Review: The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down (Toronto Irish Players)

Part-Musical, Part-Comedy, Part-Drama is a “fun night out” at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto

The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down, currently on stage at The Alumnae Theatre, is part musical, part comedy, and part drama as per director Michael Hiller’s program notes. I was intrigued to see how all of these parts would coalesce, and enjoyed how everything came together for an entertaining show.

Set in a small pub in County Cavan on St. Stephen’s night 2007, the show opens with the characters celebrating the assumed birthday of local bar regular The Horse (Ian McGarrett). Dramas are slowly revealed throughout the first half, with bartender Barney (Stephen Flett) finding himself in a particular mess because of his separate dalliances with two of the bar’s patrons.

Eventually everyone files out to chase the craic and heal their bruised egos, leaving Barney and The Horse in the cozy quiet of the pub. Before they can fully relax, a knock at the door reveals the title character and famous Irish showman, Joe Dolan.

The rest of the show plays out like a miniature concert with Dolan singing for the characters, but also for the audience. Through their enthusiasm, I could tell the latter was very happy to have Dolan crooning his hits.

At this part of the show, I felt guilty for having no idea who Joe Dolan was before signing up to review. In my research prior to heading out to the theatre, I was impressed with Dolan’s long and storied career. In addition, when Hugo Straney hit the stage, dressed entirely in white, I thought for a moment Joe Dolan had been resurrected, as Straney bears an uncanny resemblance to the singer.

The show comes to a close with a bit of a mystical question. In the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, I will point readers to the date the show is set and have you connect the possible dots from there. I did find the conclusion satisfying to both the plot and the characters and I wasn’t left with any questions.

The performance of McGarrett as The Horse deserves special mention. From the moment he first sidles on stage to his last bow, McGarrett is the perfect barfly. His focus is only on getting a drink and keeping to himself, not wanting any trouble. As the story progresses, his legend is revealed to be more fantasy than reality, but this just enhances how well McGarrett plays things with a quiet charm.

Set designer James O’Meara also deserves a note. When I entered the theatre, I felt immediately transported into the pub setting with special touches such as the soccer jersey and Ireland scarf helping to make the set even more realistic.

Overall, The Toronto Irish Players’ The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down plays out with a comforting charm. I was fully engaged throughout the show. It’s dramatic, comedic, and musical aspects work together well to give a full story and a fun night out.


  • The Night Joe Dolan’s Car Broke Down is playing until March 4th, 2017 at the Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley St.)
  • Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, with a matinee on February 19th at 2pm
  • Ticket prices are $25, $22 for seniors and students, and can be purchased online or through the box office at (416) 364-4170

Photo of Stephen Flett, Hugo Straney, and Ian McGarrett by Bruce Peters.