Critique: Dion: A Rock Opera has guarantee, but lacks the ecstasy and extra that Dionysus and rock ‘n’ roll desire

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Clockwise from left: Saccha Dennis, Kelsey Verzotti, Max Borowski, Kaden Forsberg, JacobMacInnis (centre) in DION: A ROCK OPERA .Dahlia Katz/Handout

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  • Title: Dion: A Rock Opera
  • Music by: Ted Dykstra
  • Libretto by: Steven Mayoff
  • Director: Peter Hinton-Davis
  • Musical Director: Bob Foster
  • Actors: Jacob MacInnis, Allister MacDonald, Allan Louis, SATE, Carly Avenue, Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forsberg, Kelsey Verzotti
  • Firm and Venue: Coal Mine Theatre
  • City: Toronto
  • 12 months: To Sunday, March 3, 2024

If Jesus Christ can have a rock opera, why not Dionysus?

Soon after all, the Greek god of wine, a.k.a. Bacchus, is the first rock star, regarded for whipping his intoxicated followers into a frenzy of singing, dancing and wild behaviour.

Definitely Ted Dykstra and Steve Mayoff ended up contemplating that when they dreamed up Dion: A Rock Opera, now building its debut at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre. Like Jesus Christ Superstar, their perform can take a spiritual icon and an historic textual content – in this situation, Euripides’s 5th-century-BC tragedy The Bacchae – and provides it a up to date spin.

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Allan Louis as Cadmus in DION: A ROCK OPERA .Dahlia Katz/Handout

Although the Jesus of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s musical was a proto-hippie, Dykstra and Mayoff’s Dion is quite a great deal a radical deity for currently. As deliciously embodied by non-binary singer-actor Jacob MacInnis, they’re a gender-fluid demigod whose disciples are society’s marginalized and whose polymorphous sexuality poses a risk to conservative values. In other words, they are Ron DeSantis’s, or Danielle Smith’s, worst nightmare.

It’s a excellent strategy and I want I could say it can make for a good present. But it turns out this 70-moment “rock opera” is generally comfortable rock, without an aria to be listened to. Rather, composer Dykstra and lyricist Mayoff give us a large amount of fifty percent-sung dialogue above a mainly subdued score. By the time we finally get to a fantastic, reliable rock ballad, Dion’s Moment to Moment, the story is over.

It feels like a missed opportunity, specifically provided that the little-but-mighty Coal Mine – co-launched by Dykstra – has thrown a great deal of prime talent into what is its initially planet premiere. But just after 10 years of making a track record for first-charge productions of American and British performs, we’d count on no less of the corporation.

In this article we have visionary director Peter Hinton-Davis at the helm, providing one particular of his endlessly imaginative stagings. Guiding the keyboards of the a few-piece band is veteran audio director Bob Foster of Arrive From Absent fame. On the phase, the performers incorporate Juno-nominated blues-rock singer SATE, Broadway alum Carly Road and Shaw Competition favorite Allan Louis. It is a disgrace they really do not have more powerful material to get the job done with.

At the very least it delivers a breakout job for MacInnis – hitherto witnessed generally in household musicals – who is riveting from the get-go. Their Dion strides into the Greek metropolis of Thebes like a rock star on tour, carrying shades and thrusting a silver, phallic thyrsus (the Bacchic wand), surrounded by a Refrain of writhing devotees. They proclaim themself the boy or girl of Zeus and the mortal Semele, born of “piss and vinegar” – to quotation poet Mayoff’s determinedly raw lyrics. Even so, Semele’s spouse and children – the royal house of Thebes – refuses to consider that, so Dion has arrived to confirm their divine electrical power and precise revenge.

First up is prissy aunt Agave (Avenue), whom Dion turns into just one of their erotically uninhibited maenads.

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(L to R) SATE (foreground), Kelsey Verzotti, Saccha Dennis (BG), Allister MacDonald,
Kaden Forsberg, and Max Borowski in DION: A ROCK OPERA .
Dahlia Katz/Handout

Then comes her absent son, the warm-headed King Pentheus (Allister MacDonald), who returns to town bent on stopping Dion and their mad revels. But his voyeuristic tendencies and repressed sexuality get the greater of him Dion persuades him to disguise himself as a girl and spy on the Bacchic orgy. As those people who know their Euripides will tell you, that foolish ruse ends in a single of the far more horrifying denouements in the canon of Greek tragedy.

Although MacInnis’s Dion is an influenced conception – and the actor’s playful gender-shifting is abetted by Scott Penner’s witty costumes – MacDonald’s would-be-macho Pentheus is tiny far more than a facile parody of a petty tyrant. His challenging converse is risible (“No more nose-selecting/Time for ass-kicking”) and a patter tune exactly where he wages war by way of social media à la Trump (Tweet, Tweet, Tweet) is the show’s reduced level.

It rebounds in the scenes with Louis as Pentheus’s grandfather Cadmus and SATE as the blind seer Tiresias. The pair share a heartfelt duet in which Tiresias attempts to gain Cadmus over to the Dionysian cult. SATE herself is entrancing in the show’s gospel-tinged opening amount, which becomes a leitmotif functioning by means of Dykstra’s rating, and all over again in a music about mother nature reclaiming the Earth. But she never ever really receives to slice free. And Street’s Agave, who warrants some form of cathartic solo just after her discovery that she’s unwittingly fully commited filicide, is also permit down by the music. The grand passion we anticipate from both equally rock and opera is lacking through.

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Carly Avenue as Agave and Jacob MacInnis as Dion in DION: A ROCK OPERA .Dahlia Katz/Handout

As an alternative of getting to be emotionally engaged, I invested most of my time admiring the way and design. Penner, who also did the set, has bisected most of the little Coal Mine place with a blood-pink alley stage, putting two classical statues, just one male and a single woman, at either end. Hinton-Davis and choreographer Kiera Sangster renovate that alley into a trend catwalk when the voguing Refrain (Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forzberg and Kelsey Verzotti) entice Pentheus into a costume. The director’s other clever touches incorporate using punctured balloons as gunfire and, with the assist of Bonnie Beecher’s phantasmagoric lights, turning the aftermath of the gory climax into a genuinely chilling tableau. What’s that previous wisecrack about leaving a musical buzzing the landscapes?

Dion: A Rock Opera has ample assure to invite additional enhancement, but as it stands it’s lacking the ecstasy and surplus that both of those Dionysus and rock ’n’ roll desire.

In the fascination of consistency throughout all critics’ reviews, The Globe has removed its star-score program in movie and theatre to align with protection of music, guides, visible arts and dance. In its place, is effective of excellence will be famous with a critic’s pick designation throughout all coverage. (Television evaluations, normally dependent on an incomplete time, are exempt.)