SUDS: THE ROCKIN’ ‘60S MUSICAL SOAP OPERA
William Hutt died on Wednesday, the same day Suds opened at the Arts Club. I’m not saying that one was caused by the other. Canada’s greatest actor was 87 and had been very ill. No, the coincidental conjunction of these events has no significance except to underline the enormous range of theatrical experiences possible on Canada’s stages.
Hutt was famous for his roles in classics like King Lear, The Tempest, and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Suds is distinguished by “These Boots Are Made for Walking” performed as a tap dance in gumboots.
Okay, this is going to be one of those cranky old-fart reviews. I feel like a movie critic who has to write about, say, Freddy vs. Jason, Part 6. Why bother? Who’s going to care? You either enjoy this stuff or you don’t. Quality is hardly an issue.
Suds, with its over-explanatory subtitle just in case you don’t get it, is set in a 1960s American laundromat where hard-luck, heartbroken Cindy works. Cindy (Sara-Jeanne Hosie, who also directs) wears thick glasses and has a funny walk. Her two competitive guardian angels show up with their own loads of laundry. Dee Dee (Alison MacDonald) is the nice one with her blond flip, prom dress and bobby sox. Sexpot Marge (Seana Lee Wood), perpetually scowling, wears high heels, tights, and a leopard-skin top. Matt Palmer plays a succession of goofy guys and a blue-haired old lady.
The stereotypes are obvious, the acting pretty much one note, the style broad and broader. As for the script, imagine Dumb and Dumber, the Musical with less wit.
The characters express themselves in 60s pop songs. I’ll confess: this is the soundtrack of my boomer youth. I’m very attached to these tunes. I don’t mind them goofing around with such bubble-gum trifles as “The Locomotion” and “It’s My Party,” or hokum like “Secret Agent Man” (a comic highlight as performed by Palmer). But my sacrilege alarm goes off when they treat the Marvelettes’ great “Please Mr. Postman” as silly travesty, or utterly massacre Aretha’s transcendent “Respect.”
Although the voices are uneven, the straight rendition of certain songs provide the show’s best moments: a Dionne Warwick medley, MacDonald’s singing “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” Palmer’s lovely version of “Wonderful, Wonderful.” Musical director Lloyd Nicholson, who also leads the three-piece band, creates some effective four-part arrangements in the second act.
Unlike me, most of the opening night audience seemed to love the show.