AISLE (SEASONAL) SAY, TORONTO: School of Rock; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; The Wizard of Oz

So, Slava’s Snow Show has come and gone but you are still in the mood for some more holiday ho, ho, huh? Well there is plenty of seasonal fare in Toronto, so just take your pick!

Although it does not come up to the enjoyment level of the 2003 comedy film starring Jack Black, there is still plenty of entertainment value in School of Rock, the musical adapted from the movie with a new score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book by Julian (Downton Abbey) Fellowes. The big difference between the film and the stage musical is the music. 

After seeing the production recently in Toronto, I had to ask myself what it was that left such a good memory for me from the original film. Certainly Jack Black was very funny as Dewey Finn  (starring Meritt David Janes in a fine redux), the rock star wannabe and reluctant substitute teacher who has much of his namesake Huckleberry’s rebellious spirit within him. He drives the show and is in just about every scene.

But it was the playlist put together for the jukebox musical of a film that was the clincher for me, enjoyment wise. AC/DC, The Clash, The Doors, Cream, The Who, Black Sabbath, Metalica, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Stevie Nicks… I mean the list just goes on and on with some tunes played only in quick riffs and others in longer variations. With all due respect to the musical theatre work of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber – he could compose rock music for the rest of his life and never come close to this pantheon of rock composers. 

But it is the young cast that makes the whole thing work. The kids are just as talented as they need to be as singers, actors and musicians. And what musicians! If you have a young one at home who doesn’t like to practice – and who does really? – take her out to see this show and just nod, “see there, just stay at it, you’ll get there one day!”

Kudos to all of these young players in the band (as well as well as those who took the roles of manager and tech staff): Arianna Pereira, Leanne Parks, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Grier Burke, Mystic Inscho, Sami Bray, Theo Mitchell-Penner, Julian Brescia and Jacob Moran.

Walking out of the Ed Mirvish Theatre, there was one interpolated song that did stick with me like an ear worm that just wouldn’t let go. In the first act, on Dewey’s first day of substitute teaching, we are introduced to the student musicians during orchestra rehearsal being conducted by Rosalie Mullins, the school principal (played with perfect pitch here by Lexie Dorsett Sharp). She is in the middle of the aria sung by the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Talented composer that Mozart. Can’t get his tune out of my head.

And hey, you think it’s tough getting your hands on one of those Cuban Lunch chocolate bars made in Winnipeg? Just be thankful your name’s not Charlie Buckett. Since Willy Wonka went out of business, he’s been trying to get his hands on one of those delicious Wonka Bars and it is a very tough business let me tell you.

In the end, however, all is well with Charlie when the wicked little dusters who try to jump to the head of the chocolate bar factory tour cue are punished (in various, suitably gruesome ways) for their greedy, ego-driven wickedness while the good, chocolate loving people of Roald Dahl’s fictional universe are richly rewarded in this ethnographically challenged piece of confection. And aren’t those Oompa Loompas so sweet?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (with book by David Grieg and music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whittman and Shaiman) is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (until January 6th) featuring Noah Weisberg, Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffery, Rueby Wood, James Young, Amanda Rose, Jessica Cohen, Madeleine Doherty, Kathy Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Hackmann, Daniel Quadrino, David Samuel, Brynn Williams, and Matt Wood.

Has it been 23 years since Ross Petty took it upon himself to keep up the British tradition of Christmas panto by producing one annually in the beautiful Elgin Theatre? Petty assured us this was indeed the case and that the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund has benefitted to the tune of $290,000 dollars and counting. This is indeed an achievement worth celebrating and what better way to do that than by stopping by to take in this year’s terrific version of The Wizard of Oz (A Toto-ly Twistered Family Musical!).

The talented director and choreographer, Tracy Flye, is again helming the tuner featuring Eric Craig, Michael De Rose, Camille Eanga-Selenge, Eddie Glen, Sara-Jeanne Hosie, Matt Nethersole, Daniel Williston, Darren Burkett, Julia Juhas, Kevin McLachlan, Matthew Pinkerton, Sierra Holder, Judy Kovacs, Jennifer Mote, and Conor Scully.

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