A cabaret celebrating black musical theater opens the 2021 Stratford Festival on Tuesday


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In some ways, the Stratford Festival will return to its roots next week when this year’s season opens under a canopy reminiscent of the tent that housed the company’s first production in 1953.

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In some ways, the Stratford Festival will return to its roots next week when this year’s season opens under a canopy reminiscent of the tent that housed the company’s first production in 1953.

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But Tuesday will also mark a notable break with tradition.

A major Shakespearean production will not launch the Festival in 2021. Instead, a celebration of black musical theater led and hosted by singer and actor Marcus Nance will launch the Festival on its 68th birthday on July 13.

“I think it’s quite an honor,” Nance said on Friday. “Especially after going through this moving conversation about the importance of black life, about George Floyd and inclusion, I think it’s a wonderful way to start the season.”

The show is called Why We Tell the Story. It features music from the canon of African-American musical theater, including hits from Aida, Ain’t Misbehavin ‘, The Color Purple, Hamilton and many more, as well as poetry from American writers and activists. influential Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes.

The show was adapted from a similar concert performed at a Meighen Forum event in 2019 and allows Nance, a bass baritone who has been with the Festival for eight seasons, to spotlight musicals about the experiences. black which, according to him, are not produced often enough.

“All of these shows have to have a place in our theaters, and I just don’t see them,” he said. “I didn’t know what the excuses were for not being made, but I thought to myself: ‘you know what, I have this platform that the Festival gave me, so we are going to make these voices heard. songs. “”

Joining Nance for the cabaret are singers Neema Bickersteth, Robert Markus and Vanessa Sears.

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Together, the group offers an eclectic mix of ranges and that’s by design, Nance said. Bickersteth is a soprano, Markus is a tenor, and Sears is a “great belt” who “can do it all”.

“It was very important for me to have four incredibly different voices,” added Nance. “I wanted the audience not to be bored with one sound, so they (will hear) four totally different singers.”

Each performer will have the opportunity to play solo, but the group will also sing together.

During rehearsals this week, the quartet were separated by clear barriers for physical distancing.

“There are a lot of health protocols out there, so we’re trying to figure out exactly how to treat audiences and singers and keep everyone safe,” Nance said. “But it’s a joy. We’re just happier than anything else to just sing, have an audience, and hear applause. “

The cabaret’s musical director, Franklin Brasz, will play the keyboard in a group that includes guitarist Kevin Ramessar, bassist Jon Maharaj and drummer supervisor Dale-Ann Brendon.

Along with the barriers, Nance said the Festival Theater glass roof brought its own element to the show, especially exterior lighting. The cabaret will open Tuesday at 7 p.m. and the next performances are also scheduled at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., which means dim lighting is almost impossible.

The unpredictable conditions made a great scene during a recent performance for Festival staff. Nance said a Spears song benefited from cloud cover that broke away during a sunset this week, something he wishes he could capture.

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At this point though, nearly a year and a half after last year’s season was completely canceled, Nance seems comfortable leaving some creative decisions to Mother Nature.

“We’re just happy to play,” Nance said. “We will play in a tent or in a closet. As long as we are able to do what we were born to do, we will be happy.

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IF YOU ARE GOING TO

What: Why We Tell the Story, a celebration of black musical theater

When: July 10 – July 21 | Opening July 13

Or: Festival Theater canopy, 55 Queen Street.

Tickets: Available to the public from Monday to stratfordfestival.ca or 1.800.567.1600

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