The best of 2012: part one

Brentwood College
Brentwood College's Les Miserables wowed the valley in the spring.
— image credit: Andrew Leong/file

Tragedy and comedy made this year's News Leader Pictorial Genies a stage sandwich stuffed with plenty of drama.

Brentwood College continued its big-stage excellence with Les Miserables, while Ballet Victoria imported another fine dance show in The Four Seasons.

But the comedy of Chemainus Theatre's Chickens, and SIMS' joyous Sound Of Music were offset well with serious acting in our four other slots.

It was great seeing Cow High and Queen Margaret's schools team for absurdist plays — a very tricky genre to get right.

Shawnigan Lake School's The Elephant Man lent us a trunk of tragedy, while the Shawnigan Players triumphantly returned to an outdoor stage with its timeless Pride & Prejudice.

It was also great seeing Cowichan's new Neighborhood Players debut nicely with its riveting work Blood Relations.

While bard@brentwood's demise was sad, Cowichanians had more than enough reason to turn off TVs, computers and cell phones at least once for live art this year. Keep your fingers on those buttons next year, folks.

Here is the best of 2012:

High School:

Les Misérables (Feb. 29, T. Gil Bunch Theatre)

The rebel yell that was Brentwood College's phenomenal Les Misérables thrilled its opening -night crowd that packed the T. Gil Bunch Theatre.

Director Edna Widenmaier, musical director Phil Newns, their student cast of professional-level actors, and backstage crew did the seeming impossible: besting Brentwood's 2011 hit Phantom Of The Opera.

Les Mis' leads Davin Killy (as Jean Valjean) and Maggie Davies (Eponine) were nothing without a strong supporting cast, Lorraine Blake's pinpoint choreography, and James O'Leary's effectively simple, muscular sets. Let's see if Hollywood's version of Les Mis is better.

Musical-tragedy rating: 10 martyrs out of 10.


The Elephant Man (May 24, Hugh Wilkinson Theatre)

Few viewers will ever think of challenged folks in the same way after seeing Shawnigan Lake School's emotionally gripping version of The Elephant Man.

Morgan McLeod's six-member cast deftly brought the sad tale of Joseph (John) Merrick to life with disturbing acuteness during its debut in the Wilkinson Theatre.

One measure of our humanity is how we treat those with special needs. Ultimately, SLS's moving Elephant Man typified the daring, artistic envelope Cowichan's actors bravely continue pushing.

Dramatic-tragedy rating: 8.5 kindnesses out of 10.


We're All Mad Here (March 3, Queen Margaret's School Theatre)

Two absurdist plays gave viewers a stark reality check during the staging of We're All Mad Here.

The two works at Queen Margaret's School were the first collaboration by Cowichan secondary and QMS students.

Let's call these two avant-garde plays bargain-basement brilliance.

That's because the actors delivered the intended, stripped-down effects of absurdist theatre, taking us away from lame — if any — messages served on silver platters via TV, some mainstream plays and movies.

Absurdist theatre rating: 8.5 looking glasses out of 10


Vivaldi's Four Seasons: West Coast Style (March 10, Cowichan Theatre)

Ballet Victoria gave classical music a whole new twist during a dual Duncan debut.

This time, lead choreographer/dancer Paul Destrooper and his pliable troupe forever transformed Chopin's Preludes, and Vivaldi's Four Seasons, into a riot of diverse motion and feeling.

Sandrine Cassini designed the memorably abstract moves behind act one's Twelve, backed by Chopin's music performed by island-based pianist Sarah Hagen.

As usual, Ballet Victoria used a crowbar of imagination and movement to pry open senses numbed by mass media.

Multi-media ballet rating: 9 emotions out of 10.


Pride & Prejudice (July 26, Gem O' The Isle B&B)

The jungle of finding true love is just as thick today as when Britain's Jane Austen wrote her landmark 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.

And Shawnigan Players' splendid outdoor version conveyed all of Austen's intended emotional confusion, comedy and class snobbery during its debut at Cowichan Station's verdant Gem O' The Isle B&B.

Gem's meadows, apple trees, and grassy yard — dotted with sculptures, plus a curious cat with a walk-on role — proved the perfect backdrop for director Alex Gallacher's period pearl, in which each character was aptly cultured.

Romantic-comedy rating: 9 sisters out of 10.


Blood Relations (Nov. 23, Neighbourhood Playhouse)

Humanity's latent animal instincts were brilliantly evoked during Cowichan's production of Blood Relations.

Neighbourhood Players' director Mike Moroz's seven actors earned a deserved standing ovation after mounting Sharon Pollock's gripping dramatic tragedy surrounding Victorian spinster Lizzie Borden's trial for the ax murder of two relatives.

Moroz's fledgling troupe used Pollock's penetrating script to bring history to life, the audience becoming the jury given the back story of why Lizzie may have murdered her wealthy father Andrew, and stepmother Abigail. Blood Relations truly transcended community theatre.

Dramatic-tragedy rating: 10 whacks out of 10.


Chickens (Sept. 21, Chemainus Theatre)

Lucia Frangione swung from smiling and chuckling to focused curiosity during her second Chemainus Theatre premiere of her play, Chickens.

“Most importantly, Sara-Jeanne Hosie (director-choreographer) understood the heart of the play. It isn't just a silly musical about poultry, it's about love and how love can survive crisis."

The playwright-actress' feather-brain, pun-yoke script began in a dream, and was hatched to raves in Mural Town in 1995. Moves, moods, expressions, vocals, and comedic timing in Chickens was impeccable, really.

Musical-comedy: 8 wings out of 10.


The Sound Of Music (March 2, Cowichan Theatre)

Set The Sound Of Music among South Island Musical Society’s best.

A packed Cowichan Theatre premier boasted sweeping sets by Chris Killam, pre-war Austrian garb from Helga Trinczek and Diane Raphael, choreography by Cathy Schmidt, photo backdrops for scenic depth, plus Rodgers & Hammerstein’s timelessly familiar tunes backed by Hilary Coupland’s polished pit orchestra.

The aural centrepiece of director Maria Ridewood’s show was wayward apprentice nun Maria, played perfectly by Andrea Sicotte Rodall. Sound Of Music became one of Cowichan’s favourite things Friday.

Musical-romance rating: 8.5 strudels out of 10.

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