Summa Cum Laude!

Four Years. An Original Musical

Written and directed by Ann Lambert


Claudia Bouliane


Full disclosure: I am not a Broadway enthusiast, I know next to nothing about musicals, and I have not even seen Cats or Rent. So, I must admit that last Friday night, after a very busy week, I dreaded having to go out again in the cold to attend, of all things, a three-hour-long musical created and performed by students of the Drama Department at the University of Ottawa. As a Faculty of Arts professor, I am always curious about the artistic achievements of students, but there’s a difference between reading a post in passing about an alumna’s successes as a playwright and committing to sit in front of a performance for 180 minutes. That’s quite the ordeal! 180 minutes! Come to think of it, that’s about the length of the classes I teachÉ

Well, maybe I should break out singing more often, because that makes for a wonderful moment, at least when done as passionately and as proficiently as Four Years’ cast. The two-act play, written and directed by the already very professional Ann Lambert as part of the Unity for Action productions, presents four characters, each in a different stage of an undergraduate program, all respectively struggling to find their way in life. Given that the plot was constructed out of the diverse stereotypes of the lonely freshman desperate to make friends, the straight A sophomore led by ambition, the scrappy junior juggling two jobs, and the nostalgic senior now facing big life decisions, the narrative could have easily been a series of clichéd scenes. But the dialogues sounded genuine, and they were interpreted very naturally by the cast, with just enough theatrical emphasis for the subtle movements and reactions to catch the eyes of spectators in the last row. Kaia Bater, as Callie the junior, had notable scenes with Connor Overton, who played her coworker with whom a more-than-friends relationship was blossoming. Tegan Stassen was believable as the ill-at-ease Abby, shy as any newcomer can be but willing to adjust to her social surroundings.

That being said, the voices would certainly have benefited from such an amplification. At the beginning of the first act, I wondered whether I was going hard of hearing as I had to make efforts to get all the words. The actors got more confident as the show progressed, and I did not miss many of their lines in the second act. Things were similar with respect to the songs, which were lyrical adaptations of famous pop hits (some as antiquated as “You Learn” by the bard of my youth, Alanis Morissette). Some full-hearted notes often made me regret that I could not fully enjoy the singers’ voices, which on occasion were way too low, even if the background music was not that loud. Maybe they were keeping their voices for the big nights; I was attending the dress-rehearsal show. Some performances were nonetheless outstanding, especially those of Claire Donnan, who played Beth, the perfectionist second-year law student. Ms. Donnan will obviously spend her career on prestigious scenes, since she is an overall good performer. Jérémie Poirier, the actor who played Beth’s boyfriend, had nice duets with her; their voices complemented each other. There was also a good duet between Frances Quilty, as Daria (the soon-to-be graduate student), and Katrina Kearney, as Sadie (Daria’s girlfriend). Kaia Bater has a strong voice and could belt out bluesy songs that made the audience rejoice.

The supporting cast was effective in their roles, and group scenes were impressively well executed, with silent acting choreographies (some in comic relief) and interpretive dances (some quite athletic) supplementing the main storylines. All talents were put to work and that gave a dynamic and entertaining musical. I smiled for all three hours!

The cast and audience join together to give Ann Lambert, writer/director, some well deserved applause.
Photo F. Adam Sopuck