The Hazards of Musicals
A team at McGill Players meets a challenge
by Byron Toben
First off, in musical song, I'm your basic Berlin-Gershwin-Porter-Weill kinda guy. I had not even heard of The Decemberists, an indie-folk group which surfaced around 2001. So I was a blank slate when I went to see The Hazards of Love, one of their titles, around which McGill students Charles Harries and James Hugh Keenan Campbell have constructed a folk opera.
The fine six-piece live band (semi-hidden behind gauzy curtains) was an appreciated change from the often recorded music.
Apparently, the Oregon based Decemberists themselves base many of their songs around stories - often historical events - and had considered making a play out of the mélange. Campbell and Harries have beaten them to the punch. The result is well worth while.
Emily Skahan, well known to Montreal theatre goers (Reefer Madness, Mission Drive, The Tempest, etc.) plays Margaret, a defrocked novitiate, who becomes the lover of William ( John Pleasants), a human/faun who is the well-meaning son of the evil Forest Queen (Katie Sharf). Mommie Dearest seems to be a distant cousin of the wicked witch of the West with forest critters (but no winged monkeys) to do her bidding.
All of this takes place in an enchanted forest with plot touches resonating Greek mythology and fairy tales. A rough play 18th century “rake” (Sebastian Biase) adds extra physicality to the presentation as he torments Margaret. Squeamish audience members are warned in advance, but what largely student viewers are squeamish?
Any group that has opened for Bob Dylan and played in an Obama fundraiser bears consideration.
The fine six-piece live band (semi-hidden behind gauzy curtains) was an appreciated change from the often recorded music. An organ and violin added texture to the usual instruments.
Linking the various musical sequences, the plot is basically your boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl and all ends at the water's edge. Anyway, I am now inspired to check out the Decemberists discography. Any group that has opened for Bob Dylan and played in an Obama fundraiser bears consideration. I did know of the suppressed 1825 Russian revolt movement called the Decembrists (no third 'e') since one of the leaders, the poet Rylevev, carried a book of Lord Byron's poems as he ascended the scaffold. (Being named Byron, I am obliged to check out this kinda stuff.)
Across the continent from this Oregon band, there is a New Jersey group called “Catch 22” which actually has a song and YouTube specifically dedicated to the Russian Decembrists. They are ska-punk (whatever that is) so I am limiting my updating to indie-folk for now.
Final miscellaney: Ms Skahan is the young lady pictured on the back cover of each quarterly Quebec Drama Federation calendar (which all Montreal theatre freaks should carry at all times in addition to following CharPo). Campbell and Harries are planning another musical event with original words and tunes. Is this a budding Rodgers and Hammerstein?
The Hazards of Love continues at Players' Theatre until February 18. Info: 514-398-6813
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