FOUR IN A MIL­LION

Legends live on at Se­gal

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JIM BURKE

A mirac­u­lous mo­ment of four stars align­ing is about to take place on the Se­gal Cen­tre stage.

In 1956, Elvis Pres­ley — glow­ing from the suc­cess of his first hit, Heart­break Ho­tel — dropped by the leg­endary Sun Stu­dios with his girl­friend. Also present were Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, who all joined Pres­ley in an im­promptu jam ses­sion. It was to be­come mu­si­cal his­tory, cap­tured the next morn­ing on the front page of the Mem­phis Press-Scim­i­tar un­der the head­line Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet, and recorded for pos­ter­ity by sound en­gi­neer Cowboy Jack Cle­ment.

That no­body thought to turn this mo­men­tous event into a Broad­way show un­til 2010 is sur­pris­ing. That Floyd Mutrux and Colin Es­cott’s Tony Award­win­ning Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet turns out to be more than a juke­box mu­si­cal is per­haps even more so.

For Sky Seals, who is play­ing the Johnny Cash part for the fourth time, the fact that the mu­si­cal is mostly based on a true in­ci­dent is a key to its suc­cess as bona fide drama.

“It works be­cause it’s an ac­tual event that hap­pened all in one day,” the South Dakota-born per­former ex­plains. “Yeah, there’s some ex­tra drama put in there, but it shows all stuff that re­ally hap­pened be­tween th­ese char­ac­ters. For in­stance, Johnny Cash think­ing about leav­ing Sam Phillips and Sun Records — he wouldn’t have been any­where with­out them — to go to Columbia, that’s part of the dra­matic ten­sion of the show.”

A fa­mous pho­to­graph of the jam ses­sion shows the in­cred­i­bly youth­ful four­some gath­ered around a pi­ano. Of­ten cropped from the photo is Elvis’s girl­friend, Mar­i­lyn Evans. De­spite be­ing snipped out of this his­tor­i­cal mo­ment, Evans is re­stored to her right­ful place in the stage ver­sion. Kind of. Making her mu­si­cal theatre de­but as Dyanne, rather than Mar­i­lyn, is Mon­trealer Sara Di­a­mond, whom you may know as an an­them singer at Cana­di­ens games.

“Mar­i­lyn Evans was ac­tu­ally a dancer, but they’ve changed it up a lit­tle,” says Di­a­mond. “Now Elvis’s girl­friend is a singer, which helps make her more crit­i­cal to what’s go­ing on in Elvis’s life.”

As well as har­mo­niz­ing on most of the songs — there are more than 20 in the show, with some li­cence taken to in­clude post-1956 hits — Di­a­mond has two main num­bers, Fever and I Hear You Knock­ing. She’s also a much-needed fe­male pres­ence in this ma­cho world of rock ’n’ roll.

“She’s kind of the quiet back­bone, but she was raised to be­lieve she can do any­thing,” Di­a­mond ex­plains. “She’s completely amazed to be with all th­ese tal­ented peo­ple. She holds her own and knows she can be a part of it. She’s one of the guys.”

“Dyanne’s a very nec­es­sary fem­i­nine en­ergy in that room,” adds Seals. “Who knows what kind of con­ver­sa­tions those boys would be hav­ing other­wise?”

Di­rect­ing Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet is Se­gal boss Lisa Ru­bin. It’s her first show since she de­buted with Bad Jews last year. What also ties th­ese two pro­duc­tions to­gether is their light­ing de­signer, Itai Erdal, who hap­pens to have his own show open­ing in the Se­gal’s stu­dio space at the end of the month.

First seen at Usine C in 2015, How to Dis­ap­pear Completely is a one-man show that brings to­gether the seem­ingly dis­parate sub­jects of the death of Erdal’s mother in Is­rael and his pas­sion for light­ing de­sign, and does so with an un­ex­pected sense of hu­mour.

“Six­teen years ago, my mom was di­ag­nosed with can­cer,” Erdal ex­plains dur­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion. “I wanted to spend ev­ery minute I had left with her, and so I flew back to Is­rael. I was in film school in Van­cou­ver at the time, and she said: ‘Why don’t you make a doc­u­men­tary?’ So my way of deal­ing with this pretty hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion was to try to make some­thing cre­ative out of it. I ended up be­ing a theatre maker and not a film­maker, so used all of that footage to cre­ate this play. You get to meet my sis­ter and my mother and my mother’s hus­band, and so on, but all on a screen.”

As Erdal be­gan to put the show

to­gether with di­rec­tor James Long and the Chop Theatre, he was en­cour­aged to in­clude more ma­te­rial about his métier.

Light­ing de­sign “be­came a metaphor for all of th­ese things I could have never imag­ined,” he says, al­lud­ing to his demon­stra­tion of his favourite light, a par can, which gets warmer and warmer as it fades.

“When peo­ple see that, they think about the life go­ing out of my mother, and they get very emo­tional,” he says. “But I never planned that. It was a happy ac­ci­dent.”

Th­ese days, Erdal cal­cu­lates his light de­sign as be­ing about 70 per cent of his work, per­for­mance around 30 per cent.

“I’m not a trained ac­tor,” he ad­mits. “I couldn’t do Shake­speare. I can only do me. I’m very good at be­ing me. Over the years I’ve tried to do less and less on stage, and I’ve got­ten some very nice com­pli­ments from some of the best per­form­ers in Canada about be­ing so chilled and re­laxed.”

An­other meet­ing of mu­si­cal legends takes to the stage in the Se­gal’s 2017/18 sea­son, which was an­nounced on Thurs­day. The An­gel and the Spar­row, which opens next April, de­picts the friend­ship be­tween Mar­lene Di­et­rich and Édith Piaf, cov­er­ing around 20 songs along the way.

Kick­ing off the sea­son, though, is the Se­gal’s al­ready-an­nounced con­tri­bu­tion to Mon­treal’s 375th cel­e­bra­tions: a new mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of Roch Car­rier’s short story The Hockey Sweater (Oct. 19 to Nov. 12).

Open­ing in the stu­dio space dur­ing that show’s run is a reprise of Lisa Ru­bin’s im­pres­sive pro­duc­tion of Joshua Har­mon’s caus­ti­cally funny fam­ily drama Bad Jews (Nov. 8 to 26), which played here last year.

Next up is Athol Fu­gard’s “Mas­ter Harold” … and the Boys (Jan. 21 to Feb. 11), in a pro­duc­tion that played to great ac­claim at last year’s Shaw Fes­ti­val. First per­formed in 1982 (and ini­tially banned in Fu­gard’s na­tive South Africa), it tells the story of a young white man and his two black ser­vants dur­ing the apartheid era.

Jor­dan Har­ri­son’s Marjorie Prime, which plays from Feb. 25 to March 18, is that rare thing, a sci-fi stage drama. It’s the in­ge­nious story of an oc­to­ge­nar­ian who is cared for by her hand­some young com­pan­ion, who just hap­pens to be a holo­gram. It was a fi­nal­ist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015.

The sea­son ends on a par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar high note with Wil­liam Gib­son’s play Golda’s Bal­cony. A bio­drama about Is­rael’s leg­endary prime min­is­ter Golda Meir, it set a record for the long­est-run­ning one-woman show in Broad­way’s his­tory. Repris­ing her Tony-nom­i­nated per­for­mance is To­vah Feld­shuh, who may be mostly known to some read­ers as com­mu­nity leader Deanna Mon­roe in The Walk­ing Dead.

Théâtre Jean-Du­ceppe an­nounced on Wed­nes­day that out­go­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor Michel Du­mont will be suc­ceeded by the co-di­rect­ing team of David Lau­rin and Jean-Si­mon Traversy. The pair are fa­mil­iar to Mon­treal au­di­ences for their com­pany LAB87, which has pro­duced plays like Tribus, Yen and Con­stel­la­tions at La Li­corne and else­where.

LAB87 will co-pro­duce Du­ceppe’s first show in the 2017/18 sea­son, Quand la pluie s’ ar­rêtera. The sea­son will also in­clude Michel Marc Bouchard’s Le chemin des Passes-dan­gereuses, a new play by Steve Gal­luc­cio and a trans­la­tion of The Cu­ri­ous In­ci­dent of the Dog in the Night-Time. Full details are avail­able at du­ceppe.com.

ALLEN MCINNIS

Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet de­picts the his­toric meet­ing of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Pres­ley and Johnny Cash, and gives Pres­ley’s girl­friend, Mar­i­lyn Evans, her due. The mu­si­cal opens at the Se­gal Cen­tre on Sun­day.

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