By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“All these lovers want is one shining hour/ is that such a terrible lot to ask?/ Look around you, see for yourself! The romantic atmosphere.”
— from She Loves Me
Happy Valentine’s Day from Plain Jane Theatre!
In their new musical revue opening in this week devoted to matters of the heart, you’ll hear a bustling A-type head waiter explain, in song, the raison d’être of the plush cafe in his charge: “romantic atmosphere.” .
“Romantic atmosphere”: it’s the also raison d’être (and opening number) of Ah! Romance!. It mines the musical theatre repertoire — the classics, the contemporary hits, the neglected gems in which the Janes specialize — for peak romantic moments.
The supply isn’t meagre. How on earth to choose? The Janes’ artistic director Kate Ryan started, she says, “by asking the cast what they thought were some of the most romantic moments in musical theatre. You know, the ones that make you squirm with gleeful embarrassment as two passionate singers manage to embrace and sing those crazy high notes at the same time.”
You’ll hear numbers from musicals as divergent as Hello Dolly! and The King And I to Company and On The Town. You’ll hear He Plays The Violin, sung by Thomas Jefferson’s wife in the little-known Sherman Edwards musical 1776; you’ll hear Follow Your Heart from Urinetown. And the loose thread that joins them all is the starlet/director dynamic of the Cy Coleman musical On The Twentieth Century, in which Janes fave Jocelyn Ahlf partners with fellow Teatro La Quindicina star Ron Pederson in his Jane debut.
“I’m not limited to a decade or a writer…. Oooo, which child is my favourite child?” Ryan says of this crisis of amplitude in her chosen field. “The voices of the songs are so different!”
“I love jumping from one world to the next,” says Ryan. “Opening a door and finding, say, a woman who thinks she knows what she wants — and by the end of the song she’s not so sure. There’s a story there….”
That would be My White Knight from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, one of two dozen-plus numbers in the show, culled from musicals of wildly different musical and dramatic styles, not to mention perspectives on love, eye-watering heartbreak to hilarity.
There was no shortage of ideas from the musicals-besotted Janes, joined for the first time by Pederson and newcomer Gianna Read. Jason Hardwick, for example, suggested I Am What I Am, the self-empowering declaration from La Cage Aux Folles. Madeleine Knight loved Changing My Major, a witty song of free-associative, spiralling discovery and elation from Fun Home. That beautiful, moving Jeannine Tesori musical is a memoir in which a little girl grows up, goes to college, discovers and discovers her own sexuality when she falls madly in love, and learns too late that her father was gay too.
Ryan, who teaches the fine musical theatre art of delivering dramatic moments in song at MacEwan University when she’s not directing and acting herself, puts the 1963 Jerry Bock/ Sheldon Harnick charmer She Loves Me in her “top five of romantic musicals.” She finds Rodgers and Hammerstein “incredibly romantic.” Ditto Cole Porter. “Romance is so rich, so messy: the chemistry between two people trying to figure each other out!”
In fashioning a romance revue, Ryan says she “I looked at what makes a great musical” and its arc of song placement. She describes the sequence she built into the architecture of Ah! Romance!: “the ‘who am I? I’m gonna tackle the world’ song, the ‘roadblock’ song, the ‘testing with your partner’ song, the ‘call to adventure’, the ‘meeting the mentor, the one who knows all’, the ‘crossing the theshhold, c’mon take a chance’ song, the ‘supreme ordeal, confronting the monster of commitment’ song. Ah yes, and there’s “the lessons learned”song.
“Like a box of rich chocolates each song is about a million calories. But so worth it!” Ryan laughs. “Hilarious! I just now thought of that-probably because there is a box of chocolates right beside me that I’ve been trying to avoid all night!”
We caught up with the Ah! Romance! cast to discover their thoughts on romance.
Ron Pederson: “The world must be romanticized! I can’t think of something I’ve romanced more over the years than musicals, maybe vodka, but I’ve given that up! Nothing transcends like music and cuts to the quick more than music and poetry combined, like the songs in our show.
The titular song from the show from A Light in Piazza, always gets me, the whole score really. I was at the opening night on Broadway, and it was hard to pull myself together emotionally in time for the party.
I love that I get to sing the utterly, rhapsodic and romantic Our Private World from On the Twentieth Century. It’s usually sung by a sonorous baritone, but we’ve raised the key to accommodate a tenor. I’m also thrilled to be singing it with Jocelyn Ahlf. I’ve had the pleasure of being her leading man quite a few times over the years and I’m such a fan of her laser beam voice. Especially at close range, when she’s singing right in my face!
Jocelyn Ahlf: “I love the romantic songs of Rogers and Hammerstein. The melodies are simple and beautiful and talk about larks and mist and moonlight, something I long for living in the city.
Madelaine Knight: (in reference to Changing My Major from Fun Home) It’s wonderful to see contemporary writers honouring all expressions and forms of love and romance! Regardless of sexual orientation, love is intersectional and deserves celebration in song.”
Jason Hardwick– Romance and I have not always been on the best of terms in real life, but getting lost in the glory of these songs makes my heart burst. Listening to all the songs reminds me just how vast the idea of romance can be. There is a song that sits very close to home for me: “I Am What I Am” by Jerry Herman. A song about loving yourself and celebrating who you are in the world regardless of what other people are going to think. Especially in a time where love is so very needed in this world. You’re with yourself until the very end so why not love yourself? Life will mean just that much more…. Besides, you can justify buying yourself chocolate and wine WAY easier this way.
Gianna Read-I love the excitement romance can bring. The anticipation of what’s to come, the mystery of what may happen, and the joy that you feel when you find that person who gives you butterflies. Everyone feels romance so differently, it’s amazing to get to explore it with so many beautiful songs from across the decades!
Ah! Romance: A Revue of Song, Dance, And Other Passionate Musings
Theatre: Plain Jane
Directed by: Kate Ryan
Starring: Jocelyn Ahlf, Jason Hardwick, Madelaine Knight, Ron Pederson, Gianna Read
Where: Varscona Theatre, 10329 83 Ave.
Running: Thursday through Feb. 25
Tickets: TIX on the Square (780-420-1757, tixonthesquare.ca)