OnStage Toronto Critic
Well, I can now strike that one from the list. I have always wanted to attend an opening night world premiere of a much-anticipated musical, especially one produced by the return of impresario Garth Drabinsky. Immediately upon entering the grand dame of Toronto’s Elgin Theatre, there was a heightened buzz of excitement and intrigue as I spotted many of Toronto’s television personalities plus numerous New York glitterati and Broadway illuminati who were probably flown in to see a hopeful transfer of this production to the Big Apple.
I really wanted to like this, I really did, but I left the March 23, 2017 opening night performance feeling a void and thinking, “That’s it?” At this time, SOUSATZKA lacks cohesion and unity in its structure. Too much is thrown at us from two historical moments, and it’s exhausting in trying to figure it out their connection. That is not to say SOUSATZKA is a terrible production as there are wonderful dramatic and musical moments. But it’s just mere glimpses of scenes to which we have become privy and it becomes confusing. There appears to be no unity in linking one moment to the next. Further work is needed in the development of the musical’s structure.
SOUSATZKA is set in London, England in 1982 and tells the story of a piano musical prodigy (Jordan Barrow) torn between two extremely powerful women: his mother (Montego Glover), a highly charged political refugee from South Africa and his teacher Madame Sousatzka (Victoria Clark), a brilliant but eccentric piano teacher with a haunted and shattered past from the Holocaust. These two historical paths cross culturally become at odds with each other where our emotions are constantly battered. Combine all of this along with a horrible crime committed at the end of Act 1, and our emotions are depleted. There was a hush over the audience at the end of first act and wondering if there should be applause or not.
Technically the performance is sound on many levels and there are some marvelous special effects to watch. Victoria Clark lights up the Elgin stage with some beautifully orchestrated solos where we see the possibility of this show taking off though the rafters. What a true delight in the performance of young Jordan Barrow as the prodigy, Themba. It was nice finally to have a chance to see Broadway’s Judy Kaye perform but her storyline, as the Countess, needs to be explored further. The development in some of the story lines of secondary characters of Jenny and Felix Manders require further revision and connection to the story and the two historical frameworks.
Normally the acoustics in the Elgin are excellent so I don’t know if the sound system was at its peak or not. Many of the lyrics in the choral numbers are lost or garbled. Obviously, with a show of this magnitude, a good deal of the dramatic impact will have to come from the choral numbers; nevertheless, if you can’t hear the words to the songs, then you’re going to miss out on so much. And yet, the choral numbers sung in Afrikanns are gorgeously orchestrated for their various harmonies and melodies.
Sousatzka runs to April 9 at the Elgin Theatre 189 Yonge Street, Toronto. For further information, visit sousatzkamusical.com.