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Spoon River

From 19 critic and 88 member reviews
Members say: Great singing, Entertaining, Clever, Great staging, Delightful

About the show

Canada's Soulpepper Theatre Company presents a musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters' 'Spoon River Anthology.' More…

'Spoon River' is an immersive, life-affirming graveyard musical. In a suspended moment during the burial of one who died too young, the dead come forth and share the unfiltered truth of their small-town existence. 'Spoon River' was named Best Musical by both the Dora Awards (Canada's Tonys) and the Toronto Critics Association. Part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Street festival.


"One of the most memorable and transformative theatrical moments I have experienced in live theater. Indeed, from start to glorious finish this production is truly what the best of live theater is about...This incredible production holds many beautiful truths. They begin and end in artistic genius; with the unified elements of brilliant music, the sterling voices of the talented, superb actors, the musicianship of cast members, the enlightened adaptation by Schultz of Edgar Lee Masters’ work." Full Review

Diandra Reviews it All

"An inclusive, but lavish display of what theatre is about; both reflecting and inspiring humanity...'The Graves,' 'Couples,' and 'Soul Alive' are just a few of the gorgeous, roaring tracks that ignite audience’s imaginations...The cast of 'Spoon River' is absolutely exceptional. Each person shines in voice and talent...I cannot describe the sentimentality of this musical, and how it has become one of the best shows to see in New York." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"In this version of 'Spoon River Anthology,' those souls are brought back to life in a sizzling thrill ride that packs quite a punch...It’s a brilliant piece of theater–the kind you might one day look back on and remember as one of the best things you ever saw. Soulpepper’s production is the perfect storm of elements yielding a theatrical ne plus ultra...The cast is a wonderment. All (or nearly so) are multi-instrumentalists who sing well, move well, emote brilliantly and make astounding music." Full Review

New York Arts

"I detest most musicals, but this one I loved. The music was genuine and of high quality...Clearly the composer is fully at home in setting Masters’ irregular free verse...The various members of the cast showed what splendid, resourceful, gutsy actors and singers they are, as they led us to some very dark places...This was a richly entertaining, deeply moving celebration of life...One cannot sufficiently praise the consistently brilliant and committed cast and all participants." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"This adaptation is top-notch, honoring the original poems of Edgar Lee Masters yet giving them a freshness and vitality that reverberates with authenticity and reflects the mid-World War I fears of mortality and survival. Albert Schultz’s staging is strong and exceptional and Mike Ross’s music is emotionally rich, passionate, and often mesmerizing. The ensemble cast seems to welcome the music into the depth of their sinews and delivers the songs with riveting and polished performances." Full Review


"This exhilarating, 95-minute musical features 19 top-flight actor-musicians, including the versatile Ross...Much of the score of 'Spoon River' has a classic country sound...All of it is appealing and much of it beautiful...Ross, Schultz, and the Spoon River company have transformed Masters' morose masterpiece into a gift of joy for New York. Let's hope the Soulpepper crew will plant their maple leaf flag in the Big Apple on a frequent basis." Full Review

The New York Times

"A kind of all-souls hootenanny...'Spoon River' is a feel-good show, a memento mori only in that it encourages its audiences to gather their rosebuds while they may. What’s most impressive here is the diversity of Mr. Ross’s songs and Mr. Schultz’s staging, and the ingenuity with which they match character to melody and stance...The production is a shade overstuffed and repetitive...Still, there’s a winning generosity in having these alternatives." Full Review

New York Theater

"A lively, joyful musical adaptation...Much of what Ross has composed is what used to be called hillbilly music, but that doesn’t do justice to the range of genres and the depth of talent that put them over...There is humor lurking in the grim tales and sad regrets voiced by individual characters...If the pile-on of graveyard observers starts to feel too rich, and the songs too repetitive, what will surely remain a fond memory after theatergoers depart are the rompin’, stompin’ hootenannies." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Composer Mike Ross has set several of Masters’s poems to rollicking, foot-stomping tunes...Adapters Albert Schultz (who also directs) and Ross have selected a sweet bouquet from the anthology’s 244 poems...In a universally strong cast, a few performers match their material so perfectly it’s nearly painful...Still, the most powerful moments are the massed ones, when the company fills the stage. The volume alone of so many people in so small a space is thrilling." Full Review


"A mash-up of tone poem and folk opera...Although there’s almost no interaction among the singing corpses, a portrait – complex, rich and varied as life – does emerge. Credit for this goes not only to the ingenious staging but to an exceptionally talented roster of actors, at once united and varied. That’s perhaps the most salient element on display in this Soulpepper bonanza: a unity of purpose and commitment from artists who have grown together." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"A stellar and talented group of actors are there singing and saying what they need to say...It’s a show about death and dying, but you’d never know by the liveliness and exuberance the music and the cast give off. There are too many wonderful moments and songs to even try to categorize...The whole piece just has such tremendous fun with death, that one can’t help but celebrate along with them the great gift of life...A joyous ninety minutes." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"All of the stories are set to Ross's mostly foot-stomping, toe-tapping lively score, filled with the sounds of American folk music, Appalachian bluegrass, New Orleans funeral parades, and gospel. The uniformly strong cast not only sing and tell their stories but also perform splendidly on fiddles, banjos, mandolins, guitars, bass, and rhythm instruments. All in all 'Spoon River' is a joyful and fitting production." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

1"While each segment is engaging and the individual stories never fail to fascinate, the abundance of characters becomes overwhelming...It doesn’t introduce a traceable plotline, As a result, while satisfying as a visual and auditory experience, it doesn’t make a lasting impression...The musical arrangements are masterfully crafted...It’s a feast for the ears...The genius set and lighting design also add dimension to the piece. I was hoping for focus, or a point of view." Full Review


for a previous production "A celebration of the power of theatre, the joy of performing and the sublime art of collaboration...The way that Mike Ross’s music reaches inside our spirits and takes us to a dozen different places is an act of sheer theatrical legerdemain...Every last member of the company is brilliant...You will be hard-pressed not to levitate from your seat with sheer emotion....'Spoon River' is a once-in-a-lifetime show. See it, hear it, celebrate it." Full Review

On Stage Blog

for a previous production "Vocally thrilling, this current production captivates our hearts and emotions and soars through the rafters with impeccably controlled precision and timing...I do have a slight quibble with the text, nevertheless, as these numerous glimpses and brief looks into the backstories become a jumble in trying to make connections to the characters. It is only a minute quibble as the musical score paints an emotional landscape through song...There is a state of grace in each performance." Full Review

National Post

for a previous production "Masters’ poems are substantial enough to work dramatically, yet simple enough to be understood when sung or spoken rather than read. It’s a further strength that many of them are spoken; Ross’s musical settings are brilliant, and stylistically varied, but they’re all the more effective for not being continuous...If one of the functions of an adaptation is to send you back to the original — well, this one did that for me, and what I found was richer than I’d remembered." Full Review

Now Toronto

for a previous production "While not every number succeeds, you’ll lose count of the many magical moments...Ross’s music—a blend of reels, slow waltzes, honky-tonk numbers and ebullient toe-tapping dance songs, played and sung by the large company—is a treat, too. The design is wonderfully atmospheric, Ken MacKenzie’s moonlit space of trees and rounded steps allowing the characters, in Erika Connor’s period costumes, to flow smoothly in and out of the action." Full Review

Mooney On Theatre

for a previous production "By and large, I really enjoyed the music for this show...The actors sing with a bit of a rasp and a country twang. The music is much grittier than what you’re used to hearing in the theatre and it feels all the more earnest for it...I do feel that ‘Spoon River’ loses out a bit by not having much of an arc. The show went by very quickly...I liked watching it and would recommend it. But it’s a shame that to me this was a great show that falls short of being truly exceptional." Full Review

The Globe and Mail

for a previous production "Schultz has marshalled a number of memorable images with a few versatile set pieces...While it’s wonderful to have such a large cast on stage, Schultz is better at showing us the trees than the forest—and the larger numbers sometimes feel like poetry in commotion...My consistent quibble with Ross’s overall project is that poems are not lyrics—and no matter how sensitive his settings, the words sometimes jar with the music...‘Spoon River’ works, nevertheless; it’s even magical." Full Review

Clever, Great singing, Great staging, Great writing, Must see

See it if One of the best original performances.. a real treat.

Don't see it if You are a boring person

Heartfelt, Uplifting, Multi-talented musicians, Fast-paced, Life-affirming

See it if you're open to performances that are different from most theatre--especially if you like traditional folk/country/americana music

Don't see it if you insist on a story with a plot and well-developed characters--this show consists of vignettes of many different small-town characters.

Also So what's the point, if there are no characters wending their way thro... Read more Read less

Refreshing, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Masterful, Intimate

See it if you seek brilliantly integrated music, design, and acting focused on storytelling. It is non-traditional in the best ways.

Don't see it if You're put off by simple Americana in song or subject. You don't want to deal with the subject of death. You want BIG.

Delightful, Brilliant, Outstanding performances, Tremendous music, Great staging

See it if you love life-affirming and joy-inspiring musicals and time spent in front of gifted musicians and actors

Don't see it if you don't like all manner of stringed instruments and folksy themes.

Great music, Lively, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy quirky, dark, offbeat shows like Ghost Quartet.

Don't see it if You want a linear narrative or don't like folk music.

Also It's basically like a cross between Cold Mountain and the Haunted Mans... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Great singing, Masterful

See it if You appreciate great singing, bluegrass music, talented musicians who sing also & inventive staging & lighting.

Don't see it if Seeing people in coffins upsets you.

Also I enjoyed & appreciated this musical play & couldnt help drawing a com... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Enchanting, Great acting, Delightful, Must see

See it if You enjoy clever staging, excellent acting, and hauntingly beautiful music.

Don't see it if You want a linear narrative. There's the tiniest of through-lines in this vignette musical.

Entertaining, Funny, Great acting, Great singing, stagin,, Creative

See it if you want to see a soulful, energetic musical with spirits coming back to life to share their anecdotal stories ,

Don't see it if you don't believe in the afterlife

Also The whole audience, including myself were magnetized into this show an... Read more Read less

Clever, Profound, Great writing, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy innovative interpretations of classic works, enjoy laughing and being emotionally moved within the same produciton

Don't see it if you don't like repetitious music,

Entertaining, Clever, Great staging, Refreshing, Intelligent

See it if you want to see the talented Canadian Soulpepper musical entourage in an original uplifting story about love, loss, community and death.

Don't see it if you don't like originality or a thought provoking storyline

Great acting, Entertaining, Enchanting, Delightful, Funny

See it if you enjoy great singing and acting

Don't see it if you do not like musicals

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging, Refreshing

See it if You like a mix of folk, Appalachia, gospel, and rhythmic, stage-shaking percussion.

Don't see it if If you don’t like poetry. The script is based on poems so the “dialogue” sounds more affected than in a naturalistic play.

Also If you liked O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the musical mix, aesthetic, a... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Enchanting, Resonant, Intelligent

See it if You want to see poignant character studies interspersed with foot stomping music

Don't see it if You insist on traditional linear plots

Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Refreshing, Masterful

See it if You enjoy story telling in small clever vignettes. The songs are soulful and beautiful. This is an enjoyable evening out.

Don't see it if You want a full out Broadway musical. This was quiet and moving.

Also Soulpepper has delighted me with its multi-talented performers and uni... Read more Read less

Clever, Enchanting, Entertaining

See it if You enjoy a brilliant interpretation of a famous novel

Don't see it if If you'd rather read it than see it

Inventive, Rousing, Ambitious, Enchanting, Great singing

See it if you are a fan of Masters's poems. This production adds a delicious score and stellar performances. Amazing choral work. Viva Soulpepper!!

Don't see it if you don't like musicals or inventive theatre. You can't deal with vignettes or a linear story

Also I have enjoyed Soulpepper's productions this summer—with a few more to... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Funny, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you love great music, fun story telling but without a great deal of narrative

Don't see it if you want your musicals big, sweeping, and with one solid narrative.

Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining, Marvelous music,

See it if you liked Come From Away. This show is a great a new-take on a traditional piece. The very talented SoulPepper group has created (more)

Don't see it if you're not in the mood for something new in theater.

Also an incredibly entertaining event. Alana Bridgewater and Jackie Richard... Read more Read less

Great acting, Great direction, Loved it!, Masterful, Absorbing

See it if you want a great production of a classic show. The immersive entrance to the theater was fun & set the mood. I loved it all.

Don't see it if you want something light and fluffy. It's very entertaining with a talented ensemble cast.

Awaking the dead with toe tapping music!

See it if You like Spoon River or Our Town; enjoy bluegrass music; like quirky shows with excellent acting by large casts of unknown actors

Don't see it if You prefer typical shows or are uncomfortable with the subject of death

Ambitious, Intense, Great singing, Resonant

See it if you enjoy bluegrass music, outstanding singers, and a complex, moving story about life and death.

Don't see it if you're looking for a big, showy musical. This show has heart but you need to look past the imperfections to truly appreciate it.

Great singing, Must see, Thought-provoking, Clever

See it if You like great singing, lively music, with good very short stories.

Don't see it if You don't appreciate good music.

Profound, Absorbing, Delightful, Riveting

See it if you need to be inspired again, it is life affirming and spiritually satisfying, uplifting and soulful.

Don't see it if you are just lost a loved one and feeling traumatized by the event.

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Great singing, Great staging

See it if a musical that takes place in a graveyard & is a series of vignettes where those buried there sing or talk about their previous lives

Don't see it if you need a narrative, don't want actors playing multiple roles including playing instruments, don't want a musical staged in a graveyard

Also It is life-affirming despite its setting. That is one of its similarit... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Enchanting, Great singing, Great staging, Profound

See it if You enjoy bluegrass-style musical interludes interspersed with stories, and enjoy being transported. It's a period piece, early 20th century

Don't see it if You prefer a linear storyline and full character arcs. This is anecdotal, and characters are introduced but not connected, vignette-style.

Cast & Creatives (28)