Belles Soeurs: The Musical is a very unlikely musical. Based on the play Les Belles-Soeurs by Michel Tremblay, Belles Soeurs introduces the audience to Germaine Lauzon, a working-class housewife in Quebec who has just won a million trading stamps from a department store. The jackpot is so large it would allow Germaine a chance to buy everything in the latest store catalogue. So overcome with pride and joy Germaine invites the neighborhood over for a party where everyone will help paste the stamps into the appropriate booklets for redemption. As Germaine’s neighbors, closest friends and family make their way into her crowded kitchen the jealousy, bitterness and contempt for Germaine’s prize sneaks up rather quickly souring what should be one of Germaine’s happiest days.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical is perhaps the best ensemble the National Arts Centre English Theatre has assembled to date. The cast was simply brilliant and captivating from the very first note until their encore performance. It must have been difficult to write so evenly for such a large cast, especially with such a unique potluck of characters. Astrid Van Wieren as Germaine Lauzon is to die for in this show. The show was truly held together by her energy and talent. Stand out supporting cast include, but is definitely not limited to, Lili Connor as Des-Neiges Verrette, Elise Cormier as Linda Lauzon, Germaine’s daughter, and Genevieve Leclerc, as Pierrette Guerin.
The show holds no punches and isn’t afraid to address any issue, regardless of how taboo it would have been to discuss back in 1965, which is the time period the play is set in, yet it still manages to maintain its relevance for today’s audience, despite using “trading stamps” as their central plot point. The play tackles issues like women’s rights in the 1960’s, religious hypocrisy and abortion while maintaining a central theme around the need for community.
If I had one issue with the show it’s that it was very loud. A lot of the humour in Belles Soeurs: The Musical is around the group of housewives complaining to the point of loud and aggressive arguments around trivial issues or issues that were perhaps more relevant to their situation in the mid-60’s in Canada. Michel Tremblay truly gave a voice to a voiceless population when he wrote this play, but that voice included a lot of screaming and shouting to the point of incomprehension and a headache.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical is not the happiest of musicals, but it tries to stay cutting and fun, especially by throwing in a random ode to Bingo, which is perhaps one of the best pieces of the entire musical. Despite its lack of joy, and let’s face it, not every musical makes you leave feeling elated, it is still a well thought out and a finely produced show with some of the most talented voices in Canadian showbiz. If this wrap-up to the 2015/16 English Theatre Season is any indication of the level of shows that the NAC will be bringing in for their 2016/17 Season I would seriously consider buying a subscription sooner rather than later.
Belles Soeurs: The Musical runs at The National Arts Centre English Theatre until May 14, 2016. Get your tickets, or more information about the play, here.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to know what you think. What did you think of the cast? What was your favourite number in the musical? Do you feel that the content of the original show holds up 50 years later? Join the discussion in the comments below.