Review: The Park – all grown-up and ready for prime time

Back in January I had the opportunity to witness the birth of a brand new, made in Vancouver musical by a talented team of theatre students from Langara’s Studio 58.  At the time I suggested that the show wasn’t quite ready for prime-time.  Fast forward nine months and I was pleasantly surprised to see v2.0 of The Park mature into a fun full-length send-up of life in Vancouver.

Gabe (Dustin Freeland reprising his role), a greedy developer, is out to make Stanley Park a parking lot.  On the opposite side of the issue is militant tree-hugger Geena (Amy Hall-Cummings).  Caught in the middle is the recently laid off Park’s Board worker John (Joel Ballard).  Geena and Gabe battle it out by seeing who can collect the most names on their petitions, to either save or pave the city’s beloved Park.  Along the way John and Geena find love amongst the trees and the real reason for Gabe’s anti-green sentiment is revealed.

But more than just a love story or some silly notion of Stanley Park becoming the city’s largest Impark, playwrights Benjamin Elliott, Hannah Johnson and Anton Lipovetsky serve up the silliness with some wonderful satire about life in Vancouver.  Along with a bicycle riding, juice drinking President of Vancouver who is more worried about image than policy, the trio takes aim at a society so wrapped up in themselves they couldn’t possibly get involved, development versus preservation and even a media that has a hard time focusing on the real story.

The entire cast does a great job but the real powerhouses are leads Joel Ballard and Amy Hall-Cummings.  Not only can these two sing, but they also provide some depth to their characters that could so easily be lost within the satire.  Perhaps it is in the fact they are the two least broadly drawn characters in the story but even so, lesser actors would have simply succumbed to the kookiness that surrounds them.  Other highlights include Graeme McComb’s hilarious send-up of our Mayor (here referred to as The President of Vancouver) and Dustin Freeland’s Gabe, who has obviously benefited from reprising his role.

Joel Ballard as John & Amy Hall-Cummings as Geena in The Park on stage at Studio 58 through October 17.
Joel Ballard as John & Amy Hall-Cummings as Geena in The Park on stage at Studio 58 through October 17th.  Photo by David Cooper.

Elliott, Johnson and Lipovetsky give us a wide variety of musical styles from the goose-bump inducing opening “Springtime Happening” to the Rent inspired “Make a Change” to the hip-hop fun of “A to the Q to the Warium” in act two.

Along with the longer run-time comes a bigger and bolder set.  Set Designer Bryan Pollock gives us towering tree trunks and a beautiful West Coast grey sky backdrop over the Lions Gate Bridge.  In keeping with the tone of the show, these are simple cut-outs but they work so perfectly with what’s happening on stage and in capturing some of what makes our city so unique.

The show has also benefited from Kayla Dunbar’s choreography providing a greater visual feast to some of the musical numbers.  The trio of musicians features two of the show’s writers, Benjamin Elliott on keyboards and Anton Lipovetsky on guitar in addition to percussionist Spencer Schoening with the music tight and rarely overpowering.

More than just an opportunity to see a fun evening of theatre with a couple serious messages thrown in, The Park is also an opportunity to be part of one of those rare “I remember them when” moments in life.  Do yourself a favour, go see this show and be part of that moment.  Despite the chickens.

4 out of 5 Stars The Park, A Musical
Studio 58, Langara College
30 September – 17 October 2010

Tickets are $10 – $25 available online at Tickets Tonight.  Visit http://www.langara.bc.ca/studio58/ for more information.

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Joel Ballard as John & Amy Hall-Cummings as Geena in The Park on stage at Studio 58 through october 17.

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