An enormous thank you to the Curtain Call Players for their two gifts of experiencing the comfortable venue of Toronto’s Fairview Library Theatre, and for making this ol’ guy tear up near the conclusion of an incredibly moving performance of Peter Colley’s ‘You’ll Get Used to It! The War Show’. Yes, it is the same Peter Colley who has also written the terrific ‘I’ll Be Back Before Midnight’ which can truly scare the hell out of you. I have heard of ‘You’ll Get Used to It’, but I have never had the chance to see it performed live until the Sunday afternoon matinee, and I’m pleased I had the chance to see it with this vibrant company.
‘You’ll Get Used to it! The War Show’ bills itself as a drama with music. As a first-time director of a musical, Meg Gibson writes in her Program Message that Mr. Colley conducted interviews with veterans, factory workers, house wives, and war brides. Two different views of the war emerged: from a Canadian perspective, our soldiers were struggling through Europe while holding the torch of democracy. From the soldiers’ perspectives, they weren’t fighting but having the time of their lives through drink, song, carousing, debauchery and skirt chasing until the true reality of the war sets in for them and for us.
Thank goodness, this cast could find some humour and laughter mixed in with the serious subject matter of war. We are at the dawn of the war that was never to occur again where Canada has just joined the fight. Dusty (John McGroarty) and his five platoon-mates: bad Sharky (Cristien Rapp), dim-witted Dudley (Jacob Brien), dashing Jean-Pierre (Daryl Ledwon), wise-cracking Pop (Jonathan Rosenstein) and no nonsense Sarge (Jim Leckey). It was evident that Ms. Gibson cared about this show very much as she elicited six central performers to work keenly as a true core ensemble of players. There are no star trips and no egos among these guys. They eagerly listen and respond to each other appropriately when necessary during some of the hilarious moments and some of the poignant times.
The Ensemble Players (David Rudat, Lisa Ferreira, Laurie Hurst, Nikki Hogan, Jennie Garde and Jill Leger) become highly important characters who play a multitude of key roles and influences in the lives of these soldiers. Like the soldiers, the ensemble colourfully enhanced the mostly brisk pacing whether through song, dance or the sharing of historical information. From what I understand, Ms. Gibson also worked effortlessly and tirelessly on the choreography. Her efforts paid off tremendously as we see dance numbers where the actors and the audience members were enjoying themselves thoroughly.
What follows in this nearly three-hour performance are moments of corny jokes, saucy comedy and heart wrenching emotions which envelope this uniquely Canadian story of the most famous conflict in world history.
I have been seeing several period piece plays the last while, and I can understand how important it is that the era is captured as best as possible. From my seat in the house, the soldiers’ uniforms and women’s dresses and skirts nicely captured what would have probably worn in WW2. The toe tapping, big band soundscape as the audience enters had people thinking about such luminaries as Tommy Dorsey and others. There was no need to have lumbering set pieces for this staging. Ms. Gibson and Producer Janet Flynn made the wise decision to make use of boxes and chairs to establish various scenes and locales.
Sound and lighting effects persuasively made us feel a myriad of emotions while heightening tense moments especially the sound effects of bombs dropping combined with red lights circling the entire auditorium.
Music Director James Quigley and his four-piece band are to be commended for their efforts to provide high quality musical content of an array of many songs from the period. Some of the more ribald content drew much laughter from the audience particularly in the two numbers ‘Der Fuhrer’s Face” and “Our Sergeant-Major’s Got a Helluva” Nikki Hoggan and the Company’s rendition of ‘Lilli Marlene’ was quite moving. A minor sticking point in the music for me was in the balance and volume from some of the singers. Some of the voices of the women were just a tad too amplified for me in the space provided especially since all the performers wore microphones. Sometimes, the volume from the men during the songs was overshadowed by the women.
Mr. Colley’s play becomes a touching tribute to those who sacrificed it all for the good of our country, and the story is a reminder for all Canadians never to forget especially as we approach this Remembrance Day in our 150th year as a nation.
‘You’ll Get Used to It! The War Show’ continues November 9 at 8 pm, November 10 at 8 pm with a final matinee performance on November 11, Remembrance Day at 2 pm. Tickets may be purchased at the box office before each performance, contact 416-703-6181 or visit their website for further information about this show and the upcoming spring production of ‘Sister Act’. The Fairview Library Theatre is located at 35 Fairview Mall Drive in North York.