After an almost biblical pre-show rainstorm forced Quo Vadis to be performed indoors Friday night, a rainbow greeted patrons as they arrived at St. Boniface Cathedral.
Denied the atmospheric outdoor setting in the ruins of the old basilica, Winnipeg composer Olaf Pyttlik’s new musical adaptation of the 1895 historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz made, even in a church basement, a positive first impression. It’s ambitiously epic if only for its 32-member cast, which is the same number of performers you can see in 32 other fringe shows combined. At two hours (without intermission) in length, it is also full scale, as it tells the story of the unlikely romance between a Roman military tribune and a woman who belongs to a secret society of Christians.
The colourful opening production numbers are rousing and some of Pyttlik’s music and lyrics bring to mind Les Misérables. Others fail to grip. Director Ron Jenkins’ storytelling is clear and his crowd scenes provide much for the eye and the ear. Tom Soares is a standout as the philosopher/weasel Chilon, while Kevin Aichele as the brutish Marcus and Gordon Tanner as the crafty Petronius were effective. Ross McMillan, a late replacement for an ill Kevin Klassen, went on as the buffoonish Nero with script in hand and held his own.
The scale of Quo Vadis will be an attraction to some fringe-goers and its length a deterrent to others.
— Kevin Prokosh