As is customary, the first page of the St. John’s theatrical calendar features Rising Tide, with the 29th edition of the annual Revue show, cataloguing and lampooning Newfoundland happenings of the past year, now up and running on the main stage of the Arts and Culture Centre. Just imagine, 28 years of audience-charming by genial Rick Boland.
So what are the cultural and political tidbits of 2013 that have become grist to Rising Tide’s comedic mill this time around?
Played on a rudimentary set — two benches, risers, and three steps — the satirical enterprise opens with Boland in oriental robe and high hat discussing recent blizzards and rolling blackouts, proceeding to talk-show hosts and local politicians, to Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford as an Ontario Andy Wells (nice hit), to Jerome Kennedy (more than once), to an over-long sketch involving Senator Duffy (Boland with briefcase and large appetite) and Senator Pamela Wallin (Berni Stapleton in sun glasses).
Then come fish quotas and processing, impending cancellation of Canada Post mail delivery at home (boo!), David Cochrane on CBC TV with the squabbling NDP caucus in drag and doing song and dance (a sketch that goes on forever), a Newfoundlander in space, a diatribe on fracking, a Friday night sex show (does VOCM really do this?), snow shovelling (of course), the trials and tribulations of RV owners, and Boland’s deaf old Grandpa pops up once or twice.
Rising Tide’s Revue always features music and song. Their usual musician, as noted in the program, is Jim Payne. He was not there for opening night. However, his function was ably discharged by Kevin Woolridge, on guitar, ukelele and banjo, as well as providing song with his light and pleasant tenor voice. I do not know if Woolridge will be filling in for Payne for part or all of the run, but he certainly did very well on opening night, particularly with a moving musical epitaph for former Telegram contributor Ray Guy.
Short skits are briskly played out by two or three players, interspersed with direct audience address, and with more elaborate multiperson scenes. The six cast members are experienced and skillful performers — Boland, Michael Power, John Sheehan, Kevin Woolridge, Ben Pittman, and the two female performers, who work very well with one another, Tina Randell and Berni Stapleton. But the many and various skits are often unsophisticated and not very high-powered. And, as always, there is considerable delight in mildly improper language and in breasts and posteriors, culminating in an organization threatening to occupy all the toilets of Newfoundland.
Well, it is populist theatre. But you need a larger funny bone than I seem to have to relish everything in this production.
Revue shows generally run long on opening night, with variable quality control, and with elements of catch-as-catch-can. Thursday’s opening show in St. John’s was no exception to the rule.
By the time it goes on the road, however, the production will likely be a little shorter and tighter, with some less effective sketches having been expunged.
Two ladies in front of me, sisters I think, were lapping up the Revue experience, and the substantial, largely middle-aged, opening-night audience gave the cast the obligatory standing ovation at curtain call. I stood up too — to get out fast and write this review.
Directed as always by Donna Butt and featuring most of the usual suspects, “Revue 2013” plays at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Jan. 16-18 and Jan. 29-Feb. 1. It also tours to major centres across the island, as well as travelling to Labrador West and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The minimalist set will cut down travel costs.
Including one 20-minute intermission, the opening show ran for three hours. Tickets are $28 (general) and $25 for students and seniors.