Knotty Together story and music by Njo Kong Kie, text adapted from a libretto by Anna Chatterton, directed by Brent Krysa, with Keith Klassen and Paul White. Presented by Music Picnic at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace. August 3 at 9 pm, August 8 at 10:30 pm, August 9 at 6 pm, August 10 at 4:30 pm, August 12 at 7:30 pm, August 13 at 1:30 pm.
The Reviewwritten and directed by Allana Harkin and Adam Pettle, music by Jonathan Monro. Presented by Givins House at the Factory Mainspace. August 4 at 6:30 pm, August 5 at 8 pm, August 6 at 5 pm, August 9 at 11 pm, August 11 at 9:30 pm, August 13 at 5 pm. while the fate of the city's big musicals isn't too rosy, grassroots musical theatre is thriving. Without the pressure of big budgets, revolving sets and those annoying tiny microphones, budding writers and composers can concentrate on what's really important: the story and the music.
While the fate of the city’s big musicals isn’t too rosy, grassroots musical theatre is thriving.
Without the pressure of big budgets, revolving sets and those annoying tiny microphones, budding writers and composers can concentrate on what’s really important: the story and the music.
This year's SummerWorks fest features two works with music that should add a few more voices to the burgeoning field.
"The notion of doing a musical came before the actual idea for the show," says Allana Harkin, co-writer/director with Adam Pettle of The Review. Harkin is better known to comedy audiences as a member of sketch troupe the Atomic Fireballs.
"With comedy, you take an average situation and just heighten it. It's the same thing with musical comedy, except you also add songs and dances."
Composer Njo Kong Kie began his opera Knotty Together as a four-minute assignment for Tapestry's New Opera Works composer/librettist lab. He wanted to write a comedy with gay characters in it. So he and librettist Anna Chatterton came up with a comic scenario about what happens after two gay men meet by accident, hook up and eventually (talk about timely) get married.
The Review adds music to a ballsy premise. On the opening night of a one-woman Canadian musical (called Prairie Girl), the musical's young playwright befriends the city's toughest theatre critic and they retire over a few drinks.
Pettle, best known for his straight plays like Therac 25 and Zadie's Shoes, says the first shows he ever watched were musicals. But he and Harkin admit that they were initially naive when it came to writing one.
"We sent our composer (Jonathan Monro) songs that were 18 verses long, and he'd sweetly and politely ask us if we could cut the songs down to four verses," he laughs.
Njo, meanwhile, had the opposite experience working on his show after its successful Rhubarb! incarnation in 2005.
"A lot of things Anna wrote were so good that I wanted to keep all of them," he says. "But Anna, after hearing them sung, said they didn't work as well as they had on paper."
"Gee," jokes Harkin. "I think we should tell this to Jonathan."
Njo says people shouldn't be afraid of the term "opera." With the blurring of genres and composers like Stephen Sondheim, he says, it's getting difficult to distinguish between the forms.
"Especially since this piece is tonal," says Njo, a pianist with the dance troupe La La La Human Steps. "As a singer friend said to me, "It's an opera because opera singers sing it. '"
Still, for people who like their opera avant-garde, he says this may be rather conservative musically.
"It's tuneful and tonal," he says. "There are arias including one all about sex and duets. There's a Puccini-esque method of assiging melodic interest to the orchestra."
Of course, with the success of theatre-festival-grown hits like The Drowsy Chaperone and Top Gun: The Musical, all three artists are aware that a show may go on to have another life. And then another.
"I'm hoping maybe to couple the piece with another one-act opera and make a night of it," says Njo. "But I'm mostly just curious to see it fly beyond the gay and lesbian community."
"At this stage in our careers, it's different from just putting on a show at the Rivoli," says Harkin, who with the Fireballs just shot a TV pilot. "You want to create work that can move on."
"And if that doesn't happen, I've made this connection with Allana and with Jonathan so we can possibly do something else," says Pettle.
He says there's enough material for a two-hour, two-act version.
"And," adds Harkin, "don't forget the Ice Capades version."
SUMMERWORKS a theatre festival of 46 productions, readings and workshops at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst), Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson), Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queen's Quay West) and bring-your-own-venues. From today (August 3) to August 13, various times. $10-$12, passes $25-$50. Advance tickets sold up to 24 hours before showtime; half the house may be sold in advance. See complete listings, page 76. 416-973-4000, www.summerworks.ca.