Reviewed by Jack Curtiss
Aeons before the term “interactive” became a buzzword for electronic diversions, it would have served to sum up audiences attending one of the 19th century's most cherished forms of amusement: the melodrama. The French coined the name in the 1700's and when the first London melodrama bowed in 1802 in the genre began to develop the themes and stock characters that would reach their zenith of popularity in Victorian England and find fertile ground in America as well. Central to every plot was the scheming villain and a damsel in distress menaced by his typically nefarious designs, an impoverished or ailing parent and a square-jawed, often duped hero who nonetheless (with help) finds a way to save the day. To dismiss these productions as predictably silly would miss the point entirely..audiences loved them because they were fun..and the cascades of boos, hisses and hoots that greeted the villain's every appearance added to the enjoyment as did whistles and applause that resounded when the often clueless hero finally triumphed.
It was fitting that our oldest local company, Adelaide Repertory Theatre, undertook to give the melodrama a full-fledged 21st century outing with a troupe of veteran performers who understood the genre well and could bring it off in style. Kudos to director Pam O' Grady for masterful job of milking the well-worn formula for every laugh and to musical director Barry Hill on pianoforte and drummer Rowan Dennis for just the right musical touches.
Malcolm Elliott made a deliciously hiss-worthy bad guy and likewise Norm Caddick as an oily associate. Effectively stealing the show, dance hall and all was Penni Hamilton-Smith as the robustly seductive Carlotta Cortez, ably abetted by Vicky Arnold as Fifi, the French domestic. Julie Quick as Widow Hopewell, Kristin Tommasini as her demure daughter Prudence, Daniel Fleming as the hero and Chris Evans as the loyal friend all acquitted themselves in style along with the rest of the ensemble.
Special mention must go to the musical interlude performers including Loriel Smart, Ian Rigney, Sue Wylie and the “Ballets Russe stars” Lindy LeCornu and Richard Lane for an unforgettable “danse de balon.” The delightful old-time set design perfectly accented the proceedings.
Love Rides the Rails not only got the mail through on time but delivered the goods on all fronts.