By Megan Mooney
The Harder They Come, being presented by Mirvish Productions at the Canon Theatre, is based on the Jamaican movie of the same title that became a huge cult hit in the UK and North America. The movie, in turn, is based on the true story of Rhyging, a Jamaican singer cum folk hero.
Now, I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t start pulling together comparisons, but what I can tell you is that the play, like the movie, is filled with fantastic music. This would technically be a musical, but the story is not told in song, it’s more a play where there is a lot of singing.
This show has it all. It’s filled with amazing energy, fantastic singing, wonderful dancing, and topping it off is a fabulous design. The minute you walk into the building an atmosphere is being set. From popcorn and Red Stripe beer in the lobby, to actors in character greeting the audience in the theatre, all to the backdrop of folks jamming on stage. The mood is playful and inviting.
In fact, Crystal, my show-partner for this one (and a writer for Mooney on Theatre), told me she “really liked it!” Although I could hear the exclamation point in her voice, she made sure to point it out, telling me that there was an exclamation point at the end of the statement. She didn’t just like it, she really liked it.
Crystal said as much as she loves little indy things, sometimes it’s exciting to see a great big production. I have to agree. I love theatre of all shapes and sizes (I know, a huge surprise for those of you who read me regularly), which means, that sometimes a great big expensive crowd-pleasing production does is just what the doctor ordered.
It was not a huge surprise when Crystal told me her favourite part was the music, it’s pretty hard not to love. It was a night of gospel and reggae sung by some outstandingly talented singers, what’s not to love?
If you’re looking for something deep and enduring, this isn’t the show for you. The story is an interesting one, and has a lot of potential to go some interesting places and explore some interesting issues and themes, but it doesn’t push itself to try for those things. As a result the story becomes a rather shallow vehicle fleshed out by a bunch of fabulous music.
There were things I really appreciated about the production. For instance, I go on and on about making theatre less intimidating. Mirvish seems pretty ahead of the game on this one. In this case, the serving of popcorn, Jamaican patties and Grace chips in the theatre during intermission, along with the ability to bring whatever food and drinks you want into the theatre certainly helps to make things feel relaxed and certainly not intimidating at all. And, although the ticket prices of Mirvish prices may make them less accessible, there are 300 seats available at each performance for $25.00 (weekday performances) and $30.00 (weekend performances).
I also loved that the production resisted the temptation of watering down accents in an attempt to be more ‘universal’. The result was a fair bit of dialogue that I didn’t get, and I was just fine with that. I didn’t lose out on anything by not understanding each and every word, I still knew what was going on. I was happy to see the Jamaican patois on stage, and, although it didn’t really do much for me personally, I thought the patois glossary at the beginning of the program was a nice compromise.
As for the dancing, the choreography was fabulous. I loved watching these folks dance. And dance. And dance some more. I liked that there wasn’t an over abundance of groups of people dancing in unison, and that there was so much of what felt like people just dancing for themselves having fun. I should clarify, I enjoy in-unison dancing, I enjoy it a lot, but in this case, the dancing chose suited the production perfectly.
An additional note on the language piece. When I asked Crystal about it she said it took her a bit to get into the flow of it, but then once she did she was fine. She said that it was “kind of like watching Shakespeare – you may not understand every word, but you get the gist of the story” I really loved the comparison to Shakespeare, because, it’s true, it’s what Shakespeare felt like to me before studying it in school.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. As I said, the story had potential, but was left mostly unexplored. As a result, I kind of ended up feeling like I would have preferred a concert rather than trying to wrap the music into a narrative. The flow of the piece wasn’t what it could have been as a result. Not sure if it was the music interrupting the flow of the story, or the story interrupting the flow of the story, but there was something about the piece that felt a bit stilted.
I’ve already said that I liked that they didn’t water down the accents too much, but I have a complaint about the accents too. It’s not an uncommon complaint in a show filled with accents, but it still bugs me. There were a few actors who kept slipping out of their accent. Unlike a lot of shows in Toronto, when they slip out of the accent what we here is a British accent, but it’s just as distracting as an actor slipping out of a British accent into a Toronto accent. Since this is the first stop in their international tour, I’m hoping that this will work itself out as the run goes on.
Overall though, I really enjoyed myself. I wished I was in a space where I could get up and dance through the musical numbers. The energy was infectious. The woman next to me couldn’t help herself from singing along. It was great fun.
So, if you get a chance, I recommend you check out The Harder They Come before it’s gone. I suspect this one will sell out fast, given the fact that it’s based on such a cult hit, so my recommendation is try and get your tickets as soon as possible.
– The Harder They Come is playing at the Canon Theatre (244 Victoria St) until August 23, 2009
– Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 PM; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00PM
– Ticket prices range from $25.00 to $95.00
– Tickets are available online at www.mirvish.com or by calling TicketKing at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or in person at the Box Office
Photo by Robert Day