Before you read this, go to the Neptune Theatre website and buy a ticket for Old Stock: A Refugee Loves Story because if they haven’t sold out yet, they will. The review will be here when you’re done.
The best musical theatre is the kind that can speak to an era without beating you over the head with its message. Think West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and Cabaret. Musicals with a message. Time will tell if Old Stock will make it to that upper echelon, but it’s one of the best this reviewer has ever seen as far as Canadian musicals go.
Written by Christian Barry, Hannah Moscovitch and Ben Caplan, the story is relatively simple. While fleeing pogroms in their homeland, two immigrants, Chaya (Mary Fay Coady) and Chaim (Eric Da Costa), meet in a lineup as they await entry into Canada via Halifax. Chaim is instantly taken with Chaya. She’s a little less convinced. Aloof and distant, she shuts him down with biting sarcasm. Months later, their paths cross in Montreal. Chaim woos Chaya; they get married, and eventually, they fall in love.
The story is narrated by The Wanderer, a cross between Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof and the Emcee from Cabaret. Played by Ben Caplan, he easily morphs from a toothy jester to a sinister omen at the drop of a hat. His energy is palpable, his voice gravelly in the best possible way. He had the audience in the palm of his hand and many of them, including my companion for the evening, swooning on every note. Caplan is the real deal and delivers a performance that will stick in this reviewer’s memory for a long time.
Playing the young lovers Coady and Da Costa are a perfect pair. Da Costa’s awkward charm radiates through the theatre, making him an instantly likeable underdog. He’s an ideal foil to Coady with her perfect Romanian accent, wringing every possible laugh out of her dialogue.
Rounding out the on-stage talent are musicians Kelsey McNulty and Jeff Kingsbury, who, along with the three actors, provide a full musical sound throughout the evening. If there’s one quibble, it’s that some of the lyrics on opening night were muffled due to a small sound imbalance. However, it’s minor and likely will get worked out through the Halifax run.
Director Christian Barry pulls many theatrical tricks throughout the performance, aided massively by a pop-up book style set courtesy of himself and co-designer Louisa Adamson. Barry’s direction is a testament to what theatre is capable of.
There are genuinely no words enough to describe the wonder and awe that washed over this reviewer throughout Old Stock. The show has already had a long life touring Canada, New York and London with more stops still to come and has been a hit everywhere it’s been.
In an era where immigration seems to be a dirty word, it’s wonderful to be reminded about the positive impact that immigration has had on this country.
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story by Christian Barry, Hannah Moscovitch, and Ben Caplan. Directed by Christian Barry. A Neptune Theatre presentation of a 2b theatre production. On stage Neptune Theatre’s Scotiabank Stage (1593 Argyle St, Halifax) until November 17. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.