Not In My Backyard: “Spreading it on too thick”

Not In My Backyard
World Premier Musical Comedy
Book and lyrics by Racheal and Brett McCaig
Music by Anthony Bastianon
Directed and choreographed by Liz Gilroy
Musical Direction by Anthony Batianon
Set Design by Eric Bunnell
Costume Design by Alex Amini
Played by Rennie Wilkinson, Geoff Whynot, Sef Wood, Shawna Van Omme    
July 10th to July 27th

Lesleigh: How exciting to be invited to be among the first people in the audience for a "World Premiere" of a new Canadian musical. I wanted to know more about the playwrights, Racheal (Energizer Mummy) and Brett McCaig. In 2008, they wrote the critically acclaimed, Nursery School Musical, described as, "Second City meets South Park meets Sex And The City in this hilarious take on kids, their parents and the first day of school!" Sounded like my kind of musical. I was looking forward to "love among the vegetables" as directed by Liz Gilroy of last year's runaway hit Sexy Laundry.

Donald: I too really looked forward to this production. I remembered how much you enjoyed Sexy Laundry so I thought that was a good omen. Why before the show even started there was a party atmosphere!

Lesleigh: Five people in purple birthday hats...loved it.  

Donald: And I loved the pre-show music. Then when we walked in and saw the set—

[Photo below: Lesleigh and Donald getting into the spirit of Not In My Backyard pre show]

Lesleigh: The set was fresh, fun, colourful with an interesting combination of argyle, stripes, shells and polka dots. So many doors, I was immediately intrigued and waited in anticipation for the play to begin. Doors are so fun to work with and are always hiding or revealing something intriguing.

Donald: That set designer Eric Bunnell – he never fails to deliver. And as the show began I thought this will be an interesting combo: Disney-themed lines, colourful set and costumes, over-the-top characters and a golden-haired lead. I knew we were in for a night of family-oriented entertainment. Sure you’ll hear one or two ‘shit’s but what kid doesn’t? It was also fun to spot a Rick Kish look-a-like in the cast! And personally, one of the best early moments was when a character states her, “God-given right to dish.” Amen sister!

Lesleigh: Disney themed is an inspired choice of words, for when the exquisite Shawna Van Omme came out and began to sing, I instantly pictured her as one of the Magical Kingdom's princesses...Snow White or Cinderella. And at one point the character Rennie Wilkinson plays is referred to as Cruella de Vil. Oh…Oh…I could also easily imagine the mayor with his over-stuffed pants having a high time as Gaston. My early moment wow was the arrival of Sef Wood. He has a great voice and whether singing or speaking, really understands how to tell a story – how to capture the audience's attention. Oh, and what made me laugh were the many imaginative ways that Wilkinson's character undermined the image of a tree-hugger. Too funny.

Donald: Sure, I chuckled at some of her lines, but soon enough, one discovers a non-challenging story and the cartoonish characters a bit much. I felt like I was run over by a theme park!

Lesleigh Turner: The tough thing is that I liked the idea – exploring the intrigue of small town life, politics, romance, gardens. It just never really came together for me. Each one of the characters was presented as one-note or clichéd. I don't think Shawna furrowed her brow for the entire first act.

Donald: I know I did.

Lesleigh: It is said that there are only really two or three stories, but I have seen this one too many times before and have heard most of the jokes.

Donald: We’re the same age – old enough to remember who wrote them the first time around.

Lesleigh: I reminded myself that this is summer stock, light theatre, very little thought required. I could see that the actors were utilizing all of their considerable energy, talent, and imagination to create something wonderful but it was just beyond their grasp, largely because of the material and perhaps the way they were directed.

Donald: Well, they created something all right. Mind you, the audience really liked the Canadian and small town aspects of the play. I don’t want to spoil any plot line but anyone very familiar with Elgin County’s history will think of how a stock clerk at an A&P food store in St. Thomas (Steve Peters) became a public figure. Wood’s character reminded me of Peters. And I agree with you that Wood played the bug-eyed, eager beaver (wait until you hear some of the double entendres in the second act!) to the hilt.

Lesleigh: The biggest laughs of the night came from the jokes undermining political figures…ie. "Lie, cheat and get a pension." My favorite moments of the night were in act two with the Mayor searching for his umbrella...hilarious.

Donald: I did laugh at that umbrella scene but I think at the absurdity of it.

Lesleigh: Really, the mayor was amusing most of the time. Geoff Whynot has a rubber face, great comic timing and is surprisingly limber in those tight pants. I don't know if this is the place Donald, but I heard a story about a man who used to go to the deli and buy a Hungarian sausage to tape inside his pants when he was going to the local dances...I was reminded of that last night.

Donald: There is no one in that audience that could have missed the sausage in Whynot’s pants from his first entrance. It was quite the upstager! Remember this line in the musical Lesleigh, “Spreading it on too thick”? I thought that line didn’t just speak to me, it cried out!

Lesleigh: The song that stuck with me was, "I'm a politician; I'm a politician." In fact it is still going around and around in my brain...help.

Donald: Sorry, I couldn’t even play name that tune at this point. In fact, our chosen title matches the promo notes for the show, “Join us for this sparkling new musical comedy. Political satire, love among the vegetables, and some hard lines drawn in the dirt. Organizers of a local community garden get more than they bargain for when an organic food dream turns into a practical nightmare! Well drawn characters, soaring melodies, and snappy one-liners abound in this musical tour-de-force.”

Lesleigh: This is the challenging part of being a reviewer. I have never written a musical and I cannot imagine how much time and thought and imagination went into the world premiere of this one. The audience gave the production a hearty round of applause accompanied by some woo-hoos. There are plenty of people who enjoyed this. Who am I to take this enjoyment away from them?

Donald: I don’t feel we are taking any enjoyment away from them. I had some laughs. Some will have more, some less. I can’t give their take on the show. Only my own. That’s the gig. I believe that since people are paying $30 to see a professional show they need to have an unfiltered review of this production. After intermission and caffeine fix, when we returned to our seats, three patrons beside us and four two rows back didn’t. And no one kept their party hats on for Act II. I’m just saying, Lesleigh…

Lesleigh: I thought the beginning of the second act was great, lots of energy and a song that moved the story along...the lost umbrella...then the momentum was lost. It felt to me that this was a production in need of more workshopping. There is a point in the show where Wilkinson's character tells the mayor that she is going to wear a disguise and infiltrate the Veggies. I perked up thinking, here comes a fun idea, but then nothing developed.

Donald: All in all, there was a Romper Room feeling to the evening and performance style. Van Omme’s character is the anchor of the play and her column writing aka Carrie (Sex And The City) were like greetings from a Romper hostess (minus the sex of The City). As with the old show, our hostess with the help of a group of children (in this case her supporting cast) embark on what felt like games, exercises, songs and moral lessons, which were regularly accompanied by an accompanist in view of the audience. I counted the minutes until he cracked a smile. The show clocks in at two hours and I didn’t catch one! Not even a smirk! All that was missing from my “Romper” experience was the milk and cookies!

Lesleigh: Privates were pampered, a prince won the heart of his princess and an unexpected twist ensured that life would be filled with sunshine and lollipops all tied up in a green bow.

Donald: The end.

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Lesleigh Turner is always happy to give her opinion on a myriad of topics. Ha. She has been involved in theatre since, well, since London Community Players was on York Street. Favorite projects include acting in Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (LCP), Five Women Wearing the Same Dress (LCP),  Moon Over Buffalo (LCP), Pride and Prejudice  (Toronto), Child on Her Mind (London and Newfoundland) and Her Wake (Pacheco Theatre). She has directed numerous shows including Opera Comique with Brian March, Modern Tragedy, Barefoot in The Park (LCP), Country of My Skin (Cornelia Hoogland), Agnes of God (Theatre Soup) and most recently Jenny's House of Joy for Theatre Soup. She loves all things and all people theatre.

Donald D’Haene is Online Theatre Editor for The Beat Magazine.