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 DOA Productions at Canadian Stage (26 Berkeley). Runs to January 26, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $27, Monday pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
composer scott white has themusical talent to wake the dearly departed. His show, The Dance Of The Dead, is filled with melodies that can't fail to raise an audience, whether animate or deceased. The show's book, though, needs some resuscitation.Set in a graveyard where the ghosts of the dead return one night a year, the piece focuses on Edward (Kevin Dennis), a suicide-to-be who offers his soul to the ghost who can prove that she or he deserves a return to earthly life. It's the awkward logic of how this gift-giving works and some unclear plot developments that weaken the story.
The characters could also be stronger, drawing less on stock elements and having more emotional depth. Only Elizabeth Beeler's addicted Meg touches the heart, though there's some sassy theatricality in Sandra Caldwell's blues singer Celia and a sharp edge to Jeff Madden's Kevin, the nasty joker of the tombster pack.
The varied music -- ballad, gospel, vaudeville soft-shoe, Latin and waltz numbers -- says more about the people onstage than the dialogue does. The tunes receive extra energy thanks to Vinetta Strombergs's vibrant direction and choreography. She's assembled a strong-voiced chorus, which White uses to fill the house in several ways. Still, the book sometimes gets in the way of the musical set-ups, for example with Celia and Meg's Double Your Trouble, a super duet shoehorned into the story for no apparent reason.