Sara Marreiros as the ghost of Amália de Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues in Fado - The Saddest Music in the World. Photo by Jam Hamidi.
Sara Marreiros as the ghost of Amália de Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues in Fado - The Saddest Music in the World. Photo by Jam Hamidi.

There is some beautiful music being made on stage at the Firehall Arts Centre in Fado – The Saddest Music in the World. Its accompanying story is less compelling.

Primarily performed by Sara Marreiros, the real-life Victoria-based fadista (fado singer) brings a haunting and emotional presence to the songs. She literally embodies the spirit of one of fado’s biggest stars Amália de Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues, and her musical interludes are this play’s biggest strength.

Considered a national treasure in Portugal and known as the “Queen of Fado,” Rodrigues has been credited for popularizing fado music worldwide and remains one of that country’s best-selling artists in history. It is Rodrigues’s story of humble beginnings, and sometimes colourful past that one wishes had become the basis for playwright Elaine Ávila’s play.

The parallels between Rodrigues’s illness in her later life and that of Marreiros, who has been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, are also difficult to ignore. While both women were forced to put their careers on hold at some point due to health issues, they both rose above their illnesses to continue performing. Coupling the two fadistas’ stories would have also made for a more fascinating and profound narrative.

Instead, Ávila provides a fractured tale of a mother returning to her homeland and a daughter searching for a connection to her heritage. Inside these two main narratives, she also layers two predictable love stories, as well as a secondary story of a young gay man who is fascinated by Rodrigues.

While individually, these storylines may have some merit, they are never given enough time to fully develop. Inside its short 80-minute run time, with much of that taken up by music, it is impossible to explore anything in any real depth. As a result, Ávila rushes to wrap up her various story elements and they conclude far too tidily.

The performance of fado is definitely the star here. Billed as “part concert, part theatre,” Ávila nails the first part of the equation with spectacular results thanks to Marrieros. The second half is far less exciting.

Fado – The Saddest Musc in the World by Elaine Ávila. Directed by Mercedes Bátiz-Benét. A Firehall Arts Centre and Puente Theatre co-production. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until December 14. Visit firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.