Rainbow Stage’s production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is rich, lush and sumptuous at every turn.

Rainbow Stage’s Cinderella – Preview Performance Tues. Aug. 13th

Directed by Rob Herriot

Conducted by Paul De Gurse

Choreographed by Alexandra Herzog

(Full Creative Team credits here)

 

Cinderella: Colleen Furlan

(Prince) Topher – Darren Martens

(Fairy Godmother) Marie – Paula Potosky

(Full Cast credits here)

Promo trailer viewable here

Rainbow Stage’s production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is rich, lush and sumptuous at every turn. The score, by one of the top (if not the top) American music theatre composers, Richard Rogers, is an absolute gem. As there were only a few pieces I recognized, this is not one of their more famous shows, but I am absolutely in love with this classic score after one listening. It was in fact enlightening to go see a show whose music I didn’t know very well, and to just let the whole experience wash over me. I was totally captivated by the top-notch acting, singing and dancing in this show.

This is Cinderella before she was “Disney-fied”. The smart, updated script had a few cliff hangers (as much as “Cinderella cliff-hanger” sounds like euphemism) and provided more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. As Cinderella’s stepmother Madame, Melanie Whyte was over-the-top evil, extravagant and larger than life. As Jean-Michel, Aaron Hutton was wonderfully extravagant, complex and compelling. Colleen Furlan as (Cinder)Ella and Darren Martens as (Prince)Topher were a wonderfully matched pair, both in their stellar vocal delivery and their mutual attraction as star-crossed lovers. The Town Crier/Lord Pinkelton (Nelson Bettencourt) had my teenage daughter and her friend in stitches with his panache, expressivity and hilarious sight gags.

Bravo to Rainbow Stage for giving this production the orchestra it needed – a crack 15-piece ensemble conducted by Paul De Gurse. Their playing was smart, insightful and well-balanced, and the various elements of folksiness that peeked through the texture were charming. The piece, although in reality quite long, is kept moving by the action in the script, and is propelled by the music – like a masterclass in how to best serve a smart script (tastefully updated by Douglas Carter Beane) with some archetypal music theatre orchestral textures.

(Spoiler alert!) The dress changeovers were nothing short of miraculous, and literally took my breath away and had my heart in my throat. Besides the amazing dress transformation, the other costumes used in the production looked beautiful and the formal wear was especially opulent. If music theatre always looked and sounded like this, people would continue to show up in droves like they did at this preview – almost a full house.

I’m very proud of Rainbow’s all-local casting. Why fly in Toronto musical theatre performers when we have the same high calibre of performers here? Not only does it make economic sense, it’s very smart in terms of community engagement, plus it builds capacity for our thriving arts scene. Speaking of building capacity, there is one person in this city who has done more than anyone to provide us with a wealth of top-notch music theatre performers, and that person in Donna Fletcher. When I look at the names and backgrounds of so many of tonight’s performers, I see that Fletcher’s tutelage, as a voice teacher and also director of the fabulous Musical Theatre Ensemble at the University of Manitoba (which I had the pleasure of working with a few years back) has dramatically increased the quality and quantity of musical theatre performers in this city. And this is a scene that thrives against the odds, providing income for artists, and generating a tremendous amount of money ($1.4 billion a year, according to Economic Development Winnipeg) for our local economy, despite the feeble support from our stingy Provincial government.

With such an honest and luxurious production as Cinderella, Rainbow Stage is doing a huge service to the genre of music theatre, and indeed to our city. We are lucky to have a company the calibre of Rainbow Stage as part our community, putting on such compelling shows with exceptional performers, musicians, and technical personnel, all in a lovely family-friendly outdoor venue. But can we talk about those women’s bathroom lineups…?

 

 

Strike! Rainbow Stage review

You can read my review of Rainbos Stage’s production of Strike! the musical in the Globe an Mail here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/reviews/article-compelling-strike-the-musical-embodies-the-essence-of-all-forms-of/

or here:

The musical Strike!, which just opened at Winnipeg’s Rainbow Stage, is about a lot of things – immigrants, power, love, hate, relationships, the “other”, and is one of those rare works that helps us learn something about our shared past while keeping us entertained. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, in which 30,000 union and non-union workers brought Canada’s 3rd largest city to a standstill, proved to be a pivotal moment for Canada. Lasting for 6 weeks, during which the governments of the day spread lies and calumny about the protesters and passed unfair laws, the strike galvanized the working class across the country, and its aftermath helped contribute to social democratic politics in Canada (Medicare, old age pension, etc.).

 

Women are the main protagonists here, and indeed are the work’s social conscience. With compassion, resoluteness, and strength , they help the male characters develop and even transform. Male aggression and dominance, of woman but also of other, younger men, was initially tolerated by the female characters until the tide turned. Duncan Cox, as Ukrainian immigrant son Stefan Sokolowski, combined powerful and heart-wrenching singing and acting with stellar guitar playing. As Mike Sokolowski (Stefan’s father), Cory Wojcik’s singing was honest and had emotional depth, and as an immigrant badly needing work but not believing in the strike, he provided some of the main tension in the piece. His character’s ignorance and despair were fully believable and fleshed out through his body language and tone of voice. Elena Howard-Scott gave us a rich and complete embodiment of her character, moving seamlessly between acting, singing and violin playing as Rebecca Almazoff, a young Jewish woman with an overbearing brother (Josh Bellan, in fine voice and displaying a suitably huffy personality). As Emma Jones, housekeeper to one of the leaders of the “Citizens Committee” which opposed the strike, Maiko Munro’s soulful vocals and passionate delivery brought her character close to us emotionally, and indeed helped bring this piece to another level. It was also gratifying to find Gabriel Chartrand as a nuanced and important Indigenous character, acted with finesse and beautifully sung by Nick Nahwegahbow. The three young Newsies (Malacai, Jonah and Shiloh Hiebert) were equal parts master string players, boisterous headline-shouters and charming ragamuffins.

 

Composer Schur knows how to pen a pop song that draws you in, but he’s not a one-trick pony either – jaunty klezmer-style music reflecting the piece’s Jewish characters was enhanced by a cast member playing clarinet. Another strong factor is how some of the musicians are in fact cast members embedded into the texture of the piece. The standout music director (Jesse Grandmont) was also part of the cast, morphing into different characters so discreetly that you could have easily missed how integral he was. Every instrument and voice could be heard distinctly, and the music well balanced with pristine tuning – quite a challenge for instrumentalists in an outdoor venue.

 

Strike! is one of the best new musicals I have seen onstage. My deep engagement with this piece was the result of a well-constructed and compelling dramatic arc. I really cared about the people onstage, and was emotionally invested in seeing their outcomes. That, for me, is the essence of all forms of theatre.