Volume 96, Issue 85
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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THEATRE REVIEW: Wang Dang Doodle

Wang Dang Doodle
Starring: Denis Simpson, Denise Pelley, Eliza-Jane Scott, Jonathan Ellul, Troy Adams, Sandra Caldwell
Directed by: Rick Kish

By Jeff Zon
Gazette Staff

Claus Anderson/Grand Theatre

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 professionals.

Wang Dang Doodle continues performances at The Grand Theatre until Mar. 30. Call the theatre's box office at 672-8800 for ticket details.


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