Review: STARS: Together

by Lynn on December 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Toronto, Ont.

Created by STARS, Chris Abraham and Zack Russell

Written by Zack Russell with STARS and Chris Abraham

Set and lighting by Ken MacKenzie

Sound by Jesse Ash

Video Designed by Amelia Scott

Puppet Co-Designer, Zack Fraser

Cast: Torquil Campbell

Evan Cranley

Chris McCarron

Pat McGee

Amy Millan

Chris Seligman

STARS: Together is a STARS concert with some history, angst, frustration, forgiveness and whining about the band’s 20 years together and dancing at the end.

STARS is the rock indie band from Montreal headed by Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan as the two most prominent members of the band, at least to me who has listened to them only on the radio. It’s usually Campbell and Millan who are referenced most often. The band has been together for 20 years and recorded eight albums. This is quite an accomplishment so Torquil Campbell believed that there was a play there to explore the people of the band and how and why they have been together for so long. He found a willing collaborator in Chris Abraham, the Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre.

In 2017 Campbell and Abraham collaborated on Campbell’s play, True Crime in which Campbell revealed his obsession with real-life murderer and imposter Christian Gerhartsreiter. As a performer in that show Torquil Campbell was intense, introspective, poetic, exuberant and scary-obsessed.

Now we have STARS: Together. STARS is composed of Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley, Chris McCarron, Pat McGee, Amy Millan and Chris Seligman. Rather than go in a chronological format telling us when they met, formed the band and began writing and recording songs together, we get bits and pieces of the history, the relationships of the various band members—they seem to have had various pairings in the band over the years and now Amy Millan is married to Evan Cranley—and how they all differ personality wise. Most of the men are quiet, unassuming and keep a low profile. Torquil Campbell, who formed the band with his school friend Chris Seligman, is the ‘wild-man’ of the group and is intense, introspective, poetic, exuberant and scary-obsessed. Amy Millan is the optimist and the peace-maker. When ever Torquil Campbell seems to go off on a philosophical, psychological, self-absorbed rant, which is often, there is Amy Millan calming the waters.

After Campbell lets loose berating the band for not caring about something and that only he cares for the band and takes everything on himself to defend them, the men of the band want nothing to do with him. Campbell calls each in turn on their cell phones. Each in turn sees that it is Campbell calling and ignore the call. Campbell then calls Amy Millan who sees it’s Campbell and cheerfully says to the group, “Oh it’s Torq” and answers the phone as if nothing is wrong and he did not behave badly. There is a lot of forgiveness going on in that group. I guess it’s one of their talents as well as making music.

In another scene the band has to get to New York on their own dime to play a free gig for Spotify. The whole idea irks Campbell. They play the gig but Campbell sounds off to the assembled heads of the company about corporate greed and moral corruption etc. and also empties the cupboards of the snacks on hand into a giant green garbage bag. He later is contrite to his band mates. This comes early in the show so we get a sense of with what they all have to contend.

The ‘play’ takes place in an apartment they all rented in Montreal where they hung out, recorded their music, wrote and chilled. It’s packed with all sorts of stuff from musical instruments, dishes, cups, saucers, a microwave, stove, fridge, couch, and recording equipment. Thanks to Ken MacKenzie’s design it looks like a place well lived in.  And there are two wonderful ‘robot-puppets’ with a balloon for a head in each case (bravo to Zach Fraser who is listed as the Puppet Co-designer, but no other person is listed. If someone in the band said he helped design the puppets, shouldn’t that be noted in the programme?). At times a face is projected onto the balloon as the robot-puppet comes to ‘life.’ Masterful.

Chris Abraham directs this with a sense of whimsy and irreverence. We hear each member of the group trudging up what must be a lot of stairs to get to the apartment. The door opens and each steps in using a high-stepping leg movement. It’s funny maybe once. It’s repeated often. Millan hangs her coat on a hook on the wall and then the coat falls off the hook, repeatedly. Others hang their coats on the hook and the coats stayed. Torquil Campbell is the last to arrive and he appears along a runway going through the audience.

The band sings many of their songs—alas there is no song list. The singing from Millan and Campbell is joyful, energetic, exuberant and full throated. The lyrics are poetic, deeply thought and literary.

There is no indication of who wrote the song or why I guess because STARS: Together is not interested in the nuts and bolts nature of the history of such bands. And besides the fans of the band would know all that. Who then is this show for? The place seemed to be packed with a different Crow’s Theatre audience. A STARS audience? Probably. At the end of the show Torquil Campbell let loose with a song, jumping in the air with the exuberant joy of performing and then said it was time to dance and those in the know got up and swayed to the music.

STARS: Together is an odd show. It’s really a concert with some biographical bits to it. The programme says “Crow’s Theater presents STARS in concert” in the smallest print imaginable without having to use a magnifying glass. For those who don’t know the band’s biographical details there is always ‘Google.’ And for those who don’t know the band’s music, there is always Spotify. (Sorry Mr. Campbell).

Crow’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 29, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 15, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes approx.

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