Bloodless: The Trial Of Burke And Hare by Joseph Aragon (Theatre 20). At the Panasonic (651 Yonge). To October 28. $49-$69, stu $29, rush $20. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NN
Bloodless: The Trial Of Burke And Hare lives up to its title. Joseph Aragon's musical inspired by a pair of serial killers in 19th century Scotland contains plenty of violence and purported passion, but there's no heart pumping the story or characters.
William Burke (Evan Buliung) and William Hare (Eddie Glen) are a couple of Irish layabouts who discover that an Edinburgh medical school pays cash for corpses. Think of it as the used jewellery business of its time.
Before you can say the words "Sweeney Todd," the men and their partners, Helen (Trish Lindström) and Margaret (Jan Alexandra Smith), are entrapping unsuspecting victims. But as the bodies pile up, disagreements emerge among the villains, who get lazy and greedy, cuz, of course, crime doesn't pay.
The main problem with the work - and something Stephen Sondheim figured out how to do in Sweeney - is to create sympathetic killers. Aragon, director Adam Brazier and some fine singing actors fail to make us care about them or the Edinburgh doctor (David Keeley). (The exception is Carly Street, excellent and empathetic as a prostitute seeking answers about her missing friend.)
The songs - ranging from Gilbert & Sullivan knock-offs to folk-song-inspired ditties - don't help matters.
Things improve in the show's final 20 minutes, when the stakes are high, the police close in and Aragon begins dealing with complex issues like infidelity and bloodthirsty vengeance.
But he doesn't know what story he's telling - or what tone to take.
This would be a passable Fringe show (where in fact it began in Winnipeg), but as the inaugural full production of the artist-run new company Theatre 20, it's disappointing.
The good news is they're working on a production of Sondheim's Company, a better showcase for its talented team.