BWW Review: EVERY SILVER LINING at Factory Theatre
Maybe it's because theatre kids get bullied so hard in high school that the depression musical has become a fixture of the genre. There's Les Miserables, of course, which stood alone in the pantheon for a long time, until it was joined, over the years, by ever more ballads of loss and belters of woe: in Ragtime, Spring Awakening, Dear Evan Hansen, etc. That last one likely served as an inspiration for EVERY SILVER LINING, a musical by Canadian Silver Lining Productions on now at Toronto Fringe's Next Stage Festival.
EVERY SILVER LINING is about being a teenager, and cancer. Clara (Allison Wither, who also composed the music and wrote the lyrics) is a teenager. She reads books, goes swimming, and ignores her friends (one of whom is played by Laura Piccinin, who also wrote the book). Her brother, Andrew (Daniel Karp) is dying of leukemia. There's a painful imbalance between their stories, and it's difficult - embarrassing actually - to watch Clara sing-flirt with the new boy at school while Andrew takes chemotherapy injections. Clara is inexplicably the centre of attention, Wither, the star of the show, even though, until the end of the second act, there isn't a shred of conflict in her life or personality in her character. She likes a boy who likes her; she likes swimming and is good at it; she has wonderful, kind, caring friends who never inconvenience her with their own problems or issues.
Things don't get going story-wise until about two thirds of the way through the show, when a day in the life of a sarcastic teenager is replaced by something darker, smaller, humbler, and more real. As the scope narrows and focuses, the show feels trimmer, lighter. Clara and her friends and parents have to deal with something they've never felt before. Conflict enters stage right. The final third of Every Silver Lining is hardly original - call it the fourteenth reason why - but it does at least feel emotionally honest, and it is certainly compelling.
Wither is a competent composer and the numbers she and music director Aaron Eyre have arranged are varied and enjoyable. The lyrics that go with them are less of an accomplishment - some lines rhyme, some don't; some are full to the brim with so many syllables you can't breathe, others are not.
Wither's talent as a performer, however, and especially as a singer, are less doubtful: she has a beautiful voice, strong, clear, expressive. And together with director Jennifer Stewart, she leads a fine cast of singers and actors. It's clear that there's talent to spare both on- and back-stage. I just wish it didn't take until the final act for that talent to form into something you can grip onto and enjoy.
Silver Lining Productions' EVERY SILVER LINING runs through 19 January at the Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto, as part of the Toronto Fringe's Next Stage Festival.
For more information or buy tickets, click here.