Review: MAGGIE

by Lynn on April 27, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont. playing until May 6, 2023.

Music by Johnny Reid, Matt Murray and Bob Foster

Book and lyrics by Johnny Reid and Matt Murray

Directed by Mary Francis Moore

Choreography/movement by Yasmine Lee

Music supervisor, Bob Foster

Set by Ken MacDonald

Costumes by Samantha McCue

Lighting by Kimberly Purtell

Sound by Josh Liebert

Cast: Michelle Bardach

Dharma Bizier

Nicole-Dawn Brook

Liam Crober-Best

Jay Davis

Alyssa LeClair

Jeremy Legat

Lawrence Libor

William Lincoln

Sweeney MacArthur

Clea McCaffrey

Andrew McAllister

Jamie McRoberts

Kaitlyn Post

Aaron Reid Ryder

Julius Sermonia

Adam Stevenson


Peter Bleakney

Chris Corrigan

Ethan Deppe

Trevor William Grant

Evan Hammell

Andrew Murray

Spencer Kagain Murray

Rachel O’Brien

A lively, buoyant celebration of family, community and resilience. A beguiling score, but the book needs attention to flesh out the story and fill in the holes in the plot.

The Story. It’s 1954 in Lanark, Scotland, a mining town. Everybody knows everybody. The women are hardworking mainly tending their families. The men seem to be hard drinking after a day working in the mines.

Maggie is a young widow raising three young sons herself. The story chronicles her journey as well as those of her sons. Each character has their issues, some more serious than others.

The Production. Designer Ken MacDonald has created a set of two large apartment buildings, each with many windows. Presumably, this is where the citizens of this community live. There is a clothes line with towels on it, hooked to one of the buildings and is attached to a pole down from it. To show the passage of time from scene-to-scene lighting designer Kimberly Purtell illuminates various windows in both buildings to show people are there. The illuminated windows are not always the same from scene to scene.

In quick succession we are introduced to a pregnant Maggie (Dharma Bizier) and her loving husband Big Jimmy (Jay Davis), a musician with a guitar. (Do we know they also have two other sons?) He sings her a song “I Love a Lassie” and never appears again. I’m not sure if it’s that day or soon after, but it’s the end of the shift at the coal mine for the week. Women, many with baby carriages, wait for their men to appear and give them their pay packets. The men go off to the pub. The women go home. Maggie is the last in line waiting for Big Jimmy. A man rushes up to say that there has been an accident and Big Jimmy didn’t make it. Maggie goes into instant labour and passes out.

Fast forward about 14 years. Maggie has eked out a living doing mending, cleaning etc. Her boys are: Wee Jimmy (Aidan Burke), a young scholar, Tommy (William Lincoln), has hopes of being a soccer star and Shug (Lawrence Libor) who inherited his father’s guitar and hopes to go to California and be a singing star. Tommy and Wee Jimmy keep their heads down and devote their time to their passions. Shug gets involved with a political group of rowdies who loath Catholics and try and make trouble any chance they get. Maggie frets about Shug. There is trouble and dreams are shattered.

I loved how Costume Designer, Samantha McCue suggests that Wee Jimmy’s clothes are hand-me-downs: the pants are too short for him (falling just above his ankles), and there are patches on the legs. With a change in wigs, facial hair and clothes, we get a sense of time passing as the boys mature.

The direction by Mary Francis Moore moves the action of the large cast seamlessly. She does not give in to sentimentality when one of the sons leaves home, tempting though it might be. I thought that was impressive.  

Yasmine Lee’s choreography is simple and evocative for this group of hard-working people who we can believe are not dancers, but are connected to suggest there is a close relationship with each other.

The cast is very strong with first rate singers. Leading the group is Dharma Bizier as Maggie. We get a clear idea of the strength of character Maggie has, from Dharma Bizier’s commanding performance. She is a belter who conveys the heart and soul of her songs; the anguish when her sons are troubled; the joy when they succeed. “Unbreakable” sung a bit into Act I establishes the moral fiber of Maggie. It’s a powerhouse rendering.

For much of Maggie the focus seemed to be on Maggie and her three friends Betty (Nicola-Dawn Brook), Sadie (Jamie McRoberts) and Jean (Michelle Bardach), rather than just Maggie,  as they sang songs of resilience, frustration and tenacity: (“Friday Night in Lanark,” “Everyone’s Gone,” or “Queen for a Day”). Each one, but especially “Everyone’s Gone,” is like an angry anthem. The music by Johnny Reid, Matt Murray and Bob Foster is compelling and catchy. One wants to hear the music again. The lyrics by Johnny Reid and Matt Murray further the story and flesh out character, providing an urgency to the drama.

But the book, also by Johnny Reid and Matt Murray, needs serious attention. The relationship between Big Jimmy and Maggie should be fleshed out so we can learn who Big Jimmy is and how solid his and Maggie’s relationship is before he earns his song that begins the show (“I Love A Lassie”). We need to get more than a glimpse of Big Jimmy in Maggie’s life to have a stake in her pain and suffering at his sudden loss. Another scene that fleshes out their relationship will put his death in perspective.

Further attention is needed to hone in on whose story this is. Each friend has a story. One woman is ‘secretly’ beaten by her bully husband until he’s challenged by the group of feisty women. Another wonders if she will ever marry, etc. Are the friends a chorus or individual stories that splinter the narrative? A decision should be made.

There is a deadly skirmish in which both Tommy and Shug are involved with thugs who are itching for a fight. It’s unclear who is responsible for the death although one goes to prison. Does that mean one brother took the fall for the other? That should be clarified.

Shug, a consistently brooding Lawrence Libor with a powerful voice, has been tightly involved with a group of bullies who pick fights with the Catholics. And yet at the end of the story he leaves for America. Why? How did he make this decision and why? What does he plan on doing there if he has sold his father’s guitar (and how much was that worth if it paid for Shug’s passage?) So many questions that need to be clarified. Some characters such as ‘randy’ Geordie Parven (Sweeney MacArthur), who aggressively comes on to Maggie and Charles (Jeremy Legat), Maggie’s gay brother, seem like caricatures. They need developing. At times the story feels like it’s just a sketch rather than a fully developed journey of these characters.

Comment. Maggie is based on Johnny Reid’s grandmother. It’s a story of a woman who would not back down, was resourceful and resilient. The music and songs are rousing and seductive. The show needs a strong book to match. The present effort needs to be ruthlessly revised and rewritten.

Theatre Aquarius Presents:

Runs until May 6, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission)

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