Review: Dancing Queen (Cabaret Company)

Sky Gilbert’s Dancing Queen is playing at Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times

There are many lovely things about seeing a performance by Sky Gilbert, but perhaps chief among them is: there’s no possible downside. Either it’s great and interesting, as usual, or not to your taste but still, certainly not boring. Dancing Queen, Gilbert’s latest, is squarely in the former category.

Dancing Queen, billed as an intergenerational love triangle told through dance and theatre, is properly a collaboration between Gilbert and Toronto performer and raconteur Keith Cole. Cole makes his mark on the piece by underscoring the typical wordy, wonderful Gilbert dialogue, all full of ideas, with lushly romantic fin de siécle dance interstitials. The actors act the scene  and then dance it, in period costume, with the dance scenes first mirroring the acted scenes and then beginning to diverge as the play progresses.

Great use is made of the three actors, especially youngster Nick Green, for whom Gilbert wrote the play. Green plays Alan, a beautiful young writer who is smarter by a mile than his twink-ly comportment suggests, pretty and witty and gay. He’s new to the city. Having finally arrived in the Big Smoke, he starts reaching out into the local scene – a process that continually rewards and fails him. Green is magnificently embodied in this role, displaying untold tiny mannerisms and nuances that create the character in physicality as much as in language. In the setting of this play, he sparkles.

Ryan Kelly (recently in The Normal Heart) and David-Benjamin Tomlinson play, respectively, the man who falls for Alan and the man Alan falls for, respectively. He meets Tomlinson’s character first, bumping into him at a party and then retiring together for further bumping in private from which the youngster never quite recovers his equilibrium. Later, he seeks out a somewhat well-known gay writer, Kelly’s character, and tries to get him to critique his story. Unfortunately for young Alan, his would-be mentor’s head is too turned by his youth and good looks.

Hijinks of the romantically-charged variety ensue.

As the real-time interactions become more strained and more difficult for the three men, somehow, the dance gets lighter and lovelier of spirit. Watching, I became aware of the growing disjunct between the acted scenes and the danced scenes slowly, which fit the from-a-gentler-time spirit of the dance scenes beautifully. As well, the dance moves allowed the characters to recreate an entirely new physicality for their characters, and all three used the opportunity marvelously. Choreographer Cole gets great work out of all three principals here.

I did not find that I could agree with all the assorted pronouncements about the nature of true love that each of the characters made, as I’m sure playwright Gilbert intended. But one series of exchanges toward the end, played between long-time lovers making up a fight, struck me as so perfectly, resonantly true I savored the lines in my mouth all the way home, repeating and enjoying the tone and flavor Tomlinson and Kelly gave them.

Dancing Queen is ultimately less of a message piece, in some ways, than some of Sky Gilbert’s other work has been; it’s a bit more dessert than dinner. But it has all the complexity and craft of a gorgeous dessert, made with technical skill and flair and that unexpectedly perfect ingredient – in this case, Nick Green – that can move any course of the meal from an enjoyment to an experience to be savored.


Dancing Queen plays at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St Toronto, from 19 April to 29 April.
– Performances are Tuesday trough Sunday at 8pm, with Sunday matinees replacing th evening performances on the 22nd and 29th at 2:30.
-Ticket price ranges from $10 to $30, with Sunday matinees being PWYC at the door.
-Tickets can be had by calling the Buddies Box Office at 416-975-8555

Photo of Nick Green and David-Benjamin Tomlinson by Zaiden