Monday Magazine’s Theatre Critic reviews Belfry’s Onegin

By Sheila Martindale

Based on the poem by Pushkin and the opera by Tchaikovsky the program tells us, but that is a total stretch. Where is the Russian gloom? Where the long winter in the country with nothing to do but watch the snow freeze?

There is nothing in this production that even vaguely approaches the real Onegin. Here is colour and warmth, and singing and dancing. And a much more enjoyable show because of that!

Basically, the Arts Club Theatre has a bunch of very talented artistes, who need to showcase their abilities, and have used this rather sparse plot to hang them on. Well done, Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone for making this somewhat dreary Russian story lively and interesting, as well as totally dramatic!

OK, so we still have the mother and two daughters, and one of the daughters falls for a new neighbour, who has recently inherited his uncle’s estate adjoining the land of the family in question. And this aristocratic young man rebuffs the girl’s profession of love, and she is devastated, while he flirts outrageously with other women, particularly the girl’s sister, thus provoking a duel with the sister’s fiancé. And so on – you get the picture.

What makes this such an outstanding show is the brilliance of the music and lyrics, and the freehanded rewrite of the script. At first glance you’d think there was some mis-casting here – a nineteenth century, shy Russian girl with a punk haircut? And the so-called debonair stranger, who to begin with appears as something of an ageing greaseball? Also, what’s with the cluttered stage, littered with tripping hazards?

But once these people begin to sing, it is a different story. Every word can be heard clearly, every last haunting word ; and there is no spoken stuff here, it is 100% sung. So I suppose you could call this a modern opera. Whatever, it is quite mesmerizing. The dancing is not too shabby either, despite the small and very busy-looking stage. The cast works seamlessly together. The main characters, played by Meg Roe, Alessansdro Juliani, Josh Epstein, Lauren Jackson and Catriona Murphy are totally magic; they add the human touch by addressing the audience directly, and are clearly having a good time themselves.

A word must be said about the musicians, who sit right there on the stage, kind of hidden with a curtain draped around. Jennifer Moersch on the cello, Barry Mirochnick on drums and guitar, and Chris Tsujiuchi conducting them as well as playing piano and keyboards. To say nothing of the cast members picking up the odd instrument and adding to the delightful sound.

Onegin runs at the Belfry until November 12. Do not delay in ordering your tickets! Call 250-385-6815.

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