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The best of 2006 Toronto theatre

December 31, 2006

Tops was the COC's good Ring (not to be mistaken with Kevin Wallace's bad Ring)

By JOHN COULBOURN -- Toronto Sun

It's that time of year again -- a time when those of us who devote our professional lives to scoping out the best on offer in the entertainment world attempt to ring in a new year by wringing out the old, squeezing the last few drops of magic from the best -- or, at very least, the most memorable -- a waning year had to offer.

Of course, no discussion of Toronto theatre in 2006 would be complete without mention of The Lord of Rings, Kevin Wallace's multi-million dollar attempt to shoe-horn J.R.R. Tolkien's mammoth literary masterpiece onto the stage of the Princess of Wales Theatre. When he discovered he couldn't do that, he devoted himself to blaming mean-spirited Toronto critics and Toronto's unsophisticated theatre audience -- an audience that just wasn't British enough for Wallace's taste, it seems.

One hopes that the door didn't hit him in the butt (or catch the tail that should have been between his legs) on his way out, what with a $3-million loan from Ontario taxpayers still outstanding, it might be added. Here's hoping that by the time a revamped production of LOTR opens in London's West End in the spring, the churlish Mr. Wallace will have learned the first rule of theatre: critics might be wrong, but the audience is always right.

Happily, there was plenty of other work on offer in and around the Toronto area to wash the taste of Wallace's sour grapes from our entertainment palate. Herewith, and in no particular order, my top 10 memories of a vintage year:

1. The Ring Cycle

The Canadian Opera Company celebrated its new performance home in the oh-so-elegant Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts by staging Canada's first homegrown production of the four operas that comprise Der Ring Des Nibelungen (more commonly known as the Ring cycle), and came up aces.

2. Our Town

Soulpepper chose to christen a new home in the Young Centre, which incidentally has brought a whole lot of much-needed life to the historic Distillery District, with a flawless revival of Joe Ziegler's brilliant production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town -- and we are awfully glad they did.

3. A Beautiful View

Together, Daniel MacIvor and da da kamera carved out a large place in the hearts of Toronto theatre-goers over the past two decades -- and in ending that collaboration, they offered up this intimate and touching work for two on the stage of Buddies In Bad Times where, happily, a MacIvor retrospective will continue through spring.

4. The Crucible

They were Puritans (and not Quakers, as I suggested in my review), but the characters in Henry Miller's classic play were brought so brilliantly and timelessly to life in the Shaw Festival's production that the truth of the work almost knocked the wind out of you.

5. 10 Days On Earth

Some people, it seems, want Ronnie Burkett and his marionettes to keep doing the same old show over and over again -- but not me. Not when he comes up with shows like this one that explores the small world of a learning-impaired young man with compassion, ferocious honesty, humour and detail.

6. The Glass Menagerie

Stratford came up aces with Miles Potter's surprisingly funny take on Tennessee Williams' classic -- one that still managed to pack a wallop, thanks to stand-out performances from an entire cast, headlined by Seana McKenna and Steven Sutcliffe.

7. All Balanchine Mixed Program

There are still times when it could be argued that choreographer George Balanchine, with his slavish devotion to form and geometry, was the father of modern-day synchronized swimming. But when you put several of his pieces together, as the National Ballet did in an evening that combined the Four Temperaments, Apollo and Theme And Variations, it could be argued that he is also the father of pure dance bliss.

8. Return: The SarAjevo Project

Daryl Cloran (arguably one of the most exciting young directors working in Canada) and the folks at Theatrefront teamed up with a group of Bosnian artists to create this little play with a huge heart that examines how and why a people's roots might cling to tortured soil.

9. South Pacific

Trust me when I say I've had dental appointments that I anticipated with more glee than Stratford's opening of what I was sure would prove to be a tired old war horse. Well, under the direction of choreographer Michael Lichtefeld, with the lovely Cynthia Dale heading up a stellar cast, it came out of the gate prancing like a filly. I should only have so much fun at my dentist -- just kidding, doc.

10. Artword Theatre

While Toronto gained two impressive new spaces in the Four Seasons and Young Centres, it also lost a little jewel when Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford were forced to close the doors of Artword Theatre to make way for a condo tower. They went out in style, however, with an impressive staging of Weihs' own adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Gambler. At last report, the twosome was still looking for a new location.


Richard Bradshaw

Stage Entertainer of the Year

Richard Bradshaw: If he'd contented himself with merely spearheading the effort that culminated in the opening of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Richard Bradshaw could have been credited with making a major change in the Toronto skyline.

In daring to open the Four Seasons with a full-blown production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, however, he made a major change in the psyche of our city, proving in the process that there is nothing in the area of artistic endeavour that Canadians can't do once they've put their minds to it.


2005 Tom Patterson

2004 The Audience

2003 Jackie Richardson