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theatre review

Sate and Michael Borkosky in Rumours by Fleetwood Mac at the Coal Mine Theatre in TorontoTim Leyes/The Globe and Mail

To start with, the room began filling with a creeping, smoky haze, the kind of dry-ice fog from the rock clubs of cocained yore. Something like the Whisky A Go Go, back in the day, except with no whisky, to say nothing of the go-go.

As the band took the stage, the audience heard the strains of taped music: A medley of old FM hits, with songs about the illusions of love and "won't you lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff." An echo effect made it sound like we were hearing the music from backstage. Or even further back, 40 years or so.

But it's 2018, we're in the Coal Mine Theatre and, oh, here we go again, those crystal visions.

The production – if you want to call it that; I do not – is the brainchild of Ted Dykstra, the musical actor, co-playwright of the comedy 2 Pianos, 4 Hands and co-founder of Coal Mine Theatre. Driving in his car one day, he had the idea of presenting Fleetwood Mac's classic album Rumours from 1977 in its entirety. At the small theatre on Wednesday, that is what happened.

A six-member band of singers and instrumentalists handpicked by Dykstra took the stage and began playing the album's first track, Second Hand News – which is a great name for a Fleetwood Mac cover band, which is precisely what the audience was watching, hearing and very much enjoying.

The show is titled Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, billed as Coal Mine's first ever concert. It is not a conceptual or contextual concert, the kind Soulpepper produces. It is neither a nerdy note-for-note replaying of a record (as done across North America by Classic Albums Live), nor is it the sort of interpretive project performed by Toronto's Art of Time Ensemble. What it is, is a cheerful celebration of an album that contains exceptional melodies, deft harmonies and deep melodrama – the kind of stuff Anton Chekhov might have on his iPod.

Though singer-guitarist Michael Borkosky sounded an awful lot like Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, the musicians on stage were not imitators. They did not dress the parts – no Stevie Nicks scarves or platform boots to be seen. Andrea Ramolo (of the folk-rock duo Scarlett Jane) comfortably sang somewhere between the ranges of Christine McVie and the huskier-voiced Nicks. The bluesy singer Sate (daughter of the chanteuse Salome Bey) did her own powerhouse thing, with no attempt to capture anything but the emotions of the material.

Mind you, the arrangements were quite faithful to the original music. Bass player Jen Benton, for sure, accurately reproduced the springy low end of John McVie on Dreams. That bounce is essential – a counterbalance to the heaviness of the lyrics that nakedly and poetically reflected Fleetwood's romantic intra-band strife, with all the vulnerabilities and defiant will to overcome the pain that came with it. With all its tuneful hurt and hedonism, Rumours was a jukebox musical playing out in real time.

Imagine Christine McVie singing about a new lover on You Making Loving Fun, with her just-divorced husband John McVie right there, across the stage. But if the lyrics of Rumours were often weighty, the volume at Coal Mine was light, with the seats even softer. The middle-agers, with no appetite for boozy bar-band situations, were upbeat and active in the comfortable setting, singing along to classic-rock truths: "Thunder only happens when it's raining." Later, Sate and Ramolo dueted. The songbirds were singing "like they know the score," and the audience knew it too.

After the Rumours run-through, the band added a couple of extra hits from the Mac catalog. I would have preferred instead Silver Springs, a B-side included on the album's deluxe reissue. A betrayed Nicks vows, "Time casts a spell on you, but you won't forget me." Ex-lover Buckingham replies with a gentle guitar solo that can only be seen as an apology. Nicks howls back, "You'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you."

Too much drama, perhaps, for the theatre.

Rumours by Fleetwood Mac runs to Feb. 25 (

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