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{ Four friends, adrift in their urban lives } When We Were Singing
Written and Composed by Musical Director Dorothy Dittrich
Directed by David Oiye
Starring Jennifer Rayner, Mark Richard, Paula Wolfson, Alison Woolridge
Presented by Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, September 27-October 15, 2000
Review by Michael Cottrell


The opening season at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre is a fresh start for its artistic director. Although his presence was felt in the last season, this year's line up is David's baby with his own selection of presentations.

I was mumbling to boyfriend… I know, I know, I have got to stop talking in theatres, but the piece hadn't started and I was questioning David's opening choice.

{Mark Richard as Les}Why hadn't he chosen a gay or lesbian theatre production? When We Were Singing is Dorothy Dittrich's musical about four friends, simply four friends living in an urban centre.

When We Were Singing is like Bravo's TV show Sex in the City, "the musical", sans the sexual tidbits. Stories of loves lost, loves gained, betrayals and boundaries being crossed, falling down and getting up again all shared in the context of friendship between four individuals.

{Paula Wolfson as Belinda}I held great expectations, having been referred to as a groupie at Buddies' last musical production, Shaking the Foundations. I knew what this theatre could produce. David has cast Paula Wolfson from "Shaking" into this new piece, so I was looking forward to not only hearing, but also seeing her perform. Paula, the seemingly sleeker Paula, demonstrates her vocal ranges. This role finds her somewhat constrained, although she does match visual emotions with her music. I was left wanting more from her, more that I know she is capable of giving.

{Alison Woolridge as Jenny}I can't say that I was blown away with any of the music, and it is all music, from beginning to end. Dittrich's music is a mixture of jazz, blues and vocalese. (That's a million-dollar word which describes vocal music where each syllable has its own note, matching established jazz solos. For a good example, listen to Manhattan Transfer) Individually, each actor could carry his or her music. Alison Woolridge was unfortunately burdened with multiple songs that were in this vocalese style and many of her words tripped over the music, leaving me straining to hear and figure out what she had sung. This was not only Alison's growing edge; all of the actors struggled with diction in the music style. When the four sang ensemble, the music and lyrics were a washed-out, muffled, tripped-over sound.

{Jennifer Rayner as Abby}Though it has shortcomings, When We Were Singing holds together. It is a musical rich in mature emotions, creating textures and colours of feelings blending together just to be. There is no great message here, no anthems, it just is. As they began in friendship, they end in friendship as a whole.

David Oiye has chosen a mature, intellectual and integrated theatre piece. As the musical develops I realize that David's choice is one where, not only do the characters' relationships blend together, but so too does their sexual identities and orientations. Divisions between straight and queer are not present; yes, there is one lesbian woman, one gay man and two straight women, but what gender they are attracted to is irrelevant -- OK, mostly irrelevant. Being queer is not an issue; like the friendship they share, it simply is.

Photos by Guntar Kravis




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