Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/6/2019 (665 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In this town, Strike! The Musical is kind of a big deal, especially in 2019, the 100-year anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.
THEATRE REVIEWClick to Expand
Strike! The Musical
Written by Danny Schur and Rick Chafe
● Rainbow Stage
● June 18 to July 5
● Tickets $25-$65 at rainbowstage.ca, 204-989-0888
★★★★ out of five
Bear in mind, a musical taken from the pages of Winnipeg history has always assumed the risk of appearing like a small-town centennial pageant. In more humble past productions, the Danny Schur-Rick Chafe-penned play has actually resembled that.
But as the play makes its way to Rainbow Stage as the first locally written book-musical to be produced in the Kildonan Park venue’s 65-year history, it truly rises above its humble beginnings.
It’s a big production, with a lavish set design by longtime Stratford vet Douglas Paraschuk multi-functioning as industrial workplace (a Vulcan Iron Co. sign looms under the proscenium), a North End slum dwelling and a Wellington Crescent drawing room.
The centrepiece story is that of Mike Sokolowski (Cory Wojcik), an immigrant who has escaped Ukraine with his eldest son Stefan (Duncan Cox), intent on working to raise money to bring the remainder of his family to Winnipeg.
But it is a time of great unrest. Anti-immigrant sentiments are running high. Workers barely earn enough to live. A cynical ruling class, embodied here by Winnipeg politician A.J. Andrews (Kevin McIntyre), is intent on keeping wages low by pitting workers against each other. The situation is so grave, a movement asserts itself for workers to participate in a massive general strike.
Mike Sokolowski wants to keep working, even as a scab, but his son is rebelling, beguiled as he is by strike-friendly neighbour Rebecca Almazoff (Elena Howard-Scott), the sister of firebrand activist Moishe (Josh Bellan), spawning a Catholic/Jewish slant to star-crossed musical theatre love.
Inspired by Stand!, the movie version of Strike! shot last summer, Schur and Chafe have added ethnic diversity into the story. An Irish returning soldier has transmogrified into a Métis character, Gabriel (Nick Nahwegahbow), and a formerly white maid is now Emma Jones (Maiko Munroe), a black refugee from racial strife in Oklahoma.
It fits. Both characters recognize the divisive game being played by the white English ruling class. And in fact, the racial divide rings even more relevance in this age of Trump nativism and immigrant-blaming.
Director Sharon Bajer, working with choreographer Sam Manchulenko and musical director Jesse Grandmont, imbues the proceedings with a homespun musicality, augmented by an onstage four-piece band. Just about every actor plays a musical instrument, including the three sibling waifs — Malacai, Jonah and Shiloh Hiebert — who play the fiddling "newsies," a kind of Greek chorus supplying tidbits of historical context in the form of news headlines. (A fiddle duel between Malacai and Grandmont during the song Nothing Radical constitutes a sublime show-stopper in the first act.) It all makes for an interesting aural/multicultural mosaic factoring in Nahwegahbow’s flute music and Paula Potosky adding a touch of klezmer with her clarinet.
Suffice it to say: McIntyre’s second-act entrance prior to the performance of the song Right of the Ruling Class is damn near perfect.
Bajer has a strong cast assembled here. Wojcik has performed the role enough times he gives the martyred Sokolowski an appropriate gravitas. Cox and Howard-Scott make a winsome North End Romeo and Juliet, and Bellan looks and sounds exactly the part of a Jewish radical of the era. Both McIntyre and young performer Dane Bjornson, as a resentful returning soldier, are delightfully hateful.
Maiko Munroe gets to sing the new song Stand at the climax of the first act, and is sufficiently strong of voice that one notices the role of Emma Jones isn’t sufficiently fleshed out to justify the musical’s new centrepiece song.
But that’s a small quibble in the greater scheme of things, and a musical based on the 1919 General Strike warrants a Big Picture appreciation.
If, like the New Yorker who’s never seen the Statue of Liberty, you’ve somehow missed past productions of Strike, this is an excellent time to fix that. It’s easily the best stage production of the show, produced, finally, at the scale it deserves.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.