Stage Door News
Stratford: Stratford Festival premiere “Up Close and Musical” on Stratfest@Home
Monday, January 25, 2021
As winter descends and the pandemic continues, the Stratford Festival offers up some heartwarming new content to entertain and inspire as we await the days when we will be able to gather in theatres again.
Up Close and Musical, a series of nine intimate cabarets featuring some of the Festival’s greatest musical performers, takes you back inside the Festival Theatre for the first time since the pandemic cancelled performances last spring.
Filled with emotion, love and laughter, these intimate cabarets feature songs from musical theatre greats and beloved songwriters – from standards to recent compositions. Each artist takes you on a personal journey inspired by and transcending these days of pandemic.
Featuring (in order of release) Marcus Nance, Robert Markus, Alexis Gordon, Cynthia Dale, Robert Ball, Chilina Kennedy, Kimberly-Ann Truong, Vanessa Sears and Dan Chameroy, Up Close and Musical was conceived and directed by Richard Ouzounian, with music director Franklin Brasz, lighting designer Lorenzo Savoini, sound recording and mixing engineer Thomas Ryder Payne and associate director Thom Allison.
“I can’t tell you how moved I was, when I watched these wonderful concerts, to see the beautiful Festival stage in use once more,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “It has stood empty for far too many months now. To have these incredible artists fill that auditorium with life and music gives me hope for the future, which can feel so far away.”
These concerts will roll out in the coming weeks on Stratfest@Home, the Festival’s $10-a-month subscription service, which offers a rich mine of theatrical content, including new and legacy films, documentaries and conversations, and original new content. They will also be available for free viewing at weekly Thursday night watch parties on the Festival’s YouTube Channel, beginning on January 28.
Up Close and Musical was captured in the fall under strict Covid guidelines in the Festival Theatre.
“This series, like our other new content, has helped us to employ people at a time when we are not able to have our theatres open,” says Executive Director Anita Gaffney. “We have been extremely encouraged by the public response to Stratfest@Home and are pleased to be able to offer some new entertainment options for people as we all do our part to follow government advice to stay home to curb the spread of the virus.”
A look at the artists and their cabarets
Voice of a Preacher’s Son
Accompanist: Franklin Brasz
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, January 28, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: January 28 – July 27, 2021
Marcus Nance’s father survived poverty and racism in the Deep South to realize his dream of raising a family in a home full of music. This music has taken Nance from his father’s church to the stage, including stints on Broadway and eight seasons at the Stratford Festival. Voice of a Preacher’s Son reveals the man behind the famous bass-baritone as he tells his family’s story amongst beloved, familiar tunes, like “Amazing Grace” and “Soon Ah Will Be Done,” and soaring Broadway hits.
Letting You Go
Accompanist: Franklin Brasz
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, February 11, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: February 11 – August 10, 2021
Robert Markus’s star has been rising at lightning speed with defining roles like Tommy in The Who’s Tommy and Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show, both here in Stratford, and the title role in Toronto’s Dear Evan Hansen. In 2020, he was on his way to his next milestone: originating the role of Young George in the world première of Here’s What It Takes in the Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre. In Letting You Go, Markus shares the pain of both personal and professional loss as he returns to the Stratford stage with heartfelt songs by Ben Folds, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Sondheim and more.
Accompanist: Kevin Ramessar
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, February 25, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: February 25 – August 24, 2021
Alexis Gordon found her life’s direction when she saw the all-Black cast of the Stratford Festival’s Harlem Duet and realized that dreams of the stage could come true for people who looked like her. Years later, she had a full-circle moment, making her Stratford debut as Julie Jordan in 2015’s Carousel, and she has since returned for three seasons. In Unexpected Dreams, Gordon explores what new dreams can arise from the world’s great pause, singing a selection of inspirational songs, including a special return to Carousel with “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Allow Yourself a Little Time to Cry
Accompanist: Charlene Nafziger
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, March 11, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: March 11 – September 10, 2021
Like many artists, Cynthia Dale felt great sadness this year and worried that singing in this troubled time was pointless. But as she returned to performing, her greatest joy, she came to realize it could be “a little balloon of hope for the world.” The longtime Stratford star returns to the Festival stage in an intimate cabaret featuring a tapestry of poignant songs from her illustrious career, including My Fair Lady’s “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream” and Stephen Sondheim’s emotional ballad “I Wish I Could Forget You” fromPassion.
Bold, Bruised, Born to Be
Accompanist: Jeremy Ledbetter
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, March 18, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: March 18 – September 17, 2021
Toronto-based singer-songwriter Robert Ball was to have made his Stratford debut in 2020 playing Brent in the world première of Here’s What It Takes, a brand new musical by Steven Page and Daniel MacIvor. The role – a successful Black gay man – was of particular significance for him as he felt it was the first time he had seen himself in a script. While his official debut waits in the wings, Ball presents himself to Stratford audiences for the first time in Bold, Bruised, Born to Be, featuring a suite of powerful songs, including Page’s timely anthem “Where Do You Stand?” as well as Ball’s moving original song “Breathe.”
Accompanist: Laura Burton
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, March 25, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: March 25 – September 24, 2021
For Broadway star Chilina Kennedy, the world is her stage, but Stratford is home. In Home Again, Kennedy makes her long-awaited return to the Festival stage, whisking you away on a whistle-stop tour of places she’s seen in the recent years of her extraordinary career, touching down on the first national tour of the Tony-winning The Band’s Visit, the Canadian musical Evangeline and her legendary Broadway run as Carole King in Beautiful. She also shares a special sneak peek of her upcoming new musical, Call It Love, with her original song “Prisoner.”
Can’t Remain Quiet
Accompanist: Reza Jacobs
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, April 1, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: April 1 – September 30, 2021
As an emerging performer, Kimberly-Ann Truong discovered her voice – only to face the challenge of persuading others that she was the one they wanted. Successful leading roles on Broadway (Miss Saigon) and in Stratford (The Rocky Horror Show) and Charlottetown (Kronborg) sealed the deal. While Festival fans will have to wait for her next starring role – she was set to play Lady of the Lake in 2020’s Monty Python’s Spamalot – this cabaret, Can’t Remain Quiet, reveals Truong as you’ve never heard her before, showcasing her talents with a selection of old favourites and hidden gems.
That’s How the Song Goes
Accompanist: Sean Mayes
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, April 8, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: April 8 – October 7, 2021
Rising star Vanessa Sears has performed on stages across the province, scooping up countless awards along the way, and was set to return for her second Stratford season in 2020 in the world première of Here’s What It Takes. As she reflects on feelings of loss from the last year, Sears is choosing not to retreat into music but to use it as a battle cry. That’s How the Song Goes features an eclectic selection of show tunes, like “Work the Wound” from Passing Strange and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from My Fair Lady, and “I’m Coming For Ya,” a brand-new song written specifically for her by JJ Gerber (who played Troy in Stratford’s 2016 production of A Chorus Line).
Accompanist: Charlene Nafziger
YouTube première (free streaming for 36 hours): Thursday, April 15, at 7:30pm EST
Streaming on Stratfest@Home: April 15 – October 14, 2021
Stratford fans have seen many sides of the incomparable Dan Chameroy, from his unforgettable Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show to all 10 characters in his mini digital soap opera Leer Estates, and now Imperfect shows him in a whole new light as he takes you through the soundtrack of his life. In this deeply personal cabaret, Chameroy mixes standards from his decades as a musical-theatre performer – including “The World Is Changing” from The House of Martin Guerre and “Feeling Good” from The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd – with beloved tunes he sang in his Franco-Albertan childhood home.
To enjoy these concerts and much more content, including the fun, new series Undiscovered Sonnets, subscribe to Stratfest@Home for just $10 a month by visiting the Stratford Festival website.