Studio 58 pokes fun at Vancouver’s foiblesWriting a fully realized two-act musical in college takes hubris. Writing one that’s as winning and entertaining as The Park takes talent. The versatile young minds at Langara College’s Studio 58 have both.
Written by Benjamin Elliot, Anton Lipovetsky, and Hannah Johnson — all either students or recent graduates — The Park’s first incarnation was as part of last year’s STEW, Studio 58’s performance series of one-acts. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so the trio went back to work, fleshing out what is ultimately the quintessential love letter to Vancouver, albeit one that wholly recognizes and pokes fun at the city’s quirky characters and archetypes.
John (Joel Ballard) is a disgruntled parks worker who gets a pink slip after six thankless years on the job. In a moment of self-indulgent fury, he lets slimy millionaire Gabe (Dustin Freeland) talk him into signing a petition to turn Stanley Park into Stan Park, a concrete parking lot. But John’s also secretly in love with Geena (Amy Hall-Cummings), a fiercely aggressive environmental activist, and vows to help her with her own petition to stop the destruction of the park.
The three leads display versatility, good comic timing, and varying degrees of vocal prowess. Freeland’s a gifted scene stealer, but Ballard’s performance is quietly appealing. And the supporting cast has plenty of opportunity to step briefly and repeatedly into the spotlight. Although each has moments worth mentioning, Kendall Wright, who plays park supervisor Patricia, deserves singling out. On paper, Patricia is annoying, hyper-sexualized, and supremely melodramatic. Wright takes those qualities and skillfully ratchets them so far over the top that she somehow moves the character from grating to ingratiating.
The songs are clever, paying tribute to everything from Sondheim to AM ’70s gold. Opening number “Springtime Happening” is well-executed, kicking things off neatly, efficiently, and most importantly, entertainingly. The characters are briefly introduced, we get a sense of what’s to come, and the song lets us in on the tone of the ensuing two hours: humour mixed with hope. “Chicken Waltz” is hilariously violent but sweet, a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of the crazy things we do for love, while “A to the Q to the Warium,” which features the juice-worshipping Vancouver “President,” is a great send-up of the city’s culture. Throughout, The Park’s style of gentle self-mockery proves endearing. The writers may make fun of their characters (and Vancouverites in general), but they never diminish them.
David Hudgens’s direction is lively and inventive, perfectly in keeping with Kayla Dunbar’s frisky but- fun choreography. The backing band, which includes Elliot, Lipovetsky, and drummer Spencer Shoening from local indie-rock band Said the Whale, keeps the momentum going. Taken together, the winning elements of The Park signal that a revolution is going on behind the classroom doors. Not content to merely produce the future faces of Vancouver theatre, by creating this homegrown musical and achieving a tricky balance of humour, heart, and social commentary, Studio 58 proves they are Vancouver theatre.
The Park runs to Oct. 17 at Studio 58 (100 W. 49th Ave.), 8pm. Tickets $10-$22 from 604-684-2787 and TicketsTonight.ca.