Morphing Music at the Grand

Shippel the Plumber opened at the Grand last week. In the lead role, Bruce Dow is the star on stage, but this production had some impressive moves behind the scenes as well. The story centres around an ultra-conservative, snooty male voice quartet in early 20th Century Imperial Germany. They sing from the classical repertoire — Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn and the like — but when they reluctantly take the brilliant but working-class Shippel into the quartet, he inspires them to greater heights of musical artistry.

Director Allan MacInnis decided that there should be significant development in the quartet’s style as a result of Shippel’s influence, so he called upon the musical director, Londoner Andrew Petrasiunas, to take a bold, evolving approach to the arrangements. In the early stages, it’s Wagner, served straight up, but gradually the sound takes on colourings reminiscent of Kurt Weill and George Gershwin. By joining up with the highbrow boys, Shippel the Plumber breaks down the boundaries of the old musical order, and inadvertently, of the old social order as well.

It was a golden opportunity for a music director, and Petrasiunas loved the challenge and the results. He has become a regular at the Grand as a composer, arranger and musical director. During this season alone, he was signed up for The Wizard of Oz, Schippel the Plumber, Proof and The Music Man.

The musical journey aside, Shippel is also slapstick, farce and social commentary, and it’s a rich play that works at several levels. Before the Grand production, it had never been seen in Canada, and I have heard of only one production in all of North America. In addition to tried and true offerings like The Wizard of Oz, the Grand must show us things that we haven’t seen before. That’s always a risk for a large theatre, so congratulations to Artistic Director Susan Ferley for her selection.

Schippel the Plumber runs until January 26th.

Reaney Redux

On the heels of last November’s Reaney Days at the McManus, we’ll have the chance to see another James Reaney play staged this week. TH&B Company from Toronto is in town for a 3-day run of The Easter Egg. The play is described as an absurdist comedy in which Reaney puts a gothic spin on the social aspirations of a group of misfits in a small university town.

It premiered at Alumni Theatre in Toronto in 1962, and it was last seen in London at Talbot Theatre in 1967. It runs from January 17-19 at the Grand’s McManus Studio Theatre.

A is for Everything

Caitlin Murphy’s play A is for Everything premiered in London in 2000 and then was picked up by an Irish company in 2002. Now it’s about to have another production, this one in St. John’s Newfoundland at the end of February. Original scripts often don’t get that second production that keeps them alive, so this third production is a sign that A is for Everything has some legs. Congratulations to Caitlin.