— Nick Fontaine & Hal Wesley Rogers. Photo credit: Tim Matheson.
THE BEST LAID PLANS: A MUSICAL
A new Canadian musical about Canadian politics—what a concept! And a Vancouver project at that, with music and lyrics by the dynamic duo of Anton Lipovetsky and Benjamin Elliott, directed by Peter Jorgensen and co-produced by Touchstone Theatre and Jorgensen’s Patrick Street Productions. New musicals are notoriously difficult beasts, and this one is a fairly major project: cast of ten, five-piece orchestra. So our expectations should be realistic.
The central character, Daniel Addison (Nick Fontaine), is a political operative for the federal Liberals as an election approaches. His job is to find a sacrificial candidate to run against sure-thing Conservative Eric Cameron (Gordon Roberts), who is “so high in the polls he has nosebleeds.” The accidental Liberal candidate turns out to be Angus McLintock (Andrew Wheeler), a surly academic with a Scots brogue. Both Daniel and Angus want and expect him to lose, Daniel so he can go off and write his novel with his new girlfriend, slam poet Lindsay (Meaghan Chenosky), Angus so he can sail his beloved hovercraft.
But when Cameron gets caught in a sex scandal, Angus wins. A political maverick who refuses to toe the party line, he holds the deciding vote in a minority government. He’s first celebrated, then vilified for his plainspoken political independence. In the end Angus and Daniel both need to get their integrity and their political mojo back. And this being a musical, they do.
The talent is fine. Even when Daniel turns cynical Fontaine keeps him likeable in a low-key way, and Wheeler, who can do this in his sleep, gives McLintock loads of gruff texture. Chenosky nicely fleshes out her underwritten girlfriend character (as does Shannon Chan-Kent as Rachel, Daniel’s first girlfriend, who cheats on him), and Roberts is terrifically, energetically funny in the small role of Cameron. His musical number, “Family Values,” is the best thing in the show.
Clever musical moments abound, especially in the first act: Daniel’s “Rachel, My Rachel,” both a love song and a funny blues accompanied by a trio of glitter-clad Senators (“we’re here to give you sober second thought”); “Cumberland Hymn,” in which the inhabitants of a seniors’ home echo anything anyone says in hymnal harmony; “Heathens/Saviour,” wherein Daniel and Angus bemoan the task of teaching engineering students English; Daniel and Lindsay’s “The Great Canadian Novel,” accompanied by a bear (“So it seems they were destined/To meet in the intestine/Of a grizzly”); and the second act highlight, “Honest Angus,” which features Drake, Leonard Cohen and Celine Dion singing the praises of the new Canadian political hero.
But there’s nothing anthemic, no song you leave the theatre singing. The one love ballad, sung by Angus to his dead wife, is a bust. Ditto for Daniel’s second act turning-point psyching-himself-back-up song. And there’s no dancing at all. What’s a musical without dancing?
The book by Edmonton’s Vern Thiessen, adapted from Terry Fallis’ novel, also has problems. Potentially interesting characters—slam poet Lindsay, kinky right-wing Cameron, sexy Rachel and her new boyfriend Dick (Zahf Paroo), and the transcendently gendered Kris (Steffanie Davis) and Qris (Hal Wesley Rogers)—are left undeveloped at the expense of Daniel, who has too much stage time. The political satire is pretty tame. And the plot points tracking Angus’ descent from hero to zero don’t really make sense. (The people turn against him because why?? And Daniel wants him to vote how??)
So The Best Laid Plans: A Musical delivers a mixed bag. It’s not Conservative crap. At its best it’s a whole lot wittier than anything we’ve heard so far from any of the party leaders in our election race. But it’s nothing too daring. No new theatrical policies here. Kind of like a Liberal-NDP coalition: I’d vote for it, sure, but it hasn’t really won my heart.