Chris Knight: A Heritage Minute disguised as a two-hour movie musical

Chris Knight: A Heritage Minute disguised as a two-hour movie musical
If you’ve ever wondered what a Heritage Minute would look and sound like if stretched to almost two hours, then step right up for Stand!, a movie musical based on the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

Now, before you roll your eyes at the subject matter, recall that musical theatre has told the stories of a game called Chess, a man called Tarzan, and a bunch of Cats – and that’s just the one-word titles. Stand! was first performed on the stage in Winnipeg in 2005 as Strike!, and subsequently travelled as far as Saskatoon and even Edmonton.

It’s a very earnest story, brimming with sympathetic immigrants in a variety of creeds, colours and genders. Central to the plot are the Romeo-and-Juliet pairing of Stefan (Marshall Williams), a Ukrainian Catholic, and Rebecca (Laura Wiggins), a Polish Jew. Also Paul Essiembre as A.J. Anderson, a captain of industry with the ear of the prime minister, and a plan to stop the strike at any cost.

They argue their positions and occasionally even sing them: “Sol-i-dar-i-ty! It’s more than just a call to charity! I call the union hall my where-to-be, for this place is all I care, you see!”

OK, full disclosure; I made up those lines. Here are some real ones: “Ultimatum! Their words verbatim! Debate them! Mistake them, best we not!” It’s a bit over the top, though sometimes also under-the-bottom, as when the characters sing “This Saturday in June,” which is supposed to be a keening lament over a parent’s death, but sounds more like a love ballad.

Williams and Wiggins are bona fide musicians both, and they hit their high notes musically, if not always emotionally. Similarly, the production looks lovely, crammed with period detail and striving to resonate with today’s gig economy: “… a six-month contract is all that we’re offered,” the cast sings in one scene. But the results are, dare I say, laboured.

2 stars

Stand! opens across Canada on Nov. 29.

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