October 22nd, 2017
Review by Chad Jarvie-Laidlaw – Showbill.ca Editorial Director
A story of love and ennui, Onegin follows the original superfluous man, the titular Evgeni Onegin, as he, through his recklessness and boredom, alters the course of his own life, and that of those around him. After a move to the countryside, Onegin (Alessandro Juliani) is introduced by his friend Lensky (Josh Epstein) to the family of his fiancée Olga (Lauren Jackson). Her sister Tatyana (Meg Roe) takes a near instant liking to the charming Onegin, and his responses to her affections lead to a tragic string of events that leaves one dead and many other heartbroken.
Adapted from both the original novel-in-verse by Pushkin and the Tchaikovsky opera, Hille and Gladstone’s Onegin follows the source material rather faithfully, with great nods to the prior works (such as the fruit picking song from the opera popping up for a bar or two.) Trimming characters and details where they don’t serve the story, Onegin is a tight show that boisterously ruminates on grand ideas of love and devotion. It’s all rather over the top–Pushkin with hips flying and glasses raised to toast the noble ideals of the nineteenth century. From the moment the cast bursts into the house and onto the stage, it’s clear that the show is a celebration of the grand ideas of love and devotion, of romance and honour. While celebrating all of that, it underscores the terrible cost of feckless actions and hammers down the fact that apathy is a damaging, dangerous response to life.
The cast has no weak points, and clearly they function as a well-rehearsed ensemble. Juliani’s Onegin is at once arrogant and charming, and he commands the stage with ease from his foggy backlit entrance to final exit in darkness. Epstein as Lensky is wide-eyed, foolish, and full of heart, with an unmatched control of his voice. Roe’s powerful delivery of “Let Me Die” (a fitting twenty-first century take on the classic Letter Aria) leaves not a soul unmoved.
While entertaining and utterly captivating, the show isn’t perfect. Roe’s transformation into a guitar-playing rock goddess during “Let Me Die” would have landed better without the languid guitar strumming. The duel between Lensky and Onegin, while it ultimately landed, was uneven in tone in its lead-up, with more mirth and joviality that one would expect from either character beforehand. This is perhaps indicative of the largest problem of the show, which is a bit of a disconnection from the characters themselves. The beginning of the show sets the whole thing up as a sort-of play within a play, and at times it’s difficult to discern if the actions of the characters are characters themselves or rather those of the characters playing the characters. Those criticisms aside, each performer dedicates their all to the performances, and bring tremendous energy to the stage.
Onegin is one of the most entertaining pieces of theatre to grace the stage of the Belfry in some time. It will leave you humming a tune and lifting a glass to lyubov!
By Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille
October 17 – November 12, 2017