Review: Bells are Ringing (The Confidential Musical Theatre Project)

The cast of CMTP's productiion of Bells are ringing.

The Confidential Musical Theatre Project wows Toronto audiences with Bells are Ringing for their third production

Last Thursday a friend and I went to see Bells are Ringing, the latest production from The Confidential Musical Theatre Project. We didn’t know that we were going to see Bells are Ringing; that’s the confidential part. The audience doesn’t find out what musical is being performed until it starts. And the cast members don’t meet each other until an hour before the performance.

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

We’ve written about CMPT and reviewed their two earlier productions here and here but here’s a bit of background. CMPT is the brainchild of co-producers Marion Abbot, the Musical Director, and Rob Corbett, the Director. They pick a musical that they love but that isn’t performed very often. They pick a cast. Two months before the performance the cast members get their scripts and start rehearsing – on their own.

Add a venue, an audience, a bare stage, a piano, and the cast and you have a terrific evening.

The closest thing to it that I’ve experienced is a staged reading and I love those; I get to concentrate on the words and and give free range to my imagination.

Bells are Ringing opened on Broadway in 1956 and it’s pretty dated. Switchboard? Bookies? Answering service? Huh? What the heck are those? It doesn’t matter in this kind of production, it’s really about the music; there are no sets to worry about.

The story’s pretty basic: Ella (played by Michelle Berting Brett) works for Susanswerphone, a telephone answering service. She spices up her life by assuming different identities and voices for different clients. She has a crush on a playwright with writer’s block, Jeff (Stephen Findlay), who calls her ‘Mom’ and thinks she’s a little old lady. When they meet Jeff doesn’t know that she’s ‘Mom’ and they fall in love. Ella decides to leave because Jeff doesn’t know the real her then Jeff finds her and they live happily ever after. At the same time Sue’s (Sarah Strange) boyfriend Sandor (Nick Sabetti) is using Susanswerphone as a bookmaking operation and Inspector Barnes (Barry Pletch) thinks that the business is a front for an escort service.

So what was it like watching 13 people who met an hour before the show perform a two and a half hour musical?

It was great. The audience had a lot of fun and it looked as if the cast did too. There were some flubs but no one cared; the audience laughed with the cast. The thing that surprised me was how few flubs there were.

The cast was also ‘seeing’ the show for the first time and they were as surprised and as delighted as the audience was by Stephen Findlay’s dance routine. He rehearsed!

Some other things that stayed with me: Nick Sabetti and Sarah Strange singing ‘Salzburg’ for all they were worth; Jory Rossiter’s perfect comedic timing; Barry Pletch’s hat collection; and Carmen Gillespie’s terrific performance – especially impressive given that she stepped in at the last minute and only had the script for three days.

I can’t wait for the next musical in Toronto; it’s on April 10th. Thursday’s performance was sold out so you probably want to buy tickets in advance. You can like The Confidential Musical Theatre Project’s Facebook page to get more information. Or check their website.

Details:

Bells are Ringing was performed on January 15th at the Victoria Chapel

Photo of the cast of Bells are Ringing – The Confidential Musical Theatre Project