by Lynn on July 29, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer


The following two shows were reviewed on Friday, July 27, 2012, on CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM; WANDERLUST at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Withrow Park.

The host and producer was Rose Palmieri.

1) Good Friday Morning. It’s time to find out what’s new in the theatre with Lynn Slotkin, oupassionate Playgoer and theatre critic. Hi Lynn. What do you have for us today?

I’ve got two musicals that I’m interested in telling you about. First WANDERLUST written and directed by Morris Panych. Music by Marek Norman. Based on the poems of Canadian Poet Robert W. Service, with additional lyrics by Panych.

And A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM which is also given the musical treatment.

As luck would have it there are two productions of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in the city. One is produced by Canadian Stage in High Park, which I will talk about in the weeks to come. But the one I’m interested in here is the Driftwood Theatre Group’s production in Withrow Park, as part of that company’s bus tour to various parks etc. in Ontario.

Terrific company.

2) Let’s start with WANDERLUST. Is it a musical biography of Robert W. Service?

Partially. It’s about the time Robert W. Service did ledger keeping drudge work in a bank during the day; wrote poems during the night; and pined for a woman named Louise, who worked at the bank. She was engaged to the assistant bank manager. But she had eyes for Robert and his dream of going to the Yukon.

Service was anxious to go to the wilds of the Yukon. He planned to run away with Louise (Lou for short) to the Yukon. He saved his money. He got a sleeping bag and warm clothes. The title WANDERLUST is apt.

Playwright/director Morris Panych began writing the play incorporating many of Service’s Yukon poems such as “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” , “The Prospertor”, “The Call of the Wild”.

He then got composer/musician Marek Norman to write music for them. Often the poem expresses what Service is thinking in Panych’s play, so musicalizing the poems makes perfect sense.

Service wrote the most vivid, compelling poems about the north, the Yukon; the wild etc. and the irony is that he hadn’t gone yet. He only talked about it. He reminded me of Chekhov’s three sisters who wanted
to go to Moscow. You wanted to say—“SO GO ALREADY!”

3) Does it work as a musical?

I think it does. Marek Norman’s music is melodic, although no song jumps out at me as being distinctive. That said, I so hope they make a CD of the music. The music adds another aspect of buoyancy to the poems.

I think Morris Panych does a terrific job of bringing Service, his quirkiness, prickliness, sadness, humour and wit, to life. I did marvel at some of the really witty dialogue and think it was more Panych than Service, but for the most part I do get a sense of the poet.

As a piece it tells me his wonderful story and I so got that sense of Service’s wanderlust, his desperation to go but not the guts to put the lust to wander into fruition.


3) And the production? Does it also enliven the story and the life of the man?

It does. Ken MacDonald’s set is simple and elegant. We see the unmistakable pillars of the Bank of Commerce where Service worked. Several old fashioned ledger desks on wheels were used to suggest the desks where the ledger keepers worked.

In another configuration, with each ledger keeper hunched over the desk, they became a dog sled team trudging through a fierce snow storm while we listen to a poem describing a fierce snowstorm.

The direction by Morris Panych uses stillness and vivid imagery to bring the poems and script to life. That wonderful imagery of the dog sled is terrific but choreographer Diana Coatsworth has two dancers flip and swirl their skirts suggesting blowing snow and fierce wind.

There is a beautiful use of the space and a seamless collaboration between director and choreographer.

The cast is stellar led by Tom Rooney as Robert W. Service. Rooney has the gift of stillness and liveliness. His timing is impeccable. He captures the wit and humour of the man, the frustration at being in this dreary job, and the desire to travel; the need to write his poems during every free moment; and his love of Louise. And he sings beautifully.

As Mr. McGee, the bank Manager, Randy Hughson reveals a gruff, blinkered, humourous, kind man. McGee’s idea of travel is to go from his home to his office and home again. McGee is mystified by Service.

As Louise, Robin Hutton is prim, pert, impetuous with Service and meek with her fiancée Dan McGrew. Dan McGrew is played by Dan Chameroy, who knows how to swagger, charm women and put down men, in this case Service. He is a man who thinks that marriage is ownership. In other words, he’s a bully with a certain kind of charm.

And Lucy Peacock adds a bit of spice as Mrs. Munch, the landlady with an interesting way of making extra money. Peacock flounces, she dresses with garish flair and flash. There is no mistaking she is a Madame with a kind of seedy panache.

This is a buoyant, lively production that does justice to Robert Service and his poems. And I hope they record the music.

4) Continuing on our theme of music, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.

By Shakespeare of course. Produced by Driftwood Theatre Group. Full disclosure—I was 10 minutes late for this show because my car just automatically went to the wrong park—where they had been playing for years before—and when I realized the car’s error I charged over to the right park—Withrow Park.

I love this spunky company, headed by J. Jeremy Smith. They do a Shakespeare play every summer, playing parks etc. in communities around Ontario. This is their 18th year.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is about two mismatched couples who spend a fraught night in the Athenian woods, full of spirits, fairies and an impish being named Puck who tries to set it right, but initially messes up.

Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia. Hermia loves Lysander but is promised to Demetrius. And Helena, friends to all of them, is in love with Demetrius, who doesn’t give her a thought. A love-story, a comedy, and here a musical with music by Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington, and adapted by D. Jeremy Smith, Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington.

5) Why do you love this company?

I love them because they bring Shakespeare to communities in Ontario and they have been successful doing it for 18 years. That takes faith and guts and it’s due to the tenacity and imagination of its Artistic Director, D. Jeremy Smith. He has such a keen theatrical eye. Such a vivid imagination that it’s dazzling without distracting from the play.

For instance, Puck is depicted as a kind of goggle wearing Snoopy character, complete with paws up and a hopping walk. The fairies are suggested by various actors, wearing green plastic raincoats holding fishing rods on the end of which are dolls that bob up and down in the air.

The stage is usually a raised platform with a few props, and the audience sits on the ground or on chairs around the platform. I love that kids are always there and they are just wrapped with attention.

6) Does it work as a musical?

I think adding music seems a natural idea for such a melodic play on its own. Most of the music is jazzy. And the singing of it is a bit out of reach occasionally by the cast.

I would have thought that the music would be different for the various characters—as if they would have their own type of music, but I don’t sense that. Not a criticism, just a comment.

But I do appreciate how Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington gradually bring in the music at the beginning, and then as the play progresses and the audience gets used to it, the cast is practically singing the whole play—whole speeches are set to music.

I think that’s clever. D. Jeremy Smith directs as always with such vivid creativity it just makes you smile at his imagination. The pace is quick, relationships are clear.

As Puck, Paul Dunn is deadpanned and impish with his paws up, prancing walk. With Nathan Carroll as Demetrius, Madeleine Donahue as Helena, Christian Feliciano as Lysander and Stephanie Seaton as Hermia all charming, energetic, and confused in that strange forest and finally with the right partner at the end.

It’s always a joy to see this company and to see what fresh ideas D. Jeremy Smith has in store.

I also look forward to seeing The Humber River Shakespeare Company’s production of MACBETH.

This company tours communities along the Humber River until Aug. 5.

There is the granddaddy of all Shakespeare’s in the park, the Canadian Stage Dream in High Park that is also doing a production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM through August.

Lots Shakespeare and they always get an appreciative crowd.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

WANDERLUST plays at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival until September 28.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM plays all over Ontario until August 19

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