by Lynn on September 20, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Ave. Toronto, Ont.

Book, music and lyrics by Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Music director and supervisor, Elizabeth Baird

Choreographed by Barbara Johnston

Arrangements by Bram Gielen

Production designed by Nick Blais, Anahita Dehbonehie and Ken MacKenzie

Video designed by Nick Bottomley

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Rielle Braid

Peter Delwick

Bruce Dow

David Fox

Donna Garner

Kira Guloien

Britta Johnson

The Silver Singers: Edge of the Sky Young Company from Wexford Collegiate

As close as you can come to participating in arousing cult revival meeting-celebration of life without drinking the Kool Aid.

The Story. Dr. Silver, the celebrated, charismatic and controlling religious leader, has died of a heart attack. We are here celebrating his life with his wife Donna, two daughters, Vera and Harmony, his long-time assistant Timothy Sweetman, musicians and a fine choir of fresh-faced high-school singers.

The family has some secrets of questionable goings on. While Dr. Silver has departed this life, he seems to control things from the next one.

The Production. As is typical of Outside the March, one of the two companies producing Dr. Silver: A Celebration of Life, (The Musical Stage Company is the other one) we are in a site specific to the production. The Heliconian Hall is the site for many classical concerts. For Dr. Silver’s purposes, the Hall was booked for his Celebration of life. As we file in we are given a small hard covered book of the service. We are welcome by soft-spoken people. The back of the left hand is stamped for entrance—always a tricky thing, that, getting skin stamped to mark one. The audience sits on three sides of the rectangular room. Timothy Sweetman) (Bruce Dow) is dressed in a reverend’s robes and welcomes us with a gentle hand out to take ours, giving them a gentle squeeze. I see trays and trays of small Dixie cups with about an inch of a blue liquid in each. I assume the assembled, including the audience, will have to drink from one of these cups. I ask Mr. Sweetman if that is in fact Kool Aid. He gently, kindly assures me it is not.

V shaped formations of tight plastic strips are stretched over our heads across the Hall that look like elegant spools of illumination of red, blue, white and other colours. A grand piano is up at one corner.  Up at one end, suspended above the floor is a huge photo of Dr. Silver I assume, that looks strangely like an older Anderson Cooper (which gave me some pause). At the other end high up the wall is a stained glass configuration. During the ceremony the participants and the choir will raise their arms towards the stained glass as if it represents some celestial being to be revered. Lighting equipment obstructed my viewing it clearly.

The effect of all this is a hip revival hall, it also seems otherworldly at times, with haze and bright light around a door, as if we are expecting someone.

Timothy Sweetman begins the service. He stands in front of a moveable lectern/pulpit and speaks into a microphone. Harmony Silver (Rielle Braid) the youngest daughter puts a record on an illuminated record player. It’s the voice of Dr. Silver talking to us and leading the celebration from the great beyond. From the reactions of the three women in his family, he certainly had a controlling hold on them and everyone else it seems. Harmony, as played by Rielle Braid, is unwavering in her devotion and belief in her father. Her sister Vera as played by Kira Guloien, is not as purely devoted. She is troubled by something. She looks questioning as her father is heard on the record. She knows a family secret and so does the mother Caroline, played by Donna Garner with staunch duty and commitment to her husband.

Something happened five years before that tested the family. Dr. Silver gave his daughters and wife orders on how to deal with the trouble. While the voice of Dr. Silver is the smooth-voiced David Fox who naturally commands respect and attention, Dr. Silver is another matter. As written by the two Johnson sisters (Anika and Britta) he is dangerous, blinkered to any idea that contradicts him and controls his followers. He talks of ‘the beautiful part’, of what is a mystery. Life? Their day? The Conclusion? Something worse?

Anika and Britta Johnson want the audience to be involved, so we sing from the book we received on entering. We rise to make a toast and sit when instructed. Mitchell Cushman guides the choir, the actors and the atmosphere so we are at first lulled into dutiful attention, then we realize that Dr. Silver’s hold on his family is dangerous.

And of course this being the dynamic writing duo of Anika Johnson and Britta Johnson there is music. The entire show is almost sung through. There is a funny, witty song expressing that Dr. Silver is dead which could mean his body or his cells or his molecules are all gone. There are songs of longing, regret, hope, joy and devotion. The music is often stirring with lush orchestrations thanks to Bram Gielen’s arrangements. And the melodies are certainly beautiful. But I have to tell you, that for all their prodigious output, at times the music has a sameness to it, a certain repetitive beat. Whether it’s Life After, or Brantwood or Trap Door  etc. the music diminishes into a sameness. One wishes they would cut songs rather than write more.

They are both gifted songwriters. Sometimes less music better serves the characters and the show.

Comment. It’s always a hoot seeing what these talented companies, performers and writers have in store. I wish there was more ruthless cutting of music that already expressed the same thought a few times before.

Produced by The Musical Stage Company and Outside the March

Opened: Sept. 17, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 14, 2018.

Running Time: 93 minutes.

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