Nestruck on Theater: Why Stratford Festival Musical Shows Aren’t Cabaret, Old Buddy

The first three cabarets that performed outdoors at the Stratford Festival this summer could be more narrowly described as concerts or reviews.Chris Young / The Canadian Press

What is a cabaret, old buddy?

The Stratford Festival’s outdoor musical performances this summer are described as cabarets, but they haven’t quite done the job in my opinion.

I tend to think of the cabaret art form as involving singers performing songs that are meaningful to them – and telling stories about the songs or about themselves in between.

The first three cabarets that opened (and now have closed) at the Stratford Festival, however, were closer to concerts or revues.

Two of them (Why we tell the story and Play on!) involved somewhat confusing setlists of popular shows or songs performed without any explanation on stage.

The tunes weren’t even featured: you had to look up the original titles, songwriters, and performers in the program. (Which you couldn’t do during the show, of course, as there’s only digital programming this season and you’re being asked to turn off your phone.)

The third cabaret (You can’t stop the beat) explained itself as it went – but, alas, with a cheesy script that involved the performers hiding behind caricatures, rather than revealing themselves.

The theme of the show (“the enduring power of musical theater”) was far too broad; The Stratford public is, surely, ready for something more specific or sophisticated.

Freedom, which celebrates ‘the spirit and heritage of black music’, is the most satisfying musical performance to have opened at the Stratford Festival so far.

Beau Dixon, the curator and director, is onstage throughout the scene – and while he doesn’t say too much, he says enough to make his way clear music from spirituals to gospel to blues. , reggae, Motown, Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.

The show’s four electric performers – Robert Ball, Alana Bridgewater, Camille Eanga-Selenge and Dixon himself – excel in different genres, but they also form a supergroup on some of the numbers, such as Stevie Wonder’s. Black man.

East Freedom a cabaret anyway? For something more true to my idea of ​​form, I had to go to the Here For Now 2021 New Works Festival behind the Bruce Hotel.

So how did it go ? is a new cycle of songs about life in Stratford during the pandemic. The lyrics are based on interviews Liza Balkan conducted with the cast and other local residents; Paul Shilton composed the music (with assistance from Katherine Wheatley and Bruce Horak).

The performers – Marcus Nance, Barb Fulton, Trevor Patt and Evangelia Kambites – speak about their own lives and tell the stories of others during the pandemic, both in songs and by presenting them.

I found this show to be simple, moving and intimate, with an honest connection between the performers and the audience.

It’s cabaret, in my opinion.

Why we tell the story, Play on! and You can’t stop the beat are now all broadcast on Stratfest @ Home. There are breathtaking musical performances in all of them, even if the overall architecture is fragile.

Freedom and So how did it go ? both continue until September 5.

Canadian Broadway Star Chilina Kennedy presents a new musical she wrote with Eric Holmes titled Call it love Friday on the Player’s Backstage behind the Stratford Perth Museum.

It has a stellar cast which includes Dan Chameroy (Stratford Festival) and Robert Markus (Dear Evan Hansen). The Eclipse Theater Company, which Kennedy runs as an artistic producer, doesn’t invite critics to this “live” iteration – but it seemed worth mentioning nonetheless.

The Crow’s Theater was not the only Canadian theater company to abandon a 2021-2022 season on Tuesday morning. Calgary Theater announced his – which will debut on October 19 with the world premiere of Rick Miller Boom YZ, the latest in his series of solo exhibitions on the theme of generations. Some reliable alumni follow: A Christmas Carol, Steel magnolia trees and Million Dollar Quartet.

The Centaure Theater in Montreal (who also announced a season 2021-2022 last week) is presenting an Onishka and Imago Theater co-production starting this week.

Okinum, which takes place from September 2 to 11, is the English premiere of an award-winning show written and performed by Émilie Monnet – although the “English premiere” doesn’t seem quite correct, as the immersive show features a mix of English, French and Anishinaabemowin.

NB: Since September 1, you must present proof of vaccination to attend live shows in Quebec.

The vaccination passport makes me want to come back to Quebec. But in fact, I’m packing my bags and leaving Stratford on my way home to Toronto this weekend. Goodbye and thank you for everything Quite good pizza!

Before I take off, however, I’ll see Marcia Johnson’s new play. In the service of Elisabeth at the Stratford Festival Thursday. Look for my opinion by the weekend.

Once back in Toronto, I’ll see Jordan Tannahill’s Is my microphone on? directed by Erin Brubacher at Canadian Stage’s High Park Amphitheater. Look for my opinion on this one after the long weekend.

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William N. Fernandez