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| Frankie and Johnny in The Clair de lune | Ah Wilderness | Snowman |
| Waiting for Godot | The Goat or Who is Sylvia? | Eight to the Bar | Countess Maritza

Some reviews of 2004

Others found here and here

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Countess Maritza

by Imre Kálmán, directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin
Toronto Operetta Theatre, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto
December 28, 2004-January 8, 2005
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door
Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Waltz Your Worries Away

“Countess Maritza” by Imre (or Emmerich) Kálmán is one of the greatest of all Silver Age Viennese operettas. Lovely melody follows catchy tune in uninterrupted succession. When one sees it play so effectively on stage as in the Toronto Operetta Theatre’s latest production, one can only wonder why such a marvelous work, a repertory work in Central Europe, is not as well known in North America as “Die Fledermaus” or “The Merry Widow”. Yet, because of the TOT, Toronto is well acquainted with “Maritza”. This is the TOT’s third production of it in twenty years. How lucky Toronto is to have the TOT to keep such joyous works alive!

“Maritza” became a worldwide hit following its première in 1924. Maritza, a wealthy land-owner, is constantly besieged with proposals of marriage by impoverished noblemen. Knowing that all they are interested in is her money, she has become wary of all men and announces her engagement to the fictitious Baron Koloman Zsupán (a character from Johann Strauss’s “Der Zigeunerbaron”). To Maritza’s surprise and consternation a lovelorn baron of that very name turns up to claim Maritza as his fiancée. Meanwhile, Maritza is falling in love with one of her staff, the bailiff Bela Törek, who is in reality Count Tassilo, an impoverished nobleman who has taken on the work to pay off his father’s debts and amass enough money for a dowry for his sister Lisa. The barriers of wealth and class are compounded by suspicions on each side as to the real intentions of the other, giving the work a complex psychological dimension not always found in operetta. Nigel Douglas’s new English version is especially good at finding witty equivalents for the lyrics.

The chief glory of this production is the performance of Elizabeth Beeler in the title role. She has previously showed a great flair for comedy in the TOT’s productions of “The Chocolate Soldier” and “Die Fledermaus”, but here she combines a striking stage presence with beautiful singing and highly nuanced acting to make Maritza more than an typical operetta heroine but also a sympathetic and intriguing character. Beeler carefully delineates Maritza’s changing attitude toward Tassilo from disdain to fascination to love, disappointment and jealousy with a number of points in between where these intermingle. She has a bright, crystalline soprano that shines through in ensembles but that she is also able to give an affecting air of fragility. It is Beeler’s ability to communicate conflicting feelings such as in Maritza’s play-acting at love with Tassilo in “Waltz Our Worries Away” that give the production its depth.

As Tassilo, Kurt Lehmann as an expressive, beautifully cultured voice that brings out the emotion on such hits as “Play Gypsy!” This makes it all the more surprising that this sensitivity and grace do not extend to his acting or dancing. He is fortunate to be paired with Beeler, who frequently has to do the acting for both of them. As Lisa, Rachel Cleland-Ainsworth has a clear soprano and a pleasant demeanour but is not quite as engaged with her character as she could be.

On the other hand, both Curtis Sullivan and Keith Savage light up the stage whenever they appear. Sullivan is the domineering Prince Popolescu, who is one of Maritza’s more aggressive suitors. One wishes his role gave him more chance to sing. Savage makes the befuddled Baron Zsupán into a richly comic character who has a inner puppylike nature beneath his outward pose of egotism. He is so fleet of foot one wishes he had more chance to show off his dancing.

Margaret Maye is much better as the gypsy fortune-teller Manja than as Tassilo’s wealthy aunt Princess Bozena. While she somehow expunges the clichés from the first role, the second really requires a star turn from a comedienne (like Denise Ferguson in 1991) if it is to succeed. Viennese operettas have a strange penchant for coming to a complete halt in Act 3 for an interlude of spoken comedy (e.g., the jailer Frosch in “Die Fledermaus”). In the absence of just the right comedian, it would be better to excise the scene entirely and head straight for the conclusion. Sean Curran has to try rather too hard to be funny as the Princess’s theatrical companion Penizek. In minor roles Christopher Blair is very effective as Tassilo’s friend Karl Stephen as is Saemi Chang as Maritza’s friend Ilka.

As usual the operetta is directed by TOT General Director Guillermo Silva-Marin. While his choreography is not always successful, his emphasis on the psychological interplay of the characters, so well expressed by Beeler and Savage, gave an intelligence to what is so often dismissed as “light” entertainment. TOT scenic designer has become an expert at creating elegant sets that suggest much without ever seeming minimal, enhanced as always by Cameron A. More’s sensitive lighting. Conductor Wayne Strongman led the 16-member orchestra in a lively account of the score, particularly good at picking up the jazzy influences of each of Zsupán’s numbers and at bringing out the sensuousness of the waltzes.

The virtues so outweigh the flaws in this production that anyone unfamiliar with this lovely work should make sure to see it. Those already familiar with the score will enjoy it all the more on stage.

©Christopher Hoile

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome. Add them, now!

 And speaking of other comments, here' s what YOU had to say...
 

I am kind of late on commenting on Countess Maritza, I can't say that I agree with every thing, especially Christopher's Comments On Margaret Maye.

As I saw all, I believe six performances, I would have to say he is off base on his comments. But who knows ! It's funny, the star did not like her as the Gypsy, but loved her as the wealthy aunt.

- Gary




Your comments and reviews are always welcome

 

The Goat or Who is Sylvia?

by Edward Albee, directed by Lorne Pardy
Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa
October 28-November 14, 2004
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

"A Thrilling Albee Production"

The Great Canadian Theatre Company has scored a major coup. Its 2004-05 season opener is the Canadian premiere of Edward Albee’s 2002 Tony Award winner, “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” The play is brilliant, the direction is insightful and the acting is powerful. It’s hard to imagine this controversial work could receive a better production. This is a show no one who loves the theatre should miss.

In the space of only 90 minutes, Albee presents what is in essence a three-act tragedy. The first act begins like a typical Broadway comedy with the banter between a successful architect Martin and Stevie, his wife of 22 years, filled with one-liners and fairly standard observations on ageing. Ross, Martin’s childhood friend, now in television, comes by to video an interview with Martin about turning 50, winning the Pritzker Prize and being assigned to design “the city of the future”. But Ross notices that Martin is preoccupied and has nothing to say about being at the pinnacle of his career except “You mean it’s all downhill from here?” In fact, in terms of tragedy and the lives of everyone around Martin this is true. In medieval terms Martin is at the peak of the wheel of fortune and it is now about to turn. In classical terms Martin has reached a height that makes the gods envious so that nemesis strikes him down. Martin’s reference to the Eumenides (the Furies who hound violators of natural law) very early in the Act 1 should already alert us to danger.

Ross pries out of Martin his deepest secret on condition he tell no one. The secret is a doosey, even for Albee, but it must be revealed in order to discuss the play properly. Martin, though still fully in love with Stevie, has fallen in love with another female named Sylvia. “Who is Sylvia? What is she?” the song goes from Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”. What is the catch? Sylvia is a goat.

Ross can’t handle this revelation and is untrue to his pledge. The remaining two acts show how Stevie and Martin’s gay son Billy react to what becomes a literally shattering experience. The humour becomes blacker and more bitter and the tone shifts irrevocably to tragedy.

Why has Albee made Martin’s other love a goat? Albee’s background in absurdism revels in linking the urbane, intellectual Martin with the most improbably partner imaginable. From this contrast derives most of the play’s cringingly funny humour. Yet, while Albee insists Sylvia’s goathood is real, Sylvia is also a symbol. One key to this is ironically named Billy, whose gayness is fully accepted by both Martin and Stevie. Tragedies have already been written where the “other lover” is a woman, someone from another class or race or enemy clan, or is the same sex or from the same family. Where miscegenation, incest or homosexuality might have been the source for belief in the protagonist’s unimaginable depravity, here Albee has deliberately portrayed the ne plus ultra of taboos to which we have not yet accommodated ourselves. Sylvia thus becomes symbolic of that boundary, whatever it may, be beyond which tragedy lies and which has tempted humankind ever since Eden. After all, the word “tragedy’ literally means “goat song” deriving, according to some, from the sacrifice of a goat before the play.

Besides this, Martin speaks of Sylvia not as something below the human order but as something ineffably other. He constantly claims that his love of Sylvia is something that transcends ordinary understanding. Martin’s speaks of his relationship with Sylvia, though also sexual, as primarily mystical, as if she represented what ever is beyond the human.

All four cast members are excellent. The role of Martin poses the major challenge of making us believe his incursion into bestiality is the transcendent experience he thinks it is. Stewart Arnott is outstanding in keeping Martin’s humanity in the forefront of his extraordinary situation. His poise and intensity prevent Martin from becoming a figure of ridicule in our eyes. In fact, the more beleaguered Martin becomes the more we, in spite of ourselves, come to side with him.

As Stevie, Dixie Seatle gives a performance of incredible power and subtlety. Even in the midst of her justified disbelief and rage she shows Stevie secretly toying with the possibility of forgiveness, still clearly in love with a man she can no longer understand. Peter Mooney thankfully portrays Billy as a fresh-faced young man who just happens to be gay rather than signalling gayness through clichéd gestures. He fully brings out Billy’s confusion in Act 3 when his key encounter with Martin unexpectedly takes on homosexual overtones, reinforcing how sudden and unforeseen a slip into the forbidden can be. Dennis Fitzgerald gives the slimy Ross an air of prurience and untrustworthiness even as he protests the opposite, helping to make him, as Albee intends, the least honest of the four characters and the greatest focus of our censure.

This is a play that juxtaposes throughout lines that make us laugh with ones that shock or sadden. This demands and receives both great skill from the actors and great precision and insight from director Lorne Pardy. Designer Kim Nielsen’s set has all the clean lines of modernity, but a row of simple columns separating the entryway from the living room is a subtle echo of the ancient realm of tragedy as if our modern world were merely a veneer over one more primal and dangerous. John Munro’s lighting has the important effect of enhancing the increasingly dark tone of the play.

“The Goat” is not only a tragedy but a play about what tragedy is. It delivers an undeniable visceral impact but at the same time so stimulates the intellect that you will feel a desperate need for a good long conversation once the play ends. This thrilling production gets the play so right it deserves to be seen in other major cities. But for now, any theatre-lover living near or passing through the National Capital region should head for the GCTC as soon as possible to catch this terrific show.

©Christopher Hoile

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Ah, Wilderness!

by Eugene O’Neill, directed by Joseph Ziegler
Shaw Festival, Court House Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
May 29-October 8, 2004
by Christopher Hoile, Principal Reviewer for Stage Door

"Ah, Wonderful!"

The Shaw Festival’s first production of a play by Eugene O’Neill is a triumph for all concerned. Those who know O’Neill only from his harrowing family drama “A Long Day’s Journey into Night” may have doubts about what a comedy from this author might be like. Cast those doubts away. If “Long Day’s Journey” portrayed O’Neill’s family life as it was, “Ah, Wilderness!” portrays it as he would like it to have been. The play written in 1932 but set in 1906 when O’Neill like the main character Richard was 17, is suffused with the glow of nostalgia. The darker undercurrents of human nature that O’Neill foregrounds in his other work, are here kept at bay. The play celebrates love between parents, parent and child, boy and girl, with an unmatched richness of observation. This detail is fully expressed in Joseph Ziegler’s wonderful warm production and in the finely nuanced acting of the entire cast.

It is July 4th in a small town in Connecticut not unlike New London, where O’Neill’s own family had their summer home. On this Independence Day the O’Neill figure Richard seeks his own independence from the “old-fogeyism” he thinks his family, town and country represent. His reading of such radical thinkers as Wilde, Shaw, Swinburne, and “The Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam have shown him “life as it really is” and this is the life he wants to lead, not the life of middle-class convention. The irony of Richard’s rebellion is that his notion of “real life” is based entirely on books not on experience. His love for the girl Muriel is completely idealized. His first encounter with alcohol and loose women hilariously show how unprepared he is.

In counterpoint to Richard’s first taste of love and life is stalled romance between mother’s brother Sid and his father’s sister Lily. Though they have always loved each other, Lily will not agree to marry Sid until he reforms. But Sid is an alcoholic and can’t help himself when temptation is near. Unlike in the main plot, forgiveness offers no solution to the basic problem. Ziegler wisely presents this relationship as the bitter, tragic one it is, knowing that comedy gains in depth when it deals with the widest range of emotions.

Jared Brown is a real find as the O’Neill figure, Richard Miller. He captures the wonderful mixture of naiveté, awkwardness and overconfidence that makes this portrait of a teenager so real and so loveable. He can proudly denounce those around him for knowing nothing of “real life” when his only examples of it are from literature. When later he does encounter “real life” in the form of bartenders and prostitutes, he’s hilariously unprepared for it. All throughout Brown gets the difficult balance of Richard’s outward bravado undercut by inner doubt just right. He’s certainly an actor to watch in the future.

Ziegler has well cast Richard’s parents. Wendy Thatcher is his mother Essie, whose attempts at sternness cover up her indulgence of her children, and Norman Browning is his father Nat, who shows real feeling beneath all the bluster, made even funnier by Browning’s trademark sotto voce muttering. He makes the scene when the flustered Nat incoherently tells Richard the facts of life truly hilarious. In contrast, Mary Haney’s Lily is a woman long inured to disappointment. The smile that slowly fades when she hears the drunken Sid singing in the distance is heartbreaking. William Vickers’ Sid is an exterior of jokes and laughs that hides a fundamental self-hatred.

In the bar scene of Act 2 Graeme Somerville as the tough Irish bartender, Lisa Norton as Belle, the prostitute so puzzled by Richard’s chaste behaviour, and Michael Ball as a lubricious travelling salesman instantly create and atmosphere far removed from the warmth of the Millers’ home life. From all of the actors, Ziegler draws highly detailed, naturalistic performances, though Maggie Blake as Richard’s girlfriend Muriel tends to force her voice thus creating an undesirable note of artifice.

Christina Poddubiuk has created beautiful period costumes for the piece that instantly reflect not just the time, place and season of the action but the personality of the characters. Lighting designer Alan Brodie’s palette ranges from the warmth of interiors especially during the big family dinner to the coldness of the bar and the chilly isolation of Richard and Muriel’s meeting at the beach.

“Ah, Wilderness” is a portrait of a family confronting the inevitability of change as one of the children grows up. Ziegler and the cast perfectly capture the pervasive mood of celebration on this Independence Day, paradoxically, of the dependence that family and friends rely on to get them through life. It’s hard not to get a lump in your throat during this glowing production that shows that parents and children can actually communicate with each other despite everything they say and do.

©Christopher Hoile

 

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

"Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de lune"

by Terrence McNally produced by Birdland Theatre
Playing in Toronto, Jane Mallett Theatre until September 26, 2004
Review by James Wagg

MOONLIGHT LACKS GLOW

Frankie and me we were lovers
Oh Lordy how we could love
Swore we'd be true to each other
Just as true as stars above
I was her man, she caught me doing her wrong.
-- Elvis Presley version of Fred Karger’s timeless song

Your soul is a chosen
— landscape
Where charming masked and
— costumed figures stroll
Playing the lute and dancing
— and almost
Sad under their fantastic
— disguises.
-- first stanza, Paul Verlaine poem, which inspired Debussy’s “Clair de lune”
Translated by Elodie Lauten

Comparing the poetry above gives theatre-goers a glimpse at the contrast of ideas, moods and tones that are required to bring Terence McNally’s comedy-romance to life. From the opening passionate grunts and groans of the storied lovers as they gamely fulfill the lust portion of their first date, it was clear that, like love itself, their intent was strong but complete fulfillment far from guaranteed.

Emerging naked from the darkness, (but always tastefully so, thanks to director Rod Ceballos’ ever-sensitive staging and a discreet lighting plan from Christopher Dennis) Frankie (Zorana Kydd, reveling in a production that begins rather than closes with the dénouement) and Johnny (Peter van Wart, equally passionate for the World’s finest literature and his co-worker waitress) reveal more of themselves than McNally’s subtle undercurrents of two loners aching to find common ground.

While they sing in the minor
— mode
The victory of love and the
— opportunities of life,
They do not seem to believe
— in their happiness
And their song blends with
— the moonlight.
-- second stanza, Paul Verlaine poem

Music is the third lead, initially providing romantic background during the post coitus opening scenes then taking stage when “the most beautiful music in the world” is dedicated to the love-struck couple by the late-night classical talk show host (able veteran Russ Germain who gets the best line of the show bemoaning his own lonely soul, sharing his nights with great art and a microphone). But, ironically, in sound designer Thomas Payne’s laudable effort to make the broadcast seem to come from a bedside radio, the spoken words are difficult to decipher and the impact of the music (with the exception of Act II’s "Ride of Viagra" opening) does no service to Bach, Debussy or—worse—convince anyone of the lushness and eroticism contained in the impressionistic master’s delicate essay.

This lack of balance leaks into Frankie and Johnny’s delivery, falling just short of true anger, fear or love—the music done us wrong.

The quiet moonlight, sad
— and beautiful,
Which gives dreams to the birds
— in the trees
And makes the fountain sprays
— sob in ecstasy,
The tall willowy fountain sprays
— among the marble statues
-- final stanza, Paul Verlaine poem

Rebecca Hodgson’s set is a marvel of recreation and efficiency allowing the construction of a “western” and a bedroom filled with memories past and freshly made.

Many magical moments pepper the production thanks to Ceballos’ full menu of thoughtfully crafted detail. The pace ebbs and flows with impressive certainty and artfully mixes moments of silly fun (Daffy Duck lives!) and sober introspection (should we spend the entire night?), playing on the amiability of the desperate couple even as their search for each other ends rather than concludes.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

BUDDIES IN BAD TIMES THEATRE
Greg MacArthur's

Snowman

Playing in Toronto, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre until October 10

Review by James Wegg, as published originally at http://www.jamesweggreview.org/

BEHOLD, THE ICEMAN CUMETH

Body parts and frozen fantasies are all the rage in Toronto just now. With Anais Granofsky’s wonderfully eerie The Limb Salesman (cross-reference below) having had its première at the Toronto International Film Festival a week ago, the timing for the remount of Greg MacArthur’s Snowman couldn’t have been better if it was planned.

Director David Oiye has crafted together a production that lets the script do the talking, placing his four charges on a sparse, blue-white set (expertly executed and lit by David Fraser) that personifies the barren landscape and wide open spaces that are Canada’s north.

With minimal direct interaction amongst the cast and props that are imagined but not seen, the overall result brings to mind a similarly effective approach to a “wordy” piece, last season’s Equity Showcase Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (cross-reference below).

The notion of “my face in the window” applies to the four characters as they stand in their frames and let the audience peer into their lives. Lives filled with loneliness, lines of coke and large helpings of German porn-who could ask for anything more? The discovery of a prehistoric (hysteric?) being, gradually thawing out of his permafrost immortality is as rich in its metaphor as its rotted limbs are dank.

The sensational find brings a government archaeologist, Kim (Phillipa Domville who tosses her lines off with a heady combination of fun and sizzle) to the edge-of-the-glacier community to investigate. There she sees Denver (Eric Goulem clearly at home playing both sides of the relationship fence) and his long-suffering partner Marjorie (Veronika Hurnik, generally convincing but a couple of nights away from unerring flow) finding parts of themselves whither away even as the long-dead “Snowman” is revealed, nearly one digit at a time.

The catalyst in this merry band of “dysfunctionals” is Jude (Paul Dunn whose rhythm, timing and body language are a constant delight). The somewhat perplexed gay teen soon settles into the group, bedding Denver more as a matter of course than “recruitment to our side,” revelling in smut (can’t get more Canadian than that) and piecing together his silent Iceman, even as the incredible discovery allows all concerned to thaw out of their inner chill.

Despite a preponderance of “stand and deliver,” MacArthur and Oiye manage to explore the inner psyche of human frailty with insight and sensitivity, bringing home the truth that “nothing lives in ice” in a way that will resonate with anyone who’s ever been given the cold shoulder.

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Waiting for Godot

Theatre Arts Niagara, playing till Oct 9, 2004

WELL WORTH THE WAITING
“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Samuel Beckett, (Murphy 1938)

Review by James Wegg, as published originally at http://www.jamesweggreview.org/

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Let’s hope Theatre Arts Niagara makes an annual tradition of “bowler” plays: with last year’s highly successful Chaplin (cross-reference below) and now Peter Feldman’s knowing production of Waiting for Godot, the difficult art of tragicomedy is well-served in Niagara. What’s next? A Clockwork Orange?

Beckett’s brilliant script is rife with one-liners: “One of the thieves was saved. (Pause) It’s a reasonable percentage.”; “There’s a man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.”, and a pages-long tirade that requires as brilliant a delivery as it needs well-paced reaction from its audience. Feldman’s carefully understated staging and his cast’s spot-on timing combined for a first act that “passed the time” commendably.

From the opening struggle with his dank boot, Edwin Conroy Jr.’s portrayal of Estragon (a.k.a. Gogo) is a marvel of physical control, pace and presence. His eyes gleam with greater intensity than the oddly square moon that rises twice when the sparse set is plunged into sudden darkness as day ends. Conroy lets the slight, sexual undercurrent of his relationship with Vladimir (Jack Weiler) lurk just below the surface. Sadly, the vague stare when he admits to being beaten nightly resonates as surely now as when it was penned fifty years back.

Weiler plays well off his partner, has wonderful hat technique and personifies naïve hope as he insists they continue to wait for Godot, “What are you insinuating? That we’ve come to the wrong place?”

The arrival of Pozzo (Mac Dodge) and his man/horse servant Lucky (Steve Watson) allows the characters myriad opportunities to shade their lines, looks and actions with nearly the entire spectrum of emotions and issues that have plagued the human experience since Adam. Bondage, Master/slave, emotional rape – there’s more than can be digested in just a single sitting filled with moments such as Pozzo’s discarded bone chicken bone salivating the famished, love-starved Gogo.

Dodge pontificates well and shamelessly keeps his “man” under control, deriding him as pig and hog while, literally pulling his chain. Watson gives a memorable performance as the abused – letting his pathetic dependency lead his grunts, groans and quivers. He comes near the precipice but never slips over then edge into Monty Python “coconut” parody, despite hobbling about with a similar gait.

Dawn Crysler’s set captures the notion of nowhere, it’s tree the focus, barren in Act I before coming to life with Act II leaves, even as both Pozzo (blind) and Lucky (dumb) lose more of their senses. As “A Boy,” Crysler delivers well, but lacks the inherent innocence that is needed to balance the perpetually inert waiters.

With such a rich and wide-ranging work, it is difficult to maintain the intensity from curtain to curtain. The second act sputtered in the early going, before gradually retaining to the quality and excellence achieved prior to intermission. It was as if the emotional peak of Lucky’s rant was too much for all concerned, so they waited for the magic to return.

Review by James Wegg, as published originally at http://www.jamesweggreview.org/

Your comments and reviews are always welcome

Stephen Witkin's

Eight to the Bar

Theatre in Port, till January 2, 2004

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINER

Anyone who has had a truly cathartic experience on New Year’s Eve should proceed directly to the Port Mansion Theatre box office and snap up some passes to this slight musical that packs a subtle emotional punch once the miracle of instant snow removal permits the wayward quartet of weather-bound travelers to continue life’s journey anew.

Stephen Witkin’s script forces together a same-time-next-year couple (shoe salesman/wanabe painter Ben-Port newcomer Patrick R. Brown and near-actor Honey-Rennie Wilkinson) a Jewish Princess (Shelly, played with gusto and grit by Michelle Truman) and a clinically depressed history teacher (Marshall, portrayed with fine madness by Jon-Alex MacFarlane) into the close quarters of a bus station’s diner where they wait out the storm and sort out their lives.

Director/Choreographer Glen Kotyk keeps the show moving along steadily and makes excellent use of Stewart Simpson’s practical set, which includes the subliminal “Fly The World Above the Crowd” sign and a backward facing counter that makes the numerous unseen waitress gags work like a charm. And when called upon to send his charges around the dance floor (notably “Here’s to Us Tonight”) Kotyk uses every bit of the stage and demonstrates his savvy skill of creating movement that makes those numbers look better than they sound. Only a bit more homework on the jazz hands could improve the result.

As usual, Musical Director/Pianist Roger Perkins sailed through the score with zest and aplomb, but Joey Miller’s music lingers not, serving more as a rhythm ace than tune factory. The cast acquits themselves in kind; the ensembles not yet pitch perfect and the solos more workmanlike than memorable.

Many of the details are gems: Honey’s corset purse is a hoot; Marshall’s happy face suicide cup a delight, as is his reading material (Miller’s Death of a Salesman, although an older edition would better fit the café’s “period” look). Shelly’s fur motif works beautifully, but with the blizzard of the century raging outside, it seems odd that – following her brief outdoor excursion – her coat stays as dry as the humour.

And laughs there are: the wise-cracks, puns and one liners give the production a frothy texture even as issues of fidelity, career path, and personal ridicule lurk just beneath the surface. Epitaph: “[Marshall] lived life to its minimum;” Comment on Ben’s potential as an artist: “He couldn’t draw a bath.”

When Act II draws to a close (“Next Year” the procrastinator’s anthem), this production suddenly comes into its own as the four lost souls find themselves and prepare to move on – with genuine changes to their lives. This collective metamorphosis is the result of their shared experience, proving effectively that no problem is as bad as it seems when said out loud to receptive ears.

Review by James Wegg, as published originally at http://www.jamesweggreview.org/

Your comments and reviews are always welcome


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