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New West Theatre to explore family issues in Tony Award winner “Next To Normal”

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New West Theatre is branching out with composer Tom Kitt and  playwright Brian Yorkey penned Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning 2008 rock musical  “Next To Normal,” which runs Sept. 8-24 at the Yates Theatre.


“It’s a Tony Award winning  musical about  the impact of mental health issues have on a  typical family. Everything seems perfect, but there is trauma that hasn’t been addressed yet,” said director Kelly Reay, who was excited to  be able to stage the production as soon as the rights for regional theatre companies became available.


Kevin Owen Clarke, Ethan Snowden and Irene  Poole rehearse Next to Normal. Photo by RichardAmery

“The characters deal with depression. But in the end they are a really strong family who love each other,” he continued.


“Dad’s an architect; Mom rushes to pack lunches and pour cereal; their daughter and son are wisecracking teens. They appear to make up the perfect nuclear family. Yet life is anything but normal when we learn that mom has been struggling wth  manic depression for the last 16 years. ‘Next to Normal’ uses powerful songs  and music to take  audiences in a heartfelt journey with  love, sympathy and heart,” according to a press release from new West Theatre.


Reay noted “Next To Normal” is a departure for the long standing theatre company, which is best known for their always popular variety shows and somewhat lighter fare rather than this darker drama which has strong language and adult themes.


“It’s a really great musical. It’s such a well written play. It won a Pulitzer Prize for the writing,” Reay said.


 “But is does have some nightly language in it,” he continued.

“We’re still going to do the other shows, but we hope to expand our audience. We’d like to build our student audience to more students and university students,” he said.


New West Theatre take a nostalgic trip through the “Decades”

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 It’s good to have new West Theatre back at home at the Yates Theatre with a brand new variety show which runs the gamut from hammy hilarity to heartfelt.


Katie Fellger and Alinafe Lupwayi Perform in New West Theatre’s Decades at the Yates Theatre. Photo by RichardAmery

 The long standing theatre company traipse through “Decades” of music and jokes, which has got to be a challenge finding songs they haven’t performed before.

The show, helmed by director Kathy Zaborsky provides pleasurable nostalgia trip through the 1950s to today, no matter when you were born.


 Long time member Erica Hunt and Scott  Carpenter introduced the show, joking what about the decades before the 1950s, so quickly sang a medley of hits from thee 1900s ªComing ’Round the Mountain,” a  little bit of jazz for the 1910s,  Carpenter scatted through the 1920s, they sang some more  jazz for the 1930s and recalled “Boogie Boogie Bugle Boy” for the 1940s.

 Then they opened with the talented cast of  Eric Hunt, Scott Carpenter, Kyle Gruninger, Ashley Thomson, Katie Fellger and new talent Madison Cowan, blast through a stylized cast version of Chuck Berry‘s “Rock and Roll music (If You Want to Dance With Me).


 But the ’50s is where the fun really begins as they chronologically touch on each decade.

 Drummer Keenan Pezderic got to play DJ from behind his kit, introducing each decade by imitating the DJs, slang and styles of the time.


 Erica Hunt and Scott Carpenter introduced new cast member Madison Cowan  by saying she grew up in New West Theatre as her mother Vanessa Cowan  was choreographing the early shows including this show.

“She was dancing in the wings and knew the dance steps better than we did,” Hunt  joked as  Madison Cowan lead the cast through Wanda Jackson’s “Let’s have A Party.”


 The ’60s were represented by a medley of Beatles hits including “ Can’t By Me Love” ,” Paperback Writer” and “  I Want To Hold Your hand. 


Keenan Pezderic represented the hippie side of the late ’60s by belting out “House of the Rising Sun,” which segued into a psychedelic groove as each of the cast members took turns cracking jokes to each other.

Madison Cowan performs in New West Theatre’s Decades at the Yates Theatre. Photo by RichardAmery

 Alinafe Lupwayi opened the ’70s part of the set with a stunningly soulful version of Smoky Robinson’s “ Tears of A Clown.” 


As a contrast to that, Erica Hunt dressed up as Ziggy Stardust Era David Bowie for a rousing version of “Starman,” as Kyle Gruninger added  extra acoustic guitar and harmonies.

A really beautiful moment as they eased their in the way into the ’80s as Katie Fellger introduced Ashley Thomson singing Kate Bush’s ’80s hit “ Running Up a Hill,” which got a second life today as part of the TV show “Stranger Things.”


While Thomson was breaking hearts with her voice,  Madison Cowan,  touched the soul by performing some really beautiful ballet moves. Erica Hunt and Scott Carpenter  reminisced about ’80s advertising jingles then quizzed the crown (which was amazing for a Thursday) about where they worked , promising the cast would write and perform an ’80s style jingle for their business.


 There were no takers. As Hunt asked “does anybody work anywhere,” one girl spoke up saying she worked for the Superstore liquor store, and hunt promised they would be back in the next set with the jingle.


Local comedian Faris Hytiaa films first comedy special at Owl Acoustic Lounge

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Local comedian Faris Hytiaa finished up filming his first  comedy special “Where You From”  by filming  two live shows recored at the Owl Acoustic Lounge, Saturday, Aug. 13.

 Fairs Hytiaa filming his first comedy special at the Owl, Aug. 13. Photo by RichardAmery

I  don’t get to a lot of the local comedy shows, but was glad to  be able to attend the late show.


I had’d seen him , nor openers Cole Howg and Connor Christmas’s opening sets since they were just starting out  by performing at the Owl Acoustic lounge’s comedy open mic at the old location.


 Host Cole Howg told a couple jokes about the local drug scene and convoy supporters, noting his cousin is one and , joking his fiancé is named Mack.

Niles Greenway has a solid set abut  being single and watching TV and  cuckold porn.


One of several cameramen film Fairs Hytiaa's first comedy special at the Owl, Aug. 13. Photo by RichardAmery

Conner Christmas , who started his comedy career in Lethbridge returned to the Lethbridge stage, hot off an appearance at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. He joked about his name and a few other things.


Headliner Faris Hytiaa performed a well crafted set about growing up as “ the first black person in Lethbridge,” and having to deal with people asking him where he’s from, though he was born in Toronto, and getting on a first basis with the local police.


He’d do a call back to officer Dave later in the set.


He talked a lot about living in a post Covid world and was on a roll but lost momentum while chatting to the audience, particularly Cole Howg’s convoy supporting cousin.


 He told stories that were both thought provoking and very funny.

The Where You From” is expected to be released  in 2023.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor


New West Theatre at home in the Yates Theatre exploring “Decades”

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It’s good to be home after what seems like “Decades” thanks to Covid. So New West Theatre is celebrating being back at home in the Yates Theatre with a new variety show exploring the  the past eight  “Decades” of music and fashion from the 

New West Theatre’s Erica Hunt, Scott Carpenter and Madisan Cowan  rehearse It’s Got to be Rock and Roll if you want to Dance With me” for Decades. Photo By Richard Amery

1950s to today featuring lots of comedy, impersonations and music from Smokey to Sia from the 1950s to  the 2000s


 Due to Covid, New West has had to improvise to put on their big summer variety shows. They did a drive In show two years ago at Exhibition Park and were part of one of the outdoor festivals last summer.


 This time they are back in the Yates Theatre for “Decades,” which runs Aug. 10-27.


“It’ll be a big old party,” summarized director and musical director Kathy Zaborsky, who had a lot of fun choosing the music for the show.

 As usual, they had a three week turnaround to develop , rehearse and prepare the show  


“It’s a celebration of all of the events, music and costumes from the decades 1950 to the 2020s,” Zaborsky continued, adding she is excited to direct her first big New West Theatre show, though she has directed performances for local groups like Theatré Outré.


“ I looked at lists on the Internet of the best songs from each decade and made a list of 500 and whittled it down to the songs I thought would best suit each performer,” she said, noting most of the show is all new material. 


“Most of the show is all new. We’ve probably done the Bee Gees before, but it’s definitely reimagined,” said Erica Hunt, long time New West member.


“ The show is all ages. It is family friendly, for people aged 0 to 110,” said Zaborsky.


There will be a lot of comedy and a lot of impressions performed by New West veterans Erica Hunt, Scott Carpenter and Kyle Gruninger as well as some familiar faces from a few shows back including Alinafe Lupiway and Ashley Thomson, relative new regulars like Katie Fellger and brand new talent Madisan Cowan.


They are backed by a crack band including two thirds of local funk band Adequate– Scott Mezei playing guitar and drummer Keenan Pezderic plus bassist Greg Paskuski and Kathy Zaborsky playing keyboards.


“ Madisan grew up in New West Theatre because her mother Vanessa did choreography for us for some of our early shows. So I remember her dancing along in the wings. She’s a huge talent,” reminisced Erica Hunt, who is excited to be back on the Yates Theatre stage.


“ I’m really excited about it,” she said, adding she is just as excited about the music and comedy as she is about the costumes.

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