Review: THE LAST TIMBIT at Elgin Theatre

Tim Horton's ad-musical is sweet but underbaked.

By: Jun. 29, 2024
Review: THE LAST TIMBIT at Elgin Theatre
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What would you do for a Timbit?

Or, more specifically, would you pay to see an entire musical about a Timbit?

Last year, during a theatrical tour to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, I covered the dairy state’s pride and joy theatrical experience of Cheeseheads: The Musical, based on a true story of employees who saved their cheese factory from shutdown with a lottery win. It was with this veritable Chedda Gabler in mind that I attended Tim Hortons’ 60th anniversary musical, THE LAST TIMBIT. Would it be in the same vein, Timbit-in-cheek, never taking itself too seriously but delivering fun with a bit of heart? Or would it be a cynical coffee cash grab? Would it be a new classic Yeast Side Story, a witty Bunday in the Park With George, a pathos (and whipped cream)-filled Les Eclairables, or a sultry Sprinkle Abakening? Or would we just be left with Grease?

Far more than just radio jingles or sketches, full corporate or industrial musicals have a long history in North America, from their beginnings in the 1950s when automotive companies and large department stores took advantage of post-WWII prosperity, to their decline in the 1980s and ‘90s when video became more affordable than large-scale stage productions. In their book, Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals, Steve Young and Sport Murphy note that the corporate musical was largely an internal experience, written to entertain a company’s employees and associates at conventions and morale-building exercises.

That’s what makes THE LAST TIMBIT a bit different, other than the fact that it arrives about 60 years after the corporate musical heyday (coincidentally, when the company was founded): it’s designed and produced for the brand’s consumers, rather than its workers, who probably can’t afford the Elgin Theatre’s ticket prices anyway. Trading on feelings of nostalgia and Canadian pride, it allows the brand to position itself as a sort of family member to its patrons, a strategy which has perhaps worked better for the company over the past six decades than any other in this country (there’s no moment where Canadian Tire money rains from the ceiling, but perhaps a partnership can be made).

All this to say that a musical like this is rife for skepticism. Tim Hortons has been canny, though, in hiring some of the most respected names in the business, with Fringe favourites Britta and Anika Johnson as composers and book writer Nick Green of Stratford and Soulpepper critical darling Casey and Diana given six months to create the work, and recognizable actors like Peter Millard, Chillina Kennedy, Jake Epstein and Sara Farb bringing it to life.

By acknowledging the ridiculousness of the premise, and by focusing on the people trapped in a Tim Hortons the night of a dangerous snowstorm rather than the company itself, THE LAST TIMBIT is a silly and occasionally fun experience. Yes, it’s probably better suited to the Fringe Festival than the Elgin. Yes, you might feel vaguely embarrassed watching adults pleading with you in song to “trust in the doughnut hole." Yes, you’ve paid too much to see a 70-minute-long ad, and you’ll pay too much afterward to buy the t-shirt that’s yet another ad, but if you’re okay with that…you could do worse.

The Johnsons’ book efficiently sets up the situation and characters. Well known for their shows starring schools full of talented teens, they centre the story on divorced mother Michelle (Kennedy) who’s driving her teenage daughter Olivia (Kaya Kanashiro) home from one of their tense weekend custody visits. Mom wants to be her daughter’s bestie, while Olivia resents her cringe-worthy mother for abandoning her; she wants guidance, not girls’ nights. When the snow piles up too far, they find themselves at the only refuge available: a roadside Tim Hortons.

As if the weather couldn’t get cru(e)ller, inside, there’s a motley crew of customers also hunkering down. Chloe (Farb) is lonely in a new town and upset over missing her first and possibly only social invitation from her office mates. Vince (Andrew Broderick) and (Kimberly-Ann Truong) are wannabe socialites trying to get to the exclusive event of the year, which seems to offer little save the ability to taunt others who aren’t there. Ellen (DeAnn DeGruijter) and Kathy (Barbara Fulton) are madrigal singers on the run after gambling the choir’s travel fund.

Anton (Millard), an elderly man so quiet that most forget he’s there, is a long-term patron finding ways to socialize after the death of his wife. And Shane (Epstein) is a park ranger narrating his own nature documentary and completely unable to properly interact with other humans. Oh, and he’s convinced aliens once stole his blueberry bagel.

Together, they’ve drained the store of its most precious resource: Timbits, of which there’s only one left. To determine who gets it, harried but kindly manager Monty (Eric Craig, filling in for Sterling Jarvis) decides on a sort of Tim’s Olympics, with the winner getting the fried dough. He’s assisted by fellow employee Charlie (Danté Prince), who just happens to be Olivia’s big crush, second clarinet in the school band to her third flute.

If that sounds like a lot, it is, and regrettably, few characters get much developed beyond a quirk and an explanation of their situation. The writers are hampered by the one-act structure demanded by a show like this (there’s only so long even the curious are willing to sit with a musical-cum-publicity-stunt), so there just isn’t time to flesh out everyone. The aggressive quirkiness helps with the humour, Epstein’s clueless bombast being particularly chuckle-worthy, but flattens the characters so that it’s harder to care about them as human beings.

Thank goodness for Peter Millard’s Anton; while Millard isn’t the strongest vocalist in the cast, he manages to wring all the pathos out of his solo, reminiscent of the message of the notoriously tear-jerking first ten minutes of Disney’s UP. When Anton sings about finding the joy not in large adventures but in the little moments with his beloved wife—the “little treat” philosophy of life, if you will—you might shed a single tear of salt to balance out all the rest of the gooey caramel. Farb, too, conveys a believable loneliness...when she doesn’t have to shriek and run out the door for unfathomable reasons.

Mostly, I longed for some more time to develop the mother-daughter relationship underpinning the evening. There’s a lot of possibility in the Gilmore Girls-esque pairing of a daughter who seems more serious and responsible than her mother, but hazy, broadly-sketched logistics surrounding the family’s past get less attention than Olivia’s crush and her devotional refrain that she’d let him have the first sip of their shared Iced Capp.

Speaking of Iced Capps, the Tim’s references are sprinkled heavily throughout, and Kelly Wolf’s set is a relatively faithful replica of a franchise, down to the menu screens (video by Cameron Davis) behind and above the counter. There’s a tantalizing moment when the snow causes these screens to glitch erratically; the eerie result isn’t revisited, a missed opportunity to really play around with the vagaries of weather.

Musically, everything’s catchy enough, with Farb belting out the most notable tune. Hopefully, the production will adjust the sound balance so that audiences can hear all the clever lyrics; one protracted incident of microphone interference on opening night had the cast soldiering through an entire song’s worth of background noise.

In the end, everyone learns a few lessons, there’s a dance-off, and we’re reminded that exclusivity isn’t what makes things fun, inclusivity is. Luckily for the audience, now part of the brand family, there’s a Tim Hortons, inclusively, everywhere you look—where you can now go, wearing your exclusive “Last Timbit” merchandise.

So do we have a new Merrily We Dough Along, My Fair Dutchie, Jesus Crust Superstar, or Kiss Me, Cake? Probably not. But THE LAST TIMBIT isn’t here for a long time; after all, doughnuts go stale quickly. It’s here to be an Experience, and an Experience it is.

Been there, done that, got the Timbit.


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