Review: Marion Abbott Productions' WOMEN OF MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL

By: Aug. 01, 2017
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Toronto's Women of Musical Theatre Festival concluded a week ago, yesterday. My conclusion? More please.

In its second year, Marion Abbott Productions presented a five-day schedule of full productions and cabarets, celebrating the work of women in musical theatre. The festival featured two Canadian musicals - Harvest Moon Rising (music and lyrics by Leslie Arden, and book by Peggy Sample) and Moving Day (by Cathy Elliot) - and two all-female cabarets, Broadway Divas: A History in Revue and Dazzle: An All Female Cabaret.

I had the pleasure of attending Harvest Moon Rising. Thankfully someone warned me before the show that it was going to be sad. For sad to be moving, the performances need to be genuine. Let's just say, I was moved. The show explores the troubled livelihoods of a small town of farmers from Prince Edward Island, employing flashbacks to reinforce the ancestral tradition of farm life.

My initial impression was clouded by Amy Swift's gorgeous voice. A healthy soprano sound, she floats through her registers with ease - delivering comedy and tragedy wherever it's needed. "Robert Dreams", a song that could easily been over-acted, was expertly performed with sensitivity by Swift.

I loved Harvest Moon Rising so much, I went back to see Dazzle: An All Female Cabaret. An endless stream of ridiculously talented women performed everything from "Gimme, Gimme" to "Somewhere" to "And I Am Telling You".

There were far too many performers to mention everyone, but I will praise a few that stood out to me. Tess Barao was impressive, with a belt that never quits. Sarah Horsman had the most irresistible stage presence I've ever seen - making it impossible to tear my eyes away as her character transitioned from "In His Eyes" to "Meadowlark". Stephanie Hope Lawlor's crystalline voice was absolutely devastating in Kander and Ebb's beautiful "We Can Make It". Ashlie White was gorgeous as gorgeous can be in "Gorgeous".

I am so impressed with this city and how it has been presenting female contributions in the arts. The recent upset after the US election has only inspired more feminism-driven theatrical events. From female-written operas produced by an all-female production team, to fringe shows referencing the #nastywomen movement, to a musical featuring one of the most iconic female songwriters of all time - the presence of feminism in theatre has never been stronger.

Marion Abbott is doing a great service to our community by creating opportunities for artists, young and old, to share their passion and art. Thank you, Marion.