Eight to the Bar
Review by Treva McNally
Back in 1978, the Confederation Centre presented Eight to the Bar at the MacKenzie Theatre for the first time. It was writer Stephen Witkin's first big hit, and he has since gone on to win the Richard Rogers Award for his current musical show on Broadway, The Fabulist. Eight to the Bar was a good show then and now, twenty-five years later, it is still a good show. It is funny and touching, it has great music and a talented cast, and is presented in the relaxed setting of the MacKenzie Theatre-all guaranteed to provide an enjoyable evening.
The cast is particularly strong. Wade Lynch is a veteran Confederation Centre actor who is very effective as Marshall, a man who has been an outsider since his earliest days in school. When he sings "Third Grade, Fourth Seat," your heart goes out to any child who has ever been excluded or bullied. Mike Ross, who was absolutely outstanding in the MacKenzie's earlier production of Fire, gives another strong performance as Ben, a sleazy, wife-cheating salesman who is having difficulty getting his priorities straight. Michelle Truman has completely nailed the character of Shelly, a wealthy New Yorker running away from her marriage, and by sheer strength she manages to stand out in an extremely talented cast. Heidi Ford, who has another big role on Mainstage as Diana Barry, is Honey, a sensitive woman who finds her whole identity in the man with whom she is having a relationship.
The plot is simple-four people are stranded in a snow storm in a bus station on New Year's Eve, and as the evening wears on, they come to know themselves while getting acquainted with each other. The set is clever, particularly the counter where coffee and drinks magically appear. The show is set during a snowstorm, and whenever the door opens and someone "blows in" from the storm, the acting is so convincing that it's hard to believe it's still summer when you go outside after the show.
The music by Joey Miller is particularly well-written. Often songs created specifically for a show are forgettable, but several here could stand on their own. "Hello," "Careless Stranger," and "Next Year" stand out. When the music is well-written, the musicians are talented, and the actors are accomplished, it is the recipe for a great show. Eight to the Bar delivers on all counts.