Debt -The Musical! by Leslie Mildiner

Dates and Venue 8-30 Jan 2010 @ 8pm Sat/Sun matinees @2pm | Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

As part of its mandate, Firehall presents shows written, directed and acted by Canadians, especially Canadians of the First Nations and also by new Canadians, children of those who immigrated from Europe and other continents of the globe. Here, we have an example of musical theatre that is totally Canadian. Directed by Donna Spencer with songs by Todd Butler and choreography by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, this financial satire about life and money in Canada makes its world premiere here in Vancouver.

Simon Webb is the narrator who gives us a brief history of what money is all about, from the Romans to the Scottish financier, John Law, who invented paper money to boost France's economy in the 18th century. He then talks and sings together with the cast about today's woes here in Canada--credit cards, bankruptcies, Canadian students piling up debts from student loans, and when they graduate, can't find decent jobs to pay off these debts. I liked Webb's rendition of "Bein' Poor" which vaguely reminded me of Jimmy Durante's singing style.

The musical's theme is a bitter pill to swallow, but that's how Canada and the rest of the world is undergoing the current financial crisis, and this show is perfect timing for what's happening around us these days with cutbacks to the arts and more Canadians going bankrupt. Mildiner and Butler sugar-coat these financial woes with song and dance, using all kinds of styles, from striptease tunes as in "Plastic Love", to a Les Miserables take-off in "Debtors Prison", to something like Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" in "It's a Rental".

There's even Calypso music in the Limbo-dance inspired "Go Postal" and other numbers reflecting Motown tunes of the 1960s. The actors sang and danced with gusto, and the direction was well-executed: the pacing was almost flawless, and the audience enjoyed the performance.

The three-man band composed of Todd Butler, Vince Ditrich and Lee Oliphant was pretty good. I was just a bit surprised why the audience didn't applaud after its opening overture in the first act. There was this silent vacuum as the band members were looking at each other after the opening piece as though surprised why this matinee audience didn't clap. But the sleepy audience caught on eventually and after the overture in the second act, with a hard metal rock number, the audience finally woke up and cheered the band.

Congratulations to the cast and crew for an enjoyable and delightful show! It's the kind of show that's a must-see for all of us who are suffering the financial pinch.

© 2010 Ed Farolan