BWW Review: Ron Sexsmith, INNERchamber and the Stratford Summer Music Festival present SONGS FROM DEER LIFE
Last week, the Stratford Summer Music Festival teamed with Canadian (and Stratford resident) singer-songwriter, Ron Sexsmith to present SONGS FROM DEER LIFE-an in-concert production of a musical that Sexsmith has written based on his Fairy Tale, DEER LIFE. Along with a group of talented musicians from the INNERchamber ensemble, a fantastic children's choir, and performers Barbara Fulton and Mike Nadajewski, Sexsmith put on a wonderful show filled with intriguing new music. This was the first time this music was heard by the public, but it certainly won't be the last!
DEER LIFE is the story of Deryn Hedlight (raise your hand if you caught the clever pun), a shy young boy who recently lost his father and who lives a quiet life with his mother in the town of Hinthoven. After an unfortunate mistake puts him in the crosshairs of a mysterious magical woman, he finds himself transformed into a deer. Throughout the story, we meet other characters including Deryn's mother, and a young girl with whom Deryn forms a special bond. This is a tale of friendship, love, and bravery and it makes all the sense in the world that it should be set to music.
With orchestrations by Ben Bolt-Martin, Sexsmith's catchy compositions come to life. Songs like Fist n Firkin, Augustafest, and Happy Ever remained playing in my head, long after the show was over. The love song The Thought of Knowing was stunningly beautiful and had me wondering when this music will be available for purchase because that is one that I will want to be listening to on repeat.
Part of what made this evening so magical was the knowledge that this musical is still at the beginning of its journey. Granted, Sexsmith has been working on this material for a while and clearly knows it intimately (as is evidenced by him never needing to glance at his music stand), but this is the first time this story was presented to the public, as a musical. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable for an artist to present their work in this way-especially when they are already stepping out of their comfort zone and exploring a New Medium. Sexsmith, who typically performs with his guitar, opened the concert in an even more vulnerable state, by standing centre stage and singing his new music sans guitar. This was a perfect visual representation of stepping outside of a comfort zone in order to create something truly beautiful.
Along for the ride was Mike Nadajewski-who, with a twinkle in his eye and tea in his mug was the perfect narrator. The always wonderful Barbara Fulton provided the musical vocals for the female characters and partnered with Ron for a few duets, including the aforementioned The Thought of Knowing.
The children's choir, conducted by Colleen Rothwell and comprised of: Ryan Berg, Lucy Chung, Bree Costello, Madie Costello, Ayden Dias, Peyton Enns, Averi Hinz, Ethan Hinz, Sophie Keene-Ellison, Norah Kevill, Ethan Martin, Owen Martin, Sydney McLeod, Addison Moir, and Gwen Tomchak was a delightful addition to this concert as it reminded the audience of the childlike wonder with which they should be taking in the story being presented in front of them.
This really was an embarrassment of riches for the audience, as the musicians for this concert were all artists who are at the very top of their craft. On drums was Dave Campion, musical director Andrew Chung was on violin, Graham Hargrove could be found on percussion and keys, Ian Harper had the woodwind section covered single-handedly, Mike McClennan was on bass, George Meanwell played a variety of string insturments, and Paul Shilton was on the piano. Sexsmith did eventually pick up his guitar to play along with the rest of the band. It was clear that everyone was having a good time both on stage and in the audience.
It was a privilege to witness the beginning stages of this musical. The music was strong and the story truly did lend itself perfectly to the theatre. It will be exciting to see it continue to develop!
To learn more about the Stratford Summer Music Festival: www.stratfordsummermusic.ca
To learn more about Ron Sexsmith: www.ronsexsmith.com
To learn more about INNERchamber: www.innerchamber.ca
Photo Credit: www.stratfordsummermusic.ca