Revised Review: THE LAST TIMBIT

by Lynn on June 28, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Playing until June 30, 2024.

Music and lyrics by Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson

Book by Nick Green

Directed by Brian Hill

Choreographer, Genny Sermonia

Set and costume by Kelly Wolf

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound  by Josh Liebert

Video design by Cameron Davis

Music director, Jonathan Corkal-Astrorga

Produced  by Michael Rubinoff

Sweet, accomplished, irreverent, funny, moving and proudly Canadian.

The Backstory. When a commercial company celebrates an anniversary, it might put on a sale or have give-aways. When Tim Hortons, the iconic Canadian coffee and donut behemoth, has an anniversary and wants to celebrate 60 years of service they hire a marketing company to look at the matter. The marketing company decides that a musical is the best way of celebrating all things donuts and coffee. The Tim Hortons Company reached out to the best in all matters musical. They first reached out to Britta Johnson because of her musical Life After, who then brought in writer Nick Green (Body Politic, Casey and Diana) and Anika Johnson (Britta’s composer-playwright sister) and then Michael Rubinoff joined the team.
Michael Rubinoff. Rubinoff is the former Associate Dean of the program in Visual and Performing Arts at Sheridan College; he established the Canadian Music Theatre Project, an international incubator for the development of new musicals at Sheridan College; and he developed and produced a little epic called Come From Away as well as developed about 28 other musicals and counting. The man knows his stuff. Because Rubinoff is listed as the producer, one can assume he engaged the rest of the celebrated team. Brian Hill directs. A stella group of creatives did the set and lighting. And he engaged some of the finest musical theatre talent in the country to be in it.

The show was written, composed and put together in six months. The run is very short–five days—This is an anniversary celebration musical. There are ample opportunities to have a selfie taken with a giant Timbit in the lobby of the Elgin Theatre.

Note of information for my non-Canadian readers to my blog. Tim Hortons (no ‘s here, it’s a Canadian thing) is a chain of donut-coffee ‘restaurants.’ They do something called a ‘Timbit’, the round confection of cake that used to be the hole in a donut. Nothing is wasted at Tim Hortons in making a donut, not even the hole. Tim Hortons was started by hockey player, Tim Horton eons ago. He did rather well at it too until he died in a horrible car accident. The franchise continues and is revered in this country for its coffee (lots of debates about the quality vs other chains) its donuts, crullers and other sweet treats. The chili is wonderful. We forgive them the flatbread pizza creations. Sorry. (That’s Canadian too).

The Story. There is a snow storm. Olivia and her mother Michelle are driving in it. They are not getting along. Olivia migrates between her mother’s house and her dad’s. Her parents are divorced and Olivia just wants to go home to her dad’s. The storm closes the roads. There is no where to go except in the distance is a welcoming, familiar orangy-red sign that says “TIM HORTONS” (no ‘s). Olivia and Michelle drive there and meet other stranded folks, each with their own story.  How do they pass the time? They drink coffee, order donuts and Timbits and keep to themselves until all that’s left is one Timbit. So they play games for points to win the last Timbit.

The Production. Have you ever been in a Tim Hortons restaurant? They are all the same.  Designer Kelly Wolf has done a terrific job of re-creating the Tim Hortons here. The menu is above the counter with the illustrations of the food and the description in print you need glasses to read—even if your eyes are good. There is the promise of “fresh coffee every 20 minutes.” The counter has the selection of donuts. There are tables with people sitting by themselves keeping to themselves. Ellen (DeAnn DeGruijter) and Kathy (Barbara Fulton) are friends. They belong to a choir in their home town but are going on a trip. We learn why later. Chloe (Sara Farb) does not have a handle on her life. She wants perfection and is going to a party to try and fit in perfectly. Anton (Peter Millard) is a lonely widower who always comes there to his regular seat and table. Shane (Jake Epstein) is a slow-talking-confident-park ranger. He communes with animals. Nicole (Kimberly-Ann Truong) and Vince (Andrew Broderick) are best friends and influencers and are going to what they say is the party of the year to be seen, influence and be influenced. Charlie (Danté Prince) works there but knows Olivia (Kaya Kanashiro) from band class. They like each other but have not been brave enough to tell one other. Michelle (Chilina Kennedy) urges her daughter Olivia to tell Charlie how she feels. Lots of eye-rolling here from Olivia. Monty (Eric Craig) runs the place and is trying to entertain his customers and control them from being too anxious and bored.

The games the group has to do to win the last Timbit are funny, silly, communal, and disarming in getting the group to lower their barriers and embrace these strangers in their common pursuit to wait out the storm.

Anika Johson and her sister and writing partner, Britta Johnson, have written a score that is beautiful and varied with songs that are funny, tender, wistful and often lively and buoyant.

Why then is everything done for us NOT to hear this music and these lyrics easily? The band pounds out the music so relentlessly that it overpowers the singers, who then bellow louder to be heard. The result is that the lyrics get lost unless one leans forward trying to read lips. Josh Liebert is noted as the person who designed the sound. Please, PLEASE LOWER THE BLOODY SOUND ON THE BAND SO WE CAN HEAR THE MUSIC AND LYRICS!

And can you lighten up on the volume of the cast and mix the sound so the results are not earsplitting? Is there a secret code on musicals that all the hard work goes into creating the music and lyrics but then it gets destroyed by an overzealous band and sound mixer who don’t serve the piece?  Pleeeezzz!!!

That said, Peter Millard as Anton is so heartbreakingly effective singing “Anton’s Song” about his late wife and their visits to Tim Hortons, for the very reason that the song is quiet and allowed to be heard and experienced. Ditto Chilina Kennedy as Michelle singing “Keep Driving.” It’s beautiful singing and poignant. The cast to a person is fine. The exuberance in the livelier moments is terrific. Director Brian Hill has created a buoyant, often moving production. Each performer shines. Now to help them all out and most of all, the audience, to actually give this show its due by being able to hear it properly.

Comment. Every single creative person involved in this endeavor took the assignment seriously and served the beautiful form of the musical with professionalism and seriousness.  I love that The Last Timbit is billed as “A 60th Anniversary Musical.” It’s not billed as anything else; not pre-Broadway. Not the next Come from Away (even though the stories are quite similar). The show is a loving, quirky homage to a donut hole and the company that came up with it, who have been serving us fresh coffee every 20 minutes and sweet treats for 60 years. (We’ll forgive you the flatbread pizzas.) And it’s being celebrated with this lively, moving, impish tuneful, beautifully performed musical.

Tim Hortons presents:

Opened: June 27, 2024.

Closes: June 30, 2024.

Running time: 70 minutes (no intermission)

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1 Bonnie Gold June 30, 2024 at 1:15 pm

Hi Lynn,
I saw “The Last Tim Bit” and I loved it, but you were absolutely right in that the music was way too loud. I don’t know why the music director doesn’t come into the theatre and listen to the show.