The Musical Stage Company presents the new Canadian musical Onegin, on stage in Toronto
I had never heard of the musical Onegin, now on stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre produced by The Musical Stage Company, until I saw a flyer for the production stuffed in the program of a show I saw last month. The musical is based on the poem Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin and the opera by Tchaikovsky and is a tale of pride, love, and scorn set in wintry Russia. This musical is fun and lively, the cast is remarkable… but it just didn’t pull on all the right heart strings for me.
Onegin follows the lives of two sisters — the eldest, Tatyana Larin (Hailey Gillis), who is bookish and shy, and the younger, free-spirited Olga Larin (Elena Juatco) — and the two young men who court them, Vladimir Lensky (Josh Epstein) and Evgeni Onegin (Daren A. Herbert). Though at first both young men have eyes for Tatyana, eventually Vladimir and Olga strike up a whirlwind romance and become engaged.
Tatyana and Evgeni begin a rocky and complicated courtship where she falls for him with stars in her eyes and he promptly rejects her, stating that he isn’t the husband/father type she wants. In an attempt to dissuade Tatyana’s feelings, Evgeni flirts with Olga which sparks the ugly flame of jealousy in Vladimir that soon takes a tragic turn.
The Musical Theatre Company’s production is stunning across the board. The set designed by Denyse Karn combines multiple levels and large tree limbs that creep through broken windows towering over the stage below, and is a sight to behold. As are the lush costumes by Alex Amini.
Musically, this cast is a powerhouse and everyone delivered outstanding performances. I particularly loved listening to Juatco and Gillis as their voices simply soared during their solos and as part of the chorus. Likewise, Herbert’s voice was a rich counterbalance.
I also appreciated how the cast was able to integrate the audience into the performance, from using the aisles as points of entry to the stage to offering drinks to lucky patrons who sat close enough to the front. The front row was even asked to pass along letters to cast members from stage right to stage left.
I guess my only points of dissatisfaction come from the material itself. I found that a few of songs, especially near the beginning of the show that are used to establish an emotional backdrop, didn’t hit all the right notes for me. The song “Three Horses” serves as the audience’s introduction to the title character, a song about a man who was given everything but holds no desire for any of it out of…I’m not quite sure what. The song is fun and certainly catchy, but I was left unsure how to feel — is Onegin angry, jaded, or just indifferent?
And when jealousy leads to tragedy at the barrel of a gun at 20 paces, I was greatly missing the aftermath. I never got the sense of mourning for the loss of a dear friend or a husband to be. I felt that Olga’s story faded into the background from that point on. Even within the second act, I felt that there were many loose ends from the first act left unresolved.
But my concerns with the story do not detract from my enjoyment of the performance at all. Onegin is a show that both looks and sounds beautiful, and the love and dedication poured into this production shines through in each song and poignant moment. It’s certainly worth seeing.
- Onegin is playing at the Berkeley St Theatre (26 Berkeley St) until June 4 2017.
- Performances run Wednesday to Thursday at 7 or 8 pm with Sunday matinees at 1 pm.
- Tickets range from $30-$59 and can be purchased online, by contacting the box office at 416 368 3110, or in person.
Photo of Josh Epstein, Daren A. Herbert, Hailey Gillis by Racheal McCaig Photography