Bet your bottom dollar you’ll love Align Entertainment’s ANNIE, THE MUSICAL!

The orphan crew in Align Entertainment’s Annie: The Musical. Photo: Anita Alberto.

Everybody’s favourite redheaded moppet, Little Orphan Annie, is a pop culture icon dating back to the 1920’s who leapt (leapin’ lizards!) to renewed life on the Broadway stage in 1977, then in the hit movie that has kept her firmly in people’s hearts ever since. Now Annie arrives at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre for a solidly entertaining and handsomely realized production that brims with all the charm, humour and pathos one hopes for in this classic show.

Newcomer Camryn MacDonald arrives from Delta Youth Theatre (and Perry Ehrlich’s “Showstoppers” youth chorus) well prepared to take on this high-profile role, and brings her winning demeanour and abundant vocal talent to the role. We’re rooting for her from the outset, as she tangles with the reprehensible, little-girl-hating Miss Hannigan (Erin Matchette, sinking her teeth into, and getting plenty of laughs out of, an against-type villainous role).

But a big surprise comes in the form of tiny Naomi Tan, a borderline toddler with full-size performing chops who threatens to steal the show outright. She had the audience in the palm of her hand every second she was on stage, particularly in “Hard Knock Life”, where her expert mimicking of Miss Hannigan sent ripples of delight through the opening-night audience.

Though played with a light touch, there is an invariably sombre undertone to this story of a little girl whose parents are likely deceased but who clings to the hope that they’ll return to claim her. “Maybe”, her imagined vision of the home life of her real parents, is always a heartbreaker. And “Tomorrow” may get ribbed for its (supposedly) simplistic message, but there’s a reason for its longevity – it’s a winner of an anthem that can hardly be faulted for the catchiness that made it ubiquitous.

The entire score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin is delivered with brassy aplomb by the fine 12-piece orchestra under Kevin Woo’s direction. And for those who (like me) only knew the movie version, but loved the songs, there’s a musical bonus: several numbers that, typically for a Broadway-to-Hollywood transition, were left out of the 1982 film. Thus we get “Hooverville”, which takes aim at U.S. President Herbert Hoover, whose policies were held responsible by many for the extent of the Great Depression; and “NYC”, an ode to the greatest city in the world.

The cast are uniformly excellent. The 12 orphan girls are a tightly-knit ensemble who each make distinct impressions. Arne Larsen is an imposing figure as the bald-headed, almost comically rich and politically connected industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Laura Cowan is a perfect blend of crisp efficiency and maternal concern as Warbucks’ secretary, Grace. Robin Sukorokoff is properly avuncular and presidential (remember when presidents had that quality?) as President Roosevelt. And Morgan Collins as the very proper butler, Drake, even gets a couple of out-of-left-field laughs of his own.

“Annie” has stood the test of time as a tribute to plucky optimism in tough times, buoyed by a memorable score full of beloved songs and a rags-to-riches underdog storyline. All of these elements are wonderfully realized in Align’s new production. If it’s true that you’re never fully dressed without a smile, your ensemble will be complete with a wide grin by the end of this tremendously entertaining show.

More info and tickets for “Annie” at their listing here on the VMTC!

Aw, Gee…

Align Theatre’s Annie reminds: Yesterday’s Tomorrow is Today

Leapin’ lizards! Photo: Anita Alberto

State of the U.S. union, vintage 1933:

A polarized country, with millions unemployed or underemployed and homeless, while one-percenters hole up in penthouses, buffered by liveried servants; warehoused children, wrenched from families and turned over to feckless wardens; foreign dictators gloating over American decline; a name-dropping, celebrity culture where grifters flourish as honest toilers founder.

So what does it take to make such a dystopia Great Again?

Why, a thrusting billionaire, of course, accustomed to getting his own way without question. But in the 1930’s, it seems – unlike today – that was a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

The other indispensable ingredient – at least as depicted in the Broadway/Hollywood hit musical Annie, currently revived in a spirited Align Theatre production at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox auditorium – is a gamine, pre-teen Orphan whose indomitable spunk inspires either adoration or loathing from all who meet her.

Wearing the frizzy orange wig of this title character, the Align marquee features veteran kiddie-trouper Camryn MacDonald. First among her adorers is the aforesaid pluripotent billionaire, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Arne Larsen), followed by his long train of flunkies.

These include not just his household staff, but also such obedient minions as U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and assorted cabinet secretaries and Supreme Court jurists, along with most everyone else in the 37-member cast (35 humans and two canines).

But Annie’s nagging positivity earns her a trio of haters, too. I blush to disclose that I found these villains among the most engaging performers in the show: Erin Matchette as the neurotically pedophobic orphanage matron, Daniel Curelli as her ebulliently shifty brother and Leah Newson as his ditzy moll.

They dance with the windblown saurian grace of a leaping Caribbean Anolis lizards as they scheme to make off with Warbucks’ proffered bounty of USD 50,000 (worth nearly a cool million in 2019 current dollars) to Annie’s presumptive long-lost parents. Their swindle involves impersonating the most guileless species imaginable: rural Canadians.

Aside from this scam, though, pretty much everybody on stage maintains the inflections and body language of the show’s New York City locale. As a born and bred New Yorker, I can attest that MacDonald captures our native dialect with a pitch-perfect shrill nasality.

Larsen’s Warbucks is less convincing as a Manhattanite. Like our current Billionaire-in-Chief, he seems more of an Outer Borough boy, although with a notably seemlier hairdo (he’s bald). He acts and dances with a kind of golem gravitas, but his singing voice is rich and resonant, with impressive range, from a rumbling Captain of Industry baritone to a vulnerable Poor Little Rich Boy tenor.

Even the stage sets for the Warbucks scenes convey a whiff of the Outer Boroughs. At one point we have Larsen singing a paean to the nonpareil splendours of the Big Apple against a blandly urban backdrop that’s prominently labeled “Main Street” – a thoroughfare found in every New York borough except Manhattan.

There’s an Outer Borough ostentation, as well, about Warbucks’ Louis XIV MacMansion-in-the-sky. He operates from a huge home-office that’s literally oval and far more grandiose, as depicted on the Align stage, than FDR’s White House.

But Manhattan is convincingly – even poetically – evoked in designer Tony Barton’s Lower East Side sets for the underclass scenes of Hooverville street encampments and grim orphanage wards. He interleaves skeletal loft building facades and the unmistakably looming profile of the Manhattan Bridge, all silhouetted against lighting designer Robert Sondergaard’s cyclorama projections of the shifting neon glow from far-away Brooklyn.

Choreographer Nicol Spinola echoes a similarly crisp aesthetic typology of underclass versus upperclass scenes. She has Warbucks’ retinue frisking across the stage in mincing, prancing dressage, like an Offenbach operetta. Orphans and street bums, by way of contrast, march front-and-center, striking heroic poses worthy of a CultRev Model Opera.

Costume designer Chantal Short has combed thrift stores and vintage shops to trick out the whole ample Ensemble cast in 30’s Flash or breadline chic, as needed. She has plenty of bodies to go around for either sort of tableau. There’s strength-in-numbers in the orchestra pit, too, with over a dozen musicians under the baton of Kevin Woo belting out a virtually non-stop, two-hour score of show tunes.

Align’s director, Chad Marchette, bids fair to take out a local patent on this genre – the feel-good nostalgia musical, showcasing a lot of young amateur talent But there’s always  a biting aftertaste of implicit contemporary relevance, as so brilliantly exemplified by his last outing at the Fox auditorium.

Annie fits right into the same mold. The show climaxes with a quartet of FDR’s kitchen cabinet boffins reprising the title character’s signally vapid anthem, “Tomorrow,” in barbershop harmony as they ad lib an impromptu make-work scheme — let’s call it a New Deal — to make America great again.

And here we are, so many tomorrows later, struggling, against long odds, to reprise the same Deal all over again. This time let’s colour it Green. In the much-loved-or-loathed words of yet another spunky gamine, “How’s that hopey/changey stuff workin’ out fer ya?”


 Who’s yer Daddy now? Image: Harold Gray  

Align Entertainment Presents Annie

(I received complementary tickets in exchange for my review)

Annie has always been one of my favourite musicals. I watched both versions on VHS religiously as a child, had a chance to be in a production in school and saw it at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre many moons ago.

Photo taken by Emily Cooper

This version seemed different to me and I learned that it’s not uncommon for the scripts to change and get rewritten. There were songs I didn’t remember and scenes that seemed off to me. I also didn’t know why they said “always” instead of “only” during Tomorrow. It’s actually because the movie version changed it. Who knew?

Camryn McDonald plays Annie and brings a very unique approach to her performance. She’s incredibly animated, professional and focused, much like all the seasoned professionals around her! I see a bright and successful future for Camryn.

The whole ensemble had great chemistry and I really enjoyed the choreography. A Hard Knock Life was a great display of the talent of the young ladies playing the orphans. It was really mesmerizing and one of my favourite songs.

The sets were beautiful but it was hard for me to not pick out pieces that didn’t fit the depression-era that the musical is set in. I don’t blame them, it’s not easy (or cheap) to completely retrofit the set to be 100% accurate. Same thing can be said for some of the costumes. There’s a scene where President Roosevelt is seated at a table with his staff and two of the ladies look like they came right off the set of Laverne & Shirley, but again, there’s only so much you can do with budget restraints. I also can’t help that I have an innate attention to detail.

Photo taken by Emily Cooper

This is the second Align Entertainment production i’ve seen, the first one being Legally Blonde which I was SO excited to review.

Align has an incredibly dedicated team, committed to providing experiences you and your family will enjoy. It’s so important for the soul to immerse yourself in some arts and culture. Clearly i’m a big proponent of this!

Align Entertainment presents:

Annie: The Musical
Dates: February 1–16, 2019
Preview: February 1, 8pm
Family Matinee: February 2, 2pm
Opening Night: February 2, 8pm

Ticket Prices: Regular: $29–$42

Special Preview Pricing: $20
Thrifty Thursdays: $25
Family Matinee: $15
Address: Michael J. Fox Theatre
7373 Macpherson Ave
Burnaby, BC V5J 2B7

Tickets: or

The Reviews are in for A Christmas Story The Musical!…

“What followed, I can only describe as two hours of delight.  From the very first number, Counting Down to Christmas, it was clear that we were in good hands. From the charming and intricate sets, to the skillful orchestration, the entire production was ready to give us a night we were going to remember for a very long time.” Ryan Miller, Her Campus at UBC

“It’s very much the midnight voice I remember clandestinely tuning in to as a New York pre-teen way past my bedtime. I left the Fox Theatre feeling decades younger. So will you, if you’ve got decades to spare. Go see this musical and take the kids.” Lincoln Kaye, Vancouver Observer

“Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story is a heart-warming treat of musical theatre magic”

“Lastly, a note must be made of the universally excellent vocal talent in this show – from the leads, to the kids, on down to the entire ensemble. Pitch-perfect harmonies and soaring, blending voices are a regular feature of the evening, and kudos go to them and to Musical Director Caitlin Hayes for some outstanding work.  A Christmas Story, The Musical will light up your holiday season more brightly than a leg-shaped lamp perched at a suburban window. Don’t miss it!” Adam Abrams,

“A Christmas Story: The Musical is a holiday treat” Vancouver Presents

“A Christmas Story: The Musical is a warm, nostalgia-filled early gift” Kathleen Oliver, The Georgia Straight

“Having a live orchestra, under director James Bryson, ads extra depth to the performances and fills the theatre with the catchy tunes of Pasek & Paul like; It All Comes Down To Christmas, Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, Ralphie To The Rescue, and wrapping it all up with A Christmas Story, to send the audience home with a song in their heart and Christmas on the mind.” Jay Minter, On The List

“Whether you’ve seen A Christmas Story numerous times in your childhood like my husband, or never before like my daughters, you are sure to enjoy this show! It’s a hit for the entire family, with plenty of laughs and Christmas spirit.”

“Saw the show today. Another great production. We can’t wait for Annie in February. My 7 year old daughter is turning into a theatre regular now because of your shows.” Danielle L.

“Everyone on the team brought so much comedy and love to this story. Really captured the spirit of childhood, family, and the Holidays. Congrats on your Opening weekend! I WILL be going again!” 🎄 Matthew F.

“What a delightful musical…thoroughly enjoyable — such passion by the actors, singers and dancers all combined to making it the success it was.  Thank you, thank you, for the wonderful entertainment you continue to provide our community.” Shirley S.


(photo credits to Robert Sondergaard)

A Christmas Story: The Musical — Two Hours of Pure, Holiday Delight

Saturday, November 3rd, 7:45 PM — opening night.

Patrons of all ages bustled excitedly into the expanse of Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox theatre, myself among them, press ticket in hand. The indistinct hum of eager conversation between friends and family was electric in the air — the kind of anticipation that only comes before live performance.

Us musical-goers found our rows and took our seats, the clock ticking ever closer to curtain-up. It took no time for the theatre to fill, and before I knew it, the house lights were coming down. A hush fell over the audience.

And then, the orchestra began to play the overture. And we were off.

What followed, I can only describe as two hours of delight.

From the very first number, Counting Down to Christmas, it was clear that we were in good hands. From the charming and intricate sets, to the skillful orchestration, the entire production was ready to give us a night we were going to remember for a very long time.

Owen Scott’s performance as Ralphie Parker was superbly endearing, and an absolutely worthy centrepiece to the show. “That kid is amazing,” I heard a husband whisper to his wife in the darkness of the theatre beside me as Scott began to sing.

The dream sequences galore throughout are imaginative and thrilling, and make for a truly unique musical-viewing experience (you’ll know what I mean when you see them for yourself). Moments of humour produced huge laughs throughout the show, the most powerful of which, without question, was “Frageelay!”

Scott’s show-stopping numbers Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun and Ralphie to the Rescue were both undeniable personal favourites of mine. The children sitting two rows ahead of me spent the entire intermission singing the hook to Red Ryder, a true testament to Scott’s performance.

Scott also showcased his talent and professionalism during a minor wardrobe malfunction, fully staying in character until it could be rectified off-stage, and coming back on stronger than ever. Hats off to the young man.

He was by no means the only stand-out, however. Stefanie Stanley and Brennan Cuff as Ralphie’s mother and father had to stand in for all of our mothers and fathers, and boy did they deliver. As soon as they start singing, you realize how talented the entire cast is.

Georgiy Rhatushnyak’s performance as Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, was similarly excellent, and reminded all those of us who have been younger brothers and sisters just how much we look up to our older siblings.

I would also be remiss to not mention the incredible and captivating performance of Amanda Russell as Miss Shields, Ralphie’s teacher. The performance comes a surprise — elabourate tap numbers are certainly not expected from educational professionals. I must say, however, they are more than welcome. A true tour de force, Russell absolutely stole the show when she was on stage. Her passionate disdain for those who don’t stay within the margins was hilarious, and certainly a warning that I will heed going forward. (I promise, Miss Shields…)

Despite these exceptional performances, the show’s true strength comes in its small, intimate moments. Full of Christmas cheer, these brief moments of pause in between the fantastical musical numbers are soft, kind, and reminiscent of Christmases past. The show is about family, and at the end of the day, so is Christmas.Every ounce of magic that could have been injected into the evening was, and I was unendingly impressed.

I easily recommend the show to people of all ages who are in the mood for a little November Christmas spirit — adults, teenagers, children — even the Scrooge in your family who isn’t so sure they like musicals. This one is fun, (almost) entirely innocent, full of joy, and extremely well-sung. For fans of Christmas, there’s nothing not to like.

My interview last week with actress Stefanie Stanley can be read here.

War on Christmas: Ralphie gets his gun

America waxes Great Again for two fleeting hours in Align Entertainment’s endearing holiday musical.

Ho. Ho. Ho-and-a-half. Photo: Align Entertainment

Just eyeballing the 32 bodies on Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre stage for Align Entertainment’s revival of A Christmas Story, the Musical, I’d estimate the median age of the cast at about 15. And that includes a fair sprinkling of hyper-kinetic 40-somethings mixed in with the dauntingly talented juveniles.

So most of the players would be way too young to remember the late, great raconteur Jean Shepherd, whose childhood reminiscences plot the show. But the Banj Pasek/Justin Paul/Joseph Robinette script perfectly captures Shep’s patent blend of Middle American nostalgia and Greenwich Village irreverence on New York late night radio back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Like those legendary broadcasts, the musical injects myriad little send-ups, both scripted and physical clowning, to save the show from cloying sentimentality.

There’s something a tad subversive about the mere presence of so many pint-sized choristers in choreographer Melissa Turpin’s ebullient – and very adult – bump-and-grind kick lines. But producer/director Chad Matchette’s masterstroke of pre-teen casting is to slot 11-year-old Owen Scott into the role of Ralphie, Shep’s juvenile avatar.

Quite aside from his estimable singing and dancing chops, the kid convincingly deadpans his age-appropriate obsessions: how to appease his saccharine Mom (Stefanie Stanley), his irascible Dad, aka “the old man” (Brennan Cuff), his strict schoolteacher (Amanda Russell) and even the boozy Santa down at the local department store.

If he can ingratiate himself with these gatekeepers, he just might snag the Christmas present of his dreams: a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun, suitable for routing Bad Guys and saving damsels, as detailed in a show-stopping daydream sequence. Gun culture, after all, was not so vexed an issue back in 1940, when the story is set.

In fact, in an in-class theme, our young protagonist even goes so far as to present a presciently Trumpian case for arming himself in school. This, he fully expects, will earn him an A++ and an authoritative ally in his quest for a Christmas rifle. Instead his teacher marks him a dismal C+ with the tart addendum “you’ll shoot your eye out.”

That line (set to the NYA nyanya Nyah-Nyaah tune of the immemorial schoolyard taunt) becomes the refrain for a dance extravaganza. The schoolroom morphs into a Roaring 20’s speakeasy and the pinched schoolmarm becomes a sequinned flapper who leads the whole ensemble in dazzling tap routines.

Such lightning transformations abound throughout the two hour show, testimonial to the ingenuity of costume designer Maureen Robertson and set designer Conor Moore. Stage manager Sara Lohnes miraculously keeps the whole intricate clockwork ticking without any of the frenetic dancers dropping into the orchestra pit, where conductor James Bryson leads his dozen-member ensemble.

The baby of the cast, Georgiy Rhatushnyak as Ralphie’s kid brother, is too cute for comfort and eerily self-assured. And the adult co-stars more than hold up their end of the production – Cuff endearingly blustery, Stanley the very picture of housewifely self-effacement and motherly omnicompetence, and Russell delightfully schizoid as the real versus the fantasized teacher.

And then there’s Shep himself, played by Trent Glukler as a foreshadowing presence.  When he’s not cheering Ralphie on with unheard words of ghostly encouragement, he turns to directly address us in the audience with wry narrative reminiscence.

It’s very much the midnight voice I remember clandestinely tuning in to as a New York pre-teen way past my bedtime. I left the Fox Theatre feeling decades younger. So will you, if you’ve got decades to spare. Go see this musical and take the kids.


Youth Gives A Christmas Story : The Musical, A Leg Up

Clockwise from bottom left: Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy), Stefanie Stanley
(Mother), Brennan Cuff (The Old Man), Owen Scott (Ralphie)
pic: Emily Cooper

Align Entertainment kicks off the Holiday theatre season with A Christmas Story : The Musical.  The joyful musical is based on the film version of Jean Shepard’s semi-autobiographical anecdotal book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. The 1983 holiday classic comes to life with book by Joseph Robinette and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the award-winning songwriting duo behind La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman.

Set in the 1940s, A Christmas Story: The Musical opens on Jean Shepard’s Manhattan radio show, and takes us back to his youth and recollections of Ralphie Parker’s burning desire to find a ‘Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model BB Gun with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time’ under the Christmas tree. Along the way we meet the the Parker family; younger brother Randy, Mother and “the Old Man”, and Ralphie’s school friends and foes. The musical brings all the familiar scenes from the film version to life; snowsuits,  Scut Farkus the school bully, Flick sticking his tongue to flag pole, The Old Man’s ‘major award’ – the famed leg lamp, Ralphie’s pink bunny suit, a tastefully updated Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant and of course, the visit to Santa to ask for the Red Ryder BB Gun.

While Trent Glukler as Jean Shepard, Brennan Cuff as The Old Man, Stefanie Stanley as Mother and Amanda Russell as teacher, Mrs Shields anchor the show with their solid vocals and characterizations of the ‘grown ups’, it’s the younger actors who steal A Christmas Story.  Lead by a charming Owen Scott as Ralphie, Georgiy Rhatushnyak as Randy, the company is filled with many more young actors, allowing co-producer/director Chad Matchette to create a tight, energetic, fun show.

Owen Scott as Ralphie
pic: Emily Cooper

In this production, the ability to have up to 30 actors on the Michael J Fox stage, allows choreographer Melissa Turpin to create some fun Busby Berkeley-esque song and dance numbers.  Unfortunately, I feel that some of the fantasy pieces could be reduced or cut altogether, to trim the 2.5 hour run time.  While long, the youth save the day, their energy and joy at being part of A Christmas Story, invigorate the audience.  You can’t help but smile at the wide-eyed innocence portrayed by Owen in his lines and lyrics, bringing to mind the iconic film portrayal by Peter Billingsley, but making the role his own.

The detailed set by Conor Moore and great period costumes, by Maureen Robertson complete the picture and take us back to the 1940s. Having a live orchestra, under director James Bryson, ads extra depth to the performances and fills the theatre with the catchy tunes of Pasek & Paul like; It All Comes Down To Christmas, Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, Ralphie To The Rescue, and wrapping it all up with A Christmas Story, to send the audience home with a song in their heart and Christmas on the mind.

Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story : The Musical plays at Michael J Fox Theatre until November 17, 2018. Find tickets and showtimes at 

REVIEW: “A Christmas Story, The Musical” hits the bulls-eye

The cast of “A Christmas Story”. Clockwise from bottom left: Georgiy Rhatushnyak (Randy), Brennan Cuff (The Old Man), Stefanie Stanley (Mother), Owen Scott (Ralphie). Photo: Emily Cooper.

If you’re looking for an evening of holiday-themed musical family fun that will entertain one and all, look no further than A Christmas Story, The Musical from Align Entertainment, now playing at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox theatre. 

It deftly captures the innocent yet cheeky humour of the beloved film – and even if you somehow managed to miss it after all these years and endless TV showings, the musical version stands on its own as a charming, engaging and often-hilarious evocation of a 1940’s Christmas and 9-year-old Ralphie’s single-minded longing for – and hapless pursuit of – his dream gift.

That longed-for gift is, of course, an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Ralphie’s visions of himself as a gun-toting cowboy hero are fodder for some of the most entertaining set pieces in the show, as his classroom is overrun by bad guys and bank robbers, all of whom are handily defeated by his expert marksmanship skills. 

The show works well on all levels, with great characters, pacing, staging, and songs. The latter is, ironically, never guaranteed in a musical, but the score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (tunesmiths for stage hits like Dear Even Hansen and films like La La Land), is consistently tuneful and witty. 

Dramatically speaking, “A Christmas Story” expertly translates the set-piece moments of the film for the parameters of the stage. Ralphie’s hero fantasies become a grand Oklahoma! -style tableau of high-stepping townsfolk. His father’s similarly Walter-Mitty-eque dreams of winning a “major award” in a crossword-puzzle contest swell into a stage-filling, tap-dancing, glittering, Busby Berkeley-esque number.

The 12-piece band generates a big, lush sound in a melodic score that is in turn film-score orchestral and big-band jazzy. 

Equipped with a short 50’s haircut and chunky black retro specs, Owen Scott embodies the hapless Ralphie of the film version… but with sturdy vocal talent added to the mix. Brennan Cuff channels the sly charm of a Greg Kinnear as “The Old Man”. Stefanie Stanley brings a tender undertone to the role of Ralphie’s mom, constantly wrangling her kids to the breakfast table and to school. Her “What a Mother Does” is a moving, tender moment amidst all the fast-paced hilarity. And Trent Glukler brings a perfectly-pitched, laconic midwestern wit to the role of Jean Shepherd, radio host, storyteller and author of the tales upon which “A Christmas Story” was based. Here as in the movie, Shepherd acts as narrator.

Lastly, a note must be made of the universally excellent vocal talent in this show – from the leads, to the kids, on down to the entire ensemble. Pitch-perfect harmonies and soaring, blending voices are a regular feature of the evening, and kudos go to them and to Musical Director Caitlin Hayes for some outstanding work.

A Christmas Story, The Musical will light up your holiday season more brightly than a leg-shaped lamp perched at a suburban window. Don’t miss it!

Theatre review: A Christmas Story: The Musical is a holiday treat

Christmas has come early in this musical stage adaptation of the iconic film

Members of the cast of the Align Entertainment production of A Christmas Story: The Musical. Photo: Align Entertainment / Facebook.Members of the cast of the Align Entertainment production of A Christmas Story: The Musical. Photo: Align Entertainment / Facebook.

From the snow-suited younger brother who can’t get off the ground, a trip to visit Santa at Higbee’s department store, to a triple-dog-dare involving a tongue and a flagpole, all of the well-loved anecdotes from the film make an appearance.

But while all these moments and more remain, special recognition has to go to director Chad Matchette who has cleverly edited one of this show’s most problematic scenes, that of the Chinese restaurant. Without wanting to give away just how Matchette does it, suffice to say it is a welcome relief to see this racist moment expertly excised.

And even while the show becomes slightly bloated with a couple of fantasy scenes that go on just a bit too long, A Christmas Story: The Musical is so filled with comfy nostalgia, you can’t help but be warmed by its embrace.

As with Align Entertainment’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2016, much of the pleasures of this production comes from its young ensemble.

Leading the way is Owen Scott as the BB gun obsessed, Ralphie. Along with an impressive voice, Scott also manages to pay homage to Peter Billingsley, who played the now iconic role in the film, without resorting to any sort of impersonation.

The other younger players also impress.

One of the joys of Align Entertainment shows is in the sheer numbers they bring to the stage.  Virtually impossible to do in a professional setting due to costs, here their numbers equate to an impressive sound. Choreographer Melissa Turpin once again puts them through their paces with some wonderful results.

Among the adults, Stefanie Stanley brings the heart of the show with a wonderfully understated role as Ralphie’s mother. She lends her beautiful voice to two of the most touching moments in the musical with “What A Mother Does” and “Just Like That”.

As the only professional on the stage, Brennan Cuff brings his baritone to the role of “The Old Man”. Perhaps missing some of the warmth behind this character’s gruffness than the role deserves, Cuff is a pure delight in the showstopper, “A Major Award”.

Other highlights include Amanda Russell as school teacher Mrs Shields, who performs in an impressive “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” with the younger ensemble.

Despite the talent, the show isn’t without its problems. On opening night there were noticeable gaps in the action, and actors didn’t always hit their marks in Michael Hewitt’s lighting design. There were also some sound issues, which is always problematic in a musical.

Conor Moore’s massive two-story interior set of the Parker family home is impressive. Given its sheer size it was amazing to watch it so easily move on-and-off the stage.

Costume designer Maureen Robertson has the unenviable task of clothing such a large cast, and she does with some mixed results.

The twelve piece orchestra under the baton of musical director James Bryson are top-notch. And while it is a bit unusual perhaps to highlight individuals, special mention has to go to this production’s brass section.

For those looking to get an early start on Christmas, you’ll definitely not find a better way to get you in the holiday spirit than A Christmas Story: The Musical.

A Christmas Story: The Musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a book by Joseph Robinette. An Align Entertainment Inc production. On stage at the Michael J Fox Theatre (7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby) until November 17. Visit for tickets and information.

Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story is a heart-warming treat of musical theatre magic

November 4, 2018

The holiday season has begun and Align Entertainment is on the ball, with its slick, fun-filled production of A Christmas Story: The Musical. Based on the classic 1983 film, the musical version features an excellent score by Dear Evan Hansens Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The stage version definitely succeeds in capturing the same quirky humour and sweet family-life sentiment as the film. Align Entertainment has put a lot of hard work into this show – and the quality of this production sparkles like Christmas lights.

The story is told through the eyes of Jean Shepherd, a radio host in the 1960s who reminisces about one particular Christmas from his childhood – the year he wanted a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. As Shepherd recalls the events of that year, we see his memories unfold before our eyes. The setting is 1940s suburban America, and nine-year-old Ralphie is letting everyone know – including his parents, his teacher Miss Shields, and the Santa at the local mall – about his Christmas wish.

Ralphie is a bit on the imaginative side, and he and his family are fun to watch. He has a sweet, stay-at-home mother, and a loud opinionated father who is referred to in the show as “The Old Man”. Ralphie also has a cute little brother, Randy, who follows Ralphie along on his adventures. And adventures are plentiful for Ralphie, as he and his best buds Schwartz and Flick struggle to survive on a daily basis against school bully Scut Farkas and his sidekick Dill.

From left to right: Trent Glukler, Stefanie Stanley, Georgiy Rhatushnyak, and Owen Scott. Photo credit: Align Entertainment’s Facebook

As Ralphie, young Owen Scott does an outstanding job carrying the show. His characterization and singing are spot on, and you really feel you’re with him as he experiences his ups and downs throughout the story. As his older counterpart, Jean Shepherd (I don’t know why his name is different), Trent Glukler is a delightful narrator. You can see him reveling in every success his younger self has, and reacting with despair at every pothole along the way.

Stefanie Stanley is brilliant in the role of “Mother”. Her caring, loving persona not only puts her stage family at ease, but also extends to the audience as well. You feel so comforted by Stanley’s beautiful voice and calm, logical demeanor in this role, such as in her solo, “What a Mother does”. Stanley is also the perfect counterpart to Brenna Cuff’s boisterous, stubborn “The Old Man”. Cuff is hilarious, but also displays a sweet vulnerable side – such as his yearning for recognition in his solo “The Genius on Cleveland Street”.

From left to right: Georgiy Rhatushnyak, Stefanie Stanley, Owen Scott, and Brennan Cuff. Photo credit: Emily Cooper

The film version really lends itself well to being presented as a stage musical, given all the “daydream” moments that Ralphie has. And these daydreams make for fabulous, over-the-top musical numbers. The ensemble is a ton of fun to watch in this show, including a number of super-talented kids. Choreographer Melissa Turpin has done a stellar job with the huge amount of choreography involved with this show, and has really used some great creativity.

Some group number highlights include the “Ralphie to the Rescue” western-themed montage, and the glitzy, 1920’s-style tap number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out”, featuring the dynamite Amanda Russel as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields.

Russel is often the culprit in the show’s daydream scenes, using her awesome comedic skills to abruptly switch us from reality, to absurd cartoonish scenarios. She’s also a fantastic triple threat. Her characterization as Miss Shields – in all of Ralphie’s versions of her – is so en pointe; her singing is fantastic, and so are her tap dance skills.

I’m very impressed with the creative design team of Conor Moore (sets), Maureen Robertson (costumes) and Michael K. Hewitt (lighting). Moore’s sets does an outstanding job of transporting us to 1940’s America during the holidays. His concepts of the Santa house at the mall, storefront window, and family car, and of course the central setting of the show – the two-story family home, are just a few of the clever and slickly-delivered sets on display in the show. There are no complicated scene changes either. Director Chad Matchette has ensured the show maintains a nice, continual rhythm, and Moore’s sets float in and out as if we’re flipping through a story book. 

Robertson’s 1940s era costumes are impressively detailed and spot on. Hewitt’s lighting helps to compliment the lovely visuals we’re treated to. Musical director Caitlin Hayes has done a nice job piecing together the large array of vocals sung by the cast, and orchestra director James Bryson expertly leads the 12-piece band.

And despite the 1940s era setting, the stage version of A Christmas Story has been refined to eliminate the political incorrectness of the film’s Chinese restaurant scene – audiences familiar with the film wouldn’t have to cringe and hold their breath when the scene begins, and will also enjoy a little inside joke.

Align Entertainment’s production of A Christmas Story exudes the spirit of the holidays, and is a great showcase of musical theatre talent and theatrical expertise. The scale of this production is quite ambitious, and Matchette and his team have done a fine job bringing this story to life in full colour. What a wonderful way to start the holiday season!

Align Entertainment’s A Christmas Story: The Musical runs until November 17 at the Michael J. Fox Theatre in Burnaby. For more information, visit Align Entertainment’s website.


Burnaby Teacher Stars in A Christmas Story: The Musical

It was a small moment for Stefanie Stanley that reminded her just how much it means to be standing where she is right now.

Click here for the full article


REVIEW: “Legally Blonde” a high-energy, big-hearted success

The cast of Align Entertainment’s Legally Blonde: The Musical. Photo: Anita Alberto Photography.

Far more than a lightweight “bubble gum musical”, Legally Blonde delivers an engaging message of equality and empowerment – a powerful punch delivered inside a pink velvet glove. It’s a deliriously delightful show full of toe-tapping tunes and fist-pumping moments from start to finish.

Again, Align Entertainment has delivered a polished, people-pleasing production to the Michael J. Fox Theatre, and collapsed the distance between Burnaby and Broadway to zero. The performances are all superb, the staging and choreography spot-on, and the band outstanding.

The show follows the overall storyline of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie – with sorority sister Elle Woods applying to study law at Harvard, and defying everyone’s expectations of what a California blonde dressed head-to-toe in pink can achieve.

While it is, on the face of it, a classic romantic storyline, with Elle’s assault on Harvard fuelled by her desire to snare her dream guy Warner, Legally Blonde is really about female empowerment, and Elle’s realization that she has value far beyond whatever man she may happen to be with (or chasing).

The opening number, “Omigod You Guys” sets the bar high. Elle (Julia Ullrich) bursts forth from her crowd of sorority sisters, heads for the mall, takes down a duplicitous salesgirl with her expert fashion knowledge – and throws in a crowd-thrilling quick change… all in one dazzling, high-energy number.

From there on, the pace never flags as we meet Warner, the smarmy, self-centred focus of Elle’s attraction (played to perfection by Stuart Barkley); Callahan (played the multitalented Chris King), the formidable law professor who gives his class a lesson in ruthlessness with the razor-sharp “Blood in the Water”, and Emmett (Victor Hunter, who shone in last year’s Cry-Baby: The Musical, for which he just won an Ovation award), the smart and sensitive student of Callahan’s who is the clear choice over Warner for Elle’s affections.

Despite following many of the tropes of romantic musical comedy, Legally Blonde‘s real pleasures derive from how it defies and upends these stereotypes in entertaining ways, as well as having great fun with them, all in the service of a theme of female empowerment and of being true to yourself.

Interestingly, the show is rooted firmly in its 2001 time frame, from references to Sex and the Cityto an extended riff on Celtic music and Riverdancing. Even the laptops in Callahan’s classroom are authentic to the time frame! But the message is timeless, and the Riverdance / Irish culture sub-theme reemerges later in the show to wonderful effect with an exuberant Irish dance number.

Other standouts include Jenn Suratos as the quirky hairdresser Paulette, who gives Elle valuable advice at the outset, and support when she’s on the ropes. Suratos’ expert comic timing and amazing pipes were again well-utilized in two big numbers that had the crowd exploding with applause.

And Colton Fyfe makes a big, big impression in the small role of Kyle, the “I’m sexy and I know it” UPS guy. Each time he strutted onstage, accompanied by his funky, wah-wah theme music, he had the crowd roaring (and wolf-whistling!).

And no summary of the show would be complete without mentioning the screamingly funny courtroom number that asks (and joyously answers) the musical question, “Is He Gay… or European?” Nicholas Bradbury and Justin Lapena were perfect in the two key roles here, helping make this a real highlight of the show.

Julia Ullrich as Elle brings real warmth and humanity to her role, making us really care about and root for her as she gains confidence and takes charge. And everyone in the show is well-cast and turns in a wonderful performance.

To paraphrase the opening number… if there ever was a perfect couple (of hours in the theatre), this show qualifies. Omigod you guys, do NOT miss this delightfully satisfying show!

Theatre review: Legally Blonde is sweetly optimistic and bursting with energy

Production does not seek to break any molds or push boundaries, but is content to simply entertain


Based on the film of the same name starring Reese Witherspoon, Align Entertainment breaks out the big guns for another massive production with Legally Blonde: The Musical.

Staged in the beautiful Michael J. Fox theatre, the show is like a sweet sixteen high on Redbull – sweetly optimistic and bursting with energy.

Elle Woods (Julia Ullrich) is a Malibu barbie come sorority queen looking to marry her Ken Doll boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Stuart Barkley). But when Warner leaves her for more “serious” options at Harvard, Elle follows. Through literal trials and errors, Elle succeeds in discovering her potential without the smarmy man-child Warner, as a fashion-forward lawyer.

Ullrich’s Elle is bubbly and athletic, with a gorgeous buttery voice that effortlessly belts out number after number. Barkley’s Warner is suitably slimy, but hides a quiet comedic flair that prevents him from being wholly unlikable.

Best friend, turned beau, Emmett, played with sweet shtick by Victor Hunter, is a treat but the show is stolen by Jennifer Suratos’ Ireland obsessed Paulette. Quick comedic takes, killer choreography, and a tear-inducing solo bring this supporting player to the forefront.

The lighting and sound by Robert Sondergaard and Tim Lang respectively, highlight the necessary changes without ever feeling pushy. Brian Ball’s set design has an intentional “do-it-yourself” aesthetic, with roughly drawn lines on otherwise straight walls, that feels a bit at odds with Julie White’s spot-on costume design, but this is a small quibble in an otherwise solid show.

Align Entertainment’s Legally Blonde: the Musical does not seek to break any molds or push any boundaries. It is a story we have seen before and will see again. It is a candy-coated smile factory that simply seeks to entertain. On all counts, it succeeds.

Legally Blonde: The Musical. Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin and book by Heather Hach. Directed by Chad Matchette. An Align Entertainment Inc. production on stage at the Michael J. Fox Theatre (7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby) until February 17. Visit http://alignentertainment.cafor tickets and information.

Legally Blonde star gets set for a transformation

nullJulia Ullrich (second from left, with Hannah Williams, Ali Watson, and Emily Matchette) is finding out that blonds really do have more fun.


Musical-theatre fans know Julia Ullrich for iconic brunette roles—parts like the dark, tormented teen Veronica in Fighting Chance Productions’ Heathers: The Musical or the cockney flower-girl-cum-gentlewoman Eliza Doolittle in Royal City Musical Theatre’s My Fair Lady last year.

It’s true: Ullrich is blessed with long, chestnut tresses. Which makes it a little bit of a stretch for her to take on Elle Woods—the ridiculously chipper, and famously platinum-maned, L.A. sorority gal/shopaholic in Legally Blonde: The Musical. In the over-the-top show based on the hit 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie, Elle follows her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School when he decides she’s not serious or intellectual enough for him.

“It’s a bit tough to do,” admits Ullrich, explaining she’ll be wearing a long blond wig for the production. She’s speaking to the Straight over the phone on a lunch break at a local high school, where she’s just taught a junior drama class—her day job. She says putting on the platinum mane changes the way she talks and moves. Like, omigod: “I just exude more confidence and you feel like people are watching you. It feels less like me and more like her.”

So who does Ullrich herself feel closer to? She admits it’s Veronica, the lead in Heathers: The Musical, by Broadway-hit writer Laurence O’Keefe, who also adapted Legally Blondefor the stage. “Veronica is very much earthy and awkward—a lot more like me,” explains Ullrich, who trained in Capilano University’s musical-theatre program before heading to UBC to study acting and then education. “I’m not that kind of a girly-girl. I don’t really feel like this Valley Girl. But all the other girls are great—the ones who play my three friends are super peppy and that helps a lot.”

Still, the experience of Heathers has helped Ullrich adapt to O’Keefe’s powerhouse, pop-rock-amped songs—ones that are more difficult than it might at first appear.

“They’re composed by the same people, so the musical styles are similar: both [Heathersand Legally Blonde] have huge, belty songs,” Ullrich says. “And both my characters are very much in every scene. It’s very vocally challenging. And Elle is super outgoing—larger than life.”

Legally Blonde‘s ensemble takes on powerhouse, pop-rock-amped songs.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that Ullrich is joined on-stage by Elle’s ever-present Chihuahua, Bruiser—played here by a Port Moody canine named Molly. The actor is just getting to know the pint-sized pooch her character famously carries around everywhere and dresses in its own designer outfits: “We’re not sure how excited she’s going to be on-stage yet,” she says with a laugh.

The show’s over-the-top antics extend to the sets for this Align Entertainment production, Ullrich says, adding it’s a full staging with a live band. “You can’t get away from the fact that there’s a sorority house and Harvard—and it’s going to be incredibly pink.”

Yet, amid all the levity, pastel hues, and designer purses, Ullrich is learning not only to love her songs and her character, but to respect the messages the musical ultimately puts forth.

“I really just appreciate Elle’s journey,” she says. “She starts off as a super privileged person. Near the beginning she says, ‘See, dreams really do come true. You never have to compromise.’ ”

But then her character gradually sees that life isn’t all rosy and that she should embrace her brainier self: “She learns that if you are really determined you can succeed,” Ullrich says.

Align Entertainment presents Legally Blonde: The Musical at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre from Friday (February 2) to February 17.


Nilum Duniya Sidhho reviewed Align Entertainment5 star April 8

Align’s production of Joseph was enthusiastic, humorous, well executed and a generous helping of delightful family fun. Really well done.

The reviews are starting to come in! “I have watched the Nathan Lane Broadway show on youtube. I saw your show in Burnaby, and thought it was better in most respects, singing, staging, costumes, even set. Thank your so much!!! Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Fester, Pugsley – magnifique!!”  Better get your tickets!
Brian Koven reviewed Align Entertainment5 star February 22, 2015
Bob Gormley reviewed Align Entertainment4 star February 8, 2014