Chasse-Galerie is a joyful, rip-roaring musical. It’s so much fun, the audience can hardly keep still. Watching a brilliant cast, singing their hearts out, you find yourself joining in, and laughing out loud.
It premiered last year, at the tiny Storefront Theatre, and the minute the lights went up, it was a hit. Staged so that audience sits on both sides overlooking the set, we are caught up in its giddy motion and baudy humour. Chasse-Galerie spring from an old French Canadian folk tale about the Devil appearing to a small group of whiskey-starved, half-frozen coureur de bois. In this version, the coureur de bois are all played by women, and the Devil makes them a deal too alluring to refuse. If the women forego their crucifixes and promise not to swear, they will board a magic canoe and visit a bar in Montreal, the famous Chasse-Galerie (or Flying Canoe), where they may enjoy a wondrous night, finding romance at every turn. All will go well if they adhere to the agreement, and return by dawn!
They do, and soon, all four find themselves in a charmed canoe that can fly miles in minutes. This is the tale, but the inexpressible magic of this show belongs to a flawless cast, foot-stomping music, and a spontaneous energy rarely seen on any stage. If any Canadian musical should tour the world, this is it!
For Soulpepper’s incarnation of Chasse-Galerie, many of the actors return from the original Storefront production, and the whole cast is perfect. More importantly, the ample space at Soulpepper Theatre allows the play to reach higher and wider. Director Tyrone Savage, who also appears as the Devil, shows us the full range of his particular genius. Savage is handsome as hell, and knows the art of temptation. It’s fascinating to watch him carouse the stage. As Satan, he has it all—everything from a sweet, sly smile to a devilish twinkle in his eye. Though young, he’s a Stratford veteran and he never misses a beat. And if there were such an award, Tyrone Savage would win as having the finest male legs in Canada, if one may say that sort of thing. This production is also informed by legendary actor/director Janet Laine-Green, as assistant director. The inventive costumes by Holly Lloyd are both wicked and gorgeous.
Others composing the cast of Chasse-Galerie include Ghazal Azarbad, Tess Benger, Hunter Cardinal, Mike Cox, Kat Letwin, Nicole Power, Shaina Silver-Baird, James Smith and Alicia Toner; and musicians Justin Han and Jason O’Brien. Everyone is absolutely great, but my personal standouts are Kat Letwin, who will, I’m sure, gain international fame on TV and in movies. Hunter Cardinal is thoroughly delightful as Uriel, a relative on the Great Horned One. And Mike Cox is adorable as an unfaithful rascal, swilling down booze, a regular at the Chasse-Gallerie. But honestly, it’s difficult to single out any individual player in this production. The entire cast is so integrated, so exquisitely choreographed by Ashleigh Powell, they move as one.
I should mention that the freshest, most daring work is not coming out of the established theatres. Rather, the established theatres are beginning to pick up the “commercial hits” that are pouring out of the small, shoe-string ventures around Toronto. Collectively, they compose a phenomenon dubbed the “independent theatre movement.”
The problem is that hundreds of gifted artists who work in “indie theatre” are very nearly starving. Important and emerging playwrights, actors, directors, designers and technicians hold down low-paying jobs during the day so they can work at night, trying to create world-class entertainment. Half the time, these beleaguered souls barely make the rent, let alone have the funds to promote or advertise their shows. The result is that a brilliant play will open in a neighborhood where thousands might like to see it, but they rarely even hear it’s on. Half the time, some of the best shows in Toronto are not reviewed or seen.
Hopefully, patrons, corporations, government, and arts councils will realize this is an unproductive state of affairs. Why should a country produce such trained, skilled, and gifted professionals only to toss them away? Toronto is already is one of the world capitals for theatre, and easily ranks with other great North American cities. Cultural reputations are highly prized and commercially important. Why ignore the human gold the gods have given you?
Soulpepper is to be congratulated for bringing Chasse-Galerie to a wider audience, and given it a spectacular production. Hopefully, we are at the start of a closer alliance among all parties who realize how significant the entertainment industry is to our lives, and our economic prosperity.
For TICKETS and more details visit “soulpepper.ca” or call the Young Centre Box Office at 416.866.8666.
Soulpepper Presents Chasse-Galerie
Produced by Kabin and The Storefront Theatre
Book adapted by Tyrone Savage
Music and Lyrics by James Smith
Original book created by Sam Al Esai, Tess Benger, Daniel Briere, Nathan Carroll, Michael Cox, Kat Letwin, Emma Mackenzie Hillier, Chris Murray, Dana Puddicombe, Heath V. Salazar, Tyrone Savage, Shaina Silver-Baird, James Smith, Alicia Toner, Jonah Widdifield.
Original dramaturgy by Emma Mackenzie Hillier.
Director: Tyrone Savage; Asst Director: Janet Laine-Green; Musical Director: James Smith;
Choreographer: Ashleigh Powell; Stage Manager: Kate Porter; Assistant Stage Manager: Liesl Low; Set Designer & Prop Design: Lindsay Dagger Junkin; Asst Scenic Designer: John Leberg; Costume Designer: Holly Lloyd; Lighting Designer: Melissa Joakim; Sound Designer: Andre Stankovic; Projections and Puppetry: Daniel Briere; Producers – Kabin: Katherine Rawlinson & Alan Kliffer; Producer – The Storefront Theatre: Claire Burns; Associate Producer – The Storefront Theatre: Sonia Vaillant; Marketing & PR (Storefront): Karen Knox
VIDEO OF REHEARSALS FOR SOULPEPPER PRODUCTION:
If you are interested in my comments on the original Storefront production (2015), follow the link below:
All photos by John Gundy