05 April 2018
The Overcoat: a musical tailoring (Canadian Stage with Tapestry Opera & Vancouver Opera)
This new opera is a strong achievement for Tapestry- a smallish contemporary opera company that suffers for exposure while staying admirably dedicated to their fresh-feeling operatic ideals (James Rolfe’s score is pretty and the opera is light, modern and distinct in a very on-brand way for them). But it’s a mild achievement for Canadian Stage- a gigantic company that needs to be doing more interesting work. It’s an adaptation of an adaptation and that hyper-diluted quality permeates the story far too fully. There’s really not a lot here, theatrically speaking (man buys coat, is treated better; man loses coat, suffers) and, despite Morris Panych’ fun staging and the energy of the ensemble (I particularly liked Erica Iris Huang in a dual role), his libretto just isn’t enough to carry two and a half hours’ worth of stage time.
An American in Paris (National Tour presented by Mirvish Productions)
I’ve been really looking forward to this tour coming to town despite the musical’s wispy plot (taken from the film of the same name) and over-familiar songs (always with the Gershwin). The leading role of soldier-turned-expat artist Jerry Mulligan was the job McGee Maddox left the National Ballet for. When I interviewed him a few years back, he’d hinted that he had performance aspirations beyond just classical dance but making the leap to a Broadway show is just not something you see from ballet dancers very often (there was awhile in the 90s when Karen Kain’s husband Ross Petty was putting dancers in his Christmas pantomimes but, other than that, they pretty much stay in their lane). Maddox’s signature ballet role was Cranko’s Onegin (my absolute favourite) and he always stood out at the National for his strength, hyper-masculine swagger, and casual manner. Almost too casual. Certain roles fit him like a glove (Onegin, Ratmansky’s Tybalt, Kudelka’s “Man in Black”) but, surrounded by the intense precision of a ballet company, Maddox’s naturalism sometimes seemed out of place. But his effortlessness is perfection here. So much so that I’ll force myself to stop being sad that I’ll likely never see his Onegin again. An American in Paris is all about the dancing (well, the dancing and Matthew Scott’s utterly delightful turn as lovelorn composer Adam Hochberg). Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is outrageously demanding by Broadway standards but it’s a relative breeze for a man who cut his teeth on Cranko (though whomever decided that sweat-spotlighting cotton pastel shirts were a good idea clearly wants it to look like the hardest work in the world). Maddox weaves his way through beautiful number after beautiful number as though he were walking, his rock solid classical training backing him up to allow a performance that’s all easy charm and casual confidence (both performance qualities he has in spades that many ballet dancers simply do not). Allison Walsh, unfortunately, is stiff as a board and as interesting as oatmeal as the woman everyone is inexplicably head over heels for. Kirsten Scott is a far more compelling romantic interest as the defiantly independent (and independently wealthy) Milo Davenport. She does not, however, dance. And while Maddox holds his own on the vocals (could he hold his own in a non-dance show? Maybe not, but my expectations were certainly far exceeded) this really is all about the dancing. And Matthew Scott- I haven’t talked about Matthew Scott enough, he really is wonderful (great vocals, great timing, big ole beating heart)- but I’ve been waiting for this show to see McGee Maddox dance again. And dance he does, in a way that’s finally completely perfectly totally him, and he looks like he’s having a s’marvellous time.