Raunchy show hits funny bone

BEGGARS WOULD RIDE

Waterfront Theatre

1412 Cartwright on Granville Island, to Sunday

Tickets $22/18, call 604-231-7535

Reviewed by Peter Birnie

No stranger theatrical journey awaits than Beggars Would Ride, a musical by Conrad Alexandrowicz and Patrick Pennefather that simply beggars belief. Rude, raunchy and riveting, this is a wild excursion (Alexandrowicz is artistic director of Wild Excursions Performance), both delightful and disgusting.

Delightful because it offers an exhilarating update of Kurt Weill-style German cabaret. Disgusting because it deliberately sets out to shock and offend. No children or prudes, please!

As he proved in 2003 with The Singer Falls Silent, Alexandrowicz likes to reinvent language. The English spoken in Beggars Would Ride has been massaged so much that it sounds both medieval and futuristic; key words are dropped and others stretched, so that "God" becomes "Gode" and "job" becomes "jobe." And the F-word becomes "fark."

Saying sentence with word gone or letter missing make odd sound -- and this conceit works brilliantly in emphasizing just how weird is the world Alexandrowicz creates. Feudalism reigns in his black-and-white view of class warfare, with the rich so piggish and the poor so downtrodden that revolution can only be a few bars of music away.

In chopped bursts of repeated phrases and new-speak, his lyrics flow to the strange sounds of Patrick Pennefather's musical score. Sung low and nasty, the moody tunes are both cabaret-flavoured and reminiscent, in a downbeat way, of the Cirque du Soleil sounds sung by Pennefather's partner, Sheena Anderson, in Cirque's Saltimbanco.

Bryan Pollock's outstanding set divides rich and poor roughly down the middle of the stage. On our right, slightly raised and backed by a painted relief of Ionic columns topped by a fractured architrave, Allan Morgan and Karin Konoval portray a husband and wife garbed in gear as pompous as any worn by the baron and baroness in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Unlike those harmless Vulgarians, however, this pair's grotesque gropings get downright R-rated.

On our left, below a big swirl of colourful flowers symbolizing peasantry's position close to the soil, Damon Calderwood, Tamara McCarthy and Jeff Gladstone are the angry servants fed up with catering to moronic master and mistress.

Morgan and Konoval are absolutely hilarious, helping elevate the comedy so that the overwhelming anger behind Beggars Would Ride is tempered by a laugh-out-loud spoof of stinking-rich stupidity. Konoval's manically childish character sings so beautifully that her voice belies the true nature of the vile creature within; Morgan is never far from matching even her highest notes in a kooky counterpoint made creepy by his character's blighted bisexuality.

Beggars Would Ride has everything going for it -- except time.

It ends Sunday! See now!

pbirnie@png.canwest.com

Past Production Posters

This Is A Dance