Comedy with great timing, well-established characters and beautiful music are all staples of the ECHO Players’ latest production, but at its heart are tender moments.
The musical Second Chances, written by local playwright David Jewell with music by Jewell and Nico Rhodes, had its first chance on stage on Feb. 14.
The performance saw a nearly packed audience, despite difficult weather, Valentine’s Day and the show being a relatively unknown quantity. The turnout is perhaps a testament to the vigour of ECHO Players’ fans.
They were not disappointed.
Second Chances is a carefully curated smorgasbord of fun energy, comedy and at times ridiculous characters balanced with tender songs and moments touching on themes of homelessness where some of the actors get to stretch their more nuanced dramatic abilities and connect with the audience on a different emotional level.
Despite having a cast of 21, the characters are well fleshed out, from career criminal Barney (played by John Stuart) and his Russian muscle, Sergei (played by Brian Lecky), to absolute devil of a reporter/critic, Perkins (played by Heather Haseltine) (ouch, by the way), to director Michael (played by Ian Morton), Wanda and Boo the wardrobe ladies (played by Kathy Harper and Judy Hipkin) and many more.
With this play being brand new and featuring several reveals along the way, I won’t divulge much of the plot here. The broad strokes are that, in 1955, an Off Broadway musical called Ole Louisiana is struggling a few weeks out from its opening. But a chance encounter shakes things up.
As many have remarked, Second Chances is a show about a show, with actors getting to play actors and stage hands and patrons, and a whole cast of real-life characters, many of whom are just a little more silly than in real life. Some are extremely ridiculous. But the show hits its comedy beats well.
Brian Tull, playing Ole Louisiana’s male lead, Roger, delights in being a talented pain-in-the-butt, while Haseltine at times won laughs and applause just by judiciously applying a devilish smirk.
Harper, as usual, can get laughs from the audience from a single line or a look, while Isaiah McAleese, playing Eddy, applies his physicality to great comedic effect.
Though much of the show brings smiles and laughter, Kerry Campbell who plays Ole Louisiana’s aging female star, Elizabeth, and Rob Atkinson, playing Adam, carry much of the emotional weight of the story.
Campbell’s performance is spot-on, playing an at-times barbed leading lady who’s depth of caring for her future and the people around her comes out in beautiful songs like Strange, isn’t it? and Spark.
Elizabeth’s relationship with up-and-coming star Alice (played to great effect by Miranda Atkinson) has a lovely trajectory, with both ladies showing their singing chops.
Rob’s acting performance of Adam is strong, playing a character with so much growing to do throughout the play.
It’s a difficult role, however, and literally demands a superb voice. Though the singing perhaps doesn’t reach the angelic heights demanded, Rob renders Adam’s emotional journey with care and ability.
Other performances to note are, of course, Morton’s work as Ole Louisiana’s director. Morton is wonderful, presenting both an exaggerated and nuanced portrayal.
Paul Churchill in the role of behind-the-scenes manager Paddy is also lovely, with Churchill and Morton playing off each other well.
Another standout is Steve Hill who plays Marlow, a wealthy potential benefactor. If you see the show, you’ll know why.
In a show with this many well-conceived characters, there are too many good and great performances to mention. That’s not to mention many great songs, helped along by a live three-member band.
Though some singing performances could and should be tightened up, the show succeeds in being both funny and touching, and clearly displays the quality of this brand new musical.
Hopefully the ECHO Players’ production of Second Chances is but the first opportunity the musical gets on stage.
Based on this premiere, the musical deserves a second, a third, a fourth, and many more chances, with many more theatre groups.
At the end of the premiere, David Jewell and director Jennifer Kelly were brought on stage to be celebrated for their work. Jewell took a moment to note the theme of homelessness in the play, and asked the audience to give a thought to those with no roof over their head and to consider supporting Manna Homeless Society. There’s a donation box at the Village Theatre box office.
Performances of Second Chances continue at the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach until March 3.
For more information and for tickets, go to www.echoplayers.ca/sc.php or call 250-752-3522.