Onegin: A timeless Russian tale comes to the Sid

Stage musical by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre in Courtenay Feb. 13

Mark Allan

Special to the Record

From Russia with love, and a host of other powerful emotions, the durable saga of Eugene Onegin is coming to the Sid Williams Theatre.

First an epic poem by Alexander Pushkin in the early 1800s, then a Tchaikovsky opera with ballet in 1879, Onegin resurfaced in 1999 as a British-American film.

The latest version, a stage musical by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre, will be performed Feb. 13 at the Sid.

Onegin (pronounced on-YAY-gin) is “easily the most popular thing I’ve ever done,” Veda Hille states in a telephone interview. “It’s a surprisingly good time,” adds the Vancouver musician, who created the book, music, and lyrics with collaborator Amiel Gladstone.

“It’s a Russian tragedy but you’ll have a good time as well. Come see it,” urges Hille.

The timeless tale begins when Onegin visits the Larin family estate and the handsome rogue stirs long-forgotten passions among its residents. Jealousy and anger are just two of the powerful emotions that flare up.

“The Russians are so exquisite,” Hille states. “Their stories last so well.”

What is it about Pushkin’s story that drives remakes in various forms almost 200 years after the original?

“I think the Russian literature, in general, is astounding in its ability to cross the boundaries of time and culture,” she replies. “All those Russian novels – you feel you know those people. There’s something very unusual in that.” Onegin itself is experiencing somewhat of a “heyday,” she continues. “I don’t know if it’s my bias, but it seems to be everywhere.”

She and Gladstone loved the 1999 film, which Hille explains delved into the hidden emotions that explained, for example, why one of the characters became enraged when Onegin dances with his fiancée.

To help the characters’ reactions make sense to audiences removed from the original by thousands of miles and almost two centuries, “We tried to bring out the things we learned from watching the film in the setting of a two-hour musical.”

Ah, yes, the music.

A live band containing piano, drums and cello is augmented by the musically gifted cast in what could be loosely called a rock musical.

Although Tchaikovsky is referenced, Hille says classical is just one of the musical influences along with Russian folk music, indie rock and other genres.

Hille herself is by now a theatre veteran, although she’s still true to her roots.

“I still make records and tour,” Hille says. She doesn’t tour as much, partially because she has a nine-year-old son. Hille estimates she’s doing 65 to 70 cent theatre work compared to just music.

Onegin, a production by the Arts Club Theatre Company, has won 10 Jessie Awards, which recognize achievement in professional theatre in Vancouver.

The Arts Club Theatre Company is Canada’s largest not-for-profit urban theatre company. In its 53rd season, the Arts Club offers professional live theatre at three Vancouver venues, as well as on tour throughout B.C.

The Sid Williams Theatre Society presents Arts Club Theatre’s Onegin on Feb. 13 at the Sid Williams Theatre in Courtenay. The 2017–2018 Blue Circle Series is proudly presented by Acheson Law. For concert details and tickets, visit sidwilliamstheatre.com, phone 250-338-2430 or visit 442 Cliffe Ave.

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