The only way a Rainbow Stage performance can get any better is going behind the scenes to see what goes into it -- which you can do, literally an hour before the curtain goes up.
This is what we did last night with a group of Instagram enthusiasts before the incredible performance of Les Misérables, which you really have to go see.
"There is way more choreography going on backstage than there is onstage," said Drew Derbowka, the head carpenter at Rainbow Stage who, along with executive director Julie Eccles, brought us on this Enhanced Experienced.
When you consider that there were nearly 30 actors in Les Misérables, all of whom sing and move about the often elaborate stage, Debrowka's quote seemed like a bit of a stretch. Yet, after our tour, when you were introduced to the lighting department, the sound department, and witnessed all the props and workings from the stage hands, you realize what a mammoth undertaking goes on behind the curtain.
For instance, it takes a combined nine days just to do lighting between hanging them, focusing them, and programming them. This is short work when compared to the sets, which take months to construct, first starting as tiny models then being made into the towering, moveable structures which an unseen team (including Debrowka) orchestrate around the stage for over two and a half hours on a production like Les Misérables.
"The nice thing is that everything only has to look good from one side" said Debrowka, only half joking when he shows us the massive barricade that features for the majority of the second act.
All of this is brought to your attention when you sign up for the Enhanced Experience. When you are backstage you get to see the extensive props -- which are laid out like something out of a Wes Anderson film, the costumes, how actors are mic'd up and their audio controlled, along with getting to see (whether intentional or not) actors practicing their choreography and warming up their vocal chords.
On the tour you also learn about Rainbow Stage itself, from the fact that this is Canada's longest continuously running outdoor theatre, to the cost of certain shows, to the fabulous murals which wrap all along its walls, to the 2,600 seat theatre's design -- including the iconic dome that you can find photographed all over Instagram under #rbstage.
After the tour, which I should mention is only an extra $10 -- but book early to see about availability -- the theatrical experience becomes that much more enthralling. It provides you with a better appreciation for what goes into the show, while also makes for a fun game of "spot that backstage object" (which childish people like me -- and hence your kids -- are sure to do).
As to the performance, well Les Misérables is a blockbuster for a reason, and Rainbow Stage's adaptation exuberantly delivers all those iconic songs with a talented cast and orchestra.
If you dared to look off stage you found audience members mouthing the words to classic's like "I Dreamed a Dream" (which I swear could move a robot to tears -- especially the version here by Paula Potosky, whom I must add was charming last season as Mary Poppins), along with everyone's favourite lewd number, "Master of the House."
Particularly powerful was Javert's "Stars," which actor Kevin Aichele really belted out, while Aaron Ferguson was an excellent Jean Valjean. That fellow has a big voice, along with a great bod, which several people in the crowd -- Missus Peg included -- were quick to point out in the opening scene.
During the intermission our group also enjoyed the Diamond Lounge experience which, for only $10 on top of your ticket price, allows you to visit the upstairs lounge where a drink (wine, beer, or soft drinks) and a snack bar awaits. The Diamond Lounge also has nice views of verdant Kildonan Park from a near tree top level, which is a nice touch.
In the end, there were some tears in the audience -- but not from Mister Peg, as I alluded to earlier, I only get emotional for Fatine... who would so have loved to see her daughter's wedding... oh boy, it's starting... [dabs eyes with tissue]... while the standing ovation in the end was instantaneous.
So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets now.
Les Misérables runs until July 24.
For tickets and to book an Enhanced Tour, go to the Rainbow Stage website.
Note: the lead photo is by Robert Tinker