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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Elbow Room Café The Musical comes from a place of love and respect

New musical is a raucous cacophony of sight and sound

Much like co-creator Dave Deveau’s alter-ego Peach Cobblah, Elbow Room Café The Musical is at times a delightfully hot mess. It also comes from a place of love and respect.

The result is a fun romp through a slice of local history, and a wonderful tribute to a Vancouver institution and its two larger-than-life characters.

Based around real-life Vancouver eatery, The Elbow Room Café, this new musical is as much about the restaurant known for its “big-ass” breakfasts, as it is about the two men at its helm.

Partners in business and life, Patrick Savoie and Bryan Searle, have become Vancouver legends since first opening their tiny restaurant on Jervis Street. Moving to its current location on the fringes of Vancouver’s Yaletown and West End neighbourhoods in 1996, the duo continues to attract celebrities and locals alike, all looking for the same thing: plentiful plates served with a side-order of abuse. It is both the colourful clientele and the colourful language that has made the diner legendary. It also makes great fodder for a musical.

Originally presented as a workshop production at Langara College’s Studio 58 in 2015, Elbow Room Café The Musical is not just about Savoie and Searle though. While it may be centred around its two irascible owners, it is not just simply an homage to the duo. In Deveau’s book, it also becomes the basis for some life lessons for a younger generation, all-around a similar theme of love and acceptance.

This is both a blessing and curse, as Deveau attempts to cram so much into the musical. With large gaps between telling its various storylines, the effect may be a raucous and amusing cacophony of sight and sound, the necessary emotional connection to its characters is sometimes lost.

At its core though remains a heart that is palpable. The decade long friendship between Deveau, his partner Cameron Mackenzie (who also directs), and the real-life Savoie and Searle is obvious. There was an added sense of that love and respect in the room opening night knowing the two men on which the musical is based were in the room.

Trying to keep its free-wielding book in check are some delightful performances, led by a very funny and endearing Allan Zinyk as Savoie.

For anyone who has ventured into the Elbow Room, Zinyk’s portrayal will be immediately recognizable. The quick wit and quirkiness of the real-life Savoie is absolutely spot-on, without being a carbon copy. Zinyk’s comedic take is grounded in a loveable reality. While his turn in “In A Different Life I’m Piaf” may not be the best vocals of the night, it is filled with both a profound pathos and hope.

As his long-suffering husband, David M Adams is a study in contrasts. With his big booming voice and presence to match, Adams gives weight to the real-life as Searle. The connection between Adams and Zinyk is believably real.

Even as some of the secondary characters are exercises in excess, there are some superb singing voices among this likable and diverse cast. Steven Greenfield, Christine Quintana, Justin Lapeña and Synthia Yusuf all sing their hearts out under Clare Wyatt’s musical direction.

Rounding out the ensemble, Emma Slipp, Nathan Kay, Stephanie Wong, and Olivia Hutt all appear to be having the time of their life on stage. The somewhat incongruous “Let a Girl Eat” from the female cast is an absolute hoot.

Speaking of excess, costume designer Marina Szijarto not only captures the reality in the cast’s attire but has so much fun in the “The Wedding Song” even Bernadette Bassinger, Mitzi Del Bra and Felicia Jollygoodfellow would approve.

For anyone who has ventured through the doors of the real-life Elbow Room Café on Davie Street, Elbow Room Café The Musical will be instantly recognizable. It is tough not to adore this heartfelt tribute.

Elbow Room Café The Musical with book and lyrics by Dave Deveau and music & lyrics by Anton Lipovetsky. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A presentation by The Cultch, produced and commissioned by Zee Zee Theatre, and developed with assistance from Studio 58. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until March 12. Visit for tickets and information.

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