Oh My God, I’m Surrounded by Legends: My Night at the Soulpepper Cabaret

jeff lillico
photo by sandy nicholson
If you are all clamouring to get your tickets to Soulpepper’s productions of Jitters and A Month in the Country, I wholeheartedly recommend that you plan to be at the Young Centre (55 Mill Street) on Friday evenings so that you can partake in the utterly glorious, rollicking fun and entirely free Cabaret series that begins there around 10:30pm every single week!
Hosted by Derek Boyes, the Soulpepper Cabaret Series is an opportunity to relish in the many talents of the Soulpepper Founding Members, Associate Artists and the current casts of their shows that may not be featured as prominently as they deserve to be within the productions of the season. Each Friday night includes the stylings of musical director Mike Ross and his band, the Irregularities, unusual snacks served by Kevin Bundy, a musical guest, an interview with a current Soulpepper cast member by Derek Boyes and Opera Corner Time with William Webster. It is also an incredible opportunity for a theatre dork, such as myself, to sit among a conglomeration of Canadian theatre legends and geniuses in a social, warm, intimate and friendly environment.
Last Friday evening began with Mike Ross singing dreamily while playing the piano treating us to a perfectly smooth rendition of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and then Derek Boyes regaled us with a tale and a photo slideshow from a production of Noah’s Arc that had opened and closed earlier that day, in which he directed a small hoard of schoolchildren to whom he imparted this beacon of advice from deep within the entrails of the Soulpepper experience: “Remember, your shipmates are NOT snacks!” True story.
Abena Malika, who is delightful in Jitters, but shines most brilliantly in A Raisin in the Sun which will be remounted later this season, sang gorgeously, belting her heart out with three soulful tunes. She closed the evening with a particularly jazzy rendition of “Summertime,” which started out slow and sultry and ended with her pulling out all the stops. She is an absolute wonder.
William Webster has both exuberant passion and extensive knowledge about opera, and thus, each Friday night, the Soulpepper Cabaret series is treated to Opera Corner Time in which Webster is given exactly five minutes to speak about a specific aria and the result is a race against time for him to cram as much personal anecdote, and factual and historical context in before Boyes triumphantly cuts him off. This week Webster spoke to us about “Avant De Quitter Ces Lieux” from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust, which I found absolutely fascinating, even as he spiralled into continual tangents, they always just added to the richness of his passion for the subject. Then, to ensure that the evening was the ultimate in blissfulness, Mike Ross’ wife, Nicole, took to the piano and introduced an incredible young opera singer named Diego, to sing the aria for us. He blew the entire room away and almost received a full standing ovation in the middle of a cabaret. What a voice! What stirring emotion and purity of sound! Kapow.
Lastly, recent Dora Award winner Jeff Lillico, who plays the student in Soulpepper’s A Month in the Country, was interviewed by Derek Boyes. Lillico is a bit of a Canadian theatre prodigy because his resume is astonishingly expansive for an actor as young as he is. He was plucked from Sheridan College before graduating and spent numerous seasons at the Shaw Festival, he was then plucked from Shaw to work with Soulpepper, then plucked from Soulpepper to go to Stratford. He won his Dora for Acting Upstage’s production of Light in the Piazza amid his return to Soulpepper and next he will play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Also, apparently, Kevin Spacey only comes to Toronto to see Jeff Lillico perform. He is a fascinating performer, teaming with wild, inspiring and ridiculously impressive stories, and I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to sit and soak them up.
Such marvels unfold every single Friday around 10:30pm at the Tank House Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. It is free and there are fun free snacks and drinks available to purchase. Obviously, this is the coolest place in Toronto to spend Friday night. You can’t afford NOT to pop by and pepper your soul.

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