'Concert' ends on a high note

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:23 PM ET

The Concert is an uneasy mix of humour, politics and history until it gets to the musical event of the title -- and then it's spectacular. It's amazing how much is forgiven after just a few minutes of Tchaikovsky.

Full of lowbrow jokes about past comrades and current trillionaires in Russia, The Concert stars Alexei Guskov as the brilliant Andrei Filipov, the man who once conducted the famed Bolshoi Orchestra. Andrei tumbled from grace 30 years ago when the Communist Party instructed him to fire any Jewish musicians in the orchestra, including his best friend Sasha (Dmitri Nazarov), and he refused to do so. Now he works as a janitor.

Andrei happens to intercept a fax while he's cleaning the offices of the Bolshoi Orchestra. It's an invitation from the Chatelet Theater in Paris, asking the Bolshoi to play there in two weeks time. Andrei decides to round up all his old musicians, get them to pretend they are the current Bolshoi, and take the gig in Paris. After 30 years, his pack of musicians are a sad lot, reduced to working mundane jobs at flea markets and cab stands. None of them has stopped playing music, however, and all of them jump at the chance to go to Paris.

Making that trip is a complicated skit about travel papers, purloined suits and instruments and the usual nonsense about skirting bureaucracy. Once in France, the musicians scatter all over Paris to soak up new experiences, further adding to the general chaos.

Andrei, meanwhile, continues to obsess about the upcoming concert. The orchestra -- if they ever turn up again -- will play Tchaikovsky. Filipov has insisted upon a young French violinist (Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds) to be the soloist, and it slowly unfolds that he and the young woman share some mysterious history. This dramatic turn is accompanied by ongoing stereotype jokes about everybody in the story -- Jews, Gypsies, Russians and the French; it's too childish and silly to be offensive, and it keeps the action fairly lively.

None of it works perfectly, however. And the drama and the comedy often don't fit together, but The Concert is so endlessly good-natured that you keep watching regardless. There's plenty of effort being made to win your laughs and tears all the way to the concert, and once the music begins, it is truly transporting.

One of the funniest things in The Concert is the way the Russian musicians speak French; this farce is in Russian and French, with subtitles.

In Toronto, The Concert is at the Cumberland Theatre.

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The Concert
Director: Radu Mihaileanu
Stars: Alexei Guskov, Dmitri Nazarov, Melanie Laurent
Time: 2 hours
QMI Agency rating: 3/5

liz.braun@sunmedia.ca


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