Christopher Plummer has won pretty much every award under the sun, and now he's added his name to a prize recognizing the next generation of great classically-trained theatre artists.
The Christopher Plummer Fellowship Award of Excellence honours "an emerging or mid-career Canadian theatre artist who has made a unique and exceptional contribution to the study of Shakespeare and/or the classics in performance."
The worthy nominees are Stratford actor Yanna McIntosh, who can be seen until this weekend in Canadian Stage's THIS; director Alan Dilworth, whose La Ronde is currently onstage at Soulpepper's Young Centre (see review here); and Montreal actor/director Paul Hopkins.
The prize, decided upon by a peer jury, consists of $20,000 and will be presented to the winner at a gala reception at the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon in the Toronto Reference Library. Plummer, Norman Jewison, Liona Boyd, Robert Pilon and host (and future CNN star) George Stroumboulopoulos take part in the ceremonies on May 23.
Performing stand-up and making theatre are entirely different beasts. Shelley Marshall is one of the few comics to do both successfully.
Her solo show, Phoney, performed several years ago at the Fringe, demonstrated lots of promise. Her second, Hold Mommy's Cigarette, delivers on that promise. It's astonishing to see how much she's matured and evolved as an artist.
The show tells the story of three generations of a dysfunctional family. There's the chain-smoking, cantankerous grandmother; the narcissistic, dreamy, bathrobe-wearing mother; and the geeky young girl, Shelley, who wears a Scouts uniform and glasses with thick Coke bottle lenses.
Told in a series of quick scenes that at times feel like snapshots, Marshall's story of a childhood affected by mental illness, suicide and cancer is terribly funny - and also moving.
The details - the Noxema-like smell of a fridge, the showing off of an engagement ring - all feel authentic. What's even more powerful is what Marshall and director Linda Kash have left out.
We never meet Shelley's stepfather, for instance, but a scene in which we hear his car pull up in the driveway (and see her scurry around fearfully) tells us everything we need to know.
And Marshall's such a good performer that we see the humanity beneath the grandmother's crusty exterior. Look how touching it is to see the young Shelley with a Doris Day record, after we've learned that her mother looks like the singing actor.
The final third could be developed and shaped better, but Marshall has come up with a brilliant little bit near the end. After a bout at a mental hospital, the adult Shelley breaks theatre's fourth wall and appeals to the audience to help "put her together" with clothes and makeup.
It's a simple gesture - it even elicits giggles from the audience - but it demonstrates how much she allows herself to become vulnerable, all in an effort to get better.
Kash's direction, from the choice of music to the pacing, helps the material immensely. The production, performed in the intimate attic-like upstairs space of the Alumnae Theatre, is the perfect venue for the show.
Hold Mommy's Cigarette returns to the Alumnae for two weeks at the end of May, from May 23 to June 2.
More details at shelleymarshall.com.
Through the Roof
Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's Fiddler On The Roof is one of the greatest American musicals, and central character Tevye the dairy man is one of the most demanding roles in the repertoire.
Not everything works in Stage West's production, on until the end of the month, but George Masswohl's Tevye is a towering achievement.
Big, burly and full of life, he's consistently watchable, whether carrying on his frequent conversations with God, misquoting scripture to the townsfolk in the little Russian town of Anatevka or arguing with three of his daughters who have met men who challenge his Jewish traditions.
Masswohl's booming baritone can handle the role's passionate outcries, and he tosses off the kitschy dances - Tevye's almost become the Jewish equivalent of Zorba the Greek - with unselfconscious ease.
But he's as good an actor as he is a singer, and he invests even the shortest lines - a "God be with you" for instance - with heart-stopping emotion.
One of the highlights is Tevye's duet with his wife, Golde (Denise Oucharek), sung with an ease and familiarity that it truly suggests 25 years of companionship.
Tevye's daughters Tzeitel (Gabi Epstein), Chava (Nicole Norsworthy) and Hodel (Amy Wallis) are all strong and fully characterized - the famous number Matchmaker is another high point. John Alex MacFarlane and Eric Craig, meanwhile, bring intelligence and pluck to their suitors Motel and Perchick.
The pacing in some numbers feels rushed, and the dream sequence - always tough to pull off - is merely serviceable. Plus, not all the cast is working at the same high level.
But it's worth seeing for Masswohl's performance alone. And of course the show, which is also being performed this season at the Shaw Festival, is always worth a revisit.