Those catchy tunes with gorgeous harmonies, stories both funny and serious, and exciting staging are what make the Broadway musical such a big part of our cultural heritage.
Celebrating that tradition is what Montreal’s Lyric Theatre is all about, and in its 27th consecutive year, the group has prepared another production that will send a chill down your spine, bring joyful tears to your eyes, or both.
That is what I felt when I dropped in to a Montreal West Church basement last month as 38 singers were rehearsing Hello Broadway. It is set for four performances at Concordia University’s DB Clarke Theatre June 15, 16, and 17.
Musical director Bob Batchelor was running the rather youthful ensemble through its paces as it rehearsed some of the songs.
This year’s centre-piece is a mini-musical presentation of Once Upon a Mattress, which opened off Broadway in 1959, then became a hit on the Great White Way for a total of 244 performances, with Carol Burnett first starring as Princess Winifred.
With co-director Cathy Burns, Batchelor decided to rerun this production because “it has great music and is very funny. It’s a mini-montage medley, about 25 minutes of a quick retelling of the Princess and the Pea,” with story arc, prop, and dialogue.
We have all heard that story as kids, the test of a true princess based on her sleeping on a pile of 20 mattresses with a lowly pea beneath them that would only irritate a blue blood with the softest of skin and low tolerance for pain.
Batchelor was blocking the second number, with pianist Benjamin Kwong at the keyboard, when the chorus chants that, having spent the night in the test sleep, “we’re going to find out what happened to our dear princess.”
And how does Winifred react: “Sleep? I never shut my eyes in that torture chamber!”
This of course kicks off a wild celebration with the chorus exploding in a joyful “O Life is Grand,” since until the determination that she is a real princess, nobody can have sex or get married.
The relative youth of the troupe – nine of 10 new female singers are in their twenties or thirties–
injects a brightness and energy to the chorus.
“I’m getting older, they’re getting younger,” says Batchelor, with a smile. “They’re the group that want to do this, and you have to be in shape to keep up. They’re discovering things, and they have
another reason to really want to sing it and communicate it. There’s an excitement in their voices, and they’re eating it up, from the contemporary to the older material. There is something special
happening this year.”
Marie Alexiou, a Grade 2 teacher at Westmount Park School and vocalist/guitarist in the Belfield folk-rock group, said she joined the troupe after performing in its Christmas show, to “rekindle the love” she has for musicals.
“I’m a big fan of the combination of escapism and fantasy in these plays, the way some of the stories celebrate mundane things,” she said.
After auditioning, Alexiou landed the lead role of the princess and in the rehearsal projected that sense of magic and wonderment that makes these scenes so much fun.
And as she notes, “there is nothing more powerful than 38 voices singing together.”
The program includes a tribute to Broadway composer Jule Styne with selections from Funny Girl, Gyspy, and Bells are Ringing. There are also highlights from A Chorus Line, Chicago, Grease, Follies, The Music Man, and more recent hits, such as Steel Pier, Lion King, Avenue Q, and the 2016 Tony Award-winning Hamilton.
The shows are at 8 pm June 15, 16, and 17, with a 2 pm matinee on Saturday, June 17. They cost $36, students and seniors pay $32. Other discounts are available at 514-743-3382, or lyrictheatrecompany.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org