All posts by Wayne Leung

Wayne is a writer, editor and corporate communications professional who is thrilled to be a part of the Mooney on Theatre team. Wayne has loved theatre ever since his aunt brought him to a production of Les Misérables at the tender age of ten . . . despite the fact that, at that age, the show’s plot was practically indiscernible and the battle scenes scared the bejeezus out of him. Wayne’s current list of likes runs the gamut from opera, ballet and Shakespeare to Broadway musicals, circus and Fringe theatre. Outside of the theatre Wayne’s interests include travel, technology and food.

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Mirvish)

Photo of Chilina Kennedy by Joan Marcus.Mirvish presents the return the Carole King bio-musical starring Toronto’s Chilina Kennedy

Carole King is one of the most prolific American pop songwriters of the last half-century. Even if you’re not familiar with the material she recorded herself you undoubtedly know songs she has written for other artists: “The Locomotion,” “One Fine Day,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to name a few. 

It’s no surprise her expansive body of work would be fertile ground for a jukebox musical. Mirvish has brought the touring production of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical back to Toronto for a return engagement at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Continue reading Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (Mirvish)

Review: Shove It Down My Throat (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre/Pandemic Theatre)

Photo of Willard Gillard, Johnnie Walker, Anders Yates, Kwaku Okyere, Daniel Carter, Heath V Salazar, and Craig Pike by Jeremy MimnaghToronto theatre artist Johnnie Walker debuts his new play based on a true criminal case

It was an initial whiff of injustice—a gay man wrongly imprisoned for defending himself—that sparked Toronto-based theatre artist Johnnie Walker into action. The playwright spent years investigating a complex criminal case and processing his findings into a new play, Shove It Down My Throat, now playing at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

True Crime is a genre that has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. Podcasts like Serial, Atlanta Monster, and CBC’s own Someone Knows Something, all roughly follow the same formula of unpacking a historical crime and examining it from multiple angles in hopes of drawing new and interesting conclusions. Shove It Down My Throat borrows heavily from that formula but Walker puts a spin on it by examining his subject through a queer lens. Continue reading Review: Shove It Down My Throat (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre/Pandemic Theatre)

Review: Wedding at Aulis (Soulpepper)

Photo of Derek Boyes and Stuart Hughes by Cylla von TiedemannSoulpepper presents an intimate adaptation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis in Toronto

We tend to think of Greek mythology as the realm of epic battles and larger-than-life gods but the characters we find in Greek myths can also be used to tell compelling, human-scale stories. Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Aulis is an example of how an outsized conflict between gods and mortals can translate into a gripping family drama. Wedding at Aulis, an adaptation of Euripides’ play by Iranian-Canadian playwright Sina Gilani, is given a new, intimate production by Soulpepper.  Continue reading Review: Wedding at Aulis (Soulpepper)

Review: Dear Evan Hansen (Mirvish)

Photo of Robert Markus, Evan Buliung, Claire Rankin and Stephanie La Rochelle by Matthew Murphy Mirvish opens the first Canadian production of the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen in Toronto

Last night, Mirvish opened the first international production of Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the writing duo behind the songs in the films La La Land and The Greatest Showman) and book by playwright Steven Levenson. The show became a runaway hit and this new production, featuring a Canadian cast, is now playing at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. Continue reading Review: Dear Evan Hansen (Mirvish)

Review: Sasheer Zamata and Adam Ruins Everything (Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival)

Photo of Sasheer Zamata provided by the Toronto Sketch Comedy FestivalThe Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival presents over 75 sketch comedy artists

The world has completely gone to shit: fascism is on the rise again, we’re barrelling toward environmental catastrophe and this goddamn winter just won’t end. If there was ever a time we needed a good laugh, now would be it. Luckily, The Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival (or TOSketchfest) is presenting over 75 sketch comedy artists over 12 days in three venues in both the West and East ends of the city.

I had the opportunity to check out two of the festival’s headliners on opening weekend: Sasheer Zamata (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Adam Conover (from the popular TruTV series Adam Ruins Everything).  Continue reading Review: Sasheer Zamata and Adam Ruins Everything (Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival)

Review: Retreat (Hart House Theatre)

Photo of Tony Tran, Pearle Harbour, and Terri Pimblett by Scott GormanToronto’s Hart House Theatre presents Kat Sandler’s dark, comedic play

Hart House Theatre programs an eclectic mix of shows. Their seasons typically start with a modern classic by the likes of Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams, or George F. Walker, then there’s usually a Shakespeare play and a Broadway musical thrown in the mix but this season they’re presenting something a bit different. Retreat is a dark comedy by Kat Sandler, the prolific playwright and star on Toronto’s Fringe and indie theatre scene. Continue reading Review: Retreat (Hart House Theatre)

Review: The Last Ship (Mirvish)

Mirvish presents the Toronto premiere of a new musical written by and featuring Sting Mirvish has brought internationally renowned recording artist Sting to the Toronto stage in a new musical featuring an original score with music and lyrics written by the singer-songwriter. The Last Ship was inspired by Sting’s experiences growing up in the shipbuilding community of Tyne and Wear during the decline of Britain’s shipbuilding industry and the closure of the town’s shipyard. [-----CUT GOES HERE----] The show’s subject matter is well-treaded territory for Mirvish subscribers. The company seems to present a “British working-class struggle” show every few seasons: Billy Elliott was set against the backdrop of the British Miners’ strike of 1984, and Kinky Boots took place in a struggling Northamptonshire shoe factory. Sting’s folk-rock style score for this show is also reminiscent of the style of music in Come From Away. Comparisons with these previous shows are inevitable and, unfortunately, I thought The Last Ship lacked the clarity, flow, driving energy, and compelling sense of urgency of those other shows. I’m always a bit wary of musicals written by recording artists with no prior experience working in the genre of musical theatre. Writing songs for commercial radio is an entirely different art form than writing for musical theatre. In musicals, some songs have to effectively convey a character’s motivations; the music acts as a short-hand to access a character’s emotions. Other songs are supposed to drive the narrative forward. Sting’s songs in The Last Ship don’t really do either. The original songs are sometimes pretty and atmospheric but don’t advance the plot or reveal anything particularly compelling about the characters who sing them. Nor are they the lyrical melodies replete with metaphor and evocative imagery that Sting is known for in his songwriting; they exist somewhere in between. Lorne Campbell’s book scenes (the spoken dialogue between the songs) do most of the heavy-lifting for both character and plot development. As a result, I thought the pacing of the show was halting, and I felt that story never quite found its footing. At its two-and-a-half hour run time, I also found that the show tended to drag in a lot of places. Sting plays the shipyard foreman Jackie White and as an actor he does well enough in the role although his integration with a cast full of seasoned musical theatre performers is not entirely seamless and I thought he did stick out a bit, especially in the group numbers. Though Sting is billed as “starring” in the show, this is really an ensemble piece and he’s more accurately “featured” in the show as one of the five principal leads—Sting only sings the lead in about eight of the show’s 25 musical numbers. Those expecting a Sting-heavy evening may be disappointed in his relatively light role. The other standouts in the cast are the two romantic leads; Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile), a man who left town as a kid and is returning for the first time, and Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee), the woman he left behind. Both actors have huge stage presence, big voices, and compelling chemistry with each other. However, the one element in the show that really wowed me is the production design. The show is staged on a single set comprised of a staircase and a few steel girders with the rest of the detail provided by projections layered on a series of overlapping scrims placed throughout the set, often filling the audience member’s entire field of view. The projections by the design studio 59 productions are stunning. Downstage we have a drab, living room set complete with faded wallpaper while in the background we see the towering scaffolds surrounding the massive ship under construction in the shipyard. Scene changes happen in an instant, the projections are sometimes surreal, sometimes highly naturalistic but always magical. Overall, I thought The Last Ship was a mixed bag. If you’re a fan of Sting you’ll likely relish the opportunity to see him perform live in this unique context but if you’re just a casual theatre-goer you may find, as I did, that the show still has room for improvement. Details: The Last Ship is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) through March 24, 2019 Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday at 1:3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets $35.00 to $159.00 Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Princes of Wales Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com Photo of Sting and the cast of THE LAST SHIP – Toronto Production 2019. Photo credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.Mirvish presents the Toronto premiere of a new musical written by and featuring Sting

Mirvish has brought internationally renowned recording artist Sting to the Toronto stage in a new musical featuring an original score with music and lyrics written by the singer-songwriter. The Last Ship was inspired by Sting’s experiences growing up in the shipbuilding community of Tyne and Wear during the decline of Britain’s shipbuilding industry and the closure of the town’s shipyard. Continue reading Review: The Last Ship (Mirvish)

Review: Così fan tutte (Canadian Opera Company)

Photo of Johannes Kammler, Emily D’Angelo, Kirsten MacKinnon, and Ben Bliss by Michael CooperThe Canadian Opera Company revives its Atom Egoyan-directed Così fan tutte in Toronto

The Canadian Opera Company has revived its 2014 production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte directed by Atom Egoyan. For this production, the director takes the opera’s secondary title, “The School for Lovers,” literally and sets it in what looks like an Edwardian-era boarding school which he packs full of naturalist symbols like giant butterflies. The end result is decidedly mixed. There are some aspects of the production I loved and other aspects that I found absolutely frustrating. Continue reading Review: Così fan tutte (Canadian Opera Company)

Review: Cirque Éloize Hotel (TO Live)

Photo of the cast of Cirque Éloize Hotel provided by the company The Montreal-based theatrical circus company brings its new show to Toronto

Cirque Éloize has been touring its shows in proscenium theatres around the world for the past 25 years. TO Live (the recently re-branded Civic Theatres of Toronto) is presenting their newest show at the St. Lawrence Centre. Hotel follows hot on the heels of shows by other theatrical circus companies from Quebec–Cirque du Soleil and Les 7 doigts de la main–which also played runs in Toronto within the past two months. Unfortunately, I don’t think Cirque Éloize’s offering measures up.  Continue reading Review: Cirque Éloize Hotel (TO Live)

Review: We Are Not Alone (Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre/2b theatre company)

Photo of Damien Atkins by Paul AihoshiDamien Atkins performs his new solo play at Toronto’s Streetcar Crowsnest

“The truth is out there …” ‘90s kids will recognize that tag line from The X-Files; the cult hit sci-fi TV show about a massive government conspiracy to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials was a cultural phenomenon. For the generation who grew up watching that show, it’s not hard to see the appeal of re-visiting the subject matter if only for the sake of nostalgia. That cohort includes Toronto-based playwright Damien Atkins whose new play, We Are Not Alone, delves into the topic of UFOs and alien abductions.  Continue reading Review: We Are Not Alone (Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre/2b theatre company)