In Focus: Elegies: A Song Cycle

Acting Up Stage Theatre Company wants to create a new style of musical theatre. Or, if not create, then at least promote it. The company produces musicals that are accessible and simplified, hoping to show audiences that huge and over blown budgets are not always the key to great theatre. Elegies: A Song Cycle is no exception. Five actors, bare stage, one piano. And with its simplicity, the focus remains on the music and the presentation of that music.

"I believe that theatre should be intimate and accessible", says Mitchell Marcus, Artistic Producer of Acting Upstage. "We need to find tools to make the new generation of audiences (35 and under) excited about going to the theatre so that our art form has a future in this city. I would love Toronto to reclaim its place as the third largest theatre centre in the world with a mix of Canadian plays and international hits playing in our city at any given time."

The play consists of musical numbers written by Tony award winning writer William Finn and is an introspective piece about post 9/11 reflections of friends, family, pets, and victims of the tragedy.

The show begins with an indelible image. A man enters with a single piece of computer paper. He raises it slowly and then lets it go. As it floats slowly downward others enter and stare up towards the back wall. The lighting places a vageu image off of the white sheets habging that looks much like two large buildings. It is a powerful image of people who must have stood under the towers when they were first hit. My own earliest visual memories of the tragedy are very similar.

There were a range of numbers that evoked snickers and smiles as well as tears and excitement. Numbers like Joe Papp , My Dog and Dear Reader are fast paced numbers that break up the heavy moments and allow audiences to take in the heavier and more sombre numbers like 14 Dwight Ave and Saying my Goodbyes.

"After September 11th, the piece developed a more urgent purpose of demonstrating a way to mourn. Therefore, William Finn's Elegies is a look at one man's response to the loss in his life (from his mother to his dog to the victims of September 11th), teaching us all how we should be looking at loss in a world where it has become so prevalent. However, in doing so, William Finn has also created a work that is funny, poignant, extremely life affirming, and offers audiences the chance to hear some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard sung by five amazing performers."

The show ends as it began with the single sheet trailing off into the blackout. As I looked around the room I noticed that there was hardly a dry eye in the house, proving that the intention to connect to the audience had been achieved. As the five performers came on for their second curtain call, their effort to be lauded, it was aptly apparent that they were feeling that as well. The general mood in the room silently saying that what was being done here was far more relevant than a simple offering of entertaining numbers.

"I hope that an audience goes away with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye for their own friends and family who have passed on. I hope that the show reminds all of us how lucky we are to experience life's infinite joys and to be touched by the people around us before and after they have passed on".

Elegies: A Song Cycle - by Acting Up Stage Theatre Company Running to March 3, 2007 at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre in Toronto

Photo of Thom Allsion, Barbara Barsky, Michael Strathmore and Eliza - Jane Scott

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