by Lynn on November 11, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Young Center for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont. until Nov. 20, 2022.

Created by: Divine Brown

Frank Cox-O’Connell

Beau Dixon

Raha Javanfar

Travis Knights

Andrew Penner

Mike Ross

Sarah Wilson

Written by Sarah Wilson

Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell

Music Director, Mike Ross

Lighting Designer, Simon Rossiter

Sound Designer, Andres Castillo-Smith

Video Designer, Frank Donato

Performers: Divine Brown

Beau Dixon

Erin James

Raha Javanfar

Travis Knights

Erika Nielsen

Amanda Penner

Andrew Penner

Mike Ross

More than “just” a concert. It’s an evening full of exquisite artistry from a group of musicians with music pouring out of their fingertips. It’s a stunning, smart, thoughtful show.

The Golden Record is a kind of time capsule of music, sounds, images and photos that was sent into space on The Voyager space ship in 1977, in case extraterrestrials found it and wanted to know what life was like on earth. The Voyager space ship was sent into space to gather information about space to send back to earth. I do love that arrogance—that the extraterrestrials would need to be told about life on earth. Carl Sagan, the astronomy, and a committee decided what music, sounds, of animals and birds etc. would go into space. All the music, sounds etc. were put on a record called the Golden Record including a small record player and instructions in how to play the music etc.

The stage is full of music stands, instruments, a record player down stage, a back drop on which video images and photos will be projected and something that looked like a drawing which turned out to be the instructions for the small record player.

The ensemble enters through Simon Rossiter’s hazy, white light, gets into position and begins a raucous version of “Starman” by David Bowie, thus establishing the tone, vibrancy and punching energy of the evening. Hang on to your arm rests.

Mike Ross, the estimable music director of the ensemble, often acts as the narrator, giving the audience the information, background, history etc. that would go with the music. The evening is not an exact replaying of what was on the record. Sometimes they included their own selections. The cast of nine singers/dancer/musicians led by Mike Ross do give the music their own spin. But they also offer commentary—perceptive, thoughtful and often quietly blistering. For example, the ensemble is multi-racial and multi-cultural. They have great fun noting that Carl Sagan and his small committee were all white and would look at music etc. from a white perspective. So, when the Sagan Committee chose a song by Louis Armstrong for inclusion, the ensemble noted it was a boring rendition of the song, without a trace of the Louis Armstrong voice. So, the ensemble corrected that mis-step and picked “Saint Louis Blues” to sing that did show Armstrong’s raw, growly style.

Often the performers mix pieces of music together; for example Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier: Prelude in C” played on the piano by Beau Dixon while Mike Ross sings the Neil Young song “After the Gold Rush”. The combination is startling and beautiful.

Music from Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”), Igor Stravinsky (“The Rite of Spring, Part II-The Sacrifice”) and Beethoven (“Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67) are melded and it is glorious. “Bad Moon Rising” from Creedence Clearwater Revival was played with “Men’s  House Song” a traditional song from Northern New Guinea. This eclectic melding of music from different time periods, countries, and ethnicities makes you listen to the music and appreciate it in an entirely different way.

Nothing is ordinary when Beau Dixon and Mike Ross are involved. They both perform “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, Billy Rose) on one piano, either standing or kneeling. They shift places at the keyboard, intertwine arms to play and even bodies.

Dancer Travis Knights provides his voice through movement and tap dancing. His dancing coupled with Divine Brown’s singing of the traditional song, “Sinnerman” are eloquent, heartfelt and breathtaking. It is life and death in song and movement. Bring Kleenex.

The Golden Record will change the way you listen to music, songs, dance and how you see the world. Every single person involved is an artist of the first order. You don’t see quality like this often so rush to see this to fill your heart and soul.   

Soulpepper Theatre Company presents:

Plays until: Nov. 20.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

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