Dixon Road by Fatuma Adar
Produced by The Musical Stage Company in association with Obsidian Theatre and Canadian Stage.
This month marks the world premiere of the musical ‘Dixon Road’ under the beautiful natural canopy of Toronto’s High Park. This remarkable musical journey by Fatuma Adar was five loving years in the making and Toronto audiences will be thrilled with both her incredible work and the powerful performances behind it. Dixon Road is a community in the northwest of the city where many Somali immigrants congregated. This is their story of assimilating into Canada. The strengths of this production are the joyous diversity of Ms. Adar’s music and the backbone of this cast – Germaine Konji as the ambitious daughter Batoul.
Batoul is the daughter of Zaki, an affable dreamer and a touch naïve, played with force and a beautiful voice by Gavin Hope. Along with her mother, Safiya, and grandmother, Halima, the family struggles in Somalia to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. In the early 90s, Somalia has just won its independence and Zaki has just won a prime bureaucratic position in the government. War then tears the country apart and the family must move to Canada where family members take them in with an uncertain future. Family tensions increase in cramped quarters and the usual complications of assimilation into an unknown country take their toll.
As mentioned, Ms. Adar’s score is rich with diversity, music moving from hip hop to rap to show tunes and Motown. An early example is “Pray” with radiant harmonies from the entire family and a backdrop of rap from Mr. Hope. Moving to Canada, the clever “How to Be Canadian” is irreverent and ironic with some very inventive choreography around a taxi cab – a job the over-qualified Zaki must accept. Batoul sinks into depression but is resilient as she sings the powerful number “Find Me.”
Batoul’s release in life is in her writing – she yearns to be a poet and dramatist. The family, at times, both ridicules her dreams and then tries to accept them. Grandmother Halima, portrayed with zest by Shakura S’Aida, remains in the old country but echoes her thoughts over the family. She supports Batoul as she reflects “we are Somali – we are poets.” A most clever scene with “Oprah” literally diving out of a television set represents the detritus of western culture. Batoul struggles with this void, fights it and becomes even more determined to be a professional writer.
Further irony is brilliantly portrayed in the second act where the celebrating Somali family ends up in a Chucky Cheese-like restaurant along with dancing waiters and a dancing chipmunk. Aspects of traditional Somali dance pepper the silliness of the moment. Assimilation can often produce comic effects.
Director Ray Hogg (also choreographer) is credited with bringing a number of elements together. Working outside with an awkward, multilevel stage is demanding and his rich experience was clearly a motivation to the cast. The set designer, Brian Dudkiewicz, opened the show with a rich backdrop of colourful tapestries in Somalia which cleverly disappeared leaving the bare and leaden elements of cold brick and mortar highrises.
Many of the songs deal with the theme of faith – it is the faith in family and neighbours that holds these new immigrants together. At one point someone goes out to buy diapers – “we don’t have a baby” – “yes, but the new family on the second floor does.” Perhaps Zaki, near the end of the play best summarizes their wish to move forward – “there must be another life than just surviving.”
This production, with a lavish diversity of music, reflects this ultimate joy of families coming together.
‘Dixon Road’ by Fatuma Adar
Performers: Krystle Chance, Starr Domingue, Omar Forrest, Rose-Mary Harbans, Gavin Hope, Germaine Konji, Michael-Lamont Lytle, Dante Prince, Shakura S’Aida, Travae Williams
Director/Choreographer – Ray Hogg
Music Director – Chris Barillaro
Set Design – Brian Dudkiewicz
Costume Designer – George Michael Fanfan