Dropping in at their rehearsal, I heard and saw the energy, verve, and glorious harmonies that we’ve come to expect from The Lyric Theatre Singers.
Most of the 42 voices in the group had gathered at a Montreal West Church last month to run through some of the songs in their latest production, appropriately titled Too Darn Hot! – A Sizzling Broadway Revue. It plays at 8 pm June 13, 14, and 15 at the DB Clarke Theatre of Concordia U, with a matinee June 15.
Watching choreographer Jonathan Patterson fine-tuning movement and dance, I got a preview of the ensemble’s latest show, and, yes, it’s hot, hot, hot!
They were working on Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart, from the Broadway show and Disney film Anastasia. The lyrics are simply and cleverly rendered, the rhyming, harmony and rhythm
irresistible. They just don’t write them that way anymore.
The signature tune is Cole Porter’s classic Too Darn Hot, written for the 1948 musical Kiss Me Kate in the 1953 MGM film. A five-piece band will accompany the troupe including pianist Chad Linsley. At rehearsal he was pumped.
It’s not just oldies but goodies on this year’s menu for the group that was founded 54 years ago to produce and promote musical theatre in our town. Over the years it has established and maintained a standard of excellence — polished and professional. The fact that many cast members are in their 20s and 30s – the age range is 23-71 – means there is lots of energy and a burning desire to reach that higher level of performance.
Recent hits are being prepped for the concerts including Answer Me from The Band’s Visit – the Tony-Award winning Broadway hit about an Egyptian Orchestra finding its way in southern Israel. The Lyric show also rocks with the rousing opening number from Come From Away called Welcome to the Rock, the Broadway smash about how Newfoundlanders welcomed 7,000 stranded air passengers when flights were diverted during 9/11.
A more historical perspective comes when the singers tell the story of three families chasing the American dream in the early 20th century in a medley from Ragtime.
An innovation this year is a five-member tap-dance number, choreographed for the song Good Mornin’ from Singin’ in the Rain, reflecting the fact that this year’s crew includes two Americans, who, says co-director Cathy Burns, “have tons of experience and are very good tappers.”
“We look at who we have among our singers, what will interest, and challenge them,” Burns noted. “We’re upping the bar every year.”
The Cole Porter medley focuses on the tunes that have become jazz standards, starting with I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and ends upbeat and torrid, with Too Darn Hot!
As opening day approached, Burns says, “the show just flows, flows, flows, from beginning to end.”
Burns, and co-director Bob Bachelor, with help from actor/singer/musical director Chris Barillaro each come up with a list and at a first meeting look for interesting material, and decide what is appropriate for the talent available.
“We also try to keep it fresh, look for things that are current, and not forgetting the standards, that are super important,” Bachelor says.
“Some of our younger singers have never heard some of the tunes, and it’s like opening their ears, something new for them, and that’s very exciting for me,” he adds.
“They bring their freshness to it and the audience will pick up on their enthusiasm.”
The Ragtime medley includes relevant themes for today when it comes to “justice, and treating people of different ethnicities with equality — and a lot about women having no rights at all.”
“For me it’s one of the focal points of the show, and the music is just superb – melodic and powerful: it will certainly move people.”
Because a core group has been with the Lyric Theatre for several years, Bachelor says the energy and strength in rehearsals has been “very strong” and mastery of the material, the blocking, and choreography is moving faster than in previous years.
“I’m excited to see them get excited in front of the audience! It’s really an eclectic program. I cannot imagine that people will not enjoy themselves.”
Too Darn Hot is on 8pm, June 13, 14, and 15 and at 2pm on June 15, at Concordia’s DB Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd, near Metro Guy-Concordia. Tickets cost $38, seniors and students: $34, Children 12 and under: $17, and there are group rates. Tickets: 514-743-3382