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Lust's Labour's Lost: A Rock Musical
by Brock Simpson
directed by Mary-Francis Moore

There have been close to one bajillion interpretations of Shakespeare's plays produced, each with its own angle, with varying degrees of success. One of the most common ideas is to make the bard contemporary - you know, for kids! - with a popular music soundtrack. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet for example was so intolerable I had to leave the room after five minutes.

In the opening minutes of Brock Simpson's take on Love's Labour's Lost, I feared the worst. Such a corny set-up - the manager from the record label doing an intrvention on the bad boy rock star, a group of people are trapped in a shack in the woods, when poof! their opposite-sex equals appear...

But it works.

The oh-no-not-this-again feeling was shaken off was shaken off in no time as the characters were introduced. In addition to the matched sets of romantically-inclined rock musicians (as in most of Shakespeare's plays, the romantic leads are bland compared with the characters that surround them), there is Olaf (Bruce Hunter), as an ascetic expert in meditation and lentil extracts; Armado (Rosa Laborde), an androgynous Spanish scholar who is convinced that the Haliburton Highlands are home to the last remaining speakers of true Elizabethan English; and Shelley Simester as a disturbed woodland hermit who hasn't seen civilisation in fifteen years. Simpson also has fun playing with the stereotypes of Evil Record Company Lawyer (Nathan, played by David Frisch) and Slimy Manager (Andrew Pifko as Rex).

Most important for a musical, the songs are great, and well stylistically differentiated for the different characters - I'm not particularly keen on the style of the guys band, Pretty Petty (although lots of other people love it, based on what I hear on the radio), but "Dark-Haired Girl" is lovely, and I could easily see "The Emily Effect" getting airplay. The girls' band, Eden's Eve, is hard-driving heavy handed riot-grrl punk - just the title of the song "Put Out and Get Out" will give you an idea. For me, the highlight was the crazy mountain woman song (fave lyric: "there is a song in the thing that the thing does"), but I don't want to give too much away.

There is a taste of typically Simpsonian social commentary in some of the Eden's Eve songs, but basically it's a light-hearted romp in the clasic style. A great way to spend a summer evening. And the Tarragon is air-conditioned.

Lust's Labour's Lost: A Rock Musical plays at the Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Avenue Toronto, through Sunday 17 July as part of the 2005 Toronto Fringe Festival.

For more reviews, please check the archives.

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