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Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: To Be

Playwright Trevor Barette (r) and Chris Hayes (photo: Pamela Perrotti)

By Byron Toben
“In how many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be played many times over in States yet unborn and accents yet unknown” is my favorite Shakespeare quote. How much do musical adaptors love Shakespeare? Let me count the ways. Aside from hundreds of operas, there are dozens of flops and four hit musical shows based on one or the other of his plays. (See which ones below). They all have a minimum of Will's text due to the space taken up by the composers' orchestrations.
As befits an involved experimental production, many of the cast are recent grads of the Dawson theatre program as well as John Abbott's

Now along comes Trevor Barrette, a 20 year old recent grad of John Abbot's Theatre program, who has written the book and lyrics (as well as collaborated with two others on the music) for “To Be”. The quotes are not just from Hamlet, but from the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Barrette might not have seen this production mounted but for the dedication of Persephone Productions headed by Shakesfan Gabrielle Soskin, who  brought director Christopher Moore into the mix. The cast of eleven is aided by a five instrument band and the whole is squeezed into the Rialto's still-in-construction basement theatre which holds about 80 spectators.
As befits an involved experimental production, many of the cast are recent grads of the Dawson theatre program as well as John Abbott's and have been seen in recent small theatre shows such as Reefer Madness, Far From The Madding Crowd and A History of The Devil.
The juxtaposition of classic bard quotes with a modern scene (complete with cell phones) is managed smoothly.

Now to the play, which is, after all, the thing.
The basic plot is that Adam (played by Barrette), an English Lit student, is burdened by the recent death of his father (Chris Nachaj), a famous professor who he was not close to. While night life-ing with his more outgoing cousin, Benny (Ian Geldart), he finds himself in Montreal's Gay Village on a lark and meets Sebastian (Christopher Hayes) and they slowly end up as lovers, despite Adam's fear of being labeled “a great gay guy” which drives him to contemplate suicide.
The juxtaposition of classic bard quotes with a modern scene (complete with cell phones) is managed smoothly. Dream sequences about creatures of the night are overseen by a drag queen (James Harrington) Some bits were somewhat campy (not that there's anything wrong with that) and the musical numbers contained a variety of serious and catchy chords.
I found myself distracted trying to remember which Shakespeare plug-in quotes were from which of his plays. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Midsummer Night`s Dream seemed to predominate. I  believe there was one from Julius Caesar (the source of my opening sentence above).
All in all, a must see for serious Montreal theatre fans, but not to everybody’s taste.
Oh yes, the four big musical hits until now:
      The Boys From Syracuse - Rodgers and Hart 1938 based on The Comedy of Errors.
      Kiss Me Kate - Cole Porter 1948 based on The Taming of The Shrew
      West Side Story – Laurents, Bernstein and Sondheim 1957 based on Romeo and Juliet
      The Lion King - Elton John and Tim Rice 1997 based on Hamlet


  1. Congrats Trevor, such a talent

  2. Why is Persephone and this production representing itself with the dreadful video posted through the gazette. A minute into the piece you see the chorus enter out of step and worse 1:40 into it, the lead character's voice clearly cracks.

  3. People who say "The Lion King" is based on Hamlet really have to go back and read Hamlet. "The Lion King" involves ONE plot point from Hamlet (the boy who's uncle has conspired to kill his father). By that logic, any story involving two lovers from different worlds is based on "Romeo and Juliet" and anything involving cross-dressing is based on "Twelfe Night".

  4. It would have taken you all of 10 seconds on Google to find proof that Hamlet and Lion King have more than passing similarities. Then, perhaps, you might not have snotted off

  5. I went you one better than 10 seconds on Google: i actually watched the Lion King, like a week ago, and have read and watched Hamlet dozens of times. The Anonymous poster above (not me) is spot-on: The similarities between Hamlet and the Lion King are coincidental and wildly exaggerated. The two stories may have characters that appear superficially parallel, but those characters have no significant traits in common (Simba is nothing like Hamlet; Scar is nothing like Claudius, etc). Aside from "Title character's uncle murders title character's father and usurps throne," there are NO plot-points in common that i can find.
    The Lion King actually has way more in common with Macbeth, if anyone bothers to think about it for themselves a little, rather than just spending the CP's suggested "10 seconds on Google."

  6. "a must see for serious Montreal theatre fans" ?... wow.
    It's nice to see the kid got a break, but this show is like some over-plagiarized/too-freely-borrowing/Shakespeare-worshipping school project that should never have been produced in the first place. It was not good, but hopefully the young author will look back on the experience and learn from it for his next work. Praise for mediocrity (if that) isn't going to make him a better writer.

  7. Neither is your overly-embellished distructive critisism. Maybe all that's meant by "a must see for serious Montreal theatre fans" is just that it's an interesting new work in a maybe compromising space that they have risen above to be able to put on this new show. It is the beginning of a young local writer, and maybe as a serious Montreal theatre fan, you will want to be apart of the growth.

    1. Well, yeah, I was a part of it in spite of myself, and it wasn't good. That's just honest. I hope I've not overly embellished this time.


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