Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Belfry Theatre – a review

At a time when age-ism is on the rise and it has become perfectly acceptable to poke fun at, and deride, the stereotype of the “little old lady”, the creators of Let Me Call You Sweetheart (currently at the Belfry Theatre) are to be applauded for this tale of fortitude and grit, told with humour, and staged with the light and deft touch of director Michael Shamata.

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, getting old and being shunted off, out of sight – forgotten.

Sweetheart_0077Alex Willows as Murray, and Nicola Lipman as Nora. Photo: David Cooper

Meet Nora, (Nicola Lipman) a feisty old dame with a mind of her own. Happily ensconced at Autumn Park, a rather tony old folks’ home, where she is attended to by an even-mannered Lilly (Donna Soares) and settled into a schedule of walks, conversation, and the attentions of her “gentleman caller” Murray (Alex Willows), Nora’s life is about to talk a rather abrupt turn.

Her son Rupert (Vincent Gale) is coming, strange for someone who only visits regularly on birthdays.  The tension in this family relationship is evident – Gale does an magnificent job of portraying Rupert as unpleasantness personified; he’s a petulant child from the moment he barges onstage arguing with his long-suffering wife Claudia (Megan Leitch) through multiple jibes at Murray, who he takes to be a confidence man, to the resurfaced and regurgitated hurts he throws at his mother.

There is great truth in this story. Most of the audience can relate – whether it’s as senior, or adult child or grandchild. Family history unites or divides at times like these.

Bruce Riddell (book and lyrics) and Bill Henderson (music and lyrics) tread carefully with the subject matter.  Tunes are eminently hummable, and have a very familiar air. I had to check my programme to see which ones were original compositions (only the eponymous Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Red Red Robin are traditional). Piano stalwart and jazz musician Karel Roessingh provides accompaniment.

Designer Susan Benson conjures multiple environments through the effective use of a rotating stage centre-piece, and a cut-away platform behind a scrim, where scenes from Nora’s childhood take place.

Alone and abandoned, young Nora (Elizabeth Duncan) learns, early on, that she must “make my own way” in life. Duncan’s sweet, high voice and the refrain have stayed with me since opening night.

Sweetheart_0210Elizabeth Duncan (the Girl), Nicola Lipman (Nora). Photo: David Cooper

The music in Let Me Call You Sweetheart is natural; the songs flow from the lived experiences of the characters, and never give the impression of being inserted artificially into the storyline.

The interlude at the hotel, where Murray and Nora entertain every week, brings back memories of Lawrence Welk, and popular variety shows of the 1950s and 60s, with careful use of surnames in the banter, and a well-executed dance number (choreography – Jessica Hinkman).

I have always wondered why, given TV shows like Golden Girls, and the current cult-like popularity of actor Betty White, there has been little written for the stage that is representative of this generation.

Let Me Call You Sweetheart fills this gap. Lipman and Willows, though younger than their characters, are able to capture the inevitable physical and mental decline that comes with old age, without tipping into the maudlin or sentimental.  Their budding romance is honest, and filled with bravure, as they determine to live life as fully as possible.

Ending with a question, Let Me Call You Sweetheart leaves the audience wondering at the further adventures of Nora and Murray, and cheering for a positive resolution. Given reactions on opening night, theatres across the country will soon be calling to book this show in their season.

The Belfry has several companion events scheduled during the run of Let Me Call You Sweetheart (listed below), an excellent show guide, and a book list.

Belfry @ the Library

This season, the Belfry Theatre is partnering with the Greater Victoria Public Library. Join us for a casual lunchtime chat where you can meet one of the artists from the production of Let Me Call You Sweetheart and learn about the play from a local expert. These free talks are at 12 noon at the following branches:

Tuesday, April 23 – Saanich Centennial (3110 Tillicum Road)
Thursday, April 25 – Bruce Hutchison (4636 Elk Lake Drive)
Tuesday, April 30 – Nellie McClung (3950 Cedar Hill Road)
Thursday, May 2 – Esquimalt (1231 Esquimalt Road)

Let Me Call You Sweetheart – world premiere
by Bruce Riddell and Bill Henderson
April 16 – May 19th at the Belfry Theatre
tickets $25 – 40 online or by phone 250 385 6815

Cast & Artists
Elizabeth Duncan The Girl

Vincent Gale Rupert Chase
Megan Leitch Claudia Chase
Nicola Lipman Nora Chase
Donna Soares Lily
Alec Willows Murray Sullivan
Bruce Ruddell Book & Lyrics
Bill Henderson Music & Lyrics
Michael Shamata Director
Susan Benson Designer
Ereca Hassell Lighting Designer
Karel Roessingh Accompanist
Jessica Hickman Choreographer

 Disclaimer: I was offered complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of  Let Me Call You Sweetheart. I was not paid to write a review nor was I required to do so. As always, I retain editorial control over all the content published on this blog.


About @lacouvee

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