This past year, Theatre Erindale celebrated its 20th anniversary season with the theme “The Power of Performance”. And the final play in their lineup, Stage Door, feels like the perfect ending to the season.
Stage Door is set in 1930s New York, and it follows the lives of several young aspiring actresses. It tracks their comings and goings in the “Footlights Club”, the boarding house in which they live. They chase down Broadway roles, try to make it to Hollywood, form friendships and relationships, and deal with the very real possibility that their dreams might come to an unfortunate end. Stage Door is simultaneously funny, touching, and hopeful, and it’s also a strong finish to a great season from Theatre Erindale.
The main character in the ensemble cast is Terry Randall (played by Hannah Drew), a feisty actress whose love for the stage is testes by her lack of roles. She befriends a mysterious newcomer to the Footlights Club, Kaye (Hailey Gillis), and also forms a relationship with an aspiring playwright, Keith (Fraser Woodside). At the same time, she and her friend Jean (Amelia Kurtz) are courted by Hollywood, and Terry must decide whether it’s worth ignoring her love of live theatre for the allures of the silver screen.
Stage Door, despite being set in 1936, still feels relevant in many ways. Many of the experiences of the characters feel timeless, and the humour and charm of the play is surprisingly modern. The crew, directed by Heinar Piller, do a great job of capturing the time period through set design, costumes, and hairstyles. Lighting is also used effectively to set the moods and to highlight different characters at various moments. While Stage Door is very long and doesn’t follow a traditional narrative arc, there was enough human interest in the play’s characters to hold my interest. Even the minor characters are distinct and entertaining. This is the largest cast Theatre Erindale has ever had, yet Stage Door never feels crowded.
In terms of standout performances, Hailey Gillis brings an understated maturity to her role as Kaye, a woman with a mysterious past. From her first moments on stage, Gillis makes it clear that Kaye is out of step with the rest of her excitable peers. It’s a quieter performance, but Gillis brings nuance that makes it memorable. Hannah Drew also effectively conveys Terry’s hunger for the stage, and her friendship with Kaye is one of the most engaging parts of the story.
Lindsay Middleton’s performance as Judith, an outspoken resident of the Footlights Club, is different, but equally good. Judith is a character with a big heart and a razor-sharp sense of humour, and Middleton balances both. Her style of comedy feels very natural, and she provides several of the play’s funniest moments.
Stage Door focusses more on the female characters, but it does also offer some fun roles for the male cast. The men pop up frequently as various suitors and industry professionals, and it sometimes feels like the men are darting in and out of the Footlights Club just as often as the women. Among them is Jake Maric, who plays David Kingsley, a charming Hollywood studio agent many of the women see as the ticket out of obscurity. The character goes in some unexpected directions, and Maric makes the transitions feel seamless and believable.
At various points, Fraser Woodside’s playwright character, Keith, can be genuinely charming or completely insufferable (or, more often, some combination of the two). Woodside portrays both sides very well, one moment giving an impassioned speech that makes you understand why Terry falls for Keith, and the next moment making him so selfish that you wish she hadn’t.
In a lot of ways it’s great to have such a large cast. The Footlights Club feels like the bustling metropolitan respite it’s supposed to be. There is genuine electricity in all of the comings and goings on stage. However, perhaps because of the large cast, there are a few moments in Stage Door that feel a little muddled. In a couple of the scenes where the majority of the cast is on stage, conversations don’t flow quite as smoothly between characters as they should. It can start to feel a bit jumbled. However, these moments are few and far between, and for the most part, the cast and Piller do a good job of making sure that the transitions from one conversation to another are natural.
Stage Door celebrates everything to do with Broadway and live theatre, and it’s clear that the entire cast has a genuine love for it, too. This is a lively, often funny production, and seeing that many cast members will graduate from Theatre Erindale at the end of year, Stage Door is certainly a strong note for them to finish on.
Stage Door runs until March 18 at Theatre Erindale.