Julie Martell in Ragtime (photo credit: Emily Cooper)
Two Guys, Five Days, Five Plays
by Stuart Munro
Starting this Friday, fellow CharPo contributor Dave Ross and myself will be heading into the heart of Ontario’s theatre world and installing ourselves at the Shaw and Stratford Festivals. Two Guys, Five Days, Five Plays will have us in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the opening nights of Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance, and Ahren and Flaherty’s Ragtime. We’ll be taking Sunday off (for Jesus) before heading to Stratford and the openings of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Dubin and Warren’s 42nd Street, and Gesner’s You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
I confess I don’t know Shaw’s plays as well as I maybe should (again, I went to music theatre school …) and Misalliance is a bit of a mystery to me. But every time I mention it to someone familiar with it, their eyes light up and they say “Oh! That’s a good one.” This alone is enough to intrigue me. The main reason we’re at the festival this weekend is for the opening of Ragtime. Back when the original Livent production was touring in Vancouver, a friend of mine told me I just had to see it. I was still quite young and all kinds of naïve, and I really had no interest in seeing a musical I knew nothing about. A few years went by, Livent went bankrupt, and I started college. For one of our productions we presented a medley of songs from Ragtime, and about five minutes into the first rehearsal, I knew I was singing something special. This sense of awe was almost immediately followed by a sense of regret that I hadn’t seen that original production. Ragtime is one of those big, bold, beautiful musicals that exists on a grand scale as it tries to present grand ideas—namely the rapidly changing face of America at the turn of the previous century. I introduced Ragtime to Dave some time ago and he immediately fell in love with it. Needless to say, we’re both pretty excited about finally getting to see it on stage.
42nd Street ensemble (photo credit: On The Run)
Much Ado About Nothing holds a very special place in my heart. I think for many folks my age, Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film version was our first introduction to the glory and beauty of Shakespeare. All I’d known of the man before it was that he should be difficult to understand, but this adaptation made sense, and even if I didn’t understand every word, I understood more than just the basic plot. It’s been a favourite ever since.
42nd Street generated headlines after its 1980 Broadway debut, not for being a success (though it was that)
42nd Street is another of those unknowns for me (there’s only so much you can cover in a one year program I guess), though I’ve seen the 1933 film on which it is partly based. Perhaps more famously, 42nd Street generated headlines after its 1980 Broadway debut, not for being a success (though it was that), but for the on-stage announcement on opening night of the director’s death from cancer that afternoon. 42nd Street ran for years on Broadway, and this version is being directed by Gary Griffin, a man whose work I’ve come to admire over the last few years. I’m looking forward to this tap-dancing, show-stopping modern classic.
Our trip ends with You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown—another of my favourites. Back when I was still an actor, Charlie Brown was the last amateur show I was in before being whisked away to PEI and my first Equity credits (I played Schroeder). Charlie Brown seems like a bit of an odd choice for Stratford, and even stranger is the fact it’s playing the 1,000 seat Avon Theatre and not the 260 seat Studio space. Nonetheless, I think the lighthearted and tuneful Charlie Brown is the perfect way to end what will (hopefully) be an extraordinary week of theatre.