Photo by Joseph Hammond.
Commissioned especially for the Ryerson Theatre School by Ojibway playwright and author Drew Hayden Taylor, “Cerulean Blue” is an off-the-chart comedy that tells the story of a Toronto-based Blues band who are in need of two new members (the keyboardist and lead guitarist decide to get matching Birkenstocks and get married). The band’s leader, Russell (Drew O’Hara), is forced to accept his annoying sister Pauline’s new boyfriend, Billy Burroughs (Owen Stahn), who just so happens to be a native from Otter Lake, as the band’s new lead guitarist. With a hilarious drummer who speaks only in rhymes and a raging Christian keyboardist, Cerulean Blue 2.0 come together to perform at a Native protest concert on the Dead Rat River reserve.
The play begins with Russell and Billy, beaten up and bruised, being investigated by Officer DeLaire, who is played by Isaac Powrie. The audience is then taken back in time to the wedding of Casey and Ashley, the two former Cerulean Blue members, where the story actually begins. The production kicks off with an energetic performance by the band, all of whom played their own instruments and sang amazingly well. Not only was the acting on point, but the musical talent was as well.
At the wedding, Pauline introduces Russell to her new beau, Billy, who leaves a bad taste in Russell’s mouth right off the bat. The next scene is set up for a hilarious round of auditions for both the keyboardist and guitarist. Stahn gives an emotional performance for his audition as Billy, which leaves the audience in awe. Both the bassist Joanne (played by the gorgeous Zenna Davis-Jones) and drummer Andy (played by a hilarious Jake Vanderham), approve of Billy after this moving performance.
This was my very first time seeing a university production and I walked away smiling from ear to ear. I will admit now that when I first walked into the Abrams Studio Theatre and saw a simple set with limited seating, I did get the impression that the show would be average. How wrong I was! The acting and production team impressed me beyond belief. Students my age were blowing actors and actresses I see on TV right out of the water. Every single one of the actors, from leading roles to one-liners, gave it their all and put together an amazing show that gave me goose bumps, warmed my heart, and left me laughing right until the very end. They started and ended the show with a bang, and I feel so proud that such an amazing production was put together by students from Ryerson University.
The highlight of the show, beside the fantastic performances put on by the entire cast, was Ashley’s mother, Helena (Caitlin Graham). With her perfect Lebanese accent, face make-up and frizzy red wig, she was easily my favourite part of the show. She was the comic relief in a way, lightening up the mood when things got tense. There were moments when I felt as though I was disturbing the cast by laughing so hard in the front row. I had to cover my face with my program to calm myself down.
The musical performances were on the same level as the fantastic acting: impeccable. Each member of the band played their own instruments and sang their own vocals live. It was a great combination of theatre and music. I got to enjoy a great production as well as a killer concert.