Skip to main content

REVIEW: Yes, The Wild Rovers is that bad, but it shouldn’t have been

int(97945)
/By / Oct 19, 2023
SHARE

Oof.

Well… at least they’re having fun.

You may find yourself muttering the above as you watch The Wild Rovers, the newest jukebox musical from Terra Bruce Productions, on the heels of Let’s Dance, which, in retrospect, wasn’t so bad.

The intermission-less, two-hour romp through Irish folk music has a few things going for it: enthusiasm, for sure, and some great singing and occasionally great puppets.

But unfortunately, those wins are weighed down by a book several years away from being ready for a commercial Toronto audience. Steve Cochrane’s “play” (as our narrator Maggie, portrayed by Sean Panting, calls it) follows two kingdoms, Athunia and Ethunia (they are pronounced the same and all but identical to each other), as they struggle to achieve peace in the run-up to a wedding between their prince and princess. We enter this clash of clans by way of The Irish Rovers (perhaps best known in this country  for their eponymous CBC show), who find themselves time-travelling to A/Ethunia because they… sang a song? Picked up a hitchhiker? A little of both? It’s never really clear. 

Combine a flimsy plot with a number of unfortunate jokes (including a reimagining of Kelis’ “Milkshake,” and a thinly veiled reference to the conflict in Gaza that I found to be in rather poor taste), and you get The Wild Rovers. It’s silly, it’s high-energy, and at least for the people onstage, it’s a blast. 

As an audience member, your mileage may vary.

Director Jason Byrne has done what he can with the material, but there are issues that exacerbate the play’s flaws. The small cast of actors frequently stand in a straight line as they deliver their text, and puppets used to suggest a tour van and dragon often create significant sightline issues. There’s no specified costume designer (only production designer Graham McMonagle), and that gap in the show’s visual identity comes to a head when the members of The Irish Rovers and the fantastical royals of A/Ethunia come together – the two groups are nearly indistinguishable from one another at a distance. For a production that spared no expense for its opening night (including 1,400 free tote bags, each filled with merch, and a lavish post-show party), it seems reasonable to wonder how the show itself might have benefitted from reallocating those funds to a fuller design team.

Thankfully, the cast is musically excellent under the skillful leadership of music directors Kelly-Ann Evans and Josh Ward. The onstage band, too, makes the show nearly palatable as a vessel for spirited folk jigs and swoonful ballads. Nearly.

I want Terra Bruce to succeed. But as the company continues to establish itself in Toronto – it’s one of increasingly few theatre companies that will have the luxury of its own space – I have concerns. Terra Bruce is rife with musical talent, and it’s clear that founders Walter Schroeder and Bob Hallett have big dreams of revolutionizing musical theatre in Canada. But the company’s insistence upon creating new jukebox musicals and tapping into generational nostalgia without the theatrical skills to back it up are only setting it up to fail in the long run. Bluntly, the company ought to explore producing established musicals – they could do a decent job at that before producing new work at such an immense cost.

With significant narrative tweaks, and a budget spent on theatre-making instead of TTC ads and branded tat, The Wild Rovers could have been an evening of light-hearted fun. But for now, it’s an overstuffed nostalgia romp with significant problems. I’ll hold the good thought for the next one.


The Wild Rovers runs at the Winter Garden Theatre until November 5. Tickets are available here.


Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here. 

Aisling Murphy
WRITTEN BY

Aisling Murphy

Aisling is Intermission's senior editor and an award-winning arts journalist with bylines including the Toronto Star, NEXT Magazine, CTV News Toronto, and Maclean's. She likes British playwright Sarah Kane, most songs by Taylor Swift, and her cats, Fig and June.

LEARN MORE

Comments

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


/
Production photo of The Caged Bird Sings at the Aga Khan Museum. iPhoto caption: Photo by Zeeshan Safdar.

REVIEW: With the help of a daring set, The Caged Bird Sings brings Rumi into the present day

Literal and metaphorical cages abound in this radical adaptation of Rumi’s Masnavi, produced by Modern Times Stage Company and presented in the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard.

By Liam Donovan
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: Age Is a Feeling aches with tenderness and love

Age Is a Feeling is a warm hug for whoever might need it.

By Aisling Murphy
Production shots of the Stratford Festival shows reviewed below: Hedda Gabler, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet. iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Straightforward concepts, stripped-down sets, and strong performances define Stratford’s approach to the canon this year

Throughout Stratford’s productions of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and Hedda Gabler, moments of actorly playfulness jolt us into the here and now.

By Liam Donovan
stratford festival iPhoto caption: Production shots by David Hou.

REVIEW: Stratford boasts a flair for the dramatic in two terrific musicals and a spooky take on Shakespeare

All in, this was a very strong opening week for Stratford, but seriously, go see the musicals!

By Aisling Murphy
iPhoto caption: Photo by Dahlia Katz.

REVIEW: The Wrong Bashir is an ode to the hyphenated identities of Canada

Quibbles on the show's comedy aside, The Wrong Bashir will stay with me for a while as a successful ode to hyphenated identities across Canada. 

By Eleanor Yuneun Park
iPhoto caption: Photo of Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall by Cylla von Tiedemann.

REVIEW: The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like coming home

Home is not a place, it’s a feeling, and Come Home — The Legend of Daddy Hall feels like I came home. I was taken on a journey watching this play and came out honoured to be a witness to such an incredible story. I encourage you to do the same.

By Aisha Lesley Bentham