Remember when theatre wasn’t so serious? You could walk out with a big smile on your face, humming a happy song, feeling like you checked your problems, both personal and global, with your coat? Last Night at the Gayety (directed Roy Surette) is exactly the memory jog you need. The new musical about Sin City North of the ’50s is two hours of great fun and solid performances brought to you by the power team of Rich Blue and George Bowser.
The show centers on the arrival of a new police chief in Montreal, Pax Plante (Daniel Brochu). Short on stature, big on balls, putting an end to bribes, bawdy houses, and burlesque performances is his end game. He gets help from fellow member of the Morality Squad, Father d’Anjou (Michel Perron) and uses whatever tactics he can to keep up with the criminals. The criminals retaliate with their choice weapons bribery, blackmail, and intimidation. Neither side seems to get the upper hand for long. Pax seems to have an easier time shaking down the local mafia, but he has a harder time regulating the clubs. Performers like Lili St. Cyr (the statuesque Julia Juhas) attract a devoted following and much desired business. As the two sides wage war, the city’s inhabitants take sides, seen through a young couple consisting of a junior police officer (Jonah Carson) who relies on “not thinking” and a lass from poor Griffintown (Holly Gautheir-Frankel) who are pulled apart by their conflicting loyalties to boring righteous and glamorous licentiousness respectively.
Last Night at the Gayety has the feel of a cabaret revue from the 1950s. It’s light with non-stop silly fun. There are recognizable stock Montreal characters: the matriarchal madam (madamissima!), the satan-obsessed priest, the eely mafioso. The situations are pulpy — wild publicity stunts, seduction scenes caught on camera. The comedy is both physical and verbal. The show teems with drum-shot one-liners and goofy puns (oldies, but goodies… though a few oldies but oldies too). For those who can keep up, there are many truly clever lines.
What elevates the show is the quality of the performances. In a musical, the singing is critical, and thank the saints of show biz, everyone could belt it out in tune. The lovers’ duets were sweet, the ensemble pieces big. The dancing was solid. I’d even call for more dance numbers. The band was faultless. The burlesque pieces in the show are creative and on-par with the burlesque performers who regularly command the stage in Montreal.
While watching, I kept trying to pinpoint the person I would identify for a stand out performance, but fact is, they are all excellent. Even the peek-a-boo girls work hard in their ever-changing roles. I especially enjoyed the ensemble number with the boys of Baron Byng and the duet of Lili St. Cyr and Pax Plante. Both of these are more than just clever lyrics, but rely on physicality as well. That said, I’m not sure there is one standout song that has earwormed in to my mind. I haven’t decided if this is a blessing or a curse. Regardless, Last Night at the Gayety is a consistently entertaining show.
The Centaur’s loving artistic touch graces many aspects of the show and indicates an attention to detail that I appreciate. I especially liked the use of puppetry, including a shadow set backdrop and the newsboy team. The set raised wooden props atop a stage within a stage to indicate the location to indicate the courthouse or other parts of the city.
The nod to real past personages and events is an accidental history lesson. A few people walked out of the show reminiscing about Montreal “back then” and how the show brought back memories of the real Pacifique Plante and the clubs of the city. For those of us who live in Montreal, the in-jokes are quite pertinent to life in the city — every zinger about bribery has a special place in my heart. But I also sense that in contrast with Blue and Bowser’s last piece, Schwartz’s, Last Night at the Gayety will have an appeal beyond Montreal. At heart, the show is a delightful piece about good vs. evil where evil is way more interesting than the good.
Overall, so long as you don’t go into this show expecting to think too much, a good time is guaranteed. This is a funny, entertaining circus with plenty to love in it and great performances given by all involved.
Last Night at the Gayety is at the Centaur Theatre until May 15. $49/41/33 Tickets can be found HERE.