Pink Floyd's The Wall

Dates and Venue November 5-14, 2009 7:30pm RIO THEATRE 1660 Broadway @ Commercial, Vancouver

Reviewer Roger Wayne Eberle

Those who have viewed the 1982 movie The Wall usually walk away tremendously impressed with the spectacular onslaught of imagery and animation, and with the rock and roll dynamism of music that Pink Floyd composed for their hottest concept album ever, music that forms the soundtrack for the movie.  The LiveStage Performance production of Pink Floyd's The Wall gives a wee bit less and a wee bit more than the movie.  There is significantly less animation, and somewhat less of an emphasis on vocal excellence. 

On the other hand, fans disappointed that the hit single "Hey You" never made it into the movie will be happy to find that it is included in this live stage version.  This multimedia live stage enactment of The Wall includes vivid and colourful big screen imagery and plenty of over the top acting performances, some inspired, some less so.  Generally speaking, the technically impressive musical accompaniment more than makes up for some of the less inspired moments.  Music director Paul LeBlanc and the band do an admirable job of covering the Pink Floyd numbers for this stage adaptation 

The actors tear into this performance with a big opening in which Pink is laying on a couch troubled by dreams while all around him partying band groupies mingle on stage with happy-go-lucky school kids at play, and a soldier soldiers on in full battle gear.  The big screen lights up backstage with vivid imagery as the music builds in intensity leading in to a moving rendition of "In the Flesh."  Mark Downey injects his Pink with equal amounts of pathos-inducing pallor and skin-crawling insipidity, carrying off his vocal renditions of classics such as "Goodbye Cruel World" and "Nobody Home" with a strong and poignant cutting edge.  As his alter-ego, Punk, Doug Thoms manages his stage presence with charismatic menace and what is at-times an almost maniacal bent towards destruction.  Nevertheless, as all Wall fans know, it is Pink who destroys his hotel room. 

Well orchestrated, and with a rich imagery counterpoint, the trashing of the hotel room was nevertheless somewhat short of expectations.  Whether it was because not much appeared to be really smashed or broken, or because the only sense of height associated with the hotel room appeared on the big screen, the whole event ended up as more of a satirical miming of a go for broke breakdown than the actual annihilation tantrum meltdown intended by the script.  Some say less is more, but it's usually just less, and in this case much more was needed for plausibility.  Then again, a stage play is not a movie, and gritty realism must sometimes be sacrificed in the interests of artistic integrity (and in the interests of saving the props for the next show). 

Kudos to Seth Little for his brilliant turn as the trod upon teacher.  Having spent more than a few hours in front of a class, I shivered a little inside to see those kids swarming the unfortunate miscreant, regardless of how much he so evidently deserved it.  "Another Brick in the Wall" was well-received and the teacher episode was particularly well-executed by all actors.  It was also amusing to see Seth Little on stage in various character guises, first as a hotel employee and later as a policeman during the aftermath of the hotel-trashing interlude.

Eric Pollins put in a solid performance as the money-grubbing manager, and put on a brave face while almost managing to hold his own with "Vera Lynne" as Pink's father.  He was fortunately joined in a chorus of voices for "Bring the Boys Back Home," but surprisingly remained alone on stage throughout this entire song, while wartime images and bold upper case text echoed the sentiment expressed in the song.  Doesn't this song scream for throngs of protestors?

Also surprising was the choice to sing "Comfortably Numb" with relatively innocuous harmonies blended in dulcet tones and then end it with two guitarists doing a splendid job of dueling lead guitar solos on stage with psychedelic imagery broadcast on the big screen at the back of the stage.  This sudden appearance by the band seemed kind of random in terms of the play.  But the virtuoso efforts of blazing guitarists Mark Richardson and Peter Seravalle were definitely a crowd pleaser.

"The Show Must Go On" included sweet backup vocals, and then "Run Like Hell" exploded onto the stage with welcome rhythmic intensity and the spectacle of runners in a line, all in black, with pink masks on.  Their running on the spot is coordinated well as a potent symbol of the stagnant stasis that comes from going through the same tired motions, and repeating the same old self-defeating habitual patterns of drug dependency.  Pink gets put into a strait jacket and is passed back and forth like a beached ball, as Punk takes control. 

Here as elsewhere throughout this production, Doug Thoms' powerful vocals touch a nerve.  As Punk, he dominates with his rough, raw, fiercely intense manner and belts out his songs with gusto, often ending resoundingly at the top of his range.  Thoms performs well throughout, but especially as the censorious and overbearing judge in "The Trial." 

During this trial, the wife is called to bear witness, and with her comes the groupie.  These two were previously paired on vocals in "Hey You" with Nicole Bayntun's groupie measurably out-singing Emily Lockeheart's wife, and Ms. Bayntun clearly carried the weight of vocals in the trial as well.  At the end of the trial, the curtain closes to a rising crescendo  of chanting voices screaming "Tear down the Wall" and Punk is left on stage alone but hastens off as explosions herald the destruction of the giant wall of big white Styrofoam blocks that have been built up during the performance of the play.  Couldn't they have at least painted them red?

Mother, where art thou?  Kyrst Hogan's role as Pink's mother was serene, staid and almost subdued, and her singing was melodic, moving and memorable.  The ensemble also acquitted themselves particularly well, especially in numbers like "Goodbye Blue Sky" and "Run Like Hell."  Would that they had been used to greater effect in "Bring the Boys Back Home."

There are levels of meaning that permeate this play and many of them remain intact despite the fact that a few fissures remain in the wall of this performance.  It is an inspired effort and it deserves to be seen by a wide audience.  Most of the opening night audience seemed to really enjoy the show and there were many high-pitched whoops and cheers of approval at the curtain call. 

I recommend this show to all Pink Floyd enthusiasts with a single caveat:  Musically, the production was first rate, but just don't go to this performance with overly high expectations of the vocals, because the uneven nature of the vocal performances will surely disappoint you if you do.  That said, this play is an amazing spectacle with plenty of memorable moments, excellent musicians, and more than a few inspired vocal renditions of all of the best songs off this extraordinary concept album. 

Seeing it might just help you out of whatever is walling you in.  At the very least you'll catch a glimpse of a fresh vision for what Rogers and Gilmour and the boys were on about way back when they were putting fresh mortar on "Another Brick in the Wall."

© 2009 Roger Wayne Eberle