Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know will appeal to anyone who has ventured beyond their borders in search of rest, self or temptation. But with more than a dozen credited writers, a few ad libs, and spotty Canadianization (“Tango, Jazz and Zippidy do dah”) this engaging musical revue needs to lose some of its own luggage to ensure a three-point landing.
The four-member cast is eager to please and, much to the delight of the opening-night crowd, collectively serves up the material with sparkle and panache.
Musical director/pianist Roger Perkins oversees the entire production from an upstage perch where his electronic keyboards are effectively masked by a Titanic-like prow, complete with regulation lights. His nimble fingers making child’s play of the nearly non-stop score allow him (at the drop of a sombrero, beret or wig) to add his own vocal contributions to the merry proceedings. He is flanked on either side by set designer Stewart Simpson’s pastel map of the world, whose many doors hold the promise of Rowan & Martin peek-a-boo jokes, but are equally effective as drop-down lyric enhancements.
Act I moves from strength to strength, showing off the ensemble’s considerable skills and allowing each of its members to demonstrate their versatility. As usual, director/choreographer Di Nyland Proctor keeps her charges on their toes and manages the numerous scene changes with an ease that never lets the overall pace falter.
Tory Doctor, in his Port Mansion début, is a welcome addition to the roster. He wastes no time showing his all, gamely singing the first solo number (“Naked in Pittsburgh”) sporting only a towel. Flirting and teasing like a Moulin Rouge veteran, his highly anticipated dénouement was proof positive that this talented newcomer is more than just a pretty face.
Later in the set, Doctor was equally convincing as the dotty senior in the troupe’s hilarious cruise ship send-up: “Buffet.” Here, his facial expressions (clearly a George Burns devotee) were spot on and more than enough to overcome the near-tiresome bathroom references.
Whether tap dancing in tights or playing everyone else’s bratty kid, Denise Oucharek’s comedic sense and style kept the audience in stitches and her colleagues trying to keep up. Her duet with Doctor (“Private Wives”) is the direct result of one of the “Secrets” (“never book your next honeymoon from the same travel agent”) where the previously divorced couple is inadvertently reunited on their respective wedding nights. She’s on husband No. 3, he’s on No. 1. Great chance for a same-sex marriage joke but we had to settle for one stereotype “Glad to see you’re taking it well.” Seems everyone missed Doctor’s set-up joke (“I’ve been around the world”).
A brilliant showstopper is “The French Song” when Edda Gburek’s guttural torch wailer is translated into English and full-body sign language by Oucharek: comedy at its best.
Gburek is another versatile performer, equally at home as a Chiquita banana in search of ravishment or as a crusty mid-west farmer (“See America First”).
The off-stage running gags (Miracle Air call-centre roulette; “Captain’s announcements”) serve as little more than catch-your-breath glue. One of them (“Air India, Captain speaking: No meal for those in economy, but feel free to take your rice bowls to first class and beg.”) drew no laughs and should be scrapped. The world is a far different place than 1997 when many of these lines were penned.
Much of Act II could benefit from a major reworking. Despite stellar attempts from the ensemble (particularly Fred Love whose matinée idol good looks and smooth dancing style were most impressive), the Hollywood agent turned travel sales associate number falls flat and should be left in the wings.
“Salzburg” suffers from a different problem. It’s fine to make fun of classical music, but much safer to pick on composers like Wagner or Bruckner whose music can go on to “heavenly lengths.” To choose Mozart, chopping off two years of his life and having him write “Toccatas” (er, that would be Bach) just for the sake of a cheap rhyme is ludicrous. But his melodic genius still had the last laugh as the snippet heard from The Magic Flute was the most recognizable tune of the entire evening.
Nevertheless, Doctor’s rendition of “Paradise Found” complete with an Uzbekistan accent (singing the praises of “Yak tartar”) was memorable for its zaniness and a necessary foil to the poor-taste Uganda wheelchair and “small and yellow” (jaundice not Asian) “jokes.”
“Secrets” is a worthwhile trip whose zany guides are sure to delight those who come along for their madcap tour. JWR