BWW Review: Soulpepper's GLOBAL CABARET

Without a doubt, Soulpepper Theatre Company's Global Cabaret Festival is my favorite Toronto arts festival. It's like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. Forrest Gump would dig it.

Each year I'm tempted to bring my sleeping bag and just camp out for the weekend.

This year's festival, the 7th, ran last week from Thursday, Oct. 24th to Sunday, Oct. 25th at Soulpepper's home, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the city's funky Distillery District. The Centre, built and retrofitted into a 19th century Victoria building, includes four flexible ... and intimate... performing spaces. Each is used during the Festival. There's also a central lounge area with a bar serving various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as well as delicious munchies. Any theatre serving perogies with my entertainment is alright by me!

More than a three-day showcase of performances by Toronto's finest theatrical and musical talents for audiences, it's a chance for the artistic community to gather to socialize, celebrate and support each other. Not only are the participating artists there, dropping in on each other's cabarets, but others hang out too. Past years have seen such illustrious audience members as cellist Ofra Harnoy and retired internationally renowned prima ballerina Evelyn Hart.

Concerts are presented to be enjoyed individually, all day or all weekend. Among performers this year were the great Jackie Richardson, the elegant Sophie Milman, the admired Judith Lander, the sensuous Patricia O'Callaghan, the suave John Alcorn, the fabulous Molly Johnson and the hilarious, New York bound ladies of Broadsway among others.

This year's Festival was divided into three categories: songbooks, features and cabarets presenting a wide range of theatrical themes and forms including jazz, pop, opera, musical theatre and the best of classic cabaret standards. Songbooks were 75 min. each while Features and Cabarets were 60 min. long. The American Pie Songbook, for example, was a concert featuring rock 'n' roll from Buddy Holly to The Rolling Stones and there was another dedicated to Hank Williams' music.

The Gershwin Songbook, with musical direction by John Alcorn, one of Canada's most sensational song interpreters, featured singers Laura Hubert, Molly Johnson, Alex Samaras and Denzal Sinclaire. Musicians were Robi Botos on piano, the amazingly versatile and adept Colleen Allen on horns/reeds, Steve Wallace on bass and Davide Direnzo on drums. They sang both familiar songs (Alcorn singing a slowed-down, tender "Swanee" that built to a kick-out-the-stops ending) to the lesser-known "Lorelei" (sung by Hubert) with Ira Gershwin's witty lyrics:

"Back in the days of knights and armour,

There once lived a lovely charmer;

Swimming in the Rhine,

Her figure was divine!

"She had a yen for all the sailors,

Fishermen and gobs and whalers;

She had a most immoral eye,

They called her Lorelei.

She created quite a stir,

And I want to be like her!"

I was blown away by a slow, four-quarter, bluesy arrangement of "Summertime" performed by the great Molly Johnson (who also sang a wonderful "I Loves You Porgy." She has just released a superb CD of Billie Holiday songs titled "Because of Billie."

The Features section included Patricia O'Callaghan, a 2014 Soulpepper Resident Artist, performing an exotic, sensuous

selection of Leonard Cohen songs including "Who By Fire," "Sisters of Mercy" and "Anthem" ("There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets through.")

Another wonderful cabaret in this section was TV/movie and theatre star Jackie Richardson's terrific set of jazz, rock and the blues. Her tender rendition of Bill Withers' "Paint Your Pretty Picture" was evocative and moving:

"I will try my best to be there when you need me,
And give you strength when you need someone that's strong,
And I'll sit and cry with you, my dear, if need be,
And, I'll PAINT YOUR PRETTY PICTURE with a song."

Richardson's set included a tribute to Big Mama Thornton (one of her "Shee-roes"), "Some of My Best Friends Are the Blues" often performed by Della Reese and her finale, a rocking version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy":

"I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

"And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?"

The Cabaret section was more theatrical with "Dido and Aeneas - 21st Century Remix," "(re)Birth: ee. Cummings in Song, Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale," "Webster's Opera Corner," and "F-Lying: A Fellini Cabaret" that "explored the films, the passions, and the stories of Federico Fellini through his own words, multi-media and dance."

Global Cabaret 7 was as successful as Global 6, reports publicist Katie Saunoris. "Similar to past Festivals, we had enthusiastic crowds visit the Young Centre throughout the weekend, from(re)Birth: E. E. Cummings in Song on Thursdaynight, to Jackie Richardson bringing down the house on Sunday. There were several sold out shows - including Sophie Milman, Denzel Sinclaire and Dido and Aeneas ... and full crowds for the feature artists and Songbooks.

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From This Author Dennis Kucherawy

A veteran entertainment executive, Dennis Kucherawy has worked in film exhibition and live theatre on Broadway, in London's West End and in Canada. An award-winning (read more...)