Monday, October 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities -- Part One: Niagara

Well, I'm back from some fun days in Canada. I hung my hat in London, staying with friends Suzanne and Jim. That in itself was great! Suzanne is one of those friends from a million years back -- we have a lot of shared history, but never have to stumble to "get started" when we see each other. We just start where we left off!

But the title of this post is "A Tale of Two Cities" and neither is London!

Instead, the two cities are Niagara-on-the-Lake and Stratford. In both places we saw musicals by Stephen Sondheim. The plays were as different as the cities.

So today, we'll visit Niagara-on-the-Lake and "Sunday in the Park with George."

Located on the east side of Ontario, this small charming town is filled with cute shops and is simply lovely.

Carriages with their stately horses line up in front of the Prince of Wales Hotel, willing to take tourists for a ride (the operative term no doubt being "take.")

Flowers line the sidewalks and the median.

They hang in baskets from poles, rest in window boxes, and simply fill the town with lush color, even on a gray, often rainy and blustery day.

It's very picturesque, and people will go to great lengths to photograph one another!

Of course I had a few favorite shops.

I did some damage in the book store (and so did Suzanne, who is checking out!)

This shop is tiny with a minimum of categorization. For example, the fiction, classics and mysteries are all together alphabetically. So one stumbles on books they weren't really looking for. I found a book written by Julia Child's television assistant that intrigued me, along with a collection of short stories about Paris. I hadn't planned on finding either of these.

Moving down the street, we passed the Christmas shop (and no, for once I didn't go in!).

But they had wonderful windows!

The gourmet shop had plenty of samples and a couple of good sales from us. So did the bakery.

And Suzanne couldn't resist a praline from the caramel apple store!

Or the bakery! (Of course, we both succumbed to that!)

Everything was just so darned pretty!

Of course we had to pay homage at the Shaw statue!

While many of the plays performed at this festival are by George Bernard Shaw, they also do others, including musicals and classic and contemporary comedies.

A couple of years ago, when Rick was with us, he and Jim bemoaned Niagara as too cute. I think the place made their skin crawl. So Saturday, Jim dropped us off so we could go buy "overpriced cute things" and met up with us for dinner.

And of course, I had to take a picture of my friends!

Then it was off to the Royal George Theatre, the middle-sized theatre of Shaw's three stages.

I liked the downstairs lounge where we could wait till they opened the house.

It even had a wee stage for cabaret acts -- but don't worry, we didn't perform!

And should you think Jim was TOTALLY camera shy, well -- the answer is no!

Our first play was "Sunday in the Park with George," which was in what I call Sondheim's "middle period." (This is purely my categorization!)

It is two related one-act musicals. The first focuses on painter Georges Seurat and his relationship with his model "Dot" as he works on his massive "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette."
Georges' other work hasn't been all that well received. He's hoping this massive canvas will be included in an upcoming exhibition.

The story is complex, focusing on the vibrant Dot, who adores George but needs the attention and love he can't provide because his real love is his work.
The second act, with the same cast, focuses on a fictional great grandson of Georges named "George," a conceptual artist working in video. He is unveiling his "Chromalume #7" which is connected to the original work. His grandmother, Marie (presumably Dot and Georges' daughter) is present.

George is an artist, yes -- but he is also a businessman. The song "Putting It Together" talks about "the art of making art" -- which may involve a foundation grant or exhibit. When a critic takes him to task for his work ("Really, George -- Chromalume Number SEVEN?" she says, saying she expeccts more from him), George realizes he must take stock. (It sort of reminded me of Ken Burns' documentaries, but that's another post.)

Throughout the act we see George grow, and in the final number, "Move On," realize he needs to evolve, take chances. (OK, I cried. Because that's what I do.)

There's a lot of meat in this musical. It's not particularly tuneful -- the discord in the harmonies often reflects the discord in both Georges' lives. But it is so meaningful -- especially for anyone who loves art, who has ever been "stuck" -- whether we know it or not.

(There is a splendid production of the original Broadway cast on DVD. I recommend it, if musicals are your thing. You won't leave humming a song, but you will leave it moved.)

The staging -- eloquent, with great use of the art and beautiful scenery and costume design. As the first act finale falls into place, the actors take the positions of the famous Seurat painting and it is breathtaking.

The performances were spot on, particularly Stephen Sutcliffe as Georges/George. The season is nearing its end, but if you have the opportunity to visit Niagara and see this production, I'd certainly recommend it. It's not an "easy" show, but it's a splendid one.

A beautiful little town at the peak of loveliness, despite the gloomy weather. A wonderful theatrical experience. What does tomorrow bring?

(Photos in this post of "Sunday in the Park" are from You can also view a lovely slideshow at Shaw Festival's website along with a video.)


~*~Magpie's Nest said...

thank you for taking us along Jeanie, those carriages certainly look tempting and a lovely way to take in all the lovely sights in this great town!

special that you could take pics during the theatre performance too!

you put so much into your posts ... I appreciate that as I know how long it can take (it takes me a long time at least :)

Pam Aries said... are the Cosmopolitan Gal this year! How cool. Love LoVE the tour.

BONNIE K said...

Yes, thank you for the tour. I have never seen London before. And I can't believe that YOU, of all people, didn't go in the Christmas shop! Those caramel apples looked amazing. I'm sitting here drooling over them.

Joanne Huffman said...

Again, you have written something that makes me feel like I've been right there beside you.

beth said...

what a lovely trip you had....

but silly me...I like being with you better at the lake :)

Sugar Bear said...

What lovely photos. I've always wanted to visit Canada but still haven't had a chance. Now I feel like I was there!

Rosa said...

How marvelous! Deary me, we would be dangerous on a trip together!!! lol

Mae Travels said...

I've been to Niagara and to Stratford, but have seen performances only at Stratford. You make it look like so much fun!

Thanks for all your comments on my travels too.

Anya said...

It sounds for me all vacation
Beautifil trip
all fantastic shots !!!
I can see you had FUN FUN :))
I never seen the USA & CANADA :(
Maybe once i am going ....

joyce said...

I've never seen a live performance. When I lived in the city when I was a teenager I didn't care for it, and here in the small town there's not much chance for it. I don't think I have ever been to Stratford, but I could be wrong. Come to think of it, I probably am wrong. But anywhere that sells Rocky Mountain Chocolates is okay by me! (Not to mention all the other goodies...mmmmm...caramel!)

Ruth said...

Very picturesque, so true, and we got to see a spectrum in your images. Awesome.

I think you would LOVE the Wabi-Sabi House book! Check it out at Schulers sometime, hopefully they have it. It's an inspiration. :)

Becca said...

I've always wanted to go the Shaw festival. Niagara on the Lake looks like a delightful town! Glad you had a good time :)

We've been to Stratford many times. Their musical productions are amazing.

Relyn said...

Girl, you do know how to live. Oh, yes! You are my kind of woman I love these peaks into your marvelous life. I really love how you make your passions a priority.

Annie said...

OMG. where have a been???? I have a lot of exploring to do. Hugs, Annie

Annie said...

p.s. Hey! Tell Jim cute is good and bakeries are yummy. I love Niagra Falls. Can't wait to see it again and this time REALLY SEE IT.

Laura said...

This Seurat experience is so cool! I would love to see something like this. You live an interesting life!

Jeanie said...

Pam -- I'd like to think I'm cosmopolitan, but really, I'm not!

Joyce -- I'd take caramel over chocolate most days! And I think you'd love a live show!

Laura, I couldn't access your profile to visit your blog! But thanks for stopping by! (My life isn't always this interesting!)

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