Giant Rat finally treated as honoured citizen (psst … go see this musical)

Everyone loves a “lovable rogue”.

In the Guild Society’s musical comedy, The Man From the Capital, you get 20 rogues to pick from.

The plot is simple: it’s a case of mistaken identity. The townspeople expect a government inspector to come and evaluate their use of federal money.

The schmuck who stumbles into town, penniless but with a nice suit, gets cast as the inspector and finds there’s a lot of opportunity in being feared. You get loved, or at least wined, dined and pandered to.

The communities would love this play — as I’ve heard that whenever Fentie and company are doing a community tour, the communities repair roads, get everything looking shipshape for the visiting premier.

Despite everyone being greedy and selfish, the actors all play it with a smile. It’s a comedy, after all. And we love these people making goofs of themselves to get what they want from the inspector.

All of the “bad” people are wonderful in their badness — but never mean or malicious. Oh, they use each other, blame each other, but it’s funny — we kind of like seeing the rats climb over each other to get the cheese.

I had a great evening watching this musical. I think this is the funniest theatre event all season. Thanks in HUGE part to the comic timing of the leads.

Just when I think I know what Eric Epstein can do, he still reaches down into that endless trunk of characters and comes up with something new. Channelling W.C. Fields and Mel Brooks, Epstein pulls off a pompous, bombastic small-town mayor, Ira Trout, with panache.

He and Bronwyn Jones, who plays his wife, Daphne (and she’ll tell you why she’s named Daphne), drive the energy of this musical. I love how she tortures him.

Speaking of torture, they were last together in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but here they are not trying to destroy each other, but actually have a shared goal: wealth and power … by any means possible.

Jones, alone, can squeeze comedy out of any five minutes. Watch what she does with a “small room”.

Together, they are a supernova on stage.

Doug Mayr plays the accidental “inspector” like a kid in a candy store. His romance scene with the daughter of the mayor (Carrie Anne Bruton) parodies Romeo’s famous pick-up line to Juliet. I loved watching Mayr get a chance to really shine in this comedy — he’s given lots of space, and some great material. He brings superb comic timing.

A fine supporting cast grabs laughs, too. There’s a Don Knottsian Willy Flinch (Roy Ness), unable to finish a sentence before others are helping him out.

Sophia Marnik is the speed-talking, ladder-climbing Dobchinsky; Carrie Anne Bruton’s sex with a sports coat is not to be missed; Doug Rutherford and Larry Kwiat remind me too much of Yukon government administration (!) — but who can hate a judge who keeps his hunting dogs in the courthouse?

As a musical, though, this ensemble has a more uneven time. It’s partly due to acoustics.

The Guild set, this time, is focused like a funnel at the audience, and all of the sound is coming from the exact centre of the stage — that means every soloist competes with the direction that the band is coming from, and the band (as amazing as it is) can sometimes overpower a soloist.

Soloists have a double threat from the choral group of citizens.

The chorus has a great sound. They would be a true gem for any musical. But there are times they can give a challenge to the soloists.

Epstein, Jones, Mayr, Marnik — good comedic actors — still struggle with spitting out the long, complicated sentences of these musical numbers, and if the chorus and band threaten to bury them, they can appear frantic, fighting to be heard.

This sometimes causes whole stanzas to be dropped. It’s too bad. The comedy in the songs is at least as important as the libretto. I had to strain to hear both Marnik and Epstein in their closing songs.

Don’t get me wrong, the band is great. Kim Barlow, Bryden Baird, Graeme Peters, Colleen McCarthy oompah together in their Salvation Army Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Some odd moments: the citizens, literally propping up this town, seemed suddenly to come to their senses, and the play just as jarringly makes them a focus.

The second Citizens Awake, played fully frontal to the audience, seems oddly staged — and I felt like they should be doing the acting that they do in the la-la-las while they are talking about their need to stand up and fight.

I felt for them.

They aren’t like the greedy members of the town — they almost don’t fit unless we can see them more self-serving and greedy, too. They need to find their inner, grumbly rat or their conclusion will seem uncharacteristic.

If there was one thing I didn’t like in The Man from the Capital, it was the often self-referential comments about how interesting this situation would be as a play or a musical.

Har-har. We get it. But it threw me out of the experience.

This is the writer’s fault — too hard on the rib-jab to the audience. He could have easily left it out and still had raucous fun at the end.

Overall, I had a great experience. You will, too. This musical plays as high comedy and never lets up.

It’ll bring out the part of you that likes to watch the rats scurry around. Just don’t let them have the key to the city.

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