The Canadian Musical Theatre Community is Extraordinary

It is always so reassuring to me that no matter how dejected I feel about our government or the governments of other countries, it seems like the more concerned I become about the plight of the world, the more the Canadian Theatre Community comes together, inspires me and makes me so proud of my place within this sometimes tumultuous world. On Monday Night, Jennifer Walls and Amy Smith, two very talented young musical theatre actors, helped theatre goddess Jenni Burke produce a very special edition of Curtains Down, the popular soiree where veteran musical theatre stars and Toronto’s hottest up-and-coming talents come together to sing, share anecdotes, mingle with cocktails and celebrate the fabulousness of being an artist in Toronto. On Monday Night, Walls, Smith and Burke put together a five hour Curtains Down Cabaret-a-thon featuring performances by some of this city’s biggest and most critically acclaimed stars to raise money for Haitian Earthquake Relief. All the proceeds of the evening went directly to Oxfam Canada, an organization that “works with over one hundred partner organizations in developing countries, tackling the root causes of poverty and inequity and helping people to create self-reliant and sustainable communities.” It was truly an incredible evening and one that filled me with so much hope and reminded me once again that human beings have a gigantic capacity for love and ultimately I believe that this will be what defends us against any calamity to come.
I felt blessed to be given the opportunity to not only hear performances by many artists who I had not seen for quite some time, but also to be introduced to some talented new performers that I had never seen before. One such performer was Callandra Dendias, whose reputation for being a wonder had preceded her (and I am looking very forward to her Cabaret with Michael Hughes, Unexpressed: An Evening of Songs from the Heart February 2nd at the Berkeley Street Theatre as Part of Acting Upstage’s Dark Night Cabaret Series). She sang “Gimme Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie, and within the first two notes, which were sung quietly, yet beautifully, she captivated the entire room. She quickly burst out into belting bliss and gave a performance so extraordinary I immediately began to wrack my brain and wonder who could produce a production of Thoroughly Modern Millie in Toronto for her to star in (and given Michael Hughes’ incredible rendition of “What Do I Need With Love,” this seems like the perfect vehicle for the pair to perform together in a musical). Callandra Dendias, people, her name spells Wow.
Andrew Moyes was McDreamy in his rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.” He has a beautifully smooth voice and a British accent, a combination which is sure to make many a Curtains Down patron swoon. Quinn Van Antwerp, of Toronto Jersey Boy’s fame, gave a delightful performance of the George and Ira Gershwin tune, “Our Love is Here to Stay” and he sang it with such rich simplicity straight from his heart. It was a really beautiful moment of the evening. Scott Pietrangelo sang and played this marathon song about being a dorky “rock ‘n’ roll nerd” which was absolutely hilarious and sung with perfect nuance to highlight Tim Minchin’s particularly clever lyrics. Daniel James broke out some Fleetwood Mac with a rocking rendition of “Don’t Stop,” while Matt Selby took the piano and played and sang (gorgeously) The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” We were all given a huge treat when the winner of the 2008 Drag Idol, Daytona B. Itch took to the stage with a mesmerizing performance (complete with choreography!) of Lady Gaga’s hit song “Bad Romance,” which was incredible and very different from Curtains Down usual fare!
Charlotte Moore, Canadian theatre royalty for sure, returned to Curtains Down, inspiring us to “live fearlessly” by accompanying herself on the piano to a song by the Dixie Chicks, her stage presence still managing to leap from the piano bench into our laps. Jeigh Madjus gave a pitch perfect performance of “House of Love,” as was Mark Cassius, both in his solo singing and in his duet with Jenni Burke, which was rich and soulful. Gabi Epstein’s bright voice soared in “A Way Back to Then” and the emotion behind the lyrics was expressed with joyful purity. The evening also solidified the fact that A. Jamie Dawne Sussman needs to play Maureen in Rent and B. I need to see more of Greg Finney in something that doesn’t involve adult babies and men in diapers.
The most incredible performance of the evening was undoubtedly that of Susan Cuthbert who was received with more emotion than anyone I have ever seen in a year and a half of attending Curtains Down. You could have heard a pin drop at the Pantages Martini Bar while Cuthbert was singing, and many people were tearing up or standing fixated in wonder as she performed “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from Phantom of the Opera. She sang this song, harkening back to the days when she played Christine in the Canadian cast, with supreme utter gorgeousness, without a microphone, her perfect soprano voice blanketing everything and everyone in musical theatre bliss. It was such a rare, communal moment to witness an entire room being captivated by a performer who so many admired so ardently. It was an inspiring and unforgettable moment.
Tony Burton, a singer from Chicago who sang a fantastic version of “Folsom Prison,” said at the end of his segment on Monday Night, “Ya’ll some talented motherfuckers here in Toronto” and I found myself beaming, not only with the knowledge that what Burton said was absolutely true, but also that with our talent and generosity, our sense of community and goodwill, we are able to achieve incredible successes and do our country proud. Curtains Down for Haiti Relief raised $1,077 for Oxfam in five hours, a figure which was matched by the Canadian government for a grand total of $2,154. Measure in love.
Curtains Down is a weekly event at the Pantages Martini Bar (200 Victoria Street at Shuter) where the fun begins at 9pm and the martinis are $5.00 each.

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