I do remember seeing the Sound of Music several times when it first came out, mostly, I expect, to savour Christopher Plummer. Having just read Jane Eyre, I was awash in a Mr. Rochester complex. I thought the hills really were alive with the sound of music which says more about my taste (musical and otherwise) at 16 than I would like to admit.
However, Greg and I made the hour-long trek into Charlottetown last weekend to catch a matinee performance of Evangeline at the Confederation Centre for the Arts. Several friends had highly recommended it. Ted Dykstra wrote the book, lyrics and music. The program reminded me he had co-created 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, so my expectations were raised. I was not disappointed. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it.
|The front page of the program was illustrated by Steve Adams.|
The story is based on Longfellow's epic poem of the same name and recounts the expulsion of the Acadians from the Maritimes (specifically from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia in 1755). A century or so later, this region would be coalesced along with Quebec and Ontario into the Dominion of Canada.
|From the Enrichment Guide, the painting of the 1755 expulsion is by Claude Picard.|
This is a great production of this little known, but shameful story. Canadians today can get off the hook by noting this happened when the British were running North America and were embattled with the French (and soon the Americans) for control of the continent.
Nevertheless, the themes of displacement, unfairness, prejudice, and callousness ring true on a deep level. We are reminded of other populations and races suffering similar horrors. Families, deported to various destinations in the British colonies to the south and to the French colony of Louisiana, are separated never to see one another again.
|Another painting by Claude Picard is printed in the Guide.|
However, counterbalancing the desolation and loss of home are the universal themes of undying love and the lifelong quest for the lost beloved. Newly married Gabriel Lajeunesse (played by Adam Brazier) and Evangeline Bellefontaine (Chilina Kennedy) are sent on separate ships to different destinations.
Gabriel, believing Evangeline has drowned, becomes a wandering trapper; Evangeline is certain he is alive and the story is her quest for him. I like the idea of a woman on a quest. Usually the hero is male. She has spunk and determination and compassion (kind of a toned-down Lizbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen).
Especially poignant are the scenes where Evangeline and Gabriel share the stage but are not aware of one another and sing a duet in which they express their sense of love and loss. A lot of audience throat-clearing occurred here, and the man beside me was mopping his cheeks with his handkerchief.
Oddly, for what I expect is a largely secular audience, the religious imagery and themes are not played down (reminded me of Les Mis), but the book is true to Longfellow's poem and Acadian life, as well as raising other issues around the advisability of turning the other cheek.
The stage setting is a series of huge images and maps projected behind the actors. It's very effective. A rapidly moving red line shows the path of Evangeline's wanderings over many miles and many years.
An orchestra provides the accompaniment, and the actors aren't overly - or overtly - miked. As a result, the sound quality, as distinct from the songs themselves (which are very good), is not so overpowering that you have to block your ears.
If I had a criticism of the production, it would be that the scenes at the start showing the idyllic life in "Acadie" go on a bit too long and the use of a sort of pidgin English when the Acadians were talking to English speakers is jarring. These are minor, and not everyone might agree with me.
Apparently Mirvish Productions had to give up on the production in Toronto as it was becoming too expensive to mount so Dykstra moved it to PEI - a brilliant move for a world premier, which touches the lives of many people here who are descended from the first Acadians.
If you get a chance to go to see this production, do so. Toronto's loss is Charlottetown's gain.
|Claude Picard's rendition of life in "Acadie."|