Onegin is superb

Onegin is playing at the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage

Give yourself the gift of smart, openhearted sensuality this season: see Onegin. (That’s Lauren Jackson on the left and Josh Epstein on the right. David Cooper took the photo)

I saw Onegin again last night and, not to put too fine a point on it, it was like falling back into the arms of a favourite lover.

Go see it. It’s the best show in town—by a snowy, Slavic country mile.

In Onegin, which is a sung-through musical, Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone reimagine the verse novel by Aleksandr Pushkin, with help from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his opera.

I first saw Onegin, which is set in the nineteenth century but is full of postmodern twists, when it premiered in 2016. My infatuation was instant and my written reaction was fresher then than it would be now, so here’s that review.

The show has just gotten better since then. When it premiered, it was presented in the three-quarter round at the Goldcorp Stage and I was worried when I heard that it would be playing in the fixed proscenium of the Granville Island Stage this time around. I needn’t have fretted. Set designer Drew Facey has pushed the playing area as far into the house as it will go and director Amiel Gladstone moves the actors freely up and down the aisles—they even offer vodka to interested patrons—so the sense of immediacy is actually greater. Interestingly, the focus is vastly improved.

Everybody in the stellar cast is looser and more confident than they were in 2016. There have been a number of changes to the text and music since 2016, and a central duel, which struck me as uncontextualized in the premiere production, feels much more comprehensible and compelling now. Meg Roe, who plays Tatyana, a romantic young woman from the country who falls for the urbane, cynical title character, is even more heartbreakingly transparent, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. And Onegin’s breaking point, ably played by Alessandro Juliani, is crystal clear.

Perhaps because I was familiar with the musical already, I was freer last night to appreciate the extraordinary textures of the production—not just the luxurious harmonies, giddy rhythms and extraordinary variety of the music, but also the earthy sensuality of Tracey Powers’s choreography and the swooning expressiveness of John Webber’s lighting.

This mounting of Onegin has just started a significant Canadian tour. It deserves international recognition.

ONEGIN Book, music, and lyrics by Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone. Based on the poem by Aleksandr Pushkin and the opera by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. An Arts Club Theatre production at the Granville Island Stage on Thursday, December 14. Continues until December 31, with cast changes on December 27. 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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