Merton of the Movies. The cast works hard to convince Merton (seated) that the film is in fact very serious. Photo by Stephanie Weiner

The first night of the Center for Education and Theater in Montreal(CETM)’s Next Wave Festival of New Musicals kicked off with a bang last night.

The audience was treated to a pre-workshop version of Danny Boy and an inside look into the making of the show by the creators Lisa Forget and Chris Barillaro. Danny Boy tells the story of Molly, born in County Derry and raised in Montreal with the promise from her parents that she would return to Ireland to nurture her gifts with her aunt, the town matchmaker. In the midst of the Great War we meet several characters, including Danny, who are anxiously anticipating the yearly matchmaking festival as a ray of hope knowing many of the men will be called off to battle at its close.

Danny Boy

As someone with Irish heritage who has never visited the Emerald Isle, Ms. Forget was inspired first to write the song Across the Sea, which tells of the longing to visit Ireland and experience the magic of the fairies. I’ll happily admit that I was sold at this early point in the performance. When she asked if anyone had any questions, I whispered to my friend that I’d like to know if that song has been recorded and was available for purchase. Absolutely beautiful and tugged very firmly on the heartstrings of this part Irish woman, too!

Dancers from the Bernadette Short School for Irish Dancing treated us to several numbers, including a very dramatic a cappella piece as part of a battle scene.

On the whole, I was moved and tickled, which is everything I look for in a good musical. Expect to hear about Danny Boy again, when it opens to sold out crowds one day (hopefully!) soon.

Merton of the Movies. The cast works hard to convince Merton (seated) that the film is in fact very serious. Photo by Stephanie Weiner

Set to the piano like the silent movies of the era it inhabits, Merton of the Movies, is a sweet and lighthearted story told with toe-tapping musical numbers, characters to root for, romance, and pie-in-the-face slapstick.

Originally a book written in 1919 by Harry Leon Wilson, this musical incarnation was written by Donald Brenner (Book) and Doug Kastaros (Music and Lyrics), of New York. The CETM produced this show directed by Stephen Pietrantoni, with the musical direction of Kenny Wong.

Merton of the Movies introduces us to wide-eyed Merton Gill (Jérome Roy), a small town bumpkin who dreams of being a serious film actor and harbors great disdain for the popular comedies of the day. In the pursuit of his dream, he meets a spunky actress Sally “Flips” Montague (Tina Mancini), who recognizes how comical his overacting is and gets his movie career off the ground by tricking him into starring in a comedy. Discovering that he has been hoodwinked puts a damper on their budding romance.

Knowing that this production was put together in three weeks is astounding, it goes to show what hard work and some serious talent can do!

Roy was adorable as Merton, he brought the right amount of innocence and (mock) pathos to the role. Stand out performances for me came from Ms. Mancini, who really embodied her character and made us laugh. Of the many tuneful numbers, one of my favorite was the duetting waiters scene performed by Corrina Vincelli and Charlotte Clement. They were cutesy, funny and their voices both suited the song and complemented one another well.

Seeing how much movie audiences love him as a comedic actor, Merton realizes that “…making people laugh is worthwhile.”

The Next Wave Music Festival takes place until September 28. ClickHERE for shows.

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