Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
Last summer I discovered an idyllic spot for outdoor theatre at 4th Line in Millbrook, Ontario. I also remember saying I was kicking myself for the fact that I didn’t get out here sooner. There was no way that I intended to miss any future productions.
My friend, Carolyn, and I had the opportunity to hear playwright Beau Dixon speak about his play ‘Bloom: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable’ which premiered the night before. His talk about his interest in the early years of Canadian rock and roll, primarily in the Kawartha Lakes Region, was once again extremely helpful to understand the context of the play. This discussion led me to think about those local Canadian bands from this region who never made it. What happened to them? Where are those band members now?
As he continued the question and answer session, I could see the tears well in Mr. Dixon’s eyes as he was extremely proud that his story and music were shared last night. Two things he wanted us to remember before seeing ‘Bloom’ – never forgot your roots, and to think about those small Canadian bands from rural towns that never had the chance to shine.
After seeing the production, I heartily agree that Mr. Dixon, Director Kim Blackwell, Music Director Justin Hiscox and the 30-member company have a great deal to be proud of in their involvement with ‘Bloom: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable’. Ms. Blackwell has solidly created a realistic world where impressionable people can get sucked into a vortex of wanting it all too quickly. Mr. Hiscox’s direction of the vocal work is impressive and stirring. Periodically, I closed my eyes and just listened to the rock sound. It’s a shame this band, ‘The Spruce Street Ramblers’, is fictional as I would have wanted to purchase music online.
There are numerous moments where I could feel my smile get wider as these performers were truly enjoying themselves. I am trying to do my best not to give away any of the plot twists and turns in several intensely dramatic moments that, at times, took me by surprise as I didn’t see any leadup to those choices.
Some enlarged sixties and seventies album covers (Ian and Sylvia Tyson, The Hawk ‘RONNIE HAWKINS’, The Monkees, Bob Dylan) adorn the barn walls. Seeing the CHUM Radio sign along with Geoff Hewitson as DJ extraordinaire Del Crary took me back so many years ago when I had my transistor radio (yes, I had one) to 1050 AM. Esther Vincent’s selection of preshow music from the 60s had several audience members around me mouthing the words. I was too, so there. Stage left was the concert/performing stage for the fictional band in this production of The Spruce Street Ramblers. The transition of the passing years to the early 70s was effectively controlled in a soundscape of 60s music. To watch what was happening in the 60s of free love and trying all kinds of ‘things’ was a reminder to many of us in the audience how our lives have changed and morphed dramatically.
Rhys Morgan McClean and Jack Newton are delightfully cast as the young Eli and Neph who are itching to get out of this rural town and make it big in music. Their bit at the top of the show where they are playing music is great fun to watch. Shelley Simester and JD Nicholsen are particularly strong in their performances as the ‘authority figures’ for the youth who make it as The Spruce Street Ramblers.
As the elder Eli and Neph, Griffin Clark and Owen Stahn are sensational as they show peaks and valleys in their characterization and growth especially when newcomer to The Spruce Street Ramblers Theresa Wilson (a terrific sounding Kate Suhr) enters the scene. What a coup and treat to find individuals who can sing, play musical instruments and who can act as well. But as Kim Blackwell points out in her Director’s Notes, “Bloom celebrates the creative dreams many of us have and the sacrifices and heartache experienced in the pursuit of that dream.” Again, I’m trying not to give away any plot spoilers, but when this reality during the production hits, it hit me very hard. Pay careful attention to the tremendously affecting performance of Matt Gilbert as the conniving, secretive band manager, Richard Brockton, and you’ll begin to understand Ms. Blackwell’s comment.
I would also be remiss if I did not point out the varied age ranges of the entire company who were concert bouncers, various church goers, festival attendees concert patrons and community members. What a wonderful and important opportunity 4th Line provides to youth who may have an interest in the performing arts. Many of them appeared not to have been around in the 60s so I’m sure there would have been history lessons, discussion and a lot of rehearsal in order to capture the spirit of the time without it bordering into the comically absurd. Meredith Hubbard’s costume design of tie dyes and floral patterns combined with Monica Dottor’s 60s dance moves added to the visual look of the era.
Final Comments: Beau Dixon asks some important questions in his Playwright Notes: ‘What does it take to reach success?’; ‘How do you determine success?’ and ‘What do you sacrifice to get you to the next level of success?’ Three extremely important questions which I wished we could have discussed with the playwright and the director post performance.
In any event, ‘Bloom: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fable’ is a worthy evening of theatrical entertainment. Get to see it if you can.
Running Time approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one interval.
‘Bloom: A Rock n Roll Fable’ continues to July 27 at 6:00 pm at The Winslow Farm, 779 Zion Line, Millbrook Ontario. For tickets visit www.4thlinetheatre.on.ca or call 705-932-4445.
Written by Beau Dixon; Directed by Kim Blackwell; Songs written by Beau Dixon & Dave Tough; Musical Direction by Justin Hiscox; Costume Design by Meredith Hubbard; Set Design by Esther Vincent; Fight Direction by Edward Belanger; Choreography by Monica Dottor