Left to right, Caylen Creative, Michelle Avila Navarro and Terrence Zhou co-star in Studio 58’s production of Blood Wedding. (photo by Emily Cooper)
Studio 58, the professional theatre training program at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College, brings flamenco dance to the stage with Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding Nov. 23-Dec. 3.
Recognized for his surreal and socialist works, Lorca’s Blood Wedding is a tragedy of love, repression and duty. Set in rural Spain, a bride is torn between her fiancé and her former lover, and must balance feuds between the families. Blood Wedding is a poetic play that explores the isolation of loyalty versus personal freedom.
“Federico García Lorca’s Blood Wedding premièred in 1933, three years before he was assassinated by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War for being a socialist and a gay man,” explains director Carmen Aguirre in the press release. “This play is about forbidden love, resistance to oppressive societal norms and a foreshadowing of the war. I have set the play in an Andalucian bar on the eve of that war, where a group of flamenco dancers, musicians, actors and cantaores tell us this tragic story.”
The Studio 58 production creative team includes lighting designer Itai Erdal, who is a member of the Jewish community.
Blood Wedding will have 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. showtimes. New this season will be a relaxed performance, on Dec. 2, 3 p.m. The show is at Studio 58 at Langara College, 100 West 49th Ave. Tickets (from $10) are available at studio58.ca.
Left to right: Sofie Kane, Zachary Bellward and Angus Yam in Studio 58’s The Rocky Horror Show, with costume design by Donnie Tejani and makeup by Weebee Drippin. (photo by Emily Cooper)
“It’s the fun and freaky escape we’ve all been craving!” announces the press release for Studio 58 at Langara College’s The Rocky Horror Show. And it’s a statement that’s proven true, with an almost sold-out run as the JI went to press this week.
At least two Jewish community members are involved in the production, which takes place live in the theatre Feb. 3-20. Josh Epstein directs and Itai Erdal created the lighting design.
Amid the happy news regarding ticket sales, COVID continues to cause challenges. “We have multiple Plan Bs and we update them often,” Epstein told the Independent. “Enough of the show has been learned that I know, wherever we end up, this incredible group of performers can entertain.”
While Epstein has done other creative works over the past two years, and so has experience dealing with all the pandemic regulations, this show has been “way harder,” he said.
“I was involved in Craigslist Cantata, which was a filmed production; and a workshop of a new musical at Studio 58 I co-wrote, it was basically an outdoor concert. With Rocky Horror, the cast is large, the lighting, sets and costumes are all world-class. We are being extremely careful to follow all regulations, Studio 58 guidelines and avoid infection. We took a week on Zoom when needed and made other adjustments as needed. I also have two kids under 2 – that’s really the harder part!”
Erdal also has been busier than many in the performing arts sector, but he, too, is finding the situation difficult.
“I have been luckier than most designers I suppose, but still, the last couple of years have been a real struggle, both financially and mentally,” said Erdal. “Just last week, I had to postpone my one-man show How to Disappear Completely, which was scheduled to run at Presentation House in North Van – one of the toughest decisions I had to make.
“Making a living as a theatre artist is tough in the best of times,” he added. “Right now, it’s damn near impossible. It’s been tough mentally too – I basically sat at home for a year between November 2020 and 2021. Fortunately, I’ve been writing a play about my military service [in Israel], so that kept me busy and sane for that year.”
That Erdal is also a writer, producer, performer and artistic director (of the Elbow Theatre) must help in his design of lighting for a production, which begins with his reading of the play in question, “taking notes of things like locations, time of day, mood, atmosphere, effects (lighting, gun shots, smoke, haze, etc.).”
He then meets with the director to “hear their vision of the piece and if they have any specific ideas about lighting. Ideally, this is before the set is designed so I have some input into the set design – Is it an abstract set or a naturalistic one? If the set has walls on the sides, then I can’t use side lighting; if it’s staged in the round, it will obviously change my design.”
He takes more notes while watching rehearsals and, for a musical, like Rocky Horror, he needs to know exactly where the performers are for every song.
“Then I will go home and draw the lighting plot – this show has about 150 lights and the crew needs to know where every light is hung, which way it’s facing and what colour or pattern it takes. Then we hang all the lights, circuit them and patch them to the lighting board.
“After the hang is finished,” he said, “we focus all the lights and then we record the cues. A musical will typically have anywhere between 200 and 300 lighting cues, so that will take awhile to record, at least 12 hours. I use light walkers and ask them to stand where the performers will be standing and we record all the cues and put them all in the prompt script so the stage manager can call the show.”
The performers are then shown their every cue, being told “where to stand, making sure the director likes how it looks and the stage manager knows exactly when the cue is called. In a musical like Rocky Horror,” said Erdal, “the vast majority of the cues will be called with the music, so I would give the stage manager a detailed cue list that includes bar numbers so the show can be called musically. After practising all that for a few days, we add the costumes and all other design elements and do a tech dress and then a dress rehearsal. After that, the audience comes in for previews and we do a few last tweaks before we open the show.”
Collaboration is crucial and it’s one of Epstein’s favourite parts of directing this show – working with the students and the creative team. “After a few years away from this process,” he said, “there is nothing that gets me jazzed more than bouncing artistic ideas off each other and then guiding them to life.”
Given the popularity and longevity of The Rocky Horror Show – first staged in 1973 and then made iconic by the 1975 film adaptation – one might be intimidated when faced with staging it, but not Epstein.
“I love and trust my artistic team and give them a lot of ownership over where we’re headed. If we each dream big and make it happen, it will be unlike any other production – and I think we’ve done that,” said the director.
“Usually,” he added, “I avoid any other productions or history of a show but Rocky Horror has had such a unique life. I researched its beginnings, looked for lyric changes, did consultations with different communities, made conscious decisions about context and intention. I really took to heart ‘Don’t dream it, be it’ and have made that a touchstone of our show – that you can be whoever you want to be and, more importantly, be fabulous.
“One thing that’s going to happen,” Epstein concluded, “is we’re going to honour the audience that this show created, in a big way.”
Anton Lipovetsky is among the professional artists working with Studio 58 to develop Monoceros: A Musical. (photo by Dahlia Katz)
In the face of a pandemic and all its associated restrictions, the show is going on at Langara College’s Studio 58 – albeit in a very different way. Monoceros: A Musical runs through the end of March and features the contributions of two Jewish community members: writer Josh Epstein and composer/lyricist Anton Lipovetsky.
In contrast to other Studio 58 productions, Monoceros is seen as a “development lab,” an opportunity for the creators to tweak the piece, while allowing students to work on a new musical and learn about the process. The production is not a performance in a traditional sense, as the public will not be able to come and watch it. Ordinarily, shows are performed in Langara’s 100-seat theatre, but this is the first time Studio 58 has created a production outdoors – because of the risks of singing inside.
Adapted from a Suzette Mayr novel by Epstein and his business partner, Vancouver writer/director Kyle Rideout, Monoceros tells the story of Faraday, a high school wallflower who dreams of becoming a famous veterinarian. When Ethan, a classmate known for wearing a unicorn outfit, dies unexpectedly, Faraday sets off on a quest to fulfil Ethan’s last wish.
“The book starts with one of the most powerful chapters I’ve ever read,” Epstein told the Independent. “I was engaged from the first sentence, my heart was drawn to every word. I, too, lost my best friend much too early and I felt very connected to this book. We were about to turn the book into a film, for which we had funding, but, at the same time, we felt a musical bursting out of it and attached Ben Elliott and Anton to write the music. We fell so in love with the musical that we halted the film for now to keep working on the piece. Our show tackles difficult subject matter but in a fresh, humorous way, daring the audience to go on a wild adventure and to listen.”
“I read the book and I loved it. It was heartbreaking and brutal and honest – the kind of book that really stays with you after you read it,” said Lipovetsky. “We decided to centre the story more on a singular character, Faraday, and her quest to bring unicorns to Calgary in honour of the student who passed away. Her quest challenges who she is as a person and she discovers herself along the way.”
Putting on a production in 2021 is “completely wild,” said Epstein, an award-winning actor, writer and producer. “Until the day we started, we had no idea if it would actually happen. Now, here we are with a full tent city built by Studio 58, a rock concert sound setup and an incredible creative team that includes one of Canada’s top directors, Meg Roe, and Lily Ling (Hamilton’s musical director) – who was only available to us because Hamilton is on hiatus.”
Epstein emphasized that, “while the show’s path has been altered by COVID-19, the team has used the time to strengthen the script and score, as well as attach some of the best people around [to the project]. Above all, the process is very safe and we’re having fun being able to work together, if only from a masked distance.”
“Acting, singing and connecting with your collaborators while most of your face is covered is not easy. The students are doing a wonderful job,” Lipovetsky said. “And rehearsing outdoors during early March in Vancouver can be challenging – but sometimes it’s magical. There are moments where the students’ voices soar in beautiful harmony and the sun will come out above us and I’ll feel real joy. I have missed making music and theatre so much and I’m grateful to get to do it even under these strange circumstances.”
In addition to the staff and faculty who are involved, Studio 58 has 10 professionals working with the students, 14 student performers, and many other students helping with technical requirements. One of the top theatre schools in Canada, with the only conservatory-style program in Western Canada, the professional theatre training program at Langara is in its 55th season. It typically produces four main-stage productions a season, ranging from dramas, to comedies, to musicals.
Monoceros is commissioned and supported by Toronto’s Musical Stage Company and funded by the Aubrey and Marla Dan Foundation. The show has an elaborate development road planned out that will include workshop productions in British Columbia and Ontario – culminating in Toronto – before continuing to other stages.
Epstein, whose work has taken him around the world, is currently writing an original feature for Paramount with Rideout. Lipovetsky is an acclaimed composer, lyricist, performer and teacher, and he is currently an artist-in-residence in the Musical Stage Company’s Crescendo Series.
Katherine Matlashewski and Tanner Zerr in Fast Foward. (photo by Emily Cooper)
Since COVID-19, we have been learning how to relate to one another from a distance, as well as how to use the technologies, like Zoom, that have allowed us to retain a more personal connection than we could have if we had experienced the pandemic even a handful of years ago. While our reality seems stolen from the script of a futuristic sci-fi horror film, playwright Rosamund Small’s visions of love in the future and how technology affects it, TomorrowLove, are “hilarious, snappy, moving and refreshingly fun in these times,” according to Shekhar Paleja and Lauren Taylor, co-directors of Studio 58’s production of Small’s playlet collection.
Jewish community members Samantha Levy and Katherine Matlashewski are among the cast members of the production, which will be released online on Feb. 28 and available to watch individually or collectively until March 7.
Studio 58 is Langara College’s professional theatre training program, and this spring’s lineup – which TomorrowLove launches – is the first under the direction of Courtenay Dobbie. Both Levy and Matlashewski are in their second year of study.
“I was finishing up my first year when the pandemic began in earnest here,” Levy told the Independent. “COVID-19 has forced me to be more isolated from my school community through Zoom classes, but it has not taken away the care and dedication of my professors, or the support of my peers. We are still a family, even though we are distanced or online.”
It has become a hybrid program since the pandemic, with some classes online and others held in person with social distancing, said Matlashewski. “Since Studio 58 is a hands-on conservatory program, the transition to online studies was challenging at first,” she admitted. “The faculty and staff, however, have been extremely supportive during these uncertain times. They have all worked tirelessly to adapt our training while also prioritizing our safety.
“That being said,” she added, “as a result of COVID, students are now required to commute to and from the college quite a bit … [and] the hours of online Zoom classes are exhausting. Despite these challenges, I appreciate the continuation of our small in-person classes.”
Prior to her post-secondary training at Studio 58, Matlashewski appeared as Mopsy in King Arthur’s Court (Metro Theatre), where she received the Community Theatre Coalition Award for best supporting actress. Other select credits include Alana in Dear Evan Hansen (Laughing Matters), Luisa in The Fantasticks (Stage 43) and Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods: In Concert (Royal City Musical Theatre). Most recently, she was awarded the 2021 Cheryl Hutcherson Award by Applause! Musicals Society.
“I have been a part of the Vancouver theatre and dance community from a very young age,” said Matlashewski. “I feel incredibly blessed to live, create and play on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.”
In TomorrowLove, Matlashewski said, “I have the pleasure of acting in the playlet called Fast Forward, alongside Tanner Zerr. This playlet explores themes of love, abandonment, age difference, time travel and the consequences that come with it.”
Levy plays the role of Jessie in the short play Take This Soul. “In Take This Soul, Jessie’s ex-partner, Rylan, shows up at her doorstep after having disappeared for four days,” explained Levy. “He tells an outlandish tale of an experiment in a distant country that has allowed him to return and present her with his literal soul.”
In addition to this Studio 58 production, Levy’s acting credits include Love, Loss and What I Wore (Centaur Theatre), Fancy Nancy: The Musical (Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, Segal Centre) and It Shoulda Been You (Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, Segal Centre). Her TV and film credits include Annedroids and 18 To Life.
“I’ve been performing since the age of 5, when my parents signed me up for an extracurricular theatre troupe in my hometown, Montreal,” said Levy. “Little did they know that I would fall in love with performing! Since then, I’ve acted on stage and on screen, trained at the Stratford Festival’s Theatre Arts Camp, and dabbled in directing both plays and musicals. Now, I am so thrilled my love of acting has led me to Studio 58!”
But the experience is not what it normally would be, of course.
“During the pandemic, the lovely production team has been working extra hard to keep us all safe,” said Levy, “and that includes managing our schedules closely to avoid contact between folks. So, I have come to value the time I have with others in person even more. When we are in person, we are also wearing masks and social distancing at all times. This often means coming up with innovative new ways to express ourselves without proximity or touch on stage, which has been a wonderful challenge. It is incredibly uplifting for me to have the privilege to be able to continue to create with others, be vulnerable and connect.”
Acknowledging that the “pandemic has been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone,” Matlashewski said, “One of the challenges that I have faced is navigating acting while wearing a mask. Prior to COVID, I did not realize how much I relied on the non-verbal cues and facial expressions of my scene partners. However, now that two-thirds of the human face is covered by a mask, I find that I have to listen more closely to fully understand my scene partner. With that in mind, we all have had to adjust and be patient with ourselves and others.
“My biggest take away from acting during COVID is the importance of human connection,” she continued. “We have had to find new ways to connect and communicate while maintaining physical distancing. During the rehearsal process of Fast Forward, I discovered how social distancing impacted my acting choices. Since I had to maintain a two-metre distance from my scene partner, each movement that I made on stage had to be carefully considered. Our fantastic director, Lauren Taylor, guided us through this process and helped specify our blocking.
“Although we are required to maintain physical distance and wear masks while we are acting, I am thankful that I get to act in person for my first mainstage show at Studio 58.”
Reflecting on her connections to Jewish community and culture, Matlashewski said, “Within Judaism, community is a value that is held with the highest importance. Although we cannot gather in person, I invite you all to find the light where you can and share it with those around you.”
For her part, Levy said, “As my parents are across the country in Montreal and my brother (he’s a doctor!) is in St. John’s, Jewish culture and art are an anchor to the family who love me. Seeing Jewish representation in art is healing and beautiful.”
She then added a “non-performance-related anecdote.”
“I walked into a Jewish bakery during Chanukah to get a few latkes,” said Levy, “and I left with tears in my eyes and a bag full of items I had not planned to buy.”
To see one or all 13 of the TomorrowLove playlets, visit studio58.ca.
Ryan Beil, left, and Mark Chavez. (photos from Studio 58)
Studio 58’s 55th season continues with the world première of Theatre: The Play, a comedic love letter to the art form, written and directed by Ryan Beil and Mark Chavez.
The Nearlake Theatre Festival & Bar & Grill faces certain closure, unless it can produce a hit show. Dudley, the festival’s intrepid artistic director, throws out all the stops in an attempt to stage a masterpiece the likes of which the theatre world has never seen: Macbeth, War on Christmas. But, can the cast and crew deal with their personal demons before the punters show up? Theatre: The Play is both an homage and a sly middle finger to the world of theatre, asking, “Why would anyone work in this unforgiving and unstable field of make-believe?”
Studio 58 students in their fourth term will perform the play, which will be filmed and then offered online to viewers, who can watch from the comfort of their homes Nov. 29 to Dec. 6.
“We are so excited to push the boundaries of what it means to produce a play online,” said Beil, a member of the Jewish community, and Chavez. “To go beyond just setting up a camera and pressing record, instead making the experience for people watching at home just as electric as it [would be] for those watching in the theatre.”
Dylan Floyde as Cliff Bradshaw and Erin Palm as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, presented by Studio 58. (photo by David Cooper)
“I honestly couldn’t think of a more important show to do right now, with such a divided political climate. The past is as important as ever, we must not let it fade. We need stories like these,” Erin Palm told the Jewish Independent about Cabaret, which opened at Studio 58 (Langara College) last week and runs until Feb. 24.
The musical is set in Berlin in 1929, as the Nazis begin their ascent to power in Germany. Palm plays the role of Kit Kat Klub headliner Sally Bowles, the British singer with whom American writer Cliff Bradshaw falls in love.
“Sally is such a complex character. I’d say the most important thing as an actor is honouring her, and acknowledging that she and the other characters in Cabaret are based on the real experiences of Christopher Isherwood, back in Weimar Berlin,” said Palm. “The biggest challenge for me is to know her apathy. It’s painful and tragic.
“I have, hopefully, given her autonomy throughout her journey. I am not a fan of judging the characters I play so, to combat that, I focus on how she is brave, independent and whimsical. She uses humour and imagination as a tool to get through her own challenges and I think that’s where the fun comes in. Really, she’s searching for freedom, and I love playing with that as an actor.”
Palm is in her third and final year at Studio 58. “I became a student the summer after I finished playing Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof with RCMT [Royal City Musical Theatre] and traveling to Toronto to do the National Voice Intensive. It was a big decision to go back to school, but I know the legacy of Studio 58 is that it turns out fine actors. I wanted to give myself the best opportunity to grow and gain new tools.”
Fellow Jewish community member Josh Epstein makes his directing debut with this production. A multiple-award-winning actor and filmmaker, he was a student at Studio 58, where he played the role of Joey in Pal Joey. “I also met my creative partner, Kyle Rideout, while there and we named our company Motion 58 in honour of Studio 58,” said Epstein. (He and Rideout recently sold a feature film pitch to Paramount with the Transformers producers, di Bonaventura Pictures, said Epstein, “and we have a variety of film and TV projects at various stages of development.”)
About returning to Studio 58 for Cabaret, Epstein said, “I’ve been talking to Kathryn Shaw [Studio 58 artistic director] for a couple of years about returning to direct something, as I now felt ready, and Cabaret was my first and only choice.”
Epstein said he has a few favourite scenes, ones “that bring tears to my eyes, but none more than a late scene between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider, the older couple that has sweetly fallen in love. None of the characters truly knows what’s coming. Herr Schultz still sees himself as a German and firmly believes he won’t lose anything. It’s heartbreaking.”
Another returning Jewish community member for this production is lighting designer Itai Erdal.
“Studio 58 is one of my favourite places to work,” he told the Independent. “I keep coming back because I love the staff and I love the energy of the young students and because I’ve done some of my best work there. I find it to be a great working environment, which often allows for some real magic to happen.”
Erdal is enjoying lighting Cabaret, which has much darkness in it story-wise, as well as being set in a nightclub.
“Lighting musicals is always tricky but it’s really wonderful to light a musical like Cabaret, just because of that darkness you refer to,” he said. “So many musicals are very lighthearted and it is so refreshing to do a musical about something that matters so much. It’s also some of the best music ever written for theatre, so it’s a joy to light these iconic songs and support these brilliant young actors as they tackle those songs.”
Given that Cabaret is such a well-known musical, Epstein said, “I’m definitely encouraging the team to tell the story that’s written, first and foremost, but any staging or performance that’s been done before, I’m not that interested in repeating. We’re creating something that is unique to Studio 58, their intimate space, and it will be aggressive, fun and stimulating.
“I’m very excited for the fresh performances of Sally and the Emcee in our production,” he added. “I think we’ve found a Sally (Erin Palm) that doesn’t feel sorry for herself, that has strength and power and makes active decisions rather than accepting her lot in life. Our Emcee is female and, after watching how Paige Fraser has done it so far, I would never want it any other way. For one, she dances and sings better than most of the men who have played the role before onstage.
“We’ve also played with the musical numbers,” he said. “‘Mein Herr’ is gonna rip the roof off the theatre and I think we’ve reinvented the pineapple song [‘It Couldn’t Please Me More’].”
Epstein recommends that audience members arrive early. “There’s a burlesque show you won’t want to miss,” he said.
The production’s promotional material, which advises that the show is suitable for ages 16+, comes with the warning, “Possible nudity, probable vulgarity and other behaviour your momma won’t approve of!”
Langara College Foundation’s Langara Studio 58 Legacy Fund campaign reached and exceeded its original $250,000 goal, raising more than $273,000 in support of theatre arts at Langara. Most than 538 individual donors contributed to the success of the campaign, among them 219 Studio 58 alumni and 55 present and former faculty, directors and designers.
“The response from our Studio 58 community was amazing,” said Moira Gookstetter, executive director, Langara College Foundation. “We are humbled by their generosity. With their support, we raised over $136,729, which, when matched by the college, will create an endowment of $273,458.
“We are especially thankful for our volunteer campaign chairs Jane Heyman and Joey Lespérance. They are the real heroes of this campaign. Their enthusiasm, dedication and tireless support have helped to create a foundation that will launch Studio 58 into the future.”
Established to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Langara’s Theatre Arts at Studio 58 program, the Legacy Fund’s mandate is to support the expansion and scope of the program’s productions, training and learning opportunities.
“The remarkable success of the Studio 58 Legacy Fund campaign will mean future generations of students will have access to working on productions beyond the normal scope of Studio 58, will be offered special workshops, and will have the possibility to mentor with professionals,” said Kathryn Shaw, Studio 58 artistic director. “The Legacy Fund will allow Theatre Arts at Studio 58 to remain a leading force in theatre training in Canada. All of this could not have been possible without our caring and generous donors and supporters.”
Langara College’s Studio 58 provides practical, hands-on training for students looking for careers in professional theatre. It offers two streams – acting and production.
Camille Legg as Romeo, left, and Adelleh Furseth as Juliet share an intimate moment in Studio 58’s Romeo and Juliet. (photo by David Cooper)
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is such a well-known play, done so many times on stage and on screen, it’s hard to imagine an original interpretation, but Studio 58 of Langara College manages to shine new light on this ageless tale.
This production marks the beginning of the studio’s 50th season and director Anita Rochon has incorporated that into her vision of the play, setting it in 1965, the year Studio 58 was born. Music from the 1960s – the catchy tunes of Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Turtles and others – permeates the show. Older audience members will recognize their youth in these songs, as well as in the clothing, but these are only frills. The core of the play remains unaltered – the immortal and tragic love story between Romeo and Juliet.
However, there is one profound adjustment to the classical version: Romeo is a girl. Accordingly, the pronouns are switched in the text, and a son becomes a daughter. Other than that, the text is more or less authentic, albeit abridged, for the student performance, and the young actors handle the 500-year-old verses with professional panache.
The change benefits the show. For most people in 21st-century North America, family feuds – to the death, anyway – are the stuff of legend, while parental resistance to their kids’ gay or lesbian inclinations is still all too real. Some experience it firsthand or have friends who did; others are on the parents’ side of the equation or know someone who was. But everyone in the audience could relate to this aspect of Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love.
Everyone could also feel the wonder, the breathtaking discovery of their first encounter. Highlighted by the expressive and inventive choreography of Jewish community member Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, the first meeting of the lovers felt almost like a ballet, a lyrical and beautiful duet, with the corps providing a counterpoint. The visual echoes from such classical ballets as Giselle or Swan Lake were unmistakable.
On the other hand, the fight scenes by David Bloom, who also happens to be a Jewish community member, were ferocious, with some really scary moments, especially when Mercutio swings a broken bottle at Tybalt. Both young actors, Conor Stinson-O’Gorman (Mercutio) and Kamyar Pazandeh (Tybalt), infuse their stage duel with energy, but all I could think about was, What if someone missteps and hurts his friend? Fortunately, no accidents occurred, and both combatants expired safely.
Of course, the two female stars of the show deserve mention – both acted brilliantly.
Camille Legg, who played Romeo, excelled in her part. Her Romeo was young and naive, a girl on the brink of adulthood, and her wide-eyed innocence made her character’s belief in the power of love plausible. Romeo’s love is radiant and boundless; her grief, all-encompassing.
Adelleh Furseth as Juliet, while strong overall, lacked enough of the child-like nature that I attribute to the character. She portrayed a more mature, more sexy Juliet, more a woman than a girl. At times, she struck me as a character actor or comedian, funny rather than naively exuberant.
The humming chorus during the play’s last scene, the young lovers’ double suicide, was inspired and poignant.
In the director’s notes, Rochon writes: “… there are real people all over the real world who are falling in love as you read this, in spite of all kinds of opposition arising because of their gender, nationality, political affiliation or otherwise. Familiar stories, but each with its own beating heart.”
Allan Zinyk as Patrice, left, and David Adams as Bryan in Elbow Room Café: The Musical (Phase 1). (photo by Emily Cooper)
Allan Zinyk and David Adams are veritable doppelgangers for Patrice (Patrick) Savoie and Bryan Searle, who started the Elbow Room Café on Jervis Street in 1983. While the restaurant moved to Davie Street in 1996 and the couple has since taken on another business partner, the heart of the café is Savoie and Searle, and, for many people, “home” is wherever they are.
Elbow Room Café: The Musical (Phase 1) really captures the depth and warmth of their relationship with each other, as well as with their staff and customers. It is a fitting and well-deserved homage to two men who have not only built a successful business, but a community, not to mention raising tens of thousands of dollars over the years for the charity A Loving Spoonful.
The Studio 58 and Zee Zee Theatre collaboration is a work in progress, but its Phase 1 opening on March 21 was a pretty polished effort. It will be interesting to see what changes on the path to its final form. Already, the musical – book and lyrics by Dave Deveau, music and lyrics by Anton Lipovetsky, directed by Cameron Mackenzie – arouses a range of emotions, from belly laughter to touching sentimentality. The songs are catchy and singable, the characters are memorable and relatable, the choreography is appropriately silly and sexy.
Led by professional actors Zinyk and Adams, the Studio 58 cast was top-notch. The audience gets lost in the life dramas that take place at the café: Tim and Tabby, a tourist couple from Kansas who stop in for a bite to eat on their way to Stanley Park, and are introduced to a whole new world; will Jackie and Jill, broken up for 253 days, get back together, despite all they’ve said to each other and what has happened since their breakup?; will the shy girl (aka Menu) find love at the café?; and Amanda, who finds out as her bachelorette party comes to an end that her wedding won’t take place as planned. Then there’s Patrice and Bryan, both getting older and a little slower – what’s to become of the café once they are no longer able to run it?
These main storylines are all played out in front of an odd, and endearing, assortment of other customers. One of the many notable aspects of this musical is how the supporting cast reacts to what’s going on around them. The full-cast musical numbers are big and bold, and there are some unique roles, such as Autograph, who takes on the personas of various celebrities who have eaten at the café, Tom Selleck and Sharon Stone, for example.
Since the musical is only in the first of a planned three phases, it is likely that the stories, dialogue and/or music will change. Considering who’s involved in the production, however, it should only get better. Then maybe afterward they can start on Jewish Independent: The Musical.
Elbow Room Café is at Studio 58 until March 29. As the musical’s program notes, there is “coarse language and immature content.” For tickets and information, visit studio58.ca.