Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) Theatre Under The Stars season

From the website - Titanic (photo: Tim Matheson)

Titanic is a yes, Music Man...well...
by Jay Catterson

Titanic: A New Musicalbook by Peter Stone (1776) with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston (Nine, Grand Hotel) swept the Tony Awards in 1997 winning 5 Tonys including Best Musical. I had the good fortune of seeing the original Broadway production, with its gargantuan multi-tiered set which actually tilted to portray the ship's sinking. Now my fascination with the TUTS staging was this: "How in the heck are they going to mount such a monolithic show on such a small stage?"

Well, they did. And they did so splendidly. The set pieces and video design by Lauchlin Johnston effectively used projections, railings and movable scaffold platforms to portray the various sections of the ship. The direction and choreography by Max Reimer worked well, although some of the larger numbers could have used a bit more choreography. The cast was vocally on point, and the orchestra lead by Musical Director Kevin Michael Kripps was impeccable. 

Although Titanic is primarily an ensemble piece featuring gorgeously scored choral anthems, there were a few cast standouts. Sayer Roberts' boyish good looks complements his lovely vocals as stoker Frederick Barrett. Alexander Nicoll gives a delightfully lovable portrayal of wireless operator Harold Bride, and sweetly duets with Barrett in "The Proposal/The Night Was Alive". Michelle Bardach delivers splendid vocals and emotion to 3rd Class Irish passenger Kate McGowan, and David Adams and Deborah Allman bring you to tears as Isidor and Ida Straus in their beautiful Act Two duet, "Still". 

The Music Man, however, is a completely different vehicle in that, although cheery, it feels rather clunky and uninspired. The cast is spunky and the choreography and staging is quite spectacular. The ensemble has to be commended for their amazing execution of Dayna Tekatch's joyful choreography, which was complex and quite breathtaking at times. But this production, directed by Sarah Rodgers, just seemed off. The chemistry and romance between the leads Daren Herbert as Harold Hill and Samantha Currie as Marion Paroo isn't as believable as it could be. Sure, Herbert exudes a crowd-pleasing swagger and charm as conman Harold, but I felt that his portrayal lacked the certain "snake oil salesman" charm needed for that character. And quite frankly, Currie's Marion was at times very pitchy and shrill, especially during her delivery of the signature ballad "Till There Was You". The orchestra wasn't as tight as Titanic, with the brass section noticeably missing notes here and there (which is not a good thing when the show's signature song is "Seventy-Six Trombones". Just saying!). Even Lauchlin Johnston's set design is amiss with its musical instrument-themed set pieces; his set pieces in Titanic were functional and evoked the mood of the ship, but in The Music Man they seemed contrived and sometimes confusing. 

Overall, The Music Man is suitable for families with younger children, but other than that, you can skip seeing this production. Take a trip on Titanic instead. Titanic: A New Musical definitely sails on, and TUTS has to be congratulated on mounting probably their best production yet; this is the "must see" of the TUTS season.

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