Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Stage Look Ahead

Steven Schelling and I look ahead at 2011 and pick a few of our favourite things in this week's cover story for WE.

Australian ‘new circus’ company Circa (above) brings its gymnastic dance style to Vancouver as part of the PuSh Festival.
Australian ‘new circus’ company Circa (above) brings its gymnastic dance style to Vancouver as part of the PuSh Festival.
Credit: Supplied

Stage Invasion

Funding cuts and the recession cast a pall over Vancouver’s stage scene last year. Who knew what 2011’s tighter budgets would hold for the city’s arts community? Would those smaller companies and festivals that depended on provincial grants manage to survive? Would arts groups band together to create co-productions? Would international and touring acts fill in the inevitable holes? As it turns out, the answer to all these questions is yes. From puppets to Panych to the King of Pop, there are plenty of things to look forward to on the city’s stages in the year ahead.


Renowned Vancouver-based actor Bob Frazer takes the director’s chair and launches his production company, Osimous Theatre, with a play that has been billed as “an Our Town for our time.” (The comparison to Thornton Wilder’s treacle-laden ode to 19th-century rural America — a staple of the Midwestern high-school drama circuit — is likely meant positively. We can’t see how, but there it is.) Those who lack a taste for the sweetly earnest can take heart in the fact that The Pavilion is the creation of Craig Wright, an Emmy Award-nominated screenwriter and producer of TV hits Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters. Lead actor Craig Erickson plays Peter, a man who returns to his hometown for his 20th high school reunion and meets up with his old flame, Kari (Dawn Petten). Parnelli Parnes, as the narrator, guides the couple through their time together. Promising a bare-bones production (no set, minimal props), The Pavilion could be the start of something great. Jan. 8-23 at Firehall Arts Centre (280 E. Cordova). Tickets $25 from 604-689-0926 or


Launched in 2003 by then-Rumble Productions director Norman Armour and Touchstone Theatre’s Katrina Dunn as a performance series for three new works, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival is now a dead-of-winter arts powerhouse (with a $1.7 million budget) that brings internationally acclaimed performers to Vancouver and showcases plenty of local talent, too. The focus of many of the fest’s free and ticketed events this year is Vancouver’s 125th anniversary. Considering the continued financial fallout from the Olympics, PuSh may be the only birthday party in town this year. Jan. 18-Feb. 6 at various venues. Visit for schedules and ticket prices.


Having seen this wonderfully funny — and often raunchy — puppets ’n’ humans musical in all its Broadway glory several times over the years, we’re thrilled that the Tony Award-winning Avenue Q is finally making its way to Vancouver. Audiences will no doubt be drawn in by its delightfully on-the-nose songs (“The Internet is for Porn,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”) and vigorous puppet sex, but they’ll become emotionally invested in the achingly familiar narrative of aimless and lonely people trying to figure out who they are. Feb. 1-5 at Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer). $61.25-$86.75 from


Chelsea Handler
If you like your funny bone tickled by wickedly clever and acerbic female comedians, you’re in luck. In the coming months, Vancouver plays host to a bevy of brilliant visiting acts, like vodka-swilling talk-show host Chelsea Handler, insult comedian Lisa Lampenelli, acid-tongued actress Wanda Sykes, and the reigning queen of self-deprecation, Joan Rivers, on hand as part of the Unique Lives & Experiences series. Chelsea Handler appears Feb. 19 at the Orpheum (Smithe & Seymour). Tickets $69.50-$89.50 from Lisa Lampenelli appears Feb. 26 at River Rock (8811 River Road, Richmond). Tickets $54.50-$64.50 from Wanda Sykes appears May 6 at River Rock. Tickets $54.50-$64.50 from Joan Rivers appears May 17 at the Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer). Visit for ticket information.


The cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Three of the best stage productions from the 2009/’10 season are making their way back to Vancouver stages in 2011. Blackbird Theatre’s brilliant production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a bitterly funny yet devastatingly dark tale of marital discord, moves from the Cultch to the Arts Club, featuring a star turn by Gabrielle Rose. A Beautiful View stars Colleen Wheeler and Diane Brown as two women who tiptoe around friendship and love for over 20 years, and boasts a masterful script and subtle direction from iconic Canadian writer-director Daniel MacIvor. And, drawing inspiration from Henrich Harrer’s book of the same name is Mascall Dance’s The White Spider, which pairs mountain climbing and dance as it chronicles the challenges of scaling the north face of the Eiger Mountains. If you missed any of these the first time around, consider yourself lucky to have this second chance. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs Feb. 10-Mar. 12 at Granville Island Stage (1585 Johnston). Tickets $29-$49 from A Beautiful View runs Apr. 4-9 at Presentation House Theatre (333 Chesterfield, North Van). Tickets $24-$28 from The White Spider runs Apr. 10-16 at the Shadbolt Centre for Performing Arts (6450 Deer Lake, Burnaby). Tickets $25-$30 from


The Royal Winnipeg Ballet proved its talent for pop-culture adaptations with 2009’s visually rich and risqué Moulin Rouge. The company continues reaching out to audiences who might shy away from the more traditional trappings of ballet with this year’s Wonderland, a wild riff on the adventures of Lewis Carroll’s heroine, Alice, as she encounters the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, and a host of other weird and wonderful creatures in the titular land of dreams. Mar. 24-27 at the Centre for Performing Arts (777 Homer). Tickets and information at


Preeminent Canadian triple-threat (actor, playwright, and director) Morris Panych debuted this, his latest work, at the Stratford Festival in 2009, and followed that up with a staging at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre last fall. Finally, Vancouver gets its chance to peek in on The Trespassers, a coming-of-age story about a small-town teen caught between his anarchist, atheist grandfather and his born-again Christian mother. Mar. 26-Apr. 16 at Vancouver Playhouse (Hamilton & Dunsmuir). Ticket info TBA. Visit for more information.


Even without its stellar original cast (Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Joel Grey), Wicked’s behind-the-scenes talent ensured it would be a success — which is good news, because none of those stars are touring with the production coming to town. Still, the 17th longest-running show on Broadway has an impressive pedigree that helped it overcome initially lukewarm reviews. Based on the bestselling novel by Gregory Macguire and adapted by Winnie Holzman (creator and writer of TV’s iconic coming-of-ager My So-Called Life) and composer Stephen Schwartz (Pippin), Wicked tells the “true” story of the Wicked Witch of the West (of The Wizard of Oz fame). Did we forget to mention the giant fire-and smoke-breathing dragon? Or that the show’s big book number, “Defying Gravity,” snagged some major play on Glee? (Menzel and Chenoweth have also guest-starred on the show.) Or that it’s going to be the gayest show since Cyndi Lauper opened for Cher at GM Place during Pride Week 1999. Put on your ruby slippers, Dorothy — it’s going to be a campy night. June 1-26 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Hamilton & W. Georgia). Ticket info TBA. Visit for more information.


Michael Jackson’s legacy has been muddied by years of disturbing allegations and bizarre behaviour, but no one can dispute his impressive musical catalogue. That his own life was a veritable circus (albeit tending more toward the freak-show side of things) makes Cirque du Soleil’s highly anticipated production the perfect marriage of artistry, creativity, and fantasy. The music will rock, the choreography will astound, and ultimately, there’s no more fitting tribute imaginable for the self-styled King of Pop. Nov. 4-6 at Rogers Arena (800 Griffiths Way). Tickets $69.50-$190.50 from

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