Michael John LaChiusa’s Queen of the Mist tells a captivating story and is a refreshing musical shift away from the mainstream, but this transfer from Pint of Wine Theatre Company runs out of steam a good way before the end.
The life story of Anna Edson Taylor, the first person to go over the Niagra Falls in a barrel and survive, is certainly an unusual choice for the subject of a musical. Then again, why not? If Queen of the Mist, directed by Dom O’Hanlon, is even vaguely faithful to her character, she must have been a remarkable person (or as she puts it, a “phenomenon”). Even a presidential assassination can’t steal her limelight in this transfer at Charing Cross Theatre – and the musical is a refreshing shift away from the mainstream to something more left-field.
Trudi Camilleri admirably plays Taylor – a widow who is forced to leave behind her life as a destitute dance teacher and, with nothing left to lose, decides to “shoot” the Falls in a barrel for fame and fortune. Most consider it a stunt, but she insists that it is an experiment – and in fairness, she did test it first. Her manager Frank Russell (Will Arundell) underestimates her at first but goes along with her plan, not realising how her focus, planning and self-belief would carry her. It’s only later that we understand Taylor’s flaw; she couldn’t “keep the beast fed”. Her struggle to maintain the public’s interest in her meant she died no richer than before her barrel adventure.
It may be a story worth telling but Queen of the Mist runs out of steam a good way before the end. For me, the whole thing starts to drag to a painfully slow pace with essentially nothing happening during the final twenty minutes. It’s not helped either by the music, which is no doubt fitting to a period piece, decently sung and fine to listen to