On Saturday Canada celebrated it’s 150 anniversary of Canada Day, as Soulpepper began their month long reign at Pershing Square Signature Center’s four stages on 42nd street. Soulpepper is an institution in Toronto, founded in 1998. With over 65 multi-talented artists bringing plays, musical revues and cabaret in rep, July is sure to be eventful.
On Saturday I caught True North, A Concert of Canada. This mix of songs and poetry, complete with projections designed by David Costello and Laura Warren, tried to bring a sense of the country’s identity to those of us who have never truly spent time there. For those in the audience who were Canadian it was a sense of nostalgia.
Sixteen songs by artist like Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot along with the phenomenal step dancing and fiddle-playing by Jon Pilatzke sought to capture our hearts. Pilatzke is a nimble bundle of energetic joy, who was not given credit for his numbers, though he almost stole the show!
Highlights included anything sung by Haily Gillis. On Joni Mitchell “River” she was like a flawless Tori Amos bringing a purity of tone to seduce. On Leonard J Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Ms. Gillis brought a depth of musicality, that made me wonder why this girl was not a singing sensation.
Another discovery was Neema Bickersteth. Her flawless operatic rendition of J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” was paired with Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush,” however musical director Mike Ross was not up to the challenge of this complicated mash-up. Ms. Bickersteth also soared on The Tragically Hip’s “Grace, Too.” Jackie Richardson brought her Gospel sound to Joe Sealy’s “Deep Down Inside” and Rita MacNeil,’s “Working Man.” Alana Bridgewater brought an emotional version of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina,” as Randy Bachman’s “Undone” sung by Daniel Williams brought joy.
Miranda Mulholland a talented violinist and vocalist was not always given the best material for her vocal range “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers, performed by Andrew Penner was a song I had not know.
What I found odd was that the narration by Diego Matamoros and Nancy Palk, who read from scripts instead of memorizing the text. It made what was extremely talented look amateurish.
The concert was uneven in performances and song selection, though was beloved by the audience I attend with. Though a lot of people liked Hunter Cardinals’s off pitch version of “Both Sides Now,” I found it strident and ineffective for an eleven o’clock number. What was affective was the speech he gave before that of the history of the Lenape Nation, the original native New Yorkers. Also missing were the songs of Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen or Weeknd, so the show’s musical selections seemed stuck in the 60’s or 70’s.
Altogether there are some really talented performers here and the celebration of Canada is evident. Do not miss Soupepper’s Of Human Bondage which is exquisite.
True North, A Concert of Canada: Pershing Square Signature Center