Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Abe Burrows
Theatre Under the Stars
July 13-August 20
604-257-0366 or online www.tuts.bc.ca
Malkin Bowl’s resident bald eagles were at it in full force
Sunday night, chirping and flapping while bedding down in their
nest. Meanwhile, the singers, dancers, musicians and mimes of Theatre
Under the Stars were taking the stage for Cole Porter’s 1953
musical, Can Can. This night,
anyway, it was no contest. The eagles had it.
From the start, the book by Broadway veteran Abe Burrows turns an
interesting situation into a generic love story. A woman named Pistache
(Cailin Stadnyk), the only female dance hall proprietor in Paris’
Montmartre district in the 1890s, is thriving because of the lascivious,
illegal dancing of her can can girls. Newly appointed judge Aristide
(Mark Pawson) aims to put an end to the immorality.
But the argument about censorship versus artistic freedom comes
to nothing when Aristide falls in love with Pistache (quelle surprise!).
Aristide must be one of the dullest romantic leads ever written,
and neither Pawson’s acting nor singing helps bring the character
to life. The proto-feminist angle—plucky female entrepreneur
fighting unfair, uptight male system—also disappears amid
some embarrassing sexist wife jokes.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving a studio full of bohemian Parisian
artists and a snooty art critic feels like it might have been written
after the American invasion of Iraq. These stage Frenchies are the
cheese-eating surrender monkeys of the 1890s, all cowardly, chattering,
hypocritical, pretentious idiots. They also produce some of the
coarsest acting I have seen at TUTS. Even the best performance in
this group, Peter Stainton’s Boris the Franco-Bulgarian sculptor,
is relentlessly loud and blustery.
Musically, Can Can is one
of Porter’s lesser works. The show’s liveliest tunes
are sung by the can can girls, whose strong voices (especially Laura
Solilo’s) are a highlight. But its best-known songs have dated
badly. “C’est Magnifique,” “It’s All
Right with Me” and “I Love Paris” have that sluggish
early ‘50s quality that reminds us why rock ‘n’
roll had to be invented.
Cailin Stadnyk has a lovely voice and beautiful stage presence
but she can’t carry this show. Her Pistache and Pawson’s
Aristide have zero chemistry, and she’s burdened with a terrible
pseudo-French accent that mysteriously disappears when she sings.
Director Susan Lehmann must take the blame for allowing half the
cast to speak fractured Frenglish and the other half to carry on
in their many variations of flat Canadian, making for some jarring
Fin de siècle Paris does provide the opportunity for costume
designer Rachel Berchtold to turn the ladies and gentlemen of Montmartre
and those lusty dancers into luscious eye candy. And these dancers
can dance, thank goodness. But Jason Franco’s can-can choreography
doesn’t really lift off until the finale, danced to a song
filled with racist lyrics, the legacy of a period musical that might
better have been left in the can.