Saturday, October 2, 2010

Of Parks and Musical Recreation

The best recent satire of municipal politics and competing Vancouver lifestyles is playing through to October 17 at Langara College's Studio 58, and best of all, you can hum along.

The Park is an original musical by Benjamin Elliott, Hannah Johnson, and Anton Lipovetsky about Vancouver's oasis of green in the West End, Stanley Park. It began life as a one-act collection of songs that premiered last spring, and has since evolved into a classic two-act musical comedy that weds the signature elements of the genre (including a central boy-girl romance and its impediments) to a bit of local colour. Add a firecracker cast having goofy fun with every outsized stereotype they're asked to incarnate and punchy lyrics dripping with irony, and you have a recipe for a hit. Can a summer run at Malkin Bowl be far behind? The setting would be appropriate.

The story pits tree-hugging environmentalist Geena (Amy Hall-Cummings) against the dastardly Gabriel Fines (Dustin Feeland), a developer who, in the words of Joni Mitchell, wants "to pave paradise and put up a parking lot." Caught in the middle is the hapless John Bristle (Joel Ballard), a Parks Board employee who pines for Geena from afar and who, in a fit of pique after receiving a pink slip from the city, is tricked into signing a petition supporting Gabriel's plans. When Geena starts a rival petition to save the park, John joins her fight in an attempt to woo her. But things go south in parkland when Geena learn that John's name is the first one on Gabriel's petition. That's the one that ends up receiving the blessing of the city's "President," a yoga-addicted, bicycle-driving, juice-swilling pretty boy who plays both sides of the development/environmental divide with equal charm, and who will have you doing double-takes about some of Mayor Robertson's kookier ideas. (Suffice to say that Geena's Chicken Waltz number will have you rolling in the aisles.)

As does the current administration occupying City Hall, and the musical deus ex machina ending--which sees Gabriel's former radical environmental activist parents talking their son out of his plans by offering him a job at their sustainable forestry business--is an apt allegory for a city that wants its cake green, but to eat it too.

Again, the entire cast is top-notch, but kudos must especially go to the male leads, Ballard and Freeman, who play off each other perfectly. Musically, the score mixes classic show tunes with rap and hip hop, and even barbershop, all to great effect. Elliott on keyboards and Lipovetsky on guitar, together with Specer Schoening on drums, make a crackerjack three-piece orchestra.

I can't wait for this creative team's next offering. Might I suggest something around the Olympics and the whole Athletes' Village debacle? With Millennium only yesterday defaulting on their loan, the provincial government rejecting all three social housing bids, and the City now scrambling to rescue the whole project, what could be more timely or topical?


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