REVIEW: Teatro Live! journeys into a new season with the musical Far Away and Long A-Gogo

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Teatro Live! launched its 2023/24 lineup with a performance experiment that introduces the theme of the company’s season, and provides context for the ensemble’s more than 40-year history in Edmonton

Far Away and Long A-Gogo is a night of song presented by Teatro stalwarts Kendra Connor, Andrea House and Farren Timoteo — three big musical talents who are also actors in Edmonton. While kicking off a season of plays with something that’s not a play had my eyebrows in a tizzy, the production was surprisingly satisfying.

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For one thing, the show (roughly one hour and 45 minutes, including intermission) gave the always-supportive Teatro Live! audience an opportunity to get inside the head of the company’s resident playwright and guiding light, Stewart Lemoine. His unique sensibility has infused a canon of some 100 plays since the ensemble kicked off at the 1982 Edmonton Fringe and it’s always intriguing to learn more about what informs his choices. One thing you may or may not know about Lemoine — who worked for years at Edmonton’s specialty music store, The Gramophone — is that music has been his metronome, ticking steadily throughout his work and life.

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Lemoine curates all the music in Far Away and Long A-Gogo, and each selection explores the theme of travel (as does the rest of the upcoming season, including Lemoine’s plays The Oculist’s Holiday and Pith, as well as the Noel Coward classic, Private Lives). The songs and styles are varied, ranging from operatic to soulful (House inhabits her tunes in a way that takes you straight into the story, even if you don’t know the language she’s singing in.) The evening highlights the work of Bernstein and Sondheim, Cole Porter, Moss and Hart and Petula Clark (among others). There’s a nod to the iconic comic singer Danny Kaye (whose career was built on a breakneck recitation of more than 50 Russian composers’ names) and a touching tribute by Connor and Timoteo to West Side Story. I may not have been alone in wishing there had been a list of the songs and composers in the program to guide the audience through the evening, and to give credit where credit is due. But still, there was a sense that someone had prepared the evening with an emphasis on delightful.

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A note: some members of the audience might have been confused by the appearance of two “special guests” on opening night. Jenny McKillop and Rachel Bowron pop up in the first act to help form a quintet for the West Side Story number. They are wearing masks, which makes it very difficult to hear them sing and had me wondering… why? The explanation is that McKillop and Bowron also work front of house for Teatro Live! and are in contact with the public. Producers were anxious to protect Timoteo, House and Connor from a possible COVID infection, especially as the run for Far Away and Long A-Gogo is brief, extending over roughly two weekends.

Some perplexing features of the first act, however, were resolved by the second act, which benefited from more connective tissue to smooth transitions. The performers’ backgrounds as actors made the night memorable; some songs border on sketch routines, and that’s always fun. Plus, who can ever get enough of a live band? With musical director Cathy Derkach at the keyboard, and Andreas Wegner and Cooper Ray on upright bass and drums, the evening offered a sophisticated and thoughtful assortment of standards to hum along to, and lesser-known tunes to look up later on YouTube. Timoteo is particularly adept at the combination of playful patter and potent pipes that make Far Away and Long A-Gogo a notable night on the town.

REVIEW

Far Away and Long A-Gogo

By Teatro Live! and Stewart Lemoine

Where Varscona Theatre 10329 83 Ave.

When Saturday and Sunday, and Nov. 30 to Dec. 3

Tickets From $33 at teatrolive.com

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