Always a good, giddy thrill to catch something new (at least new to ME) in local theatre. And as I’ve only got a few years of catching shows under my belt, there’s plenty left for me to dig into. Tonight it was my first go-round with Community Theatre group Goya Theatre, at the new studio space at Centrepointe so recently inaugurated by HAMLET 2011. Goya, I learned, is a group that performs exclusively Canuck content…and musical content, at that. I approve of this on several levels, and was thus tickled to head out for opening night of HOMECHILD: THE MUSICAL.
Now admittedly, I learned a lot of this stuff at the theatre tonight…previously, my only real draw to the production was that it was being directed by one Bronwyn Steinberg, a one-woman theatrical army who is underestimated at your own peril. But it turned out there was much more to this show than just its dynamo director…the story, by Barb Perkins, concerns a rather guiltily covered-up bit of Canadian history about ‘Home Children’: British orphans, or simply children from poor families, shipped off to Canada to be essentially handed off to whatever nearby household needed some free labour. In the case of this show, it’s Barb’s own history under the microscope, as the characters are her own ancestral family from Cardiff, at the turn of the 20th Century.
After some rousing scene-setting by Will and Ellyn, kindhearted heads of the Welsh Griffyn clan (Ron Clarke and Donna Castonguay, perfectly cast), tragedy strikes. Father Will dies and the large clan is left impoverished, auntil an orphanage service offers to help out…they take away four of the children, only to quietly ship them all off to Canada without any notice. The children are split up and sent to various shabby foster homes, and spend the next 8 years trying to survive, and find their way back to one another.
The children are ‘led’ by eldest sister Nan, whose younger self is played by Marie-Pier Jean and, later, Julia Walmsley (there’s a scene in the first act where the young children hand things over to their older selves that’s just…mwah. Gorgeous moment). Both Nan’s are stellar, handling their solos AND acting moments like pros, and hitting some seriously killer notes. I was duly impressed…but then, no one really DIDN’T impress me. Matteo Belloni and Nabil Ayoub as Thomas, Cullen Armstrong and Nicholas Surges as James, and Samantha Pierre and Stephanie Crepin as Mary, they all get their moment to shine, and they take full advantage. The ensemble/chorus is strong, Bronwyn’s use of the versatile studio space is just beautiful…and a lot of the songs are still stuck in my head, always a good sign. ‘Imagine Something good…’…Awesome.
I had a lot of fun at HOMECHILD, and judging from the standing ovation at the end, a lot of others did too. There was enough heartbreak, drama, joy, laughs, dancing, villainy and intrigue to keep about three shows going, and it’s a pretty amazing bit of history to boot. If you have a chance to see it between now and the Sunday matinee, I’d get going if I were you. She’s a gooder. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)