Review: Taptoo! (Toronto Operetta Theatre)

Taptoo commemorates the bicentennial War of 1812 at Toronto’s Jane Mallett Theatre

Taptoo! is an operetta that is set around the War of 1812 and explores the founding of Upper Canada and Toronto. The short run of Taptoo! at the Jane Mallett Theatre is the professional world premiere of the play and the opening night even featured an appearance (and speech) from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David C. Onley, O. ONT.

The music was composed by John Beckwith, while the libretto was written by James Reaney. Perhaps the most interesting part of the script was that Reaney managed to include verbatim quotations from the journals of Major John Graves Simcoe and his wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Simcoe. He also included quotations from a drumming manual of the time which was fitting because the main character of the play, Seth, was a drummer boy for American rebels and British troops. Beckwith
incorporated several 18th century musical pieces into the operetta, including the crowd-favourite “Yankee Doodle”, which I thought was a nice touch.

I thought that Taptoo! had an enormous amount of potential as a stage production but I found I was ultimately disappointed by my experience. Perhaps my expectations as a historian were a little high to begin with, but I found the story to be difficult to follow and confusing. This operetta boasted itself as commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (I’m sure to the excitement of all War of 1812 buffs) but in reality, there wasn’t much about the war at all; the play looks at the 30-year period leading up to the war. Interesting for some, but not as much for others who were expecting a production centred around the War itself.

I felt like there was so much that could be done with such an interesting time in both Canadian and American history, but it fell short in so many ways. The storyline itself wasn’t convincing, and I didn’t find myself empathizing or identifying with any of the characters.

The story follows Seth, a Philadelphia boy separated from his parents after his father is tarred and feathered by American rebels. He then becomes a drummer, first for the American rebels and then for the Queen’s Rangers, led by Major Simcoe. There were a couple times when the future, older Seth, narrated segments, which was confusing to me and felt out of place in the overall narrative. Some moments in the play were completely implausible, like in an instance when Simcoe informs Seth that he has been corresponding with his parents who wanted him back in Philadelphia. The idea that Simcoe had secretly managed to find Seth’s parents, when Seth himself couldn’t find them, was nearly laughable.

On the flip side, there were those who I could tell enjoyed the operetta. At the intermission, a gentleman behind exclaimed, “That was terrific!” to his wife and throughout the operetta, the woman beside me was tapping her leg along to the music (although this didn’t necessarily mean she liked it!). I noticed that the crowd was a little older than me and my companion which made me wonder if perhaps our shared reasons  for not enjoying the production were because of a generation gap. The actors/singers certainly did a good job of portraying historical characters and the costumes looked great.

Taptoo! is playing at the Jane Mallett Theatre (27 Front St. E) until February 26, 2012
– Shows run February 24 and 25 at 8pm with a matinee on Sunday the 26 at 2pm
– Ticket prices are $66-$95
– Tickets are available online or at 416-366-7723