The Sound of Rock Stars

In late September, 2007 I sat in the Diesel Playhouse in the audience for Acting Up Stage’s one-night only concert With A Little Help From My Friends: the stars of Toronto musical theatre singing the songs of the Beatles. I had just moved from Halifax (via Vancouver, but we don’t talk about that) to Toronto two weeks earlier and this was the first show that I would see in my new city. I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t write theatre reviews. I didn’t know who any of the actors who would grace the stage were except for Patricia Zentilli, who I had seen play Ophelia in Hamlet (2000) and Curley’s Wife in Of Mice and Men (1999) at Neptune Theatre in Halifax (and later, I remembered that we had done a benefit together in 1999 where she sang “Somewhere That’s Green” (spingle!) for which my memory is uncharacteristically hazy). I didn’t have an inkling what my future held, and could not have dreamed half of the adventure that would soon sweep me up so quickly and absolutely.
My first memory of With A Little Help From My Friends is of a boy coming out onstage, a remarkably young and eloquent boy, who of course was Mitchell Marcus, and he gave a speech (quite like the one he gave last night) about the need for musical theatre in Toronto, the goals and objectives of his theatre company and his dedication to bringing contemporary musical theatre to Torontonian audiences and employing local musical theatre performers. I remember that this speech alone moved me to tears. Yes, I remember thinking, Yes! This boy is fulfilling the dream, he’s perpetuating Canadian theatre in the perfect direction and he’s accomplishing such marvels, and he’s so young and so smart and so determined and he’s passionate about the theatre that he loves. He is part of the answer to the Canadian theatre conundrum.
A year and a half later, last night at The Sound of Silence, Acting Up Stage’s one-night only concert featuring musical theatre stars singing the songs of Paul Simon, armed with all the knowledge of Toronto’s theatre community that I have amassed and absorbed fervently, Mitchell’s speech last night still made me feel so proud and just as certain that we can expect fantastic things from this young man. He works so diligently, his goals are lofty, but pure, and he sees them through, and I admire him wholeheartedly.
The second thing I remember about With A Little Help From My Friends is Steven Gallagher bursting onto the scene and kick-starting the evening like the absolute rock star that he is. I was thrilled that The Sound of Silence began in the exact same way. His rendition of “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” was perfection and “Old Songs/Book Ends” was done with such simple beauty that it stands as proof that Gallagher is a master of his craft.
Eliza-Jane Scott was quirkiness at its best in her rendition of “At the Zoo” which included her playing the Melodica! She is such a captivating performer, and like Gallagher, she makes performing look like the easiest and most natural thing in the world. She sang a compelling version of “American Tune,” and I think I could listen to her sing the phone book and find the poetry in it. Andrew Kushnir sang a hauntingly gorgeous rendition of “The Sound of Silence” and then brought the house down with cohort Michael Therriault in a performance of “Mrs. Robinson” like nothing that has ever been seen before boasting of Kushnir’s amazing operatic and jazz stylings and Kushnir and Therriault’s freestyle hip hop talents. It was one of the most hilarious and creative things I have seen onstage, perhaps since Kushnir and Damien Atkins’ fifteen minute a cappella reworking of some of today’s most popular songs at Sing Out, Louise in March (which boasted of crazy harmonies and different musical styles!). Andrew Kushnir is a walking one-man-show and I always feel so fortunate to get to see him perform, whether he’s onstage or making up impromptu songs in real life. Therriault also rocked out, and showed off his amazing acting skills and comedic timing, with “You Can Call Me Al.” You could feel the sense of fun emanating off the stage and it proved utterly contagious.
Jeff Madden’s voice is absolutely incredible. I could listen to him sing all day. His rendition of “The Only Living Boy in New York” blew my mind. If you haven’t seen The Jersey Boys yet: go! Go! Go! Susan Henley sang a breathtaking rendition of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” with Jamie Drake providing fantastic drum accompaniment. Sara Farb showed off her signature belt with “Late in the Evening.”
Amanda LeBlanc radiates the most beautiful light I have ever seen onstage. It is utterly enchanting. She always reminds me of an angel. Her rendition of “Kathy’s Song” was absolutely beautiful; she had the audience in the palm of her hand. Then Thom Allison almost brought the balcony down with his mind-blowing, gospel-esque, crowd-rousing rendition of “Loves Me Like A Rock.” Allison’s voice is so beautiful. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear him sing, you always come away feeling utterly impressed. The first thing I said to him ever in my life, after From A Little Help From My Friends, was, “wow, you should get “superstar” tattooed on your forehead.” I stand by my initial assessment. Blythe Wilson closed the show with a perfect rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” This song has been recorded countless times, but I defy anyone to find one better than the performance Wilson gave last night.
The power of this show was in the arrangements of Paul Simon’s songs to suit the singer’s voices and to capture a faction of their personalities. Each arrangement was unique while still maintaining the essence of Simon’s great songs. These were all done by the incomparable Reza Jacobs, with help from Amanda LeBlanc and Sara Farb. Jacobs bursts with energy as he bursts with talent, and plays the piano with such gusto that you get the sense he’s blasting the force and power toward the singers and into the audience as he head bangs. The band also included Bram Gielen on bass, Erik Patterson on guitar, Lindsey Hilliard who had some gorgeous violin solos, and Jamie Drake who rocked out on a vast array of different types of drums.
In all, The Sound of Silence was the best type of rock concert and it affirms that our Canadian musical theatre legends are true rock stars, who shine so brightly in this community and who should be a source of pride for our entire nation. A year and a half ago, I sat floored that such talented people, and such amazing theatrical opportunities existed in this country. Today, I beam with pride and feel so blessed to be in this city, at this exciting time in Canadian theatre history where such talented people with huge dreams, ambitions and hope converge and insure the last thing that Canada hears from us is silence.

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