Toronto's Stars UnCovered: Sting and The Police
Next Monday, November 18th, Acting Up Stage launches its 10th Anniversary season by presenting the One-Night-Only tribute concert UnCovered: Sting and The Police at Toronto's beautiful Koerner Hall. This annual tribute concert has become known as a "don't miss" event for local lovers of music and/or theatre. This year should be no different, with such notable vocalists as Jackie Richardson, Thom Allison and others (including myself), singing classic hits like "Message in a Bottle", "Roxanne", "Desert Rose", "Don't Stand So Close to Me", and "Fields of Gold".
It's hard to believe, but the Acting Up Stage theatre company is already 10 years old. Thanks to the wise stewardship of Artistic and Managing Director Mitchell Marcus, it didn't take long to become one of Toronto's best, having been awarded with 32 Dora nominations since its inception. I had the pleasure to speak with Mitchell Marcus and his long-time musical director Reza Jacobs in advance of the concert to find out how it all started, and why they think it has become such a smash hit.
REWIND. Some eight years ago, with his company barely off the ground, Mitchell Marcus was suddenly struck with an idea. Inspired by an event in New York City, he wanted to produce a tribute concert featuring well-known Pop songs, but sung by the stars of Toronto's Musical Theatre scene. Having this idea coincided with his meeting Reza Jacobs, freshly back from finishing his MFA in Graduate Musical Theater Writing at NYU - Tisch, who had a similar idea for theatrically re-arranging the music of The Beatles. "That meeting felt serendipitous, and the idea for our first tribute concert was soon born," said Marcus, over the phone from his office.
Since their Beatles concert in 2006, Mitchell has chosen to tackle the music of Paul Simon (a concert at which I also sang), Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, and last year's concert Tapestries: The music of Carol King and James Taylor. In Mitchell's words, "the goal was not to put a cover band of Musical Theatre stars together, but rather to take great songs, and give them to great singers who also happen to be great story-tellers".
FAST-FORWARD. This year the concert shines a light on the music and lyrics of the seemingly ageless Englishman Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, aka Sting and his former band, The Police, one of music's most influential New Wave groups. Beyond simply doing a concert of popular music, Reza Jacobs explains exactly how he and Mitchell choose the songwriter to feature in concert.
"It's the perfect union of both of our guts. It has to be something that I respond to musically, and that I feel I can do something with - that there's a reason to re-tell these things. There has to be a theatricality in the writing in order for us to make it work. That's part of Mitchell's mandate - it's a musical theatre company so we want to pick songs that tell stories."
Sting's music has never neatly fit into the Pop/Rock genre, as it features elements of jazz, reggae, world-beat and even classical music. Jacobs feels that for a concert of this type, this diversity is an asset. "I feel great about Sting's music. There's a lot going on in there, and the stories are clear enough that you can do something with the songs. We're always trying to hit that mix of entertainment and story telling, and Sting's songs lend themselves to that really well."
Marcus agrees. "The best material for this are pop songs where there's a character and a plot and a story - and Sting is a great example of that. Many of his songs read as if they were a monologue. And he offers a large catalogue of material to apply this concept to."