“Moby Dick is the whale’s revenge on man,” the St. Godley girls exclaim in preparation of their school production.
Moby Dick! The Musical is a light-hearted, cheeky alternative to Herman Melville’s classic tale of man’s futile pursuit of vengeance upon mother nature. Originally a Cameron Mackintosh production, the Woodsworth Innis New Drama Society’s (WINDS) rendition, directed by Lanndis De Lallo, exudes joy, despite the occasional hardships depicted in the plot. The play acts as a heroic antithesis to the novel’s theme of humanity’s antagonism; the primary characters aim to save, rather than kill.
Ironically, both the novel and its musical production were initially commercial failures. The novel was only recognized as one of America’s greatest after Melville’s death. Perhaps this is because both are difficult to categorize into a single genre. Like the novel, the musical is a story of both tragedy and comedy, of death and survival, and of choice and the inevitable.
The musical’s frame narrative, a story within a story, tells the binary subplots of the St. Godley girls and their performance of Moby Dick. The show begins with a buoyant choir performance brilliantly led by Michael Bazzocchi, the school’s animated headmistress, who also plays Captain Ahab, dressed in fluorescent green and pink floral. The novel’s anarchic adventure is effectively juxtaposed by the disorderly innocence of the St. Godley girls and their male counterparts.
The score’s performers are equally vibrant. Ishmael (Renae Wolfesburger) sings longingly of the ocean’s magic, accompanied by endearing sea creatures — puppets and stuffed animals — dancing along the water. Esta (Jocelyn Kraynyk), anticipating her husband Captain Ahab’s return from three long years of adventure, sings “A Man Happens to a Woman” upon receiving his letter. Pip’s (Michael Henley) dreams of being in an illustrious boy band are fulfilled near the show’s finale, as he sings a Jason Derulo song.
The great white whale itself, Moby Dick (Leah Ritcey-Thorpe), makes a few grand appearances throughout the performance — a clever addition by Lallo. The musical contains a multitude of double entendres, including the variety of sexual innuendos associated with the whale’s phallic title.
Contemporary anachronism is abundant, as a passenger at sea alludes to James Cameron’s Titanic, gushing, “Near, far, wherever you are,” to which Celine Dion herself would be proud.
WINDS’ Moby Dick! The Musical is a welcome dose of warmth to a snowy Toronto night. The musical raised donations to support the Trek for Teens Foundation for homeless youth.