by Lynn on November 18, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Digital edition of the annual concert from The Musical Stage Co.

Available until Dec. 6, 2020.

Musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Reza Jacobs

Video Direction by Victoria Barber

Videography by Fred Yurichuk

Cast: Divine Brown

Dillan Chiblow

Bruce Dow

Sara Farb

Eva Foote

Hailey Gillis

Raha Javanfar

Germaine Konji

Stewart Adam McKensy

Andrew Penner

Kale Penny

Jackie Richardson

Musicians: Jamie Drake

Justin Grey

Reza Jacobs

The Musical Stage Company’s Artistic Director, Mitchell Marcus, believes ‘it’s better with music.’ No argument there. You can say difficult things with music and somehow it’s easier to deal with or there is an edge that is more effective. Think of anything in Caroline, or Change (a huge hit for the company last year) and you get the idea.

The Musical Stage Company has always given a yearly concert devoted to the song book of an artist or two. The pandemic required that Mitchell Marcus rethink his original plans for a live concert at Koerner Hall that would feature the songs of Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton. What was needed in these challenging times were songs “of change, hope, reflection and inspiration.” And so the works of Elton John, Bob Marley, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday, among others, were selected for the company’s first ever digital concert: UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART.

Each singer was filmed at a Toronto location singing their song. (The song was also recorded in a studio). It’s fun to try and name where the location is. (The digital programme tells you where each location is). Each singer was involved in many aspects of the concert and not just singing. They were involved in the arrangements and even in the video recording. Can I assume that they also picked the place they wanted to sing the song? Sounds logical.

At the beginning of each segment the singer explains why the song appeals to them, what it means to them. These comments add a personalized  aspect to the impeccable singing and interpretation.  Andrew Penner sang “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens at The Toronto Railway Museum. His guitar accompaniment was energetic, his singing impassioned.

Bruce Dow illuminates a sense of despair mixed with hope in “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. Hailey Gillis is filmed on Centre Island, during summer. She sings Leonard Cohen meditative ballad “Hallelujah. There seems to be a story there as well: she is quickly writing in a notebook; she then wades into the water and sends the page she was writing on into the water to float away. What it means is a mystery but Gillis sings the song beautifully with plaintive emotion. Jackie Richardson lends her larger than life, joyful personality to Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” as she walks around the Barry Zukerman Amphitheatre.

The whole cast and musicians sing Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” obviously on a chilly fall day in front of The Royal Conservatory of Music—the concert would have been held there in Koerner Hall.

Perhaps the most poignant interpretation of a song is by Sara Farb beautifully singing Jann Arden’s “Good Mother. Farb begins to sing the song in what looks like a tree house in a large backyard. A woman stands in the yard as Farb approaches her. This is obviously Farb’s own mother. Then Sara Farb does what all of us are aching to do to someone we love but can’t because of pandemic precautions, she hugs her. In a sense Farb is hugging her for all of us.

Mitchell Marcus is such a gifted, creative artistic thinker. He has successfully guided the Musical Stage Company to produce many provocative, challenging live musicals and the Uncovered Concerts. It’s to his great credit that he adapted to the new (temporary?) technological world and worked to create the UNCOVERED concert as a filmed work. He engaged Victoria Barber, Video Director and Fred Yurichuk, Videographer, both of whom have created trailer videos to publicize the concerts and musicals for the Musical Stage Company. Here’s where I have a problem.

I can appreciate that a trailer, be it for a film or a concert etc., has to grab the audience’s attention quickly and give them a sense of the film or musical event etc. The filming is complex, often cutting away from shot after shot to create the effect. I appreciate it’s artful filming. But when all that jumpy filming then goes into creating  the film of the event itself, then something gets lost. In too many cases what got lost with UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART was in fact the song or at least the message of it.

Rarely was the camera still and focused on the singer. It seemed always to be moving. Divine Brown played her guitar and sang “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley with the camera circling her, leaving the background of Riverdale Park East a blur teasing us to wonder where we were. One wished the camera would just focus and let us listen to her sing.

Raha Javanfar sang “The Times They Are a Changing” by Bob Dylan walking in Graffiti Alley.  At one point Victoria Barber directed Fred Yurichuk to film Javanfar as if he was bent over at 90 degrees and looked sideways at her. And then followed that shot with one in which Raha Javanfar looked like she was upside down. How does this in anyway serve the song or the singer? Too often I was aware of the efforts of the filming because it pulled focus from the singer and the song and not enhanced them. Again, the most effective example of the power of simple filming was Sara Farb singing “Good Mother.”

I appreciate the effort, attention to musical detail and the musicianship of the whole endeavor of UNCOVERED: NOTES FROM THE HEART. But the busy, focus-pulling camera-work was maddening. I found I listened to a lot of this concert with my eyes closed. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Produced by The Musical Stage Company.

The concert is available for streaming until December 19.


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