The Cave: Enter quickly (only two more shows left)

production photo from The Cave

Screen grab of Derek Kwan as Fox.

John Millard’s music for The Cave is glorious. And who couldn’t use some gloriousness these days?

The Cave is a musical cabaret with characters and a narrative. Pursued by fire, the animals of the forest are running for their lives. They take refuge in Bear’s cave, where they tell stories, struggle to breathe, and await their fate.

This both is and isn’t as heavy as it sounds. The Cave is almost ecstatically entertaining.

John Millard’s music nods towards Kurt Weill, but it’s more spacious — folkier and more spiritual than that. Many of the songs, including the rousing opening number, feel like hymns to the natural world: “To life for the raven, the sparrow! To life for the whale, for the bear!”

Playfulness abounds — in the music (Busy Billy Beaver’s song clatters) and in Tomson Highway’s lyrics (“When I’m a lump on a stump, a skunk in a funk …”)

But there are operatic thrills, too (more about that in a minute), and heartbreaking lyricism. Trapped on the ground, Fox wonders if he’ll live to see his lover Crow again as Joe Crow flies “over forests now gone/To be by his side. It’s where I belong.” At the end of the show, a coda, sung by Fox, wrecked me.

Millard charms as the host and the four animal performers could not be better. They all play several characters, but I’ll list them here with their primaries: Alex Samaras (Bear), Neema Bickersteth (Spider), Derek Kwan (Beaver), and Andrea Koziol (Snake). As befits cabaret, they hail from different backgrounds — jazz to opera — but every one of them sings with assured precision and beguiling tone. The warmth of Kwan’s voice is irresistible and the high notes of Bickersteth’s ringing soprano had me waving my hands and snapping my fingers.

Director Adam Paolozza keeps the anthropomorphism grounded, never cutesy. Performing barefoot, using techniques developed by LeCoq, the actors deliver physical characterizations that feel essential. Samaras is particularly good at it. I’m thinking of his embodiment of Crow, for instance — sweeping, shuddering, noble.

Allie Marshall’s costumes are artworks in their own right. Bear wears a heavy coat appliqued with chocolate satin rosettes.

The Cave wanders in its last 15 minutes. Having clearly established the horrors of the climate change, the show starts to mark time and dips into the polemical. I didn’t need the bald lesson of Dog’s rant against humans, for instance: “They’ve torn out the flesh of our mother, the earth.”

Still, the assurance of the delivery never falters, I remain grateful for the production’s many gifts, there’s that coda from Fox, and The Cave‘s message is urgent: we’re not just destroying our own houses and lives.

THE CAVE Music by John Millard. Lyrics by Tomson Highway. Book by Martha Ross. Directed by Adam Paolozza. Produced by Victor Pokinko. A Cave Collective production recorded at the Luminato Festival and presented by The Cultch. There’s an evening viewing tonight, January 23, at 7:30 p.m. and a matinee viewing tomorrow, January 24, at noon. Tickets.


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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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