I’m starting this week in a bit of a backlog…Only just managed to blather about the awesome FACE2FACE dance series in yesterday’s Foofarah, and get all caught up with UNDERCURRENTS, and I’m still late with a review. Well, I’m racing to correct that now before I have to start on this weeks crop of new theatre, which is happily jam-packed with stuffs.
My overdue writeup for this post hails from Sunday, when (after a brunch at the GCTC and a spur-of-the-moment repeat viewing of HIP HOP SHAKESPEARE, because why the Hell not?) I booted it down Gladstone way to catch the latest from Plosive Productions, John Gray’s BILLY BISHOP GOES TO WAR. An iconicly classic Canuck musical about the legendary flying ace of World War I, Owen Sound gent Billy Bishop himself, starring Chris Ralph in the title role (and a dozen or so others) and directed by Plosive’s Teri Loretto-Valentik. Ralph shares the vintage era set with pianist James Caswell, who provides all the splendid musical accompaniment, plenty of singing, and even a character or two along the way. The story follows ne’er do well Bishop from his days as ‘the worst student’ in his military academy, to the fields of war-torn Europe. Deciding quickly that a muddied existence in the cavalry was NOT for him, Bishop signs up for the RAF, receives a wealthy but imposing Brit sponsor, and soon enough becomes one of the deadliest pilots around, racking up more than his fair share of Hun kills, even as his comrades are gunned down around him.
I’ll be honest with you…the story of BILLY BISHOP is not one that really hits home with me. The idea of a merry, sing-song retelling of a vicious global conflict just gives me the heebie-jeebies, and that’s my cross to bear, no question. So that being said, this is a pretty darn fun production, and the bulk of that comes from star Chris Ralph, who absolutely nails the many and challenging demands of his role. Likeable from the start, Ralph gives us a mischievous Billy who doesn’t take too well to authority, or his eventual iconic status as a sharpshooter, preferring to stick to the skies and do what he does best. The show blazes to life especially when Bishop takes to his ‘plane’ (okay, chair, but play along, it’s theatre) and strafes his foes with gusto, Ralph bringing it all to life with nothing more than aviator goggles and his well-honed voice. He’s great at the many songs too, where he meshes delightfully with Caswell, and nearly brings the audience to an early stand with his chilling reading of a poem about Brit ace Albert Ball. As mentioned, Ralph plays numerous other characters in the show, from Bishop’s instructors and gruff superiors, to a snooty manservant and even a sultry nightclub singer. He pulls it all off with charm and style, entertaining every step of the way.
BB is a long-ish (2 hours or so) show with one intermission, but Chris and James keep things moving along at a pretty decent pace as we follow Billy’s amusing, storied and violent career, and it never feels sluggish. And while the story itself isn’t exactly my cuppa tea, audiences so far have been absolutely adoring it, and I suspect there’s a good chance you’ll find much to love about it too (the beautiful model airplanes courtesy of the Stetson Flyers are almost worth the trip to gawk at by themselves). So kudos once again to Chris Ralph for a tremendous performance that really is a an impressive sight to see. And you have until the 23rd to do just that! Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)