Review: Bingo The Musical (Encore Entertainment)

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The classic game receives a song and dance treatment in Bingo the Musical playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts

The audience sits with rapt attention, but their eyes are not on the stage. Each person stares at their lap, listening for their number. The air is tense as the caller announces “B12, N43, O70”. Then the silence is interrupted with a triumphant shout: “BINGO!” There is a moment of disappointment as the rest realize their luck is lost, but the lights go back up in the Toronto Centre For the Arts theatre and Bingo: The Musical by Encore Entertainment goes on.

Bingo: The Musical, directed and choreographed by Larry Westlake, is exactly what you would expect from a musical about a game that is popular with senior centers. It is not a heart-wrenching drama questioning humanity and the meaning of existence; the show is a musical with a simple premise that is blown-up to poke fun and entertain. The jokes are cheesy, the songs are catchy, and the scenario is more than a little odd.

A group of friends are torn apart by a scandalous Bingo betrayal, where Bernice supposedly steals the winning card from the die-hard player Vern. Fifteen years later, the wound is still fresh. Bernice is no longer a part of the group while Vern, Patsy and Honey still reign in the bingo hall. A stormy night brings a fateful visit from a stranger with a secret, who longs to settle a feud from a game nights past.

I laughed the most when the show plunged into utter ridiculousness. An all-too-brief song from the invented One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest musical was a genius addition, and a perfect way to show off singer Cayla Bekk’s talent. She had the vocal range and comedic timing to pull off a more humanizing and harmonizing Nurse Ratched. Although the piece had little to do with Bingo, I would have gladly spent money on a full production.

As much as comedy and content is to be admired in Bingo: The Musical, what needs to be praised is the singing talent. It is a musical, after all. As I said before, Cayla Bekk was a stand-out as Bernice’s daughter Alison. Finnie Jesson as the stupid, but nonetheless endearing Honey delighted with her musical numbers. Her voice and character are spot on, especially in the gem “Gentleman Caller”. And lastly, Renee Stein gave a stellar performance as the caustic Vern with a killer set of pipes. Stein sang with power and feeling with her solo “Swell”, which I found was a shockingly sympathetic case for a selfish bingo-addict. Music director Paul Moody used these voices well to make some truly memorable numbers.

The smartest move on Bingo: The Musical’s part was that they really take the audience into account. The players interacted with the audience like we were in one big bingo hall. We are not fans – we are the competition. Do not be too surprised if Vern stands up and scolds you for taking her precious lucky seats. Being able to join in on the game really captures the light-hearted nature of Bingo: The Musical.

Details:

Photo of Finne Jesson and Aaron Sidenberg courtesy of the company.

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