Soulpepper's Salon Series Soars With Music And Thoughtful Themes
CBC Radio 2 host Tom Allen provided the narration, while a talented group of performers, including many graduates of the Soulpepper Academy, showed off their musical chops in a rousing evening orchestrated by talented Resident Artist (and Academy alumnus) Mike Ross. Recalling the more intimate cabaret series Soulpepper put on a few years back, the salon series (which takes place in the Baillie Theater at the Young Centre, on the set of the current production of Idiot's Delight) has a more structured feel, with a contemporary theme tied in to the music.
The evening, called Berlin To Broadway, included many composers, both European and American, whose works have reflected, and in many cases, helped to shape, the cultural discourse around ideas of identity, equality, opportunity, ambition, love, and survival in the twentieth century. Allen, the host and writer of the night's script, opened with a presentation of two ideas and their clash: a me-first, success-at-all-costs-centered nihilism versus a we-always, community focused kind of socialism. Using the eve of the First World War as a starting pont, Allen nicely offered a survey of twentieth century history and politics within the German and American realms, the complementary music coloring in, shading, highlighting, and offering commentary. With an array of composers' works including Brecht and Weill, Rogers and Hammerstein, Kander and Ebb, Arlen and Mercer, as well as a few snappy numbers from Cole Porter, it was a thoughtful, smart evening that embraced both musicality and commentary; especially affecting was the contemporary feel of the works in their many echoes to present-day issues around gay rights, economic inequality, immigration, and the pursuance of the so-called "American dream."
Ross' creative re-arrangements of works, while working to complement Allen's narration, very often worked on their own to highlight the tension between light and dark, between joy and terror, throughout not solely the twentieth century experience, but between the me-vs-us aesthetic Allen provided as the evening's unifying theme. Salvatore Scozzari's everyman sadness turned to spitting, white-hot rage in his delivery of "Brother Can You Spare A Dime?", while Peter Fernandes' springy performance of the Gershwins' "It Ain' Necessarily So" from Porgy and Bess had a prickly undercurrent of snarling menace. Steffi Didomenicantonio's "Wonderful Guy" from Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific was, for all its happy lyrics, filled with a deep desperation. "Springtime For Hitler", from the smash musical The Producers, was delivered with spicy exuberance by Evan Buliung (currently performing in Soulpepper's production of Idiot's Delight), who managed to banter between verses and was backed up by some snazzy choreography featuring Didomenicantonio and fellow Academy members Courtney Ch'ng Lancaster (who had earlier delivered a biting rendition of Brecht/Weill's "Pirate Jenny") and Hailey Gillis, whose radiant soprano and sensitive phrasing made Cole Porter's "All Of You" a special treat. Equally moving was the interpretation of the Hughes/Weill number "Lonely House (from the 1946 work Street Scene) performed by Dan Chameroy. With a deceptively simple arrangement, Chameroy (who's also currently in Idiot's Delight) used his lovely tenor to considerable effect, carefully modulating with every note, and offering a deeply expressive, moving performance, delivering both words and music with keenly felt passion.
Berlin To Broadway will be presented again on Saturday (February 15th) at 1:30pm. Later this month, the series will be exploring the influence and myth-making behind the famed Orient Express; one should expect music infused with the rich flavors of Paris, Vienna, and Budapest, as well as works by The Beatles and Tom Waits. Canadian soprano Patricia O'Callaghan will be among the performers.
Photo: Peter Fernandes, in rehearsal for Soulpepper's Salon Series program Berlin To Broadway | Photo: Nathan Kelly