The (almost) Perfect Show: All the Things I Hold Most Dear

I have been to so many cabarets in the last few weeks, Kander and Ebb could have written a song about me. So, when Bryce Kulak, who I saw perform at Hugh’s Room, told me that he was doing a show as part of Statler’s Cabaret series on March 22nd, I was excited to go, but wasn’t sure if I would blog about it- since I already expressed how talented he was once before (and I don’t want to start repeating myself!). However, then Bryce did something astute and put together an all-star evening of music entitled “The Big Idea” with special famous guests Patricia Zentilli, Michael Hughes, Colin Maier and Lily Ling.
It is one thing for everyone to showcase their own individual talents (it is fantastic, no doubt!), but when the talent starts to overlap, and songwriters share their songs, and duets and harmonies burst forth, and collaborations emerge, this beautiful, clear picture of our vibrant, pulsing, community teeming with brilliance, goodness and modest touches of genius, floats above my head like a guiding star. At one point during the show, Bryce said that Statler’s is a gem, a little piece of New York, in Toronto, and that despite the economy, the talent here in Toronto right now is staggering and exhilarating. I couldn’t agree more, and with the “big ticket” shows dominating Broadway right now, it seems like the time is ripe for us to embrace the potential our city offers artists and the potential that Toronto has to someday become a world leader in the creation of beautiful, dynamic, artful, soulful theatrical endeavors. We sure as hell have the talent, and the potential here is so electrifying it continually pulsates excitedly in my veins as I type faster than I can think. The world is ours. We can do anything. I am all faith and pride.
One of my favourite things about Bryce Kulak is that although he writes beautiful, tender, playful, breathtaking songs, and plays the piano and sings like a dream, he also knows how to put on a great show. He tells funny true stories (mostly about strangers in Edmonton who will never know their own infamy), he always has a witty quip, accompanied by a sincere grin, and he’s big with the innuendo. He began the evening with “Tin Can Telephone” (his voice is like homemade chocolate pudding), sang “Letters From Sadie” (watch his hands, if you can, in this one, it’s mesmerizing) “Old Buildings” and “Ballad of the Orphan Sock” before inviting Lily Ling (I keep waiting for one of her bounces to send her afloat into the air) to accompany him while he introduced us all to some songs that I can guarantee no one had ever heard before. The highlight was “The Drum Major,” a song from 1907 that Kulak performed jauntily to hysterical perfection.
One of my other favourite things about Bryce Kulak is his deep affinity with the world around him. He sees things like buildings, and socks, and tin cans, and he knows how to make us empathize so strongly with them. He sees the loveliness and the poetry in things. He will also go out and find music hall songs that no one has heard since 1914- he will find the delight in them and share them with you.
We were then treated to a beautiful interlude of classical music, the gorgeous Rachmaninoff Vocalise, by Lily Ling and Colin Maier (who can play every instrument in the world, and act, and sing, and he’s an acrobat- it’s incredible). The talent in the room at Statler’s was overwhelming by its sheer volume, but even more incredible was the range of it. I was so excited that “The Big Idea” was able to showcase so many different facets of performers and music. At times there was so much going on, I didn’t know where to look or who to applaud for.
The ever-dazzling Patricia Zentilli, clad in OshKosh overalls, b’gosh, debuted Kulak’s new song “Drudgery,” a poignant tale about how soul-sucking working as a barista can be for an artist struggling to support him or herself. She then sang a gorgeous rendition of my favourite of Kulak’s songs “Paper and String,” which I think may be one of the loveliest pieces of music ever written. I know that is a gigantic statement to make- but I think this song absolutely warrants consideration. Go buy his album “Tin Can Telephone” right this moment on ITunes and see for yourself!
As though hearing Patricia Zentilli sing my favourite Bryce Kulak song wasn’t blissful enough, then Michael Hughes and Bryce sang my second favourite song, “You’re My Man,” as a duet, while Colin played an assortment of instruments in succession, including the banjo! Their voices work gorgeously together, the possibilities are endless.
The evening ended with “Pelican”, a song from Kulak’s debut album “Welcome” which is charming with insightful silliness reminiscent of Dr. Seuss or Lewis Carroll and a haunting rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I strongly urge you to pick up Kulak’s albums and to visit his website for more information, but I must stress that there is nothing like seeing him perform in person. It is also a sheer pleasure, and added bonus, when he is joined by his famous friends. If you missed “The Big Idea”- you’re in luck! “The Big Idea Brunch Cabaret” is happening on Sunday March 29th, 2009 from 1:00-2:00pm at Local 4 Restaurant on 4 Dundonald Street (one block North of Wellesley Subway Station), Toronto. You should go! See ya there!

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