Triumph of Love is a modern morality tale dressed as a frivolous farce. On the surface, it pits a Princess’ clever wit against the occupants of a stuffy Garden of Reason. But it also tries to show the consequences of “doing anything for love”. The mix is interesting, but the show’s inability to choose a tone creates an ending that comes across comically false.
The musical follows the Spartan Princess Leonide, an endearingly girlish Catherine Fergusson, as she tries to woo the young student Agis. Unbeknownst to her, the student is actually the true prince of Sparta that was hidden away by his studious Aunt Hesione, and uncle Hermocrates. On the day of her arrival in the Garden of Reason, Agis is finalizing his plans to leave and retake his throne by force by assassinating none other than Leonide herself. Complicating matters further are the garden’s caretaker Dimas, Harlequin, and Leonide’s faithfully promiscuous servant Corine.
As the servant Corine, Cassandra Szabo’s sultry turn in “Mr. Right” is one beaded dress and a dust of gunpowder short of Bob Fosse’s Chicago. Nathan Cottell as Dimas and Charlotte Wright as Harlequin do a phenomenal job of bringing physical comedy to a piece with relatively little movement with Wright bringing a true sense of Commedia Dell-Arte movement to her role that highlights the fun of the show. But it is Ghazal Azarbad as Hesione who captures your attention. In “Serenity” she is so heart-breakingly vulnerable that she captures your allegiance for the rest of the play.
In a city of shows perpetually on small budgets, it is a real treat to see costumes and set pieces constructed with such care. Patricia Jansen’s costumes are works of art and Patrick Smith’s set design is cunningly simple, yet evocative. The garden pieces resemble UBC’s own rose garden while the lighting design from Andrew Pye offers both moments of comedy and drama to really shine.
Mixing multiple song styles and the saucy sexuality of an adult Disney fantasy with witty writing and just enough suggestive jokes to keep us laughing, Triumph of Love has all the bones of a fantastic night out. The problem though, is that it tries to be too many things at once. While the performances are lovely, and some are truly excellent, the show seems unsure of what it is really trying to say. A shame, as all the other pieces of a fantastic musical are there.
Triumph of Love with book by James Magruder, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, and music by Jeffrey Stock. Based on the play Le Triomphe de l’Amour by Pierre de Marivaux. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. Musical direction by Christopher King. Presented by the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia. On stage at the Frederic Wood Theatre (6354 Crescent Rd, UBC, Vancouver) until April 4. Visit https://theatre.ubc.ca for tickets and information.