Let me start off by saying this, right up front: I was never a Musical Theatre Kid. In my formative theatre years, I eschewed the very notion of musical theatre. I saw it as the Synchronized Swimmer’s Smile of the theatre world. Fake and Forced. To this punk rock loving (clean-cut) kid, it was akin to the devil Disco. You see, I fell into theatre with that punk rock mythos as my credo – three chords, a middle-finger to the establishment, a severe lack of any structural ability to perform, yet an overwhelming desire to get on stage and make something.
I can now recognize that this naive and erroneous point of view was, and is, a failing on my part. Obviously, I was (am) an idiot, and my haughtiness was based on my total lack of exposure to, awareness of, and ignorance about the rich tapestry of musical theatre blah blah blah. (that ‘blah blah blah’ is not an indictment of musical theatre, by the way. Rather, it should be seen as my sudden and profound disinterest in my very own spouting off on things of which I know too little. Just get to the matter at hand, Rob!)
Still, I feel it important to preface this review with that information about my deep-seated disdain for musical theatre, because it turns out, Melissa MacKenzie’s show ‘good girl’ (a Kitbag Theatre production) contains a lot of musical theatre numbers. Like, a lot. And I thought it would be best to give you readers a strong foundational POV for this journey through my ‘good girl’ experience. Sort of an “oh my god, he hates musical theatre and this show is basically jam-packed with musical theatre references and songs, oh my god, they’re either going to hate each other or fall in love!”
So, going into ‘good girl – on the second of a two-night run, with a boisterous and exuberant sold-out audience on a mid-April evening at the Trailside Music Hall in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island – I was fairly unaware of what I was stepping into. I was half-expecting a theatrical one-person show type of experience, in which songs would play a part. The Facebook Event described ‘good girl’ as Melissa “navigating love, sex, and the muiscal theatre industry after growing up Good.” Joining Melissa, it was promised, was “an all-star team of musicians and performers for a night of Mrs. Maisel-esque storytelling and tunes of every genre.”
For the record, and only as an aside, I watched maybe half of season one of Mrs. Maisel, and enjoyed it a fair bit until halfway through an episode I suddenly couldn’t bear to watch any more of it. I have not returned to it.
So, here’s ‘good girl’ in a nutshell: Over the course of Part One, Melissa tells us about growing up in a very strict Christian family and community where she was taught and indoctrinated into believing that being the Good Girl was paramount. Interspersed with this storytelling are plenty of songs, well-chosen as a sort of subterfuge and sabotage of the indoctrinating mindset. In Part Two, she focuses on how that repression profoundly affected and confused her sexual awakening. Again, she drops in a plethora of songs that joyously accentuate and embellish her move towards accepting and appreciating herself as a sexual being.
All those words I’ve written so far, and I’ve yet to say what I thought of the show. Well, here that is:
Melissa MacKenzie is an astoundingly talented performer. She sings breathtakingly, seemingly without effort, and is masterful at it. To my ear, every song she sang, she absolutely nailed. I was honestly astonished at her skill of performance during several of the songs.
I should come clean here and say that I did not recognize even one of the songs that was sung throughout the night. Blame that on my musical theatre ignorance. But it turns out that doesn’t matter in the least. I was very happy to be able to discover them through Melissa’s wonderful interpretations. When she sings, she is very much in her element, and her joy of performance is contagious.
I’ll also add here that Melissa wasn’t alone on stage. True to the promise in the Facebook event writeup, she had assembled an all-star, killer group of performers to support her occasionally throughout the night with sharp and expressive instrumentation, and beautiful background and harmony singing.
Morgan Saulnier should soon be getting an Order of PEI pin for all she does to make music on this Island as wonderful as it is. She seems to be involved in pretty much everything as a musical director, accompanist, and, I expect, as an inspiration to so many musicians and singers in our community. She really is remarkable. And adding to the “all-star” element are a handful of artists who each could headline a night of music in their own right – Jessica Burrett, Brielle Ansems, Morgan Wagner all sing and instrumentate (don’t look it up) and percuss to perfection, as Marlee Saulnier on saxophone ups the artistry even more for a number of songs.
So, yeah, the musical component was absolutely fantastic – as good as you’d see or hear anywhere – and plentiful. Melissa can truly do it all, it seems, when it comes to musical styles and genres. My favourite selection came near the end of the evening when Melissa sits at the piano to accompany herself on a really phenomenal song she wrote herself. After a night of already stellar performances, she elevates everything and somehow manages to discover new depths of emotion and honesty. I’d love to hear more original songs from her.
Without question, Melissa is a huge talent as a singer. Going into this evening, I was perhaps expecting to see more of a theatrical experience that would also include songs as support to the storytelling. What I got, it turns out, is quite the opposite – a packed songbook of an evening where the stories – as important and personal as they obviously are to Melissa – end up being the glue to bind the song selections together.
If I had a criticism of ‘good girl’ – and I suppose I do, since I’m about to express it – it’s that I would love the storytelling to be as impactful as the music. When she is performing the written portions, telling the stories of her struggles with the concept of being a Good Girl, Melissa is sharp, funny, assured, engaging, and obviously knows how to earn and command attention. She gives us plenty of wonderful lines and anecdotal insights, all well told. She pretty much had my rapt attention all night long.
So, what’s the criticism, Rob? Maybe it was just me, but I found myself wanting to see just a bit more of a deeper exploration and investment into the emotional aspects of the story of this journey – the theatricality of it all, if you will. Particularly in Part One, she often seemed to take on something of what I’d describe as a character persona version of herself as she relayed these quite personal and traumatic events and elements in her life.
Maybe this is where the Mrs. Maisel reference comes into play? It’s like at times she chose – perhaps for comedic effect – to remain a step removed from what she is speaking about. I sometimes found myself wishing to see past that persona. In Part Two, that persona dropped away much more frequently, and we saw what I assume is more of the true essence of Melissa. It was Melissa speaking truth to us, in the emotion and in the moment. And in those moments – especially in the aforementioned performance of the song she wrote herself – the impact is profound. I just wish there were more of those moments.
And even though I just spent a couple of paragraphs speaking about that, it really is a fairly minor criticism and didn’t really detract from what was a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening evening of storytelling and music.
The music is all there. The talent is all there. But I think there’s potential to expand and heighten the emotional impact of the theatrical aspects of this musical theatre experience. I believe Melissa considers ‘good girl’ to be a continuing work-in-progress so I have no doubt that as she continues to perform and tweak this as an artistic piece, she will discover ways to better achieve that, should she choose to.
I’ve been coming around a bit, in the past few years, to Musical Theatre as a concept, and I’ve made a pointed attempt to appreciate musical theatre more. I have a long, long way to go, but I’m happy to be on that road, now, at least. And experiencing ‘good girl’ is fully a musical theatre expedition I can easily and wholeheartedly endorse.
I’m not sure if we ended up falling in love with each other, but I certainly enjoyed the experience and am very happy with the time I spent getting to know Melissa MacKenzie’s ‘good girl’.
If, and when, Melissa remounts ‘good girl’ in a theatre or music hall near you, take it from me – a guy who’s had a very challenging relationship to Musical Theatre – it is a night of entertainment you owe to yourself to enjoy and experience.