New original series is a love letter to Canada's musical greats

By: Mar. 03, 2023

Northern Tracks: A Canadian Mixtape is the newest original release on the Stratford Festival's worldwide streaming platform, Stratfest@Home. Each of the nine episodes shines a spotlight on a Canadian musical great with selections performed by the country's top talents. A thrilling highlight: three Oscar Peterson selections that have never before been recorded with lyrics.

Directed by Richard Ouzounian and Thom Allison, with Director of Photography Nicholas Shields, the series is a melodic ode to beloved singer-songwriters Susan Aglukark, Leonard Cohen, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rufus Wainwright and Neil Young.

Current and former members of the Stratford Festival's acting company reimagine the classics in new and exciting video performances captured in a variety of locations throughout the new Tom Patterson Theatre.

The series features singers Thom Allison, Robert Ball, Kyle Blair, Alana Bridgewater, Tiffany Deriveau, Beau Dixon, Barbara Fulton, Alexis Gordon, Evangelia Kambites, David W. Keeley, Chilina Kennedy, Jani Lauzon, Jacob MacInnis, Robert Markus, Heather McGuigan, Mike Nadajewski, Marcus Nance, Lucy Peacock and Erica Peck.

The featured accompanists are Franklin Brasz, Eric Charbonneau, Ryan deSouza, Wayne Gwillim, Paul Moody and Paul Shilton. Full details of the numbers can be found below.

Ouzounian and Allison have worked together many times over the years and are delighted to be doing this series together. Ouzounian has helped shaped the story of the arts in Canada through both his journalism career and his work as a director at the Festival and beyond. Allison, a performer and director whose credits read like the greatest hits of musical theatre, is at the helm of Stratford's 2023 production of Rent. He has been celebrated as an actor on film, TV, Broadway and stages across Canada.

Their vision for the series was inspired by the richness of Canada's singers and songwriters and the talents of Stratford Festival performers. For shooting locations Shields, Ouzounian and Allison explored the corners and catwalks of the stunning new Tom Patterson Theatre, which curves along the Avon River.

Ouzounian, who created the series, says "it combines some of the greatest Canadian songwriters with some of the most exciting talents to ever perform at the Stratford Festival - past and present. The combination is unbeatable!"

Says Allison: "Good songwriters share their stories. Great songwriters share their souls with such unfiltered authentic feeling that everyone who listens can hear their own life stories in the songs. They feel 'true.' Northern Tracks celebrates the universality and breadth of the experience of being human, as expressed by these nine artists. What adds to the joy of this project is that these artists, who are considered worldwide to be masters of their craft, are also proudly Canadian."

The first episode of Northern Tracks is available this Sunday on Stratfest@Home and a new episode will be released each Sunday for the following eight weeks.

Episode One celebrates Leonard Cohen, with Erica Peck (2023 season: Rent, A Wrinkle in Time) seducing us to "Dance Me to the End of Love" from the catwalk over the Tom Patterson stage. Heather McGuigan (2023: Monty Python's Spamalot, Frankenstein Revived) follows with a heartfelt, firelit rendition of "Bird on a Wire." Then Robert Markus (2023: Rent, A Wrinkle in Time) comes from a place of deep personal sorrow for "Song of Bernadette." Chilina Kennedy (four seasons at Stratford; star of Beautiful on Broadway) is framed by an otherworldly sunset as she sings the deeply spiritual "Suzanne." Marcus Nance (2023: Frankenstein Revived, Richard II) brings us home with a stark and powerful delivery of "Anthem." Throughout, the words of Cohen himself tie it together with the honesty he is known for.

The new Oscar Peterson selections featured in the series are "I Never Dreamed I'd Be Without You," "Why Think About Tomorrow?" and "The Land Is White." "The Land Is White" has been sung only once, by Diana Krall, at Peterson's funeral. The lyrics to "I Never Dreamed I'd Be Without You" were written by Canadian Songwriters Hall of Famer Harriette Hamilton, who also wrote the lyrics to Oscar's "Hymn to Freedom." Rocker (and husband of Diana Krall) Elvis Costello, wrote the lyrics to "The Land Is White" and Peterson himself wrote the lyrics to "Why Think About Tomorrow?"

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