Review: Debt, The Musical – a repetitious waste of talent

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I definitely felt the irony while watching a musical about money and debt from the relative comfort of the Firehall Arts Centre with its $28 ticket price and having the Downtown East Side, and its very real poverty issues, looming outside the theatre doors. And if that weren’t enough of a downer, we are then presented with 90 repetitious minutes featuring a variety of characters we are never able to feel any sympathy towards, from a group of talented actors who are simply not given enough to work with to show their ample skills .

Debt - The MusicalFirst off, though, to call Debt – The Musical a musical is a little bit of misnomer as there is very little in the way of a cohesive narrative. Instead we are served up with a hodgepodge of songs and skits that for me felt like a very, very long episode of Air Farce caught inside a sort of Bill Murray Groundhog Day Twilight Zone.

That isn’t to say that aren’t some talented people in the cast but most are wasted, relegated to complaining about always owing something and where their only way out is through bankruptcy. No one here takes any responsibility for their own circumstances but constantly blame some other force – whether it be credit card companies constantly forcing their products on them, a real estate market that is impossible to get into or the lamentable collection agencies that come after the financial deadbeats.

Playwright Leslie Mildiner has taken what I understand was a 60 minute revue and stretched it into this 90+ minute two act version. There really is nothing to sustain us through two acts and as the curtain on act one came down I was actually thinking of abandoning ship but stayed hoping for some sort of satisfactory conclusion to the whole thing. Unfortunately act two was much of the same and that satisfying conclusion never did materialize.

Todd Butler’s music manages to score a couple of points here and in particular the ballad “Labour of Love” sung by Tom Pickett and Ellen Kennedy. Unfortunately in a sea of mostly forgettable songs, I couldn’t help think of Cats’ “Memories” which also didn’t fit in with the rest of its songs.

Choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg serves up one unimaginative country line dance after another and while Musical Director Todd Butler helps prove the actors can sing, Friedenberg does nothing to help them look good in their dance.

Derek Butt’s set is good with some nice levels for the actors to work with but, perhaps it was intentional given the subject matter, it was obvious he was working with some budgetary constraints. As well, a lot of his projections had a dreary clip art feel to them that almost made me laugh out loud a couple of times.

Despite the very talented actors here (Ellen Kennedy, Tom Pickett, Tracey Power, Andy Toth, Simon Webb, Morgan Dunne, Kathy Fitzpatrick), Debt – The Musical simply cannot sustain itself. We are ultimately left feeling cheated, much like Mildiner would have us believe the banks do to us.

2 out 5 StarsDebt – The Musical
Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova Street
13 – 30 January 2010

Tickets are $16-$28 available by calling the Firehall box office 604 689-0926 or online at

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