by Lynn on October 19, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Winter Garden Theatre 189 Yonge St. Toronto, Ont. Produced by terrabruce Productions. Plays until Nov. 5, 2023

Book by Steve Cochrane

Inspired by the music and magic of The Irish Rovers

Directed by Jason Byrne

Music direction, arrangements and additional music by Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward

Production design by Graham McMonagle

Lighting design by Leigh Ann Vardy

Sound design by Don Ellis

Puppet consultant, Baptiste Neis

Cast: Julia Dunne

Philip Goodridge

Vicki Harnett

Liam Lynch

Steve Maloney

Powell Nobert

Melanie O’Brien

Sean Panting

Nicole Underhay

Band: Alex Abbott

Sultan Dharamshi

Keith Doiron

Kelly-Ann Evans

Grant King

Paul Kinsman

Dan Smith

Josh Ward

Sitting through this self-indulgent, incomprehensible story was life shortening.

The Story. Here’s one of their versions: “Inspired by the music and magic of the beloved Irish Rovers. The Wild Rovers is a mad-cap adventure that sees the famed band whisked away to a fantastical land of Athunia, not to be confused with their sworn enemy, Ethunia (and yes they are pronounced exactly the same). These fictional countries find themselves on the brink of war and the loveable, hard-working band must help them find a path to peace through song!. There will be puppets, there will be no intermission and there most definitely be no fourth wall.”

Or another version of the Synopsis: “ Our tale begins way, waaaaaay back in 19 and 89. The Wild Rovers (Billy, Jordy, Joe, and their bus driver Sheila) are touring the country. The band is just outside Grand Falls, Newfoundland, when they are suddenly whisked away to a magical world.

Here we meet two fairy tale nations at war, and as fate (and plot) should have it, the band is directly in the middle of it all.

The Wild Rovers battle and seduce a wonderful, mad cap cast of characters along the way, as they try to reconcile their own deepest doubts and fears in order to broker a lasting peace.

Will they save these warring kingdoms from themselves with songs? Or strike a sour note and force an entire world into the ravages of war?!

You’ll soon find out.”

This gives a sense of the assumption of cleverness and barely funny writing.

The Production. To get a further idea of how incomprehensible Steve Cochrane’s book is: as Sheila (Vicki Harnett) is driving the band in their bus, she decides to stop and pick up Maggie (Sean Panting) who is hitchhiking. He, the hitchhiker changed his name to “Maggie” because it would be easier (?!!!) He is carrying a leg. A lame joke is made about it, but it made little sense. Maggie is our narrator and fills in the story as well as offers limp remarks that someone perhaps found pithy. They drive along and accidentally are sucked into a portal, or perhaps it was the king driving his golden chariot with several horses that appeared from the portal first, some of the cast tended to mumble and not annunciate. In any case the bus crushes the king and his chariot and the band is sucked into the portal where they meet the inhabitants of Athunia/Ethunia: Princess Hiya (Melanie O’Brien) is about to be married to Prince Farid (Powell Nobert) of the warring side. It’s a marriage supposedly for peace. Princess Hiya is waiting for her father—the aforementioned crushed, dead king. He’s got the secret of her dowry and of a weapon he is to tell her about. Unbeknownst to her, Prince Farid and his conniving mother Queen Keerthi (the gifted but underused Nicole Underhay) plot to kill Princess Hiya once they have the secret weapon.

They have to find a magical egg and so Prince Farid goes with Princess Hiya and a courtier, Roguish Rick Castley (Liam Lynch) (really??? Is this a riff on Rick Astley? Oh, God!) to find it. The plan is that Prince Farid will be able to kill Princess Hiya on the journey. But of course, well, you know what happens when two warring sides come face to face and sing about it….exactly.

They meet a dragon who has clogged a river because the farmers didn’t appreciate nature or take care of their crops properly and are now starving.  They meet pirates who will kidnap Prince Farid thus awakening Princess Hiya’s love for him. Somebody will look like they die but then everybody sings and magic happens because that is the power of music.  The suggestion of singing together heals all wounds seems disingenuous when one is so aware of the horrors going on in the world.

When Sean Panting sings “The Orange and the Green” about parents who came from different backgrounds (religions), it looks like The Wild Rovers will establish the theme of the whole show. But aside from almost willing us to believe this is about war between different factions, Steve Cochrane is so busy trying to force lame jokes into the narrative that he doesn’t spend enough time actually establishing clarity. The over emphasis of the two places: Athunia/Ethunia and similar pronunciation wears thin instantly.

Steven Cochrane’s book is dreadful. It’s self-indulgent with its smug assumption that it’s clever and chatty and disarming. It’s not. It’s tiresome and unfunny. With every utterance of Sean Panting as Maggie, one sucks air, because it’s more unnecessary commentary. This is really a one hour fringe show bloated to almost two hours.

The inclusion of such songs as “The Rising of the Moon,” “Wasn’t That A Party,” “Come By the Hills,” are cause for rousing singing—the cast sings beautifully—but they do little to forward the story, as a jukebox musical would do. And The Wild Rovers is not reinventing the jukebox music form either—it’s so not that clever.

Jason Byrne is a smart director who has done terrific work elsewhere. Here he is very clever in constantly keeping the cast moving: creating elaborate business to show the band driving in their ‘box’ of a bus, a pirate ship with some cast holding a board with a sailboat on it as they raise and lower it, suggesting it’s moving through waves, and other busy stage work, the creation of ‘the dragon’ all to deflect our attention from the paucity of what is actually going on in the story.

The band under Kelly-Ann Evans’ guidance is dandy. As I said, the cast is hard-working, strong-voiced and determined to convey they are having a great time. I wish that feeling was contagious, but alas…….

Comment: This is the second consecutive terrabruce Production that earns the Red Face of Fury. Please let this not be a trend with this company.    

terrabruce Productions presents:

Plays until Nov. 5, 2023

Running time: almost two hours (no intermission)

Note: the ticket prices on the terrabruce Productions website are wishful thinking. When one clicks on a seat on the Ticketmaster site, listed initially for $87 it’s then ballooned to $101 with all the ‘extra’ costs. Be warned.

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