Theatre review: Stationary: a recession era musical has it all (with no rat poison in sight)

What a difference a couple of years can make.

Two years ago Stationary: a recession era musical started out as a ten minute short with the even more unwieldy title of Parked: an indie rock musical with novelty instruments. And even though we knew at the time the team at Delinquent Theatre was onto something, from humble beginnings that included performing inside a Vancouver parkade, creators Christine Quintana and Mishelle Cuttler have expanded their original concept into a full-length musical.

Stationary tells the story of a group of office workers at the generically named Northern Light Communications who put in their eight hours at cubicles below the uninspiring banner “People Helping Connect People to People”.  While a few try to convince themselves and their friends they are in publishing, in reality they manage the placement of ads in magazines and newspapers.  As the workers go about their business, their uptight supervisor Anna dangles the possibility of a promotion and a romance buds between newbie Aiden and receptionist Lizzie.

The quest for hope and creativity among a dead-end job is probably not the most uplifting stories for a musical, but there is so much talent oozing from the stage, both from its creators and actors, that even with its depressing sounding theme it is, hopefully like the economy, headed for bigger and better things.  It is also very funny.

Cuttler provides a wide range of musical styles for Quintana to work off; hip-hop, rap and even baroque choral music all come together to provide as many surprises in the music as in Quintana’s witty book.  From the rousing lament in the opening number “When I was 8…” to the closing anthem of “Tomorrow, My Friend” the duo work effectively in keeping things fresh and original; no reprises in sight here.

Members of the cast in a scene from Stationary: a recession-era musical.  Photo by Tristan Casey.
Members of the cast in a scene from Stationary: a recession-era musical.  Photo by Tristan Casey.

The cast here is first-rate as well. Quintana, who steps on stage as does her writing partner Cuttler, plays the mousy receptionist Lizzie with a voice that is matched beautifully with Xander Williams’ Aiden, the unrequited object of her desire.  Meaghan Chenosky and Kayla Dunbar work well off each other, Brian Cochrane raps his way through some very funny moments and Cuttler takes her role of the hardnosed Anna very seriously.  If that isn’t enough and proving just how talented this group really is, wait until you see what lurks beneath set designer Lauchlin Johnston’s grey drab cubicles and in the hands of the tight little band of Alex Hauka, Molly MacKinnon and Arlen Kristian Tom.

Despite the talent on and off stage though not everything works, especially when the cast sing on top of each other in some of the larger numbers which become muddled, and while “Tomorrow, My Friend” is a brilliantly written song, it fails to have the emotional impact it should.  A little self-realization among a cast that no doubt helped inspire the musical in the first place would also go a long way. Technically, lighting designer Kougar Basi misses a real opportunity to fully delineate between the stark flourescents of the real world and the musical fantasies.

In 1980 the movie 9 to 5 burst on the scene, going on to be a top-twenty highest grossing comedies and helped define a decade.  And while the film dealt with sexism in the workplace as opposed to the reality of life after university, it is easy to draw parallels.  But where 9 to 5 eventually went on to become a tepid Broadway musical that lost the edge of its source material, out of the gates Stationary: a recession era musical has that edge built right in and manages to do it all without a box of rat poison in sight.

4 Out of 5 Stars Stationary: a recession-era musical

Books and lyrics by Christine Quintana. Music by Mishelle Cuttler.  With rap lyrics by Brian Cochrane. Directed by Laura McLean. A Presentation House Theatre presentation of a Delinquent Theatre production.  On stage at Presentation House in North Vancouver through April 14, 2013.  Visit http://phtheatre.org for tickets and information.

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