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DEBT -- the Musical!
by Leslie Mildiner, songs by Todd Butler
Firehall Arts Centre
Jan. 8-30
604-689-0926 or

With housing prices through the roof again, rising personal debt, the HST on the horizon, and a $6 billion Olympic bill coming due all too soon, Vancouver is ripe for a satirical stage show that analyzes the nature of our indebtedness and skewers those responsible (i.e., all of us) for getting us into the messes we’re in.  This is pretty much exactly what Leslie Mildiner and Todd Butler’s DEBT – The Musical! tries to do. 

But like so many musical revues, DEBT is a hit and miss affair.  And in some ways its timing couldn’t be worse. This kind of okay-but-not-great show we might find attractive enough in a normal theatrical season, but showered with cultural riches as we currently are, DEBT isn’t quite good enough to compete.

The show revolves around the character of Greg (Andy Toth), a slacker writer, and his misadventures in the land of debt.  Toth is good, especially in a funny skit where he dons a fish suit to make some money.  Sometimes skits are played out by others in the ensemble (Ellen Kennedy, Tom Pickett, the dynamic Tracey Power, Morgan Dunne, and Kathy Fitzpatrick), and in between we get scattershot moralisms about credit cards, capitalism, money, greed, and all manner of other things peripherally related to debt by a narrator played (with his usual charm) by Simon Webb.

 Mildiner’s script is unfocused, the dialogue is often banal, and there’s little overall structure to the piece in Donna Spencer’s production.  Nor is there much in the way of production values: Derek Butt’s set consists of three flats and some projections.   Still, a good deal of the show is enjoyable.  The performers are charming and some of the numbers really shine: a Kerouac-esque hipster song, a doo wop routine featuring Pickett’s cool falsetto, a Dylan-like ballad about crying out for freedom –from one’s basement dwelling.  Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s choreography for (mostly) non-dancers is sometimes clever and cute.

Butler, a witty lyricist who musically directs and also plays in the three-piece band with Lee Oliphant and Vince Ditrich, has written the songs in so many different musical styles that, in the end, nothing much sticks—a good match for a script that’s all over the place and nowhere in particular. 

Jerry Wasserman