Coal Mine Theatre’s production presents DION: A ROCK OPERA

It’s more rare than not to find an original, impressive musical in this city that’s not held under the Mirvish Umbrella, so I was incredibly delighted to find out that no only was the Coal Mine Theatre, a company which in my opinion is  synonymous with the word quality, was presenting the world premiere of DION: A Rock Opera, based on Euripedes’ The Bacchae. This one act, 70 minute musical theatre extravaganza takes the audience on a wild, sexy adventure through the greek tale while never once sacrificing on quality. Given the space of the Coal Mine Theatre (which is not big at all) paired with the limited number of seats and an incredibly strong cast, we as an audience really felt like we were a part of something exclusive, and special. It’s a wonderful feeling when watching a musical. 

The story of DION chronicles Pentheus, the conservative right wing leader of a city-state arriving home from a trip to learn that the people in his kingdom have been following a non-binary and self-proclaimed Demi-God named Dion. They are drinking a “strange brew”, and are seen running through the hills naked in states of ecstasy. The runaways include Pentheus’ mother Agave and his uncle Cadmus. Now, Pentheus and Dion are cousins, but really they are siblings, because they both claim Zeus as a father, but Dion’s mother, was a human. Pentheus takes no claim in his relation to Dion, saying that she was just a “loose woman”, slandering her name. Dion wants revenge. For their plan to work, they allow themselves to be captured and brought to Pentheus in chains. “What ensues is this leader being seduced into dressing up as a woman and going to the hills to see for himself, where he meets his end…”

First, let’s talk about the set. A red “tile” runway, two red walls, and red beams covering the lights created an almost frame-like appearance, perhaps to honour and tribute the artform of the tableau, where actors would create a scene from a play or re-create a famous piece of art holding a pose for a period of time. Except, in our case, no one was going to remain still. 

The lighting designer for the show, Bonnie Beecher, did a STELLAR job, using LED light rods and stage lighting to create many intricate scenes and moments. The lighting was a star of the show alongside the performers. On that note, I must begin this section by praising the corus: Max Borowski, Saccha Dennis, Kaden Forsberg, Kelsey Verzotti. In such an intimate space, it’s easy to pick up on vocal mistakes, but I couldn’t hear even one. They were all incredibly stong singers, their harmonies were exceptional, they danced incredibly, and barely ever left the stage. They are aboloute all-stars and I 100% tip my hat to them. 

The rest of the cast, Allan Louis (Camdus), Allister MacDonald (Pentheus), Jacob MacInnis (Dion), SATE (Tiresias), and Carly Street (Agave) all also did a phenomenal job in making their characters come alive, and they all made their characters individual moments really special. Jacob MacInnis was AMAZING, a delight for the eyes and the ears, while Allister MacDonald made the switch from a hardened, conservative head of state, to a very soft and sensual being effectively (though I wish they added more dynamics to Pentheus when he was an angry ruler. At times, he felt a little one note, but that changed with the presentation of his second “half”. 

The band, and the musical directing was also really quite excellent. Balancing all that sound in such a small space is an incredible feat. 

Now, you’re probably reading this thinking I’m going to give it tens across the board, but unfortunately I did have my fair share of issues with the production. A good friend of mine, and former Dora judge, advised me that when I go into a show, I should do my best NOT to read the program because the piece should be able to stand without the aid of additional printed words. Boy did I wish I read the program. The playwright made a bit of a fatal error in creating this piece: assuming the audience will know the story coming into it. I do not know this story coming into the theatre, and it left me feeling confused with the plot. There were a few moments where I caught myself asking, “what was the point of this?”, and unfortunately the show which is entirely sung didn’t tell me enough for me fully know what was happening. I found myself comparing this production to Hadestown which stopped in Toronto several months ago. I also didn’t know the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the lyrics were able to drive the narrative to the audience along in a way that didn’t make us feel bad for not knowing the story. 

Second, throughout the show, a word “Evoe” is repeated throughout the musical…a lot. So much so that it drowned out the words of other songs. Early in the show we are told, in very vague terms, what the word means. It means so many things and has so many emotions associated with it that it basically meant everything and anything. So now, you have the cast singing, “Evoe, evoe, evoe, evoe” over, and over again that it starts to lose its punch. But not understanding what the word means to begin with makes it challenging. 

Finally, at the end of the show, after (SPOILER ALERT) Pentheus’ head is chopped off, Dion sings a song with the ensemble called Moment to moment. MacInnis did a wonderful job in singing the song, but again, I struggled to figure out “why this song in this moment”? Dion has got their revenge, and is singing a beautiful, koombaya style song as a takeaway for us as the audience. Great song, but I really didn’t get it. 

That all being said, this is a production worth seeing (just read the centre-fold first) because we as theatre goers SHOULD support new, local musicals along-side the plays we love to see. It’s not everyday a non-mirvish production gets to have such an all-star cast sing, and dance so effortlessly, and throughout the 70 minute piece, I was thoroughly impressed.  

DION: A ROCK OPERA is on stage at the COAL MINE THEATRE February 4th – March 3rd, 2024

 Tickets are available now at 

[Review by Shan Fernando]