Review: Where’s Charley? – it doesn’t get much wackier than this

As musicals go, they don’t get much wackier than Where’s Charley? And with the unrestrained energy of the cast, the Studio 58 production, on stage through April 18th, works hard to milk that wackiness for all it is worth.

Based on the 1898 farce Charley’s Aunt, this musical version of Brandon Thomas’ play is just as silly as its source material. Charley Wykeham (Benajmin Elliott) and Jack Chesney (Graeme McComb) anxiously await the arrival of Charley’s aunt, Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez (Joy Castro) from Brazil. Donna Lucia is to act as chaperone between the two men and their sweethearts Kitty (Amy Hall-Cummings) and Amy (Caitlin McCarthy). Problem is, the aunt fails to arrive on the train.

Knowing that it would be improper to entertain the two young women without a chaperone, Charley dons his costume from an upcoming school production, which quite coincidentally (wink, wink) arrives just in time. Now in drag, complete with Victorian dress, wig and fan, Charley becomes the aunt and his own escort.

Of course it isn’t enough for Charley to use his ruse to get closer to the two young ladies, for things get even more complicated as the girl’s father and guardian, Mr Spettigue (Dustin Freeland) and Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney (Byron Noble) arrive. Both men begin wooing “Charley’s aunt” in the hopes of marrying her for her fortunes.

Where's Charley?
Joy Castro as Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez and Benjamin Elliott as Charley’s Aunt. Photo by David Cooper.

Elliott’s Wykeham is full of charm and leads the cast in an energy that is at times dizzying. I couldn’t help but think that given the amount of running Director Dean Paul Gibson has Elliott do through the course of the show, it is no wonder he so skinny. The problem though is that Elliott works at such a feverish pitch right out of the starting gates that he really has no where else to go. Director Gibson does try to mix things up, including in what seemed an interminable chase scene between “Charley’s aunt” and Spettigue, but after a few jumps over benches it all becomes somewhat repetitious.

The cast attempts Loesser’s music with conviction but didn’t always hit the right notes. The highlight in the singing department for me came from Joy Castro as the real Donna Lucia, but she is only given one small part in one number to show off her talent with “Lovelier Than Ever”. Wykeham squeezes everything he can from “Once In Love With Amy” and not surprisingly the audience relishes in the sing-along portion.

Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt does some nice bits with the larger ensemble and while musically “The New Ashmolean” was a bit weak, the cast certainly made up for it with Hunt’s dance.

Chris Sinosich’s costumes are spot-on from the very preppy Yale look for the men to the mostly pastel colours on the women. The costumes are a nice contrast to Pam Johnson’s set which is mostly black and ivory with hints of colour in the garden and ballroom scenes.  Lighting Designer Darren Boquist uses liberal use of follow spots that didn’t always find their mark and at times I pondered the colour changes with the stage lights with little success in understanding what it meant.

The small band, with keyboard (Steven Grenfield), percussion (Nick Fontaine) and bass (Laurence Mollerup), does a fine job with Loesser’s score and is at most times balanced to the actors who are without microphones.

The decision to produce Where’s Charley? was made by long-time Studio 58 Musical Director and instructor Lloyd Nicholson, who died suddenly last year. The show is dedicated to his memory.  I couldn’t help but wonder what impact Nicholson would have had here, for while the show is definitely wacky, in this case that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

3 out 5 Stars Where’s Charley?
Studio 58, Langara College
25 March – 18 April 2010

Studio 58 proudly presents Where’s Charley?, a charming and hysterically funny musical adapted from one of the most popular farces ever written, on stage from March 25 to April 18, 2010. Frank Loesser’s tuneful and catchy score delivers non-stop entertainment for the entire family! Tickets are $16.50 – $24.50 each available online at Tickets Tonight or by calling 604.684.2787.

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