has remounted their successful 2013 production of
at Jericho Arts Centre, and Caitlin and I made the trek to see it last night. Adapted and directed by David Newham from the classic 18th century opera by John Gay (which also inspired the
, the show features new music by Daniel Doerksen that crosses multiple genres, with self-conscious homages to jazz, rock, musical comedy and pop. The story is told in 10 "Fantasias," or song sequences designed to communicate a particular plot point or a character's point of view.
I will start by saying the show is weird in the most delightful way. David Newham has made a choice to create a world that is surreal and almost absurd. The characters are all dressed as easily recognizable "types:" the whore, the thief, the "virgin," the servant, sporting garish, almost-kabuki style makeup and at times, using commedia dell'arte style masks. The tale is a relatively simple one, but the stylized movement, the deliberately poetic and stilted dialogue, interspersed with decidedly modern music, made it hard for me to follow the story. At intermission, I turned to Caitlin and our friends Dawn and Vanessa, and said, "I love it! I have no idea what's going on, but I love it!"
lacks in linear narrative, it more than makes up for in visual spectacle, bursts of startlingly effective comedy (which completely and self-consciously subverts the "serious" nature of opera), and great use of the ensemble, who are present and doing interesting things in the background of every scene - almost interesting enough to be distracting at times, but for the most part they operate effectively as a kind of Greek chorus. Catherine Burnett's choreography is more movement than dance, but it effectively contributes to the mood of each "Fantasia" and is visually cartoon-like in places (it reminded me in places of
The Triplets of Belleville
), making use of lighted scrims to play with shapes and shadows.
While there were no standout numbers in terms of songs that I went away humming, Doerksen's use of many genres was impressive, and one number that parodied "Mack the Knife" (in reference to heartthrob highwayman Macheath) had the audience giggling and applauding. The band (including Doerksen on guitar and Phyllis Ho on violin, as well as several cast members chiming on on recorder, sax and accordion) was fantastic, and the cast were enthusiastic performers, if not necessarily all accomplished singers. Sharon Crandall's Mrs. Coaxer was a vocal highlight, and some of the three part harmonies between the "Whore's Chorus" were delightful.
I have to give a particular shout-out to my friend Chris Lam, who very nearly steals the show playing dastardly butler Filch. Chris is a master of physical comedy and a mere change of posture, the raising of an eyebrow, the shrug of his shoulder, had the audience in stitches. Also he stood on one foot for a very very long time in the finale, with nary a wobble. Well done sir, well done.
a perfect piece? No. Is it a brave one? Yes, and absolutely entertaining. To see a large ensemble cast fully commit to the craziness and the spectacle of this original work was just wonderful, and the production values in terms of lighting, costume and makeup were great. If you have a chance to see it, do - it's running at Jericho Arts Centre until March 14th. I am looking forward to seeing with Seven Tyrants gets up to next.
Score: 4 out of 5 (Dani) Lemons.