Review: The Barber of Seville (Soulpepper)

The Barber of Seville

Toronto entertainment at its finest in Soulpepper Theatre’s The Barber of Seville

I’m not sure that I have the words to describe Soulpepper‘s fun-filled production of The Barber of Seville. My jaw muscles are still sore from laughing and smiling so much last night.

It’s billed as a musical but that doesn’t come close to describing the production. Michael O’Brien’s adaptation starts with Beaumarchais’ successful 1775 play and Rossini’s beloved 1816 opera, adds some modern language into the dialogue in the middle of a speech, morphs into a Marx Brothers’ movie, a French farce, throws in a little Gilbert and Sullivan, some pantomime, and a dash of a Road Runner cartoon. John Millard’s ‘orchestra’ is a peasant band featuring an accordion, a banjo, a bass, a flute, a mandolin, a violin, and various guitars. Imagine that as well as playing music from Rossini’s opera they add some blues, some rock and roll, and a bit of Texas Swing.

Director Leah Cherniak brings it all together wonderfully. She exploits every opportunity for a laugh and manages to control the mayhem and confusion on the stage.

I didn’t know the plot of the original play or opera – still don’t – so I have no idea how much of the story comes from the original and how much is O’Brien.

In a nutshell, Count Almaviva enlists the help of Figaro in gaining the hand of Rosina, the ward of Don Bartolo who himself wants to marry Rosina. Figaro comes up with wild schemes and the Count follows his advice. Pandemonium ensues.

Dan Chameroy is fabulous as Figaro. Every move, every wink, every nod adds to the character. His entrance, singing the Figaro song, is wonderful. He’s certainly the best singer in the cast.

If the rest of the singing isn’t as strong as Chameroy’s the acting certainly measures up. Gregory Prest, as Count Almaviva, works every scene to the max. He doesn’t miss any opportunity for a laugh. Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster’s Rosina changes moods on a dime. You never know what’s going to happen from the beginning of a song to the end.

I have to admit that whenever I think of Oliver Dennis I’m going to remember him as Don Bartolo trying not to laugh during a scene with Prest as Count Almaviva dressed as a woman.

William Webster portrayed Don Basilio, Don Bartolo’s scheming friend with the right degree of obsequiousness and bluster.

Sometimes I just want to be entertained by a show and The Barber of Seville is the most entertaining show I’ve seen in ages. I loved it. You might want to do some jaw exercises before you see it so that your muscles don’t hurt the next day.

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Photo of Gregory Prest & Dan Chameroy by Cylla von Tiedemann