Review by Danny Gaisin
Doing what we do, i.e. critiquing over a hundred concerts and theatre events every year; becoming jaded is par for the course. Then something comes along that knocks us for a loop. Sheridan’s Theatre Arts Faculty is staging a new play by Morris Panych, with music & lyrics by Anika and Britta Johnson. This Michael Rubinoff production that takes place in 1919 is as real and contemporary as this week’s news. The plot deals with a burlesque operation; gangsters; women treated as chattels; a mystery and except for moments of comic relief- operatic tragedy. The twenty-one arias pack visceral messages and impact.
Editor’s Note: At the request of the producer; no cast photos were taken of this play
Many of the numbers have a strong message and every one packs a wallop. There is a chorus number in Act II titled ‘Know your onions’ that offers modern-day advice and a caveat which should & will resound with every audience member.
The playwright also directs and Panych’s creative talent is obvious in every detail and staging minutiae. The set just reeks of the era as do the costumes and even the mannerisms of the characters are emphatic aspects of their role portrayals. The two protagonists are Braeden Soltys as the theatre owner and Sydney Williams as his new female assistant. He’s plotting double-crosses; she’s searching for a disappeared sister. Given the crucial aspects of both characters, the demands on thespian and vocal talent is prodigious, and each succeeds on all counts. They receive strong support from Caroline Burton as Soltys’ ‘Praying mantis’ wife; Greg Moreau as his assistant and who is enamoured with Burton. Eudes LaRoche-Francoeur is the plot’s illusionist and while his role makes things & people disappear; my own enjoyment of the genre kept hoping for a few card tricks.
Panych utilizes the vehicle of a chorus trio to bridge some of the more dramatic arias and Malindi Ayienga; Samantha Bourque & Amanda Silcoff are powerhouses in each of their differently costumed roles. They also have some of the more powerful musical numbers including ‘Just Me’; the soulful “Who will miss me”; and the aforementioned ‘Onions’. With a little bit of plagiarism; the creative crew have slightly copied the familiar ‘Kiss Me Kate’-ish pair of mobsters. Jacob Sheffield & Matthew Fearnley-Brown also bring a little Abbott & Costello into their comedic relief, but when they sing about ‘Conscience’, the message is quite overt.
The artistic team have utilized the talents of some of their cast members as assistants, thereby increasing the technical experience so helpful when one wishes a theatrical career. Ryan deSousa’s (Shaw Festival) sextet are situated stage rear and though loud, the head mics assure that the audience never misses any of the clever & meaningful lyrics.
We’ve had the privilege of witnessing the origins of “Come From Away”; “Urinetown”; ‘Kim’s Convenience’; and ‘The Fantastiks’; now we’ll be able to boast about the premiere of TRAP DOOR. It will be at Sheridan until Jan. 14th. Don’t miss it… it’s our first O.A.R. Top Ten contender of the year.