Tag: show review

Review: It’s all about the laughter with Norm Foster’s ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ (Hamilton Spectator)

This late-life look at love and companionship is funny, well-acted and smartly directed.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Saturday, June 1, 2024

You won’t find a funnier playwright than Norm Foster. He’s written close to 80 comedies over a long and prolific career. And he’s still on his mark as far as laughter goes with “Doris and Ivy in the Home,” a late-life look at love and companionship.

Doris is a retired prison guard from a tough correctional facility who has lived in a mostly imperfect marriage. Ivy, soon to become her good friend, is a shamed skier who 54 years later is still trying to live down a disastrous finish in the big downhill competition in her native Austria.

Brigitte Robinson and Melanie Janzen in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Norm Foster’s “Doris and Ivy in the Home.” Don Kearney-Bourque Lighthouse Festival photo.

They meet in a classy retirement home where the residents are treated to sushi nights and art classes.

Ivy is rather sweet, but has a bit of chip on her shoulder. Doris is abrasive and nosy and has absolutely no social filter.

They stand on the back patio of the Paradise Village Retirement Home, an unfortunate nomenclature for a home where folks are closer to the end than they are to the beginning.

They spy on residents out in the garden having ferocious coitus in the cucumber patch. They trade stories, and sometimes insults, about life in general and Doris, ever a meddler, soon makes it her prerogative to fix up Ivy with Arthur, the home’s handsome and available nice guy.

Most of Foster’s play is concerned with how this is going to happen, since Ivy is just not attracted to handsome Arthur in “that way.” After all, she’s been burned three times by unholy marriages.

Oh, and did I mention, poor Arthur, though looking robust and healthy, has only two years, or is it months, to live?

For all this, “Doris and Ivy in the Home” is a very funny play. It perks along at a crack pace in Jane Spence’s nicely staged production.

It’s played on an attractive set from William Chesney, complete with light-up gazebo and comfy furniture and the cast is clad in costumes by Alex Amini that suit their personalities and look lived in.

If you go to see this laugh-fest be ready to laugh right out loud. It’s that kind of play.

Troubles don’t actually start to creep into the narrative until the second act, when the play detours a bit too much from reality trying to foist a happy ending on the characters and on us.

Foster is in fine fettle with the comedy but unlike his better plays like “Halfway There” and “Jonas and Barry in the Home,” he’s so much in laughter mode he veers toward comic laugh lines at the expense of truth.

Now, what do the actors at Port Dover make of Foster’s play? Well, actually quite a bit.

Director Spence has assembled a first-class cast that lob home the comedy and laugh off the weaker aspects of Foster’s story.

The best performance comes from Brigitte Robinson’s, nicely balanced Ivy. She gets her laughs without working too hard. In truth, she has the best written role in Foster’s play.

There is something vulnerable and sweet about this Ivy, so beneath the chit-chat and the need to time a comic line, Robinson creates a believable world of a woman who has made the best of bad luck and choices. Any production of Foster’s play requires someone like Robinson to provide a necessary balance.

Melanie Janzen is a tremendous comedienne. She has warmth and plenty of zing. She gets her laughs and then some.

Her Doris, however, has a tad too many facial tics and kinetic wriggles and jiggles for my liking. Yes, it’s hilarious, but she doesn’t let Doris settle down enough to let us see as much of her undercurrent of vulnerability as necessary. She does however suggest brilliantly a woman who is always “on” because she doesn’t know who she is and what she wants.

Ian Deakin, a fine actor, has the task here of trying to flesh out a mostly underwritten role. We don’t learn quite enough about this Arthur so Deakin is saddled with being a plot function, rather than a real person.

After all this, you might be wondering whether I liked “Doris and Ivy in the Home?”

Well, yes I did. It’s funny, well-acted and smartly directed. What it isn’t is a play that finds its feet in its final act to provide a serious enough counterpoint to the laugh machine that has been driving it for two hours.

For folks who just want to have fun, I’d say you’ll find it with Doris, Ivy and Arthur. Go laugh yourself silly.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator, as well as a variety of international publications, for more than 40 years.

Doris and Ivy in the Home

Who Lighthouse Festival Theatre

Where Lighthouse Festival Theatre, 247 Main St. Port Dover. Roselawn Theatre Port Colborne. 296 Fielden Ave. Port Colborne

When At Port Dover until June 8. At Port Colborne June 12-23. Evenings at 8 most days with matinees at 2 p.m. some days. Call the box office to check on performance details.

Tickets Port Dover $51, at Port Colborne $45. Students and equity members reduced to $18 at both theatres. For either theatre, call 1-888-779-7703 to purchase.

Review: DORIS AND IVY IN THE HOME (The Slotkin Letter)

By Lynn Slotkin | The Slotkin Letter

May 29, 2024


Norm Foster is an equal opportunity writer, with a huge heart. He first wrote a play called: Jonas and Barry in the Home about two vastly different men who meet in a senior’s home and become friends. He says he had such fun writing it he wrote another play, Doris and Ivy in the Home,  this time focusing on two women. The plays are not carbon copies of the other.

“Doris and Ivy in the Home is about two women who are from different parts of the world. Doris is a boisterous retired prison guard from Alberta. Ivy is a disgraced Olympic skier from Austria. These two women are as different as the day is long, but as always happens, life throws us a curve and we befriend people we never expected to get close to. And so it happens with Doris and Ivy. “

Both women were married at one point. Doris stayed married to her husband but it seemed a loveless marriage until he died. Ivy married often and not successfully. Ivy is being pursued in the home by Arthur but she is not ready to accept his ardent advances, but they are friendly.

As with all his plays, Norm Foster sees the humour and humanity in the ordinary, easy-going situations in life. Doris, as played by Melanie Janzen is lively, flamboyant—perhaps a bit too much so—and offers her own charm. As Ivy, Brigitte Robinson is elegant, sophisticated and gracious, except when having to correct Doris when she keeps thinking Ivy is from Germany and not Austria. Both women form a bond that plays off the other. They find a common ground and appreciation of the other.

As Arthur, Ian Deakin plays him as a robust man, an intellectual and curious about the world. He is smitten by Ivy and gently but steadily pursues her. It’s touching not predatory. The whole production is directed with sensitive care by Jane Spence.

William Chesney has created a lovely set that is serene, calm and depicts a well-cared for patio. Alex Amini’s costumes are casual for Doris and Arthur and a touch elegant for Ivy.   

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a sweet play about two characters you would never imagine would be friends, and when they do, it’s as natural as anything.

Lighthouse Festival presents:

Plays at Port Dover until June 8.

Plays at Port Colborne from June 12-June 23, 2024.

Running time: two hours (1 Intermission)


Review: Lighthouse summer season off to a solid start with ‘Doris and Ivy’ (The Haldimand Press)

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

May 30, 2024

PORT DOVER—Each year, Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s summer season offers the community a passport to laughter with a heaping portion of heart, and that is the perfect description of this year’s season-debut, ‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’, written by renowned playwright Norm Foster and directed with sure hands by Lighthouse stalwart Jane Spence.

Melanie Janzen, Ian Deakin & Brigitte Robinson in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home.

The play introduces us to Doris and Ivy, two women of a certain vintage, who find themselves sparking up a friendship together after meeting one day in the garden of the retirement village they both call home. 

With biting humour, the pair slowly help each other untangle the pile of regrets amassed throughout their lives, while Ivy attempts to fend off the romantic advances of Arthur, another resident of the home living with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

The show marks the Lighthouse debuts of Ian Deakin as Arthur and Brigitte Robinson as Ivy, while Doris is played by Melanie Janzen in her fourth appearance on the Lighthouse stage.

All three have great chemistry together, with Janzen’s Doris displaying an abrasive, but charming, lack of social awareness colliding head on with Robinson’s Ivy, a disgraced Austrian athlete who has spent her life attempting to outrun her failures on the field.

Deakin imbues his character with a gentle vulnerability, making no attempt to hide his desire to experience true love one more time before shaking off his mortal coil.

Spence directs the play with a light touch, allowing her performers to take centre stage. The story takes place over the course of a year, with light changes to the set and lighting relaying the changing seasons effectively.

Brigitte Robinson & Melanie Janzen in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home.

“This play is a heartfelt exploration of friendship, courtship, resilience, and unyielding spirit,” said Spence on what drew her to the material. “Norm Foster’s writing, rich with humour and poignancy, reminds us of the importance of seeking out meaningful connections at whatever stage of life we find ourselves.”

The show is something of a spiritual sequel to another show Foster penned in 2015, ‘Jonas and Barry in the Home’. He shared, “I had so much fun writing that play, that I decided to write another play with the same setting. Only this time, the two leading characters would be women.”

While the two stories are not connected, they share thematic similarities – namely, they are both about “people who care about other people. And how that care can affect each of their lives.”

‘Doris and Ivy in the Home’ is playing at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre until June 8. From there, it will move to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre, running from June 12-23.

For tickets and more information about the show, and Lighthouse’s upcoming exciting summer season of shows, 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.

Review: Foster’s Doris & Ivy in the Home kicks off Lighthouse’s 45th season (Port Dover Maple Leaf)

“…The audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of laugh out loud one-liners to dips into sadness through the reflections on lives well lived…”

May 29, 2024

Port Dover Maple Leaf

By Donna McMillan

There is no better way to kick off the Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 45th Season Anniversary than with a fun play by Canada’s premier and most prolific playwright Norm Foster. Following on the heels of Jonas and Barry in the Home (2015) that took audiences from hilarity to sadness on daily life in a retirement home comes a totally different story with a comedic female perspective of “Doris and Ivy in the Home.” Quickly, the audience is taken on a roller coaster ride of laugh out loud one- liners to dips into sadness through the reflections on lives well lived and the unique perplexities and angsts of the lead characters.  And no, sex doesn’t end when one enters a retirement home and chooses “living in a controlled environment.”  While walkers may be lined up three abreast in a hallway, others in the home were “hitting the sheets” or being ogled in their back garden, behind the compost heap, lovemaking.

Doris and Ivy in the Home on stage at Lighthouse Theatre stars from left, Ian Deakin as Arthur, Melanie Janzen as Doris, and Brigitte Robinson as Ivy.

As Norm shared “Doris and Ivy in the Home is about two women who hail from different parts of the world…. These two women are as different as the day is long, but as often happens, life throws us a curve, and we befriend people we never expected to get close to.”

Doris Mooney, a retired Drumheller prison guard, has just moved into Paradise Village retirement home in Canmore, Alberta. She suffers from a fatty liver disease.  Ivy Hoffbauer, married and divorced three times, is well known as a winning Austrian skier whose career on the slopes ended in a humiliating and injurious crash.   Arthur Beech, a retired Dean of Arts at the University of Calgary, is a real ladies’ man who is not letting a cancer diagnosis slow him down.  

No wilting violet, Doris crassly and brazenly shoots her mouth off questioning Ivy’s marriage and career failures while admitting she stayed in a loveless marriage. Her witty quips included keeping mum about the “D” word, referencing a “dry water pistol” and much more.  A popular veteran at LFT, Melanie Janzen is indeed hilarious performing as the brash Doris.   She has performed 7 seasons at the Stratford Festival and 5 seasons with The Shaw Festival.   Great to see her back in Port Dover.

Brigitte Robinson, acting in numerous past Mirvish and Shaw Festival productions, made a welcome debut on the LFT stage as Ivy. She was the perfect graceful, empathetic foil to Doris and her run of the mouth.  

Ian Deakin, who has performed in a number of Shakespearean plays at Stratford Festival as well as Netflix and FXX offerings, is also on the LFT stage for the first time. He was an authentic charmer in the role of Arthur.    

LFT Associate Director Jane Spence directed Doris and Ivy in the Home, inviting the audience “into the lives of three people navigating the trials and tribulations of life in a retirement home.”

Once again William Chesney created a beautiful outdoor setting, complete with gazebo, for the Doris and Ivy in the home set. Kevin Fraser was Lighting Designer; Alex Amini Costume Designer; Laura Grandfield Stage Manager and Ben Tuck Assistant Stage Manager.    

Three members of the Paris Port Dover Pipe Band heralded the 45th season opening with a brief marching performance, which marked their 30th year to bring their pipes to the theatre, Derek Ritschel, Artistic Director shared in his welcome to the audience.

To catch another Norm Foster stage hit, running in Port Dover from May 22 to June 8, contact the theatre at their Main and Market Box Office, visit www.lighthousetheatre.com or call 519 583 2221.

REVIEW: Doris and Ivy in the Home explores aging with heart and humour (Intermission Magazine)

By Janine Marley | Intermission Magazine

Thursday, May 27, 2024

A university dean, a corrections officer, and a disgraced athlete walk into a retirement home…except there isn’t really a punchline. 

Instead, Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home, directed by Jane Spence, is an exploration of friendship, love, and intimacy amidst the inevitable process of aging. Featuring Foster’s signature wit and delivering laugh after laugh, Doris and Ivy in the Home is an uproarious way to kick off Lighthouse Festival’s 45th season. 

Melanie Janzen as Doris & Brigitte Robinson as Iris in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 summer season production of Norm Foster’s Doris and Ivy in the Home.

Doris and Ivy in the Home takes three unlikely companions on a journey through illness, relationships, perhaps even some romance, and the occasional snoop on another senior couple who like to, uh, get busy in the garden. Doris is a former corrections officer with a tough exterior, Ivy is a former skier who fled to Canada after a career-ending run, and Arthur used to be a dean, but he prefers to think of himself as a teacher. Arthur only has eyes for Ivy, while Ivy is afraid to fall in love again after three failed marriages. After much meddling and the occasional heart-to-heart, the three end up totally inseparable as they settle into their new lives. 

Foster’s script proves why he’s such a mainstay of Canadian comedy; Doris and Ivy at the Home is one well-placed joke after another, with plenty of callbacks to previous quips as well. A striking element of the writing is that Arthur likes to make up little poems based on his friends’ conversations, essentially little limericks. They’re brilliant and witty, and they punctuate the text perfectly. This flourish takes the creativity of the work to a whole new level while also giving Arthur a unique, delightful quirk.

There’s also a very delicate balance between the light and dark elements of Foster’s play. The world delves into real issues while keeping the overall essence of the play lively and fun. Getting older is a prevalent source of anxiety for most people, and yet Foster doesn’t shy away from talking about the realities of getting cancer or arthritis, or any other number of ailments. However, this play also reinforces how those things don’t have to define us as we get older. Each of the three characters finds something, or someone, new to live for over the course of the play. Whether that’s love, or a grandchild, or finding your independence after a long, loveless marriage, they all find something new about themselves. The ability to change our lives over and over again, no matter what age we are, is part of the beauty of being human, and Doris and Ivy in the Home directly speaks to that humanity.

The cast of Doris and Ivy in the Home is a trio of veteran actors who deliver exceptional performances in this piece. Melanie Janzen gives a bold and animated performance as Doris. Her physicality so fully embodies her character, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Katharine Hepburn as she’d brush back her bangs in her plaid shirt and capris. Playing opposite Janzen is Brigitte Robinson as Ivy, whose poise and elegance are a perfect foil to Doris’ brashness. Robinson gives Ivy a sweet, maternal nature while also showing a deeper, more troubled side to the character. Ian Deakin’s Arthur is the final of these three musketeers. Deakin gives an earnest and heartfelt performance while leaning into his character’s idiosyncrasies. The chemistry and expertise of these three actors makes this production such a joy to watch; they’re so clearly having a good time with one another, and that radiates through their performances. 

William Chesney’s set design for the production is instantly recognizable as a retirement facility: the building’s large automated lobby doors, patio furniture, and gazebo create an ideal ambience for the play. Outdoor planters which change from bright flowers to hearty ferns help denote the passage of time, a choice that’s simple and effective. Alex Amini’s costumes wholly embody the characters; each has their own unique style that fits their personalities to a T. Ivy’s cardigans and flowy shirts, Doris’ colourful plaid shirt, and Arthur’s earth tones let us know immediately who these characters are. 

Doris and Ivy in the Home is a lighthearted story that’ll leave you looking forward to the future — whatever it may bring.

Doris and Ivy in the Home runs in Port Dover until June 8 before moving to Port Colborne from June 12-23. Tickets are available here.

Review: Broadway magic comes to the shores of Lake Erie

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

April 18, 2024

PORT DOVER — Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 2024 Community Show The Producers proves that you don’t need to travel to Toronto to get top notch entertainment, bringing all the laughs and memorable tunes from Mel Brooks’ iconic musical to Port Dover’s famous theatre.

The cast of Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 Community Show, The Producers. From L to R: Daniel Traina, Justine Draus, Lisa Shebib, Jaden Banfield, J.P. Antonacci, Nikki Wiltac, Mac Buchwald, Don Kearney-Bourque, Jada Dawson, Shelby Mulder, Jason Mayo, Melissa Schoeman, Lyndsey Dearlove, Naomi Auld, Charly Buck, & Carmen Davis. Photo Credit: Keri Lynne Photography.

Directed by Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel, ‘The Producers’ is impressive on multiple fronts. From Lighthouse’s trademark high production values to a cast full of local talent, the show is sure to tickle your funny bone while you marvel at its many theatrical tricks. From snazzy dance numbers to scene-stealing Nazi pigeons, Lighthouse’s rendition shines.

‘The Producers’ first appeared in 1967 as a movie starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. It was launched as a Broadway show in 2001 starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who would go on to star in a film adaptation as well in 2005.

Stepping into the famed role of Max Bialystock in this rendition is J.P Antonacci, who shines as the sleazy, failed producer who cooks up a scheme with his rookie accountant Leo Bloom, played by Mac Buchwald, to get rich by producing the worst show possible.

That scheme revolves around Bloom’s observation that, as the IRS rarely investigates the books on a flop, it could be theoretically possible to make up to $2 million by selling an excessive amount of shares in the show, and then embezzling them when the show flops and cannot produce a return on investment.

Antonacci and Buchwald make for an amiable comic pairing, playing off each other’s quirks and quips effortlessly as they work to secure the rights to, and then mount a production of the worst script they could possibly find, titled ‘Springtime for Hitler’. This ramps up later in the show when they both fall for their new assistant Ulla, played by Jada Dawson.

The script for ‘Springtime for Hitler’ is a hilariously tone-deaf tribute to one of history’s greatest monsters, written by a former Nazi soldier now living in New York City and played by Carmen Davis. The best scene of the show involves Davis and her Nazi-flag waving pigeons intimidating Bialystock and Bloom as they attempt to secure the rights to produce.

The show features 16 performers, many who don multiple roles, including memorable turns as the senior socialites that Bialystock convinces to invest in the show through unconventional means, in a series of hilarious comic seductions that run throughout the play.

Also great are Jason Mayo and Don Kearney-Bourque, who play the show’s director and his assistant. Mayo ends up performing as Hitler in the titular musical, portraying the Fuhrer as flamboyantly gay.

‘The Producers’, it should be noted, is a decidedly adult show, featuring some language and scenarios that might not be appropriate for the younger set. That said, if you have laughed at a Mel Brooks film in the past (and who hasn’t with a lineup of comedy classics that includes Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights), then you should make it a priority to get out to Dover and laugh the night away.

‘The Producers’ runs until April 28 at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover. Tickets are $29 at 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.

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.

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is a slam-bang panto for the whole darn family

Go up the beanstalk for a musical comedy with a hilarious edge

Allan Cooke and Katie Edwards in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

Ross Petty eat your heart out. You may have abdicated your Christmas panto throne for the comfort of retirement, but your crown has passed to the head of Derek Ritschel, head honcho for the Lighthouse Festival.

His two theatres, the Lighthouse Festival in Dover and the Roselawn in Port Colborne, are serving up a terrific fractured fairy tale of a show in “Jack and the Beanstalk” that will have adults, as well as the kids, rolling in the aisles.

If you don’t know what pantomime (panto) is, get ready to find out. It’s a full-blown musical comedy with bawdy jokes, lots of songs, men playing women, and women playing men and always in outrageous British pantomime tradition.

Musical director Stephen Ingram sings in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

Playwright Ken MacDougall and director Jonathan Ellul have put together a great production that will have you bopping in your seat and laughing until your sides ache.

MacDougall has peppered the thing with lots of local references and corny gags. His script allows for lots of audience participation, including a happy Christmas singalong.

There’s lots of booing the villain, a handsome but slimy corporate guy, the CEO of a big brutal company that wants to plow up Ontario farmland and build more of those expensive condominiums.

Ever heard of this?

He’s played by the villainous Cyrus Lane and this triple-threat actor, singer, dancer, happily deserves every audience boo he gets.

Eliza-Jane Scott, left, Sal Figliomeni and Stephen Ingram in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto

Meantime Princess Buttercup, played by fantastic and vocally strong Katie Edwards, and her father, an addle-pated, muddled-up rubber-faced King (a deliberately over-the-top Allan Cooke), are trying to keep their troubled kingdom together.

Eliza-Jane Scott plays a sly little dude of a Jack, the lad who sells the family cow for a sack of beans and has eyes for Princess Buttercup. This Jack is not the greatest intellect on this fairy tale planet, but he’s a nice sort of kid, decked out in baseball cap and overalls.

Of course, there’s a pantomime Dame, the guy dressed in spectacular, slightly revealing frocks, who’s both raunchy and funny and has a great pair of gams. This is Sal Figliomeni, who sings the heart out of “When You’re Good to Mama” from the musical “Chicago,” as well as anything else he gets his high-powered lungs on.

In fact, this Dame belts out all his numbers to the rafters, and plays his laugh-lines like some Broadway baby on speed.

Sal Figliomeni and Eliza-Jane Scott in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.”

It’s worth the price of admission just to see what getup he’s going to turn up in next. My favourite, by the way, was a little Christmas tree number, with balls and poinsettias, in all the right places.

There’s a Pride-inspired fairy with a wand, (a sprightly Lori Nancy Kalamanski). She says to call her MC, and dashes in and out to facilitate the action and takes part in some audience interaction.

In and out of the action too, and a busy wizard on the keyboard, is musical director Stephen Ingram, who has a terrific singing voice and should have been used to more advantage throughout this entertaining show.

William Chesney’s sets are serviceable, even if the actors have to squeeze through some tricky entrance spaces. And Chris Malkowski’s lighting casts a fairy tale glow over everything.

Costume designer Alex Amini has done a great job dressing the characters in fairy tale chic, giving the whole show a classy look.

There’s not quite enough dancing in the show, but choreographer Kiri-Lyn Muir has made a neat number for the villainous CEO and two gingerbread men.

Stephen Ingram, left, and Sal Figliomeni in Lighthouse Festival’s production of “Jack and the Beanstalk — The Panto.” It’s a full-blown musical comedy with bawdy jokes, lots of songs, men playing women and women playing men and always in outrageous British pantomime tradition, Gary Smith writes.

What does it have to do with anything? I don’t know, but hey, this is a panto, so just about anything goes.

If you’ve seen a British panto before you won’t be disappointed with this full-throttle incarnation.

If you’ve never been to one of these outrageous off-the-wall musical shows before, get ready to have a whale of a time.

It’s all about letting go, having fun and playing along with the gang. You will likely unleash your inner child. And what’s wrong with that?

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.

Review: Norm Foster’s latest play premieres at Lighthouse

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

August 24, 2023

PORT DOVER—Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s 2023 summer season is ending the way it began, with a Norm Foster show on stage bringing the big laughs and memorable characters that could only come from the mind of one of Canada’s most well-loved and prolific playwrights.

PORT DOVER—Pictured on stage planning the heist are (l-r) Brad Rudy as Padre, Allan Cooke as Dale, Derek Ritschel as Rubber, Jeffrey Wetsch as Chef, and Brad Austin as Chip in a scene from Norm Forster’s world premiere of A Pack of Thieves at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover. — Photo submitted by Lighthouse Festival

While the season began with an excellent rendition of Foster’s ‘Come Down From Up River’, directed by acclaimed Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy, it ends with the world premiere of Foster’s newest work, ‘A Pack of Thieves’, directed by accomplished writer, director, and actor Jamie Williams.

The show brings together a powerhouse five-man comedy team of Lighthouse favourites to pull off the ultimate heist. Starring as best friends and neighbours are Jeffrey Wetsch as Chef and Lighthouse Artistic Director Derek Ritschel as Rubber. 

The play sees the pair presented with an out-of-the-blue opportunity to score a million bucks each by ‘stealing’ a prize racehorse from a local businessman, who is in on the scheme, and cashing in on the insurance money together.

Chef, owner of a failing restaurant, and Rubber, a tire salesman, are two men struggling through their own personal crises, both financial and personal. Neither have any experience pulling a heist, but Rubber has a plan. 

He brings in three partners: a serial criminal with a serious distaste for potty mouth named Padre – played by Brad Rudy – and ‘the twins’ (not biological), a pair of hilariously dimwitted thugs with Brad Austin as Chip and Allan Cooke as Dale, who are brought in by Rubber in a bid to score favour with his girlfriend, who happens to be their cousin.

Foster describes the show as a “flat out comedy”, noting how he purposefully tried to challenge himself to write a show that didn’t rely on the heartfelt moments he is known for: “Feelings are good. But this one has none of that. Feelings be damned!”

Director Williams, who stages the action in a fast-paced, joke-a-minute pace that gives the audience just enough time to catch their breath before throwing another red-hot zinger at them, credits all five actors for making the show as memorable as it is: “I can’t think of five better gentlemen to tell this particular story.”

He’s not wrong. Each of the five performers bring a unique vibe that, when combined, makes for some great, belly-laugh-inducing moments throughout the show.

Wetsch and Ritschel are a great duo, with Wetsch wound tighter than a drum and Ritschel amiably clueless to the gravity of the situation they have placed themselves in. Rudy imbues Padre with a steely demeanour driven by a (deserved) lack of faith in his partners’ abilities, while Austin and Cooke steal the show, leaning right into the absolutely ridiculous characters they’ve been served and bringing big laughs with them.

After a summer full of shows with big themes about aging, acceptance, and illness, all delivered with a healthy dose of laughter notwithstanding, it’s great to kick back and enjoy a show with no greater ambition than to make you laugh solidly for two hours. ‘A Pack of Thieves’ accomplishes this goal with ease and brings Lighthouse’s perfect 2023 summer festival to an end in style.

Tickets and showtimes are available at lighthousetheatre.com. The play will be at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre until September 2, before moving on to Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from September 6 to 17.

That’s not all from the fine folks at Lighthouse though, as they will bring their season-topping music revue show ‘Leisa Way’s Opry Gold’, featuring the Wayward Wind Band and running from September 5 to 16 in Dover and from September 20 to 24 in Port Colborne. 

Plus, new for this season, their holiday pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ promises “uproarious comedy, fantastical costumes, and musical numbers that will knock your socks off” when it hits the Lighthouse stage this holiday season.

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.

Review: Where You Are on stage at Lighthouse Festival

Port Dover’s Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s production of Where You Are opens with sisters Suzanne and Glenda sitting on their front porch on Manitoulin Island.

By Sharon Grose | Ontario Farmer Magazine

July 27, 2023

Lighthouse Festival Theatre’s summer production of Where You Are (by Kristen da Silva) opens with sisters Suzanne (Melanie Janzen) and Glenda (Susan Henley) sitting on their front porch on Manitoulin Island. Suzanne is bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t need a rooster to be her alarm clock. Glenda can get up at the crack of dawn with the rooster and chickens if she wants but Suzanne would just as soon sleep in until noon. Glenda just returned from church and Suzanne itching to find out the all the town gossip- why else does one go to church in a small town?

Front Entrance of Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover – Ontario Farmer Magazine

Sisters Glenda and Suzanne live a quiet retirement lifestyle selling homemade jam and hawthorn berry jelly on Manitoulin Island. This summer, their focusing on trying to orchestrate sightings of their handsome veterinarian neighbour and prepping for the visit of Suzanne’s grown daughter, Beth (Caroline Toal). But the things are complicated by a secret the sisters can no longer contain. Glenda and Suzanne apparently aren’t the only ones keeping secrets. When Beth lands on the island and admits to having some secrets of her own the three women realize it’s time to face things that will change the course of their lives. Secrets can no longer be secrets.

Suzanne and Glenda are totally devoted to each other and manage to share a house despite their different lifestyles. Suzanne raised her daughter – single handedly but continues to struggle to find the balance between mothering and smothering her daughter. Beth and Suzanne constantly clash. Suzanne is judgmental and critical of everything Beth does. They have a strained mother- daughter relationship. Glenda widowed, is a doting beloved Aunt to Beth and tries to keep the peace between mother and daughter which is not an easy task.

Then there is the cute guy who lives next door – the young veterinarian named Patrick (Gaelan Beatty) who is still getting over being left at the alter by his fiancé. There are some interesting connections between Beth and Patrick due to common denominators – both are rebounding from a recent break up, both are doctors – although one treats people while the other treats animals. Their various roles in the medical field make for some humorous moments. Will something develop between Beth and Patrick- only time will tell. If the two sisters have anything to say about it – definitely yes. But the two women have more things to deal with than budding relationships. Suzanne and Glenda start experimenting with weed – for medicinal purposes. The two are higher than a kite when they are discovered by Beth. Some candid discussions about life, love and mortality follow.

Caroline Toal, Melanie Janzen & Susan Henley in Where You Are by Kristen Da Silva

There is an interesting mix of funny and somber moments in this play. Simple lessons in life that gets you to thinking about appreciating people and the importance of family and community.

You won’t want to miss seeing this Canadian play at Lighthouse Festival Theatre. It is on n stage in Port Dover at Festival Theatre until Aug 5th and then on stage at Roselawn Theatre in Port Colborne from August 9th to August 20th.

Lighthouse Festival Theatre company was formed in 2022 bringing Port Dover’s Old Town Hall theatre and Port Colborne Roselawn theatre together as one theatre family.

Ontario Farmer readers can also attend two other Lighthouse Festival productions A Pack of Thieves by Norm Foster (Aug 16-Sept 2nd at Port Dover, or Sept 6-Sept 17 at Port Colborne, and Opry Gold with The Wayward Wind Band (Sept 5th-Sept 16 in Port Dover, Sept 20-Sept 24 in Port Colborne).

Tickets any of the show can be ordered by calling Lighthouse Festival Box Office 1-888-779-7703 or online https://lighthousetheatre.com/tickets/

Review: Lighthouse Theatre’s winning streak continues with Where You Are

By Mike Renzella | The Haldimand Press

July 27, 2023

PORT DOVER—2023 has been a year of great, emotional comedy at Lighthouse Theatre and Where You Are – the newest show to hit their Port Dover stage – is no exception, bringing another heaping serving of the laughs and pathos that are the bread and butter of Lighthouse’s ever-popular summer series.

Melanie Janzen as Suzanne & Susan Henley as Glenda in Kristen Da Silva’s Where You Are, directed by Jane Spence.

Directed by Jane Spence from a script by Kristen Da Silva, Where You Are tells the story of Glenda and Suzanne, two aging sisters who live together and sell homemade jam out of their small home on Manitoulin Island. When Suzanne’s daughter Beth comes home for a summer visit, secrets are revealed, relationships are put to the test, and life-changing decisions are made.

The play stars Susan Henley as Glenda, Melanie Janzen as Suzanne, Caroline Toal as Beth, and Gaelan Beatty as their good-natured neighbour Patrick.

Janzen and Henley make for a great comic duo in the show, gamely throwing one-liners at each other throughout, and believably selling the play’s more dramatic moments, the most touching of which revolve around their long-lasting, genuine friendship.

Toal imbues her character Beth with a believable vulnerability, proving a great foil to Janzen and Henley’s comedic exploits. While her character may be a bit hard-headed at times, it’s clear that Beth deeply loves her mom and aunt, and the childhood home she has returned to.

As the neighbour Patrick, Beatty brings the charm, making a great straight man to the comedy flying around on stage and displaying a natural chemistry with Toal as the two character’s stories begin to entwine over the course of the show.

Director Spence stages the show lightly, making the best of a witty script and more-than-capable performers. She described what drew her to the show, “It shares a powerful message about the difficulties that arise when secrets are kept, even with the best intentions. It explores what it means to love unconditionally, examining the struggles we sometimes face to give our loved ones the room to live life on their own terms, especially when their choices may differ from the ones we would make for them.”

Where You Are marks Spence’s fifth show for Lighthouse, also taking on this year’s On The Air earlier in the season. 

Gealan Beatty as Patrick and Caroline Toal as Beth in Kristen Da Silva’s Where You Are, directed by Jane Spence.

Writer Da Silva is also no stranger to the Lighthouse stage, having also written Sugar Road, Beyond the Sea, and Hurry Hard, and appearing as an actor as well. Her shows have been mounted at several venues around Ontario, and for good reason; Da Silva’s shows are guaranteed to be two things: hilarious and sincere. 

Where You Are is playing at Port Dover’s Lighthouse Theatre until August 5. It then moves Port Colborne’s Roselawn Theatre from August 9-20.

For more information, visit lighthousetheatre.com, where you can find information on showtimes for this show and the remainder of Lighthouse’s 2023 summer season. 

Up next at the theatre is the Young Company production of Robin Hood, which is running from August 9-12, followed by the World Premiere of Norm Foster’s latest show, A Pack of Thieves, and the season topper, Opry Gold.