THE DANCE OF THE DEAD by Scott White, directed by Vinetta Strombergs, with Elizabeth Beeler, Sandra Caldwell, Kevin Dennis, Jeff Madden and Donald Saunders. Presented by D.O.A. Productions at Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Previews tonight (Thursday, January 10), opens Friday (January 11) and runs to January 26, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $27, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110.
vinetta strombergs sits in a room with a lush Caribbean feel -- tropical fish, tropical plants blooming everywhere, plastic parrots in the greenery and hanging from the walls.But her conversation is all about life in a decaying cemetery.
Strombergs is director of The Dance Of The Dead. It's a new musical by Scott White in which a recent suicide offers his soul to whichever member of the cemetery's buried brigade can convince him that he or she deserves another shot at life. Among the contestants are a drugged-up blues singer, a gambling addict and a shady manipulator.
"And you know the toughest thing about it?" she asks with a laugh. "It's dealing with the idea of an afterlife -- whether you opt for a version that deals with faith, a scary-movie take or something New Age.
"Scott shows how people get stuck in limbo. Inspired by the suicide of a friend several years ago, he wanted to say something uplifting and profound. It'll be that, but I want to make sure it's also entertaining, not cloying or absurd."
An actor who turned to directing in 1985, Strombergs is known for her staging of Shakespeare -- an all-female Julius Caesar, a clown-based Measure For Measure -- and for the development of plays with Native Earth Performing Arts and Debajehmujig Theatre. She's also professional theatre coordinator at Theatre Ontario.
Strombergs has known and worked with actor/composer/musician White since 1993, when they collaborated on the alliteratively titled Rhubarb show Crystals, Karaoke And Cross-Border Shopping. She came on board as Dance's director last May.
"What I'm aiming for is the tone Tim Burton captured in Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas," she notes, nibbling on a mini-quiche she's just pulled from the oven. "It's a classic good-versus-evil struggle -- I'd say a kind of reverse Faust -- and we've given ourselves permission to go quite broad.
"But as in all good clown, I want the broadness to be a conscious playing style, not theatrical shtick."
Strombergs describes the musical sound, accompaniment by a piano, bass and drums trio, as contemporary jazz. With tunes that range from "boogie-on-down numbers from MTV" to a Peggy Lee swing melody and a rousing gospel ending, it won't be your usual book musical.
Nor will the presentation be traditional. What the audience hears will be surround sound, with onstage actions as well as 16 ghosts sitting all through the house. They'll sing four-part harmonies and devise an aural background, sometimes creating a wave effect through the theatre.
"But don't worry," Strombergs assures me as my upper lip starts to curl ever so slightly. "There won't be any audience participation. Ever since my days in children's theatre, I've always loathed being pulled into a show. We'll only be playing with people's heads and ears, suggesting that they could be sitting next to someone who might not be what they think." firstname.lastname@example.org