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L.A. Beat

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New West Theatre bursting with optimism for Wonderstruck

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New West Theatre is always up for  giving audiences  a much needed shot of optimism. This summer’s  music revue show Wonderstruck, running Aug. 9-26 in the Yates Theatre is designed to do that through the music of the ’70s and ’80s.


Madisan Cowan performs ‘September” in New West Theatre]s new show Wonderstruck. Photo by Richard Amery

“We didn't originally decide to focus on an era, but we wanted to have a theme of dreaming and imagination. And music from the ’70s and ’80s just fit. There’s less focus on ’50s and ’60s music,” said artistic Director Kelly Reay, who  is excited to work with familiar faces musical director Kelly Zaborsky, Erica Hunt, Scott Carpenter and Kyle Gruninger plus relative newcomers like Alinafe Lupiway and Katie Fellger and newcomers MadisanCowan and  Ethan  Bintu-Watt, who are excited to spread their creative wings  for  Wonderstruck. Not to mention the talented band, drummer Keenan Pezderic, Guitarist Scott Mezei and bassist  Greg Paskuski.


“The past few years have been a little rocky, so we’re just excited to be able to dream again and be optimistic about the future,” Reay enthused, adding the set is designed to look like a starry night sky, to reinforce the optimistic feel.


He noted it is exciting to be getting back to normal after the pandemic.


“People were apprehensive abut getting together in large groups,” he observed, adding it has been a few years since the  had two music comedy revues in the summer.

“We’ve juggled the schedule a little bit. There will be another music comedy revue in February this year, “ The Legends of Rock and Country”


For now New West is focusing on Wonderstruck, which followed the tried and true formula of mixing comedy, dance and music.


“It‘s a mix of music, comedy and dance. It‘s a formula that works, but we don’t want to do the same thing every year,” he said, noting most of the show is completely new, so though the title “Wonderstruck”  may lead to memories of the TV show “ the Wonder Years,” there will be no “With A Little Help From my Friends.”


“We did that a couple years ago,” he continued.


Reay is excited to work with the cast, especially newer faces Madisan Cowan and Ethan Bintu-Watt, who get to take a more prominent role in this show.


“They were a really pleasant discoveries. They  are really capable, so they get to take somel features roles, so we’re excited about that,” he continued.


Pure Power Wrestling plans to tag in some new fans for Whoop Up Days entertainment

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Exhibition Park CEO Mike Warkentin is helping to pin down some new fans of Whoop up Days by adding Pure Power Wrestling to the card for this year’s free family festival.  He hopes wrestling fans will flip over having  wrestling on the grounds  for Whoop Up Days this year.

Sidney Steele is excited to be part of Pure Power  Wrestling at Whoop Up Days this year. Photo by Richard Amery


“We couldn’t be more proud  to welcome Pure Power Wrestling,” said Exhibition park CEO Mike Warkentin.

“ Wrestling  has been a tradition since Stampede Wrestling,” Warkentin continued, adding Whoop Up Days welcomed wrestling years ago, though he couldn’t remember exactly when.


“That was before my time,” he said.


 Pure Power Wrestling will bring Hot Summer Night to the Agri-food Hub & Trade Centre on Friday, Aug. 25 for a one night only,  ticketed performance beginning at 7 p.m.,  that Friday night.

“ We were looking for ways to diversify our entertainment program,” he continued adding The First Nations Warrior competition is also on Friday night.

“ We‘re hoping to get attract a new crowd to Whoop up Days,” he said.


In an evening that won’t be forgotten, the card will be headlined by a PPW Heavyweight Title defense as reigning champion “Cougar Meat” Kyle Sebastian defends his title against his friend and mentor “Mr. Beefy Goodness” Vance Nevada, who is winding down his 30-year career this year. It’s a clash of generations in Southern Alberta’s home for professional wrestling. 


Taming of the Shrew opens in Galt Gardens

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The Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance Society premiered their summer production of Shakespeare’s comedy Taming of the Shrew, Thursday, July 6.


Emily Laidlaw and Lucas Kramps perform in Taming of the Shrew, which opened this week. Photo by Richard Amery

Their production of Taming of the Shrew, directed by Jesse Thibert, whom played Hamlet last summer, puts a slightly modern twist on the theme of gaslighting to control one’s wife.

They set it amid the countercultural turmoil of the free love ’60s.


Ben McCluskey and Maddie McKee perform in Taming of the Shrew, which opened this week. Photo by Richard Amery

It is supposed to be a contrast between the counter-culture  of youth and the more conservative adults but even Father  Baptista, played by Ginny  Little-Bergsma, is dressed like Sonny Bono in this show.


The story is about Father Baptista, who refuses to let his popular youngest daughter Bianca (Mataya Britton) be wooed until his eldest  daughter, the shrewish, headstrong, violent and angry Kate (Maddie McKee) be wed.


So the youth of Nanaimo (rather than Padua) convince Petruccio ( played by Shakespeare Performance Society veteran Ben McCluskey) to take Kate off their hands, so they are free to woo Bianca, posing as tutors.


 There is a lot of colour, some fun physical comedy and some intriguing choices made. Petruccio’s horse is a rail scooter and they have some fun switching out Italian cities with Canadian cities. It is hilarious that Winnipeg is at odds with  Nanaimo in this show, though it is only mentioned in passing.


Ben McCluskey and Maddie McKee have excellent chemistry together especially during the wooing scene. Maddie McKee projects well, shouting most of her lines and playing an excellent shrewish Kate.


Like in previous productions, the minor characters steal the show.

 It is always a joy to see Trevor Loman show his comedic side as he does as Hortensio.

 Emily Laidlaw, who played a more serious role of Hamlet’s mother in last year’s  production of Hamlet shows her comedic side as  Biondello in Taming of 

Trevor Loman and Mataya Britton perform in Taming of the Shrew, which opened this week. Photo by Richard Amery

the Shrew.


 Jess Nguyen has a fun smaller role as Petruccio’s tailor, and Jeff Graham is entertaining in everything he does, this time as one of Bianca’s suitor Gremio.


 Lucas  Kramps  excels as comic relief as Tranio, one of Biancas other suitors.


Taming of the Shrew is at the Empress theatre is at Legacy park , July 13 at 7 p.m. and in Fort Macleod on July 14  so they aren’t competing with Street Machine weekend, but they will be back in Galt Gardens, July 20 and July 27 and  Aug. 3,10, 17 and 18.


Ginny Little-Bergsma and Ben McCluskey in Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Richard Amery

They will also be performing at Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens, July 21, Aug 4 and 11 and at the Coutts arts Centre outsside of Nanton, July 16 at 2 p.m.

—  By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor


Hootenanny explores friendship and acceptance in There’s a Turtle in my Tub

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Get ready to have a hoot in Galt Gardens with New West Theatre’s summer production of Hootenanny — There’s A Turtle in my Tub, running at 10:30 a.m. every Wednesday through Saturday , in the shade across the street from Park Place Mall until the end of July.

Hootenanny’s July production There’s a Turtle in My Tub opened this week. Photo by Richard Amery


Instead of creating a devised theatre production from scratch like usual, the cast, crew and directors expanded on Nicola Elson’s script “There’s a Turtle In my Tub.” She produced it for a theatre company in Calgary.


“ It’s the skeleton. I had this script and it has never been done here,” said Elson.


Assistant director Ahona Saynal, who has been involved with the past four of  the five productions of Hootenanny, mostly on stage, is helping direct.


 The half hour show is about Mabel, a non binary kid with a vivid imagination, who is always panicking after hearing noises in their room, until one day they discover a turtle named Seymour in their bathtub and decides to help him return home.


“There is a mailman, submarine captain and a hot air balloon pilot, but really the turtle is just looking for a friend. It is a play about worry, imagination, acceptance and friendship,” Elson summarized adding the show includes lots of puppets, colour and action.


Because Hootenanny is under the New West Theatre Banner, which allows them access to  more grants to hire university students for the summer, this show features live music for the first time from Nis Sherman who provides a live soundtrack to the antics and puppetry of Achilles Friessen, Parker Hickerty and Mirielle Nieuwenhuis.


“Usually  it’s canned music. Nis will also be part of New West Theatre’s summer show,” Elson said.


Elson observed Hootenanny’s focus is on theatre for young people, but it also gives up and coming actors and directors from the university to get their foot in the proverbial stage door.

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