Four Stars Out of Four!
By Mitch Albom. Directed by Ron Ulrich, assisted by Luke Brown.
Until July 3 at Stage West Dinner Theatre, 5400 Dixie Rd.
May 11, 2011
The best part about live theatre is the way it can surprise you and Tuesdays With Morrie, now playing at Stage West, is a prime example of that.
There was another production of the same show, an excellent one, in Toronto just over a year ago, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this one, especially with an actor best known for his roles on TV sitcoms.
Boy, was I surprised. The Stage West version of Tuesdays With Morrie is a production which could hold its own on any stage in Toronto and actually manages to be even more moving than the last one I saw.
A few words about the show, first. It’s a piece of autobiography from successful sports writer Mitch Albom about how he reconnected late in life with a sociology professor, Morrie, from his college days who is now dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
I know it sounds like an exercise in tear-jerking sentimentality, but it isn’t. Albom’s writing is true, Morrie is a great guy and Ron Ulrich’s production, with Luke Brown assisting, doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Jamie Farr, best known as the cross-dressing Klinger from M*A*S*H* is the star and he’s absolutely amazing. Only someone with the lifetime of experience Farr has would know how to make Morrie so real, so funny and yet so profound at the same time. With Farr in control, there’s nothing maudlin on stage, and all of Morrie’s sage observations are couched in a dry wit that Farr delivers brilliantly.
Equally good is Rejean Cournoyer’s Mitch, a guy who’s become so successful in his career, he hasn’t had time to really live. Looking like a young Tom Hanks and acting full out, Cournoyer gives Farr a good, tough performance to play off, and the combination is killer.
Tuesdays With Morrie is only 80 minutes long, but I guarantee it will make you laugh, cry, think and feel, all in that limited time span.
Toss in prime rib, garlic bread and a Caesar salad, and it doesn’t get much better than this.
A real connection with real life
Jamie Farr delivers a perfect message about living
Morrie-Jamie Farr Jamie Farr's performance in Tuesdays with Morrie "is beautifully etched on the imagination,"
The Hamilton Spectator
Spectator reviewer Gary Smith writes.
Rob Beintema/Special to The Hamilton Spectator
Sometimes there is art when you least expect it. It reaches up and slaps you in the kisser.
In its welcome sting you suddenly understand how a play, a story, a poem or a song can change you forever. It happened at Stage West a few days ago. Jamie Farr, without a Klinger dress in sight, leaned back in his comfortable old chair and talked about life.
Well, it was Jamie Farr via Morrie, the compelling character he plays in Jeffrey Hatcher and Mitch Albom’s sentimental little piece, Tuesdays With Morrie.
It’s a pleasant enough play, but hardly earth-shaking. What gives it its emotional tug-of-war in Ron Ulrich’s nicely directed production, is the gasp of joy Jamie Farr emits from the stage.
He knows he belongs there. It’s almost a satisfied sigh. He savours every moment of his performance. Without ever losing control of the play, or the character, he has a whale of a time.
If you only think of Farr as Klinger you’re in for a surprise. His quietly understated performance, as a man about to take leave of life, is beautifully etched on the imagination. It’s real all the time.
When he shuffles his feet and does a little dance to an old tune it’s sweetly comic. When he tells his former student, Mitch, (a likable Rejean Cournoyer) he ought to let go more and love life, you know that he’s right. And when, with brutal honesty, he says his last lines of the evening, touching his heart, reminding us death is always just a breath away, I guarantee you’re going to cry.
Farr gives Morrie all the irascible humour, battle-scarred heartbreak and sometimes self-conscious anger the role requires.
The play is a real departure for Stage West, usually associated with Jukebox Reviews and well-weathered comedies. It’s just about as serious as this well-oiled theatre machine in Mississauga ever gets.
Like Shirley Valentine with the wonderful Loretta Swit earlier this season, Tuesdays With Morrie is classy theatre, the sort you’d expect to turn up in a theatre that didn’t serve dessert and roast beef.
All the more reason then to take advantage of this lovely production. The play is set against Patrick Clark’s slightly dowdy wood-panelled living room. There are no attempts to gussy things up. Like the play, the set is just real.
There isn’t a happy ending. Not really. Tuesdays With Morrie is just too connected to real life for that. What it does have though is a perfect message about living. Enjoy every minute until you take your last breath. Celebrate love and tell those you care about how much they make you feel good.
Jamie Farr is a revelation in this valentine to everything that’s good on this earth. For goodness sake go see him dance into the sunset. He’ll take your heart with him.
Tuesdays With Morrie doesn’t answer the big questions about life. What it does do instead is remind us how precious life is.
Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for the Hamilton Spectator for more than 30 years
Need to know
What: Tuesdays With Morrie
Where: Stage West Dinner Theatre, 5400 Dixie Rd., Mississauga
When: Now through July 3
New Review: Tuesdays With Morrie
By Sarah Bauder
Shalom Life - May 21, 2011
Mitch Albom’s best-selling autobiography Tuesdays With Morrie (1997) left an indelible mark on millions of readers. In 2002, Albom collaborated with veteran playwright Jeffery Hatcher to create a seamless stage version of his hit autobiography.
"Tuesdays With Morrie," now playing at Mississauga's Stage West, is the story of Albom, a sports writer, who reconnects after 16 years with his former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
Jamie Farr (probably most famous for his iconic “Corporal Klinger” on M*A*S*H) is utterly brilliant. He portrays Morrie with such subtle nuisances that I caught myself forgetting he was only acting the part. Farr deftly delivers Morrie’s life musings, simultaneously making them both humorous and profound.
Mitch is played by Canadian actor Réjean Cournoyer, who convincingly conveys both the egotism and frenetic nature of the character. Cournoyer and Farr make the perfect duo, bouncing line after line off one another with impeccable timing.
Directed by Ron Ulrich, the Stage West version of "Tuesdays With Morrie" could easily hold its own against any production in Hogtown. During the uninterrupted 90-minute presentation, the audience is taken through a myriad emotions -- one will laugh, perhaps shed a few tears, and most certainly be forced to ponder. Oh yes, and the sumptuous buffet dinner is an added bonus as well.
"Tuesdays With Morrie" plays at Stage West Dinner Theatre (5400 Dixie Rd., Mississauga) until July 3. Visit www.stagewest.com or call 905-238-0042 for more information.
Here I am in 1994 with Martin Vidnovic, Kim Crosby and Jennifer Allen. My Broadway debut in Guys & Dolls. Photograph by Carol Rosegg.
Guys and Dolls
I had imagined that I was ready to step right into Guys and Dolls. I had been playing the kind of mind game that actors play whenever they're up for a role. Without even realizing it, we actors tend to pile up all the reasons why we are "perfect for the role" - any role. But suddenly it wasn't a mind game any more. It was real and the reality of making my Broadway debut more than 40 years after I'd started my acting career was a shock to me. It wasn't going to be all that darned easy.
I only had two weeks to rehearse, and i didn't even get the kind of rehearsal time that the principals had gotten when they first mounted the show. I had done some rehearsals alone with the stage manager. The dance captain put me through my floor routines. I had a few casual rehearsals with the understudies. I had one partial rehearsal with the full cast, and then, on the afternoon of the Tuesday night I opened, I went through my only full dress rehearsal.
And then I was on, and I was as scared as any 17-year old ingenue might be in the same setting. This was important. The Nathan Detroit character was the driving force of the show, and for that reason, it wasn't just a matter of knowing my lines, or being confident in knowing the right stage blocking for my numbers. I had to bring an extra intensity to the part to keep the show moving. Did I have what it took to do that?
Did I tell you that I had to sing? I prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. He'd helped me before. he could help me again. And then I talked to my wife. On the phone from L.A., Joy pointed out very calmly, "Look, Jaimie, you're there for one reason: people like you. The people who hired you. The people who bought tickets to see you."
She also pointed out that everyone has two guardian angels sitting on their shoulders. When I was out there on the stage, I should remember mine.
With St. Jude's help, and the presence of my two guardian angels, how could I go wrong? I didn't go wrong. Clive Barnes, the long time theater critic for The New York Post, said I helped return the show to its roots, to Sam Levene's "foxy, shifty charm in the role." And everyone - even Mrs. Frank Loesser - said I made a darn good Nathan Detroit.