Tag: port dover

“The Producers” is 2024 Comedic Musical Community Show at LFT

March 19, 2024

Port Dover Maple Leaf

By Donna McMillan

Lighthouse Festival will be kicking off its 2024 theatre season opening with its hilarious community production of the Mel Brooks Musical The Producers.  Always a huge hit with audiences, this year’s community production has drawn 16 Norfolk/Haldimand actors to LFT three times a week since rehearsals started the beginning of January. The Producers, with its outrageous story line, zany characters and uproarious music, will be playing in Port Dover April 12 to 28.  Derek Ritschel is the Director.

Mel Brooks fans may remember The Producers as a movie that hit the silver screen in 1967 and then again in 2005. The Broadway Musical ran in New York from 2001 to 2007, with 2502 performances and winning 12 Tony Awards.

“I’ve been wanting to do it (The Producers) for five or six years,” Derek told the Maple Leaf last week. “This was the right time. We got the rights and it all came together.” He reflected on the success of an earlier Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein performed as a community play on LFT stage. “It was a big hit.”

The Producers sees a formerly successful Broadway Producer, now down on his luck,  scheming with an accountant on how to get rich by convincing investors to put their money in the worst show in the world called “Springtime for Hitler.”  It features a bad script and lack lustre performers. Rather than fail, it is wildly successful; all resulting in a recipe for lots of laughs and riotous songs from “The King of Broadway”, “Der Guten Tag Hop – Clop” and “When You Got It, Flaunt it” to “In Old Bavaria”, “Keep It Gay” and “Along Came Bialy.”

Nikki Wiltac is performing in her first community play with LFT. Last week, she told the Maple Leaf she is thrilled to be part of the Ensemble, playing a number of roles including a bad chorus girl, a pigeon, an old lady, a police officer and a Bavarian peasant to name a few. She has been interested in acting since elementary school, remembering her first performance to be in Ramona and Beezus. She has also done community theatre in Simcoe and Tillsonburg as well as being in a 10-minute play competition in Brantford. “I wanted to step up and do something more professional,” she said. “It’s been an incredible learning experience. I’m learning so much from everyone from the director, the leads, ensemble and costumes.”

Mac Buchwald has always done theatre from Old Town Hall kids in Waterford to Simcoe Little Theatre. He told the Maple Leaf he was thrilled to get his first role in a LFT Community Show, playing one of the leads, Leo Bloom. “I’m a big Gene Wilder fan,” he said, noting Gene played Leo in the 1967 film version. Leo is a neurotic accountant, obsessed with his blue security blanket, he shared. Buchwald, who is working as a new English teacher at WDHS, is enjoying seeing the LFT Professional Production team supporting the amateur actors.   

For Melissa Schoeman, performing in The Producers is her first play since university ten years ago, she shared.   A number of people suggested she should act and she loved the movie, The Producers, she said. She remembers her first role was in Surfing Santa at Oneida Central School.  She performed in elementary school and in high school at Cayuga Secondary.  She has a degree in English from Wilfrid Laurier University.   Melissa plays a montage of many people as part of the ensemble, she said, including old lady, auditioner, prisoner, cop, chorus girl and more. “Oh my Gosh. It has been an amazing experience,” she told the Maple Leaf. “A lot of work. There is a certain ‘vibe’ around theatre people.  This feels like home.”   

This writer attended an hour of rehearsal last week. Without a doubt, this will be another “must see” community play that will have the audience in stitches in their seat and “wondering how something so outrageously offensive could be so funny,” as mentioned in the playbill. There is a great cast of new and popular return actors we know from past community plays. It runs from April 12 to 28.

The full cast includes: J.P. Antonnaci (Max Bialystock), Mac Buchwald (Leo Bloom), Jada Dawson (Ulla), Carmen Davis (Fran Liebkind), Jason Mayo (Roger De Bris), Don Kearney–Bourque (Carmen Ghia); Ensemble: Naomi Auld, Jaden Banfield, Charly Buck, Lyndsey Dearlove, Justine Draus, Shelby Mulder, Melissa Schoeman, Lisa Shebib, Daniel Traina, & Nikki Wiltac. For tickets, contact Lighthouse Festival Theatre at their Main Street, Port Dover box office, call 519–583–2221 or visit the website www.lighthousetheatre.com.

For Immediate Release – New Interim Executive Director Appointment at Lighthouse Festival

April 2, 2024 – PORT DOVER, ON

We are pleased to announce that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation’s Board of Directors has appointed Caitlin O’Neill, our current Operations Coordinator, as Interim Executive Director, effective Monday, April 8th, 2024. This appointment comes as our current Executive Director, Nicole Campbell, embarks on her maternity leave beginning Friday, April 5th, 2024. The Board, alongside the entire staff of Lighthouse Festival, is thrilled to welcome Caitlin into her new role. Caitlin brings a wealth of experience and passion for the arts that is sure to lead our organization through this transitional period with grace and innovation.

Nicole Campbell (Left) & Caitlin O’Neill

We also extend our warmest wishes to Nicole during her maternity leave. We celebrate this joyous occasion with her and look forward to the new addition to her family. Nicole’s leadership and vision have been instrumental in the growth and success of Lighthouse Festival in Port Dover and Port Colborne.

Please join us in congratulating Caitlin on her new role and in wishing Nicole Campbell a safe and happy maternity leave. We are confident that the Lighthouse Festival Theatre will continue to thrive under Caitlin’s interim directorship and look forward to an exciting future ahead.

For all enquiries regarding this transition, please contact Caitlin O’Neill, Interim Executive Director, at caitlin@lighthousetheatre.com or call 226-290-0068.

For Immediate Release: Lighthouse Festival Celebrates World Theatre Day 2024

A Call to Support Live Theatre in Our Community

PORT DOVER, March 27, 2024 – In honour of World Theatre Day, Lighthouse Festival is reiterating our unwavering commitment to the arts and welcomes our vibrant communities to support live theatre’s vital role in fostering creativity, bolstering the local economy, and enriching our cultural landscape.

World Theatre Day, celebrated globally on March 27th, serves as a reminder of the transformative power of the theatre: to entertain, educate, and inspire. Live theatre acts as a mirror to society, offering a unique outlet for creative talent and thought-provoking storytelling that challenges perceptions and ignites imaginations.

At Lighthouse Festival, we are proud of our legacy in bringing high-quality, accessible, and enriching live performances to our audiences. Our stage has been a home for emerging and established talents, showcasing the diverse voices and stories that resonate with our community, plus providing some of the best laughter around!

The impact of live theatre extends beyond the stage; it plays a significant role in stimulating our local economy — from employment opportunities for artists and support staff to generating revenue for nearby businesses, including restaurants, hotels, and retailers. Theatre also strengthens our community’s social fabric, fostering a sense of belonging and shared experience that is crucial in today’s fast-paced, divisive world.

However, many in the theatre community are facing unprecedented challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic. The arts sector, among the hardest hit, is in a critical phase of rebuilding. Attendance numbers have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. Now, more than ever, the theatre community needs your support to sustain this vital cultural institution.

Lighthouse Festival, with professional theatres in Port Dover (Norfolk County) & Port Colborne (Niagara Region), and a community theatre, Simcoe Little Theatre, in Simcoe (Norfolk County), remains steadfast in our mission to bring laughter, entertainment, and thought-provoking art to our audiences. As we navigate these unprecedented times, we invite you to reconnect with the joy and communal spirit of live theatre. Whether you’re a long-time theatre lover or a curious newcomer, there’s something magical waiting for you in the theatre — shared laughter, a collective gasp, or the thunderous applause that follows a stirring performance.

In celebration of World Theatre Day, we encourage everyone to experience the magic of live theatre once again. Come and see a show at Lighthouse Festival. Let us together laugh, reflect, and be moved by the incredible talent within our community and beyond. Your presence not only supports the arts but also contributes to the revitalization of our collective cultural identity and economic resilience.

Join us in this crucial time to support and uplift the theatre community. Together, we can ensure that live theatre remains a vibrant and essential part of our community’s cultural landscape for generations to come.

For information on our upcoming shows and how you can support Lighthouse Festival, please visit our website at www.lighthousetheatre.com.

Let’s celebrate World Theatre Day by supporting live theatre. We’ve got a seat waiting for you!

#WorldTheatreDay #GoSeeAShow #RallyForTheatre

About Lighthouse Festival
Lighthouse Festival is a charitable organization devoted to the development and production of   new and existing Canadian plays. Lighthouse Festival strives to be artistically excellent, support and encourage local and regional artists, and be a source of enjoyment and pride in local communities while promoting local tourism. Operating in two towns on Lake Erie, our theatres operate on a central policy of hospitality, accessibility, and affordability for all.

Media Contact
For media inquiries, please contact:
Don Kearney-Bourque
Marketing & Communications Manager
Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation
Direct:(226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410


Women take SLT stage for comedy The Savannah Sipping Society

Women bring to life a charming and relatable play that’s Simcoe Little Theatre’s second production of the season.  

February 21, 2024

Simcoe Reformer

By Postmedia Staff

The Savannah Sipping Society, a comedy written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, and directed by Sarah Finch, opens on March 7. 

The cast includes Roselle Slaght as Randa Covington, a perfectionist and workaholic who is struggling to cope with a surprise career derailment; Anna Reu as Dot Hangler, who is reeling from her husband’s recent demise and the loss of their plans for an idyllic retirement; Nancy Gibb as the earthy and boisterous Marlafaye Mosley, a good ol’ Texas gal who has blasted into Savannah in the wake of losing her tom-cattin’ husband to a 23-year-old dental hygienist; and Melinda Campbell as Jinx Jenkins, a spunky ball of fire who offers her services as a much-needed life coach for these women. 

Actors Melinda Campbell (left), Anna Reu, Nancy Gibbs and Roselle Slaght are featured in The Savannah Sipping Society, Simcoe Little Theatre’s second production of the 2023-24 season. The comedy runs from March 7 to 17. Contributed.

Together, these middle-aged women successfully bond and find the confidence to jumpstart their new lives. 

Gibbs said being part of the production has been an “absolute joy.” 

“The camaraderie among the cast and crew is palpable and I believe the audiences will be drawn to the heartwarming story and unforgettable characters.” 

Stage manager Susan LaBone said “even from early rehearsals, the energy and enthusiasm surrounding The Savannah Sipping Society has been incredible.” 

Tickets for the production start at $24 and can be purchased online at simcoelittletheatre.org or by calling 519-583-0505. The play runs from March 7 to 17 at Simcoe Little Theatre, 33 Talbot St. North in Simcoe.  

Simcoe Little Theatre is a non-profit community theatre dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions and fostering a love for the performing arts for more than 60 years. 

Lighthouse Theatre to showcase musician’s printmaking

Broadsides and Penny Dreadfuls is a printmaking show of artist and musician Ian Bell’s works.

February 14, 2024

Simcoe Reformer

By Brian Thompson

Local folk musician and songwriter Ian Bell is about to showcase another side of his artistic talents.

Broadside Ballads and Penny Dreadfuls is a printmaking show with a musical theme incorporating songs Bell has written.

The artist employed antique wooden and metal type, wood engravings and linocuts, and a 118-year-old printing press to create artworks inspired by the broadsides and street literature of the early 1800s.

“These prints are in the style of the song sheets that were hawked on the streets by ballad sellers in the 19th century, crated with hand-set type and illustrated with (my) wood engravings and linocuts,” said Bell. “Some were printed on (my) 1906 Pearl printing press; others were done on a 70-year-old Nolan proof press.”

Additionally, some songs are presented in tiny, hand-stitched chapbooks known as Penny Dreadfuls.

Bell notes that most of the equipment and type was rescued from newspaper offices that changed printing technology in the 1970s, along with items found at yard sales and flea markets.

A selection of printing artifacts will be included in the exhibit of artworks.

Broadsides and Penny Dreadfuls opens with a reception at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main Street in Port Dover.

The show will run throughout 2024 at the theatre.

BROADSIDE BALLADS & PENNY DREADFULS – Lighthouse Festival presents Ian Bell’s Printmaking Show & Opening Reception

Ian Bell’s Printmaking Show Opens at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre on February 18th

Port Dover, ON – February 10, 2024 – Using a 1906 printing press and a collection of antique wooden and metal type, local artist Ian Bell combines old technology with his own wood engravings and linocuts to create new artworks inspired by the broadsides and street literature of the early 1800s. These are now on exhibit at the Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover.

The show takes music as its main theme, and features illustrated “broadsides” of songs written by Ian. (Who is also well known as a folk musician and songwriter) These works are in the style of the song sheets that were hawked on the streets by ballad sellers in the 19th century – with hand-set lead type, and are illustrated with Ian’s wood engravings. Some were printed on Ian’s 1906 “Pearl” printing press; others were done on a 70 year-old Nolan proof press.

In addition to the broadsides, some songs are presented in tiny hand-stitched chapbooks (“Penny Dreadfuls”) – also printed with handset type and woodcut illustrations. The show also includes other musically themed linocuts and wood engravings.

Art Gives New Life to Old Technology

Much of the type and equipment used in the printing of Broadside Ballads & Penny Dreadfuls has come from the dark corners of local weekly newspaper offices who moved on from letterpress technology in the 1970s. The 1906 Pearl press and drawers of 19th century wooden type were rescued from the Cayuga printshop of the Haldimand Advocate (now the Haldimand Press) just days before the building was demolished in 2022. Other type, borders, and useful pieces of printing equipment were generously supplied by the Port Dover Maple Leaf. Still more has come from yard sales, barns, and flea markets across southwestern Ontario. A few examples will be on display along with the art.

The Printmaking Show opens with a reception on February 18th from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM at Lighthouse Festival Theatre, located at 247 Main Street in Port Dover. It will remain at the theatre throughout the 2024 season.

For more information on Ian Bell’s artwork, please visit his website at www.ianbellart.com.

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Simcoe Little Theatre & Lighthouse Festival
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

For Immediate Release: Simcoe Little Theatre Presents “The Savannah Sipping Society” as the second production of their 2023/24 Season


A local cast of 4 talented women bring this charming and relatable play to life

Port Dover, ON – February 9, 2024 – Simcoe Little Theatre is thrilled to announce its second show of the 2023/24 season, The Savannah Sipping Society, written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. Directed by Sarah Finch, this delightful comedy promises laughter, friendship, and heartwarming moments for audiences of all ages.

The Savannah Sipping Society follows the journey of four Southern women who, despite their differences, form an unexpected bond and embark on a life-changing adventure filled with laughter, misadventures, and plenty of sweet tea. Set against the backdrop of the charming city of Savannah, Georgia, this production is sure to captivate theatregoers with its wit, charm, and relatable characters.

Director Sarah Finch expresses her excitement for the upcoming production, stating, “I am thrilled to bring The Savannah Sipping Society to life on the Simcoe Little Theatre stage. This play is a celebration of friendship, resilience, and the joy of embracing new adventures. Audiences are in for a treat!”

The show features a talented, local cast, including Melinda Campbell, Nancy Gibbs, Anna Reu, and Roselle Slaght, who bring their unique personalities to each character, creating a dynamic and engaging performance.

Nancy Gibbs, who portrays one of the lead characters, shares her thoughts on the production, saying, “Being a part of The Savannah Sipping Society has been an absolute joy. The camaraderie among the cast and crew is palpable, and I believe audiences will be drawn to the heartwarming story and unforgettable characters.”

Stage Manager Susan LaBone reflects on her experience working behind the scenes, stating, “As the stage manager for this production, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the dedication and talent of everyone involved. Even from early rehearsals, the energy and enthusiasm surrounding The Savannah Sipping Society have been incredible.”

Tickets for The Savannah Sipping Society start at $24 each and can be purchased online at simcoelittletheatre.org or by calling 519-583-0505. The play runs from March 7th to 17th at Simcoe Little Theatre, located at 33 Talbot Street North in Simcoe, ON.

Don’t miss your chance to experience this heartwarming comedy that celebrates the power of friendship and the beauty of embracing new beginnings. Get your tickets today and join us for an unforgettable theatrical experience!

About Simcoe Little Theatre

Simcoe Little Theatre is a non-profit community theater located in Simcoe, Ontario in beautiful Norfolk County. For over 60 years, Simcoe Little Theatre has been dedicated to providing quality theatrical productions and fostering a love for the performing arts in the local community. With a talented team of actors, directors, and volunteers, Simcoe Little Theatre continues to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. For more information, visit www.simcoelittletheatre.org. Where Community Stars Shine!

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Simcoe Little Theatre & Lighthouse Festival
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

For Immediate Release: Lighthouse Festival Presents The Producers – A Hilariously Offensive Musical Comedy

Local cast brings to life this Tony Award-winning musical on the Lighthouse stage

PORT DOVER, January 29, 2024 – Lighthouse Festival is proud to announce its highly anticipated 2024 Community Show, The Producers, a satirically offensive musical comedy featuring a talented cast of local actors. Directed by Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel, this uproarious production promises to delight audiences with its irreverent humor and unforgettable performances.

The Producers takes center stage at the Lighthouse Festival Theater in Port Dover from April 12 to 28, 2024. Tickets for this must-see event are priced at $29 each with no hidden fees and are available for purchase at lighthousetheatre.com or by calling the box office at 888-779-7703.

Set in New York City, The Producers follows the misadventures of down-on-his-luck Broadway producer Max Bialystock and his neurotic accountant, Leo Bloom, as they scheme to produce the biggest flop in theatrical history. What ensues is a hilarious rollercoaster of mishaps, musical numbers, and larger-than-life characters that will leave audiences in stitches.

Director Derek Ritschel expressed his excitement about bringing this iconic musical to life on the Lighthouse Festival stage, stating, “The Producers is a comedic masterpiece that pushes the boundaries of satire. Our production will capture the essence of Mel Brooks’ vision while adding our own unique flair to the mix. Audiences can expect a production full of non-stop laughter, music and entertainment.”

Community Show veteran and crowd favourite Jason Mayo, who portrays the flamboyant director Roger De Bris, shared his enthusiasm for the show, saying, “Playing Roger De Bris has been an absolute blast. This character is larger than life, and I’m thrilled to bring his over-the-top antics to the stage. Get ready for a wild ride!”

Mac Buchwald, who takes on the role of Leo Bloom, Max Bialystock’s anxious sidekick, commented, “Being a part of The Producers has been an incredible journey. This musical has everything – humor, heart, and some truly unforgettable moments. I can’t wait for audiences to experience it.”

Jada Dawson, who embodies the role of Ulla, the Swedish bombshell with dreams of stardom, shared her excitement, saying, “Ulla is such a fun character to play. She’s sassy

yet silly, she’s bold, yet fun, and she knows what she wants. I’m thrilled to bring her energy to the stage and be a part of this fantastic production.”

Finally, Shelby Mulder, in her Lighthouse Community Show debut where, she plays multiple roles in the ensemble, expressed her admiration for the show’s versatility, stating, “The Producers is a whirlwind of creativity and humor. I love the opportunity to play different characters and showcase my range as an actor. This is a show unlike any other, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Don’t miss your chance to experience the hilarity and heart of The Producers at Lighthouse Festival Theatre. Book your tickets now for an evening of laughter, music, and unforgettable moments.

For ticket information and showtimes, visit www.lighthousetheatre.com or call (888) 779-7703.


J.P. AntonacciNaomi AuldJaden Banfield
Mac BuchwaldCharly BuckCarmen Davis
Jada DawsonLyndsey DearloveJustine Draus
Don Kearney-BourqueJason MayoShelby Mulder
Melissa SchoemanLisa ShebibDaniel Traina
Nikki Wiltac  
Director: Derek Ritschel | Technical Director: Hailey Parker | Musical Directors: Tony & Michelle Proracki | Choreographer: Kiri-Lyn Muir
Stage Manager: Heather Reichheld | Costumes & Props: Sally Bellamy & Jan Rainey

About Lighthouse Festival

Lighthouse Festival is a charitable organization devoted to the development and production of new and existing Canadian plays. Lighthouse Festival strives to be artistically excellent, support and encourage local and regional artists, and be a source of enjoyment and pride in local communities while promoting local tourism. Operating in two towns on Lake Erie, our theatres operate on a central policy of hospitality, accessibility, and affordability for all.

Media Contact

For media inquiries, cast interviews and further information, please contact:

Don Kearney-Bourque,
Marketing & Communications Manager
Lighthouse Festival Theatre Corporation
Direct: (226) 290-0070
Cell: (289) 541-7410

It’s been a fabulous year in theatre

Plenty of great things happened on stages in 2023

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Theatre has survived the crunch of COVID-19 and a lingering reluctance by some theatregoers to return to their seats.

No matter, professional theatre companies worked hard in 2023 to woo audiences with entertaining and sometimes riveting productions. Gradually, audiences returned in greater numbers. Let’s hope this trend continues.

After seeing more than 150 shows, here in no particular order are the 12 best professional performances I saw in 2023.

”The Amen Corner.” James Baldwin’s brilliant play about religion, racism and a sometimes disturbing connection between the two made for a stunning production at the Shaw Festival, directed by Kimberley Rampersad. I saw this show in New York when it was first produced on Broadway in 1964 and what Rampersad did with it illuminated the sadness, fear and the ultimate triumph of rising above ignorance. And the gospel music she interpolated into the text at Shaw was a clever addition.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Hamilton-born playwright Erin Shields added an insightful prologue and some welcome contemporary thinking to this Chris Abraham’s Stratford Festival production. So fine were Shields’ additions to the text you’d never know they weren’t written by Shakespeare himself.

In New York and Toronto I hated the musical “Next to Normal.” It was aggressive, angry and turgid. Then Michael Longhurst directed it at London’s Donmar Warehouse with Hamilton-born theatre star Caissie Levy in the central role. Amazing what a canny director and an actress-singer of extraordinary talents can do to make a show shimmer with new life.

“Boy Falls from the Sky.” It was smart of Theatre Aquarius to bring this intimate show to Hamilton. Jake Epstein’s recollections of a sometimes troubled theatre career came alive under Robert McQueen’s insightful staging and dramaturgy.

Stephen Sondheim was the greatest theatre composer-lyricist of our time. Trenchant, rueful and oh so witty, he made you laugh and cry. The London tribute show to his genius, starring Lea Salonga, Bernadette Peters and Janie Dee, along with vintage British theatre stars Bonnie Langford and Joanna Riding, was sensational. And at the end when they projected Sondheim’s craggy face on a giant screen there wasn’t a dry eye in the Gielgud Theatre.

“Pollyanna The Musical” at Theatre Aquarius brought laughter and love to Hamilton at Christmastime. Local playwright and lyricist Steven Gallagher and composer Linda Barnett fashioned a score reminiscent of Broadway during its Golden Age. This was a great big Christmas present of a show.

“Bed and Breakfast” at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre delivered touching contemporary theatre. Mark Crawford’s comedy about two gay guys opening a bed and breakfast in a bigoted Ontario town was sensitively acted by Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski and Warren Macauley. It was moving, funny and inclusive. And bah humbug to the bigots who walked out.

“La Dame Aux Camelias.” This stunning ballet by Baden, Ontario choreographer Peter Quanz for Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens was superb. It had lovely lyrical choreography, riveting storytelling and elegant yet simple sets and costumes. Quanz is a gem and should be working in Canada, not some foreign country. What’s that about a prophet without honour in his own country?

Dundas actor, singer, composer and lyricist Jay Turvey directed a seductive production of “Gypsy” at the Shaw Festival. Too bad his star Kate Hennig softened her Mama Rose, unlike Angela Lansbury and Ethel Merman, who burned a patch off the stage by delineating her demons and ruthless, selfish determination.

“To Kill A Mockingbird.” Though the Mirvish Series in Toronto has sadly sold out to loud and overhyped musicals, their Off-Mirvish Series offered a moving production of Aaron Sorkin’s new play based on Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Richard Thomas was touching as Atticus Finch and the show had a quality Broadway feel to it in every way. More of this please Mr. Mirvish.

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” has finally come into its own. In New York at the Hudson Theatre this is the hit of the New York Season. And in the cast, right alongside Daniel Radcliffe, is local actor Evan Alexander Smith, currently understudying one of the show’s lead roles. Here’s another actor from the Hamilton area who has taken a bite out of The Big Apple.

Close to home Stephen Near’s beguiling play “Whale Fall” played a short run at the HCA theatre. This touching drama about a daughter, climate change and the way the world can spin suddenly out of control featured wonderful performances from Stephanie Hope Lawlor and Ray Louter. It was also beautifully directed by Aaron Joel Craig. Talk about local theatre folks having professional polish.

Whatever 2024 happens to bring our way theatrically, let’s hope more seats will be filled at theatres everywhere and daring risk-taking shows will come our way.

A very Happy New Year to you dear readers — and may your theatregoing in the year ahead fill your hearts with laughter, love and the joy of live performance.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for 40 years as well as for a variety of international publications. gsmith1@cogeco.ca.

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

December 14, 2023

PORT COLBORNE — If your holiday season has been light on laughter so far, you should run, not walk, to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre and catch Lighthouse Festival’s first-ever holiday pantomime production, Jack and the Beanstalk, before its final show runs on December 17.

The Panto is an interesting experiment for Lighthouse. Setting the tone immediately, the show actively encourages audience participation, with characters interacting directly with those off the stage and music cues telling the audience to boo the villain, throw out ridiculous animal calls, yell advice to characters, and sing along with those on stage.

Eliza-Jane Scott, Sal Figliomeni & Stephen Ingram in Ligthouse Festival’s pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk (December 2023)

It’s a truly fun and unique evening that is sure to please the younger crowd with bright sets, inventive lighting, and over-the-top costumes and performances, while the older crowd is sure to enjoy the show’s onslaught of zingers. The talented cast is game for all the silliness, bringing affable charm to their over-the-top caricatures.

As Jack, Eliza-Jane Scott brings a snot-nosed, Bart Simpson-esque energy to the classic role of the boy duped into selling his cow for a bag of magic beans. His mother, Dame, played by Sal Figliomeni in a tour-de-force performance with no less than 10 impressive costume changes, shines in a role designed to wring every single laugh possible out of the premise of an aging Italian man playing a female protagonist.

If you’ve seen Disney’s animated Robin Hood movie, then you’ll recognize that movie’s snively king in Allan Cooke’s performance as he plays, well, a snively king. With the role, Cooke adds another memorable comedic character to his long and impressive list of Lighthouse performances, having most recently been seen as one of a pair of bumbling thugs in the theatre’s summer-ending show ‘A Pack of Thieves’.

As the aptly named Villain, Cyrus Lane brings a 1930s gangster, scene-chewing energy to a hilariously over-the-top depiction of corporate greed in his Lighthouse debut. His desire to tear down farmland and replace it with “condos, condos, condos as far as the eye can see” seems tailor-made to get Haldimand Norfolk residents booing him with gusto from their seats.

We would be remiss not to mention Stephen Ingram, the show’s Music Director and on-stage narrator. Ingram wanders in and out of the show amiably, always singing a catchy song, and he keeps the show moving at a brisk pace, playing the keyboard with ease and adding musical flair to the show’s sharp comedy.

Director Jonathan Ellul keeps everything moving at a frantic pace, and although the actions unfolding onstage are undeniably silly, the show itself is well-paced and well-produced, shined to a polish. Every sound cue hits right on time, with backstage rimshots aplenty timed to the show’s many intentionally silly dad jokes, and the show has a lot of visual creativity on display, including the titular beanstalk which impressively rises to the rafters to end the show’s first half.

It’s easy to see why Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has been pumping up this production all year. It really is a great, local option for families looking for something to do together during the holidays, and we hope this year’s inaugural panto is just the first in a new local tradition to cherish.

For tickets and more information, visit lighthousetheatre.com.

After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.

Meet the Cast of Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto! | Katie Edwards as The Princess

Meet Katie Edwards! She’s graced the Lighthouse stage as Grace in RUM RUNNERS and as Danny in ONE MOMENT but she’s very excited to be starring in Lighthouse Festival’s first Pantomime of Jack and the Beanstalk. We chatted about what she does before going on stage, why she wanted to be involved in our pantomime and how she’s similar/different from her character.

Katie Edwards

Lighthouse Festival (LF): Why did you want to be involved in this production?

Katie Edwards (KE): I’ve had the privilege of performing with Jonny Ellul two times throughout my career. I think he is one of the kindest and most creative artists I’ve ever worked with. So, when I heard that Jonny was directing a panto at the Lighthouse, all I could think was, “That show is going to be so much fun. I have to be a part of it!”

(LF): What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage/the curtain goes up? 

(KE): I recite any monologues I have in the show to make sure I haven’t forgotten any lines!

(LF): How is your character like you? Different?

(KE): I think the princess and I are quite similar, as we both like to fight for marginalized communities and we love the great outdoors. How are we different? Alas, I am not royalty, nor am I trained in hand-to-hand combat, sword fighting, ju jitsu and karate.

(LF): If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?

(KE): Definitely Urinetown!

(LF): What sort of person is going to love this show?

(KE): Anyone of any age who enjoys funny, musical entertainment.

Lighthouse Theatre preview: This ain’t your grandparent’s Jack and the Beanstalk…

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

November 23, 2023

PORT DOVER—This holiday season, Port Dover’s famous Lighthouse Festival Theatre is offering something new. Adding to their highly successful and frequently hilarious summer festival series, the creative team at Lighthouse is proud to present a new annual tradition: the holiday pantomime (panto for short).

This year’s inaugural offering, Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto, is playing in Dover from November 29 to December 9 and at Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from December 13-17.

While Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel has been thrilled to see the show develop behind the scenes, bringing together a mix of skilled comedic actors from across Lighthouse’s summer season, he said so far it’s been a bit of a tougher sell to the general public.

Allan Cooke & Katie Edwards rehearse a scene of Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto!

The common hurdle he’s faced has been the perception that the show is aimed at children. Not the case at all, noted Ritschel, describing the show, in essence, as, “How would a comedy sketch team do Jack and the Beanstalk?”

Show director Jonathan Ellul elaborated, characterizing the upcoming production as, “Imagine everything you love about the Muppet show, the Gong Show, and Buggs Bunny and you’re getting closer to what this show is going to be like! And the audience is as busy as the actors on stage cheering the good guys, and heckling the villain, and singing along.”

Ritschel added, “It’s a fairytale for adults. The kids can come too. Kids can always come to a panto.… The actors are using Jack and the Beanstalk as a loose storyline to follow and to mine for laughs.”

For those needing further explanation, picture the popular animated film series Shrek, which similarly takes familiar fairytale characters and then applies a Saturday Night Live style comedy approach as it skewers its source material.

“It’s just so good,” said Ritschel. “I really want people to see this show.”

Both Ellul and Ritschel know they have their work cut out for them, but they are looking ahead and excited about building the panto into a new beloved local tradition for families in the area.

“My wish is that after the show people will talk about it and think, ‘next year we’ll bring the grandparents too’, or ‘my sisters’ family will love this, let’s all go together next year’,” said Ellul.

Ritschel added, “We just need those people that come to have a good laugh and spread the word. What more can we ask for? When the team finally came together, we felt super confident that we may not have the biggest audiences because no one knows what the heck we’re doing, but the people that do come are about to have their heads blown off.”

While hopeful that this year’s panto comes out of the gate hot, Ritschel and his team have the patience to let their baby grow. 

“The next couple of years will be the education years,” said Ritschel. “Three years from now you won’t be able to get a ticket to the panto. In the UK, they sell their pantos out eight months in advance.”

Ellul called the creative process a “different sort of animal” than a regular production. 

“This script was written for the actors who were cast in the roles. Ken MacDougall has worked with most of the cast and knows their voices and humour, and he has written the script with those actors in mind,” explained Ellul. “Then when we go into the process of rehearsing and putting it on its feet, the actors improvise and riff on what was already written. You wouldn’t do that in a scripted play. Here, that’s what it’s all about!”

Sal Figliomeni & Eliza-Jane Scott rehearse a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto!

Ritschel praised the skilled cast: “In the summer, we expect the actors to be word-perfect to the script, but here, there’s a lot of improv. They’ll do the storyline, but if something happens, if the audience reacts a certain way, the actors are 100% prepared to go off-script. They almost always do.”

Ellul added, “The cast is a group of very smart and funny people. I have worked with all of them before, but this is the first time most of them have worked together. Their inventive approach and willingness to play has created a tight ensemble already!”

He encouraged the younger crowd to wear costumes to the shows, noting, “If you are the sort of person who likes to wear sparkly dresses, and fairy wings, and rainbow unicorns? This is the show to dress up in those costumes for! We have a princess and fairy who would love to see young people dressed up! We even love seeing ninja-turtles and Hogwarts costumes! This is the place to wear those awesome threads! All you need to do is show up, and we will make it worth your while! We can’t wait to see you!”

Ritschel concluded, “It’s comedy for the whole family. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing grandparents, parents, and kids, the whole generational span of a family laughing together. I don’t know how much more powerful that can be, especially in today’s day and age where we all need a laugh, and we need holiday cheer.”

For more information on Jack and the Beanstalk: The Panto or to purchase tickets, visit lighthousetheatre.com or call their box office at 519-583-2221.

After studying journalism at Humber College, Mike Renzella desired to write professionally but found himself working in technical fields for many years. Beginning in 2019 as a freelancer, he joined the team full-time later that year. Since then, Mike has won several awards for his articles thanks to his commitment to presenting an unbiased, honest look at the important news and events shaping our community.