Yolande Ramsay for Curtains Up
The more things change the more they stay the same or so the saying goes. The headlines in the news scream of collusion and corruption in this city and province. And that was back in the 50’s. “Last Night at the Gayety” is the hilarious new musical by Bowser and Blue. It is a trip into Montréal circa 1951 when nightclubs were hot and the Church was not happy.
This fun, vibrant show is a nostalgic and humourous look back to when this city had a reputation for its hedonism and joie de vivre. It tells the story of how the police, the church, and owners/operators of “entertainment” venues clashed together over the law, morality, and the almighty dollar. Reflecting the entertainment styles of the time, “Last Night at the Gayety” uses vaudeville, slapstick, and bawdy humour with charming and light-hearted effect. It is not a profound story but the historical grace notes are on point. It reminds the audience that Montréal was, and is, as exciting as any city in North America.
The story centres on Lili St. Cyr (Julia Juhas) the famous burlesque dancer from the club the Gayety run by Tommy (Frayne McCarthy). The club is constantly under threat by Police Chief Pax Plante (Daniel Brochu). Pax is on a mission to shut down bordellos, raid nightclubs, and end city corruption. His big target is the Gayety and its star. Pax receives guidance from Father D’Anjou (Michel Perron) who is trying to enforce the Catholic Church’s morality and save the city from sin. But this has very little effect on wanna-be burlesque dancer Molly (Holly Gauthier-Frankel) and hapless police officer Donald (Jonah Carson), two young people dreaming for something more and better than society’s conformities. Money tries to talk loud through the rim-shot loving Jimmy (a sharp Davide Chiazzese), the arm of organized crime. He probably keeps stationary stores in good business with the many “little” brown envelopes he pulls out.
Mr. McCarthy is wonderful, not only as the put-upon Tommy, but also as the narrator. He keeps the show moving briskly. Ms. Gauthier-Frankel is delightful with good comic timing. Mr. Brochu gives pathos and gravitas to his character’s thankless job. Mr. Perron and Mr. Carson bring humanity to characters that could have been clichés. Ms. Juhas is splendid, bringing glamour and charisma to Lili St. Cyr. It is easy to understand why this artiste was such a big star. The cast is rounded out by the Peek-A-Boo Girls chorus (Shannon T. McNally, Rosie Callaghan) and Tamara Brown who also plays Madame with cynical hilarity.
The music, performed by a live trio, bounces with joy, wit, and tenderness. The songs tell the story of Montréal in the early 50’s with a fondness that avoids sugar-coating the realities behind all those good times. The satirical lyrics are pointed but not mean-spirited or overly critical. The name of the game is entertainment. The set features signage reminding the audience of the storied nightclubs of the past and a red curtained stage that reveals city scenes and…. a little bit more.
Not everything in the past was so awful and we are still living with some of its values, for better and for worse. But it can be fun retelling the good ole’ days and wonder how future generations will tell the stories of today.
“Last Night at the Gayety”: Presented by Centaur Theatre Company. Music, Lyrics, and Book by Rick Blue and George Bowser. Directed by Roy Surette. Show continues to May 15, 2016 at the Centaur Theatre, 453 St-François-Xavier, Old Montreal. Tickets $55 to $33.00. Call the box office at 514-288-3161 or go to www.centaurtheatre.com