DEBT - the Musical: lots of fun no answers
OK, I have been in Debt; many of us have and many of us still are. What’s it like? Not always good, not always bad. The country runs on debt, the people run on debt, the industries run on debt and most importantly the government runs on debt. It’s everywhere, like a living breathing entity we all know about and hear about on a constant basis; so why not write and sing about it? Make fun of it, tease it, laugh at it, cry about it, wallow in it… DEBT - the Musical, does just that.
Written by Leslie Mildiner, directed by Donna Spencer and with fantastic music composed by Todd Butler, DEBT - the Musical, has its première production at the Firehall Arts Centre. Playing the part of narrator, introducing characters as well as playing other roles himself, is long time Vancouver actor Simon Webb. He skilfully leads us through a number of personal stories dealing with debt: the writer who is forever in debt but finds security in the idea of suffering; the young family who can barely make ends meet; the single “wanna be actress” mother on welfare running from job to job. Debt pursues them; they are locked in the misery of this terrible evil. It’s a strange topic to choose for a musical, but so is Urinetown (and look what happened to that production).
The first half with its witty, comical musical numbers had me laughing. Playing with a number of styles from western to blues to jazz, the creatively choreographed (by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg) and performed pieces are highly entertaining. The company opens with It’s a Rental in cowboy western style, singing about the woes of renting, never having enough money to buy. This song then bridges into Payment in Full (PIF), led by Webb as the collection agent accompanied by his two sexy assistants: Tracy Power and Kathy Fitzpatrick. They will say and do whatever it takes to get your payment out of you. Another hilarious company number in the first half is Plastic Money. The actors, dressed in sexy credit card outfits and blond wigs, entice people to literally use them and slap them down. Tom Pickett is especially ravishing. Picture a good looking black man in curly long blond wig, short dress wrapped around him like a towel that looks like a credit card, with a nice bow tied around his waist – oh, and black socks.
The second half has its highlights too with solo numbers and crazy ensemble pieces like Go Postal and Debtors Prison. Andy Toth carries his numbers with ease, playing up different weird and wonderful characters. I also loved the sexy and quirky Power and the powerhouse voice of Pickett.
Originally written as a mini-version a number years ago, Mildiner has expanded DEBT into a full-length musical. The concept is unique and yes very funny, for the first 45 minutes. At intermission I wondered where I would next be transported in the world of miserable debt. Will Mildiner give us some miracle to cure this North American sickness? What does all this mean – DEBT? Why have we become a society of DEBT? Are there any answers or solutions? Maybe these are questions a musical can not answer however I felt a different perspective was going to be necessary to keep the hilarity running and the topic interesting.
Unfortunately DEBT - the Musical did not reveal any enlightened information. The lack of any possible resolution for the various debtors started to bring feelings of heaviness in me. Once in debt, it seems, always in debt. The answer was wrapped up in one of the closing numbers Bein’ Poor where the narrator stated “We are happy bein’ poor.” Not sure who they were referring to?
This production has all the elements of a very good musical: awesome music, accomplished actors, top notch production team, unique concept. Some expansion on content, with possibly some resolution or happy success stories might uplift the audience at the end. There are people who do get out of debt?
Debt - The Musical, written by Leslie Mildiner. Songs by Todd Butler. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre production and continues until January 30. For more information seek some credit here.