It’s the music that keeps Back to You: The Life and Music of Lucille Starr afloat

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By Tracey Power. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. Produced by the Firehall Arts Centre and Musical TheatreWorks. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday, September 30. Continues until October 10

Back to You: The Life and Music of Lucille Starr is okay. Surely we can expect better than that.

Lucille Starr was a country singer from the B.C. community of Maillardville who had her one big hit with “The French Song” in 1964. In Back to You, playwright Tracey Power imagines the comeback concert Starr gave in her hometown in 1981. While the mature Starr (Beverley Elliott) sings rockabilly tunes that evoke memories of her past, the young Starr (Alison MacDonald) and her husband, Bob Regan (Jeff Gladstone), show us scenes from their rocky marriage. At times, all three performers sing.

It’s the music that keeps this show more or less afloat. Starr wasn’t a songwriter, so mostly we hear covers of minor tunes. Does anybody out there feel real passion for “Looking Back to See” by Jim Ed Brown and Maxine Brown? In many of the arrangements, MacDonald starts the song and Elliott finishes it off. That’s frustrating because, although Elliott’s voice has a sweet pop sound, MacDonald’s instrument is much more powerful and she uses it more dynamically. Still, everybody here is musically gifted and the tunes are buoyant.

The drama flat-lines. When Starr first tells us about Regan, she says he’s a shit, so we expect him to be a shit and, sure enough, he’s a shit. As presented here, he’s a controlling, boozing womanizer—and she stays married to him for 20 years. Stories like this can be dramatic, but you’ve got to find their dynamics and surprises.

In the role of Regan, Jeff Gladstone provides this production with its only real mystery. That’s because he’s got opposing forces going on: he’s both rakishly charming and credibly dark.

Barbara Tomasic’s direction leaves much to be desired, especially in terms of focus. In her staging, the mature Starr is often stranded in the midst of the younger characters’ domestic scenes, and those younger characters often look adrift in the concert; that’s largely about blocking. April Viczko’s lighting doesn’t help. Scenes sometimes play out in shadows, while less important elements are brightly lit.

Enjoy the tunes. Within the first five minutes, you’ll be able to anticipate all the story you’re going to get.

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