Sooooo… What About Heart?

andrew chandler, amy reitsma, garry williams
Two years ago I was blown away by DaPoPo Theatre’s original musical offering for the 2009 Fringe Festival, a last-minute song cycle So… What About Love written and performed, almost accidentally, by Andrew Chandler, Amy Reitsma and Garry Williams when their initial performance plans fell through and they decided to throw caution to the wind and create a show from scratch instead. The first show was a triumph, the perfect mixture of quirky, contemporary songs, poignant and humorous monologues and a sweet, endearing heart that beat steadfastly through it all. The vague conceit of So What About Love returns to the Neptune Studio Theatre this week as part of Eastern Front’s Supernova Festival, and while much that was initially great has gotten better, it has sadly lost a lot of the heart that once made it so beautiful.
If you have never seen So What About Love in any of its other incarnations, I think you will be impressed by the panache of its songs and the sometimes brilliant intricate lyrical construction. You will likely be entertained, and maybe a bit steamrolled, by the back-to-back jokes, one more outrageous than the next, and, especially if you have never seen her before, you will likely fall in love with Amy Reitsma. All good things! There is still a lot that works in this musical, beginning right from the strong Opening image (enter, the company, from stage left in their underwear). The song “I Just Want to Have Sex With You” is still delightful and Ann-Marie Kerr’s creative staging of it exemplifies a perfect mixture of endearing heart, odd awkwardness and wry mischief that I wish was indicative of the entire show. Reitsma sings this gorgeous jazzy, bluesy Ella Fitzgerald type number, my favourite in the show, which almost sounds out of place because it is so professionally polished and not pastiching itself. The Ninja Song is still a hilarious and fun romp that also captures and attacks our frustrations surrounding love unrequited and lost and once again, Kerr’s staging has made something that worked well in the Fringe shine even brighter.
What struck me most about this rendition of the show, and this also could be exacerbated by the fact that it was Opening Night, was how hard it seemed that Chandler and Williams and Reitsma were trying to make it hilarious. I felt that a lot of time, they were playing the punch lines rather than relaxing into their characters and their stories and trusting that the laughs would immerge organically from both. This was a little frustrating for me to watch because in the Fringe production, the show’s humour was all there, just intrinsically, but this one has lost a lot of the depth of the characters in the vignettes and much of its poignancy at the expense of really overt attempts to make the audience crack up.
I also think that the main conceit of the show, that dream where you show up unprepared and in your underwear, may be holding back the show’s potential to grow. As I said, there is one song of Reitsma’s that is a perfectly polished, beautifully constructed song that sounds like it belongs in the repertoire of the professional musical theatre. A lot of the other songs are written to sound improvised, bumpy, half-forgotten and awkward to fit the overall concept. I wonder if they allowed the complexity and intricacy of the songs to grow as the play progressed (as though they were learning and improving as they went along), ending, perhaps, with something written to be accompanied by an orchestra, if this would give a more ardent arc to the show and allow these emerging songwriters to keep the self-consciously written less than perfect gems in their score, but also carve out a place for the songs it is clear they are capable of writing that are more refined.
The most curious aspect of this show to me was the choice to have Garry Williams and Andrew Chandler acting so far out of their various elements. Williams isn’t Groucho Marx, Chandler isn’t Humphrey Bogart. Why aren’t they writing material for themselves that showcase their strengths? Amy Reitsma ends up standing out in this incarnation of the show, not because she is “more talented” but just because the material that she has given herself to work with is perfectly tailored to what she is able to do as an actor, as a singer and as a performer. Taking risks and stretching yourself is admirable, of course, and I don’t want to push Williams and Chandler into a comfort zone box at all, only that I think we miss out in this show of seeing Chandler and Williams being perpetually at their best and we miss it.
So What About Love, especially musically, is still one of the most exciting musical theatre shows I have seen come out of Halifax, I still recommend you going to see it, especially if this is your first time, but overall, ironically and oddly, the material seems to not trust its actors inherent ability and likability enough, and it really should, because they’re terrific.

Week Two: May 24-29: Dedicated to the Revolutions, So…What About Love?, …and stockings for the ladies andWeeTube.

Tickets are on sale at the Neptune Theatre Box Office. Adults $25, Seniors/DND/Arts Workers $20, Students $15. *Same day, multiple show discount. We encourage you to catch a double (or triple or quadruple!) header. Your first ticket is full price, however if you purchase tickets for a 2nd, 3rd or 4th show on the same day, those tickets are 50% off.

In person: 1593 Argyle Street. Phone: 902-429-7070. Online. All prices include HST. Neptune service charges for phone and online orders not included. Check out the full schedule here.

The Carleton Music Bar and Grille on Argyle is the SuperNova Festival HotSpot. You’re invited to mix and mingle with the cast and crew every night after the final performance. Take your Supernova ticket stub with you and get 10% off your order.

See you at the Supernova!

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