A song cycle tells the story of a boy and his grandmother in The Way Back to Thursday at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille
The Way Back To Thursday, playing at Theatre Passe Muraille, is about a boy and his grandmother who develop a special relationship in his formative years as they bond over old Hollywood movies. When Cameron comes of age, he moves across the country to separate the secret of his sexuality from his grandmother. She tries to maintain the relationship and he evades it with devastating consequences. By the end, Cameron takes a shot at redemption and the final moments are utterly heart-wrenching.
The story is conveyed through a song cycle: there are fifteen songs and no dialogue. I feel out of my depth reviewing a musical for which I am lacking in refined vocabulary. Fortunately, my plus-one, Caroline, is a vocalist and musical theatre encyclopedia and her words are what follows:
“I could hear a 90s influence … Rent, Ragtime and I could also hear Company. The patter mixed with the lyrical is very Sondheim. [Writer Rob Kempson] took the pop option rather than a more overtly lyrical one, lending the show a wider appeal.”
A pianist and a cellist join the actors on stage and Caroline and I thought Scott Christian’s orchestration was warm, subtle and supportive.
The set is fairly simple with multiple levels allowing the actors to transcend time and space. Both actors are playful with their physical environment and really bring their surroundings to life.
Rob Kempson’s performance of Cameron is incredibly dynamic as he transforms from a rambunctious eight year old to an awkward pre-adolescent to a more grounded and self-possessed young man. Astrid Van Wieren was a little less kinetic but physically engaging nonetheless. Her transformation from a sassy, scotch drinking, yogic granny to a woman slowing down to the point of losing her faculties was wonderful to watch.
In terms of vocals, Caroline wanted more range from Kempson and more diverse melodies from Van Wieren. While the songs themselves are not necessarily ones you go home singing, the emotions therewith are ones you feel for days.
We feel the intensity of Grandma’s unconditional love for Cameron. We rejoice in their love for Rock Hudson and Hollywood classics. We empathize when Cameron accepts his sexuality. We were perplexed when he rejects the one person who loves him unquestionably and grow angry with him when he brushes Grandma off. We want to comfort Grandma through her guilt and grief. We are released in the final moments of the show.
The Way Back To Thursday is endearing and complex. It stirs feelings of love, guilt, fear, anger and desperation and if you’ve ever had a complicated or unresolved relationship with a loved one, this show will definitely resonate.
Call your grandma.
- The Way Back To Thursday is playing at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave.) from January 16-February 8
- Performances are Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30pm, and a Saturday matinée, 2pm
- Tickets are General $32.50, Senior/Artsworker $27.50, Under 30 $15, and PWYC Saturday matinée with a limited number of $20 tickets available in advance
- Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 416-504-7529, or in person at the Arts Box Office
Photo of Rob Kempson and Astrid Van Wieren by Michael Cooper