Monday, April 8, 2019


By James Karas

Under the Stairs starts with a very good idea. Write a musical for the 10+ age group about the lives of children from broken marriages. Most youngsters will have either firsthand experience or know about it from friends and acquaintances.

Under the Stairs tells the story, fairy tale one would say, of Tim (Kyle Orzech), a youngster who dreams of the good life but whose parents are at war. Eventually Mum (Neema Bickersteth and Dad (Martin Julien) take their suitcases and walk out of their house in different directions. Tim is left alone.
 Kyle Orzech in Under the Stairs. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
 Tim has found an escape from his parents fights by getting into a clothes closet (it is an English musical and they call it a cupboard in the play) under the stirs. There he reaches into the sleeves of the hanging clothes and while sleeping on a stool, a young girl appears. She is Lily (Kelsey Verzotti) who is friendly, affectionate and a lot of fun. Then Violet (Fiona Sauder) steps in and she is officious, argumentative and not always pleasant. But we know she is nice. Then comes Albert (Paul Rainville), an older man, benign, decent but unable to speak except for releasing the occasional fart.

All the actors, except for Tim, form a type of chorus called Them and they are led by Richard Lee. The sing and speak and are Tim’s companions as he struggles to get over his parents’ separation.

We find out that Tim and the other people in his closet have things in common and he has something very special in common with Lily. There are painful memories from childhood. I won’t tell you what they are.

The problem of the abandonment of Tim is eventually resolved and all is seen, as it should be, from the point of view of the youngsters.

Again, the musical is based on a fine idea but I have a few issues with the execution of that premise. The separation takes place with a minimum of rancor and with no parental anguish over the fate of the child. It is a fairy tale, no doubt, but it does not give a remotely realistic view of separation. This one is practically antiseptic. Children who have seen it firsthand know how harmful it can be when they become pawns in the war between their parents.

The play is almost totally lacking in humour. The theatre was packed with 10-year olds who were ready to show their enthusiasm. But whatever humour there is seemed to make little impression on the audience. There are some fine actors who could clearly have had the audience in stitches. Verzotti, Sauder and Rainville can be very funny and humour even when treating a serious subject is not out of place whether addressing a young or not so young audience. It did not come out in the performance that I saw.
Richard Lee, Neema Bickersteth, Kyle Orzech, Martin Julien and Fiona Sauder in 
Under the Stairs. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The set by Teresa Przybylski features a closet under the stars that revolved to show the front and the back of it. Very well done.

The actors, from Orzech to the rest in their single and double roles showed that they can carry both the vocal and acting parts superbly and director Micheline Chevrier did fine work with them.

But the problem is that the play simply failed to speak to its audience. It was neither dramatic, nor funny and it could and should have been both. By avoiding both of the latter, the whole thing appeared bland. The reaction of the audience was polite but unenthusiastic.

In fairness I should report the verdict of three impromptu critics. They were sitting beside me and are 10-year olds from Rolph Road Public School in grade 5. I asked them to grade the production and two of them gave it 9 out of 10 while one of them decided that 8 was probably the right mark.

Well, if I had to choose between the opinion of those three bright-eyed girls and an old f…, I would go with the opinion of the former 
Under the Stars by Kevin Dyer (book) and Reza Jacobs (music) runs from April 1 to April 16, 2019 at the Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario. 416 862-2222.

James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press.

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