A rollicking musical set in the silent movie era.
It was a packed house this Saturday at the Calixa-Lavallée Centre, for a performance of the musical comedy Merton of the Movies.
Within the crowd of eager musical theatre aficionados, there sat at least one person who could not accurately be called a fan of the art form: this very writer. But over the two-hour performance, that didn’t stop me from having one hell of a good time!
Merton of the Movies tells the story of Merton Gill, a general store clerk who moves to Hollywood with grand ambitions of becoming a silent movie star in the 1920s. The lovable character was played by Jerome Roy, whose sincere and innocent performance immediately endeared him to the crowd. From Gill’s first number about his dreams of silver screen success, Roy had the whole room smiling from ear to ear.
Gill eventually meets Flips Montague, a seasoned – and somewhat jaded – actress who instantly falls for his hopeless, wide-eyed naiveté. Actress Tina Mancini carried the role of Montague with an endless supply of spunk, providing a satisfying counter-balance to Gill’s underdog persona.
The two were joined by a stellar supporting cast, who took on multiple and varied roles, each with equal determination and enthusiasm. This was further bolstered by impressive vocal performances from all those involved – including a few harmonies that tapped directly into my spine for a fresh infusion of chills.
Much of the success of Merton of the Movies goes to the inspired script written by Doug Katsaros and Donald Brenner, and the focused direction of Stephen Pietrantoni. The sets and props may have been modest in nature, but this ultimately served to highlight the feel-good story and the infectious rhythm of the show.
The writers, actors and director also deserve credit for a mature experience overall. Merton of the Movies was sweet, but not saccharine; irreverent, not farcical; moving without being melodramatic.
Toward the end of the show, Gill’s inner voice (taking the form of an entertainment journalist) extols the pleasures of his chosen craft: “To touch [the audience] and, yes, to lift them up for a single moment, make them forget their troubles and…laugh!”
The show’s greatest achievement was living up to those words, even with a relative stranger to musical theatre such as me. Just as Gill ended up winning over Hollywood, I was quickly won over by Merton of the Movies.
More information about the show and The Next Wave: New Musical Theatre Festival can be found at cetm.ca.