Tapestry Opera with Canadian Stage brings The Overcoat to Toronto in movement and opera
Tapestry Opera and Canadian Stage ’s world premiere co-production of The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring by playwright Morris Panych and composer James Rolfe is an atmospheric and clever interpretation of the original 1842 short story The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol. On the surface, the premise of the story is simple. A bean-counter caught in the nine-to-five hamster wheel needs a new coat and finally gets a beautiful one tailored, with unforeseen results. Adapting this story as an opera is ingenious because music is used to engagingly illustrate the deeper subtext of the tale.
Every element of this production — from costumes to sets to choreography to vocal performances — is superb and fits together with the elegance of a finely crafted watch. The environment established by the music depicts a social landscape of inner apathy, anxiety and cynicism shellacked in a veneer of assumed cheerfulness. Melodies and harmonies weave in and out of consonance and dissonance, keeping the listener in a pleasant yet vaguely unsettled dream state. This works in tandem with multi-metric and syncopated passages that punctuate the deep tensions underlying the basic premise.
There are many interpretations of the canonical 19th Century Russian story. For me, the key theme of this production is that the capitalist labour regime keeps the worker in his place by convincing him that he does not deserve more. When the worker awakens to the fact that he is deserving of more but society does not deliver despite his best efforts, his relationship with both his inner and outer world begins to crumble.
This production is an adaptation of a 1990s movement piece by Morris Panaych and Wendy Gorling. Under Panych’s direction and with Gorling’s choreography, movement is still a central component of the current musical adaptation. Not only are there movement performers who illustrate the supressed inner life of the protagonist, choreography is used to illustrate other aspects of the storytelling such as office drones running to the office in the morning rat race and being jostled on the streetcar. The most arresting use of movement was the dance between protagonist Akakiy and his new overcoat (performed by Colin Heath). The audience burst out in uproarious applause at the end of this stunning Act 1 closer.
The costumes, with the exception of the lavish new overcoat, are monochromatic. Combined with a towering set where industrial metallic predominates, the viewer is drawn into the protagonist’s habitual world of unvaried toil. Akakiy comes to life when he dons the dazzling new coat, but his technicolor joy is short lived, and the colour added to the stage by the coat is fleeting.
Geoffrey Sirett’s interpretation of the humble, number-obsessed, bullied civil servant is inspired. His even, well controlled baritone evokes a flat calm that is belied by the thick, red wine texture of his tone, suggesting a well-contained time bomb about to detonate. The piece is best described as darkly funny and Sirett’s straight man delivery of his punch lines is spot on.
The Overcoat is undoubtedly a homerun for Tapestry Opera, Vancouver Opera and Canadian Stage. The performances are outstanding, the music is accessible and compelling and the interpretation of the classic story has the perfect blend of fun, fantasy and philosophy. A triumph and a must see.
- The Overcoat: A Musical Tailoring is playing until April 14, 2018 at Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario).
- Show times are 8:00 PM on April 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12 & 14; 7 PM on April 6 and 13 with additional matinees at 1 PM on April 1, 8 and 11.
- Ticket prices range from $35 – 99 based on seat selection and time.
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-368-3110.
Photo of Colin Heath and Geoffrey Serrit by Dahlia Katz