Scintillating Sondheim in September

In 1992 an impressive conglomeration of Broadway performers shared the stage at Carnegie Hall to celebrate one of America’s greatest musical theatre composers, Stephen Sondheim. Last night at the beautiful Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, the first of a series of three Monday evening concerts kick started the Canadian Equivalent to Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall. Sondheim in September is a benefit for the Actors’ Fund of Canada, an organization that provides emergency financial aid to anyone in the entertainment industry who has fallen upon hard times. The show features some of Toronto’s most illustrious musical theatre performers singing a wide array of Stephen Sondheim’s most iconic songs.
Peter Huck and Warren Kimmel produced the evening; both performed in the concert and Huck provided direction. Mark Camelleri, the musical director for the first concert, accompanied the evening perfectly, which is no small feat for an evening of Sondheim’s complex music! The Sondheim in September soloists were also joined by a choral ensemble comprised of successful members of the Toronto musical theatre community. In 1992, Stephen Sondheim likened Carnegie Hall to a cathedral, and last night, as the music from the ensemble rang out in rich, beautiful harmony through the church, it truly felt as though we were raising our voices and giving thanks and praise to art.
Jamie McKnight began the evening as a sheepish Tony giving a lovely rendition of “Maria,” and was then joined by Josee Boudreau for a breathtaking “One Hand, One Heart.” Boudreau has a marvelously bright and clear soprano voice that soars through space and makes singing so high with such gorgeous sound appear entirely effortless. In many cases, it was astonishing to know that not only had these performers only rehearsed three times for this concert, but also, that they had not auditioned for their specific songs. Many were cast perfectly and gave performances that could be lifted from last night and fitted into a professional production of that particular Sondheim show with little adjustment. Someone needs to cast Cailin Stadnyk as Louise in Gypsy as soon as her schedule allows. She gave an unbelievable performance of “Let Me Entertain You” and she not only has a giant, beautiful voice, but also infused her song with so much of Louise’s naïve charm and shy resolve to succeed in whatever way she was able. She is so captivating to watch, I did not want to look away, which resulted in my notes becoming extremely messy! There was a brash and sassy performance of “Gotta Get a Gimmick” in which Colleen Winton bumped it hysterically with a trumpet.
Mike Nadajewski gave the best unintentional plug to the Stratford Festival as he sang “Love I Hear” with sweet comic charm and a beautiful voice. I’m sure members of last night’s audience will be quick to book their tickets to Stratford’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in which Nadajewski plays Hero. I know I’m eager to see him perform the entire show! Judith Lander gave an emotional performance of “Anyone Can Whistle” and George Masswohl and Andrea Wingelaar gave a stunning performance of “With So Little to Be Sure Of.” Masswohl was utterly heartfelt and Wingelaar sang beautifully with such earnestness. It was a truly epic moment that captured the depth and nuance of Sondheim’s words and music.
As a (sometimes lone) crusader against reality television, I did not watch a single episode of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria and so last night was the first time I had ever seen Janna Polzin perform. Holy crap! She gave a stunning performance of “Everyone Says Don’t” in which she not only lit up the stage with her bright, captivating eyes, but also managed to use supreme diction and infuse so much emotion and subtlety to a song that is sung at forty-five words per minute.
Warren Kimmel and Megan Nuttall performed a brilliant rendition of “Barcelona,” both with strong, clear, characterizations. Blythe Wilson was bliss singing “Another Hundred People” and Denise Oucharek showed off her particularly gorgeous soprano voice singing part of “Getting Married Today.” And of course, Susan Henley, who can delight an audience with a single glance, brought the house down with “Ladies Who Lunch.” She had all the gusto and brazen, sardonic candor as Elaine Strich, but I appreciated that she infused the material with her own interpretations as well.
Indeed, Sondheim in September may be Canada’s equivalent to Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall but it is not at all simply our imitation or semblance of the Broadway community. We are the Toronto Theatre Community; we are dynamic and successful, strong, talented, and unique both individually and as a collective. Our skills and abilities inspire the next generation who will rise to the challenge to spread music and tell stories to the children of our future. There is much to cherish and celebrate, and an evening of Sondheim in September is a powerful way to pay tribute.
Sondheim in September offers two more concerts in this series. September 28th (songs from Follies, A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd) and October 5th (songs from Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods and Assassins). Up-coming performers include: Amy Wallis, Paula Wolfson, Glynnis Ranney, Jeff Irving, George Masswohl and Sharron Matthews singing “A Little Priest” (to die for, I swear!), Ron Pederson, Patricia Zentilli, Erica Peck, Elicia Mackenzie, Thom Allison, Evan Builing, and Charlotte Moore among others! All shows begin at 8:00pm at the Metropolitan Community Church. 115 Simpson Street. Tickets are $25.00. To book them please call 647 367-8477.

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