SNAPPY TALES words and direction by Vincent de Tourdonnet, music by Allen Cole, J. Douglas Dodd, Stephen Eddins and Jim Kass, with Barbara Barsky, Eddie Glen, Paul McQuillan and Tracy Michailidis. Presented by Theatre Non Nobis at Factory Studio (125 Bathurst). Runs to June 23, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $18-$25, Sunday pwyc. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
To sell social satire, why not resort to song? That's the push behind Snappy Tales, a quartet of short musicals in which playwright and lyricist Vincent de Tourdonnet consorts with four different composers. Thanks to some clever directing by de Tourdonnet and a super cast, the evening is a delight, despite the unevenness of the works themselves.The first half is the weaker, with The Doll's House -- score by Stephen Eddins -- a slight, undeveloped curtain raiser and a final piece, The Barnhouse Effect, based on a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. tale with music by Jim Kass, that doesn't need melodies at all. It succeeds, though, because of Eddie Glen's turn as a scientist who develops his mental powers to frightening extremes. Glen's the perfect lab-specimen comic, with twitches and tics that come close to perpetual motion.
Sandwiched between is a zippy Toronto-centric version of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person Of Szechuan, featuring Barbara Barsky as a prostitute whose compassion impresses a trio of visiting deities (Glen, the effervescent Tracy Michailidis and Paul McQuillan) seeking a virtuous human being. The gods have a sharp handle on vaudeville styling, partly due to J. Douglas Dodd's score, while Barsky's hooker teases out the irony of having to do bad to be good.
Best of the scripts is Allen Cole's and de Tourdonnet's Strange Medicine, in which a doctor convinces an idyllic community that they need all the drugs and medical care -- if not all the healing -- they can get. As the prophet of pharmaceuticals, McQuillan is smoothly enchanting and nastily unfeeling as he peddles his emotional seductions and high-priced snake oils, with Glen as his ethical nemesis and Barsky as the town's rich diva who succumbs to the doctor's charms.
Cole's complex score -- patter songs, tangos, waltzes and some clever chorales -- inspires similarly classy work from de Tourdonnet. In retrospect, this rich second half makes much of the first seem like well-sung and well-played (by Grant Wenaus) musical vamping.