BWW Review: DR. SILVER Masterfully Conducts a New Type of Theatrical Experience

BWW Review: DR. SILVER Masterfully Conducts a New Type of Theatrical Experience

DR. SILVER: A CELEBRATION OF LIFE is setting a new standard for Canadian musical theatre. From the moment you arrive at the venue, you're faced with a mass of Dr. Silver's followers - they're friendly, but it's unsettling to watch the room slowly fill with mini cups of blue water.

Those cups aren't just for the cast, though - in coming to the show, audiences are expected to literally drink the Kool-aid if they want in on the service.

The new experience by Canadian writers Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson, produced by The Musical Stage Company and Outside the March, and directed by Mitchell Cushman, throws audience members into the memorial ceremony of the late religious figure/cult leader Dr. Leonard P. Silver. Led by his wife Caroline (Donna Garner), their daughters Vera (Kira Guloien) and Harmony (Rielle Braid), long-time assistant Timothy (Bruce Dow), and accompanied by the "Silver Singers" (Edge of the Sky Young Company, Wexford Collegiate), the service reflects the characters' world, where the church space has only been rented for an hour. While it makes enough sense to keep the runtime short, it's barely enough time to tell the story.

Between the stages of the ritual, the focus of the show is on the lost son, Gordon (Peter Deiwick), who left because of the restrictions in the community. He seems more myth than man at first, but as Timothy, Vera, and Caroline delve further into their memories, their relationships are brought forward and crammed into the service - in some cases, at the expense of moving the story forward.

The highlight of this show is the music. The heavy pop and gospel tones are beautifully handled by music director Elizabeth Baird and conductor/accompanist Adam Sakiyama, and are delivered by a powerhouse collective of a cast.

Most of the biggest musical moments are delivered by Guloien, who carries Vera with admirable severity throughout the show. Guloien's delivery of the finale is emotional and solid, driving the storyline to completion beautifully. As her precocious younger sister, Braid is the ever-faithful, unquestioning follower in the family who doesn't get much in terms of solos, but commands attention during the opening number and rightfully latches onto any moment she can take.

Playing the widow of the doctor, Garner's strengths lay in the personification of Caroline. She is clearly the mastermind behind the whole service. When things go wrong, she steps in and makes things right again - and Garner carries her character with the drama, grace and poise of a classic Hollywood star.

Balancing out the cast are the male leads Dow and Deiwick. Dow's Timothy is the awkward assistant to Dr. Silver, but after learning his connection to the family during his 'testimony' to the Master Conductor (the godlike figure of the organization) he becomes much more. Dow's presentation of Timothy places huge emotional moments against strong vocal performances, resulting in one of the more interesting arcs within the service.

Deiwick's Gordon is a charming, witty teen who rebelled against the cult and was disowned for it. His disappearance from the family has left him more like a ghost than a brother, son, and friend, but unfortunately, his place feels a bit forced. Deiwick offers a well-rounded performance, but his flashbacks with Vera and Caroline seem to go on for too long in comparison to how quickly the rest of the show moves.

Despite the awkwardness in the story's timeline and prioritization of certain scenes, the original music and well-placed comedic moments - including the brief appearance of Gail (voiced by Britta Johnson), who just wants to know what got booked in lieu of her beloved bridge club - are what set DR. SILVER apart in its own class of theatre. With dynamic lighting (C.J. Astronomo) and great use of video (Nick Bottomley) and audio (Richard Feren) throughout, the experience benefits from the atmosphere created during huge moments and takes advantage of the silence that follows.

If DR. SILVER: A CELEBRATION OF LIFE is a look into the future of Canadian musical theatre, it seems like a new era of immersive theatre experiences and hard-hitting musical numbers could be on the way. Even with some off-beat moments in the story, the service is packed with emotion, songs deserving of a professional cast recording, and an interesting premise, all beginning and ending with a song and a toast.

The Musical Stage Company and Outside the March's DR. SILVER: A CELEBRATION OF LIFE runs through October 14 at Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave., Toronto, ON.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

photo credit: Edge of the Sky Young Company from Wexford Collegiate. Photo by Dahlia Katz. Production Design by Nick Blais, Anahita Dehbonehie and Ken MacKenzie. Video Design by Nick Bottomley.

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From This Author Isabella Perrone

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