Sleek, beautiful and musically sumptuous
By Bradley Storer
The emerging group Vic Theatre Company takes their maiden voyage with the rapturous Loving Repeating, a musical based on the life and times of formidable poet and intellectual Gertrude Stein with music by Broadway legend Stephen Flaherty and text derived from the letters and poems of Stein herself.
The performance is structured as part lecture, part flashback – we are guided by the elderly Stein (Deidre Rubenstein) reflecting back on the events which shaped her the course of her life and career as an artist, on selections of her poetry and intellectual writings. The titular opening song is a glorious lyrical outpouring based on Stein’s observations of her fellow students at college, the ensemble beautifully led by Caitlin Berry as the youthful Stein with gorgeous choreography from Michael Ralph, setting a high bar for the rest of the show.
The main focus of Loving Repeating is the relationship between Stein and her lover Alice B. Toklas, a relationship which lasted until Stein’s death. The five actors who between them play the two roles at different ages are wonderful. Berry as the young Gertrude displays a fiery disposition and fierce sensuality, with Jennifer Peers showing the softening of this youthful ferocity into a mature, enveloping warmth. Gillian Cosgriff brings an angelic glow and understated passion to the young Alice B. Toklas, expanding into a confident and forthright sexuality in the performance of Nicole Melloy as her middle-aged self. Rubenstein as the elderly Stein wields poetic language with authority and surgical precision, challenging the audience intellectually at the same time she draws us in with a twinkle in her eye and a sense of self-deprecating humor.
Loving Repeating feels less like a traditional musical theatre show than a staged song cycle or a sung-through chamber opera. Langley brings some creative staging to the show aided immensely by the brilliant choreography of Ralph, encompassing lyrical abstract movement, tango and vaudevillian flair. The ensemble as a whole are ideal in the seamless whole they created in their numbers, and as they almost never leave the stage their stamina in this 90-minute show be commended.
The problem is that Stein’s writings do not necessarily add up to a cohesive narrative – it is at points easy to become lost in Stein’s circular and repetitive language which, although making an impact on the page, can be impenetrable for an audience member with no knowledge of Stein’s history. The show is set up as series of vignettes but it is hard to find an underlying meaning or connection in the text as they transition from one section to the next.
Overall though, this is an impressive debut performance from Vic Theatre Company, with a sense of quality and artistry to match even professional shows on far bigger stages – there are moments of such shocking and surprising beauty to be found in Loving Repeating that they alone are worth the price of admission.
Dates: 21 January – 8 February
Venue: Chapel off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St.
Times: Tuesday to Saturday, 8.00pm; Saturday 3pm & 8pm; Sunday 8pm (1 Feb) and 3pm (8 Feb)
Tickets: $49.00 full, $43.00 concession (+ transaction fee), SPECIAL PRICE for Tuesday 3 February – all tickets $40 (+ transaction fee)
Image by James Terry