The English musical theatre adaptation of Les Belles-Soeurs, originally written by Michel Tremblay (his landmark piece of theatre, Les Belles-Soeurs, has been performed around the world in more than 25 languages), is a fun show to behold, but could also be a cautionary tale of commercialism and the perils of piety. When dreary housewife Germaine Lauzon (Lisa Horner, who is debuting at The Centre this year, having played in Kinky Boots, Wizard of Oz, Les Misérables (Mirvish Productions); Fiddler on the Roof, Good Mother (Stratford), & TV/Film credits for Little Mosque on the Prairie, Road to Avonlea to name a few. Lisa has also received two Dora Awards for her work in Wizard of Oz and Grey Gardens) wins one million customer loyalty stamps worth $100,000 of free catalogue items and is betrayed by her God-fearing friends and relatives during a stamp licking party, one has to wonder what they are really worshipping. Is it God, materialism, or both?
The performance runs rampant with religious overtones. Germaine’s favourite exclamation is: “St. Therese!”, a French saint who wants for everything in her childhood but joined a convent to serve God when she was 15 years old. Germaine hands out the stamps to her friends, almost as if they are a sacrament, to paste to redemption cards. The most notable, and entertaining, example is the Ode to Bingo stop action, slo-mo number, in the second act, which ends in a tableau reminiscent of da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
The play starts off with a bang amidst an invigorating performance of “I Want It All” with an all-female cast of jealous homespun ladies spanning the generational spectrum trickling in, drooling over the prospect of new furniture, reversible dresses, & 4-slice toasters. It takes place in the working class community of Plateau-Mont-Royal, Montreal, in 1965, in the midst of the Quiet Revolution, a time of cultural introspection for Quebec. The time period is after schools are no longer administered through the Catholic Church and before Expo 67, when French president Charles De Gaulle declared “Vive le Quebec Libre!” on the balcony of Montreal city hall.
The word ‘Free’ is a recurring theme in the script. Germaine and her party guests crave things they don’t have to pay for but also wish to be liberated from their dreary lives. They steal their host’s stamps, diminishing their respective portrayals of piety, leaving Germaine to question her own belief system.
The ‘holier than thou’ attitude of the party goers is most evident when Germaine’s sister Pierrette(played by Geneviève Leclerc in her debut at The Centre, having appeared in: Guys & Dolls, Lies My Father Told Me (Segal Centre); Les Misérables (US and Canadian tours), a club hostess and social pariah, makes an appearance at the end of the first act. Everyone seems scandalized and are hesitant to exchange words with her, even if they see her regularly at the club. Germaine’s daughter Linda (played by Elise Cormier, also debuting at The Centre, appearing in Les Misérables(Le Capitole, La Place des Arts) & Little Women (La Bordée) is anxious to speak with Pierrette about her lifestyle and how she was able to escape the drab existence that plagues the other characters.
One of my favorite numbers included a song of jealousy called ”It’s A Dull Life” featuring some unusual, yet surprisingly delightful percussion choices (by Peter Colantonio with pit credit for Belles Soeurs: TheMusical (National Arts Centre) including pots, pans, a washboard & even a kazoo! Another song featured the use of a rocking chair & of course, there’s no other way to describe it other than to say It Rocked! Aside from the music & a story that I think a lot of people can relate to (6/49 & Chase the Ace wishlist fantasies have never been hard to come by around here), the use of gossip & perfectly timed passive-aggressive name-calling kept the laughs rolling throughout this kitchen party of a tale that surfs on the cusp of rags to riches.
This show is excellent and will give audience members a lot to talk about. The creative and technical aspects are all very well thought out and executed. The 1960s kitchen and costumes (Costume Designer: Mérédith Caron who has contributed to more than 150 works & is considered a leader in the field of costume design, having worked at the Stratford Festival & Cirque du Soleil: Criss Angel Believe (Las Vegas) & Amaluna since the beginning of her career in 1978) were brilliantly done, along with the second storey balcony where the characters could sing and emote without having to be on the stage proper. Audience members familiar with the story will recognize Pierrette almost immediately.
Eagle-eyed viewers may also recognize Lisa Horner (Germaine) as the Ikea Start the Car lady, from the iconic commercial (which, oddly, has similar themes to this play). In this show, Horner looks more like Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker, which is a testament to the skills of the makeup and costume departments. I enjoyed the costumes of Linda most of all. They were bright, fun, and fit the period; and were a stark contrast to the other ladies’ outfits. Germaine’s party dress is also a showstopper.
by Kimberley Johnston & PL Holden
Any acting troupes looking for a fun musical with 12 strong female roles, an entertaining book and lyrics (Book and lyrics by Director René Richard Cyr & Music by Juno Award winner Daniel Bélanger), should take a look at Belles Soeurs: The Musical.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical runs from September 13th to October 1st, 2016 at the Homburg Theatre.