Review: 'Rex' at Fairview Library Theatre
Toronto is lucky to have The Civic Light Opera Company. Not only do they give us enjoyable productions of classic musicals, but they also offer subscribers a chance to explore other interesting works by the same authors.
Their current show, Rex was created in 1976 by composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and bookwriter Sherman Yellen. It tells the story of King Henry VIII and his quest for a male heir to ascend the throne. After a brief Broadway run the show was withdrawn, and is generally not available for theatre companies - professional or amateur - to produce anywhere.
Joe Cascone heard the original cast recording and contacted the two surviving authors. Upon endorsement from The Rodgers & Hammerstein organization, they agreed to allow the Civic Light Opera Company to present the Canadian premiere of a newly revised version of this troubled show.
Troubled only begins to hint at what went on with this musical in 1976. The juicy details are fully recounted in Joe Cascone’s excellent program notes.
This is a fascinating musical with a book so strong that it could be a play. At the age of 74 Richard Rodgers was still writing pleasing melodies, and Sheldon Harnick matched them with insightful lyrics.
Joe Cascone gives a commanding performance as the self-indulgent King. Henry VIII is not a terribly sympathetic character, but Cascone softens the rough edges just enough to show us a king who is flawed, but creditable.
As Catherine, the King’s first wife, Carol Kugler is given a fine opportunity to display both her acting and singing talents with one of the score’s most touching songs, “As Once I Loved You.” In the role of Anne Boleyn, Ashley Gibson provides a well developed portrait of the strong-willed queen. Gibson returns in the second half as the adult Princess Elizabeth, shining in a fiery confrontation with Henry.
There is terrific support from Damien Gulde as court musician Smeaton, Eric Botosan as court astrologer Comus, and David Haines doing what he does best offering up some comic relief as Will, the court jester.
The chamber-sized orchestra under the direction of Michael Capon provides a proper period feel, always in balance with the singers. Sheila Lacasse has outdone herself with the stunning costumes. The evocative set by David Haines and Blain Berdan conjures up a properly austere 16th century look, enhanced by Gareth Crew’s precise lighting.
Among those attending the opening night performance was lyricist and Broadway legend Sheldon Harnick who told the cast that this production was the show he had always envisioned. With an endorsement like that, all I can add is get your tickets fast. The show runs to March 6.
Rex is playing at Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive. For tickets go to www.civiclightoperacompany.com or call the box office: 416-755-1717.