Hero & Leander (Common Descent) 2011 SummerWorks Review

Fresh off the Fringe Festival with their last show Cendrillon (click here for Mooney on Theatre review), Common Descent brings us another retelling of a classic story with their new musical Hero & Leander. The story is basically the first known incarnation of the star-crossed lovers plot, but the small ensemble of Greco-Torontonian Gods and Mortals bring a hilarious and exuberant spin on this fairly familiar story-arc.

In his program note, Writer/Director Kevin Michael Shea explains that he started working on the story because he is “afraid of being alone,” but also “of being with someone.” This interesting set of conflicting motivations come out in his re-spinning of the story.

The Gods Neptune and Venus rule the universe of what is “kind of like Ancient Greece but not really, more like contemporary Toronto, but not really” (this is paraphrased from the opening number, I couldn’t catch all the spitfire lyrics). They are written and played as brilliantly as you can imagine Gods would be if they lived in Toronto, as if life is a constant party filled with fine wine and orgies! And of course, brunch!

Kimberly Persona evokes a Carol Kane-like debauched hag, in her fabulous, incredibly physical portrayal of Venus. The decision to make the God of Love this slutty old drunk is just one example of the production’s ingenuity. Neptune (Rich Jon Egan) is a bored though equally strung-out partier living in a condo by the sea with the doting demi-God Ganymede (Rob Kempson).

But all is soon set asunder when Hero (Kaitlin Torrance), a young maiden who has vowed chastity to Venus, catches the eye of handsome lifeguard Leander (Fraser Elsdon), all on the same night Neptune falls in love with Leander himself!

Some writers may have proceeded with some overwrought, dramatic love-triangle, but this time the plot unfolds with surprising realism, in fact, the story covers six months of time. Telephone conversations between our title characters are scored moodily and performed in near darkness, while musical numbers are both comedically raw and devastatingly earnest.

Most of the songs were solos sung to the audience, but it was the few ensemble numbers that really showed the extent of the talents of composer Scott Christian. I would have liked to see a few more outright duets. That being said, there is plenty of musical variety throughout the mature and inventive score, with songs ranging from bawdy show-tunes to simple lyrical melodies.

If you love musicals performed by talented singers who really sing from the heart, you will love this refreshing take on a classic myth.


Hero & Leander is playing at the Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst St, on:

Sunday August August 7th at 10:00 PM

Wednesday August 10th at 7:30 PM

Friday August 12th at 2:30 PM

Saturday August 13th at 5:00 PM

– All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.artsboxoffice.ca, by phone at 416.504.7529, in person at at the Arts Box Office (located at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave., One block North East of Bathurst & Queen W. M-F 12PM-7PM, Weekends 10AM-8PM) (Advance tickets are $15 +HST and $1 service fee)

– Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows

Photo of Ethan Childs by Danielle Donn with makeup by Suhan Hanifa.