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There's More to this Messiah

An original 2022 story sponsored by Pacific Theatre

Imagine a Handel’s Messiah performance and you’ll find yourself picturing a vast choir of evening-suited singers raising the roof with their soaring, stirring vocals. But at Vancouver’s hidden gem Pacific Theatre this holiday season, you’ll find a quite different––and much funnier––approach to the greatest story ever told.

 

“The Coles Notes version of our play is that two incompetent actors and one hugely talented opera singer arrive by donkey and try to stage a version of The Messiah––and the audience gets to watch as the silliness and more unfolds,” says director Ian Farthing.

 

The witty, fast-paced show was written in 1983 for madcap British performance troupe, the National Theatre of Brent. And it was later revived to great acclaim for a UK tour in 2018. This new Pacific Theatre version draws on both these productions, adding a tasty serving of local references to appeal to Vancouver-area audiences.

 

Much of the show, adds Farthing, relies on the double-act-style rapport of the performers playing the two incompetent actors. They have a lot to do on stage, he says, and they really need to know each other well to present the kind of warm, funny camaraderie audiences will connect with.

 

In this production, expert improv performers John Voth and Peter Carlone step seamlessly into these weighty comedic shoes. “These characters have to riff off each other like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, and John and Peter are excellent at that. There’s a real joy in watching them,” says Farthing.

 

But the show isn’t just about well-oiled comic clowning. The Messiah’s third cast member plays the quite different but vitally important role of the singer. In Farthing’s production, Karen Ydenberg––a seasoned Vancouver Opera performer––assumes this vocally challenging responsibility. “We wanted a really good singer and Karen performs the Handel excerpts in the show so beautifully.”

 

The Pacific Theatre’s ‘alley configuration’––raked seating on both sides of a central stage––also plays its part, bringing audiences closer to the action and adding a heightened intimacy that’s well-suited to quick-fire humour and spine-tingling songs.

 

And like every good comedy, there’s also a warm and soulful heart beating beneath the laughs. Fusing its farcical fun with the beauty of the Nativity story itself, Farthing says The Messiah aims to encourage reflection as well. “I’m hoping people will hear the message of hope,” he says. “We want audiences to feel entertained and moved and to leave the theatre with a smile.”

 

Pacific Theatre’s production of The Messiah runs from November 25 to December 17, with matinees and evening performances available. There will also be special mask-only productions on Wednesdays plus a December 2 Talkback Night with cast and crew. For more information, visit the official website or click on the advert above.