Coal Mine Theatre’s DION: A Rock Opera An Exhilarating Experience

Cast of Coal Mine Theatre Dion A Rock Opera photo by Dahlia Katz-1484
Cast of Coal Mine Theatre Dion A Rock Opera photo by Dahlia Katz-1484

The world premiere of DION: A Rock Opera based on Euripides’ The Bacchae opened at Coal Mine Theatre on February 8, 2024. Co-created by Coal Mine Theatre co-founder Ted Dykstra and Prince Edward Island poet and novelist, Steven Mayoff, DION: A Rock Opera is directed by Peter Hinton-Davis with musical direction by Come From Away’s Bob Foster.

In this modern re-imagining of The Bacchae, Pentheus, the conservative leader of Thebes, returns from a trip to learn that many of his citizens have followed his cousin, the Demi-God Dion, to the forest. Just like today’s rock stars, Dion has his groupies: The Bacchants, made up of women and those who feel disenfranchised. In the forest, they can explore their sexuality in an environment of unrestricted morals.

Cast of Coal Mine Theatre Dion A Rock Opera photo by Dahlia Katz-1484
Cast of Coal Mine Theatre Dion A Rock Opera photo by Dahlia Katz-1484

Dion’s backstory is tragic: His father is Zeus and his mother, who was murdered, was Semele (Pentheus’s aunt). Pentheus spreads the rumour that Semele was not Dion’s mother, and she made the claim only to conceal her wanton nature. Wanting to restore his mother’s good name, Dion sets out for revenge, which introduces the play’s central theme: When unchecked emotion drives humanity to reckless action, all hell breaks loose.

Scott Penner’s narrow set runs lengthwise down the room with audience seating on both sides. This arrangement allows for an extremely intimate performance, as well as a completely engulfing experience of the glorious music.

The stunning score features several notable standouts including “Stop,” a ballad duet featuring Cadmus and Agave, that showcases Allan Louis’s and Carly Street’s powerful voices to full advantage. Street particularly reveals Agave’s vulnerability in the heartfelt lyrics to her father.

Jacob MacInnis as Dion has a powerhouse of a voice. In “Nemesis,” he showcases his easy comfort in the upper octaves.

“Closer To Heaven” is a fun and sensual number in which Dion and the Chorus encourage Pentheus to dress as a woman and act provocatively.

“Something To Hold On To” is another exquisite ballad with beautiful harmony delivered by Louis and SATE as Tiresias. The duo also deliver an equally powerful performance in “The Sins,” which underscores Louis’s commanding baritone voice.

Allister MacDonald brings an intense energy to Pentheus, particularly evident in “All Hail Pentheus” and is convincingly trusting and timidly curious in “Closer To Heaven”.

Foster wisely gives this chorus (Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forsberg, and Kelsey Verzotti) the freedom to step out of the shadows as they encompass a larger role than usual, both vocally and on stage. This expanded role requires strong individual voices and each of the chorus members delivers. The chorus prances up and down the stage, particularly in the numbers “EVOE 1” and “Represent”, executing the dynamic choreography by Kiera Sangster.

“The Great Reclaiming” is a soulful number that SATE knocks out of the park with her five star performance. She also delivers a very controlled performance of the opening number, “The Word is Evoe”.

Penner’s special effects were exceptional, particularly the use of versatile balloons, which evoke a celebratory mood and later, one of violence. His costumes featured unmistakably contemporary styles from graphic-designed jackets and metallic fabrics to crop tops and running shoes.

Never mind if you are not familiar with the backstory of The Bacchae. With present-day themes of gender politics, and social upheaval, and memorable songs you will be singing after the performance, DION: A Rock Opera is a dazzling sensory experience that will be enjoyed by all ages.

DION: A Rock Opera at Coal Mine Theatre is being performed until March 3, 2024. Run time is 80 minutes. Coal Mine Theatre is located at 2076 Danforth Avenue. Tickets are $63 – $72 plus HST and $2.50 Box Office fee and can be purchased online or at the Box Office.

Warning: This production uses strobe lights and theatrical haze.

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