I founded Show-Score because my wife and I love theater and needed a better way to discover shows. We especially love repertory theater, where you get to see the same people create and perform in a variety of productions.
That’s why we were curious about this month’s "Soulpepper on 42nd Street" Festival, hosted at Signature Theatre on West 42nd Street. We hadn’t heard of Soulpepper until we read this great NY Times piece: the inspiring audacity of a Canadian theater company invading NYC with 65 artists who are presenting 12 different shows (in one month, in repertory) was right up our alley.
So far we’ve enjoyed two shows, been thrilled by two different late-night cabarets, and have had the pleasure of getting to know the company’s leadership team. We’ve decided to see everything they are presenting. Why? Because it’s the kind of theater we love to support -- alive, vibrant, and of very high quality. Not everything is to our taste (it’s art, after all) but the energy and chutzpah of the endeavor is infectious.
Since there’s a lot to see, and since we’ve had the benefit of chatting at length with the Soulpepper team, here’s my guide to what’s happening. We’ve also been able to secure a discount for Show-Score members: use code “S42GEN” (you type it into a small box in the upper right corner of the ticketing page).
(Above: The cast of "Spoon River". Photo by Cylla von Tiedemeann.)
There are three Mainstage productions, which are regular, full-length shows. Each one is very different:
“Of Human Bondage” has an 85 ShowScore from 86 members and 19 critics. It’s a NY Times’ Critics Pick. It’s a dark, moving piece adapted from the novel by Somerset Maugham. Here’s more info, including some great video.
“Kim’s Convenience” has an 85 ShowScore from 75 member reviews and 20 critics. It’s a laugh out loud sitcom about race and family that Soulpepper has also adapted into a popular Canadian television series. Here’s more info, also with great video.
“Spoon River” (which just started performances) has a 79 ShowScore from 31 members and 6 critics. It’s a bluegrass-fueled meditation on life that’s adapted from the classic poetry collection “Spoon River Anthology”. More info, including a cool behind-the-scenes video.
As I said, these are very different productions, all with overlapping casts and creative teams.
These are shorter-run shows, and they cover a WIDE range of genres:
“Cage” is a one-man show created and performed by Diego Matamoros, who has been described as “Canada’s leading theater actor”. He and his co-creators undertake a highly visual exploration of Zen Buddhism and the music of John Cage. Talk about a mash-up!
“Alligator Pie” is a kids show that my wife and I are also looking forward to. Our kids grew up singing the silly title song, which we love.
“(Re)Birth” brings key members of the ensemble together with music to celebrate the poetry of ee cummings. I have NO idea what this means, but given that we’ve already seen half of the cast in other shows, we’re going. ‘Nuf said.
Once again, the variety of these pieces is eye-catching.
These run just two or three nights. We missed the first one, but already have tickets to the remaining two:
“First Ladies” brings together several of Canada’s most-popular jazz vocalists. Their concerts up north usually sell out, so we grabbed tickets right away.
“New York -- Melting Pot” sounds really interesting. The company’s artistic director, Albert Schultz, loves NYC and its history. He has promised an evening that explains how the unique melting pot culture of NYC has contributed to American music in unexpected ways. We’ve already heard snippets of his storytelling at the cabarets (more on that below), which are great.
(Above: A scene from "A Brimful of Asha". Photo by Erin Brubacher.)
We’re excited about all three of these:
“Lessons in Temperament” is written and performed by a very talented man who musically directs the cabarets. During this show he tunes a piano while talking about the mental illness in his family. The idea alone sounds fascinating.
“Crash” is a solo show about dark topics, conveyed in an ultimately uplifting way. It won four “Dora Awards” (Toronto’s top awards for theater, dance, and opera) for “Outstanding New Play” and “Outstanding Performance”). We’re going.
“A Brimful of Asha” is a clever idea. It’s about an Indian mother trying to arrange a marriage for her son. The twist is that the son in this show (who is a professional actor) is the real-life child of the mother in the show (who is NOT a professional actor). They have a script, but don’t always stick to it…
Finally, don’t miss the FREE cabaret, which happens most evenings and some afternoons. It’s different each time. Signature Theatre’s space is tailor-made for this -- after your show, grab a table or stool, a drink and a snack, and settle in for 40 minutes of fun. It’s hosted by the Albert Schultz (the company’s artistic director), and it features songs performed (and sometimes written) by company members. It feels very homespun and authentic -- like you’re inside the company’s living room, watching them hang out and have fun with each other. Best of all, you can chat with everyone after the show (which is how we got to know so much about the festival).
Bottom line -- if you love theater and live near NYC, grab some tickets to this festival now. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a great time, and you’ll be supporting a worthy and exciting initiative by Toronto’s leading theater company.
If you've already been to the NYC Festival, or know Soulpepper from Canada, feel free to chime in with tips for the folks who are Soulpepper "newbies" like me!
Tell us in the comments! And don't forget to use the promo code "S42GEN" when you buy tickets. (The code goes in the box in the upper right corner).