Toodle-oo to high school: Rivercity, a new musical premiering at the Fringe. A review.

Rivercity the Musical. Photo by BB Photography

By Liz Nicholls,

Rivercity The Musical (Stage 26, L’UniThéâtre)

“You’re like the sister I never had,” says a certain familiar freckle-faced carrot-top to a certain familiar pony-tailed blonde in Rivercity The Musical. Geez Louise, guys can be such blockheads.

B’s hopeful smile fades a little from chipper, and her ponytail droops. Those are downer words for a true-blue girl who’s smitten with a callow guy (I know, like THAT’s never happened, right?).

We’re at Rivercity High right here in River City, on the last day of school. And the characters we’ve known for decades in the Archie comics — who never seem to graduate — have been reborn onstage (with slight adjustments in nomenclature) in this new and appealing, fully-formed little 75-minute original musical by Rebecca Merkley.

They’ve been given goals, and Merkley’s bona fide musical theatre songs (with witty lyrics) to sing about them. They’ve been given amusing choreography (Cleo Halls) — cartoon meets 42nd St, and even a tap number — and an excellent band (Scott Shpeley and Chris Weibe).

They’ve been give four fresh, inventive comic actor/singers — how lucky is that? Ah yes, and a lot of wigs, since four actors are playing 10 characters, students and teachers. 

The crux is a classic triangle. There’s our multi-talented heroine, the love-struck B (Vanessa Wilson). Her rival is the snooty rich girl Ronnie (John Travnik), she of the raven hair: “everyone knows I’m the hot one.” And there’s the unworthy redheaded doofus (Molly MacKinnon) who’s surfed a wave of entitlement through high school and somehow attracted the attentions of both.

There’s a copious assortment of the requisite lame jokes (with the spoken laugh track. Chortle chortle). But there are serious high school issues in this musical, by golly. For example, who is Andrews bringing to Reginald’s party? Reginald, I must tell you, is played by the downright hilarious Kristin Johnston with unhinged limbs and a slouchy swagger so amazing his legs seem to precede his head by a couple of long steps.

Another serious issue: Will Andrews finish the essay he never started and graduate? Or will he be sentenced, gasp! gasp!, to summer school. “The problems of the middle-class white kid, ya know what I mean. Yuk yuk,” he says cheerfully. But Mr. Beatherwee (Johnston) is adamant.

Poor good-hearted B. Her self-respect takes blow after blow from that Andrews cad, who’s always asking for favours (she’s his Plan B for everything) so he can run after Ronnie. Betty, come to your senses, pretty please. McKinnon nails a song about being the girl-next-door, and one about empowerment. Jonesy (Travnik), that sweet boy with the crown, is there to assist. 

Crazy, but you find yourself kinda invested in their romantic fortunes. And there’s a plot to resolve before last period.

An unexpected delight all round. Be the first in your class to see it.

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