Guest Blogger Mike Lummis Reviews Heart Strings, a New Canadian Musical
Heart Strings, written by Reynold Nathaniel, is essentially a love story. Love is the prevailing emotion. Love of family, love of friends, romantic love and love of music.
Set in Ireland in the summer of 1908, the majority of the cast are called upon to perform with an Irish brogue. The actors do well with the accents and there are plenty of Irish references from whiskey to stew. The costumes create a sense of the period.
It is inspiring to see a cast give their all to a new piece of Canadian theatre. The play is directed by David Ludwig, a seasoned actor who has appeared at Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Heart Strings is Ludwig’s first directing job and he directs with skill and ease. The play flows smoothly, the blocking is crisp and the actors are clearly guided by a sure hand.
Lead actor Garth Wigle re-located all the way from Cornwall to perform in the show. He did so out of his love for the theatre. Wigle plays Sir William, who orders the prized Phonolistz Violina, a remarkable machine which automatically plays a piano accompanied by three violins (recordings can be found on YouTube).
The Violina is an anniversary gift for his wife, Victoria, performed by the lovely Anne Shepherd. Shepherd’s bright smile and folksy singing voice lend charm to the show. A young Italian man, Francesco, pleasingly portrayed by Antonio Olivito, delivers the Violina.
Olivito is a joy to watch, a likeable actor providing welcome comic relief. “My name is Italy. I am from Francesco,” he blurts upon his arrival. Olivito sings well and works nicely opposite Kitti Laki as Elizabeth. Laki is well-cast and creates an affecting character, sweet, shy and desperate for love. A trained George Brown student, she also possesses singing chops and puts them to good use.
Adrian Yearwood, who plays Douglas, Sir William’s lawyer friend, is a talented young actor. Handsome and cerebral, he is comfortable onstage. His character is always scheming and charming his way towards his goal of usurping the beloved Violina from Sir William. Yearwood is a natural talent and he’s got lots of presence.
Playwright Reynold Nathaniel depicts the class distinctions and conflicts in early 20th century Europe effectively in the persons of manservant Conrad, Jerrold Karch, who bites into his part as the vengeful and volatile servant with aplomb and Jackie the maid, Sheila Cording, fully inhabiting her salt-of-the-earth housemaid.
The music is composed by Eyes of Gertrude (Chantelle Pike and Hannah Dean). The compositions display the composers’ range, from jaunty to somber to introspective to pleading. The music enhances the scenes, evoking emotion and creating a mood.
Musical accompaniment is provided by the accomplished Keeyarah Musiq (piano) and Ryan McDougall (acoustic guitar). The musicians play well, although I would have preferred them to be stationed in the lower pit area, as I found their onstage presence between songs, no fault of their own, distracting at times.
Prior to the show, there was a brief speech by Brother John Frampton from St. Francis Table, a charity located in Parkdale, which will receive a portion of the proceeds. Heart Strings is a work that comes from the heart and is performed with heart, and I was not surprised to see that the producers were giving to such a worthy charity.
Heart Strings is playing at the Annex Live, 296 Brunswick Avenue in Toronto. Performances on Friday and Saturday evenings 7 p.m., from March 23rd to April 28th. Tickets are $20 ($25 at the door.)