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DIRECTOR: Richard Wright-Firth
CAST: Candice van Litsenborgh, Drew Rienstra
VENUE: The Galloway Theatre, Waterfront Theatre School, Port Road
Narrative light, but deliciously heavy on song, Understudy Blues is essentially a showcase for Candice van Litsenborgh.
She shows of her vocal range as she rails against the agents of fate which constantly leave her out of the limelight.
Loosely structured as if she is an understudy moping about backstage, waiting just in case she has to go on, this hour-long musical comedy mostly features her singing though.
While Wright-Firth is credited as the director, Drew Rienstra is credited as the musical director and he is on stage the whole time, accompanying van Litsenborgh on keyboards and dictating the show’s timing. She tacitly acknowledges his presence throughout, whether directly interacting with him, or simply in their easy musical rapport.
She starts off with that ultimate showbusiness musical number, There’s No Business Like Show Business (Annie Get Your Gun) and proceeds to sing her way through famous and not-so-famous songs from stage and film musicals.
Her best sequences are when she is vamping it up slightly, like when she does yoga while singing her version of Poor Unfortunate Souls (from The Little Mermaid). She makes for a convincing Ursula (that is why you are always being cast as the witch, Candice…).
Or that last number, Show Off (The Drowsy Chaperone) which she nails while hauling all sorts of props out the box.
While the songs’ subject matter seems to come out of left field if you are looking for a narrative thread, her take on I’ll be Here (Ordinary Days) is just the right mix of goosebump-inducing poignancy.
Van Litsenborgh’s range is such that you can understand why directors are always asking her to sing alto – her voice is rich and agile and while she can hit a high C, she can also go pretty low without blurring her diction.
As long as you are content just wallowing in the joy of listening to van Listenborgh go from one number to the next, this will work a treat. If you want more than that, it might be a stretch because the show lacks structure.
She has a good sense of comic timing – the pizza ordering sequence is a treat, and an indication that she could handle more on the talking side. The songs are well chosen because they aren’t the obvious big numbers (except for that first one), but she doesn’t introduce them so if you aren’t clued up on obscure songs, there is no follow-through.
At times, going from one number straight into the next dilutes the narrative thread she re-ignited when playing with her knitting or make-up bag, or talking on the phone, and this is where her acting skills are ignored.
The paraphernalia-heavy staging is simple but effective, suggesting this show could easily travel. Bumping up the story/ talking part, even if at the expense of a few songs, would make this a meatier offering – she is totally capable, as she proves throughout.
If you get a chance to wander around the Theatre School beforehand, check out the tiny posters featuring van Litsenborgh’s friends giving their input on what it means to be an understudy – it is a hilarious way to put you in the mood.