Last night Richard and I had the privilege to be among the first audiences to see a production in the restored York Theatre, on Commercial Drive at East Georgia. Theatre Replacement's Jack and the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto officially inaugurated the newly renovated space last night, just over a century after it first opened in 1912, and more than 30 years after Tom Durrie founded the Save the York Theatre Society in 1981 following the Vancouver Little Theatre Association's vacating of the building and its conversion to a cinema.
Durrie was in attendance last night, as were a host of civic and provincial dignitaries, prominent local arts producers and administrators, the generally excited public, and a gaggle of even more excited kids. As with the equally important renovation of the Stanley Theatre on South Granville, the architectural challenge for the York was clearly to fit a fully functioning 400-seat theatre (complete with flies and wings) within the existing footprint while also creating a visually interesting street facade. From what I was able to see and explore last night (which didn't include the stage, as Richard and opted not to stay for the after-party), this has been accomplished--the sole expense being, as again with the Stanley, significant lobby space. Indeed, the York's downstairs and upstairs lobbies are even smaller than the Stanley's, just a long thin wedge between the box office and the bar in the case of the former, and into which several hundred bodies were crammed last night to listen to Vancouver East Cultural Centre Executive Director Heather Redfern's opening remarks at a pre-reception. The Cultch, now a thriving arts juggernaut on the east side, will oversee the York Theatre, mostly renting it out to outside presenters, but also, as in this case, partnering with local companies and organizations to premiere new work or host important touring productions (as will be the case during the PuSh Festival, when Tanya Tagak's take on Nanook of the North opens there).
Richard and I had tickets for the last row of the balcony (GG), but there was nothing wrong with our seats. The sight lines were perfect, the acoustics impeccable, and the show itself a total gas. Charlie Demers' script, in adapting the venerable fairy tale to its local setting, does not spare the satire (even when directed at several members of the audience) and also doesn't talk down to its pint-sized viewers, whose wonder and energy must inevitably sustain the piece. Veda Hille's score is another marvel of offbeat syncopation and humour, and I was thrilled to see she'd incorporated into it another version of Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" (complete with trademark headband). Amiel Gladstone's direction was snappy in tempo and filled with wonderfully visual bits of stage magic. The actors, all except for lead Maiko Bae Yamamoto (who should perform--and sing--more often) in multiple roles, filled their outsized panto peronas (quite literally in the case of Allan Zinyk, who played both the Giant and Jack's mom) with charismatic aplomb.
In short, it was a wonderful way to open an important new cultural space in the city. Congratulations to all involved in getting us to this moment.