MUSICAL PAWNS utilizes choral singing, scenes and dance to bring the story of the obscure compose, David Nowakowsky to life. It was created by Lost Music Productions and has come to the Toronto Fringe festival after being given the Audience Choice Award at the FRIGID New York Theater Festival.
The story opens with a descendant of the composers speaking to a university dean about the location of the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind original sheet music of Nowakowsky. The sheet music is discovered to be missing and the story of how it came to the university in the first place unfolds.
The show goes back and forth between scenes of Nowakowsky, and his descendant’s, lives and plot-relevant songs. The songs are often compositions of Nowakowsky’s and are delivered, with one amusing exception, as choral pieces. As choral pieces they are performed outside of the action of the play unlike musical theatre or opera. This is a bold choice and unique to this show.
The beauty of the music is one of the stronger aspects of the show. The music also lends importance to the preservation of the pieces and the development of them over time. Additionally, it serves as a link between the generations in the story as each one discovers it for themselves.
The story is told non-sequentially bouncing between David’s childhood in Russia to modern concert halls in New York, Nazi-occupied France and more. The audience is kept up to speed with the action by a narrator who announces each scene giving us the time and place.
If the songs are the strength of the show then the scenes are the weakness. The actors tackle a myriad of characters who speak in a myriad of accents and I found the scenes themselves suffer for it. The play is also staged as a heightened reading so the actors are generally all working with scripts in hand.
One of the strongest scenes occurs between David’s Granddaughter Sophie and her husband in a brief meeting during WW II. Unencumbered with scripts or accents the actors make a genuine and lovely connection which flows naturally into a short, well-executed dance piece.
The script itself seemed to provid challenges for the actors. It is all based on true events and the integrity in which the playwright maintained the story is admirable. This does cause trouble for the play as a whole though as several of the most interesting twists of the plot come to unsatisfactory ends.
Fans of choral music will appreciate the story of this lesser-known composer and the struggles in the creation and preservation of his work. The same fans will appreciate the excellent musical interludes as the six person cast lends their voices to immaculate harmonies.
- MUSICAL PAWNS plays at Venue 1 – Tarragon Theatre Mainspace (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Showtimes are: July 6, Friday, 3:00 pm; July 9, Monday, 8:00 pm; July 10, Tuesday 3:00 pm; July 12, Thursday, 12:00 pm; July 13, Friday, 8:25; July 14, Saturday 4 pm
- Advance tickets ($11 including service charge) are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 , or in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street.
- Value packs are available for anyone planning to see at least 5 shows.