Great Canuck musical this isn’t

Tarragon’s latest a memorable world premiere

ORIGINAL MUSICALS ARE not easy to write — from the story to the music and lyrics — and one cannot rattle off the names of very many Canadian ones worthy of memory. There is no reason why this fine country of ours should not be able to produce a Sondheim, Loesser or Rodgers and Hammerstein, but we haven’t. With Mimi, (or A Poisoner’s Comedy), playing at the Tarragon Mainspace until Oct. 25, no one can claim that the great Canadian musical has been written and produced, but there is a lot of talent here and a lot of hope to be taken.

The talent level is high: from Allen Cole’s music and lyrics and the book and lyrics by Melody A. Johnson to Rick Roberts, a standout as an actor, especially in Fire at Canadian Stage a few years ago.

First, the good news: Cole’s music is highly original and creative (recalling Jacques Brel at his best at times), and the lyrics are often hilarious, complex, dirty and memorable. Other good news: In addition, Trish Lindstrom’s title character, Mimi, and Tamara Bernier Evans’ Francoise reach operatic heights, with beautiful, strong voices and good acting throughout. (It must have been one of the smallest “bands” in musical history, with only Daniel Rutzen on piano and Paul Braunstein on drums, the latter when not playing such important roles as Exili and Torceaux and serving in the chorus).

The bad news: the plot of this world premiere production is rather empty and lacks tension and development. The all- Canadian musical is about, of all things, the time of Louis XIV of France and two oversexed, adulterous couples who open the show in bed together.

One of the lovers ends up in the Bastille and discovers the advantages and conveniences of poison. This killer potion is brought back to the eponymous Mimi, who begins poisoning everyone in sight, and that’s about it.

There are fabulous rhymes that keep leaping out from the high-quality songs. I loved the armless and legless beggar, the first victim of Mimi the poisoner, who proudly calls out his name: “Torso” but the hints of Sondheim’s magnificent and ethereal Sweeney Todd in the plot are rarely fulfilled.

The musical drips with irony and meta-fiction, which is fine, but occasional pretty songs and witty lyrics do not a fully satisfying evening make.

The ending, wrapping up the bloody and murderous plot, is a joyous song, whose lyrics (“All good things must come to an end / And so must the bad things, too!”) stayed with me long after I saw the last preview. The director, the most excellent Alisa Palmer, who has radiated her brilliance at the Shaw Festival and on many Toronto stages, did well here. I wish the plot showed as much depth, beauty and humour as the music and lyrics. I am still glad I saw it.

Mimi runs at the Tarragon Theatre until Oct. 25.

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