Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon

News & Notes: A resonating ‘Hallelujah’

A PSU choir's link to Leonard Cohen's most famous song; a Covid cancellation; Afro-Topia Pop-Up; remembering Hilary Mantel & Louise Fletcher; Corey Brunish & "The Music Man."

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Leonard Cohen at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, Aug. 3, 2012. Photo: jonl1973/Wikimedia Commons

The late, great poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen would have been 88 this week (on Wednesday, Sept. 21), and, as Karen O’Donnell Stein of Portland State University’s College of the Arts reminds me, the university has an intriguing link to him and his music.

In 2011 Ethan Sperry, professor of choral music and conductor of the PSU Choir, did a choral arrangement of Cohen’s most famous song, Hallelujah, dividing the choir into 11 parts and calling for several soloists. It turned out to be both an immediate and a lasting success. “It was their final song when the choir became the first American choir to win the Grand Prix at the Seghizzi International Contest for Choral Singing in 2013, and the opening number when they were the first American choir to ever appear at the Bali International Choral Festival in 2017 (where they also won the Grand Prix),” Stein says.

Not enough? Try this: Pope Francis “used it as the soundtrack for his short film Moral Action on Climate Change, which he aired in his address on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2015.” Hallelujah, indeed.

In 2021 PSU’s chamber choir traveled to Greece for another international competition, and while it was there the singers made a side trip to Cohen’s old home on Hydra Island, where, in Stein’s words, they “gave a serenade at his doorstep.” They also had the good sense to record the serenade, which you can see and hear below, in multi-part harmony:

A Fear No Music Postponement

While the cultural world has begun to spread its wings after the forced shutdowns of the pandemic, Covid keeps reminding us that things aren’t back to 2019 normal. Audiences are still slow to come back into theaters (several Broadway shows have either shut down or announced they’ll end soon because of weak sales) and performers, too, are still susceptible to the virus. Marty Hughley touched on the problems in his most recent DramaWatch column.

And the new-music group Fear No Music has announced that its Monday, Sept. 26 concert Imagine I’m Someone Else at the Old Church Concert Hall, featuring comedian and violist Isabel Hagen, has been canceled: Hagen has come down with Covid and has cancelled her West Coast appearances. Fear No Music is working to reschedule the show, possibly for later this season.

Porches & Stoops: An Afro-Topia Pop-Up

Portland Playhouse, the theater company whose home sits in the midst of Northeast Portland’s historically Black King neighborhood, is collaborating this weekend with Albina Vision Trust on a free gathering called Porches & Stoops: An Afro-Topia Pop-Up.

It promises to be a freewheeling celebration. Here’s how the organizations describe it: “The porch. It’s where we tell stories, sleep on summer nights, braid hair, take photos, watch the world, learn about the past and imagine the future. The porches of Afrotopia are no different. Here you will be met by sounds of music, singing, the smell of food carts and other market stalls. You may come across a youth or griot sharing their own migration tales. Artists creating new worlds. The care and nurture of community. And Black childhood as remembered through common consciousness.”

Porches & Stoops will be at 1800 N. Wheeler Ave., Portland, the future home of Albina One, a 94-unit housing project designed to bring Black families back into the neighborhood. Hours are 3-9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, and 2-6 p.m. Sunday, the 25th. It’s free, and you can sign up here.

Remembering Hilary Mantel and Louise Fletcher

The cultural world lost two remarkable people this week.

Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author of the Wolf Hall trilogy of historical novels, died Thursday, Sept. 22, at 70. In her trilogy — Wolf Hall; Bringing Up the Bodies; The Mirror and the Light — Mantel combined prodigious research with superb storytelling to envision the power and ambitions of key players in English history, from Henry VIII to the Seymours and Boleyns to Oliver Cromwell, Thomas More, and Cardinal Wolsey. In so doing she created lasting literature. The Guardian’s obituary is here.

Actor Louise Fletcher died Friday, Sept. 23, at her home in France, at 88. She had a long and distinguished career, and is best-remembered by Oregonians – and others as well – for her Oscar-winning performance as the wretched Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman’s filmed-in-Oregon movie adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Oregon writer Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel about breaking free from a repressive society inside a mental hospital. Fletcher brought extraordinary and often frightening dimension to a character who might otherwise have descended into caricature. Variety’s obituary is here.

COREY BRUNISH AND “THE MUSIC MAN”

Star Hugh Jackman (left) and Corey Brunish, at the cast album recording session for the Broadway revival of “The Music Man.” Photo courtesy Corey Brunish.

Corey Brunish is, as usual, a busy man. The onetime (and still occasional) Portland actor and director, who’s made his mark in New York as a multiple Tony-winning Broadway producer — most recently this year, for the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company — is in Pasadena, directing a new musical, The Lincolns of Springfield.

He’s recently been a consulting producer on The Day the Music Died: American Pie, the new documentary on singer/songwriter Don McLean and the culture his biggest hit reflected a half-century ago. He makes an appearance in Claydream, the new documentary about the late Portland Claymation pioneer Will Vinton, which ArtsWatch’s Marc Mohan wrote about here.

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And this week he popped up in print, with an essay in the booklet for the new cast album recording released Friday of the Hugh Jackman/Sutton Foster Broadway revival of The Music Man. Titled “The Soul of a Cast Recording,” it reflects Brunish’s impressions of his “delight at the surreal opportunity I was given to witness the recording session.”

“When I was in High School,” Brunish’s essay begins, “I discovered my mom’s LP collection of cast recordings. I pored over the liner notes, memorized the lyrics, and re-visited my favorites often. One of those favorites was the 1957 recording of The Music Man. These original cast recordings of many now seminal Broadway musicals soon fueled my healthy addiction to musical theatre.”

It continues, in part: “As cast members trickled in, it was clear there was a love fest. Hugh Jackman (Harold Hill) hugged every arriving actor in sight. Soon after the orchestra had tuned and warmed up, places were called. Music Director Patrick Vaccariello lifted his baton and instantly goosebumps sprang up on my skin as the first notes were played and the first words were sung. This was happening. This was history in the making.”

Broadway’s newest Music Man is scheduled to close on Jan. 1, 2023, following 358 performances and 46 preview performances. The cast album, of course, will live on.

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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