The cast of Miracle Man
A while ago I wrote about the current acting students at George Brown and Ryerson, soon to graduate from their programs. My impression of the two classes' strengths has grown over the past few months, now that I've seen a few other shows by both groups.
The Ryerson troupe was also lucky enough to present the premiere of The Miracle Man, a musical by Allen Cole (book and music) and Michael O'Brien (book and lyrics). Set in the 20s, the show -- stylishly directed by Eda Holmes, with sets by John Thompson and costumes by Alex Gilbert -- follows the fortunes of a quartet of Montreal grifters who move to the small town of Deep Current and try to con locals and visitors by making use of an elderly man who apparently has healing powers.
The music's pleasantly old-fashioned in a toe-tapping fashion; there's a razzle-dazzle Kander and Ebb-style number, a rocking revival-gospel number set on a train, another with a Latin beat and also a memorable ballad. The writing quality's matched by a few stand-out performances, including those by Ian McRoberts as the head grifter and Michael DeRose, a wonderfully energetic actor/dancer, as one of his associates. Aynsley Leonard as play's romantic centre, converted from trickery to honesty, grows into her part, while Allison Price plays up the comedy of a woman who wants more than her tiny community can provide.
Though not everyone is a comfortable singer, there's enough spirit in the cast to make the production work.
When will a local ompany give us a professional production of a musical this good?
At about the same time that The Miracle Man was running at Ryerson, the George Brown troupe tackled William Congreve's stylish Restoration comedy The Way Of The World. Under director Diana Leblanc, who knows her way around the classics, the company presented Congreve's text with delicious precision, clarifying what can be a dizzyingly complex storyline. Even though accents sometimes came and went, it was impossible not to be drawn into this society of scandals, libidinous desires and the importance of polite, morally unblemished appearance, where status depends on how clever one can be with language. Michael Gianfrancesco's simple, elegant sets and costumes, lit by Steve Lucas, captured the period's feel.
The women stood out in the production, with especially fine work by Laura Schutt as Mrs. Millamant, able to run verbal rings around just about all the other characters to maintain her independence. She was especially sturdy in her flirtatious romance with Mirabell (Ryan Bondy), whom she eventually agrees to wed on her own terms, for she refuses to "dwindle into a wife." Given Schutt's stylish cleverness and her ability to point her words with emotional colours, it was easy to see why this Millamant was at the apex of her social world.
Alex Paxton-Beesley turned the conniving maid Foible into a fine, sharp minx, while Kate Kudelka made the older Lady Wishfort, hungry for a young lover, into an aging drama queen with touches of Ab Fab's Edina Monsoon. Though Lesley Smith's Mrs. Fainall succeeded better with her honest anger than her social wit, Hannah Miller gave the scheming Mrs. Marwood all the cold treachery the role requires.
Bondy's Mirabell was best in his scenes with Schutt, scenes with the occasional undertone of fiery passion; she drew him emotionally into the play in a manner that didn't occur in his work with other actors. I also liked Seann Murray as the foolish Witwoud, with his sense of self-importance and, just as importantly, the actor's sense of how to play the comedy of the piece.
Didn't see Way Of The World? You have two more chances to catch the admirable George Brown company before they graduate. Starting Tuesday (April 8), the actors offer two plays in rep: Federico Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding, directed by Todd Hammond, and John Guare's Six Degrees Of Separation, helmed by Jordan Pettle.
See our theatre listings for details.