There is a place on Church Street that fills me with hope every Monday night. It is a weekly Cabaret series called Curtains Down hosted by Jenni Burke and Michael Barber at Statler’s Piano Lounge. It is a place where Toronto’s theatre community comes together with open hearts to share their joy, their talent, their songs and stories with one another. Last week I attended the Curtains Down Thanksgiving Special where special guest Shawn Wright had the audience in hysteric stitches until everyone was nearly dying with laughter as he sang two songs that we’re pretty sure Sarah-Blair Irwin hasn’t already sung.
I love getting a chance to see Toronto’s musical theatre celebrities in a more relaxed environment, out of character, where they are a little more candid, and usually far funnier than in any show you could throw at them. Last week Statler’s was so filled with fame, glamour and talent, I felt like I was celebrity watching. Along with the amazing Shawn Wright, I also saw Cara Leslie, Steven Gallagher and Jonathan Monro. Monro delighted everyone with an impromptu duet (“Lily’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden) with Wright, which was absolutely gorgeous. He then treated us to a preview of his new show Variations on a Nervous Breakdown, which is going to be produced at Talk is Free Theatre next month. He sang his beautiful song “Who I Am” and it was stunning. His voice is so beautiful. I could listen to him sing that song everyday and never get sick of it.
As amazing as it is to be given a chance to meet some of my idols who work in the musical theatre community here, and to be given the opportunity to see my friends perform in a casual setting where they decide what they sing, how they sing it and what they say, Curtains Down also holds such interest for me because I get the chance to see young, “unknown” people who are so talented, so inspiring and who I know will be the next generation of idols in this town. That is extremely exciting and I feel so blessed to be able to witness these performances every week and to be able to chat with some amazing young artists.
Last week, for example, I saw Ethel Merman’s gigantic voice emerge out of this delightfully hilarious Jewish girl named Jamie Dawne Sussman. Norbert Leo Butz showed up until the alias “Justin Bott” and sang a beautiful rendition of “If I Didn’t Believe in You” from The Last Five Years and a perfect rendition of “Stand By Me.” Can a professional theatre company in Toronto please produce The Last Five Years ASAP and hire “Justin Bott” to play Jamie? Please? John Gillis sang “New York State of Mind,” which showed off both his dreamy voice and Michael Barber’s amazing musical talents. Ryan Kerr was fantastic singing a song from Jersey Boys, Dan Rutzen impressed everyone by playing and singing Sondheim at the same time, and Laura Caswell brought the entire house down with an ass-kicking, perfect rendition of “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from Songs For a New World. She is one to watch for, folks. She is going to be a huge star.
Curtains Down, at its purest, is a ton of fun. It makes its audience happy and I think the community feels extra connected to Toronto and to one another because of it. You always know that Jenni Burke will make you smile and laugh, Michael Barber will make you feel completely at ease, Ari Weinberg will probably do something hilarious, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch Jenni’s signature “You Can Fuck Me” song. That should be all the persuading you need!
Curtains Down happens weekly on Monday Nights at Statler’s Piano Lounge, 487 Church Street, Toronto. 8:00pm. Pay What You Can!