A trip through time with family, country & loss of innocence in the charming, poignant Cavalcade

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Lillian Scriven & Michael Ricci as Jane & Robert Marryot in Cavalcade – photos by Andrew Oxenham

George Brown Theatre opened its 2016-17 season last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (located in Toronto’s Distillery District) with Nöel Coward’s Cavalcade, directed by A.D. James Simon, with musical direction by J. Rigzin Tute and choreography by Robert McCollum.

Cavalcade follows the lives of two intertwined families, the Marryots and their servants the Bridges, as they live through significant historical events, including the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and WWI. From New Year’s Eve 1899 to the same night in 1929 and into New Year’s day 1930, the story is told through scenes of daily life and musical numbers.

The Cavalcade ensemble is comprised of George Brown Theatre School’s third year graduating class of 2017 (in alphabetical order): Gabriella Albino, Caroline Bell, Michael Boyce, Justine Christensen, Emily Cully, Genevieve DeGraves, Seamus Dillon-Easton, Kayla Farris, Jocelyn Feltham, Kyrah Harder, Patrick Horan, Chase Jeffels, Evan MacKenzie, Cora Matheson, Tymika McKenzie-Clunis, Lucy Meanwell, Thomas Nyhuus, Lucas Penner, Michael Ricci, Jake Runeckles, Lillian Scriven, Morgan St. Onge and Parmida Vand.

As Jane Marryot, Scriven anchors the show with a lovely combination of game stiff upper lip and moving emotional response to events that impact her family and country. And we see the kids grow up and move through various life milestones: the Marryots’ sons Edward (the dutiful elder son, played with a twinkle in the eye by Nyhuus) and Joseph (the younger, impetuous son, played with Puckish charm by MacKenzie), and the Bridges’ daughter Fanny (DeGraves, who brings a lovely arc from the wide-eyed adorable child to the slinky nightclub performer).

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Jake Runeckles, Lucas Penner & Michael Boyce performing by the seaside

There are some great moments of comic relief, notably at a night at the theatre in a play within the play called Mirabelle, featuring some fine musical antics from Matheson, Penner, Albino and Jeffels (featuring stand-out vocals from Matheson and Albino); and some seaside entertainment from Boyce, Penner (who also plays a mean ukulele) and Runeckles (who also supplies piano accompaniment throughout and does a delightful tap dance break). Musical moments are capped off by a lovely rendition of Coward’s “Twentieth Century Blues” by DeGraves in a wistful and world-weary welcome to 1930, leading into a chaotic epilogue that fast-forwards through the remainder of an astoundingly volatile, wondrous and quixotic century.

As we travel through time in Britain’s history, from the Victorian to the Edwardian age – and a fast-forward Epilogue finale through the remainder 20th century – we see how the major events of the age test her people’s resilience and fortitude. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a loss of innocence; the sometimes violent changes that occur as the world grows into more of a global village, and the ever quickening pace of life changes people irrevocably. And one can’t help but look back with fondness on – what looks like from the present point of view – a simpler, gentler time.

With shouts to set and costume designer Brandon Kleiman, especially for the stunning bejeweled purple frocks are stunning; lighting designer Siobhan Sleath for some lovely atmospheric effects; and stage manager Debbie Read for holding it all together.

A trip through time with family, country and loss of innocence in the charming, poignant Cavalcade.

Cavalcade runs at the Young Centre in the Tank House Theatre space until Nov 19; get your advance tix online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666. It’s a great chance to see some exciting emerging talent before they head out into their careers.

You can also keep up with George Brown Theatre’s class of 2017 on Twitter.

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Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective & melancholy

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Melanie Peterson – photo by Bri-anne Swan

Saskatoon-born, Toronto-based singer/songwriter/actress Melanie Peterson celebrated the launch of her new CD Anywhere From Here at The Piston last night, with guest artist Bri-Anne Swan opening the festivities. And what a celebration it was!

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Bri-anne Swan

Swan opened with a short solo acoustic set of mostly original songs, opening with a gorgeous interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.” Featuring crystal clear vocals, with a subtle haunting, wistful quality, Swan’s lyrical storytelling includes hints of folk – her latest CD Letters Home also includes a Lightfoot cover of “Now and Then” – and country (opening track “Have You Seen My Ghost”). Her sounds conjure up images of windswept, lonesome plains, big skies and misty, strange forests. Give her a listen/look-see on her YouTube channel. Bri-anne Swan is also the cover designer/photographer for Anywhere From Here.

Then, the main event. I first met Melanie Peterson about two years ago, when she was performing in a line-up of amazing, talented women at ovarian cancer fundraiser She’s Listening II, and I interviewed her last year. Peterson has been described as Mary Poppins with a broken heart. The songwriting is genuine and self-aware, and there is a positive tone even in the heartbreak. In fact, the progression of the songs on Anywhere From Here – which Peterson and her band played from top to bottom – reads like the life of a romantic relationship. From the initial magic sparks in “Truth Talking” and “Fallback Plan,” to words of warning “Where There’s Smoke (Lust Ain’t Love),” to the devil may care of “Just the Right Amount of Wrong,” and into the stall in “Holding Pattern” and when it’s over in “I Miss You Already” – she’s got all the feels. There are also lovely expressions of gratitude here (“A Path Laid Out Like Gold,” featuring backing vocals by Kasandra Sharpe) and love that’s so good (“A Gift” – the CD’s title comes from these lyrics).

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Melanie Peterson

Peterson’s sounds feature folk, pop (including a kicky Beatles-inspired riff in “Fallback Plan”) and country, with some reggae flavour (“Truth Talking”) – delivered with lovely, lilting vocals and sweet harmonies. Joining Peterson (guitar, lead vocals) last night – and also playing on Anywhere From Here: Mitch Girio (guitar, backing vocals and producer – he also produced Swan’s Letters Home), Pete Lambert (drums, violin, backing vocals) and Peter Collins (bass, backing vocals). By the time they got up to play their set, the room was packed with enthusiastic friends, family and fans – so much so that the crowd coaxed three encore songs, including “Cinema Girl” (my request – thanks again, guys!) and “Unbreakable,” from Peterson’s Unbreakable CD.

Melanie Peterson’s Anywhere From Here is a heartfelt, beautiful mix of playful, introspective and melancholy. Wrap your ears around it soon.

You can keep up with Peterson on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Soundcloud, among other platforms – see her website for all the platforms.

Here’s the poppy, fun the video for “Fallback Plan”:

Department of corrections: The song “Just the Right Amount of Wrong” was originally written as “Just the Right Side of Wrong” – that has been corrected and the link to the video has also been added.

 

 

Good times & great sounds @ NSAI Toronto Tin Pan North songwriter round robin

I was out at the Black Swan Tavern last night for the early round robin set of singer/songwriters, part of NSAI Toronto’s annual Tin Pan North music fest – featuring headliner Wendell Ferguson, with Tori Hathaway, Shaun Devlin and John Cheesman.

Host Jennifer Noble, a singer/songwriter herself, introduced the songwriters and off we went on a round robin of good country sounds. Hathaway (who is 15 years old) has been busy travelling and recording, and treated us to one of the songs she’s been working on in the studio: “I’m Ready,” a sweet, poppy song about new love. Devlin’s warm, folksy storytelling style paints pictures of relationships and places – my favourite is of a couple who play bars together and are still so much in love after all these years. Cheesman has a passionate, blues-infused sound – and “I’m Not Superman,” his heartfelt ballad about a friend coming to terms with his three-year-old son’s diabetes diagnosis, brought tears to my eyes. Ferguson’s songs combine outstanding musicianship with hilarious lyrics – mostly memorably, one song warning women against marrying a musician.

It was a great night of music, storytelling and friends – the upstairs bar at Black Swan feeling more like a kitchen party as each songwriter showcased his/her work. Here are some snaps I took last night:

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Tin Pan North continues today (May 24) – check out their schedule for the final day of music festivities, then get out there and support the artists.