecember 28 for ten performances. Other notable January fare,while less seasonal, is tasty nevertheless. Cabaret, Kander andEbb’s popular musical based on the play by John Van Druten andstories by Christopher Isherwood, receives a student productionat Hart House Theatre that is sure to attract a crowd. Under thedirection of Adam Brazier, it opens on January 13 for two weeks.presents musical theatre works by Andrew Lloyd Webber andothers in an evening titled “Music of the Night” at the GrandTheatre on January 20. Michelle Todd, soprano, and MichaelHope, baritone, are featured.Finally, on February 2nd and 3rd, Soundstreams presents TheSealed Angel, a musical drama by Russian composer, RodionShchedrin, that integrates the Amadeus Choir and the Elmer IselerSingers with the ProArteDanza dance company in a liturgicallythemed,multi-disciplinary work. With musical direction by LydiaAdams and choreography by Lars Scheibner, this ambitious productionplays for two nights at the Royal Conservatory’s KoernerHall. Festive treats, it seems, are not limited to the holidays.— Robert WallaceDecember 1 – February 7, 2012 25

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