Whiskey sour

WHISKEY SERENADE by Ralph Small and Mitchell Kitz, directed by Eli Lukawitz, with Sam Owen, Jennifer Gould, Drew Carnwath, Alison.


WHISKEY SERENADE by Ralph Small and Mitchell Kitz, directed by Eli Lukawitz, with Sam Owen, Jennifer Gould, Drew Carnwath, Alison Smith, Patric Masurkevitch and Jamie Sussman. Presented by Tribal Productions at the Studio Theatre, Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge). Runs to November 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $30, stu/srs discount. 416-870-8000. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN

here’s a great topic for a show: the outlaw couple who ruled Canadian organized crime in the teens and 20s. Immigrants Bessie Starkman and Rocco Perri — she’s Jewish, he’s Italian — meet, and she soon leaves her husband and daughters for a life of rum-running, murder and bootlegging.The story here becomes the disappointing musical Whiskey Serenade, with humdrum tunes by Mitchell Kitz and a tangled, confusing book by Ralph Small. Sometimes the story of Bessie (Jennifer Gould) and Rocco (Sam Owen) is played out before us, and sometimes it’s narrated by newsman David Rodgers (Drew Carnwath), whose role is as two-dimensional as all the other figures.

That’s not the fault of Gould, who brings the show its only dramatic life. The writing keeps her too much on the sidelines after setting up the story as hers and suggesting that she’s the gang’s brains and energy. There’s no spark between her and the wooden Owen if we’re not convinced why they ran away together, there’s no story.

The only moment when one character connects with another comes when a seductive French Canadian (Alison Smith, who sings the title song) sidles up to Rodgers in a speakeasy.

I’m all for new Canadian musicals, but why is this show a musical? The songs add little that strong dialogue couldn’t present more effectively. The worst moment is an extraneous production number with Latin rhythms called Belleville To Cuba, set in a courtroom but played out, as is the rest of the show, in front of the cemetery where Bessie has just been buried.

Go figure.JK glenns@nowtoronto.com

jonkap@nowtoronto.com

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