Presenting the Cowichan Genies for the best stage productions of 2013

Into the Woods was one of the year
Into the Woods was one of the year's best shows, according to reviewer Peter W. Rusland.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

The best part of this year's Genie awards, cheering stage shows that entertained Cowichanians, is the impressive efforts of local amateurs and student actors.

Albertine In Five Times, Into The Woods, Hairspray, and Twelfth Night were mounted by non-professionals in our midst, offering dramatic art that competed with that of professional performers as one of 2013's best stage acts.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Past years too were packed with notable local shows.

All the more reason to expect quality bang for your theatre buck, not just when seeing a visiting star at the Cowichan or Chemainus theatre, but when watching locals work at one of our many excellent smaller venues.

Youth: Into The Woods

Dec. 6, T. Gil Bunch Theatre

We thought it was safe to go back Into The Woods, before act two.

Then Chalkboard Theatre viewers in the T. Gil Bunch theatre had sober second thoughts about happily ever after being so happy.

Stiff misgivings about finding love, security and fulfillment — without guilt, regret and greed — honeycombed one of Cowichan's best independent-youth plays in years.

Directors Tilly Lorence and Michelle Tremblay, plus musical director Laura Cardriver, steered two-dozen adept actors through the demanding existential musical on James O'Leary's multi-dimensional set.

Action was anchored by a huge stage page pulled from psychologist Carol Jung's red book.

That reference to Jung's theories of the collective unconscious, and archetypical figures, was perfect for illustrating James Lapine's book, backed by Stephen Sondheim's near-operatic tunes.

Drama: Albertine In Five Times,

May 24, Duncan Garage Showroom

Set a side your troubles and listen to Albertine's.

Your issues may pale beside playwright Michel Tremblay's life-long suffering mother and wife — whose pain is potentially shared by everyone — depicted in Shawnigan Players' penetrating return of Albertine In Five Times.

Director Alex Gallacher's all-female cast hit a homer during its staging of Albertine, after a three-month hiatus.

Viewers had nowhere to hide in a darkened Duncan Garage Showroom where an elderly Albertine (Leslie Sanchez) left her rocking chair and summoned her past selves, at various ages of adulthood.

Four former Albertines appeared, sat on simple black boxes, and discussed the trials and complex tribulations of their anguished life.

High School: Hairspray

April 11, Shawnigan Lake School

Hairspray would be a good play just for its sets, song-and-dance numbers, comedy, and rock 'n' roll.

But Shawnigan Lake School's lively version became great with its marvelous messages about love and equality beating hate and bigotry during its Cowichan Theatre premiere.

Director Gregg Perry, band leader Shannon Tyrrell, choreographer Samantha Currie, and costumier Norma Bowen led a dazzling cast of many colours in this '60s Broadway hit soaked in social symbolism.

It all hinged on star-gazing gal Tracy (Grace Miller-Day) trying to get on the Corny Collins teen TV show, a loaf of white bread perhaps reminiscent of the old Dick Clark Show.

Circus: Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats,

Oct. 9, Cowichan Theatre

Dancing bears, lion tamers and prancing elephants were thankfully nowhere in sight during this stunning visit by the shimmering Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats.

The masters of balance, agility and illusion didn’t need those tepid circus acts.

Instead, Cowichan Theatre viewers got a breathtakingly colourful, cultural education they won’t soon forget.

The rapid-fire show of strength and grace, by Ken Hai’s 14-member troupe, sprayed the senses during two hours of stunts.

Ballet: Swan Lake

Jan. 27, Cowichan Theatre

Evil Von Rothbart's hex seemed to vex Cowichan Theatre's sound system during Ballet Jörgen's lavish Swan Lake.

Act-one's computer glitch cut music to the stage stacked with a cunning cast that made local artistic history by continuing to dance in silence during the rare technical gap.

It left the crowd dangling as if in suspended animation during an unforgettable 55 seconds.

It seemed an eternity to Ed Lazenby, the theatre's part-time soundman, who saved the show by staying calm and amazingly restoring the music at the right place.

Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

July 26, Gem ' O The Isle B&B,

Twelfth Night delightfully fell again in Cowichan with Shawnigan Players' outdoor staging of Shakespeare's cheeky comedy-romance.

Its run at tranquil Gem O' The Isle B&B deserved its standing ovation as director Alex Gallacher — returning as Malvolio after bard@brentwood's 2007 version — and his cast used a bare wooden stage, period costumes, and swords to slice into raucous high jinks.

Twelfth Night complemented the Players' 2012 Gem of a hit, Pride and Prejudice — both plays are perched on romance, comeuppances, and downfalls filtered through exemplary dialogue.

Musical Dance: Singing' In The Rain

June 14, Chemainus Theatre

Hollywood spends millions recreating what Chemainus Theatre did for far less: make the magic of Vaudevillian romance come alive.

That elusive illusion happened during the debut of Singin' In The Rain, perhaps Cowichan's most daring display of dance yet.

True, other shows boasted sweeping choruses of great choreography.

But Rain director Tracey Power's cast plugged into more intimate, near-animated footwork.

That talent was exemplified by Jonathan Purvis' Cosmo Brown, whose jaw-dropped moves stunned viewers during Make 'Em Laugh.

Political: Tommy Douglas: The Arrows Of Desire,

Sept. 12, Duncan Garage Showroom

Actor John Nolan's reincarnation of Tommy Douglas is must viewing for all Canadians.

Especially those who naively ask "Who's Tommy Douglas?"

But once they get sick, old, or jobless, they might be interested to know Tommy gave us universal medicare — sadly now under attack by private care — unemployment insurance, and our pension plans.

The feisty NDP leader was also premier of Saskatchewan, and later, Nanaimo-Cowichan's MP.

But viewers put Tommy's accomplishments aside, drinking in Nolan's depiction of a common guy who fought hard for the average person overtaxed and under-served by bland bureaucracy.

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