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TITUS: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus
Book and lyrics by Andrew Wade
Music by Jenny Andersen
The Fakespeare Festival
Awkward Stage Productions
York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr.
I missed TITUS: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus at last year’s Fringe, where—as a one-act—it got great reviews and a holdover. Now, as part of Awkward Stage’s Fakespeare Festival, it’s been expanded to a full-length musical. I’m delighted to say that the new Act Two is almost as good as Act One, and Act One is fabulous. This is a smart, clever, funny and hugely entertaining show that gets a terrific production from director Andy Toth and his whole team.
Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, one of his crudest, and his absolute bloodiest. The title character is a Roman general with 25 sons. By the end of the play only one survives, and he’s one of the only characters who does. There’s also rape, mutilation, and a tasty revenge plot that results in two of Titus’ enemy’s sons baked in a pie.
In Andrew Wade’s rewrite, Shakespeare himself (Kazz Leskard in a remarkably adept performance) laments the box office failure of his Titus and decides to remake it as a light comic musical. He continually intervenes as, despite his and his actors’ best efforts, the play keeps returning to its dark roots. The meta nature of this production, commenting on its own theatrical absurdity, is half the fun. And Wade’s book is so witty. After the brutal rape of Titus’s daughter Lavinia (a bizarrely sunny Jenika Schofield, even with her hands and tongue cut off), Shakespeare complains that the word “rape” is inappropriate for a light and delightful musical comedy so insists that everyone call it “bunny love.” Which everyone does for the rest of the show. Bunny love!
Wade’s and Jenny Anderson’s songs are great fun, and Erika Babins choreographs the show with just the right silliness. Patrick Ray’s three-piece band provides a surprisingly full sound and thankfully doesn’t drown out the singers.
There are so many standout performances in the cast of 16. In addition to Leskard and Schofield, I really liked William Ford Hopkins’ Donald Trumpish Emperor Saturninus, Courtney Shields as his energetic and perpetually frustrated handler Marcus Andronicus, and Claire Rice as sexy POW Tamora, whose bunny lover sons get eaten. Harrison Mooney is wonderfully understated as evil Aaron the Moor, the Black character who gets a whole comic subplot of his own in this version, everyone on stage careful to point out that they’re not being racist, this being Vancouver and all. Nathan Cottell’s Titus, who ends the play in a full clown suit, and Zach Wolfman’s Bassianus, Titus’ ridiculously sweet brother, also do very good work. As does everyone else I’ve failed to mention—everyone gets a comic turn or two in this show, including Sandra Herd’s puppets, one that literally gets torn limb from limb.
Andy Toth, himself one of the funniest actors in town, has done a great job coaching his actors to keep the pace up, the timing tight, and the comic energy high but not over the top. The result is delightful indeed.