'The Golden Record'

Soulpepper Theatre

Barry McClusky

Joe Szekeres

A veritable feast of music, sound, and images from this nine-member committed ensemble, but keep your eyes and ears open. I couldn’t make a connection between the agenda underneath the concert and the messages from the Record.

I was 17 when NASA sent the Voyager Golden Record into space in 1977, a phonograph message to communicate our world to any extraterrestrials who may find it. The album contained sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

Although I remember this event, I didn’t follow it as space and the galaxies didn’t interest me then. Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser) I find myself intrigued about space and the galaxies through documentaries or news items.

To combine space, the galaxy, and the messages in a concert to showcase song and storytelling is clever and original so I congratulate writer Sarah Wilson, director Frank Cox-O’Connell and music director Mike Ross because there are some wonderful moments showcasing the images and some of the music on the phonograph record. That, to me, was a terrific personal learning experience about this time.

The Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre stage is set like any concert would be. There is a phonograph player just slightly off-centre stage. Circular golden large spheres are suspended on top of the playing space which represents the galaxies, and, from my seat, the visual effect was impressive. Frank Donato’s video designs remain outstanding throughout so kudos here.

Programmes were not passed out to audience members before the show began as I was told there were some surprises. For me, yes there were a few audio sounds that I was pleased that I didn’t know before they occurred. It was nice to read the title of the songs performed after.

The nine-member committed ensemble remains stellar as there are some drop-dead musical numbers that left my jaw on the floor. What caught my eye was watching Mike Ross, Beau Dixon and Andrew Penner manoeuvre themselves on the stage to play the various instruments for a particular moment.

A slight quibble for me at the top of the show for about ten minutes was the playing of the drums rather loudly. I found this drowned out a few of the stringed instruments and the lyrics to ‘Starman’ and ‘El Cascabel’ were lost. I do hope this can be rectified for the next performance.

Four musical numbers come to my mind: The opening of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ magically captured and encapsulated the vastness of outer space. I also particularly liked the duo keyboard play of Beau Dixon and Mike Ross for ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’. So much fun watching these two guys serenade on the piano because they were having fun. Travis Knights owns the stage when he tap dances. Breathtaking to watch.

The closing number ‘STRING QUARTET No. 13 IN B-FLAT MAJOR: V. CAVATINA’ by Ludwig van Beethoven is glorious. Periodically I closed my eyes to listen to these artists play the strings with refined gravitas and superior prowess. Absolute heaven.

I was surprised when the company came forward to take their bows because I could have listened for a few minutes more.

Nonetheless, something still puzzles me regarding a choice that was made. I don’t know if this would fall under writer Sarah Wilson or director Frank Cox-O’Connell. To me, it felt as if the narrative was taking the twenty-first-century lens of examining social issues and using that same application to see world events from 1977 in the same manner. That seems out of place to me since our world now has changed multiple folds in comparison to the world in 1977. There are times when the repetition of these social issues becomes just a tad too much as if it is being forced upon me rather than allowing me to sit with what is presented and digest it.

Running Time: approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

‘The Golden Record Concert’ runs until November 20 in The Marilyn & Charles Baillie Theatre at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto’s Distillery District, 50 Tank House Lane. For tickets: soulpepper.ca, youngcentre.ca or call 1-416-866-8666.

THE GOLDEN RECORD CONCERT was presented by Soulpepper and created by Divine Brown, Frank Cox-O'Connell, Beau Dixon, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights, Andrew Penner, Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson.

Writer: Sarah Wilson
Director: Frank Cox-O’Connell
Music Director: Mike Ross
Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter
Sound Designer: Andres Castillo-Smith
Video Designer: Frank Donato
Stage Manager: Ashely Ireland

Performers: Divine Brown, Beau Dixon, Erin James, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights, Erika Nielsen, Amanda Penner, Andrew Penner, Mike Ross

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