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Theatre review: Connected The Musical fails to make a connection

Vancouver has been a hotbed of homegrown musical theatre in recent years, but as Connected: The Musical proves, not every story necessarily deserves the musical treatment.

Member of the cast of the Whirlwind Theatre Productions presentation of Connected: The Musical. Photo by Colin Mills.

Member of the cast of the Whirlwind Theatre Productions presentation of Connected: The Musical. Photo by Colin Mills.

Amanda is a climbing the corporate ladder in her brother-in-law’s online dating firm.  Convinced now that she has the corner office and can focus on more than just her career, boyfriend Paul pops “the question”.  Little does Paul realize though, the connection he has with Amanda isn’t quite as strong as he thought.  Throw in an over-the-top boss who can’t tell the difference between cinnamon and nutmeg (in an odd unexplained running gag) and an eager intern who can only be abused so long, and you end up with a rather banal story that fails to connect.

In reading the advance press on Connected, one could be forgiven in thinking that perhaps it is going to do to online dating what Craigslist Cantata did for online classified ads.  Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth with this collectively written work more uninspired romantic comedy set to music than a humorous take on our collective need for connection.  There are some attempts here to show how we are all somehow connected, but those connections are not all that compelling.  Disappointingly, the one that showed some real promise, a chance meeting between Paul and intern Stephanie early-on, is never fully explored.

As a musical, there is a lot of repetition. Not as in reprises, but in the songs themselves.  Even the songs that open and close the show (6am and 6pm) felt repetitive and not just in title, although in fairness 6pm was the only song that felt sufficiently polished.

The cast (Alison Chisholm, Richard Meen, Jennifer Pielak and Brad Rossington) are all gorgeous, but with an acknowledged fear of sounding as shallow as this show’s story, one should not be hoping one of them takes a shirt off or parades around in their underwear one more time.

Without microphones, director Chris Lam challenges his actors, who appear more comfortable with the comedy than the music, by placing them at times in the four corners of the equally challenging Pacific Theatre space.  Without strong voices it is virtually impossible to overcome this configuration.

Set designer Laughlin Johnston cleverly uses internet icons to highlight location and his spare moveable set pieces work well.

The small band is split between the two sides of the Pacific Theatre’s traverse stage, no doubt because of space limitations.  The addition of John Voth on violin was a pleasant surprise and in one of the absurdly funny moments both he and guitarist Evan Thompson are able to have a little fun with some pelvic thrusts during one of the musical numbers.

In his director’s notes Chris Lam talks of Connected as an experiment in writing, presentation and performance.  This one just may need a little more time in the test tube.

Connected: The Musical

Written by Peter Abando, Alison Chisholm and Jennifer Pielak. Directed by Chris Lam. Musical direction by Peter Abando.  A Whirlwind Theatre Productions presentation.  On stage at Pacific Theatre through July, 27, 2013.  Visit http://whirlwindtheatre.com for tickets and information.

Mark Robins on Google+

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