Strong characters carry low-tech Crimson Veil
THE CRIMSON VEIL
Featuring Paul Braunstein, Kevin Dennis, Naomi Emmerson, Kelly McIntosh, Julain Molnar, Michael McManus.
Written and composed by Allen Cole.
Book by Glen Cairns, Allen Cole.
Directed by Leah Cherniak.
To July 9. Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst. 504-4471. ***
The Crimson Veil sets out to revive a dying genre -- the non-mega-musical fuelled by clever, catchy music, witty lyrics, strong plot, solid performances and the kind of old-fashioned stage magic that relies more on fabric and trapdoors than electronics. And it succeeds at all of these things, providing engaging entertainment with an anachronistic feel.
The plot is based on Italian fairy tales. Bruno (Kevin Dennis) is a young human who lives in the forest with his father and spends his days practising the clarinet. Bellinda is a fairy princess who falls in love with Bruno while wandering the forest disguised as a deer. Both have parents who disapprove and sow distrust between them -- which, aided by two omniverousy lustful evil fairies, causes the trials that separate the young lovers again and again.
This being a fairy tale, of course, the couple has to learn about evil and manipulation and human suffering before they can marry. And it's impressive that, although strictly archetypal in the way it unfolds, The Crimson Veil story held not only my attention but that of the seven-year-old critic who accompanied me -- for over two hours. He liked the fact that the plot kept moving along, and by the second act I noticed I really cared about the characters.
The Crimson Veil was first presented in a recital format, and it's clear that the development time went into music and book rather than staging. There is consistently resourceful use of props, and director Leah Cherniak (Theatre Columbus) has injected some clever physical devices by morphing the human with the mechanical (Julain Molnar portrays a prophetic clock; and at one point Dennis becomes a statue that, like a wind-up toy, sings its sad story when its face is blown on).
The house was full for this matinee performance, and the audience left happy. Still, I have to wonder about the ultimate fate of musicals like this, which occupy a funny middle ground. Too light for those who seek out "serious" performance, The Crimson Veil may just be too quietly well-made to compete with the high-adrenaline wonders of the mega-musical.