By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
One Song (La Cité Auditorium)
“I think I just met myself … ” sings Rye (Manny Aguerrevere) in the opening number of One Song, a striking new musical for young audiences about being young, coming out, and being a friend.
It’s by the team of Calla Wright (book and lyrics) and Daniel Belland (music). And it’s at the Fringe in staged reading form, an exciting reminder of something the festival is for: young talent testing something brand new in front of a live audience. And that something brand new is an amazingly accomplished piece of musical theatre.
We’re in the 90s, and Rye and her best friend Jackson (Josh Travnik) have just seen the rock musical Rent, with its easy mix of gay and straight characters. Rye’s mind is blown by the new thrill of self-knowledge and belonging, “feeling like a part of things,” of opening the door on a world where there are other people “on the same path going the same way.”
In his more tentative and cautious way, Jackson senses the same growing discovery about his own sexuality and place in the world — “I was wooden and now I’m real.” Rye understands her pal. But Jackson’s way of coming out, yet to be figured out, will be a different, less demonstrative way than hers. And Rye’s failure to get that lands their friendship on the rocks.
Jaimi Reese plays mom, and gets a lovely song Not This, about the struggle to make your life choices your own. The other characters are there to offer different perspectives on being a queer creative — with songs to match. Chris Backstrom plays two. Paul (Ceris Backstrom), a friend of Rye’s mom, is a repository of examples of seminal queer performers, from Stormé DeLarverie to k.d. lang.. Toast (Backstrom) is a drag queen, whose mantra is direct connection to the audience. You can “lose the paint, lose the music,” she sings. “Just remember me.”
In its storytelling, the warm, wide embrace of One Song is intrinsic to its appeal. But I wonder, on this first viewing, if the scene involving Rye’s mom and her own best friend, especially as a climactic catalyst to resolving the conflict, could use a re-think. It seems a little forced at the moment.
Belland and Wright’s songs — their unexpected imagery, their sense of discovery and emotional impact on the storytelling — are fresh and affecting. One Song is many songs, of course, and their stylistic confidence will knock you back in your seat. A highlight is Jackson’s killer song Quiet, musically complex and emotionally rich. It’s delivered beautifully by Travnik. My eyes are watering to think of it now.