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Friday, 11 November 2016 16:42

Brent Carver: “Magical Brilliance”

Written by  Dennis Kucherawy
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 “Walk Me to the Corner” =

Goosebumps - Laughter,

Passion and Joy

Joyful concert celebration

of Harold Green Jewish

Theatre Company’s

10 Anniversary

Now until Nov. 20th – Tickets nearly sold-out

“He who sings, prays twice.”

St. Augustine’s observation inspired Oscar Hammerstein II to write “To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray for the song `The Sound of Music.’”

Those words came to mind listening to Brent Carver sing and perform Wednesday night, the eve of the opening tonight of “Walk Me to the Corner,” his new concert he conceived with Reza Jacobs, his multi-talented music director who is one of Toronto’s most imaginative composer/arrangers today.  (The other is Soulpepper’s Mike Ross.)

The concert’s title took on special resonance on opening night with the death of Leonard Cohen.  The words are taken from his early song “Hey, That’s No Way to say Goodbye – “Walk me to the corner / Our steps will always rhyme.”

What is remarkable about Brent’s concerts and cabarets is silence.  He charismatically commands the stage.  All eyes are on him, expectantly.  His audience members seem to have stopped breathing. The silence creates a frame that complements and enhances the many images he evokes through his witty, sincere, joyful and passionate singing and Shakespearean recitations.

Performers such as Mandy Patinkin and Alan Cumming don’t come close in creating such an environment.  It’s as if Carver creates an authenticity by figuratively taking his heart and offering it to us in a communal… a familial… celebration of the beauty and love that is central to the human condition.

Simply, “Walk Me to the Corner” is magical brilliance – moving, funny and poignant with passion and energy that evoke goosebumps!

A highlight was his electrically intense performance of a scene from “Parade” including the Jason Robert Brown song “This is Not Over Yet.”  It’s the 1999 Hal Prince Broadway musical in which he starred as the Jewish factory owner Leo Frank, charged with a murder he did not commit.

Another was his beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” As Brent sang the Nobel laureate’s timeless lyrics…:

“May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

And may you stay

Forever Young,”

… Anna Atkinson strummed a gentle, pizzicato accompaniment on her violin before Reza Jacobs came in on piano near the end.  Gorgeous and heartfelt!

Carver recited various Shakespearean soliloquies related thematically to the songs he sang before and after. He also threw in a passage of dialogue for good measure.  In his playful rendition of Harold Arlen’s “If I Only Had a Brain,” from “The Wizard of Oz,” he sang:

“Picture me – a balcony / Above a voice sings low/ `Wherefore art thou, Romeo? / I hear a beat … how sweet!”

Then, before you could say “Soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Brent spoke a few lines from “Romeo & Juliet’s” balcony scene as penned by the Bard himself before he went on singing.

Carver is renowned for his rare talent of being both an exquisite classical actor and limitless musical theatre star.  He shared a sample of his former skill when, elegantly and eloquently, he delivered two sonnets:  Sonnet 29: “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state…” and Sonnet 116: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.”

He also acted Jacques’ famous “All the World’s a Stage” soliloquy from “As You Like It,’ kindling memories of his acclaimed performance in the role at the Stratford Festival in 2010.

As Hamlet advised, Brent spoke “trippingly on the tongue.”  His slow pacing, clear diction and meticulous phrasing and pauses contributed to the meaning as he lifted the Bard’ profound prose and poetry off the page.

He brought back another happy memory of Stratford when he played the beloved dairy man Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” in the 1999 season.  He sang and acted his crowd-pleasing, unique and rousing interpretation of “If I Were A Rich Man.” (He teased the audience, confessing he had considered calling the concert “So You Think You Can Play Tevye, Eh?”)

Yes, Brent Carver is more than a supreme, international  entertainer.  He takes his audiences on creative rides of the imagination and soul like no one else.

But why was this particular Wednesday night like no other?  Why was the audience so subdued entering the Greenwin Theatre?

It was the day after the U.S. election, a time when we all needed prayers for our spirits, our minds, our bodies.  Significantly, it was a time to remember as Wednesday also was the 78th anniversary of the “Kristallnacht” pogroms throughout Nazi Germany, the infamous time when Adolf Hitler launched his cruel attack on Jewish Europeans.  It occurred on Nov. 9th and 10th, 1938.  (Coincidentally, tonight, opening night, is the commemoration of that second night of that horrific event.)

So, when Brent tenderly sang the evocative, beautiful “Sabbath Prayer” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” his words took on special meaning:

“May the Lord protect and defend you.

May the Lord preserve you from pain.

Favor them, O Lord, with happiness and peace…”

However, the most moving moment for me was Brent’s second encore. (His first was Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.”) He had run out of prepared material, so he sang, unaccompanied, a song he had learned as a child.  It was an English translation of “Tumbalalaika,” the Yiddish Russian-Jewish folk and love song.  He sang it slowly, gently, lovingly, tenderly…as if it were a lullaby.

When he reached the chorus, members of the audience, many who knew it from their childhood, joined in and sang gently along with him.  This was more than a concert.  It was a community united by love, faith and hope.

It was a balm in gilead.

Tears welled up in my eyes and I wept.  Again, when words fail us in times of trouble, when, in the words of Canadian composer Leslie Arden “the world is changing,” we turn to music…and the arts.

On this particular historic night, Brent walked us to the corner and reminded us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBmw2ZY7bDI - Brent Carver, “Parade – The Musical,” Tony Awards, 1999

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXuO8sD6B_- Brent Carver, “All the World’s a Stage” from “As You Like It,” 2010, Stratford Festival

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTBOMT5bMRs - “Tumbalalaika,” Pete Seeger with Ruth Rubin

About the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company:

The Company is one of two professional theatre companies in Canada that tell the Jewish story.  Winnipeg Jewish Theatre, founded in 1992 and led by artistic director Ari Weinberg, is the other.  It plays to a base audience of 2,500 Jews while Harold Green, with 2,500 subscribers, plays to a base of 250,000.

The Harold Green company embraces and celebrates the Jewish story – stories about our history, stories about our beliefs, stories about our struggles and triumphs.  More than 5,000 years in the making, these universal stories have to be told and need to be seen. It is our responsibility and privilege to share them with the world.

Visit Song & Script for CDs on which Brent is featured.  They include the original Broadway cast recordings of Kander and Ebb’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” with Chita Rivera and Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade.”

Also available is “Field of Stars – Vol. 1,” a collection of sheet music as well as an accompanying bonus CD from 17 Canadian musicals.  Brent’s glorious rendition of Canadian composer Leslie Arden’s “The World Is Changing,” from her musical “The House of Martin Guerre,” is a highlight.


The Greenwin Theatre

Toronto Centre of the Arts

5040 Yonge Street,

North York, ON

For tickets, please call 1-855-985-2787.

For more info, please call 416-932-9995,

or visit www.hgjewishtheatre.com.

Thurs. Nov. 10th (Opening) to Sat. Nov. 20th       – 8 p.m.

(No performances on Monday, Nov. 14th or the Sabbath,

Fri. Nov. 11th and 18th.)

Wednesday matinee, Nov. 16th                          - 1:00 p.m.

Sunday matinees, Nov. 13th and 20th                 - 2:00 p.m.

By Dennis Kucherawy

Last modified on Friday, 11 November 2016 17:03
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