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'In Dreams, A New Musical' Music by Roy Orbison and Book by David West Read

Now onstage at Toronto's CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre

Credit: Pamela Raith. Featured: Lena Hall as Kenna

Joe Szekeres

A touching jukebox musical which becomes more than just a ‘feel good’ show.

This Broadway-bound inspirational ‘In Dreams’ goes one step further. The production confronts a mortality issue that I’m sure we’ve all personally encountered in some manner. Thankfully, the creative team does not allow that to damper the enjoyment of the songs. Instead, the show becomes an important reminder for audiences to be thankful and appreciate music and for those who provide their unique gift to all of us.

How appropriate this ‘In Dreams’ is for the Canadian Thanksgiving season.

Using the songs of musician Roy Orbison, the story follows Kenna (Lena Hall), the former lead singer of country rock band Heartbreak Rodeo. Upon receiving news that will change her life forever, she discovers a Mexican family restaurant run by Oscar (Manuel Pacific), his expectant wife, Nicole (Nasim Ramírez), effeminate cook, Tom (Leon Craig) and assisted by Oscar’s grandmother, Ana Sofia (Alma Cuervo). The restaurant caters to those individuals who wish to celebrate their memorial service in the way they would like to be honoured and respected.

Kenna likes what’s happening at the restaurant, so she hosts her memorial party there. She wants to enjoy it while she is still alive and reconnect with old friends who were members of her band: drummer Ramsey (Oliver Tompsett), Jane (Sian Reese-Williams) and her husband, Donovan (Noël Sullivan).

Set and Lighting designers Arnulfo Maldonado and Howard Hudson capture that traditional Spanish flair of the restaurant setting of neon lighting and what I’ll call blinking old-fashioned Christmas tree lights. This specific eatery ain’t no greasy spoon dive, that’s for sure. Fay Fullerton’s costume designs perfectly reflect the individual characters. Kenna’s jet-black tight concert outfit at the top of the show screams a country rock feel.

Director (Luke Sheppard) and Book Writer (David West Read) were responsible for the Toronto, and now New York hit ‘& Juliet’, which premiered last year at Mirvish. They have teamed once again with several highly creative individuals to create ‘In Dreams,’ which appears to be another audience pleaser.

No disagreement from me there.

There are moments throughout the show where I could feel a big ol’ smile slide across my face (underneath my mask). I looked around and saw others sitting around me, moving their heads, keeping time to Orbison’s songs.

Judging from my experience and what I saw, this production will undoubtedly do just that.

Luke Sheppard’s subtly controlled direction allows for the maximum impact of character development, and Catherine Jayes’ terrific sounding orchestrations under Patrick Hurley’s solid musical direction. Fabian Aloise’s electric choreography remains sharp and clean. The show’s pacing and set changes remain remarkably fluid throughout.

Several vocal numbers are outstanding. Mere words cannot describe the heavenly bliss of the pure clarity and audibility of the vocals. ‘You Got It’ is only one example where I put my pen down from writing notes and just sat back to watch and enjoy.

Lena Hall delivers an electrifying performance as Kenna, and her poignant rendition of ‘Crying’ blows the roof off the Mirvish theatre. On a personal note, this show rendition of the song sent the proverbial shivers down my spine. As a cancer survivor and someone who lost a younger sibling to the disease, the lyrics just struck a nerve within my being and made my eyes well. Additionally, the song also becomes a showstopper. While Hall’s glorious sounding vocals soar past the rafters, this moment truthfully reveals how Kenna never got over the feelings she still has for her drummer and now Uber cab driver, Ramsey.

Oliver Tompsett nails that proverbial bad-boy image as Ramsey in his performance. The sexual chemistry between him and Hall smoulders hotly. Their first encounter in the room where Kenna is asleep is rather funny. Ultimately, as the play continues, their attraction’s hidden intensity between them simmers and heightens in each passing moment.

The moving sub-plots allow the audience to empathize with some supporting characters. As expectant parents, Oscar and Nicole, Manuel Pacific and Nasim Ramírez realistically show how having a child alters the relationship between husband and wife. Pacific believably reveals an emotional intensity as he has continually dealt with losing his parents, while Nicole feels Oscar has shut her out of his life. Their rendition of ‘Love Hurts’ remains powerful.

The relationship between band members Jane and her husband, Donovan, becomes comic relief. Sian Reese-Williams and Noël Sullivan are a riot. When they enter the restaurant, the couple amusingly proclaims to be away from their children for two days and wants to enjoy every second, especially when they announce they will have sex.

Another important theme of ‘In Dreams’ is friendship and how it might develop into something further. The subplot of Oscar’s grandmother, Ana Sofia and restaurant frequenter, George, is lovely to watch. Alma Cuervo and Richard Trinder are sweetly bashful around each other initially. However, their showstopping rendition of ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ evidently reveals that one is never too young to experience the heights of burgeoning feelings for one another. It’s quite the musical number, and again, I just sat back and watched two artists having fun with each other on stage.

I also wanted to acknowledge Cuervo’s astounding vocal work in ‘Blue Bayou’ and ‘Only the Lonely.’ In the leadup to this song, Kenna reveals the devastating news she has received about her health to Ana Sofia, who listens at first with tender compassion. What a perfect choice to conclude this ‘moment’ with these two songs. Again, I closed my eyes momentarily to hear Cuervo reach for the high notes in both pieces.

She doesn’t disappoint. At all.

Not forgetting that love can strike anywhere and anytime for anyone, restaurant cook Tom (Leon Craig) and Police Officer Lee (Mark Peachey) begin to develop feelings for each other during the last few minutes of the play, and the intensity of their relationship burns during the remix finale of ‘You Got It.’

Final Comments: ‘In Dreams’ is an absolute joy to experience. Give yourselves a treat. Go and see it.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

‘In Dreams’ runs until November 12 at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto. For tickets, visit or call 1-800-461-3333.

DAVID MIRVISH AND JOHN SACHS for Eclipse Live and Sony Music present
IN DREAMS, A NEW MUSICAL Music by Roy Orbison and Book by David West Read

Directed by Luke Sheppard
Musical Director: Patrick Hurley with Orchestrations by Catherine Jayes
Choreographer: Fabian Aloise
Set Design: Arnulfo Maldonado
Costume Designer: Fay Fullerton
Sound Designer: Tom Marshall
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson
Video Designer: George Reeve

Performers: Lena Hall, Oliver Tompsett, Sian Reese-Williams. Noël Sullivan, Manuel Pacific, Nasim Ramírez, Alma Cuervo, Richard Trinder, Leon Craig, Hannah Ducharme, Mark Peachey, Fabiola Occasion, Ache Hernandez

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