Dan Chameroy and Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster
THE BARBER OF SEVILLE by Michael O’Brien and John Millard, adapted from Beaumarchais and Rossini (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House Lane). Runs to June 8, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday (except June 5) and Saturday 2 pm. $51-$68, stu $32, rush $5-$22. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Soulpepper's The Barber Of Seville offers an expert shave and haircut: its comedy is done in broad but knowing strokes and it adds just the right bite to draw a little blood.
Playwright Michael O'Brien's adaptation relies both on the Rossini opera and the earlier play by Beaumarchais on which the composer based his tuneful comic opera.
The plot is straight out of commedia dell'arte, with the trickster title character (Dan Chameroy) helping bring together the young lovers, Count Almaviva (Gregory Prest) and Rosina (Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster), and thwart Rosina's elderly guardian, Don Bartolo (Oliver Dennis), who wants to marry her himself. Disguised as the commoner Lindoro, Almaviva uses his status and gold to get what he wants; no one, not even the fun-loving Figaro, is immune to the lure of money.
O'Brien's sometimes modernized script works hand in glove with music director John Millard's take on Rossini, which gives a contemporary spin to the tunes. The musicians are onstage most of the performance, frequently in minor character roles. And while not every actor was born to be a singer, they're all game and committed to the music.
One of the tuneful highlights is Rosina's first song, which both in the original opera and here is a declaration of independence from her confinement by Bartolo. Millard's cleverly given the tricky coloratura of Rossini a country twang and a near-yodel, and the witty, charming Lancaster does a fine job with both elements. A graduate of the Soulpepper Academy, she's been on the Young Centre stage before, but this is her first chance to shine.
Director Leah Cherniak's done a fine job both in casting and getting exuberantly funny performances from the cast. Prest's self-impressed Almaviva, "the great inseminator," is a possibly reformed Don Juan type (at least he says he's truly in love with Rosina) who generates lots of humour, especially when he gets into busty drag in the second act. Dennis is a master clown, playing the pompous, conservative Bartolo for laughs - don't ask how he ends up with a chainsaw in his hands in the first-act finale - but also giving him a touch of poignancy.
William Webster draws a sometimes conniving, sometimes befuddled portrait of music master Don Basilio, more expert at composing slander than playing tunes, and Raquel Duffy's Bertina, Bartolo's maid, suggests her infatuation for her boss as she goes for the role's comedy. Daniel Williston and Lise Cormier prop up the action in a number of amusing roles.
But the play wouldn't work without a dexterous Figaro, and Chameroy, agile in song and comic business, is splendid, taking us into his confidence, working off the audience as well as the other actors and, by the play's end, revealing a streak of insurrection that tips the show away from its previous and mostly successful laughter. At opening, the comic rhythms weren't always in place, but they'll get there during the run.
The shift in tone is part of the magic of this production. Beaumarchais' script has an undercurrent of subversion and revolution, elements that O'Brien ignites in the second half. Both Rosina and Figaro are, in their own ways, kept down by those who are older, richer or higher-born, and each becomes an angry rebel.
The ending, darker than you'd expect, suggests that this tale of master and servant isn't over yet, and when it is, the result won't be laughable.