Hard Times is a solo performance featuring the early 1900’s style of Vaudeville theatre. In history, the genre past it’s heyday in the 1930’s during the Great Depression when film and radio began to gain popularity. This performance pays homage to this event by depicting the final act of what would be a Vaudeville play, referred to as the Chaser. The act was performed as a monologue with various intermittent songs sung by Bremner Duthie. His character grieved the end of the play and of theatre in general in the “hard times” of a society going through a socioeconomic transition, in which the arts is one of the first to go.
The singing, making up the other half of the show, was rich and lovely; Melanie Gall’s powerful voice rendered her microphone almost unnecessary and Bremner Duthie lit up his share of the tunes. The only weak point in the sung portion came when the two voices clashed as one singer tripped up the other in duet. Gall did her best to get the audience to sing along but most spectators were quite content to just listen to the superb voices.
A parody of both Shakespeare and hip-hop, Hip-hop Shakespeare Live Music Videos! is an upbeat, frolicking performance. Featuring only two performers, Melanie Karin and David Benedict Brown, the show soars through numerous hip-hop classics such as Jay Z’s 99 Problems and OutKast’s Mrs. Jackson (to name just a few) while taking the audience through eight Shakespeare hits. Othello, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, they’re all in the bag. Each play is re-created in a short skit which is performed in the style of a music video. There are stabbings, gun shots, silk-body dance moves, clenched fists to the sky and a couple wild splashes of sultry passion. With both actors playing all the characters, the “videos” are tight and deftly crafted. Especially surprising is the way that each song selection ties together the themes of Shakespeare with those of the tracks. It’s almost as if the dilemmas in the tunes mirror those in the plays.
So, I’d bet that about 75% of people didn’t read past the title of this play before they decided to go see it. Which is only natural, really. With a title like Alien Predator: The Musical, you know what you’re getting. And Alien Predator definitely delivers on its promises. The title conjures up images of one or more of the following: Arnold, Predator, guns, bombs, “get to the choppa!,” “you are one ugly so-and-so,” and so on. And all of those things are there, and boy, golly, are they there.
The script provides the entire cast opportunities to make lots of silly jokes while keeping straight faces, drawing out considerable laughter from the audience. There are more special effects and props which I won’t reveal, because they’re so much more fun seen for the first time. There’s a very capable two-piece band providing singing, piano and guitar.
The story is about a young woman, Grace, who wants to find meaning in her life by joining a secret cult. The cult exists, it appears, in an alternate universe where people speak nonsensically and which is entered via a portal in the pedestrian underpass at Rideau and Sussex.
The songs are the genuine article – songs about knitting and keeping the home fires burning for “the boys” fighting overseas during World War II. Knitting socks and mittens for the troops as an integral part of the war effort may sounds corny now, but it was part of the American culture back then. The only song I recognized was the exquisite “We’ll Meet Again”. Gall channels Vera Lynn very effectively; she brought a lump to my throat when she sang.