While some of us write about food, Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical, playing at the Cultch, sings about it with more sass and flamboyance than should be legally allowed. This isn’t a musical you sit back and assess. It’s one you hurtle yourself into, cheer with great gusto, clap along with the music and maybe do a little, or a lot of, chair dancing. Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical is a raucous celebration of love, generosity and Vancouver’s LGBTQ Community.
We start the production with Tim and Tabby from Tennessee who are visiting Vancouver for their anniversary. Tim wants to explore every trail of Stanley Park. Tabatha insists she can’t possibly do that on an empty stomach. This leads them to the doorstep of the iconic Elbow Room Cafe.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the eatery, well, shame on you. It’s legendary. The Elbow Room, owned by Patrice Savoie and Bryan Searle, is the kind of establishment whose success is as much about supporting community initiatives, in this case, A Loving Spoonful, as it is about insulting you while you dig into one of Vancouver’s favourite breakfasts.
Patrice (Patrick) and Bryan have run the Cafe for over thirty years. When Tabby and Tim arrive on their doorstep they are one of several tables of misfits. Joining them are Amanda, her maid of honour, Beth, and her Gay Best Friend Forever, Stephen. Amanda is on the kind of stag night that never ends well, but that doesn’t matter because she’s so loaded, she probably won’t remember much any way. The third table belongs to the story of Jackie and Jill, two lesbians who just can’t seem to call it quits and stay that way.
The stories and characters are all having relationship issues, including Patrick and Bryan, a couple who have found themselves at their own crossroad; what comes next for a couple that have dedicated their lives to the Cafe? Patrice wants to leave it in the hands of employee Nelson while they go cruising, but Bryan considers that a disaster in the making.
The Elbow Room Cafe is known for defying the old adage that the customer is always right, and in the musical that adage is promptly destroyed when wound-up Beth dares to actually utter those words. If Patrice, in real life, would choose choice words to put Beth in her place, you can bet Patrice on stage does the same.
The production plays fast and loose with the lives of all the characters. If I had to single out any of the fabulous performances it would have to be Nathan Kay’s as Stephen and Emma Slip’s as Tabby. Ms Slip plays Tabby with all the big southern bravado you’d hope for and then more. When Tabby belts out the show stopping number, Let a Girl Eat, you want to rally right behind her, protest sign and all. Mr. Kay doesn’t hold back and plays Stephen with the kind of exuberance that makes the character lovable no matter how snarky and self-absorbed he can be.
This is a production filled with references that Vancouverites will recognize and love, from the joke about the trails in Stanley Park, to location references, to Tim’s misguided tourist generalizations about the city. At the heart of it all is the love between Patrice and Bryan; a love they share one egg and one insult at a time. It’s their schtick, and we are all better for it.
Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical is a celebration of a community and the stalwart support of Patrice and Bryan when the LGBTQ Community needed them most. A Loving Spoonful supports individuals with HIV and you will be given the chance to donate to the organization on your way out of the theatre. Donating isn’t just about supporting a wonderful cause; it’s about showing Patrice and Bryan that you stand behind their efforts to make a difference in the lives of others.
Go to Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical prepared for some salty language and some toe tapping tunes. Dare I say it, in the hands of this outstanding ensemble you’ll have a gay ole time.
Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical plays at the York Theatre until March 12. Tickets available here.
Movie Recommendation: Hit the link and watch A LITTLE ELBOW ROOM, a short documentary by Vancouver filmmaker Mavreen David. It gives you a head start in understanding Patrice and Bryan and the special love they share. (The language is salty but the eggs are perfect)