REVIEW: To retell a tragedy such as Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” and capture the fun of 1800’s Russia, the vibrant passion of a love story, along with the heartless cruelty, is no easy feat. To then set it to music is a difficult task. But, the Arts Club’s premiere of its home-grown musical “Onegin” is a triumph.
Created by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille, “Onegin” has the beginnings of a musical that could, with more development, be a challenger on Broadway, but certainly a staple for Canadian theatre companies.
Based on the Puskin’s poems and the Tchaikovsky opera, “Onegin” tells the story of Evgeni Onegin (Alessandro Juliani), a carefree young man who loves to party, treats women with frivolity and appears to care for nothing, except his own gratification.
His friend Vladimir Lensky (Josh Epstein) introduces him to the young Tatyana Larin (Meg Roe), the sister of his childhood sweetheart and fiancée Olga Larin (Lauren Jackson). Tatyana immediately falls for Onegin, but this is a love that is one-sided.
Bored with his life and simply looking for a distraction, Onegin flirts openly with Lensky’s fiancée. Onegin’s dalliance leads to the loss of friendship and a loss of life.
Several years later, still trying to come to terms with this tragic turn of events, Onegin finds himself in St. Petersburg. It’s here he reconnects with Tatyana, now married to a Prince but, still in love with Onegin.
For all his bravado and selfish behaviour, Onegin openly professes his love. Tatyana is shocked to learn Onegin always loved her and wants her to leave her husband.
Her decision is a riveting moment in the production eliciting several gasps from the audience. Remember, this is a tragedy, no happy ending here.
Gladstone does double-duty as co-creator and director as does Hille as musical director. Their love of the work clearly shines through, layering the show with emotion, humour and the appropriate amount pathos.
All seven performances from the cast are strong. Juliani, as Onegin, has his work cut out for him. It’s a nuanced performance navigating through challenges of a title character on which a show must rest.
If there is any quibble with his performance, it’s that the contrast between youth and maturity could be more defined. It’s hard to accept Onegin’s behaviour in the first act of the production against later scenes. It’s a transition the show’s writers should definitely refine.
This aspect of the production is even more pronounced by a superb performance from Roe as Tatyana. When we meet the Prince’s bride in St. Petersburg, there is no mistake; this is a different woman from the young lady who pursued the title character earlier in the story. Her chilling rebuke of Onegin is strong and Roe brings a mature intensity to the scene that makes it one of the standouts of the production.
As the show continues development, and it should, the writers might consider extending one of the production’s strongest numbers. Prince Gremin sings a beautiful love song introducing his wife. When Onegin discovers that woman is Tatyana, the story begs for Onegin to reprise the song and allow the audience to hear his love. It would make the moment more poignant and set up the meeting between Tatyana and Onegin to be stronger and more tragic.
Strong production shows story weakness
The ending of the show needs work. It’s not as strong as the rest of the show. The fine work by Gladstone and Hille throughout the production shows the vulnerability of the story’s end. But, again, it’s a point that will no doubt be refined as the creators take another look at their remarkable production.
Judging by the reaction to the production, and the fact it’s extended a few days past its original closing date, audiences are having their own love affair with “Onegin “.
This is one musical in Vancouver not to be missed.
Onegin by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille.
Based on the poem by Pushkin and the opera by Tchaikovsky
Cast: Meg Roe, Alessandro Juliani, Josh Epstein , Caitriona Murphy, Lauren Jackson, Andrew Wheeler and Andrew McNee.
Production: Director/Writer Amiel Gladstone, Musical Director/Writer Veda Hille, Choreographer Tracey Power, Set Designer Drew Facey, Costume Designer Jacqueline Firkins, Lighting Designer John Webber, Sound Designer Bradley Danyluk, Dramaturg Rachel Ditor, Stage Manager Allison Spearin, Apprentice Stage Manager Sandra Drag
Running time: 2 hours, including one intermission