Oct 17, 2007 — The Man From the Capital runs at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa through October 28. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.
Theatre tradition has it that it's good luck to open in the rain. THE MAN FROM THE CAPITAL opened GCTC's season in their snazzy new theatre on a drizzly night and the audience came out grinning. The musical, set in a small town in British Columbia during the Great Depression, is adapted from Nikolai Gogol's THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR. The book and lyrics are by Colin Heath and the music is by John Millard, who also plays a role and acts as Music Director. THE MAN FROM THE CAPITAL is reminiscent of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 musical THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, but less Brechtian and much funnier. The plot centers around four corrupt local officials and their bumbling attempts to impress and/or bribe a young traveler who they mistake for a government official.
Scott Windsor's ingenious set of three wooden buildings that open up to reveal their interiors provides plenty of playing space and also plenty of exits and entrances, good for sneaking around. I especially liked the stuffed rat that made several appearances. Sue Fijalkowska's costumes are very good, as is Martin Conboy's lighting.
The four member band is in evidence throughout, from their first entrance when they enter and begin to play one by one. One is never sure where they'll turn up and there's lots of nippy music stand choreography. They also sound great, with Music Director John Millard on banjo, Chris Lane on trumpet, Angela Steele on tuba and Laurie Rosewarne on accordion. The unusual combination of instruments gives the music a slightly Kurt Weill-ish sound.
The six-member University of Ottawa Student Chorus does a fine job playing multiple small roles and singing very well. Every lyric is perfectly clear. As far as the eight-member cast goes, this is the kind of acting that separates the men from the boys. The characters are broadly drawn and the challenge is to make them believably human, not just cartoonish caricatures.
As Chloe the mayor's daughter, Sarah McVie succeeds, even with her mannerism of almost throwing up from excitement. Her dance with Hector's jacket, choreographed by Courtenay Dobbie, is especially funny. Ben Meuser also does well as Hector, the supposed inspector. He shows mischievous delight when he realizes what's happening.
Unfortunately Beverly Wolfe as the mayor's wife plays the role as a total caricature without an ounce of believability, although she does have one of my favorite lines. She admonishes her husband with the stinging, "Don't just stand there like a cheese curd!"
As the Charity Commissioner Constant Bernard depends a bit too much on mannerisms without a basis in reality, unlike Paul Rainville. Mr. Rainville plays the Superintendent of Schools with a hilariously debilitating stammer that is firmly rooted in a three dimensional character. He's a master of comic timing.
Pierre Brault is delightful as the tippling judge, and Todd Duckworth makes a believable and very funny mayor. He never goes too far with the character, even during his riotous Act II temper tantrum.
Jennifer Brewin has done a terrific job of staging the show. She's cleverly integrated the musicians into the action, and her staging is laced with humor. The attempt of Todd Duckworth to put on his coat with the so-called assistance of his three side-kicks is slap-stick at its very best.
Underneath all the hilarity THE MAN FROM THE CAPITAL makes it's point. To quote Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us." The musical is great fun and an up-beat opening for GCTC's new theatre.
On a scale of one to five the GCTC production of THE MAN FROM THE CAPITAL gets four and five-eighths pizzas. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.