A heart-warming scene in Windsor Dance Experience’s New Adventures in Toyland, its 59th production, opening Friday night at the Capitol Theatre, has Raggedy Anne and Andy come to life. Leah Trajkovski and Avery Janisse, in the two roles, perform superbly well as lifeless dolls. The real surprise is how completely animated they become as movable, living, smiling characters.
There are many more surprises in the all dance all the time musical, all incredible to watch. And there is much to see with a cast 91 members strong filling the historic Capitol Theatre stage. It turns out this is the largest ever assembled for a WDX presentation and despite all the running around on stage, with the dancers always in full character, they are always on their marks. Deciding on their every step is the exceptional work of Director and head choreographer Tiffany Chan aided by Kendra Agius, Jessica Charron, Simone Orlando, Julia Galli, Dalton Hickson, Eleanor Liebrock and Drake Prosser-Spence.
There is reason there are so many choreographers. Action is pretty much non-stop and playing out on two levels. Just watching the movement is to see and enjoy genuine theatrical magic.
Although the opening act is full of sunshine and happy characters, there is trouble in Toyland and it is not just the pressing need to make all the toys the big guy, in the red outfit, will need on his Christmas eve run around the world.
Some of the characters are wholesome and good. In fact, most are and they prove it with their unbridled expressions of happiness. A few others are not on the same goodness level. No question about Jack and Jill, played with great determination by Jenna Walker and McKenna Burke. But, considerable questions surface about their uncle, the dastardly Barnaby. He is played with clever nastiness by Eric Cunningham while delivering a totally un-flawed and awe-inspiring performance with dance moves so well co-ordinated at a pace which never drops in intensity. Even, and including, while dueling with the agile Humpty Dumpty.
As impossible as it seems, the highly flexible Lauren Schmidt, playing the egg, matches Barnaby move for move with the dueling nothing but proof the audience is watching, sometimes breathlessly, some of the best dance this year with some of the most complex moves.
Barnaby, definitely not in the favourite uncle category, needs a few foils for his plan to destroy the toy factory, which puts him at odds with factory owner Mary, played with considerable emotional fortitude by Michelle Robinet.
Barnaby is quick to find just the right goons after posting a henchman needed sign. Jasmin Mourad and Simone Orlando are up for the task and, like Humpty, bring considerable precision to their many dance numbers.
One of the most immediate chores, after Barnaby is dealt with, is the assembly of a whole battalion toy soldiers, some designed by the spirited Mya Castellucci playing toy inventor Little Bo-Peep. Her wandering sheep, played by Maura Baluyot is matched by Alyse Racine playing Mary’s Little Lamb.
After some nasty business, the Toylander’s get to work, even to the extent of Barnaby pitching in, which results in one of the most splendid moments of the evening. All of the toy soldiers come to life and dance in unison. This alone is something not to be missed. Costume designer Roxanne Liebrock has pulled all of the stops, not only outfitting the soldiers but all of the cast with stellar results.
Keaira Giroux, the girl with a never-ending smile, tells Eyes on Windsor about her excitement to be in a brand-new costume. The 12-year old Giles Campus student has been in a number of outfits over the years after first performing in a WDX production four years ago.
For newcomer, Vincent Massey Secondary School’s Trey Leendertz, playing the role of the Mad Hatter has been an incredible learning and growing experience and one which overnight has apparently cured what she describes as extreme stage fright.
Getting to the bright lights of the Capitol Theatre was a process WDX President Lauren Robinet describes as a three-month journey. Even though auditions commenced in September, Wednesday night’s full-costume dress rehearsal is the first time the dancers actually worked on the full-sized stage. For the dancers, she says, being there is a time to “let it out and be a little crazy.”
Certainly, the cast was up to being crazy, which really means having an enjoyable time while never missing an intricate dance routine to produce nothing short of immaculate, fully-polished moves executed to a “t.” It turns out, learning the ropes of each segment takes considerable practice. Both Leendertz and Giroux spent not only countless hours at WDX’s studios but matched the studio time at home.
In the end, this presentation is one able to bring an almost unreasonable amount of pure energy to the stage. Some of its charm is how the cast members bring to life some very well-known characters. Topping the list is Kathrine Gallant’s inspired performance of Snow White. She moves about the stage with the greatest of ease and innocence so suited to the beloved character.
An adorable sight to see is Deena Agius, Evelyn Darby and Ellee Phung as the Three Blind Mice; Gracie Cote, Emery Merschback and Coryn Trepanier as the Three Little Pigs; And Madeline Dumaine, Ella Fortin, and and Sophia Reshwen as the Three Little Kittens. They are just plain enchanting and lovely.
There is so much to see that the best way to really enjoy one of the best productions of the season is to simply sit back and watch with both ears ready for a great music score of popular contemporary Christmas music.
Performances are set for Friday, December 13 and Saturday December 14 at 7pm at the Capitol, in downtown Windsor, and Sunday, December 15 at 2pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. For more information including online ticket purchasing visit New Adventures in Toyland Featuring Windsor Dance Experience on the Eyes On Windsor events calendar.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.