Montreal Gazette’s Jim Burke reviews Beethoven Lives Upstairs – May 2, 2016: “A beautifully judged combination of mischievous humour, poetic visuals and genially delivered exposition.”
Read on Montreal Gazette’s website: Geordie director bows out with rousing encore of Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Jim Burke – May 2, 2016
It might be a bit much to compare Dean Patrick Fleming with Ludwig van Beethoven, but his final show with Geordie Productions is kind of his own glorious Ninth.
Beethoven Lives Upstairs, lucidly adapted by Fleming from a bestselling audio recording, was first produced by Geordie in 2011. As Fleming told the Montreal Gazette, of the 20 or so productions he has directed, this is the one of which he is most proud. Which is why he has chosen it to draw his 10 years as head of Geordie to a close, before Tableau D’Hôte director and Black Theatre Workshop regular Mike Payette takes over.
Using the same cast and design team as the original production, Beethoven Lives Upstairs manages to cram an astounding wealth of theatrical inventiveness, comic business and poignant character development into its hour-long running time. It tells the story of a little Viennese boy named Christoph who is annoyed to find a noisy, irascible madman has moved into the room previously used by his late father. This lodger is, of course, the great Romantic composer with the famously unruly hair and unrulier manners.
Told through a series of letters shuttling between Christoph and his uncle, the story touches on Christoph’s growing understanding of Beethoven’s crazy behaviour, which includes hurling sheet music around the room while wearing a bucket on his head and conducting naked at the window to the amusement of passersby. As the days count down not only to the première of the Ninth Symphony but to the terrible silence that eventually engulfed Beethoven, he and Christoph come to share not quite a friendship, but a contentment in each other’s company.
It could all have been mawkish and preachy, but Fleming is careful to keep such potential family-theatre blemishes at bay with a beautifully judged combination of mischievous humour, poetic visuals and genially delivered exposition.
The play begins on a death note, with Beethoven’s funeral cortège magnificently evoked by silhouettes against a salmon-pink sky while the mournful allegretto from his Seventh Symphony plays. Then it smartly snaps into the show’s prevailing mood of energetic fun, mostly fuelled by Lucinda Davis’s wonderfully drawn Christoph, all prepubescent squeak and boisterous zippiness. Alex McCooeye’s Beethoven is a terrific tragicomic creation — his tall, gangly physique suggesting not only the composer’s giant status but also his social awkwardness, augmented by his boggle-eyed wonder at the celestial sounds swirling inside his head.
There’s a particularly sublime moment when the two of them go for a walk in the country and the bucolic bliss, giving way to a sudden storm, is channelled by Beethoven into an impromptu composition of his Pastoral Symphony.
Rounding out the cast, Quincy Armorer and Eric Hausknost are engagingly humane as, respectively, Christoph’s uncle and Beethoven’s publisher, while Leni Parker shows herself to be a hilariously expressive silent comedienne, playing everything from an exasperated mom to a panicky soprano to a snooty horse.
Amy Keith’s costuming captures the constricting starchiness of early 19th-century fashion while allowing the cast to whiz around like living cartoons. James Lavoie’s set design, beautifully lit by Thomas Godefroid, is playful but full of simple grandeur. An elegant staircase dominates, rooms are represented by window frames carried by the cast, and charming models and puppets evoke life in old Vienna.
After Friday’s opening-night performance, Fleming, surrounded by cast and crew, took in an emotional standing ovation from a packed house — not just for this superb show, but for the decade Fleming spent running Geordie since taking over from founder Elsa Bolam.
So what’s next for Fleming? He’ll be taking time out to walk Spain’s Camino de Santiago trail. The month-long pilgrimage will give him plenty of opportunity to reflect on his future plans, which at present remain open. But he’ll definitely be back guesting with Geordie early next year when he directs Erin Shields’s Instant, a play he commissioned.
As for passing on the fruits of his experience to his successor, Payette, Fleming says: “I told him from the beginning that I’m there for when he wants me, and I’m absolutely not there when he doesn’t want me.”
AT A GLANCE: Beethoven Lives Upstairs is performed for the general public Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, May 8 at 1 and 4 p.m. at D.B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Tickets cost $18.50, $14.50 for children, $16.50 for students and seniors. Call 514-845-9810 or visit geordie.ca.