The Arts Club Theatre Company production of Onegin comes to the Port Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 14. (Photo courtesy David Cooper)

Musical adaptation of classic Russian novel ‘Eugene Onegin’ comes to Port Theatre

Vancouver playwright Amiel Gladstone and musician Veda Hille give 200-year-old story a modern sound

Vancouver playwright Amiel Gladstone and musician Veda Hille like to make musicals out of unusual subject matter.

In the past they wrote an opera about pine trees and in 2013 the duo collaborated with former CBC broadcaster Bill Richardson on Do You Want What I Have Got: A Craigslist Cantata. For their next project they were looking for a “passionate story to sink our teeth into.”

“[Do You Want…] was all about disconnection and people who were sort of trying to find community and a sense of belonging and love and so we were like, ‘OK, so for the next one we want to do something where there’s actual connection and consummation and people looking at love and also one with a real strong sense of story…” Gladstone said.

“So we were thinking big, romantic, and then it became, ‘Well, maybe something Russian.'”

Gladstone had previously served as assistant director for a production of the 1879 Tchaikovsky opera adaptation of Alexander Pushkin’s novel Eugene Onegin, and looking back on its themes of love and betrayal he realized that story had everything they were looking for.

Together, Gladstone and Hille worked to turn a classic of Russian literature into a modern musical that utilizes guitars and drums and takes its cues from contemporary rock and pop.

“Sometimes people are describing it as a rock musical, but if you’re coming expecting real rock, it’s not that. But it does have a real strong beat [and] we’re always wishing we can turn it up louder,” Gladstone said.

He added that the story is just as relevant now as it was when it was originally published nearly 200 years ago.

“All of the stuff that the characters were dealing with, nothing has really changed,” he said.

“The way we fall in and out of love, or the way we choose the wrong person to fall in love with, or the way we later on realize, ‘Oh, I should have gone for that,’ or all those kinds of feelings, none of that has changed and maybe will never change.”

Onegin comes to the Port Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 14 and Gladstone said the musical makes for a suitable Valentine’s Day date.

“It is so romantic and is completely concerned with love and … it forces you to examine your own relationship to love and do you have the love in your life that you want to have and have you made the choices to find that or to embrace that?” he asked.

“And it has this recurring refrain of, ‘Look around, do you see someone worth dying for?’ Because you see these characters who are really trying to live their lives as fully as possible and it forces people to ask that question of themselves.”

WHAT’S ON … Arts Club Theatre Company production of Onegin comes to the Port Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $42 for adults, $38 for members and $12.50 for youth and students. $5 eyeGO passes. Tickets available at Port Theatre box office.

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