Six years ago a bunch of unknowns calling themselves “Against the Grain Theatre” put on Joel Ivany’s English language, updated version of Puccini’s La Bohème in the back room of the Tranzac club. I was there. I reviewed it on my LiveJournal because it would be another six months before I started this blog. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Tranzac has been tarted up quite a bit since La Bohème 1.0, though even by 2011 it had become a lot smarter than when the Nomads hung out there and the wall featured a photo of Sorbie with the McCormick cup. Lets face it anywhere would be more sedate without Neil (RIP mate). Oh yeah, and the original AtG crowd have become quite respectable, even famous perhaps. The singers are all Equity members and get paid properly. There are sets and props that weren’t borrowed from Topher’s mum. Topher and Joel have done the conducting and directing thing for major companies in real opera houses. And I’ve been writing this stuff most every day for six years.
So, apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show? It was different from last time. The set up was much more theatre (though at least there were still tables for drinks) rather than bar. The scruffy upright had been replaced with a decent piano. Everything, pretty much, except the Momus scene (once again played in the bar area), was played out on what was recognisably a stage. It was much more polished, much more professional in every way. It was a very good show. I’m not sure it was more fun though.
The singing was first rate. Kimy McLaren, as Mimi, and Owen McAusland, as Rodolfo, are both established, if still young, singers who have appeared on major stages in leading roles. They both gave polished and affecting performances. I don’t think I’d seen Owen in this kind of rep before and I’ve never seen Kimy in anything but they both seemed comfortable with the Puccini thing and even just with piano the big moments were almost overpowering in the small space. The chemistry was great too and the last scene most affecting.
The supporting guys; Andrew Love as Marcello, Kenneth Kellogg as Colline and a very spunky Micah Schroeder as Schaunard, were all very solid. Love’s interactions with Musetta were very well done and the clowning in Act 3 was exuberant and effective. Adanya Dunn sang Musetta. Now I’ve seen quite a lot of Adanya (though not quite as much as I saw last night) but it’s always been in highly technical, mostly modern, concert rep or in new opera. So it was quite a revelation to see her singing much more “accessible” music and playing a very exuberant, sexy and, at times downright catty Musetta. She was very good and very “physical”. (I wish I could say that the back bar in the Tranzac has never seen anything quite like Adanya and Andrew’s antics last night but that wouldn’t be true). Finally, Toronto’s go to sleazy comic Greg Finney did a wonderful job as a very drunk Benoît and a very put upon Alcindoro. There was a small chorus drawn from the UoT opera program and, of course, Maestro Mokrzewski in his own inimitable style at the keyboard.
Wallowing in nostalgia aside, this is a very good show. It’s the piece that launched the “transladaptation” genre in Toronto taken to new heights of professionalism. Anything it lacks in surprise and spontaneity compared to six years ago is made up for by the increased polish and technical excellence.
The show plays every other night at 8pm from tomorrow until Friday June 2nd. Technically the run is sold out but rushes are available at $35 at the door if you get there early.
And finally the photo I probably shouldn’t have included.
Photo credits: Darryl Block Photography