Back to the Tranzac last night for the first Toronto performance of Against the Grain’s national tour of the Joel Ivany transladaptation of Puccini’s La Bohème which started it all back in 2011. The Tranzac has changed a lot and so, of course, has Against the Grain. The room is way smarter, they brought in a proper piano to replace the one that Topher plonked the first performance out on (and which memorably accompanied Jonathan MacArthur’s rather startling Hitler a few years later). And not in any way to knock that first cast it’s a sign of AtG’s rising stature that this time they are fielding a cast that would not be out of place in most regional houses in Canada.
The piece has been mildly updated with the obligatory Trump joke but it’s still essentially the same. It still makes good use of the space. The jokes still work. It still tugs the heart strings the way La Bohème should. And it still, inevitably, shifts the words and vowels in a way that makes getting that characteristic Puccini sound just that bit harder. So it’s greatly to the credit of Jonelle Sills as Mimi and Marcel d’Entremont as Rodolfo that the ringing Italianate sound is there in both the solo arias and the duets. They are very fine indeed.
The guys are great too. Clarence Frazer is a very solid Marcello and there some fun comic touches from Andrew Adridge as Schaunard and Giles Tomkins as Colline. Greg Finney does what he does best which is bumble. He’s quite at home both as the landlord Benoit and the hapless Alcindoro. Perhaps inevitably, Danika Lorèn as Musetta comes close to stealing the show with some very fine singing, the customary flirting with the audience and a session with Marcello on the bar that took me right back to when my rugby club, the Nomads, used to hang out there. David Eliakis had a decent piano to work with and made the most of the score despite being somewhat awkwardly placed relative to the action.
Anything not to like? Maybe actually these singers are a bit too good for a small space like the Tranzac? It comes close to being overwhelming. So, no, nothing not to like really.
Against the Grain’s version of Puccini’s La Bohème continues at the Tranzac Club until October 25th before heading off to the Yukon. If you can’t make the show in person there’s a live stream on CBC on Sunday 13th October avaialbal on CBC Gem and their Youtube channel.
Photos are from the Banff performance courtesy of the Banff Centre.