There's a certain similarity between 8 To The Bar, the final summer production of Fergus's Theatre on the Grand and the Marilyn Monroe classic Bus Stop of 30 years ago. The scene once again is a rural bus terminal, it is New Year's Eve, there is a blizzard raging outside and four disparate travellers are forced to share their lives for a brief moment.
Where the productions differ however is the fact that 8 To The Bar is a musical. Written by Stephen Witkin with music and lyrics by Joey Miller, it was first produced almost 20 years ago at the Charlottetown Festival and has since become something of a favourite with Canadian Theatres. It has aged well and the opening day audience responded with well merited enthusiasm.
Considerable credit must go to Virginia Reh who has had a hectic season in Fergus directing the opening production The Foreigner, acting in On Golden Pond, and now directing this fourth production, 8 To The Bar. She has succeeded in casting four actors, all of whom not only can sing, but who manage to play off each other's characters to considerable dramatic effect.
Susan Johnson and John Snowdon's set establishes the somewhat depressing mood of the nondescript bus station diner perfectly with its metallic tables and chairs and a few rather pathetic Christmas decorations. Into this sombre atmosphere arrive Honey MacNamara and her affair of the moment, wise-cracking and not particularly loveable travelling salesman Ben Henderson. They are confronted by the problems of Marshall Slack, intent it appears on ending it all on the stroke of midnight. Rounding out the quartet is Shelly Wise, a woman of the world with a solution for everybody's problems.
Strange fare for a musical you may think - but it works not least because of the singing talents of Karen Skidmore who plays Shelly Wise. A veteran of the Canadian Opera Company and numerous stage productions across Canada and on Broadway she can belt out a song with the best of them. And there are no fewer than 16 musical numbers in this tight one hour and 40-minute production.
As the not quite so dumb blonde about to be dumped by her indecisive paramour, Desiree Beausoleil, who plays Honey, immediately gains the audience's sympathy and plays the part for all its comedic worth. She too has a strong singing voice with a fine lyrical quality.
The object of her misguided affections Ben, is played by Brian Otto, who now adds singing credits to his versatile dramatic resume. His character calls for him to tell a number of terrible jokes - which he does with considerable aplomb.
It falls to these three unlikely candidates to persuade the sad, wimpish, Marshall, played by Steven Gallagher, who has honed his singing voice in a recently completed two year tour with Forever Plaid, from hanging/poisoning/slashing himself to mark the New Year.
They pull out all the stops to achieve their end culminating in a second act song and dance routine worthy of any Broadway musical. This is the work of choreographer Bonnie Monaghan, a 30-year veteran of musical theatre in Canada.
Not to be forgotten, thoughout the show musical director Christopher Dawes sits at the piano at stage left providing stylish musical accompaniment.
8 To The Bar runs until September 13 to be followed by Theatre on the Grand's final presentation of the season a return of last year's popular Ragtime piano concert featuring Bob Milne and Sue Keller.
Look. I wont beat about the bush. If I hadnt been there to write a review I would have left at the intermission. Whose Under Where?, a situation farce by Marcia Kash and Doug Hughes opened Thursday night at the Theatre on The Grand in Fergus and despite the new plush seats the first hour was hard to take. But if Id left at the half Id have missed some redeemably funny stuff.
The first part of the show sets the plot. Two women are in a hotel room to hold a lingerie show and sale to a wealthy buyer, but their husbands dont know what theyre up to and suspect the worst. They tramp in and generally put paid to the wives plans, feeling they are either paying for sex, or worse, buying it.
But the plot takes a while to get working and there are few laughs in the first fifteen minutes and only a few more in the next forty five. But it may be the cast knew what was coming because the second act takes a definite upswing. Maybe its seeing the husbands in drag or maybe its the breath of fresh air breathed onto the stage by the Italian buyer, but something good happens to the whole theatre and everyone starts laughing.
So lets forget the first act and look what happens in the second. It starts with husband Paul Pritchard (Carmello Lachelli) swinging across the balcony of the hotel room to get back in it and then other husband George Brunt ( Ralph Chapman) does the same thing, only hes not so good at it and flies through the bedroom window. Thats funny. Then the guys have to dress up as women to escape the hotel detective and Lachelli does a Patrick Swayze act and starts to pull the whole show together.
He adds the art of mime to this by being perfectly still when he has to be and things get funnier by the minute. In the mean time Chapman has a bit of fun with a couple of apples (for the front bit, in the bra) and the audience, warming to the antics, starts to really enjoy themselves.
By the time Brian McKay gets on stage (he plays Italian buyer BrunoFrufferelli) the audience is wide awake again. And just in time, too, because McKay is a masterful actor who puts life and believability into every line and gesture. Theatre needs people like this. Fortunately it has them.
Rosalie McDougall and Monique Marcker play the wives and it wasnt really their fault that the play doesnt start right. The authors didnt warm up to their subject till mid way through the second act when all sorts of plots and sub plots start working their way into the script. The male model (Tyson Bree) comes back into the picture and the hotel detective (Gary Bryant) start breathing heavily into the scene and all of a sudden theres the danger of altogether too much going on.
But by the time the curtain falls (or in this case by the time the lights go out) the audience has enjoyed themselves and Id be a stinker not to say so. Sex, it seems, always pays off in the end.
Whos Under Where? directed by Paul Rivers,
plays at the Theatre on the Grand till June 19th, 1999.
Tickets at (519) 787-1981