Friday, August 9, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Riverview High

Archie comics set to music and an improved plot
Riverview High’s storyline makes more sense and is just as funny as Riverdale
by Chris Lane

Riverview High isn’t about Archie Andrews. Of course not, that would be copyright infringement.

Instead it’s about a completely different red-haired kid, Alex (not Archie at all), who can’t decide between the two girls he loves: the blonde girl-next-door, Cathy, and the rich and beautiful brunette, Erica. Alex’s best friend Parker just so happens to love food (hot dogs, not burgers) and get ceaselessly pursued by a girl he can hardly stand.

Whoever they are, the students of Riverview High are just as charming as the more famous Riverdale kids in this spirited homegrown musical.

The three romantic leads, Eric Gow, Alex Gullason and Ranae Miller, are all solid as Alex, Cathy and Erica, respectfully. Miller has just the right poise and attitude for Erica Smodge (a name which made me giggle every time I heard it), the gorgeous rich bitch. Cameron Dunster, playing Alex’s sidekick Parker, has possibly the best voice in the cast – who knew Jughead could sing?

The production was slow to draw me in, but once the supporting cast took centre stage, the play came to life. The best performances come from two of the supporting actors, who fortunately get more and more time onstage as it becomes apparent the main love triangle isn’t the only interesting story at Riverview High. Caleb Di Pomponio makes every one of his scenes delightfully entertaining as the lovably nerdy Dexter, who’s hopelessly in love with Cathy and yet dutifully listens to her talk about Alex instead. Another standout is also hopelessly in love: Michelle Bardach is hilarious and endearing as Esther, who will do almost anything to get Parker’s attention.

Unlike that completely unrelated comic strip, Riverview High has an actual ending, and it’s completely different from how the Archie comics usually turned out. Playwright Angela Wong has written an alternate story of how things really should have ended for a guy who tries to date two girls at once. Her play adds depth to some stock characters, but still brings plenty of camp fun to the stage, as well as witty references to the comic books.

The catchy music by Stewart Yu is surprisingly polished for a play that just last year was a Fringe show. But perhaps that just goes to show what gems can be found at Fringe.

The young cast and crew makes up for lack of experience with a whole lot of heart and infectious energy, and the large cast certainly does justice to the fresh and funny script.

Riverview High, directed by Mike Mackenzie, is playing at the Firehall Arts Centre from August 7 to 24.

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