Last night, I had the pleasure of attend The Musical Stage Company‘s Uncovered: Stevie Wonder And Prince — an opportunity to enjoy some of the greatest works by these two artists reimagined under Reza Jacobs‘ direction. The night included Thom Allison (Broadway), Colin Asuncion (singer & cabaret performer), Aimee Bessada (multi-instrumentalist & songwriter), Jully Black (Juno award-winner), Michelle Bouey (2018-19 Banks Prize winner), Divine Brown (Juno award-winner), Alana Hibbert (Stratford & Shaw Festivals), Lydia Persaud (singer-songwriter) Jackie Richardson (Gemini & Dora award-winner), Cary Shields (Broadway) among others. Accompanying Jacobs were Jamie Drake, Justin Gray, and Erika Nielsen.
Given the artists whose music Jacobs chose to showcase are legends in their own way, my guest and I were excited to see how the evening would unfold.
Jacobs music direction, vocal arrangements, and orchestrations transform the original works in ways that are enjoyable and at times, unexpected yet still powerful in their own right.
Before I get into the music, I want to point out the evening is a mix of music and storytelling. Sarah Afful and Chy Ryan Spain play Stevie Wonder and Prince, respectively, in a believable characterization that was honest and not over-the-top. Afful wore a tan suit that reminded me of Stevie Wonder’s fashion style. Afful moved her head slowly moved from side to side just like Stevie Wonder does when he hears music. She also smiled like Wonder; I appreciated her performance. Spain was also believable in portraying Prince as sadly detached from the world. His performance enhanced some of the stories he’d later share with the audience — sharing some personal anecdotes that explain the nature of some of Prince’s most beloved songs.
Now, about the music… The roster of Canadian icons like Jackie Richardson, Divine Brown and Jully Black alongside the likes of Thom Allison and Aimee Bessada, made for an interesting blend of sounds.
I’ve been a fan of Richardson’s for many years. Her rendition of For Once In My Life and Purple Rain were exactly what I needed to hear. There is something about Richardson’s voice that touches the soul. I am never disappointed when I hear her sing.
Other standouts for me were My Cherie Amour beautifully sang by Jully Black. Her voice is gentle and powerful all in the Wow, can Black hold the floor down and command attention!
Thom Allison’s Knocks Me Off My Feet was moving and intriguing to me. I still felt the emotional connection I always feel with this song, and I also appreciated Allison’s manner with which he performed the lyrics.
I also enjoyed Aimee Bessada, Divine Brown and Lydia Persaud’s rendition of When Doves Cry. The audience really enjoyed this version of the song with a moment of silent followed by an enthusiastic ovation afterwards.
Although my guest had mixed feelings about some of the song renditions, I would say it is a good challenge to experience some of Stevie Wonder and Prince songs we love so much in new, creative ways.
A good example from Uncovered… is the interpretation of Prince’s Raspberry Beret in a country-style performed by Cary Shields, with background vocals by Alana Hibbert, Michelle Bouey, completed by the acoustic backing from Jamie Drake (percussion), Erika Nielsen (cellos) and Justin Gray (basses).
The 2019 edition of Uncovered… was a truly enjoyable time. It was a good blend of music and storytelling with high caliber artists from various disciplines. Hearing the music of Stevie Wonder and Prince in new ways also reminded us why we love their works so much — they are so versatile. This evening also introduced me to some upcoming stars whose work I was not aware of.
Uncovered… is a great collection of artists, story, and music. I certainly recommend it to Wonder and Prince fans, but also to those who are looking for a different way to experience musical theatre.