Tim Ryan, founder of the Grant MacEwan University theatre arts program, heartily believed that staging A Connecticut Yankee with its time travel premise would offer a round of new possibilities for his graduating class.
Unfortunately not all Rodgers and Hart musicals are success stories. First staged in 1927, Connecticut Yankee’s last disappointing Broadway revival was in 1943. And it’s still one creaky ship that should have remained anchored at harbour.
The play opens with Lt. Martin Barrett, a dashing and wealthy navy officer, enjoying a bachelor party on the eve of his shotgun wedding to Lt. Fay Merrill. When she finds him in the arms of Corp. Alice Cortleigh, she conks him on the head with a bottle of champagne and he passes out.
When Martin awakens, he’s in the legendary court of Camelot where he promptly falls in love with a dipsy young woman that’s the spitting image of Alice. Viewed as a danger to the kingdom, King Arthur orders him barbecued at the stake. However, Martin predicts an eclipse that darkens the land. Believing he has the powers of a sorcerer, Arthur puts him in charge of the kingdom. The supposedly suave Martin revamps it into a profitable corporation, all the while resisting Merlin’s jealousy and Queen Morgan Le Fay’s predatory advances.
What was originally penned as a spirited, sophisticated musical falls flat due in large part to the stale, dated script loaded with 1940s wisecracking jargon. Much of the script’s humour depends on puns and misunderstandings. However, audience sensibilities have changed over six decades and the forced charm fizzles. When Martin tells his love, Allisande La Cotelloise, “Sandy, I fell in love with you because I thought you were sweet, modest and stupid,” it’s one heck of a cringe moment. And there are quite a few of them.
Although the script hampers the actors, the 23-person troupe really shines in full-cast numbers. There’s the slick soft-shoe shuffle of This Is My Night, the fast-paced tapper Lunch Time Follies and the saucy Camelot Samba.
Several nuggets of devilish charm throughout the two-hour-plus musical included Ashley Weir as La Fay belting out To Keep My Love Alive, a grocery list of how she “bumped off” her eight husbands.
A special nod goes to Aaron Tremblay’s randy Merlin and Nolan Mast’s thick-headed Arthur who keeps wondering where Guinevere and Lancelot disappear to. Even St. Albert’s Jesse Harleton acquitted himself well in several supporting scenes as a sailor, knight, peasant and slave.
Despite the cast’s dynamic energy, this is one show where the script barely floats. Time to shelve this sinking ship.
A Connecticut Yankee<br />MacEwan Theatre Arts <br />Running until Jan. 30<br />John L. Haar Theatre<br />10045 - 155 Street