Theatre Reviews: Infectious Energy in TUTS’ Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies

Top Row L-R: Image of Lori Ashton Zondag as Tanya and Caitriona Murphy as Donna in Mamma Mia! with Adam Charles as Jack and Caleb Lagayan as Race in Disney’s Newsies. Bottom Row L-R: Image of Sheryl Wheaton as Rosie in Mamma Mia! with Graeme Kitagawa as Mush in Disney’s Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

Theatre Under the Stars’ new season has launched, and it’s bursting with uplifting song and dance.

From now until August 17, 2019, Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) performs Mamma Mia! and Disney’s Newsies on alternate nights at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl. They’re excellent productions; if you can’t choose between them, you should definitely see both.

Review of Disney’s Newsies

The musical, based on a 1992 movie starring Christian Bale and Bill Pullman, centres on the efforts of a plucky group of newsboys in 1899 New York City to protest against the cost cutting measures of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. It’s a tale of the little guy fighting against a representative of big bad capitalism.

Front Row L-R: Image of Daniel Curalli as “Davey Jacobs,” Adam Charles as “Jack
Kelly,” and Caitlin McMaster as Ensemble Member. Back Row: Image of the cast of Disney’s ​Newsies. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The story itself is fairly simplistic and idealistic in a Disney sort of way. The ending resolves itself almost magically (Can’t we all just get along?), and the relationship between newsie organizer, Jack Kelly, and Katherine, an aspiring hard hitting reporter, feels like a dutiful inclusion of romance for those wanting a distraction from the main plot line that involves forming a union.

However, these quibbles with the plot have nothing to do with the stellar cast and production value of what’s on stage at Malkin Bowl. First of all, director Julie Tomaino has given the show more gender balance through the casting of females (e.g. Haley Allen as Henry) in what would usually be male character roles.

And if the central message of the musical doesn’t get you, the dancing and its impressive choreography will win you over. The newsies tap dance, engage in acrobatics, and generally dance their feet off in dance sequence after dance sequence. The chorus is fantastic; throughout the entire performance, they never flag, winningly showcasing their nimble feet.

Image of the cast of Disney’s ​Newsies ​in Theatre Under the Stars 2019​. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The songs, overall, are catchy and inspirational, with titles like “Seize the Day,” “The World Will Know,” and “Something to Believe In.” The cast members do full justice to the tunes with their vocal talent. Particularly standout are Julia Ullrich playing a spirited Katherine, as well as Daniel Curalli as Davey for their singing performances. In true Disney fashion, it’s enough to make even the most cynical of audience members transform into a shiny optimist.

Image of Julia Ullrich as “Katherine Plumber” and Adam Charles as “Jack Kelly.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The performance of the musical relies heavily on the believability of the hero and villain of the story, Jack Kelly played by Adam Charles and Pulitzer played by Jovanni Sy. Charles exudes the character’s rough around the edges charm that beguiles Katherine, and mobilizes the other newsies. He embodies the character, giving life to the dreams and vulnerabilities of Jack. Meanwhile, Sy is the perfect bad guy who takes pleasure in teaching the newsies a lesson about the indifferent power of wealth.

Overall, you just might feel emboldened enough to ask your boss for a raise after you watch TUTS’ production of Disney’s Newsies.

Review of Mamma Mia!

It was clear that many of the audience members who attended TUTS’ Mamma Mia! are big ABBA fans, based on their enthusiasm and adoration of the show. And for good reason: the production is unapologetically fun.

Image of the cast of ​Mamma Mia! Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The wildly successful musical weaves together ABBA’s greatest hits into a madcap storyline, set on a fictional Greek island, that involves the young Sophie Sheridan on a mission to discover the identity of her father. The problem is that Donna, her mother, slept with three men, Harry Bright, Sam Carmichael, and Bill Austin, and has no clue who the dad is. Of course, confusion ensues, as well as the fostering and renewing of relationships between the main characters.

Image of Caitriona Murphy (left) as “Donna Sheridan” and Keira Jang (right) as “Sophie Sheridan.” Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

But let’s be honest. All of this is basically an excuse to hear song after song of ABBA favourites–and they’re all there, including the titular song, “S.O.S.,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” The musical cleverly (sometimes tenuously) incorporates them into the storyline so that, due to the suspension of disbelief, it totally makes sense for characters suddenly to burst into “Money, Money, Money.”

The first half of the production has a frenetic, chaotic energy similar to the confusion within Sophie as she sets in motion her three dad dilemma and gets ready for her approaching nuptials. Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography is zany (e.g. dances with inflatable pool rings) and intentionally scattered in the beginning. It’s in the second half when the production really comes together and the cast members get the chance to shine.

While the younger cast members like Keira Jang as Sophie and Joshua Lalisan, as fiancé Sky, put in great performances, it’s the older cast members who are the heart of the narrative in their exploration of regret, nostalgia, and belated chances. The second half slows to a more wistful pace (“Slipping Through My Fingers”) and assumes a poignant tone.

Caitriona Murphy, with strong vocals, takes Donna Sheridan through her character arc, from hardened entrepreneur and mother, to a softer and more reflective version of herself. Her two friends and singing sidekicks, Tanya (played by Lori Ashton Zondag) and Rosie (played by Sheryl Anne Wheaton), steal the show with their antics and charisma. Zondag is an especial treat to watch in her over-the-top gold digger/cougar persona.

Front Row L-R: Image of Lori Ashton Zondag as “Tanya,” Caitriona Murphy as “Donna Sheridan,” and Sheryl Anne Wheaton as “Rosie.” Back Row: Image of the cast of ​Mamma Mia!. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The three dads, Stefan Winfield as Harry, Matt Ramer as Bill, and Peter Monaghan as Sam, make for a diverse (and comic) trio as a counterpoint to the dynamo nature of the women.

Front Row L-R: Image of Stefan Winfield as “Harry Bright,” Peter Monaghan as “Sam Carmichael,” Chris M. Ward as “Pepper,” and Matt Ramer as “Bill Austin.” Back Row L-R: Image of Thomas Chan as Ensemble Member, Joshua Lalisan as “Sky,” Aaron Duke as Ensemble Member, and Linden Smith as Ensemble Member. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

The production has some tricks up its sleeve for the audience, so be prepared to get involved in this captivating performance. You’ll find yourself still singing and humming the songs as you leave the outdoor theatre.

Further info and tickets are available on-line.

Tagged: , , ,

Comments are closed for this post

Comments are closed.