I vividly remember the first time I met Thom Allison. It was September, 2007 and Acting Up Stage was having their annual Toronto Musical Theatre Stars Sing Songs from Legendary Pop Culture Phenomenons Evening of Song and so Thom Allison was singing songs of the Beatles. I was “just off the boat,” as they say; my life in Toronto had barely started, as a matter of fact, I consider this evening to be the very moment that my life, my career, my love of Toronto, first began to bloom. With uncharacteristic panache (clearly swept up in my excitement for the new life I was obviously seizing by the horns) I went up to Thom Allison after the performance and said to him, “Wow! You should have “Superstar” tattooed across your forehead!” (right!?) And thus, my love affair with Thom Allison began.
It was bittersweet, then, to be in the audience for his most recent show, last night at Tallulah’s Cabaret at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, as it was a fond farewell for Thom to the city where he has lived and built a illustrious, rich and brightly inspirational life and career since moving here from Winnipeg to attend Ryerson in 1987 (when he was six). It is disheartening, of course, to see Thom go, he is such a radiant talent to behold, a warm, sweet, generous and vibrant member of our community, but it is all these things that have led to him embarking on this exciting new adventure, performing on Broadway with Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I know that he will make us all proud in this next chapter of his career.
His cabaret began with a Gershwin tune “A Foggy Day (in Toronto Town),” a jazzy and smooth ode to our fair city. A bit of Judy Garland followed with “Lose that Long Face” a brassy number written to be tap danced to, which lifted the whole energy of the room, although my favourite moment was his allusion to the forced rhyme of “vac-cu-um,” which really does beg for an eyebrow raise. He then sang the gorgeous powerhouse ballad “A Lovely Day to Be Out of Jail” from Cy Coleman’s The Life, which is one of my favourite songs that he sings. It always makes me think of what Tom Joad would sing if Grapes of Wrath were a musical and Thom captures that same rugged simplicity of walking freely into the world so perfectly.
Special Guest Sara Farb sang an uncharacteristic Rodgers and Hart tune, “My Funny Valentine” an old faithful standard in a sultry legit voice that harkened back to a more soulful and genuine time. Thom returned with “She Touched Me” from Drat! The Cat!, a joyful, rejoicing type number typical of musicals of its time and then hit us with a blissful rendition of Steven Schwartz’s “Lost in the Wilderness” which I’m pretty sure made the hearts of the entire sum of the theatre simultaneously turn to strawberry jelly. Thom is particularly talented at his ending notes, which always soar with an intensity that threatens to sweep up the breaths of everyone in its path. He then sang “I’d Rather Be Sailing” from A New Brain, and in my opinion, Thom’s is the definitive rendition of this song. Whenever he begins, it seems so effortless, as though William Finn wrote it expressly for him. It is the song that you want to curl up inside of and stay there for the whole winter.
Thom was accompanied in his Cabaret by the very talented young Chris Tsujiuchi, who performed his piano rendition of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” which keeps reminding me that any song can be made to sound heart rending, it is all in the way that it is performed. Thom returned with “Gorgeous” from The Apple Tree, which he sings with delicious exuberance, while showing off his dreaminess, laughing maniacally and hitting a sky scraping note at the end. “Being Alive” ended the first act, inspiring the thought that I would love to see Thom play Bobby in Company someday. The second act began with a haunting rendition of “The Meadowlark” and the beautiful ballad “Who Can I Turn To?” which showed off his lower register deliciously. Gavin Crawford then joined us and treated us to his impeccable and uproarious Rufus Wainwright impression and introduced us to Wainwright’s new album, “Christmas Carols for Atheists” which is comprised of parodies of Christmas songs with lyrics that reflect the Age of Not Believing. I was floored by the detail of Crawford’s performance and delighted by the pastiche of it all. I was delighted that Thom sang “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis, which is one of the first songs I heard him sing in Cabaret. George Masswohl came to the stage and sang a heartbreaking rendition of “Send in the Clowns” in memory of Goldie Semple, who starred with him and Thom in A Little Night Music at the Shaw Festival in 2008. Many have asked Sondheim what this song “means” but I will tell you, that is all immediately clear in the dexterous hands of George Masswohl.
Rounding out the cabaret was an exquisite rendition by Thom of the Shirley Bassey tune “The Living Tree,” Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee,” which I think is a lovely twin performance to Audra Mcdonald’s version on her album, very similar, yet strikingly different. Sharron Matthews came up for the eleven o’clock number which was undoubtedly her epic one woman “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which is a self-contained show all unto itself. She sings parts of it with all the intensity of Fantine from Les Miserables, erupts into opera rock superstardom and pulls out all the diva stops, it’s no wonder it’s Thom Allison’s favourite thing. The ending of the cabaret was heartfelt and sweet, but in no way saccharine, just a lovely rich voice floating overhead and wafting, drifting slowly beyond all of us into the night.
I will miss Thom Allison. I will miss his infectious smile, his exuberant “seize the moment and revel in it” laughter, which only intensifies when the theatre gods play their tricks, and most of all the warmth that emanates from him that has blanketed this community in acceptance, inspiration and love since good fortune brought him our way in the first place. I know New York will fall in love with him just as hard as we all have and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.
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