by Lynn on November 8, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Grand Theatre, London, Ont. Closed Nov. 5.

Again, time got away from me so this is a comment on the show.

Written by Trina Davies

Directed by Jillian Keiley

Music director, composer and pianist, Allen Cole

Choreographer, Genny Sermonia

Set by Shawn Kerwin

Costumes by Joseph Abetria

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Sound by Richard Feren

Tap Dance Choreographer, Andrew Prashad

Cast: Tess Benger

Jesse Gervais

Cyrus Lane

Katelyn Mcculloch

Christian Murray

Andrew Prashad

Jan Alexandra Smith

Tahirih Vejdani

Anthony Raymond Yu

The disappearance of Ambrose Small, a large presence in Canadian theatre, has lots of facts but little substance in solving the mystery. And presenting this as a vaudeville show is eye-brow-knitting.

The Story. Ambrose Small was a successful theatre entrepreneur. He owned several theatres in Ontario, but on Dec. 2, 1919 he disappeared never to be seen again. He was known to disappear frequently to womanize. But this time there was no trace of him for weeks. His wife Theresa Small offered an award if he was found alive and a lesser award if he was found dead. He had a mistress. Did they run off together? Was there foul play? Questions remain over 100 years after his disappearance.  Some have seen his ghost in the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., one of his holdings. I guess that’s an added bonus since the Grand Theater commissioned Trina Davies to write the play.

The Production. In her program note director Jillian Keiley wrote that because Ambrose Small loved Vaudeville the production is presented as a vaudeville entertainment. I describe that decision as “eye-brow-knitting” because it diminishes the seriousness of the story of the disappearance of this notable theatre mogul. With the accomplished cast deliberately sending up their performances—Jesse Gervais as Ambrose Small deliberately over-plays everything except wink at the audience. Andrew Prashad is the tap-dancing Emcee, which he performs effortlessly. Again, one has to ask, why tap-dancing? Cyrus Lane as Jack is a commanding presence; Tess Benger as Clara is captivating; Jan Alexandra Smith plays Theresa Small with authority, and as I said, the whole cast was fine.

Allen Cole wrote the music, was the musical director and provided the piano accompaniment. Because the piano was microphoned and the cast wore head microphones, there was so much amplification it was hard to hear what the cast were singing. Attention to the balance of the sound would have been helpful.

Trina Davies certainly did a lot of research into Ambrose Small’s life—both private, public and theatrical. Did Small plan on selling his theatres and running off with his mistress Clara with the money? Act I ended with Ambrose disappearing. Act II was taken up with the many and various possible scenarios of what could have happened to Ambrose Small—all of them inconclusive since he was never found.

Comment. While I appreciated the talent involved in this enterprise, I found Grand Ghosts frustrating from the vaudeville performance style that diminished the weight of the story to the inconclusiveness of what actually happened to Ambrose Small. It seemed like a lot of fuss for little return.

The Grand Theatre Presents:

Closed: Nov. 5.

Running time: two hours, 1 intermission.

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