Review: "Better Than This" at Fabulist Theatre

  • Samantha Dowdell, Contributing Critic - Vancouver

Better Than This: The Evolution of Women in Musicals is an informative journey of the history of women's roles in musical theatre. Anyone who is a musical theatre buff will enjoy their favourite songs and commentary performed by four distinct personalities bringing emotion, humour, and pure womanly talent to the stage. Brianna Clark, Kyrst Hogan, Dionne Phillips, and Cathy Wilmot worked seamlessly together to deliver the history of women in theatre, quipping their lines back and forth, and jumping in and out of musical numbers with ease.

The night moved along swiftly in the first act, though not without its hiccups, but I assume by this weekend the working-like-clockwork feeling of most of the night will be nearly seamless by the end of the show's run. The sheer amount of historical facts these women needed to memorize was impressive, and in the rare occasion that one of the ladies needed help from her cast-members to deliver a name or date, they were right there with her, exemplifying women raising up women. Numbers were performed with a humorous tongue-in-cheek, with the cast rolling their eyes at lines like "I can't say no", yet preserving the heart-and-soul of each piece. The small jumps in progress throughout the decades weren't let off the hook entirely but celebrated nonetheless.

The second half of the night was when our cast members really shone, as the musical numbers became much richer - more humorous, more emotional, with more depth. It wasn't just that the songs provided improved (which they did) but the performance by each woman soared to new heights as they dug into each role with passion and love. Chills were felt through the entire room for almost every song at some point due to the intense vocal talent of the cast, but the musical crowning glory of the show had to be the medley between three powerhouse numbers: "Sweet Liberty", "Astonishing", and "Defying Gravity" all from just after the turn of the century. Look forward to Wilmont's rendition of "Changing my Major", which made me laugh until I cried, but save your tissues from Clark's heartfelt performance of "Everything I Know", which brought many to tears. Even better than some of the solo performances were the duets which showcased not just the vocal abilities but the partnerships of the cast members. All four of the cast members had their chance to wow the audience, which didn't seem difficult for them at all considering their vibrant personalities and talents.

Given the very minimalistic and intimate venue, it was not difficult to hear or see each cast member during dialogue or musical numbers on stage, unless they moved their performance to the centre aisle. I enjoyed how much the cast members were able to interact with the audience, sometimes going right up into the few rows of seats there were, but if you want to catch every word it would be best to snag those golden seats front and centre. Alternatively, if you don't want to be turning your head much - back and centre.

The entire experience was nothing short of entertaining and endearing, from the performances to the story to the venue at Havana, which I suggest everyone keep their eye on for future shows. If it weren't for a tight schedule, I would have loved to stay around after the show in the lovely warm-lit restaurant, located on Commerical Drive.

Women's roles were undoubtedly celebrated in this show, and learning about the past left the audience with hope and joy for the future. As the show made the distinction between romanticization and humanization in female characters, I believe "Better Than This" humanized the progress of women's roles in musical theatre. Although this history hasn't been perfect, it's certainly been a journey. To the cast, I'd like to say the same refrain that signified the achievements of women who made a difference in the history of women in theatre: 

"We salute you!"

Photo Credit: Katie Powell Photographphy 

Playing at the Havana Theatre 1212 Commercial Drive, Vancouver Canada

All shows at 8pm except Sunday March 3 & Saturday March 9 (2pm ONLY)

Friday March 8 (International Women's Day) begins at 7:30pm and includes a post-show talkback