Arts Club Theatre
by Dean Regan
At the Stanley Theatre
to November 22
STANLEY THEATRE SWINGS INTO LIFE WITH ENERGY & STYLE
by Roxanne Davies
As a relative newcomer to Vancouver, I never went to the 60-year old Stanley Theatre when it was a movie theatre. I never got to sit in the back seat of the venerable theatre, necking with a date while a movie flickered on the silver screen. When Famous Players Theatre shut the Stanley down in 1991, its commercial life was thought to be over, and the developers were moving in for a kill. A multinational corporation flogging clothing or burgers was only a decision away. Luckily, a group of dedicated and enlightened people with an infusion of government money and the generous funding of countless individuals and corporations, the Stanley has been resurrected into one of the city's grandest venues for life theatre. And to think it could have been a Gap store!
The choice of SWING, a musical revue, to inaugurate the theatre was a good choice, a nostalgic look back to the days of the big bands, when swing was king and the city did swing to the sounds of the likes of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Stan Kenton and Harry James. Divided into two acts, the setting is various ballrooms and dance halls in North America during the 1930's and 1940's, including the Crystal Ballroom, the Club Cashbah, the Copacabana and the London Palladium..
The show got off to a clever start with the band getting off a "bus" and strolling across the stage carrying their instruments. They were followed by the energetic dancers, on their way to a good time. And then the curtain went up to reveal the 13 piece band in place, and from that moment on, your foot started tapping and the familiar tunes got under you skin.
Gary Guthman, bandleader and trumpeter, did a masterful job leading his band through a repertoire of 25 familiar tunes, from In the Mood, to Begin the Beguine and everything in-between. But the orchestra looked a little cramped as they played on a relatively shallow stage that was originally meant for vaudeville, yet was never used for that purpose. And that was the one flaw I could detect in the show. In a perfect world, the Stanley would have a larger stage, although performers made good use of the two Juliette balconies that flank the stage.
The dancers, youthful, talented and energetic, were also constrained by the narrow strip of stage on which they were obliged to strut their stuff. But strut they did. And glide, slide, waltz and jitter bug, the 9 dancers/singers provided energetic song and dance routines that took your mind off the fact that there wasn't a real story line to the evening.
I must mention Debby Timuss, a very beautiful and talented dancer who seemed to put 150 % into her role. I also liked Rebecca Codling's sweet rendition of A Tisket, A Tasket. Like the other cast members, they weren't even born during the years the show represented, but that didn't stop them from throwing their hearts and souls into their performances and displaying a remarkable amount of energy in the one and a half hour show. The fast paced show never flags in energy, and you barely had a chance to catch your breath before the next song.
Doug Balfour's piano solo was superb, as was the melancholy and sweet trombone solo of I'll Never Smile Again. The 650 -seat theatre doesn't have a bad seat in the house and the acoustics are exceptional. There were also some memorable backdrops, notably the gauzy panelled pillars holding sparkling candlebra descending during the song I Had The Craziest Dream.
The intermission gave the festive crowd a chance to imbibe a glass of wine in the downstairs or upstairs lounges, and note the refurbished details from the gilded, illuminated scallop shells lining the ceiling to the enormous gilt-painted dome.
The second act opened with the orchestra dressed in army uniforms for a Second World War radio broadcast. It made me nostalgic for a time I have never experienced, but I noticed the white-haired ladies across the aisle from me, tapping their feet and singing along with all the songs that transported them to their youth. The show got a standing ovation and the cast came back with a rendition of Pennsylvania 6-5000 with the nine dancers kicking up their heels in a final wild jitterbug.
Director Dean Regan is the first to try out this beautiful theatre and he must be commended for creating a sparkling and sophisticated kick-off to what is sure to be one of Vancouver's most popular venues.
Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies