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: 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)

2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Lucky (barlizo productions)

Photo of Katharine King, Christian Jadah by Tanja TizianaLucky by Montreal-based playwright Marie Barlizo, now playing in Toronto as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, was inspired by the sensational and grizzly story of Jennifer Pan, a Vietnamese-Canadian woman in Markham who was convicted of hiring killers to murder her parents as a response to their abusive “tiger parenting.” Continue reading 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Lucky (barlizo productions)

2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Ga Ting 家庭 (Ga Ting Toronto Collective)

Photo of Loretta Yu, Richard Tse, and Stephen Tracey by Randy Bui In Vancouver-based playwright Minh Ly’s Ga Ting, now playing in Toronto as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, an immigrant Chinese-Canadian couple meets their deceased son Kevin’s caucasian boyfriend for the first time and, over the course of a dinner full of clashes and fiery accusations, they each try to come to terms with Kevin’s death by suicide. Continue reading 2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival Review: Ga Ting 家庭 (Ga Ting Toronto Collective)

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong (Mirvish)

Photo of Clifton Duncan, Harrison Unger, Mark Evans and Alex Mandell by Jeremy DanielAfter runs in London and on Broadway the hit comedic play opens in Toronto

The Play That Goes Wrong recently played successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway and I admit, I’m a bit baffled by its success. Rarely do you see a non-musical play on Broadway that doesn’t cast a celebrity in a lead role. It’s also the kind of screwball, slapstick comedy that would typically play in smaller, Off-Broadway size theatres, but last night the show opened in Toronto’s large Ed Mirvish Theatre in front of a packed house, so there’s obviously an audience for it. Continue reading Review: The Play That Goes Wrong (Mirvish)

Review: Champions of Magic (Starvox Entertainment)

Photo of Fernando Velasco by Pamela Raith The magic show from the UK featuring five world-class magicians is now playing in Toronto

Who doesn’t love a magic show? Oh, they’re the empty-calorie guilty pleasures of the performing arts, to be sure, but their unabashed spectacle and their ability to dazzle and delight makes them accessible, crowd-pleasing entertainment. Champions of Magic, is just that. Performing a three-week stint in Toronto over the holidays, the show is guaranteed to increase your dopamine levels. Continue reading Review: Champions of Magic (Starvox Entertainment)