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Elodie Gillett as Dinah and Mark Uhre as Sam in the Shaw Festival’s Trouble in Tahiti. (Photo by David Cooper)
Elodie Gillett as Dinah and Mark Uhre as Sam in the Shaw Festival’s Trouble in Tahiti. (Photo by David Cooper)

Review

Trouble in Tahiti: suburban ennui, set to music Add to ...

  • Title Trouble in Tahiti
  • Written by Leonard Bernstein
  • Directed by Jay Turvey
  • Starring Elodie Gillett, Mark Uhre
  • Company Shaw Festival
  • City Niagara-on-the-Lake
  • Year 2012

Written two years after Sheba, Leonard Bernstein’s mini-opera Trouble in Tahiti – the lunchtime show this season at Shaw – centres on another couple dealing with mid-marriage dissatisfaction. While the infrequently performed piece is not quite a masterpiece, it’s a must-see for fans of the West Side Story composer.

If Matthew Weiner green-lit a musical episode of Mad Men, it might be a little like this: Executive Sam (Mark Uhre, an actor with a wonderful voice, but easily as smug and punchable as Pete Campbell) works hard, plays hard and tries hard to avoid his domestic life, while his stay-at-home wife Dinah (Elodie Gillett, with an ethereal voice) spends her days complaining to her analyst or escaping to the local cinema. Their ennui, expressed operatically, is countered ironically by a chorus who scat about the supposed pleasures of suburban life in a series of radio jingles.

Granted, this is a topic tapped to exhaustion at this point, and Bernstein – acting as his own librettist – doesn’t have any spectacular insights into the ’burbs. But, musically, the score is a gorgeous, idiosyncratic blend of jazz and classical. Under the direction of Paul Sportelli, it is both stripped down (to be played by a four-piece band) and augmented (the trio is expanded into a nine-person chorus). Director Jay Turvey and choreographer Linda Garneau provide lovely pictures for the seven short scenes, the highlight coming in the final duet, where Sam and Dinah ask: “Can’t we find our way back to the garden where we began?”

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