The Park is tremendous fun
By Benjamin Elliott, Hannah Johnson and Anton Lipovetsky. Directed by David Hudgins. Musical direction by Benjamin Elliott and Anton Lipovetsky. At Studio 58 on Saturday, October 2. Continues until October 17
There’s something in the air. Is it spring? Is it money? Or is it the great Vancouver musical?
Cocreators Benjamin Elliott, Hannah Johnson, and Anton Lipovetsky were still students when they wrote a one-act version of The Park for a play festival at Studio 58 last January. This expanded two-act version is an impressive achievement for such young artists. It’s also tremendous fun.
When Stanley Park falls into the hands of Gabriel Fines, a developer who plans to turn it into a parking lot, environmental crusader Geena Gruber opposes his plan. Caught in the middle is John Bristle, a recently pink-slipped park-board employee who’s been nursing an undeclared crush on Geena, but whom Fines manipulates into being a figurehead for his development campaign.
Surrounding them is a wittily drawn collection of park denizens, from joggers to stroller-pushing parents. There’s also a pair of TV anchors who report on the escalating conflict, and let’s not forget “The President of Vancouver”, who rides a bike, does yoga, and drinks “Joyous Earth” juice. Sound like anyone we know?
Under David Hudgins’s direction, the pace never lags. His energetic cast members pour their hearts into the show’s many memorable songs—including a jazzy number whose syncopated rhythms are established by the joggers calling out the brand names of their shoes—and into fellow student Kayla Dunbar’s playful choreography (a party at the aquarium boasts some terrific dolphin dives).
Both Dustin Freeland, who plays Fines, and Amy Hall-Cummings as Geena, have the vocal power to match their acting chops. As John, Joel Ballard strains somewhat to hit his notes, but his winsome humility makes him a likable hero. As park supervisor Patricia, Kendall Wright is like a soap-opera villainess gone feral: her glossy, hormonal ballad, “Looking for Love”, is one of the play’s showstoppers. The other is Geena’s confession of her feelings for John, “Chicken Waltz”. I won’t give away the surprises, but props to costume designer Marina Szijarto for the backup dancers’ outfits in both these numbers.
Drummer Spencer Schoening (of Said the Whale) joins Elliott (on keyboards) and Lipovetsky (on guitar) to provide tight musical accompaniment to the sophisticated vocal arrangements. When all the cast members lift their voices in harmony—which, fortunately for us, they do often—there’s something in the air called magic.