THEATRE REVIEW: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE
Pictured: Dan Chameroy, Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
16 MAY 2013
TORONTO - If, for some bizarre reason, you’ve ever found yourself wishing someone would take one of those particularly bad skits from Saturday Night Live and stretch it out so that it lasted nearly three hours, take heart. Your wish just might have come true. To find out, however, you’re going to have to sit through the Soulpepper production of THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, which opened Wednesday at the Young Centre.
First, fair warning. If it’s the groundbreaking classic comedy authored by Beaumarchais that springs to mind at the mention of that title, or even the evergreen opera Rossini made from it, listen up: This is not -- I repeat NOT -- THAT Barber of Seville. Instead, it is a revisiting of Theatre Columbus’ award-winning and utterly self-indulgent mash-up of the dramatic equivalent of everything but the kitchen sink -- sources here seem to include the play, the opera, several animated cartoons and any number of potty-mouthed playground wits and roués, all chewed up and spat out by director Leah Cherniak and playwright Michael O’Brien, in concert with composer John Millard.
The story, happily, is still somewhat recognizable -- the over-libidoed Count Almaviva (Gregory Prest) joins forces with the ever-inventive barber of title, Figaro, (played by Dan Chameroy) to rescue the lovely and virginal Rosina (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) from the clutches of her guardian, the aged and amorous Don Bartola (Oliver Dennis), thereby transforming her into the Countess Almaviva.
But while the tale may be somewhat familiar, Ken MacKenzie’s adaptable set, which looks like it has been stolen, holus-bolus, from a downmarket suburban eatery, is peopled with so many perambulating Spanish clichés -- silly Basquers and outright Andalunatics, all certifiably flamenloco -- that after about a quarter-hour of their over-the-top antics, one shouldn’t be surprised to find oneself declaring: “Franco, my dear, we don’t give a damn.”
Musically, it features an on-stage band, beefed up, in the most ad hoc of fashions, by members of the cast. Sources, meanwhile. include everything from Rossini to Ricky Martin, even a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise for good measure, presumably lest anyone forget, in the midst of all this nonsense, the role this Barber played in stirring up revolutionary zeal in France following its première.
While this may be a hugely talented cast, it’s hugely wasted in a staging that seems far more interested in keeping its cast amused than its audience. In fact, one of the comedic highlights of the opening night performance seemed to be watching journeyman Dennis inexplicably lose control over a butch-drag routine Prest has apparently stolen from a bunch of drunken Shriners.
Ultimately, only Chameroy -- a consummate cut-up -- emerges from this debacle without a complete egg facial, which is hardly surprising, considering his experience with Ross Petty’s annual Christmas panto. Come to think of it, if this production had Petty, a whole lot more heart and a gross of soap bars for the washing out of mouths, it might someday aspire to panto-dom. When it finally grows up, of course.