Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
“The Promised Land.”
What thoughts does this phrase evoke for you? Is it the biblical paradise of milk and honey? The just future conjured by Dr King on the night he would be murdered? The mythic promise that the Joad family harkens after in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath? Or is it an all-purpose metaphor – for a deeply desired but illusory dream that beckons like a mirage . . . but remains just out of reach?
Soulpepper’s new concert theatre The Promised Land: Steinbeck Through Song, created by Sarah Wilson and Mike Ross, and directed by Esther Jun, explores the thematic resonance of the Promised Land as the elusive American dream within the works of Steinbeck through songs by artists from Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan to Beyoncé.
Alana Bridgewater, a staple in many Soulpepper concerts and productions, describes this concert theatre as a celebration of the written word: “It speaks about the quest for the American Dream, but focuses on the importance of journalism and literature as a way to communicate the dark truths of a nation. The music chosen enhances that idea.” Exactly how the show elaborates that idea is a matter of discretionary tact, and to preserve the focus on the overall effect, Soulpepper distributes the songlist only at the end of the show. So Bridgewater is careful in our conversation not to divulge a hint that might spoil the experience. Ross’ musical arrangements are always unexpected, and mine depth and nuance from familiar songs. But of the music in this production, she will disclose only that she sings two songs that are “beautifully written and capture the love and rage of the human spirit. Both speak of love.” And that her favourite piece in the show is performed by Divine Brown and Travis Knights, and includes the whole cast.
Although the show centres around the American experience, Bridgewater stresses its deep resonance for Canadians: “our quest as a people for a better life for ourselves and our children; our desire to be financially independent; our need for freedom of religion, speech, sexual expression, and our need to be free; all of these are shared with our southern neighbours.”
Though a familiar fixture on the Young Centre stages, Bridgewater’s versatility and artistic appetite take her to venues near and far. “I love all aspects of the creative process and have had great opportunities to explore new avenues and challenges.” This winter, she was a part of the ensemble of Soulpepper’s Rose, a new full-scale all-ages musical also written by Wilson and Ross that charmed audiences and earned 11 Dora Award nominations, winning four. In the spring, she performed in Sina Gilani’s Wedding at Aulis, a reimagining of the ancient Greek Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides. Her work ethic and self-professed impetus to diversify her skill set have taken her across the country to work in “all areas of the artistic spectrum”. Recently, she toured Canada as a back-up vocalist for Canadian rock star Corey Hart. “It was a dream to play with a musician that was a part of my youth,” she enthuses. And if that were not enough, she had a great time voicing Mr. King Dice for the video game Cuphead!
Despite this diverse set of opportunities, she ultimately feels blessed to be a part of Soulpepper and to work with Mike Ross because “he gives all of the artists on these concert series the freedom to explore new skills, develop different ways of presenting the music, and is extremely encouraging.” She identifies Ross’ nurturing approach as perhaps the most significant ingredient in the abiding and profound connection audiences feel to the concerts. Simply put, they can feel the artists’ “ease of spirit and love for the material. I look forward to every concert that is put on, even when I’m not a part of the cast.”
Fortunately, she is a core member of The Promised Land cast – and she warmly invites all to “come and see the show, and all will be revealed.”
News You Can Use
What: The Promised Land: Steinbeck Through Song, Created by Esther Jun, Mike Ross and Sarah Wilson; Lighting Design by Simon Rossiter; Sound design by Colton Stang; Video Design by Shannon Lea Doyle; Directed by Esther Jun
Performed by Alana Bridgewater, Divine Brown, Hailey Gillis, Jacob Gorzhaltsan, Scott Hunter, Rava Javanfar, Travis Knights, Mike Ross, Adam Warner, Joseph Ziegler
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: On stage until July 27, 2019; Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Where: Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: Soulpepper.ca
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019