Archive for March 2012

One more review for "The 39 Steps"   Leave a comment

Hey.  Hey, you, reading this.  You have less than one week to see this amazing show at Stage West Calgary.  Its run ends on Sunday, April 1, and then it’s gone.  I might be biased, but I think it’s a darn good production… and in all seriousness, it’s been my favorite Stage West show.

But if you want a more objective review, please check out the one written by Bill Axtell.  It has been forwarded to me by Joel Conley, the Director of Marketing and Sales here at the theatre, and I’ve put it in my blog – in its entirety – below.

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Stage West’s ‘The 39 Steps’ Will Drain the Last Drop of Laughter Out of You!

 

Review by Bill Axtell

Contributing Journalist & Theatre Critic

Sun Media Newspapers

 

(1,136 Words)

 

Even before you are a mere seven minutes into the new play at Stage West Calgary, you will know exactly why “The 39 Steps” became the longest running play staged both on-and-off Broadway in almost the past decade. And, you will see why this play also is the longest running comedy, continuously and still playing since 2002 at London’s prestigious West End.

 

Regardless of who you are, without question “39 Steps”, will drain the very last drop of laughter out of you, by the time the evening is finished. We can judge by the enthralled audience reaction last week when the show opened to a packed audience that engaged in so much sustained laughter–there were barely ten minutes of total audience silence scattered all throughout the two-hour, full evening show.

 

I have never laughed so much at a theatrical performance. And yes, I was laughing so much, I could scarcely take notes for my review!

 

English Playwright Patrick Barlow, who adapted the play from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 motion picture of the same title, must have the most gifted sense of humor of any writer ever to work Broadway. Who, but an inventive, yet bizarre comedian, with a mind for the absurd, would even think to spoof a Hitchcock thriller-murder mystery? Yet, “The 39 Steps” pushes its audience to the emotional limits of human hilarity by packing ever comedy device known to man into a single, farcical staging.

 

In this concept of the play, the entire Hitchcock 1935 adventure film, also named The 39 Steps”, the film itself based upon a 1915 novel by John Buchan, is staged with a cast of only four. One actor plays the hero, Richard Hannay, one actress plays the three women with whom Hannay has romantic involvements, and two other actors play all the other roles in the show: heroes, villains, men, women, children and even various objects. With nearly 150 characters played by only two actors, lightning fast quick-changes from one character to another ensue all evening, a feat which, in itself, provides a wonderful comedic device. At times, the two actors even play multiple characters at simultaneously. And with all their franticly delivered antics, the  serious spy story of Hitchcock’s film is played, instead, for laughs, which are delivered beyond expectations.

 

But what makes the humor work so flawlessly throughout the staging is not the laugh lines, it’s the physical comedy, the frequently bizarre and unexpected movement, the extraordinarily deft mime, visual gags, the clownin and the amazing costume changes–frequently the very technique which allows audiences to keep up with the ever changing characters. It is also the drive and discipline by Director Mark Bellamy to push the show’s pace to unprescedented speeds.   

 

In other words, the humor comes, not so much from the script itself, but from the amazing way Bellamy, winner of directorail awards, and his 4-member cast of inexplicable comedic perfection actually “pull it off.”

 

Moreover, a special shadow effect of rear-projedction light on a screen displaying outlined, puppet-like figures to move the plot’s action ahead was done so well it was worth the ticket even by itself.

 

Everywhere you look you can see hundreds, if not thousands, of those subtlies of the director’s personal touch that turn a work into greatness of artistic achievement, despite the even raucous humor.

 

Clearly, the too-numerous-to-count comedy bits were not all scripted; much of it flows from the director and from the comedic personalities of the actors—Natascha Girgis, whom audiences will remember her from last year’s marvelous portrayal of the very pretty waitress in “Don’t Hug Me” at Stage West; Chris Hunt, previously seen at Stage West in “A Bedfull of Foreigners”; and Andy Curtis, a veteran actor who has performed and toured internationally since 1984, appearing in ensemble casts that, at times, have achieved award-winning status in Canada.

 

The leading Richard Hannay character was portrayed with such professionalism by the multi-talented John Ullyatt that it’s difficult not to wonder–if the Broadway cast had been so fortunate as to star him, would this play still be running in New York?

 

Yet, Director Bellamy, himself a seasoned and widely-known actor, will assume the Hannay role for the final week of the run as Ullyatt departs to fulfill a prior theatrical commitment. Stage West wanted Ullyatt so much, and for great reason, as to willingly accept a cast change in the final week, just to insure his inclusion for most of the run.  The cast change, of course, provides a very good reason to see the play again—especially with Mark Bellamy coming on stage!

 

Girgis gives a perfectly luscious performance with all three female characters she portrays; the Hunt and Curtis team, who provide a wondrous joint-clowning effect throughout the production, must have perfected their stunning duo routines while working together, back at Vertigo Theatre, because their warm interactions and split-second comical timing with each other just couldn’t be any funnier.

 

The obvious success of the Calgary version of this show tells us all that Stage West “has saved its best, for last” in celebrating its 30-year history, locally. Wow! What a show!

 

Narda McCarroll’s set design was far more than functional; it was a monument to outstanding theatre. Deitra Kalyn’s costume designs were utterly crucial to the comedy; indeed, the costumes were one of the key ways the audience had of keeping all these characters straight; Christian Goutsis’ sound design was another vital element to drive the imaginations of viewers, given the inclusion of train and automobile rides, done without locomotives or actual cars; Shane Ellis most certainly faced the peak challenge of his theatre career keeping up with so many props, all imperative to pushing the comedy and the plot constantly forward.

 

Farcical comedy theatre, not to mention production values of this staging, just doesn’t get any better, anywhere, than it is in this show. In fact, these Calgary professionals, from Director Mark Bellamy to Assistant Director JP Thibodeau to General Manager Gary Tse to Production Manager Kira Campbell and to Marketing Director Joel Conley, through obvious teamwork, have all found a way to deliver to their customers, as much fun in one single night as could be expected from all 30 years of production history, all put together!

 

At the end of the day, nothing could gratify a team of theatre operators and  theatrical artists more than a room full of more than 400 delighted, sparkling faces, constantly filled with laughter, many of whom–we know from overhearing lobby conversations–are already making plans to see this one again.

 

Star rating: An obvious 5 out of five stars.

 

Tickets for “The 39 Steps” are available through the Stage West Calgary Box office at 727-42 Ave. S.E., by calling 403-243-6642, open daily at 10 am, or visit www.stagewestcalgary.com for show, dinner or ticket information.

 

39steps_2

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Posted March 28, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Another top 10 list – my favorite comedians   Leave a comment

(Hey, I have a new/forwarding website address:  www.JasonMacAskill.com .  I’ll mention that for a while.  Now, onto the blog…)  

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It’s a cold, frosty Sunday, and I already wrote about 80% of this.  Until, that is, it got eaten by the Internet.  If this blog wasn’t about such a good topic, and I didn’t have such a massive audience (thanks, both of you!) waiting for some output, I’d’ve given up in disgust.

The following list is made up of my ten favorite comedians / comedic actors.  The order is approximate, and it can change depending on my mood.  Your tastes and opinion will most likely vary, and that’s OK.  I didn’t add links to everybody on my list – you know how the Internet works, you can find your own – and needless to say, I don’t own any of this content.  So if anyone has a problem with it, let me know.

Without further ado…

Honorable mention – Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks.  Their influence and legacy is impossible to qualify.

10. Danny Bhoy – I might be partial to Scots, I admit it.  Especially when he doesn’t exactly look like the stereotypical Scot.  You all know how to use the Internet, I’m not going to spoil the surprise – go find out for yourselves.

9.  Pete Zedlacher – and not just because we went to high school together in Wawa.  A funny, hard-working guy who gets extra credit for being the first stand-up comic to entertain the Canadian troops in Afghanistan back in 2002. 

8.  Lewis Black – I like to keep my blog PG, and most of his material – the stuff I like best – isn’t exactly for all audiences.  Profane, profound, and politically charged.

7.  Tim Allen – his “Men Are Pigs” motif might be a little cliché, but it obviously struck a chord, and for a few years, he was on top of the world.  In fact, for one week in 1994, he had the highest-rated television show, the top-grossing movie, and the New York Times’ best-selling book.

6.  Louis C.K. – he seems like a nice, regular guy, but his material is clearly inspired by the likes of George Carlin.  (In fact, he has said so.)  His best/my favorite stuff is cringe-worthy and blue, so I won’t post it here… but go find it.

 

5.  Eddie Murphy – Saturday Night Live.  Beverly Hills Cop.  Raw.  Delirious.  What the hell happened to that guy?  I miss him.  The world needs that Eddie Murphy back.

4.  Rowan Atkinsonnot Mr. Bean.  No, I’m talking about the dry British wit put on display in the various Blackadder miniseries, as well as his comedy specials.

3.  Mitch Hedberg – gone far too soon.  I used to think he was blind, because he wore dark sunglasses on stage quite often.  A unique thinker with a unique delivery, his humor translates perfectly to Twitter (@M_Hedberg, for example).

2.  Norm MacDonald – loved his Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, and his late-night circuit storytelling is comedic gold.  He tells a story like none other.  It’s a damn shame he can’t get a regular gig.

1.  George Carlin – I don’t even know if it’s fair to call him a comedian.  His talent and ground-breaking body of work puts him so far ahead of my runner-up selection… it’s like comparing Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring prowess to anyone else.  He was revolutionary, provoking change and inspiring many.  Youtube ANYTHING he did.  I’m all done writing – go, please.

Carlin

Posted March 25, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

We’re #9! (Red Deer, that is…)   Leave a comment

I saw this article today and thought it was worth noting, especially if you’re still aware of my consulting sideline with Belterra Land Company.  The website Moneysense recently released its list of best Canadian cities in which to live, and Red Deer placed ninth overall.  High praise, indeed; the link to the article is right here.

Moneysense used a variety of critieria in making their choices, much like Belterra does when deciding where to syndicate and pre-develop.  Similarly, you should also do your homework when deciding how and where to invest your money.  There are several reasons Belterra tends to focus on central Alberta – improved economy, population projections, industry, and so forth – and it’s gratifying when other “sources” help make your case for you.

If you were too skeptical or lazy to click the link above, relax – here is the aforementioned article.  Any bolding courtesy of me; if Moneysense wants me to “unlink”, I will.

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Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012

Check out how your community stacks up.

By MoneySense staff | Online only, 20/03/12

When we speak of Canada’s diversity we refer to the geography of the land and the ethnic background of our people. Yet when you crunch the economic data, as we have for Canada’s Best Places to Live 2012, it becomes clear that how we live defines us as much as where we live. Not only is our urban experience varied depending on whether we live in downtown Montreal or in small-town Saskatchewan, but our ability to access health care or find a job or afford a home is as diverse as our land and our climate.

What is more, the economic factors that determine how we live are always evolving. Thirty years ago, the place to be for jobs would have been southern Ontario. Today, as the manufacturing sector falters, we find good jobs are becoming scarce but social services left behind from good economic times are abundant. Similarly, Alberta and Saskatchewan are being transformed by the boom in oil, gas and other commodities. This puts a strain on urban communities as services try and stay ahead of the feverish growth of resource towns, and housing prices skyrocket—witness the average cost of a home in Fort McMurray (Wood Buffalo) is now a half a million dollars.

This year, for the third year in a row, Ottawa takes top honours with a score of 74 points out of a possible 105. Perhaps most notable however, are the number of Western cities that shot up this year’s list thanks to strong economic growth and low unemployment. Regina and Halifax catapulted up more than 15 spots each to rank 4th and 5th respectively. Similarly, Red Deer jumped from 96th to 9th on our list.

Take a close look at the data and you’ll find the top-rated cities aren’t perfect or even close to it any category. They are however above average in most categories, resulting in an overall high standard of living.

This year’s list has been expanded from previous years to include 190 cities and towns with populations over 10,000. To compile our list we have taken municipal data and ranked the cities in 22 categories and then given all the cities an overall ranking. For a full explanation on how we crunched the numbers, check out our methodology.

Also new this year are three additional lists, Best Places to Retire, Best Places to Raise Kids and Best Places for Jobs.

We’ve highlighted what we think are the most interesting facts and figures to come out of this year’s data in a series of maps, articles, galleries and interactives for you but the possibilities for the curious mind are endless. Don’t let us stop you from diving right in.

Top ten cities

1.      Ottawa

2.      Burlington

3.      Kingston

4.      Halifax

5.      Regina

6.      Brandon

7.      Fredericton

8.      Edmonton

9.      Red Deer

            10. Winnipeg

Posted March 21, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

Are you a pinner?   Leave a comment

I’ve jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon.  I suspect many of you have, too.  After all, the user count has jumped from 50,000 people in March 2001 to ELEVEN MILLION people in December.  That’s, uh, that’s quite the spike in popularity.

If you’re interested in seeing it, it’s pretty easy to find: www.pinterest.com/jasonmacaskill .  I have about a dozen “boards” on which I pin pictures, stories, and links to a variety of things.  I use it mainly for work, but I have some baseball stuff on there, along with other pop culture pins.

So if you like to be kept in the loop about Stagewest Hospitality…

Or my favorite athletes…

Or The Walking Dead…

Or whatever…

Follow me!

Pinterest_chart

Posted March 20, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

A Walking Dead post   Leave a comment

One of the minor downsides of my otherwise excellent job is that sometimes, I miss new episodes of The Walking Dead.  Two Sundays ago, I rushed back to my hotel room and realized I was halfway through the show; I forced myself to turn it off.  Luckily, I was able to catch up last Sunday.

Love this show.  SPOILER ALERT… Dale was starting to get annoying, so his death didn’t bug me all that much.  I can see why he had to go, I suppose… his character was clinging to a time and state of being that simply doesn’t exist anymore in their world.  Carl is starting to bug me, too… that, or frighten me.  He’s becoming one creepy little kid.  From his throwing rocks at the Walker, to imploring his dad Rick to shoot Randall – if that kid lives a few years longer, he’s going to be one moody teenager.

(Speaking of Randall… that poor bastard.  Left behind by his group, leg shish-kebobed, almost killed by Walkers twice, tortured, thinking he’s going to be let go, thinking he’s going to be executed, released by Shane, then he gets his neck broken… tough life.)

Last week’s episode was great.  And it sucked*.  Shane’s no longer part of the show, and his absence is going to temporarily create a major hole in the cast.  Simply put, there’s no bad guy now.  No one to manufacture dissent, or start a brawl, or stir stuff up.  I assume that someone will fill that role next season, but if this week’s episode is nothing but a big ol’ zombiefest, then the “antagonist” position will have to wait to be filled for many long months.

*It only sucked because Shane was such a cool character.  Those last ten minutes = awesome.  The final scene  = more awesome.

It occurred to me, though, that in this fast-paced, instant gratification world of 2012, viewers might not want to wait several episodes for a character like Shane, or Dale, to root for.  Some people want to know exactly who to cheer for, who to hate, and what to expect.  Plus, in The Walking Dead world, you never know who’s the next person to get written off; thus, it couldn’t hurt to have some new blood on the bench, ready to go.  (The previous sentence?  The early frontrunner for “worst mixed metaphor of the year.”)

Here are some well-established TV characters that I think would make great additions to the cast:

George Costanza, Seinfeld – you thought it was fun to listen to him whine and complain before?  Oh, the hilarity now!

Vic Mackey, The Shield – ten minutes after his debut, he’d be in charge, and probably sharing Lori’s tent, too.

Michael Scott, The Office – might be the only man on Earth capable of making the Walkers awkwardly uncomfortable.

John Munch – because Richard Belzer’s already played him in Homicide, Law and Order, Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, Arrested Development, The X-Files, 30 Rock, The Beat, The Wire, and Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Why not here?

Elka Ostrovsky, Hot in Cleveland – Betty White fills the “sage and wise old person” role.  Kind of.

Victor Newman, The Young and the Restless – the wordplay as he fights off Walkers would be instantly Emmy-worthy.

Kenny Powers, Eastbound and Down – because he’s Kenny #$%#! Powers, that’s why.

Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte, Sex and the City – oh, they’d be Walkers.

Victor

George

Vic

Posted March 15, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

I’m walkin’ on Sunshine… Home and Garden shows!   Leave a comment

Tradeshows hurt my feet.

Last week, I was in Medicine Hat working with the local Chamber of Commerce on the Sunshine Home and Garden Show.  I arrived on Wednesday night, and left Monday afternoon… and I was exhausted.  That said, I can’t imagine feeling as tired than the Chamber members and show producers, who had been working on the event for months prior to last weekend.

It was, in this biased guy’s opinon, very successful.  It drew over 13,000 people, despite a frigid Friday that surely kept some people in their homes.  The thousands that did leave their toasty houses were treated to a wide, wide variety of products and services – food, household goods, entrepreneurial enterprises, outdoor stuff, and wall-to-wall RVs.  (And more.  Much, much more.)  I could list the close to 200 different companies represented at the Sunshine Show, but do you really want to read it?  I thought not.  I have a better idea – make sure you go to the tradeshow next spring.  In fact, you should also check out the 2011 fall show, taking place the last weekend of October.

(That goes for you, too, potential and interested businesses in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and points far and wide – if you want me to send you a exhibitor package for the Medicine Hat tradeshow in October, please let me know!)

Earlier, I mentioned that I might be biased.  That’s true.  Although, I should also mention that my memory of the event is already a blur… just kidding.  Thus, perhaps you should read this article, courtesy of Peggy Revell of the Medicine Hat News; please let me know if you object to the link, Peggy.

It was a great show.  And rest assured, we will continue to produce great shows.

Mh_6Mh_7
Mh_1

Posted March 6, 2012 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized