Daina Janitis reviews Grease

Even if you’ve thrown away your poodle skirt, abandoned Brylcreem, and can’t get what’s left of your hair into a DA – you’re going to LOVE the memories brought back by Drayton Entertainment’s 2019 production of Grease. If you’re my age – impress your friends first on the parking lot outdoors guessing what years are represented by the sleek, chrome-laden vintage cars on display. If you bring another generation with you, impress them with your command of 1950’s slang:

If you were annoying your buddies enough to fight, you were “Cruisin’ for a _____________’ “

If you were close enough to incite a punch, you were threatened with a “knuckle _____________”

If you avoided injury and succeeded in everything else, you were “made ___ ____ _________”

And if you were a tough guy who used copious amounts of the aforementioned Brylcreem, you were a “gr_____”.

No matter whether the 1950’s were your finest hour- or something you’re happy to have survived- you’re going to love the high-energy, mega-talented production of “Grease directed and choreographed for her brilliant company of actors/singers/dancers by Lisa Stevens. It’s a night (or matinee) of nostalgia that has been recaptured many times. Written in 1971, originally set in the fictional Rydell High School in 1959 (based on  Howard Taft High School in Chicago), it burst on the Chicago stage as a slightly raunchy, boisterous, collection of 1950’s tropes of teenage life- peer pressure, gangs, American love of the car, rebellion, sexual norms- and became the longest-running musical on Broadway at 3,388 performances – to be surpassed only by A Chorus Line.

The company assembled by the unsurpassable Drayton entertainment are going to be “my” Grease benchmark- and you won’t forget them. The purposely simple plot- with a believable twist at the end- is beautifully threaded through production numbers that will leave you tapping your feet and reading the program bio’s to know how you could have missed some of these people.

Danny Zuko, played by David Cotton, is every girl’s dream of a dark-haired anti-hero with terrific abs (and a beautiful singing voice) Danny has met and fallen in love with sweet blonde Sandy Dumbrowski , wooed but not persuaded to go “all the way” during some melodious “Summer Nights”. Their meeting on the first day of school (Sandy has transferred to Rydell after that contretemps at St. Bernadette’s over her patent leather shoes that might allow boys to see up her dress) draws lines between Donny’s cool T-birds and the Pink Ladies.

Pink Ladies first. Chelsea Preston is innocent but memorable as the sweet, high-principled Sandy whose final number is a convincing show-stopper. Lucky Sarah Vance is a total delight as the perfect high school class leader Patty- running for VP of the Student Council, inserting herself into conversations, doing the splits- and never dropping her twirling baton. Also, she’s married to David Cotton- so her luck runs deep. Erica Peck is the steely, smart-talking Rizzo – and you will not forget Kelly Holiff (a popular cabaret and concert performer) as Marty, the rich-voiced girlfriend of a Marine- without a date for the prom. Newcomer Clea McCaffrey as Jan makes an indelible mark as a food-gobbling comedienne who steals your heart in a beautiful duet with Nick Sheculski – “Mooning”. “Beauty School Dropout” Frenchy (Michelle Bouey) might elicit a tear or two of empathy for her proud fragility.

And what talented stars appear among Danny’s friends!  Seth Johnson IS Kenickie- tall, lean, (be still, my blue-haired lady’s heart) an excellent dancer whose love for his Greased Lightning car is a palpable as that for Rizzo. Delightful, too is Garett Hill as Doody- would-be guitarist and singer with some of the smoothest shy moves you’ve seen on a stage. And not a gang member but an over-the top conceited DJ and Guardian Angel who’s spangled wings almost trap him in the burger palace door …Eddie Glen is the consummate stage performer who get a slightly elevated round of applause from the audience every time.

The resident music group is fantastic, the costumes (on loan from the 2016 Toronto production) are perfection, the lighting brings you into so much of the action – and the dancing re-choreographed for this particular stellar cast – will leave you hard-pressed not to hand jive all the way back to your car.

 This Huron Country run is already 90% sold out. Be There or Be Square.

Watch this video Preview of Grease: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQAVfik1SwY#action=share

Daina Janitis

Daina Janitis reviews 12 Angry Men

Funny, isn’t it, how a few of the things you learned in high school (take THAT, Paul Simon) really do stick with you. When I knew I had the privilege to attend opening night of 12 Angry Men, a drama that is part of this year’s Drayton Entrainment line-up, I recalled a short essay by G.K. Chesterton – “Twelve Men”. It argued with great charm that having “professionals” decide on cases of law would inevitably lead to jaded and repetitive trials and verdicts. His last words have rung in my ears for more than 60 years:

“When it wants a library cataloged, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing ’round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.” 

What a beautiful ideal…and yet this marvelous play is a subtle reminder that the rights embodied in the U.S. constitution require far more than men “standing ‘round” to insure that justice is done in the courts. Canada shares the legal view of “reasonable doubt”- and the play shows what a sacred and precarious position this is. As our Supreme Court stated in 1997, “A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary or frivolous doubt. It must not be based upon sympathy or prejudice. Rather, it is based on reason and common sense. It is logically derived from the evidence or absence of evidence”.

In the stage version of this play, director Marti Maraden, set designer Allan Wilbee, the whole backstage crew- and twelve of the finest actors assembled in Canada – I am certain of that – let the play trust in its innate merits. Reginald Rose’s script began as a TV play in 1954, was adapted to a play in 1955 and became a film (with Henry Fonda as Juror #8) in 1957. Of course, as decades progressed, directors have tried making the jury mixed in race, colour, and gender, but the brilliant Drayton production crew have resisted muddying the power of this play. The actors are all male, they still have only numbers, not names, and they utter some of the best dramatic dialogue you will ever hear on stage.

The set recreates a jury room of the 1950s- mottled institutional green, not air-conditioned on the “hottest day of the year”, and spare enough to create claustrophobia on a stage that also has a brilliant revolving portion to make the washroom part of the set. When I first saw the table for twelve set squarely across the stage, four jurors’ backs to the audience, I wondered how this breaking of the 45-degree rule (is there such a thing?) would work.

No problem for a director as gifted as Marti Maraden. The table remains static- like an unbreakable rule, amendment, or expectation- on the stage, while the actors carry out a kind of choreography that demands their movement and results in character revelation more intense than the movie version could do.

And how to give adequate recognition to that cast- those numbered characters whom you will not ever confuse or forget if you see this production. Juror #8, Skye Brandon, is an imperturbable citizen, father, and architect- the gentle but persistent voice of reason who begins the deliberation in what was almost a certain commitment of the 16-year-old defendant to the electric chair. In most powerful contrast to him is #3, Benedict Campbell, as the closed-minded juror whose personal failure as a father underlies his unbreakable assurance that the boy is guilty. A lesser actor might have striven to “beg” for likeability or sympathy in his final pathos- but Campbell never does. I warrant you will recognize and remember Juror #3, the garage owner whose references to “those” people and their innate faults bring chilling reminders of recent presidential speeches. So, too, the accented watchmaker, #11, who is never identified as a Jew but carries a fervent belief in justice to his new home.

Instead of giving well-deserved praise for every actor in the cast, I urge you to take advantage of this production before August 3rd. The play is disturbingly timeless. It’s a reminder of how demanding, fragile, and yet glorious this whole ongoing experiment with democracy and human rights really is.

Daina Janitis, July 20, 2019

Stratford’s Little Shop of Horrors is must see theatre

I went to see The Little Shop of Horrors at the Stratford Festival with some trepidation on Friday afternoon. I have seen some simply horrible productions of the play and wasn’t sure I could endure another.

Well, that all changed after the first musical number of this no-expenses spared production.

Great leads and supporting cast, great musical numbers, great sets and costumes, and a wise-cracking Audrey II man-eating plant combine to make The Little Shop of Horrors must-see theatre this season.

And, if you’re wondering, it’s kid friendly. I plan on returning with my granddaughters at some point this summer.

You should go!

Check out this YouTube video Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=52SKY27VEsQ

Rick Young, July 20, 2019.

Rocky: The Musical is an enduring story

If theatre-goers can put aside whatever feelings they may have about what has been transpiring south of the border since November 2016, and then suspend their disbelief about the tarnished American Dream, Rocky: The Musical, now playing at the Huron Country Playhouse until August 3, is perfect summer theatre.

Based on the iconic 1976 Academy Award-winning movie Rocky (now in its seventh incarnation) written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, the play is making its Canadian premiere at the Drayton Entertainment theatres.

Indeed, the play encourages you to leave behind Trump’s divisive America and take a time-trip back to 1976 Philadelphia with its garish costumes, stark urban sets, music, seedy boxing gyms, and even seedier characters.

Unless you have been completely cut off from North American pop culture for the past 43 years, the play’s plot is all too familiar and does not require much description here. It’s a classic rags-to-riches story caught up in the so-called American Dream.

The play’s antagonist, Rocky Balboa portrayed by Alex Kelly, is a down and out Philadelphia boxer, frequenting Micky’s Gym and living in a one-room dishevelled apartment. He makes his living collecting money for a menacing local loan-shark.

When we first see him onstage, he is engaged in what he later refers to as a “ham and eggs” boxing match against an equally uninspiring opponent. Emerging as the victor, he earns $60 for his efforts and heads for his locker seeking an after-match cigarette.

From this point on we are introduced to the play’s remaining major supporting characters including Mickey, his crusty Manager, portrayed convincingly by Lee MacDougall, Adrian, his shy and fragile girlfriend, portrayed deliciously by Drayton Entertainment favourite Jayme Armstrong (last seen as Millie in this year’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie) and Paulie, Adrian’s overprotective alcoholic brother played by another Drayton favourite Aaron Walpole, who brings an abrasive, but sensitive interpretation to the role.

Christopher James, making his Drayton debut, is perfect as the arrogant and condescending Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed.

The three Pet Store girls, played by Daphne Moens, Marianne McCord and Jacquelyn French, add an ideal amount of comic relief throughout the play.

Again, most patrons will know that, as a result of a series of serendipitous events, the underdog Rocky gets the opportunity to box Apollo Creed for the Championship on January 1, 1976, the year of America’s Bi-Centennial.

While he prepares to go the distance in the bout, Rocky’s relationship with Adrian turns romantic and he sorts out his ambiguous relationships with Mickey and Paulie.

To be sure, the play’s culminating boxing match between Rocky and Apollo is what everything has been leading to – and Director Alex Mustakas pulls out all the stops for the finale.

The match takes place on a full-sized boxing ring and selected audience members are escorted on to the stage to watch the match in bleacher-style seats. The boxers enter the stage from the back of the theatre with flashing lights and much fanfare, giving the audience the impression it is witnessing a real boxing match.

The match itself is brilliantly choreographed, a joint effort between Fight Director Joe Bostick and Mustakas, with cheering and ring announcer and Round Girls.

The audience feels the boxers’ exhaustion and pain as the bout marches on to the pivotal 15th Round when Balboa and Creed collapse into each other’s arms. A split decision is announced, and Creed is announced the winner.

Rocky has gone the distance, won $150,000 and got his girl.

Alex Kelly deserves many kudos for his performance. In lesser hands, Rocky could have been a walking, grunting cliché. Kelly brings the necessary swagger, Stallone-like guttural voice and sensitivity to the role.

Jayme Armstrong’s Adrian emerges as a strong stand-by-your man woman who comes out of her self-imposed shell during the play.

The chemistry between Kelly and Armstrong on stage is electric and their vocal duets are moving.

Strains of the Rocky Theme and Glass Tiger’s Eye of the Tiger are heard throughout the play, while its musical numbers propel the story along quite adequately. Music Director Michael Lerner and the pit band capture the essence of the play’s themes and characters.

Kudos to Set Designer Brian Dudkiewicz and Costume Designer Adrienne Pink for transporting the audience back to 1976.

In the end, Rocky: The Musical is about hope, second chances, love and redemption. In these days of political divisiveness and cynicism, it is a welcome 2 hours of escapist entertainment.

Highly recommended!

Catch it before it’s gone!

Rick Young, July 19, 2019

Kathy Smith, a driving force in London’s seniors community

Over her 73 years, Kathy Smith has worn many hats.

She has been a counterculture hippie, a member of an all-female rock band, a Yorkville social activist, a wife and mother, a single working mother, a self-proclaimed Late Blooming Boomer, a freelance public relations and marketing specialist, an adult educator, and, for a time, the Director of Training and Development for Big V Pharmacies of Ontario.

These days, Kathy spends her time advocating for aging Canadians and organizing activities for London’s Creative Age communities, helping a diverse network of neighbourhoods, municipalities, institutions and nonprofit organizations secure resources to start, grow and sustain creative aging programs, events and activities.

“Many people have drawn very defined lines between work, voluntary activities, hobbies and leisure pursuits. I don’t seem to have those fixed boundaries. Sometimes I do community work for no pay and sometimes I get paid.  I might travel for leisure, but I also get paid as a tour guide. I offer art classes free of charge but I sometimes research, develop and teach courses and charge a fee for service. Along the way I navigate and negotiate depending on the circumstances,” says Kathy.

Kathy remembers her childhood Hamilton Road East London working class neighbourhood as a multicultural melting pot in which classmates and friends were from different races, ethnicities and religious backgrounds.

“Most of us were poor but I didn’t really realize how poor we were until I met new friends from other neighbourhoods. When I started to compare our circumstances, I was absolutely stunned by their family life, wealth and opportunities. I often felt marginalized. I felt like a nobody when I desperately wanted to be accepted – a somebody.”

This feeling of being marginalized led to Kathy’s early involvement with the creative arts.

“I think I got involved with the creative arts not only to express my inner life but as my way out of a messed up family and social circumstances,” says Kathy. “I think those tough formative years made me resilient, creative, enterprising and accepting of others.”

The 1960s mantra was “Tune in, turn on and drop out” and that’s just what teenaged Kathy did.

“Right after my 16th birthday, I quit school and walked away as fast as I could,” she recalls.

“I got a job as a go-go dancer for a local London radio station and a TV show that featured area bands. In 1965, I was asked to audition for a Toronto TV Show and an all female band. My bag was packed with my survival essentials and years of hurt feelings. There was no turning back. I was rebelling against my parents and the social values of the time. I vowed I would never ever return to conservative, narrow minded and uptight London Ontario…the town that forgot how to have fun.”

She didn’t get hired for the Toronto TV Show, but she did end up in the all-female band called The Living Dolls in which she played keyboards and learned some drums and bass guitar.

Kathy lived close to Yorkville in the Annex Neighbourhood. In 1969 Jane Jacobs and the Annex Ratepayers Association were busy trying to protect the historical neighbourhood from developers. Kathy remembers it as an amazing and diverse neighbourhood with artists, musicians, academics, the nouveau riche and old family money, too.

In 1966, Kathy came back to London to see her hometown boyfriend, Grant Smith. Grant ended up moving to Toronto where he was offered an opportunity to join a band called The Power which became known as Grant Smith and The Power, an 8 piece R&B group.

“Grant’s group had a hit record, so I quit my band and we ended up traveling through many American towns and cities that were experiencing great unrest with race riots and protests. It was exciting and kind of dangerous,” recalls Kathy.  “We got married in 1968. I became a mom in 1972. Everything changed for me when I got pregnant and had my son.”

Following her divorce, Kathy returned to London in 1979. The move forced her to start all over again. 

“As a high-school drop out and single mom, my employment opportunities were very limited. I didn’t really join the ‘normal’ mainstream workforce until I was 30 years old. While most boomers experienced a career or financial peak in their 40s and 50s, I didn’t have my career peak until I was in my 60s. When my friends were planning to retire, I was just getting fired up – a second wind, if you will,” Kathy recalls.

Partially by chance and partially by choice, she became part of the gig economy with three main clients, mailing direct mail flyers, organizing small special events, producing newsletters, fundraising or anything promoting local businesses or organizations.

She taught adult night courses in Promotions and Public Relations through Fanshawe College’s Part Time and Continuing Education Department. She was a popular facilitator and her courses filled up quickly as a result of her ability to come up with creative ideas, interesting topics and course plans.

“My continuing education experience led me to my one and only ‘real job’ with Big V Pharmacies of Ontario as Director of Training and Development.  I created a 26 part Management Training Program using the case study method. It took me and a co-worker 3 years to do the research, develop the content, test the pilot programs and implement throughout Ontario.  Big V won the very first Chamber of Commerce London Business Achievement Award and we were runner up for the provincial award. That was an exciting time to be involved with corporate or management training,” she recalls.

Despite her success, Kathy walked away from the Big V position after 36 months, citing burnout and her dislike of leaving her son, Kristan, alone while she was on the road.

“During my self-imposed sabbatical, I felt a strong urge to paint – canvases, walls or anything I could get my hands on. A short and planned break turned into a 10 year endeavour and I somehow found creative ways to make a modest living along the way. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I could focus on my son and we were happy.”

In 2007, Kathy got involved with the Creative Age movement after attending an online seminar presented by Dr. Gene Cohen. Cohen demonstrated that participation in activities that foster creative engagement and skills mastery in a social environment has positive psychological, physical and emotional health benefits for older adults. It gave Kathy a new focus in life.

“After mid-life, I tell people they can look forward to Creative Age and not old age. It is a positive approach or mindset to the reality that we all get older. In my work I focus on creativity in the broader sense and I do make more personal time to fulfill my own urges for creative self expression in everything I do. My colleague, Pat Spadafora the former director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, said it best: ‘We are freeing ourselves of limiting beliefs about aging and embracing the reality that individuals continue to grow, learn, and contribute to their communities throughout the life journey.’”

Unquestionably, Kathy has been the driving force behind London’s Creative Age movement and community activities.

In 2009, she organized a unique year long creative aging program for residents and day program participants at the Dearness Home. She also volunteered her time to help the City of London receive its first Age Friendly Community designation from the World Health Organization.  

From 2010 to 2013, she developed and organized a research project to identify late career transitions and income earning opportunities for older workers.

“We knew that 75 would eventually become the new 65,” she says. “Many will continue to delay retirement or not retire at all.”

From 2013 through to 2017, she worked with volunteers to provide creative aging programs and events for adults 55+ in various neighbourhoods through the London Public Library branches.

During that time, she also developed community awareness campaigns including, social media and presentations and events targeted to arts, health and housing organizations in London and area.

“The key to developing community capacity for creative aging programs is to train volunteers, artist instructors and adult educators to work with a new generation of older adults. Through the London Arts Council, we developed a training program for 12 London Artists in Residence and had them offer programs to long term care facilities, hospitals, retirement homes and seniors centres. I still work with municipalities and communities to develop creative networks and programs for older adults. The next Creative Aging Training Programs will be offered in Thames Centre this summer. Professionals from Middlesex County will be invited.”

Kathy’s accomplishments have not gone unrecognized. She has been named to the City of London Mayor’s Honour Roll, received the London Council for Adult Education’s Adult Educator’s Award, and in 2016 she was recognized by the Ontario Minister Responsible for Seniors and the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario for her volunteer contributions to raise awareness to promote cross-sector initiatives for seniors in the London region.  

Somehow, throughout all of this community activity, she has still found time to pursue her own artistic muse and explore her own curiosities.

“I have many interests and creative pursuits. I still paint, play music, write, perform and teach.  It’s all creative.  A few years ago, we started a group called The Rhythm Sisters and performed concerts at the London Music Club and Wolf Performance Hall for a year or more. We keep saying we’ll have a reunion, but I don’t think it will happen. It’s a whole lot of work and it’s expensive to develop a one hour show,” she says.

What does the future hold for Kathy Smith?

“My focus will be shifting to creative housing options and aging at home services. I will continue to help organizations secure the resources they need, both financial and human, to do community development projects. I have more requests to do public speaking and professional development presentations. For the next five years, it will be my goal to connect and empower older adults to work together to develop innovative and affordable solutions to address their needs in housing and home support programs. When my son returns from Europe, I will probably assist him with his plan to start his new business and then I’ll probably just work for him in some very limited capacity.”

Mentoring and coaching other women is an area of particular interest to Kathy.

“As more women are reaching their middle years, they are thinking about late career changes or making other plans for the second half of their lives. I am often asked to provide presentations about my experiences and ideas. As a creative ager I explore, engage and connect and I plan to remain engaged as long as I am needed or as long as I am able to contribute something needed or valued.”

“Career, work, social, civic engagement and leisure have always been rolled into one thing. I just can’t see ever wanting to give anything up just yet.  When it comes to creative aging, I consider myself my own case study,” says Kathy.

“Everyday life still amazes me!”

You can contact Kathy for more information about London’s Creative Age communities and activities through her website: http://creativeage.ca/