'The Wild Rovers'
Now onstage until November 5 at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street
Credit: Ritche Perez. Pictured: Members of The Wild Rovers' Ensemble
"It’s not a total train wreck of an opening night. The terrific-sounding harmonies in some songs, the fantastic band led by conductor Kelly-Ann Evans, and some clever drama school staging make up for the insipidly silly plot."
Like all kids who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I remember ‘The Irish Rovers’ on CBC television. The only song I remember was ‘The Unicorn.’ Fast forward to The University of Western Ontario in the late 70s/early 80s, and ‘Wasn’t That a Party’ was the anthem for most first and second-year undergraduates.
Feeling nostalgic, I took to heart Executive Producer Bob Hallett’s programme note. ‘The Wild Rovers’ would not focus on the actual band members or their lives but instead capture their larger-than-life magic, incredible charm, and easy humour. Canadian East Coasters have this gregarious, ‘joie-de-vivre’ nature when they gather and sing at kitchen parties or pubs. Granted, the beer and wine must also help. I discovered that when I visited Newfoundland a few years ago.
We Ontarians don’t seem to espouse this joy of life as the East Coasters.
And as for the opening night of ‘The Wild Rovers’…
“Well”, (as Samantha Stephens used to say on ‘Bewitched’). Younger readers may have to Google her. Readers my age and older will hopefully get the reference.
Outside of the terrific-sounding harmonies, the fantastic band led by conductor Kelly-Ann Evans, and a couple of clever drama school staging techniques, this ‘meh’ jukebox musical didn’t capture more of the charm and spirit for me as I had hoped.
Steve Cochrane’s book becomes confusingly silly, and I soon lose interest in the plot. But I push through.
In the opening, we meet pseudo-story narrator Maggie (Sean Panting). A bit of a groaner as to why he’s called Maggie, and I won’t spoil it here. The story begins waaayyyy back in 19 89 (c’mon, now you’re starting to grate on my suspension of disbelief).
We then meet ‘The Wild Rovers’ – Billy (Steve Maloney), Jordy (Philip Goodridge), Josephine (Julia Dunne) and the bus driver, Sheila (Vicki Harnett). The band is on its way to Grand Falls, Newfoundland, when they oddly encounter Maggie and somehow enter a portal and are whisked away to a magical world called Athunia, not to be mixed up with their sworn enemies, Ethunia (and yes, the two terms are pronounced similarly).
“Uh oh!” (another ‘Bewitched’ reference from Samantha Stephens. Google it if you must).
This ‘madcap’ plot challenge tests my suspension of disbelief even more. I’m trying to remain focused, but I’m losing interest.
Somehow, amid all this transport back in time, we meet those who live in Athunia/Euthania. Since the pronunciation sounds similar, I couldn’t tell where they were from. Princess Hiya (Melanie O’Brien) will soon marry Prince Farid (Powell Nobert).
After this, I lost interest in this ‘magical story’ and no longer cared about these characters. But onward, I tried to decipher as best I could.
Somehow, a magical egg is found (?), and courtier Roguish Rick Castley (Liam Lynch) will help find this egg. And then there’s a reference to a dragon that didn’t interest me.
God, I don’t care about the book’s plot anymore. Is there something that can save this opening night for me?
Do I need a beer or a glass of wine to keep me going?
Some of the musical numbers save the show from being a train wreck. The actors are pouring their hearts out in song, and now it becomes ‘magical’ for me to listen to them sing. The opening number: ‘The Orange and the Green’ is lovely. Other highlights: ‘Donald, Where’s Your Troosers?’, ‘Drunken Sailor’, ‘The Unicorn’ and ‘Black Velvet Band.’ At one point, artist Liam Lynch demonstrated an impressive falsetto range.
Director Jason Byrne has staged some clever drama school techniques that nicely worked for me. The use of cardboard to show the band travelling via bus is clever. When the plot switches to a ship at sea, some of the cast move a board with a sailboat on it up and down to indicate the waves in the water. Again, drama school technique, but it works here.
Final Comments: I had seen the production of ‘Let’s Dance the Musical’ staged by Terra Bruce. It was another jukebox musical, but I enjoyed that one because I could look past some of the flaws in the book. After all, the singing and the choreography on that opening night did make for good theatre for me.
The terrific songs and harmonies and the onstage band in ‘The Wild Rovers’ are splendid.
I wish more were going for the production in the insipidly silly plot.
Running time: approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
The production runs until November 5 at The Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets, call (416) 314-2901 or visit ticketmaster.com or terrabruce.com to learn more about the company.
Walter Schroeder and Terra Bruce Productions present
‘The Wild Rovers’ Book by Steve Cochrane, Inspired by the Music and Magic of The Irish Rovers
Book Writer: Steve Cochrane
Director: Jason Byrne
Musical Directors/Arrangers, Additional Music: Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward
Production Design: Graham McMonagle
Lighting Design: Leigh-Ann Vardy
Sound Design: Don Ellis
Puppet Direction & Design: Baptiste Neis
Performers: Julia Dunne, Philip Goodridge, Vicki Harnett, Liam Lynch, Steve Maloney, Powell Nobert, Melanie O’Brien, Sean Panting, Nicole Underhay
Band: Alex Abbott, Sultan Dharamshi, Keith Doiron, Kelly-Ann Evans, Grant King, Paul Kinsman, Dan Smith, Josh Ward