Category: reviews

My take: Wicked

Okay, so if you read my previous post, behind the scenes of Wicked, you know that I had the opportunity to see the show. It was a dream come true. I wrote a little piece on my thoughts, and here it is!

My first time was Wicked

It all started with Glee; I must admit I’m a huge fan. Ever since I found out Idina Menzel — Rachel Berry’s mom on the show, and whose name John Travolta majorly screwed up at the 2014 Academy Awards — was the original Wicked Witch of the West in the Broadway show, I became a little obsessed.

I must also admit I have never been to a musical or Broadway show before, unless you count high school musicals, but for the sake of this review, let’s not (as much as I loved my school’s rendition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).

I fantasized about the day I would see my first show, and naturally, I wanted it to be Wicked. There will always be a place in my heart for the Land of Oz, and Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz has been Broadway’s highest grossing show for nine years in a row right here in North America.

The musical was written by Winnie Holzman, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, all of which was based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire. If you’ve ever wondered why the Wicked Witch was so darn wicked, well, this musical explains it.

Thursday Aug. 21 was the night. The Centennial Concert Hall was packed with people, many eagerly waiting in line to purchase their new Wicked merchandise. Upon arriving, I was told that on this particular evening, the standby actress, Alyssa Fox, would be playing the lead role of Elphaba (a.k.a. the Wicked Witch of the West).

I took my seat and anxiously waited for the show to begin. A giant metal dragon sat perched overhead, and a curtain with a glowing green map of Oz hung in front of the stage. When the lights dimmed and the curtain went up, I was completely giddy.

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The show started off where the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, left off. Glinda hovers above Munchkinland as a Munchkin below cries, “The wicked witch is dead!” This is also when another asks the good witch about Elphaba, and when Glinda recounts their tumultuous past, the show begins.

The two-and-a-half hour show definitely had its star performers and stand-out moments, but one thing I was not expecting was to be constantly laughing out loud. For such a sombre story, characters like Mme. Morrible and Glinda had the audience guffawing — and loudly, might I add — throughout the entirety of the show. Kathy Fitzgerald seemed born to play the role of Mme. Morrible, and Kara Lindsay shone as Glinda.

I was very pleased with Alyssa Fox as Elphaba, and at the end of the first half, when she ascended above the stage belting out “Defying Gravity,” I most definitely shed a tear. Her voice was incredibly powerful, and after watching Menzel perform the same song time and time again on YouTube, I can say that I was certainly not let down.

What did let me down, however, were the male leads. Matt Shingledecker, who plays Fiyero, delivered a not-so-memorable performance, falling to the wayside and being overshadowed by his fellow leading actresses. And although Oz is a traditionally weak character, Gene Weygandt’s performance left me wanting more.

However, all the good the show had to offer definitely outweighed the bad. The massive backdrops and sets rolled in and out seamlessly, the dancing was consistently synchronized and the costumes were impressive. Costume changes seemed almost effortless — although I’m sure they didn’t seem that way for the actors — switching from Munchkins to college kids in no time. The Emerald City citizens were my favourite: extravagant gowns and suits in various shades of green, which were all very Lady Gaga-esque.

Some other highlights included Glinda and Elphaba’s dormitory scene, in which the audience got a good glimpse at Glinda’s quirky personality; the flying monkeys (of course); and near the end, when the two witches sing “For Good.” The duo had such good chemistry; it appeared as though they were actually two best friends up on stage together, which of course made me cry like my aunt does when she’s watching Dancing with the Stars.

The curtain dropped, and just like that the show was over. I was no longer a musical virgin. A few moments passed and the curtain rose for the finale, where every audience member clapped and got out of their seats. The standing ovation was sweet, but not as sweet as seeing the huge smiles strewn across the faces of the cast members.

My first time was everything I had ever imagined it to be: I smiled, I cried and I laughed a whole heck of a lot. If you ever get the chance to see Wicked for real — instead of on YouTube like the old me — I highly recommend you do. Oz speed, my dear.

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My take: Sargent & Victor & Me

Last Tuesday, my classmates and I went to see the play Sargent & Victor & Me for a journalism assignment. It’s a one-woman show written and performed by Debbie Patterson, directed by Arne MacPherson, and presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba.

Walking into the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg, I was taken aback at how large the set was for only one person. I counted six tables, five chairs and four groups of four food hampers. The set was made to resemble a local food bank. 

At first, I was a little skeptical to learn it was a one-woman act. I haven’t been to many plays before, and I had never been to a show with only one cast member.

Despite my skepticism, I was intrigued it was about Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s West End gets a bad rap, so I was looking forward to see what Debbie would bring to the conversation. I was also excited to see how she would incorporate her struggles with multiple sclerosis.

Throughout the play, Debbie played eight different characters: Gillian, Bob, Pastor Giles Mitchell, Tom, Theresa, Gracie, Sharon and Fred. The characters ranged from seven to 90-years old.

I just remember thinking “Holy crap. She’s good.”

As I said, I haven’t been to many plays before, but I have such admiration for actors. Remembering all those lines is impressive, and being so vulnerable like that is something I could never do.

What I loved most was her seamless ability to go in and out of characters. Not only with their words, but their accents, mannerisms, body movements, etc. The writing for the play and the acting were both amazing.

I found the use of radio clips very effective. Sean Kavanagh’s voice is quite recognizable, so it felt like I could have been listening to real Winnipeg news stories. I also thought the music was used very effectively.

From a journalistic perspective, I loved that these were the real words of real people Debbie interviewed. It reminded me that storytelling comes in many different forms, and getting creative with the way we share someone’s story can be very refreshing.

I liked how Debbie was able to give a voice to her disease.

I don’t have MS, it has me.” 

“The things I can’t do are outweighing the things I can do.”

I got teary-eyed at a few points throughout the play. When she describes being with her family in Thunder Bay and realizing it was the last time she would be there, or when she talks about coming to terms and learning to cope with her broken body.

I didn’t really love how I was waiting for something to happen that didn’t. It didn’t do much in the way of changing misconceptions or offering solutions. And, I wanted it to bring deeper insight into the West End. I suppose it did a good job of illustrating the varied voices and opinions of the West End, but I feel most people are already aware of those opinions.

For someone who hasn’t seen many plays, I very much enjoyed this one. Overall, I thought it was well written, acted and executed by the whole team. If you have the chance to check it out, I highly recommend it. It plays at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film until March 9.

My take: A Thousand Farewells

As far back as, let’s say the seventh grade, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.

I remember watching the evening news with my parents. It was so exciting to see Canadian reporters all over the world sharing stories to us people back home. Unfortunately, most of the stories were of death and destruction — that just seemed to be the nature of things.

Even so, I was fascinated.

I realized the importance of sharing global stories. I wanted to know what was going on overseas, and I wanted others to want to know, too.

I used to watch CNN reporters like Lisa Ling, and I wanted to be her. When I watch Anthony Bourdain travel the world and report on “Parts Unknown,” I think ‘Man, can I take over your job when you retire?’ And when guest speaker Michel Cormier came to speak at Red River College last semester about his book The Legacy of Tiananman Square, I was captivated by his stories.

So naturally, when I realized we were assigned to read A Thousand Farewells by Nahlah Ayed — a CBC foreign correspondent — for our photo 2 (3)journalism class, I was looking forward to it.

An inside look into a journalist’s experience in a fallen Baghdad? Awesome.

Although the stories in the book are sad and often times unpleasant, they’re important.

As a future journalist and wannabe foreign correspondent, an accurate depiction of what this job entailed was never really clear. I knew that being so close to war would be dangerous and devastating, but I never really thought about all the difficulties a foreign correspondent could face doing the job they loved. Her personal struggles really helped me see the realities of being a journalist overseas, and what that career could look like for me.

She had to make a lot of tough calls, and her safety was often called into question. Is talking to this person when they’re clearly distraught worth the story? Do I leave out pertinent information from my stories so audiences back home will get it? Do I stay in a place where bombs are going off around me?

Ultimately, Ayed had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I appreciate her honesty. Because, it was obviously just me being naive, but PTSD isn’t something you think about when you’re young and dreaming about telling stories abroad.

However, aside from my personal interest in her life story, what made the book such a powerful read were the real-life stories. When a global news story gets covered, that is often what’s missing. The evening news snippets and articles in our local newspaper are quick to show footage and photographs of explosions and give us death toll numbers, but they lack the raw, real-life stories Ayed masterfully shares in her book.

And that is really unfortunate.

As Ayed says in the book, “People are the story.”

Although the dates, countries, religions and history are all important to any journalistic piece, it’s not what makes the story captivating. Ayed reminds journalists people are driven to stories that make them feel something.

And I think that’s why I enjoyed this book. Not only did I learn about the Middle East’s — at times extremely confusing — history, and gain insight into a mysterious possible career, but I felt something.

If the book was missing anything, it was a clear genre. Was it memoir? Was it a history book? Was it a journalistic piece on a series of interviews? I’d like to say she had a good mixture of all three, but some chapters were extremely history heavy — which at times was difficult to follow — and the overall flow wasn’t always there.

And, the only thing I can say for sure that I didn’t like was the timeline. The chapters jumped back and forth, and had she written them in chronological order, it would have been a much easier read.

While I was about halfway through A Thousand Farewells, I took an evening off from reading and watched a documentary on death squad leaders in Indonesia called The Act of Killing.  The film focuses on the story of Anwar Congo and his friends as they helped the military kill more than one million communists in less than one year, in 1965.

The film was similar to the book I left at home, because, like the book, I was unaware of much of the history. However, with the film I was left with a clear understanding of what 1965 Indonesia looked like. Unlike the book, I thought the film did an excellent job of weaving in important dates, names and history.

And who knows, maybe that was because of the difference in media platforms, or maybe it was just the overall complicated history of the Middle East, it’s hard to say.

The film and the book really reminded me how the stories of foreign countries that make it to our TV screens and newspapers more often than not tend to be sad ones. They tend to be stories of death, destruction, human rights violations, political messes, etc. — and both had their fair share of that.

But what the film lacked that A Thousand Farewells didn’t, was the beauty behind it all.

Although the Middle East wasn’t a safe place, bombs were going off, a lot of its buildings had been destroyed, and a sad story could be found around every corner, Ayed came to love it. She was sad to leave. She was affected by it’s people and their stories.

But what I think affected me most about the story is that it reiterated the kind of journalist that I want to be.

I want to be the kind of journalist who can find the beauty in the seemingly un-beautiful. I want to be the kind of journalist who can make those tough calls and put myself in uncomfortable situations. And I want to be the kind of journalist who can share a person’s story and make others feel something.

Because that’s what good journalism is all about, right?

My take: Portrait of Jason

jasonCinematheque’s first showing of director Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason was interesting, to say the least. The documentary, which was filmed in 1967 and readapted this year, shines a spotlight on Jason Holliday, a gay, African-American hustler, houseboy and wannabe cabaret performer. Holliday is the one-and-only star of the show, which is essentially one hour and 46 minutes of him sharing stories. If you don’t pay close enough attention you might assume that the film stars a drunk laughing at himself for 106 minutes, but watch closely and you will see how Holliday magnificently illustrates the struggles and the injustices he faced during his lifetime.

My date and I arrived about 15 minutes before show time, just as a crowd of moviegoers were piling out of the theatre. We paid the $8 to the nice box office attendant and waited. Upon visiting the ladies room, two elderly women waiting in line complained that there were only two stalls; one warned me that the theatre would be chilly.

We entered the empty theatre, which smelled of popcorn, removed our jackets and took our seats. Kernels littered the floor and it was obvious that Cinematheque didn’t have a bustling Saturday night staff. There were nine of us in total in the theatre; my date and I by far the youngest.

The film began with a blurred close up of Holliday’s face, his eyes half-closed, beginning with a story of how he was formerly named Aaron Payne. Five minutes in, two 20-somethings joined our intimate party of nine.

The film was old school—black and white with cracks in the footage. It was set in Shirley Clarke’s New York apartment, decorated with a bed to the left, a fireplace against the back wall and a high back chair with a fur throw to the right. Jason Holliday sported round, thick-rimmed glasses, a button-up shirt unbuttoned at the top, trousers and a single-breasted jacket. Throughout the film Holliday held either a glass or a cigarette.

His stories were entertaining – he wore a boa and snapped his fingers while telling us he was a sexy baller – and they usually ended in his own infectious laughter. He had the 11 of us chuckling on multiple occasions. However, as the film progressed, the stories grew darker in content, ending in fits of laughter that now garnered feelings of guilt for laughing along. And as the stories grew darker, the theatre felt colder and colder. Audience members began putting their coats back on; one woman even got up to check the thermostat on the wall.

portrait-of-jason-adToward the end, Holliday lay down on the floor, lit a joint and drank from a 26 oz. bottle of alcohol. He shared stories of his dangerous lifestyle as a hustler, his father beating him for being different and his substance abuse issues. He exposed the social corruption that plagued America pre-1967 by acting the part of high-class white women, explaining his arrest for being homosexual and sharing the racial inequalities he experienced as a houseboy.

Portrait of Jason ended in similar fashion, with a close up of Holliday’s face, this time tears streaking his cheeks. It was an eye opening, close-to-two hours of drunken confessions.

Unfortunately as the credits began to roll I noticed all 11 of us were bundled up; a woman in the back row was asleep. Perhaps turning the heat up a few notches would have made for a more comfortable viewing of this interesting film.

My take: “The Impossible”

Indeed there have been more-than-enough natural disaster flicks to have graced our screens in the past few years than perhaps necessary. “The Impossible” being one of them, stands a cut above the rest. A ‘based on true events’ film about the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, it seems bringing these painfully real events to life in the most honest way possible was the director Juan Antonio Bayona’s most challenging task. However, he does just that in directing this beautiful story of hope and loss; of strength and perseverance.

We follow the tragic but also incredible journey of the Belon family as they vacation on the coast of Thailand for Christmas. As the massive unexpected wave hits their ocean-side resort on Boxing Day, the family of five get violently thrown around in the turbulent waters. This particular scene is one of the best of the film. It captured a horrific moment and made it seem incredibly realistic. Once afloat, the first part of the film focuses on Maria Belon (Naomi Watts), the wife and mother of three. She is quickly reunited with her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), and while trying to remain fearless for him, the realization of the catastrophe at hand begins to set in. With her husband and two younger sons nowhere to be found, her and Lucas head to higher ground. Suffering from incredible injuries, Maria is taken to hospital by locals where it seems her life is slipping, and fast. Under the impression that his two brothers and father had perished, Lucas remains by his mother’s side, knowing that she is all he has left.

The latter half of the film focuses more on Henry Belon’s (Ewan McGregor) struggle. Henry had found his two youngest sons and was now in search of his wife and eldest boy. It seemed like a task comparable to finding a needle in a haystack; bodies in the streets, overcrowded hospitals and resorts reduced to rubble. Regardless of how impossible it seemed, Henry persisted knowing he could not give up.

The acting in this film was what really set it apart from other films of the same genre. For sixteen year old Tom Holland, “The Impossible” was his feature film debut, and by far the best performance. He was magnetic to watch. It’s easy to feel everything that boy felt; fear, pain, joy. You become drawn to his character as he portrays such strength for his family and for those around him. Naomi Watts received an Academy Award nomination for her performance and there’s no doubt why. For such a personal and physically demanding role, Naomi executed it with such grace and strength.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the film was the raw portrayal of human nature—hopelessness, greediness, kindness. “The Impossible” gives us wonderful insight into the events that occurred that fateful day. The grippingly true storyline, talented actors and insanely good imagery makes it a definite must-see movie.