Earning rave reviews throughout North America for their original and spirited performances of the Broadway repertoire since being founded in 1990, the Lyric Theatre Singers are back at it again in what promises to be one of their most memorable stage productions to date: Raise Your Voice! – A Glorious Broadway Revue.
Montreal Theatre Hub’s Camila Fitzgibbon sat down for a chat with Musical Director Bob Bachelor and Director Cathy Burns to get the goods on the upcoming spectacle (performances begin this Thursday) and to discuss the interworking of one of Montreal’s most renowned theatre companies.
For musical theatre aficionados in Montreal, nothing beats knowing that the annual, long-anticipated Lyric show is just around the block.
Notorious for their unique presentation style (is it a concert? a cabaret? a history lesson in musicals? – all and perhaps quite none of the aforementioned), the award-winning Lyric Theatre Singers are Montreal’s foremost interpreters of Broadway, holiday, jazz, and pop choral music, having evolved from what was once a stand-and-sing formal chorus of sorts to a flagship “vocal ensemble” in the community.
With staged numbers, props, and costumes, Lyric shows are a feast for the ears and the eyes. It’s an interesting formula – and a time-proof one at that. What ultimately keeps loyal audiences coming back year after year, though, is the world-class quality of their productions. “It has to be done well, or we don’t do it at all,” remarks Bob in acknowledgement of the group’s reputation. “Never have I experienced anything as organized as this; we don’t go into rehearsal guessing,” adds Cathy. (If you’ve ever been to a show, you’d have effortlessly come to similar conclusions.)
Becoming synonymous with excellence, however, has become a blessing and a curse: “It’s incredibly difficult to make it different and raise the bar every year. We really strive to bring our audiences to new places,” confides Bob, “and every performance and song is just as important as the next; you can’t sleep and walk. Here, every number is a full production within itself.”
In selecting the programme, he explains: “It’s a true collaboration.” Bachelor and Burns, along with co-musical director Chris Barillaro, form the mastermind & creative dream team behind the Singers. This year, guest choreographer Jonathan Patterson (The Producers, Forever Plaid, Guys and Dolls, Segal Centre; Last Night at the Gayety, Centaur) also steps in to bring new life and rhythm to the troupe. “We always discuss among ourselves and we choose the material together based on an initial understanding of our performers. Personally, there’s also got be a hook to a particular piece of music in order for me to get invested, and if I find that hook – great, we try it. You’ve always got to be telling a story, and we really reinforce that a lot.”
“Moving 47 people on a stage and making it look different every time is extremely challenging”, adds Cathy. “It’s a mob.” When you finish each other’s sentences as she and Bob do, though, you fret not; Lyric is in good hands.
What’s different this year?
“Diversity – not only in terms of the material and the program, but also the people. The group itself is becoming more diverse, culturally and demographically. I’m getting older, and the choir’s getting younger”, muses Bob. “About 3-4 years ago we had a complete exodus of people – no particular reason; life happens! – and the whole choir was rejuvenated. They came to us. Something shifted; word spread, they’d seen our shows, and these fresh-faced artists came out of the woodwork.”
“When we first started, everyone essentially came from musical theatre. The art form was thriving in Montreal; you could be doing a show every night”, recounts veteran artiste Cathy, who performed in a long run of Nunsense back in the day. “Then there was a dry in the early 2000s. Companies started closing. Today’s group of young singers come more from a pop or choral background; some are classically trained. Regardless, it’s difficult to find performers with a musical theatre background. The biggest hurdle for a new member tends, then, to be that transition into the theatre.”
“It’s just as exciting to watch our 20-year-olds discover a collection of musical theatre standards as it is to introduce newer Broadway material to our older members. It’s important for both performers and audiences to be exposed to different genres, and I think we’ve succeeded in doing that this year,” opines Cathy.
“You’ve got to give crowds some good old Rodgers & Hammerstein, but quite frankly, they really will go anywhere with us,” asserts Bob. “Sometimes we just find some new arrangements for familiar classics, and hearing a well-loved song with a new twist and fresh ears is all it takes to make it work. We are taking a couple of risks this year, though, I can definitely promise you that.”
The Singers have eloquently performed hundreds of songs from legendary composers such as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Irving Berlin, and Jerome Kern, and this year’s production includes a special nod to composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, featuring selections from Wicked, Godspell, The Bakers Wife, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Exclusive Spoiler: the opening is a number from Something Rotten. “It’s perfect for us”, smiles Cathy, “It references so many musicals. Raise Your Voice! really has an uplifting, inspiring, and positive tone this year. You’re going to well up.”
We. Can’t. Wait.
Raise Your Voice! – A Glorious Broadway Revue plays at the D.B. Clarke Theatre (1455, De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Concordia University, Downtown Campus) with four performances between June 16 and 18, 2016.
$36 Regular; $32 Students / Seniors; $17 Children 12 and under. Call the box office for info on special discounts: $30 “Student Friday”; $30 Groups of 15+