The Overcoat: I prefer the original theatrical garment to the knock-off

THE OVERCOAT: A MUSICAL TAILORING by James Rolfe and Morris Panych (Canadian Stage/Tapestry Opera/Vancouver Opera). At the Bluma Appel (27.


THE OVERCOAT: A MUSICAL TAILORING by James Rolfe and Morris Panych (Canadian Stage/Tapestry Opera/Vancouver Opera). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to April 14. $39-$99. 416-368-3110. See listing. Rating: NNN

Canadian Stage and Tapestry Operas new operatic adaptation of The Overcoat is subtitled a musical tailoring, but I must admit: I prefer the original theatrical garment to the knock-off.

Morris Panych and Wendy Gorlings much-remounted 2000 non-verbal version of Nikolai Gogols novella remains one of the best shows Ive seen, a perfect blend of music, storytelling and stagecraft.

By contrast, this new version, with a libretto and direction by Panych and a score by James Rolfe, adds some new notes to the story about a lowly clerk, Akakiy (Geoffrey Sirett), whos ridiculed for his threadbare outerwear until he saves his kopeks to buy a life-transforming new coat, which leads to his downfall. But the changes dont always pay off.

For instance, Panych has given Akakiy an obsession with numbers that fails to serve as an appropriate overarching metaphor. And the presence of a mad chorus of three figures who seem to haunt Akakiy in his bleak rooming house room is never explained. Is Akakiy mad from the start? Its never clear.

But Panych and Rolfe have written some effective scenes to flesh out Akakiys world, particularly in a repeated sequence about how men behave boorishly when theyre together. And theyve given a juicy double role to baritone Peter McGillivray, who excels as both Akakiys bombastic boss and the drunken tailor Petrovich. (Erica Iris Huang is delightful as Petrovichs knowing wife.)

What doesnt work so well is Panychs libretto, which is filled with distracting, jokey, forced rhymes like cuff/snuff and cabbage soup/good for croup. This latter is sung to Akakiy by his landlady (Andrea Ludwig), whose aria about the superficiality of appearances would be better served in act one and not two. And by the way: isnt croup a disease that mostly affects children?

Rolfes score is jaunty and energetic, if a little too on the nose. The best music is written when Akakiy has his coat stolen (you knew that was coming, didnt you?) and the strings shriek anxiously as the man desperately looks for it. Theres also a clever mash-up of Bach and Beethoven in a climactic moment.

Ken MacDonalds set seems like a scaled-back version of his original, and Alan Brodies lighting helps create mood and atmosphere.

But the works finest moments a sudden snowfall, the appearance of another garment at the end and the anthropomorphism of the overcoat itself all hail from the original show.

Sometimes things dont need to be altered, after all.

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