The Voice Next Door: I Say It’s Wonderful

marcus nance
Toronto-based musical theatre artist Marcus Nance, who is currently gearing up to play Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar and appearing in Camelot at the Stratford Festival this Spring has recently released his debut album entitled The Voice Next Door. I will tell you that if my next door neighbour could sing with even half the soaring, dreamy, richness that Nance seems to exhibit effortlessly, I would be spending all my time blithely revelling in the bliss next door. Fortunately, a quick stop over to CD Baby, or ITunes will provide you with fourteen gorgeous tracks which vividly exhibit Nance’s luscious voice.
It’s been quite apparent for the last several decades that the sound of musical theatre is changing with the genre’s appropriation of rock and pop music, not only in the creation of new music as in Rent and Hairspray, but also in the development of Juke Box shows such as Mamma Mia and American Idiot. Since Hair burst onto the scene in 1968, the way that the musical theatre performers of the last forty years have approached even classic songs from the Broadway canon have been heavily influenced by this change in music. It is rare to hear a voice like Marcus Nance’s, especially singing the songs of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Jerome Kern, operatic, classically trained, deep as the ocean one moment, and soaring with pure, emotional height the next. It is gorgeously refreshing, dazzlingly impressive and makes me long for the days when such lush voices were not such an anomaly on Broadway.

Nance’s album contains quite a varied conglomeration of songs beginning with Guy Wood and Robert Mellin’s “My One and Only Love” which has been covered by such esteemed artists as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Nance’s version is an incredible mixture of jazz and operetta, soaring and evocative. He gives stunning breadth to Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” prompting my immediate desire for someone to produce Annie Get Your Gun immediately so that Marcus Nance could regale us with what I am sure would be a fascinating Frank Butler. His rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess is pure perfection. If Audra McDonald is playing Bess in the upcoming American Repertory Theatre Production, she could dream of no better Porgy than Marcus Nance. His “Ol’ Man River” is; if possible, even more stunning and utterly tragic. I think it even eclipses Paul Robeson’s.

With an arrangement by Franklin Brasz, he pairs Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” with Chopin’s Waltz op. 69 #2 which complement one another beautifully; this track nicely reflects the entire album’s sweet blend of jazz, musical theatre and classical music. The rest of the album harkens vividly back to a long lost time gone by, music that would have once blared from gramophones (“Old Man Harlem”), a rousing Civil Rights anthem (“Work Song”) and the lovely, haunting “God Will Provide a Lamb,” with lyrics inspired by Genesis.

His power and talent for storytelling is most apparent in the Jacques Brel song “Fanette,” a classic tale of love and loss that is both poetic and sad. The piano playing on all the tracks by Franklin Brasz, Mark Eisenman and Patti Loach are all deeply intuitive and mirror the ambiance of Nance’s voice with vigour and specificity.

Marcus Nance has had an extremely successful career in theatre, cabaret and opera taking him to the Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival, to Broadway and City Center Encores, as well as theatres across Canada and the United States, yet this album still begs the question: why isn’t this exorbitantly talented man a household name? Undoubtedly he deserves to be. One listen and I guarantee, you’ll be a believer in the extraordinary things happening Next Door.

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