BWW Review: THE NEW CABARET Is a Splendid Addition to 'Night Music' Series at Stratford Festival's Forum
With the 2017 season of the Stratford Festival in full swing, and locals and visitors alike enjoying the glorious theatrical productions on stage at the Festival, Avon, Tom Patterson and Studio Theatres. It is important to note that there is far more than just theatre for audiences to enjoy at the Festival. 'The Forum', now in its 5th year, provides additional interactive programming of talks, panels, lunches, musical performances, and behind the scenes glimpses into the Festival's 65th season.
One such program is 'Night Music' a concert series held on Monday nights in the Festival Theatre lobby. Mondays are actually the day off for the performers, with no theatrical performances being scheduled, so this concert series allows for visitors to the Festival to still have something to entertain them when the rest of the theatre has gone dark. A variety of different performances have been scheduled for the 'Night Music series, and last night, I had the pleasure of taking in THE NEW CABARET-a project that company members Steve Ross and Sara Farb (along with Festival Music Director, Franklin Brasz on the piano) put together to showcase and celebrate songs from contemporary musical theatre. Joining them for the cabaret were fellow company members Lisa Horner and Gabriel Antonacci.
This show did not disappoint. The set list included music from recent Tony Award Winning shows such as HAMILTON (Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda), FUN HOME (Music by Jeanine Tesori & Lyrics by Lisa Kron), WAITRESS (Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles), and DEAR EVAN HANSEN (Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul). The artists performed one or two songs from each production and included other lesser-known music from esteemed composer/lyricists such as Andrew Lippa, Drew Gasparini, and Ben Scheuer. Near the beginning of the program, Farb and Ross performed two numbers from a musical version of TWELFTH NIGHT (Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub). This was a very clever way to open the evening considering that TWELFTH NIGHT is on stage at the Festival Theatre this season.
With what I would imagine was very limited rehearsal time (given the already busy schedules of all involved) it was incredible how polished this concert was. It was clear that the artists were most interested in the audience being exposed to as much brilliant contemporary musical theatre as possible, and so there was very little chatter in between numbers. In fact, the only time a performer would speak (aside from spoken parts in songs) would be when someone would introduce the next theme to be explored by reading unique and thoughtful quotes from a variety of different influential people, ranging from MariAnne Williamson to Jim Morrison. This strategy was very effective and it allowed for a great deal of material to be shared with the audience in the time allotted.
What was great about this cabaret is that everyone in the audience probably had a different favourite part-whether it was an unfamiliar song whose lyrics spoke to them, or a number from their favourite musical. Personally, I was practically in tears at the performances of "It's Quiet Uptown" from HAMILTON and "She Used to Be Mine" from WAITRESS, mainly because both songs are so incredibly moving, but also because they are the most played songs on my ipod and I was just so darn excited to hear them performed live again!
Although this particular cabaret was a one time only event, one can only hope that Ross and Farb will return with something else in a future season (they were also responsible for THE VICTORY CABARET last year).
The next 'Night Music' event will be on August 14th when incredible folk musicians (and friends of the Stratford Festival) George Meanwell, Anna Atkinson, Ian Harper, Michael McClennan, and Graham Hargrove present ARRHYTHMIA-an exploration of music with unusual rhytms and "genre-defying original compositions". Then, on August 21st, Barbara Barsky and Marek Norman along with 'Music in Common' present HOLD ONTO THE DREAM: "a lyrical celebration of Canadian identity through word, song and chamber music", Finally, on August 28th, LARRY'S JAZZ GUYS return to the forum with beloved jazz standards. All of these performances will be held in the lobby of the Festival Theatre.
For information on additional Forum events happening this summer, be sure to check out the Forum page on the Stratford Festival website: www.stratfordfestival.ca/WhatsOn/TheForum.
Headshots courtesy of the Stratford Festival.