Last night, Alasdair and I were fortunate enough to take in the preview performance of Elegies: A Song Cycle, playing at CBC Studio 700. First of all, the performance space was incredibly unique, and if you haven’t been in the new CBC Radio Building in Vancouver, then for that reason alone I recommend you check out this musical. I jest of course, as the musical itself was absolutely fantastic, and with it’s limited run of engagement and the final performance this Sunday, September 11th, you’ll need to act quickly if you want to check it out. The musical was brought to Vancouver and presented by my favourite little production company, The Pipedream Theatre Project Society (or Not Just a Pipedream Equity Co-op). If you recall, this was the group that brought in the musical Nine, which I also adored.
I’ll admit, I was completely naïve heading into this musical. I attempted to do a little research this afternoon to find out more about the musical (hell, I actually thought it was a play before I read the program) and wasn’t entirely sure what I was researching when doing so. I really only had the name of the musical and there wasn’t a lot of information as far as the Vancouver market was concerned, and the musical’s promotion hadn’t truly hit it’s stride yet. From the moment the musical started though, I was swept away with the five-actor performance, accompanied by one incredibly simple piano player. It was a somber, melancholic-addicts dream. The musical itself focused on the exploration of grief and the variety of forms it can show up in a person’s life, all through song. There was not a single spoken word through this entire performance, and to be honest, I loved the fact that there was no talking. I found the musical transitions were timed to perfection, and the range of voices from the three men (all named Andrew in fact) and two ladies (Colleen and Meghan) were incredibly complimentary.
The musical also touched on the tragic events surrounding September 11, 2001; the terrorist attacks that plagued New York City, and truly, the world at large. This musical was presented with perfect timing as we approach the tenth anniversary of those events, and as so many people around the world will be reflecting on the devastation that occurred that day. If you are old enough to recall the events, you will most likely remember exactly where you were when you heard the news that hi-jacked airplanes had targeted the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City.
As I walked in to the theatre I was astonished at the set up for the performance; a simple tiered stage in the corner with some losing hanging photographs to help instill emotion, a basic piano and five black table chairs for the actors. Facing the stage were a few simple rows of folding chairs for the audience, and the rest of the space was to be filled with sorrowful song. To be fair, this musical is not as doom-and-gloom as I may be portraying, as there several upbeat, often chuckle-inducing tunes that kept the sway of emotions swinging from end-to-end. I said to Alasdair on our walk home that my own range of emotions that came pouring forward as each song ebbed and flowed wildly surprised me.
Each of the five actors had at least one breakout performance throughout the musical. Colleen Winton’s came near the end, in her emotional performance of Looking Up, the song that spoke directly to the absence in the skyline of New York City after September 11th. The thought and performance still sends chills down my spine. Meghan Anderssen’s moment was extremely emotional as well, as she sang Anytime (I Am There); this song was an ode from a mother, to her daughters, as she prepares to die from cancer. This song sent me to a place I didn’t even know I could have in a public area. I begin thinking of everything I would want to say if I were ever in a similar situation, and believe me, the tears were on the brim!
The eldest of the trio, Andrew Wheeler, caught my attention during his lively and entertaining rendition of Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving. I highly recommend you look this song up for yourself, as it really is a catchy tune with a great story. Trust me, it’s worth it! The tallest of the trio, Andrew Cohen, literally blew me away with every solo performance. If I had to pick one, I would say Mr. Cohen truly impressed me with his quirky tune, Fred. I can’t even begin to tell you what this was about, as I remember chickens, metal head plates and more from the lyrics. You’ll need to see the musical yourself to know what I mean. Last but not least, the shortest of the trio, Andy Toth performed Joe Papp with such pizzazz and humour that I couldn’t help but let out a cheer as the song wrapped. It. Was. Hysterical. These three men complimented one another beautifully, and I hope Vancouver audiences have the opportunity to see them perform together again in the future.
This musical truly has something sad for everyone, spanning gay relationship issues, AIDS, cancer, the loss of a family member, lover, pet, and more. I would be hard pressed to find an individual who saw this musical and wasn’t able to find at least one song/story they could connect to. It truly is an inspirational performance that forces the audience to connect with their emotions and explore their own personal grief, and ones ability to deal with it as they move through life. If you couldn’t tell by my review, I loved this musical!
The note from the director, Mike Mackenzie:
I remember where I was in the morning of September 11, 2001. Many of us were glued to the television as reports streamed in, and I sat staring in awe and shock as the towers collapsed. Even from the comfort of my home in Toronto I was overwhelmed by the images playing out in front of me. When I that William Finn had written Elegies almost 18 months after that fateful day, I ran out to the store to get a copy. I was overwhelmed by the imagery in this music, and almost 8 years later, here we are, presenting this beautiful show for Vancouver audiences 10 years later.
We have all experienced loss, and while it’s hard, we must stay strong, move on, and remember those special moments that we shared with them. My wish would be that you leave here today and simply remember.
That definitely stops and makes you think, doesn’t it? I strongly recommend you check this musical out! Tickets are available at the door from the following website; http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/192642
For more information on The Pipedream Theatre Project Society, check out their website, as there is always something going on with this incredible group!