The Lyric Theatre presented its spring production, Hello Broadway, before a full house at the DB Clarke Theatre at Concordia University on June 15, 16 and 17.
At least in this musical revue of Broadway hits, the 52-year-old community theatre company combined the energy of an entity half its age with the spit and polish of a professional troupe. With an enthusiastic cast that spans the gamut in terms of age and ethnicity, Hello Broadway, which is composed of show tunes from the classical Broadway era, featured all 37 members of the Lyric Theatre singers en chorale, as well as some strong solo performances.
Paying tribute to A Chorus Line, one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, is a bold move for a community theatre because of the contrast between the lithe bodies that appeared in the original 1975 production and the more typical body types that compose a community theatrical company. One assumes that those dancers who appear to be within striking range of their seventh decade were kicking a little less vigorously than the original cast. Not much twisting or backbending was to be seen either.
But as a chorus, the group soared. Crisp choral numbers were interrupted by virtuoso solo performances. Throughout the show, pitch-perfect harmonies were riveting even when the action on stage slowed a bit.
A few solo performers deserve a shout-out. When Will Fech sang ‘Ya Got Trouble’ from The Music Man, his ratatatta patter could have matched any rapper. Hélène Charbonneau and Suzanne Lamontagne teamed up for a heartfelt rendition of ‘Who’s That Woman?’— a Sondheim number from Follies— with rich contralto voices, charisma and utter conviction.
Bob Bachelor (founder of the Lyric Theatre Singers) and Cathy Burns applied a deft touch in adapting song and dance routines to fit the troupe’s talents. If the original range was a bit too ambitious, Lyric’s harmonies rounded out the sound nicely. If these dancers are no longer capable of capering on stage, they moved together well on the minimally-designed set. A dusting of humour added a bit of spice— for instance, when one of the singers looked mournfully at her chest as she pined for ‘tits’ in ‘Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love!’ The retro aspect was momentarily cast aside when ‘Forget About the Boy’ was sung by . . . a boy. (In the original Broadway production of A Thoroughly Modern Millie, Millie is unequivocally a girl. Now s/he is apparently a thoroughly post-modern Millie.
At some points, the group on stage looked as though it could have been borrowed from a Wednesday-morning fitness class at the Y, but the music belied this impression— for instance, when David Chhiv’s booming tenor sang Elton John’s ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King. The encore— led by a bluesy blonde bombshell named Katherine Fournier in the spirited ‘Find Your Grail’ from Spamalot— had the sell-out crowd rocking. During the entire show, Lyric’s minimalist orchestra maintained a cool, jazzy back story.
Kudos to Bob Bachelor, artistic director; Cathy Burns, stage director; Jonathan Patterson, guest choreographer; Bejamin Kwong, pianist. Other musicians included Jennifer Bell (sax, flute, clarinet); Robin Chemtov (synth, keyboards); Guillaume Pilote (drums, percussion) and Caleb Smith (bass).
The Lyric Theatre singers are grouped according to Soprano 1 (Justine Bell, Adriana Carmona, Farida El Kilany, Katherine Fournier, Laurie-Anne Jean-Baptiste, Nina Juillerat, Élaine Salvail); Soprano 2 (Marie Alexiou, Nubia Beckley-Delaleu, Karen Cassini, Linda Cregan, Karine Philippot, Julia Zwicker); Alto 1 (Hélène Charbonneau, Danielle Hoyt, Holly Mendel, Laurence St-Denis, Nathalie Thermil, Sterling Tipton); Alto 2 (Gloria Aronoff, Suzanne Lamontagne, Bethany Mount, Emmanuelle Perreault, Yamila Scarone Azzi, Ann Mooney-Stewart); Tenor (Tarik Azgui, Patrick Bernard, Ian Burke, David Chhiv, Jorge Cordts, Matthew Ho); baritone (Ben Corkett, Will Fech, Martin Kaller, Marlene Schwartz); bass (Dario Allard, Adam Gallay, Jean-François Paradis).
Seems they’ve got the diversity thing covered.
For those who are new to Lyric Theatre, this retro may encourage a following. To have a so-called amateur community theatre of this calibre is a tribute to the vivacity of Montreal’s cultural life. The variety of body types, biographies, birth years and general demographics means that you’re seeing community theatre at its best.
Some of the performers, like Suzanne Lamontagne, have day jobs as psychologists or teachers. But on stage, they are all amateurs— dancing, singing, throwing it all out there just for the love of the show. Isn’t that the very definition of the term? [Nice little vignette here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9o8RDNDPJQ.]
If we had one quibble, it would be to wonder why the Lyric Theatre seemingly restricts itself to ‘Broadway, jazz and pop’. With the discipline and guidance of its choreographers, directors, conductors and the myriad volunteers that transform a motley crew of people into a tight band of performers, this gang seems capable of just about anything.
In any case, people whose collective memory includes Broadway show tunes (like my 30-something Asian neighbor or my octogenarian Westmount friend) I can only say, you’re missing something.
Lyric Theatre Singers will be holding fall auditions. They encourage amateur singers to apply (email@example.com). No pressure. From high-schoolers to housewives to honchos, all are welcome. Somehow President Louise Dorais and her extensive production team manage to keep it friendly and professional, and to weave these disparate elements into a lovely, spirited motif. While the company specializes in Broadway show tunes, jazz and pop, they also perform a special Christmas show at Loyola Chapel at Concordia University.
And with an eye to its future, the Theatre excitedly announced the addition of 10 new female singers who arrived via this year’s auditions. Some of the newcomers, in their 20s and 30s, will no doubt boost the energy quotient. A few more bass or baritone voices would be a welcome enrichment, no doubt.
Overall, what shines through like limelight is delight. The smiles seem genuine. The singers sing their hearts out. The audience responds. And if that’s not enough to send you home humming, well, there’s always the other Broadway— with tickets starting in the hundreds of dollars and probably only a fraction of the fun.