TEQUILA VAMPIRE MATINEE by Kevin Quain, directed by Ted Dykstra, with J.D. Nicholsen, Amy Rutherford, Shelley Simester, Stephen Sparks, Brendan Wall, Quain and Dragoslav Tanaskovic. Presented by Rat-A-Tat-Tat in association with Theatre Passe Muraille in the Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson). Runs to December 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2:30 and 7 pm. $25-$34, Sunday matinee pwyc-$16. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Music album into stage musical? Kevin Quain 's Tequila Vampire Matinee makes the transition with bloody good zest, but don't look for comparisons to Tommy here. Tequila is more off-the-wall and more fun. Quain's engaging, multi-toned music and special brand of biting lyrics are the solid anchor here, but the book that surrounds the tunes, an update of the Pagliacci opera, featuring a hyper-jealous clown goaded to murder, revs the story to a surprising but well-earned conclusion. Along the way, Quain plays games with the sometimes insatiable drive of live performers, who lap up bright lights and applause the way vampires go for blood.
At times director Ted Dykstra pushes the work's comedy too hard, but there's lots to enjoy in the production, beginning with J.D. Nicholsen 's dangerous Big Daddy, the abusive troupe leader whose nastiness is tempered in part by the haunted quality in his eyes and a sense of failure in his love life.
He's beautifully matched by Amy Rutherford 's Sugar Plum, Big Daddy's partner on and off stage, who dreams of a career in Vegas. The emotional centre of the show, Rutherford creates a broken kewpie doll figure, rather like Marilyn Monroe on a downer, with a touch of spunky Judy Holliday thrown in.
There's a spark and also a sense of satire in her burgeoning romance with Brendan Wall 's boyishly energetic Ramon, who looks like he shops at a Goodwill store frequented by retired matadors.
The design by Steve Lucas (set and lights) and Erika Connor (costumes) manages to be both seedy and flashy in just the right doses, while the playing of Quain and Dragoslav Tanaskovic , silent characters as well as stage musicians, is first-rate.
The show still had some kinks at opening. The second act's play-within-a-play isn't sharp enough and needs to be more dangerous and funny. Shelley Simester 's lusty Lulu has a big singing voice but less stage presence, while Stephen Sparks 's pyromaniac Twitch relies on quirky stage tricks and suggests little heart beneath the surface.
But have a sip of this Tequila - it'll grow with age and playing.