Thursday 2 March 2017

Elbow Room Cafe musical hoots & howls love 
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Quick history : It's irrelevant whether the first kernel of an idea for Elbow Room Cafe : The Musical was spawned by Seinfeld's original "Soup nazi" that was fashioned after Ali Yeganeh's Soup Kitchen International. "No soup for you!" Ali told patrons who irritated him. Or perhaps by the pushy staff at Schwartz's Deli in Montreal. Not to forget Katz's 130-year-old pastrami megalith in NYC's Lower East Side where folks who question ingredients or ordering protocol are kicked out summarily. No matter. Because this is a Vancouver-based show whose whimsical aromas and flavours and verbal abuses for its patrons are homegrown if not 100% unique to our town.  

The original ERC on Jervis Street was squeezed into one apartment of a house that originally belonged to Malcolm A. MacLean, Vancouver's first mayor. ERC owners and life partners Bryan Searle and Patrick Savoie were infamous in the West End from Day 1 : "C'mon, hurry up, find a table. Be quick, they go fast. Just so you know the first cup of coffee we will serve -- when we find the time -- but from then on you're on your own, sweetheart! Oh. And water. I don't have a clue where it is. Go find it yourself," I seem to recall Savoie sniping with faux-sarcasm at me back in '83 or '84 as we squeezed our butts into one of ERC's lilliputian hard-ass chairs in their 16-seat room. 

Whence their fame ? Hangover-Sunday-brunches with a tonne of grease, carbos, salt and verbal abuse were precisely what was not only on-order but quite needed on such daze. For its part, the original ERC venue was popularized by Hollywood actors staying in suites up at Mel Zajac's Pacific Palisades on Robson. Their autograph'd photos adorn the cafe's walls, cheek by jowl. 

Punted from Jervis St. in '96 when the heritage building was being restored, ERC moved to its current location on the Davie Street cusp between the West End & Yaletown. The cafe is a local landmark : famed not only for the owners' playful shouty jousts with diners but also for their long-renowned support for gay locals and neighbours, in particular over the years ministering to the area's HIV folk. 

An additional schtick is how patrons who don't lick their plates clean can't leave until they contribute to the gay food support network A Loving Spoonful. The musical involves two dozen cast and four intersecting storylines built upon "a day in the life of..." ERC, its colourful owners and the wacko cast of characters that daily drift through its front doors.

How it's all put together :  ZeeZee Theatre Company principals Dave Deveau and Cameron Mackenzie are not only life partners but also playwright and director, respectively, of this gallimaufury of a musical farce they tuned up together with talented local composer / librettist Anton Lipovetsky.

Four years in the writing, a version of the current script was originally field-tested at Langara's Studio 58 a couple years back. Main focus is on the owners, now 80- & 60-something apiece. There's an anniversary couple from Tennessee here to take in Vancouver's sights who wander innocently into ERC's jumble and clutter of clientele. Also an estranged lesbian couple, separated 253 days, who just might reconcile in the restaurant's warm embrace. Finally the funnest bunch, a still-drunk hooting and hollering bachelorette trio whose bride-to-be is within one last tequila shot of falling off the radar screen altogether and missing the flight to the Mexico destination wedding Mommy & Daddy have arranged.

What shines in the production :  The York Theatre is the perfect venue for this quasi-pantomime type show. Actors "break the fourth wall" continuously to interact with the audience. Aisles are perfect descent alleys for off-stage antics. Given the overlaying gay characterizations & theme & mock-up of ERC's Davie Street shop, Marina Szijarto's rainbow-themed backdrop -plus- Gay Pride throwaway garish Mardi Gras set for the final party were simply choice. Her costumes are a mix of plain straight threads and outrageous neon colour.

Director Mackenzie squeezed every ounce of joy juice out of playwright Deveau's generally antic, manic script with spot-on casting and stage business pointers. Aiding him capably indeed was choreographer Jessica Hickman who excelled particularly in three show-stopping numbers -- "Testosterone", "It's the Beginning of the End" and "Let A Girl Eat!" -- each of which had the ON crowd clapping and cheering and shouting their enthusiasm gustily and generously. Punchy tunes by Mr. Lipovetsky with lyrics largely to laugh at but a couple of touching ballads to boot.

Mostly chipper chirpy smart-assy stuff,  ERC : The Musical explores themes not the sole province of gay culture. What does commitment mean and look like? Must it include marriage? What about individuals' life legacies -- is it necessary to preserve the illusion of "The older I get the better I was" or is letting go to let go as we age a wiser path? To this ear the Deveau script suffered slightly from a bit too much preachy dialogue from Bryan (David M. Adams) re: why marriage is such a tired institution. But by-&-large the fun that Allan Zinyk as Patrick referred to constantly was what this show is all about. 

Acting pin-spots : Fans of East Van Panto's from seasons past will thrill at Mr. Zinyk's verbal and facial shenanigans in ERC:TM. He utterly outdoes the best I have previously witnessed from him in those panto shows. Campy, kitschy, madcap farce he delivers with an exhausting ironic consistency. 

Three supporting actors also caught this eye. Nathan Kay as the wannabe gay Man of Honour Stephen for a deliriously drunk Amanda (Synthia Yusuf) was consistently nimble and nuanced the night through. Justin Lapena as the phantasy-sequence gay come-on caricature Chiffon was effervescent good fun. And though her role was smallish, Olivia Hutt as Jill the jilted ex-lover of Jackie (Christina Quintana) had the best subtle stage business fully at-hand throughout. As mentioned, the cast for ERC:TM was to-a-person consistent in choice with clever stage delivery by all involved.

Who gonna like : This is vintage Vancouver victuals for folks hungry to see the lighter sides of our robust gay culture. Would Cafe "play in Peoria", as the expression has it? Not likely. But it would find magnetism and chummy shout-outs in any N.A. city that has equally open and accepted gay cohorts as what Vancouver's West End / Yaletown / Commercial Drive areas champion. 

The wit and cheeky disrespect for straight society that stereotypical gays seem to draw from one another -- and the sheer joie de vivre many live out so vigorously and openly -- these are the values on display here. There is a swack of fun and laughs and claps to be had at the York in this show. A short run, so make plans quick! to not miss this silly but soulful musical outing.

Particulars :  Produced by ZeeZee Theatre Company as a presentation of The Cultch. Book by Dave Deveau.  Composer & Co-lyricist Anton Lipovetsky.  Directed by Cameron Mackenzie.  At the York Theatre.  From March 2-12.  Run-time 120 minutes including intermission.  Tickets on-line @ The Cultch or by phone 604.251.1363.

Production crew : Director Cameron Mackenzie.  Musical Director Clare Wyatt.  Choreographer Jessica Hickman.  Set & Costume Designer Marina Szijarto.  Lighting Designer Kyla Gardiner.  Sound Designer Kyra Soko.  Stage Manager Jillian Perry.  Technical Director Stephen Beaver.  Assistant Director Bronwyn Carradine.  Assistant Stage Manager Hannah Case  Design Assistants Alannah Korf, Taylor Janzen  Costume Construction Darryl Milot.

Performers :  David M. Adams (Bryan).  Steven Greenfield (Tim).  Olivia Hutt (Jill).  Nathan Kay (Stephen).  Justin Lapena (Chiffon / Nelson).  Christina Quintana (Jackie).  Emma Slipp (Tabby).  Stephanie Wong (Beth).  Synthia Yusuf (Amanda).  Allan Zinyk (Patrice).

The Band :  Molly McKinnon (Violin).  Clare Wyatt (Keyboard).  Sally Zori (Percussion). 


No comments:

Post a Comment