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When We Were Singing
National Arts Center, Ottawa, Ontario. Tuesday, February 19 through Saturday, March 2, 2002.
WHEN WE WERE SINGING, currently running on the Studio Stage at the National Arts Centre, is a really enjoyable evening in the theatre. This intimate chamber musical is a true ensemble piece that exposes both the humor and the problems of four close friends. With music and lyrics by Dorothy Dittrich, it's entirely sung and is the kind of material that would reward repeated listening.
The composer is at the piano and is ably assisted by a terrific bass player named Joey Smith. In their capable hands all the nuances of the music are apparent. These two strongly support the singers, but never over-power them.
And what good singers they are! The three women's voices and that of the one man blend beautifully. Ms. Dittrich has wisely kept the women in the lower parts of their vocal ranges. This makes the lyrics much easier to understand as well as allowing for some great tight harmony.
Paula Wolfson has a powerful voice and presence. She impressed me as the Narrator in a production of JOSEPH AND THE DREAMCOAT in Brockville, and she's even stronger in this piece as an actress in denial about her drinking problem.
Alison Woolridge plays Jenny, a lonely lesbian filmmaker, with a haunting delicacy. Shannon Anderson manages to keep Abby, an actress who's just been dumped, on the three-dimensional side of blonde bimbo-ness. (I think I just made up a new word.)
All four characters are much more complex than they first appear to be. As Les, the women's gay waiter/actor confidant, Marc Richard is thoroughly believable. He avoids the camp pitfalls, and has a beautifully moving song about the death of his partner. The sense of loss is universal, and is encapsulated in the lyric, "I hear the silence."
The score is filled with wonderful lyrics. For example, "Apparently I had sex two years ago," "It's too hard when you let things slide," and one that got a big laugh of recognition, "What's more depressing than a homo with problems?"
The set is clever and functional, the lighting effective, and the costumes look good, as does the choreography. Last but most certainly not least is Roy Surette, who directed the production and these semi-confused thirty-something characters with a sure hand.
WHEN WE WERE SINGING is a co-production of the National Arts Centre English Theatre and the Belfry Theatre, Victoria. A move to Off-Broadway is in the works and I hope it gets there. New York could use a new sophisticated voice in musical theatre. Ms. Dittrich's is both melodic and thoughtful.
On a scale of one
to five, the NAC production of WHEN WE WERE SINGING gets four and three-fourths
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.