Full Review: ROSE

by Lynn on January 27, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts

From Gertrude Stein’s book, “The World is Round”

Music and book by Mike Ross

Lyrics and book by Sarah Wilson

Directed by Gregory Prest

Choreography by Monica Dottor

Set, lighting and projections designed by Lorenzo Savoini

Costumes by Alexandra Lord

Sound by Kaitlyn MacKinnon

Cast: Troy Adams

Michelle Bouey

Alana Bridgewater

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Oliver Dennis

Raquel Duffy

Jonathan Ellul

Peter Fernandes

Hailey Gillis

Scott Hunter

Raha Javanfar

John Millard

Sabryn Rock

James Smith

Adam Warner

Rose is really a small story given the big, bloated musical treatment by smothering it with too many unnecessary songs, over-fussy direction and a desperation to make us like it.

Background Note.  Rose with music and book by Mike Ross, lyrics and book by Sarah Wilson, is purported to be based on The World Is Round  (1939) by Gertrude Stein, by her own definition, her only children’s book. I’ve read the book. This is no where near a children’s book. But then one must consider that it’s Gertrude Stein describing her book.  Except for the fact that Stein insisted the pages be pink and the book has Stein’s usual repetitive whimsical word play, one might stretch ones imagination and say it’s about a girl named Rose who is nine-years-old going on 35.  This is one of the various references  from which her intellectually confounding line comes: “Rose is a rose, is a rose, is a rose.”   Note there is no indefinite article “a” before the first “Rose” in this case.

In Stein’s book Rose muses on: why she is Rose, her friend Willie (her cousin for most of the book then finds out he’s not her cousin), having a pet lion and climbing a mountain taking her blue chair to get a good look.

The Story.  According to the book of the musical by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson, Rose can’t say her name out loud; not for roll call at school when the teacher, Miss Crisp asks the students to call out their names to see if they are in class and not if she is asked what her name is. Rose can’t say her name because she says she does not know why she is or where, or when or which she is. Miss Crisp is exasperated with the questions (and is generally harried) so gives Rose short, unhelpful answers.

Rose asks her best friend Willie. He gives her an answer that is good for him, but she is still unsure. He says he would be Willie no matter what name he was called. Rose goes into the woods to find the answer. She has some kind of enlightenment when she meets the Lion Lady and acquires a lion (named Billie) but even that’s not really helpful.  And finally she takes a journey up a mountain meeting all manner of obstacles to find out who she is so she can finally say her name out loud.

 The Production.  Lorenzo Savoini has designed a modern, open pink set with soft pink lighting. In keeping with the notion of ‘round’ there is a circle up stage in the back wall.  Members of the band are scattered around the set: James Smith plays his keyboard upstage right. Adam Warner plays his drums upstage left. Desks are rolled on in the school room scenes. A mountain is outlined in animation on the back wall.

 Frank Cox-O’Connell is our guitar-playing narrator who leads us along into the story, commenting on what is going on. He is a gentle presence and he’s dressed like a bearded logger in a plaid shirt.

In a musical the first song is vital in establishing the mood, atmosphere, attitude, characters and story etc. of the rest of the musical.  The first song in Rose tells us that the town Rose lives in is called “Somewhere”, and everybody there loves to tell you who they are and what their name is.

We are introduced to at least 15 characters who tell us what they do and their name. Then they seem to disappear until Act II where we try to remember who they were. Actors quickly change into other costumes to create more townsfolk, with more professions and more names.   It seems to go on forever only to establish that they all knew who they were and what their names were. Then we finally meet Rose who doesn’t know who she is and can’t say her name.

There are songs sung in school about how the earth is big or small depending on perspective and it’s round and on and on, when we really just need to see Rose’s journey and her relationship with her friend Willie.

Gregory Prest has directed wonderfully elsewhere (Punk Rock) but something else is happening here with Rose. It’s over-directed and it’s fussy at that.  The movement is never ending, although Monica Dottor’s choreography is always inventive—the production just needs less of it.

There are scenes with: energetic loggers, vicious otters, a pride of lions too cool for their own good.

When Rose is climbing the mountain to find the secret of who she is, Prest has her climb on tables that are slid across the stage to suggest a journey so she goes from desk to desk then on higher desks then lower, then higher.

Her dog Love is worried about where Rose is (he doesn’t know she’s gone mountain climbing). He has the audience stand and gyrate, hands in the air, and stamp their feet and bend and sway so Rose can feel the good vibes of the audience as she makes her lonely journey up the mountain.

I’m thinking that I preferred when we just sat there and clapped our hands if we believed in fairies and revived Tinkerbell—but that’s another story.

I can’t comment on Mike Ross’ music because I actually couldn’t hear it because the band and the cast are so overly-microphoned it distorted any melody and the lyrics.  It also left the cast to bellow everything to be heard over it. This imbalance in the sound has to be fixed. Cut the amplification of the band in half and let the cast just sing without bellowing.  The book by Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson is funny with wit and a nice sense of economy.

Hailey Gillis as Rose shines with a true honesty to find out who she is. Gillis’ scenes with Peter Fernandes as Willie are divine because these two are so human and engaging. They both have a keen sense of how to deal with humour. They are both serious when they banter—the secret of humour is that it’s serious business.

The whole company is totally committed.

Comment. Rose is really a small story given the big, blaring musical treatment by smothering it with too many unnecessary songs, over-fussy direction and a desperation to make us like it. In a way you have to forget everything about Gertrude Stein’s book in order to consider the musical.  I’ll make this one comparison: while “The World is Round” is slight with hints of deeper ideas (in Stein’s book, Rose has no problem saying her name out loud to anybody although she wants to know “who” she is), Rose the musical is choking on its determination to make this into a kind of existential quest. The determination to continue up the mountain against all manner of obstacles suggests themes of Samuel Beckett.

To suggest that this show is for kids—it is silly in parts—is to misrepresent the piece. I saw kids as young as five years old going into the theatre to see it. Not a good idea unless the kid is nine going on 35.

 Rose is bloated at two hours and twenty-five minutes. It should be 90 minutes tops. This show needs to be re-thought and rewritten.

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents:

Opened: Jan. 23, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 24, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.



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1 Toronto musician January 27, 2019 at 7:53 pm

A very harsh review to an amazingly entertaining and uplifting and warm show. I saw it this weekend. People were laughing endlessly and wiping tears from their eyes as they left. The comments on sound amplification are ridiculous. The melody was distorted? Really?? You actually couldn’t hear the music?
Well done – you’ve completely discredited yourself.
Reviews are a joke and from what I’ve seen across the board are all made by socially awkward angry introverts. So sad that this is the karma you choose to send out when a whole lot of people were trying to put something positive and uplifting into the world.