THEATRE REVIEW: Wang
Wang Dang Doodle
Starring: Denis Simpson, Denise Pelley, Eliza-Jane Scott, Jonathan Ellul,
Troy Adams, Sandra Caldwell
Directed by: Rick Kish
By Jeff Zon
Looking for men dressed
as women, musical solos on a comb and random appearances from God? Then
look no further: Wang Dang Doodle has invaded the stage at The
Grand Theatre and is looking to woo audiences from across London.
The self-proclaimed "Harlem musical" takes place in the 1930s
and depicts what is known as a "rent party" a party thrown
with one purpose in mind: to raise your rent money where the bathtub
gin is only "15 cents a jug."
Lead character Ellsworth King (Denis Simpson) declares that this will
be the last rent party before his wife Grace King (Denise Pelley) starts
her own legitimate beauty parlour to pay the rent. The audience soon learns,
however, that Ellsworth owes a considerable debt to a fellow poker player,
and tough financial times are not quite over.
The relatively simplistic plot outlines the personal grief and guilt that
plagues Ellsworth as he pays off his debt with his wife's business savings
and tries to reclaim it. This plot, which appears to be the principal
story of the production, is hardly represented through the mood of the
play and takes a backseat to the singing, dancing and tomfoolery that
dominates the stage.
On the whole, Wang Dang Doodle is musically unimpressive. For
a lead character, Simpson displays lacklustre tone and poor projection.
Luckily, the choral prowess of the three women Pelley, Sandra Caldwell
and Eliza-Jane Scott help drown out Simpson's mediocre voice. Caldwell,
cast strategically as a lounge singer, has a particularly beautiful voice,
which drives the audience wild.
What Wang Dang Doodle lacks in musicality it makes up for in
sheer hilarity. The audience will surely be rolling in laughter as they
observe the antics of the ditzy Charlotte Cranmore (Scott) and the amusingly
old and foreign "Shopping Bag" Mary (Jonathan Ellul), who comes
from a country "too geographically remote to place on a map."
Each and every time Mary comes down the stage's front steps with her "bad
leg," she asks for and is assisted arm in arm by a poor patron at
the front, much to the crowd's delight.
Subtler, yet enjoyable, aspects of the production include a very creative
set featuring a backdrop of hanging metal frames, intended to mimic the
windows and fire escape outside the Harlem apartments. The authentic blues
trio that performs all the music are actually onstage as part of the act,
which adds an element of personality.
The show closes with a happy ending and all six players singing the title
tune as they declare that every night will be another party at the Harlem
residence. The cast and band dance and clap with the audience to prove
that you don't need to be from the '30s to doodle with the Wang Dang
Wang Dang Doodle continues performances at The Grand Theatre until
Mar. 30. Call the theatre's box office at 672-8800 for ticket details.