Musical theatre has long been the cultural domain of established, predominantly white and wealthy people in North America. Many of the most successful musicals ever feature storylines that involve successful and otherwise happy people being slightly inconvenienced. Indeed, nearly 80 years into the history of musical theatre, Les Miserables was met with critical debate and shock for portraying the death of its characters in an obvious way. Broadway was not in danger of being compared to Shakespeare.
Like all art-forms however, increased access changes the game.
Musical theatre has become a hallmark of public school programs, film and television over the past several decades. With people from all backgrounds of life and all points of view now taking part from a young age, expectations have begun to shift.
Amazing Grace is a new musical that would likely not have existed 30 years ago, but seems completely natural today. It runs at the Rose Theatre on April 21.
Dr. Elaine Brown Spencer is a sociologist and author who wrote the book, Private Pain in Public Pews. It unpacks 20 years of scholarly work about the guilt, pain and shame experienced by church goers. Following her work, Brown Spencer created a series of plays to further illuminate the human stories she has encountered.
“I love that I get to tell stories many women have experienced,” she says. “I also get to talk about the amazing things that people are doing to help vulnerable people, particularly women who are often left forgotten.”
Amazing Grace tells the story of Rebecca, an indomitable woman seeking revenge. After being reunited with her friend Grace at the local detention centre, an extraordinary twist of fate brings her face to face with an opportunity for vengeance. Set to extraordinary gospel music and with a touch of comedy, the play attempts to uncover the reality of living a life of faith in an increasingly faithless world. The show was written and is being directed by Dr. Brown Spencer.
“Powerful is the only word that describes what’s been happening behind the scenes,” said Brown Spencer. “This show is going to be awesome!”
JUNO award winning singer, Jully Black, plays the lead role of Rebecca.
“Jully is an intense artist who is eloquently mastering her craft,” says Brown Spencer. “And we all know how amazing a singer she is – Canada’s Queen of Soul.”
Many performers who have worked on previous Brown Spencer plays are returning for the show. Fan favourites include Londa Lamond, Gregory Green and Diahann Walcott.
“This cast has a chemistry I have not seen in a long time!” adds Brown Spencer.
The music from the show, sung by Jully Black and the rest of the cast, is entirely original and is being recorded for release as a soundtrack album. A VIP ticket for the show earns you a free copy.
Brown Spencer’s work has very much become about telling stories that would have otherwise remained untold. In this respect, she has come to musical theatre at the perfect time, just as the genre is expanding to include more and more people.
“Viewers can expect some laughter and some intense drama,” she says. “It makes me smile every time I think about how I can’t wait for people to grasp the message of this play.”
Amazing Grace the Musical Play, at the Rose Theatre April 21. Tickets are available online at rosetheatre.ca or by calling (905) 874-2800.