By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Crescendo! (Stage 12, Varscona Theatre)
Why do people sing? And why do they sing together?
There is something both touching and exhilarating about a musical that takes these questions and runs with it, the way this new “play with music” does. A collaboration between musical theatre specialists Plain Jane Theatre and Chorus Productions, and set in a women’s community choir, it gives us a gallery of characters who have their own motivations for joining a choir — and making Thursday a sacred ritual in which they breathe and sing together.
What’s the draw? There are as many stories as there are characters. Playwright Sandy Paddick based her idea on real-life interviews. There’s prim Bobby (Colleen Tillotson) and anti-prim Darla (Michelle Diaz), who met in rehab, the former for an eating disorder and the latter for drugs. Natalie (Jenny McKillop) has seven kids, so you don’t even ask why she’s eager to be at choir practice on Thursday nights, and why she always arrives breathless and late. May (Kirstin Piehl) is socially challenged, and singing together is her best shot at meaningful connection.
And then there’s Pat (Dawn Sadoway), the intense conductor, whose musical past includes a shot at becoming an opera star. Flashbacks, including a comical jury scene, loop back to shed light on the fate of that youthful dream.
In Kate Ryan’s production, the five actors step forward to present, as cameos, a gallery of other choir members. They explain why they joined the choir in the first place — loneliness and the feeling of being stalled figure prominently — and why they stuck with it.
And then there are songs — some of them originals by composer/ musical director Jennifer McMillan (a fine pianist onstage, live at a grand piano), and others gathered from the eclectic choral repertoire. At those moments, the joining of human voices in sound explains everything.
Crescendo! doesn’t seem to have arrived at its final form, in truth. With the principal characters there’s an assortment of dramatic close-ups and long shots, so to speak. And the shape of the piece seems a little random and in-progress so far. But we’ll be hearing more from the Crescendos!
We are all, in our own way, looking for connection, transcendence, and change. I’ve never been in a choir. But this clearly leaves yoga in the dust.