The Ward Cabaret, which opened at Harbourfront last night, is an exuberant celebration of the Ward; a Toronto neighbourhood that once covered the area bounded by Queen and College and Yonge and University. From the mid 1800s until well into the 20th century it was far from the highly respectable quartier it’s become. It was the first landing place for immigrants; Irish, Jews, Chinese, fugitive slaves, Italians. A neighbourhood of low rent housing, cheap restaurants, the factories that fed Mr. Eaton’s catalogue and a bunch of rather more dubious businesses. The City Fathers hated it but it had a life of its own that David Buchbinder (he of Yiddish Glory) and his team have turned into a spectacular evening of theatre/cabaret.
Humans seem to have a deep need to classify things. Why else would one try to summarise the totality of human failings into a sevenfold taxonomy but Pope Gregory’s list of “Deadly Sins” seems to have the enduring ability to inspire artistic endeavour. Weill’s ballet chanté and Anthony Powell’s description of a louche evening at Stourwater (The Kindly Ones) being but two of the most memorable.
Soundstreams’ Electric Messiah is back for a fourth outing, again under the musical direction of Adam Scime. The formula is basically the same as previous years.
Take excerpts from Handel’s Messiah
Add some new music
Arrange for small chamber ensemble, electronics and turntables (Sarah Svendsen, analog and electric harpsichord; Joel Schwartz, electric guitar; Jeff McLeod, electric organl; SlowPitchSound, turntablist)
Take a quartet of singers from different vocal traditions (Jonathan MacArthur, Katherine Hill, Aviva Chernick and Alex Samaras)
Throw in a dancer (Lybido)
Have some of the text sung in a language relevant to the singer (Gaelic, Hebrew, Swedish this time)
Stage it at Drake Underground
This year in addition there was some interpolated music not directly derived from Messiah; to whit, a gospel piece for Samaras called “Personal Jesus” and a harpsichord solo.