FIRE by Paul Ledoux and David Young, directed by James MacDonald (Canadian Stage). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East), to April 19. $20-$89, limited Mon pwyc. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN
Hallelujah! Toronto is a great theatre town, and Fire proves it.
The show tracks the rise and fall of the two Blackwell brothers, both Christian, one the rock ’n’ roller Cale, based on Jerry Lee Lewis (Ted Dykstra), and the other the televangelist Hershel, based on Lewis’s cousin Jimmy Swaggart (Rick Roberts).
The flashier Cale has all the performance fun, and Dysktra, reprising the role 20 years after he first created it, makes the most of it, rockin’ the boogie-woogie piano – playing it with his bum at one glorious point.
But Roberts holds his own, skipping around the stage like a dancer who’s found his feet in the service of God. And as Molly, the glue of the piece and the woman who beds them both, Nicole Underhay delivers a performance of real poignancy. Fire doesn’t work unless the last scene, which demonstrates Christianity’s essential virtue, is played out with power, and Underhill delivers.
Even the lowly chorus is sensational, playing banjos and singing out the hymns in heavenly three-part harmonies.
With all this performance power, the direction by James MacDonald is kinda stodgy, and the design by Bretta Gerecke is unspectacular. There are big egos and big issues here, and all of it – including those neon crosses – should have taken up more of the theatre’s space.
There’s also a sag in the middle of the second act as Cale descends into alcoholism and other rocker excesses while Hershel ascends as a TV star with political aspirations. Part of the problem is that we can see exactly why Hershel’s going to hell, but the script doesn’t track Cale’s downfall with the same specificity.
Suddenly he can’t even stand up straight and is seeking forgiveness from his brother. Wha’ happened?
So don’t let the incendiary performances, especially Dykstra’s, fool you. There are more than a few holes in Paul Ledoux and David Young’s script.
Then again, don’t let that stop you from heading down to the Bluma Appel to take in the show. There’s a ton of talent onstage.