Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
This week, a legend of tomorrow is celebrating an icon of today.
Michelle Bouey’s rising star is about to soar. She (along with Brandon Antonio) is a co-recipient of this year’s Syd and Shirley Banks Prize for Emerging Musical Theatre Artists. And she is also one of the singers performing this week in The Musical Stage Company’s UnCovered: Joni Mitchell and Carole King. When she received the all-important call, she recalls trying to act calm on the phone. When she called her parents immediately afterward to share the good news, calmness was not an option. “I was so excited!” she recalls. And with good reason. “Prize” is a modest term for the sizeable opportunities this award brings: financial support of $1000; mentorship throughout the season; and increased exposure through a showcase cabaret that the winners co-create and star in. Plus, of course, the ability to perform with professional artists in The Musical Stage Company’s season. “Mitchell [Marcus, the Artistic & Managing Director] and everyone else at Musical Stage Company, has it so that we, Brandon and I, are paired with some of Canada’s finest artists. Mentorship is critical in this industry, and I believe the hands-on learning will be instrumental in helping to help build and navigate my career.”
Clearly, the magnitude of this opportunity is not lost on Ms Bouey: “The prize had been on my radar for a number of years. I’d seen other talented colleagues and friends receive and benefit from this prize, and I always thought I would audition when the time felt right.” In fact, she auditioned for the Banks Prize in 2017 for the first time, but didn’t win. “I remember feeling somewhat down, but then . . . energized to work harder, which in turn led to a few changes in how I worked and learned.” Her second audition just “felt right,” accompanied as it was by confidence that she was ready for the challenge the Banks Prize would present as an “extra layer” to help propel her craft forward “for years to come”.
Happily, her first performance as a Banks winner comes in UnCovered, the Musical Stage Company’s annual benefit concert series, which presents a reasoned selection of songs by two artists with an association. This year’s concert features songs by prolific, transcendent Seventies singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Carole King, whose popularity and impact cut across generations of audience and genres of artist. What links these two? Is it disappointments? James Taylor? It is best to let the program – which will include such classics as “I Feel The Earth Move”, “Natural Woman”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “Beautiful”, and “Both Sides Now” – reveal the whys. The concert series itself has become a sensation. In response to popular demand, it has expanded this year from a three-night run at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall to two additional nights and GTA venues: The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga and The Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York. The four Toronto concerts are already sold out. This growing success is due in large part to Musical Director Reza Jacobs’ bold, inventive arrangement of songs which are interlinked by tactically-gleaned quotes from the two artists, and interpreted by prominent Canadian vocalists. This year, Ms Bouey will share the stage with Aimee Bessada, Jully Black, Ma-Anne Dionisio, Sara Farb, Hailey Gillis, Kelly Holiff and Jackie Richardson. Maev Beaty will play Joni Mitchell and Linda Kash, Carole King.
“I am beyond thrilled to be a part of UnCovered this year,” Ms Bouey enthuses. “What a crew of dynamite performers and musicians! I think the audiences are in for a treat.” She will sing Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, a song she has known for as long as she can remember, and which has always spoken to her on an intuitive level. “For this reason, it was incredibly enlivening to work on it with Reza, and be encouraged to put my own spin on it. He came up with a great arrangement that I immediately felt connected to.” After just a few times through the newly-arranged version, the song felt “very comfortable”, truly like “second nature”. Enthusiastic as she is about performing in UnCovered, she is especially excited to work alongside the “outstanding” team involved with the show. “I’ve been sitting in rehearsals for the past couple of months just in complete awe of everyone. Everybody is such an individual and has so many different things to offer.” She notes with pride that this year’s concert features a cast of all-female performers who are “all beautiful, strong, diverse women”. “I am so honoured to be in such company. I’m most excited to be onstage supporting other female artists, celebrating the work of two iconic singer/songwriters. I think a part of me is an ‘old soul’, and the music we’re performing gives rise to so many feelings I’ve had over the years, feelings that can only be articulated through their works.”
During our exchange, Ms Bouey’s innate warmth is unmistakable. She disarmingly asserts that she is “addicted to noodles and pizza” and explains that she has dual citizenship (Canadian and Irish). And music, it seems, is part of her DNA. “I come from a family of top-notch musicians,” she discloses. Originally from Charlottetown, her parents are both Classical Voice professors at the University of Prince Edward Island, and her sister is a concertmaster and solo violinist in NYC, who also tours the world with her award-winning quartet. Since moving to Toronto, Ms Bouey has completed the Musical Theatre program at Sheridan College, and has begun to make tracks in the theatre world. Her varied roles include new works (Marathon of Hope, a Canadian musical based on the life of Terry Fox), classic works (Jonathan Larson’s Rent) and television (CBC’s The Moblees). She also finished in the Top 10 on CBC’s Over The Rainbow, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for Dorothy in the Canadian production of The Wizard of Oz.
Such accomplishments are noteworthy, but complacency and self-satisfaction are not in Ms Bouey’s nature. Her season with The Musical Stage Company suggests a future ripe with possibility. With one eye on her goals and the other on the joy of the present moment, she is ready to embrace it: “I just want to reiterate how grateful I am for this opportunity. I say this a lot, but storytelling and singing are two of my greatest passions, and having the chance to blossom under a such a program as the Banks Prize, that focuses on both of these things, it makes me feel so fortunate.”
News You Can Use
What: UnCovered: Joni Mitchell and Carole King; Music Direction, Vocal Arrangements and Orchestrations by Reza Jacobs; Produced by The Musical Stage Company
Who: Audiences of all ages
When and Where: November 13-15, 2018, 8 PM – Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for the Performance and Learning, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1W2
When and Where: November 16, 2018, 8 PM – Hammerson Hall, Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Drive, Mississauga ON L5B 4B8
When and Where: November 21, 2018, 8 PM – George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St, North York, ON M2N 6R8
Info and Tickets: MusicalStageCompany.com
© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine