'Til Then', A Song Cycle of Our Time
An Eclipse Theatre Production
A heartfelt ‘Til Then’ becomes a much-needed balm of comfort in Covid times
Eclipse Theatre billed the opening night of ‘Til Then’ as “an original musical song cycle” of 17 songs, 3 stories and 1 defining era.
Even after I recently profiled Andrew Seok, Artistic Director of Eclipse Theatre (and Director of this opening night performance of ‘Til Then), I had no idea what to expect from this evening but attended with an open mind, active heart, and attentive listening ears.
Part of Eclipse’s mission is the focus on the incubation of musical theatre in Toronto. What a delightful surprise indeed to hear original Canadian songs and I will be grateful for the opportunity to have been on the ground floor in watching the gestation of this new Canadian showpiece.
‘Til Then’ becomes an intimate concert revue showcasing fourteen of Canada’s solid musical artists in sharing their stories of real-life people and how they coped during this one defining era of the ongoing worldwide pandemic. Three interwoven stories become memorably underscored by clever and unique-sounding lyrics and such charming musical arrangements and orchestrations that I closed my eyes for a few seconds to listen carefully to each word and note. There is audience participation too. Upon entering, each guest receives a card whereby we were asked to answer one of three questions and your answers might become part of that evening’s show.
There were a few issues where I experienced some confusion in connecting which character sang what song. I really wished the name(s) of those who sang the song(s) was/were placed next to the title in the QR programme. I was paying close attention to the story and I didn’t want to break my focus away to write down who sang what. Hopefully, that information of who sings what could be listed as the production continues in its growth and development. As well, there were sound issues where I couldn’t clearly hear the lyrics in some of the songs and completely missed the message. Again, I hope Jeremy Mitchell can address this issue for the rest of the run.
It's a very simple-looking set of two chairs just slightly angled centre stage. There are two trees with mini lights. The image of the trees figures prominently in two of the songs.
We meet Richard (Jeff Madden) who pays his respects at the gravesite of a long-time childhood friend who has died suddenly. Madden delivers this monologue with controlled emotional precision. He never ventured at all over the top but allowed the words and their meaning to speak instead.
Richard meets Alfreyda (Elena Juatco) who frantically enters because she has lost her keys and has backtracked to find them. Richard has found them and holds them up to much laughter from the audience because there are a lot of them. Where he found the keys remains a mystery but that is not the focus here. There is a budding romance blooming between Richard and Alfreyda and both Madden and Juatco believably respond, react, and listen to each other in such a way that does not become saccharinely sweet. Instead, I found myself rooting silently for them to take their relationship to the next level.
For me, it was never fully defined if roommates Tamara (Jillian Cooper) and Nora (Nickeshia Garrick) are more than just friends sharing an apartment during the pandemic. There were scripted moments when it appeared Tamara and Nora are more than just friends, and there are moments when it appears they are just friends who have lived together for so long that they know each other so well and their idiosyncrasies.
However, as I thought further about it, it didn’t really matter either way.
Because the pandemic forced people who were living together at the time to spend so much time together, inevitably fights, arguments, or disagreements ensue as there is no chance for the other person to have space and be alone for a while. Their vocal duet of Jewelle Blackman and Marcia Johnson’s ‘Slowing Down and Speeding Up’ believably revealed the emotional highs and lows between Tamara and Nora. The conclusion of the song subtly summarizes the two of them will get through this hurdle and be able to move forward.
Kimberly-Ann Truong’s phone call message as Phuong where she is talking with her mother remained hauntingly powerful. I immediately connected this phone call conversation to the horrific Atlanta spa shooting in 2021 and couldn’t even begin to imagine what was going through the minds of all involved. I’m hoping this is the connection I was to have made because the previous dialogue and vocal number didn’t seem clear in transition.
In any case, Truong poignantly handled this phone call with her mother with compassion, grace and humility. Her tender vocal number was a fitting conclusion when I heard it yet I had forgotten to write the title down because I was listening to each word. This is where I hope going forward the names of singers can be placed next to the songs in this early stage of development.
The choral songs are truly lovely and resonate through the auditorium when the ensemble sings from the balcony surrounding the audience. What works quite well at the top of the show is the introduction of Narrators Zara Jestadt, Allister (Allie) Macdonald and Sera-Lys McArthur and their recounting of the news, the gossip, the everything that happened during the two years of the pandemic. A terrific way to open this production as it brought a smile and laughter to me and to my accompanied guest.
I especially liked how the production opens with Andrew Seok’s ‘You Are Loved’ and we hear a reprise of it about halfway through. This song and Seok’s ‘Til Then’ become those feel-good numbers we all need to hear in our lives as we continue to move forward in Covid times. Again, Seok’s ‘Life Was So Simple’ becomes a stark reminder for all of us just how much things have changed possibly forever because of these last two years.
Grant Tilly and Richard Ouzounian’s appropriately timed ‘It’s Gonna End by Christmas’ brought an ironic smile to my face. How often did we hear and still hear that this is gonna end very soon?
A great deal of care has been taken by Andrew Seok as director of ‘Til Then’ to remain as truthful as possible to maintain the grounding of the truth of the situation whether it be in performance or song. Andrew Ascenzo’s music direction is solid for the most part, especially when I was able to hear the lyrics of the songs.
Final Comments: This heartfelt ‘Til Them’ becomes spiritually moving and becomes a much-needed balm of comfort in Covid times.
Worth a trip to see it during its short run.
Running Time: approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
The production runs to July 20 at the Berkeley Event Church, 315 Queen Street East. Tickets are available at eclipsetheatre.ca.
‘Til Then’ Book and Story by Andrew Seok / Additional Book by Kyle Brown
Director: Andrew Seok
Music Director: Andrew Ascenzo
Choreographer: Nickeshia Garrick
Stage Manager: Dustyn Wales
Arranger/Orchestrator: Andrew Seok
Lighting Designer: Imogen Wilson with operation by Sooji Kim
Sound Engineer: Jeremy Mitchell
Actors/Singers: Jillian Cooper, Nickeshia Garrick, Elena Juatco, Jeff Madden, Kimberly-Ann Truong,
Narrators: Zara Jestadt, Allister (Allie) Macdonald, Sera-Lys McArthur
Ensemble: Ashaya Babiuk, Daniela Bauer, Tatyana Doran, Lily Librach, Annick Robledo, Tan Vu