This Thursday marked the opening for Soulpepper’s seventh annual Global Cabaret Festival with (re)Birth: E. E. Cummings in Song, a musical performance inspired by the works of late poet E. E. Cummings, as well as turn-of-the-century folk music. The show opened with Soulpepper’s founding artistic director Albert Schultz coming out on to the transformed stage, introducing the show, and giving the audience the rundown of what to expect from the weekend.
This year marks the fifth year that the artists are performing (re)Birth and all but two cast members of the original cast remain as performers. Originally conceived by Mike Ross and developed by the artists that perform in the show, this is a musical performance like no other. The cast of artists and musicians consist of: Ins Choi, Tatjana Cornij, Ken MacKenzie, Abena Malika, Gregory Prest, Karen Rae, Mike Ross, Brendan Wall and Ryan Field. Violin player Ryan Field only joined up with this group three days prior to this performance. Upon seeing the show you would never believe this to be true, as he played with the confidence and precision of someone who has been playing these songs for years.
With instruments ranging from accordions to the electric bass and everything in between, these artists were tasked with taking Cumming’s work and developing it into song using only the words that Cumming wrote. From an audience member’s perspective, the translation from page to song was so natural that if I had not known that it was inspired by poetry, I would have assumed the performers and not Cummings himself wrote the lyrics.
The cast successfully recreated the era in which Cummings would have lived with their costume and set design. The cast looks like they stepped right out of the 1930s with bowler hats, flapper skirts, high-knee boots, and their old-time piano. It blended very well with their style of turn-of-the-century folk music. This motif was broken a few times through comedic moments, such as the cast discovering a drum loop machine, or moving in slow motion to provide Ins Choi with an electric fender bass (which I thought was one of the most effective parts of the performance). They also made great use of shadows and light, and even brought in a projector and laser machine for an incredibly beautiful and mesmerizing performance.
The Global Cabaret Festival started off on a very high note this year and will hopefully continue to hold strong through the rest of the weekend. If you find yourself in the downtown Toronto area, it is well worth the trip to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts to see which cabaret performances Soulpepper has going on.