1 year ago

Volume 27 Issue 4 - February 2022

Gould's Wall -- Philip Akin's "breadcrumb trail; orchestras buying into hope; silver linings to the music theatre lockdown blues; Charlotte Siegel's watershed moments; Deep Wireless at 20; and guess who is Back in Focus. All this and more, now online for your reading pleasure.


MUSIC THEATRE Silver linings to the new-year lockdown blues JENNIFER PARR Melissa Morris in Sweetheart When the rapidly increasing spread of the Omicron variant and the new lockdown closed down our performance spaces once again in January, all kinds of theatre-going plans for the early new year had to be tossed out. Luckily, resilient companies and artists didn’t stop creating; their new and growing ease with filming and streaming, is still providing us with many ways to enjoy good music theatre in spite of the pandemic, and to cheer our souls during the coldest time of the year. Silver linings Among these bright spots is the opportunity to catch filmed versions of live shows we might otherwise not have seen. One of these is prolific Canadian composer Dean Burry’s Sweetheart, a one-woman musical about Canadian-born Hollywood star and brilliant business woman, Mary Pickford. Burry is probably best known for his operas, whether written for children like The Brothers Grimm, or telling Canadian stories such as the recent Dean Burry Dora Award-winning Shanawdithit, but he has also been a creator of musicals from the beginning of his career. GREG WANLESS I have known Burry since directing his opera for and about teenagers, Pandora’s Locker, at the Glenn Gould School back in 2008, so I reached out to him to find out more about this show. It turns out that Sweetheart is one of his earliest works. “It was first written in 1997,” he told me, “just after I graduated with my master’s degree in composition from the University of Toronto, and was working in the box office at the COC. I was reading all these biographies of musical theatre composers for inspiration and came across a mention of Irving Berlin at a dinner party with Mary Pickford. Remembering that she was from Toronto, I investigated a bit further and that led to the first version of the show.” That early version only got as far as workshops with friends, but in 2011 a revised version was performed in the newly renovated 1920s setting of Toronto’s Spadina House, with a remount in Haliburton the following summer. That was that for ten years, until the fall of 2021 when new workshops were undertaken with director Greg Wanless and actor Melissa Morris, resulting in a newly revised version that was performed in Kingston last December. But why a one-woman version of this story? Well, for several reasons. “As a young Canadian composer,” Burry told me, “‘economy of means was always in my thoughts – i.e. how can we do the most with the very least? I imagined Sweetheart as a female version of John Gray’s excellent one-man show, Billy Bishop Goes to War. I also just love the theatricality of this kind of show where one actor plays all the characters to the point that we believe we see them talking to each other. There is something magical about that.” And to top it off, “usually, silent movies [like Pickford’s] were accompanied in the movie theatre by a single piano and I wanted to create that kind of feeling.” There is also something meta-theatrical about this reconceptualized version of Sweetheart: we, the streaming audience, will be watching on our screens, captured on film, a live show that is itself being 14 | February 2022

PATRICK HODGSON Ursa, the filmed version: from left: Sam Boer, Belinda Corpuz, Jake Schindler and Stephen Ingram performed in front of a movie screen that can function as either a projected backdrop, or moving picture that the actor will sometimes interact with. Burry praises both director Wanless and actor Morris for their contributions to this new version of Sweetheart which is much tighter and more streamlined, leaving behind the documentary detail that his younger self, as he describes it, “had become obsessed with including.” Instead it focuses on the dramatic core: “[Pickford] always feeling held back by her famous bubbly young girl film persona as ‘America’s Sweetheart,‘ and then her fading celebrity with the advent of the talkies.” Her famous creation of film company United Artists with husband Douglas Fairbanks and friend Charlie Chaplin also features significantly, and weaving everything together is Burry’s original score inspired by the music of Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, evoking the early days of Tin Pan Alley and the first moving pictures. Sweetheart was captured live over several performances in Kingston, Ontario and will be streamed online from January 27 to February 6. “We want to create accessible versatile shows that feel like folk concerts [and] tell stories like musical theatre.” — Jake Schindler and Sam Boer Ursa: A Folk Musical Equally theatrical but even more experimental is The Uncommon Folk Collective’s theatre-concert hybrid Ursa: A Folk Musical which will premiere as part of The Next Stage Festival. Ursa, like most of the other shows in the festival was originally supposed to be performed to live audiences, but from necessity has pivoted and is in the final stages, as I write, of being filmed to stream online from January 30 to February 7, with a possible extension to be confirmed soon. I was lucky enough to catch a virtual (online) glimpse of Ursa VERDI APRIL 23–MAY 20 Live opera rETUrNS Single tickets go on sale February 22, 2022 February 2022 | 15

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