Tear the Curtain! - The Electrics Company Theatre at Canadian Stage's Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Jonathon Young and Kevin Kerr, Created with and Directed by Kim Collier
Runs until Oct. 20th 2012
Chaplin the Musical - Barrymore Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Music and Lyrics by Christopher Curtis, Book by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis, Directed and Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
The stage and screen are two very different entities. We watch and experience them differently and our brains process the two art forms differently. In Tear the Curtain!, The Electrics Company Theatre new show under Kim Collier's direction (whose last project at Canadian Stage Studies in Motion, blew me away), melds the two art forms into one show, playing with our senses as we watch a film-noir become a live stage show, and back again, and then sometimes at the same time! It's quite a jarring change at first, as our eyes and minds must adjust to the distance we follow this dark story, a mystery of sorts set in the 1930's that plays around with our perceptions of theatre and film, in a show about a theatre critic that falls into the war between movie houses and theatre houses as film was just burgeoning in the 30's as the newest craze in entertainment.
The plot to Tear the Curtain! is a confusion of mysteries a-la-film-noir-style, as a film critic Alex Braithwaite (writer Jonathon Young) falls for a femme fatale actress (a luminous Laura Mennell from TV's Alphas) and sort of steps onto a stage (or is it screen?) as two mob bosses are fighting over Vancouver's Stanley Theatre (or what will become it). Or something like that. Alex also follows a mysterious man who turns out to be Stanley Lee (James Fagan Tait), while a screwball co-worker Mavis (a delightful Dawn Petten) is smitten with Alex. There are layers upon layers of the story, with some surprising reveals and several amusing or terrifying twists, but the story tries to be so clever and twisty that it's often too confusing to take in while sitting there in a theatre, and too indecipherable at times. Maybe the point, and it gets the film-noir genre tone quite well, but sometimes it's all too much to take in.
When things get too confusing though, there's still the visuals to take in, and they can be surprising and delightful, haunting or chilling. The whole show is pretty much stunningly beautiful and interesting. With the use of projections showing the film (done by Brian Johnson), sometimes projected onto a screen, sometimes onto the set itself (that looks like a giant foam core model) by David Roberts, the story shifts from screen to stage, back and forth, and is amazingly clever when we sometimes see the same scene from two different vantage points at the same time.
While the mindbending story is enhanced by the mindblowing melding of film projection and stagecraft, the performances from Young and Petten anchor the show and give the mystery the heart it needs. Petten particularly gives the lightness to balance out the film-noir atmosphere and story that sometimes devolves into head-scratching confusion, but the ideas, and imagery Tear the Curtain! introduces are eye opening.
Chaplin the Musical is probably an unnecessary musicalized version of Charlie Chaplin's life that, through the sheer brilliance of Rob McClure's performance as the title character, is a pleasant and enjoyable show. With tuneful but forgettable songs, and a book that tries to deepen our understanding of the famous performer by delving into his psyche, the musical has far too many slow book moments and seems to overanalyze Chaplin without really getting any true grit or depth in his life. The dark moments only seems to skim the surface, but the show works best in its buoyant moments, when the show starts recreating some of Chaplin's most famous scenes from his films, and the Hollywood drama behind the scenes. The new musical tries to have a serious side but never does it quite enough to be truly revelatory, all while spoiling the fun moments in Rob McClure's uncanny recreation of the legendary Charlie Chaplin.
The musical spends a lot of time with young Chaplin, growing up in England with his single mother (the lovely Christiane Noll) and brother (Wayne Alan Wilcox). to being plucked to Hollywood where he quickly establishes a comedic act that seems to gain everyones attention. From trying to change his Vaudeville circuit act into something that can work on film, Chaplin learns to manipulate the new medium of film to comedic brilliance, and the show is at its most fun when we see it performed live on stage.
Though the musical feels overlong, and skims over Chaplin's tendency to romance teenage girls as just another plot point (while stretching his childhood psyche thread), things get juicy when scheming gossip columnist Hedda Hepper (a perfectly cast Jenn Colella) attempts to play dirty, using her power to get the public to turn on Chaplin, all while Chaplin tries to battle the emerging change in Hollywood to the talkies.
Chaplin The Musical is a pleasant light biographical show that works best when it's simply pure entertainment in the recreation of the best of Chaplin with McClure's wonderful starmaking performance.
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com