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Driving Songs

by on July 21, 2010

reposted from http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com

Kyle Mullin
For the Telegraph-Journal

Stage: ‘The Bricklin’ is the first New Brunswick musical to have its stage originals recorded for a studio album

The Bricklin may be a musical bristling with punch-drunk funk anthems, but Allen Cole says the smallest song he wrote for the production resounds as loudly as any of his other epic numbers.

It’s not sung by a flamboyant premier, his coy accountant or a floundering business tycoon. Instead, it’s a duet between a young couple weighing the merit of their small town before an infamous automobile runs them over.

“It’s called Minto, and it’s basically a boyfriend and girlfriend arguing over whether or not the town’s a hellhole or a paradise,” said Cole, who wrote every note for the first New Brunswick (and one of very few Canadian) musicals to ever have its stage originals recorded for a studio album. He said he believes Minto will gain more airplay than any other on the album because of its catchy chorus.

Cole said the song explores how the town housed a factory for the sexy sports cars – the first to built in New Brunswick – and the news soon spread to every metropolis to which the young couple might have wanted to escape.

The cast of 'The Bricklin' records songs for an album at MasterTracks Recording Studio in Hanwell. Cast members, from left, are George Masswohl, Jason Chesworth, Tania Breen, Cameron MacDuffee and Troy Adams.

The Bricklin, a Fredericton Playhouse and Theatre New Brunswick musical about the infamous car, opens July 30 in Fredericton.

Jason Chesworth, who plays soured entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin in the production, said a studio album for any Canadian musical is a staggering feat because even most of Toronto’s biggest plays cannot nab the near-Broadway level of financing needed to book recording time.

Chesworth said the chance for audiences to take their favourite tunes from The Bricklin and crank them in their own car stereos will extend the play’s life.

George Masswohl, who stars as former New Brunswick premier Richard Hatfield, added that the recording process for the album helped the actors better inhabit the lives of some of our province’s most pivotal characters.

“In a normal rehearsal, you put the script down after awhile. But here, we were in a studio going over the lyrics again and again, take after take, and we found all these textures in the passages.”

Cole agreed, adding he was thrilled such a delicate treatment of his lyrics helped the actors find nuances that would have been lost in the echoes of a rehearsal hall.

“The quiet of the studio lets them give up more vulnerability,” he said. “It’s like the difference between acting on a stage and in front of a camera – you need to tone it down, to let it breathe.”

Masswohl said that’s crucial because, unlike many of today’s musicals, The Bricklin’s plot unfolds through the lyrics as much as the dialogue.

“Just like the script, these songs grow out of heightened emotion,” he said. “When there’s too much to say, that’s when we sing it. It’s very appropriate, considering Hatfield was such a passionate man.”

Cole said many of his “disco musical” elements make such a term seem less ridiculous than it sounds. He forgoes the glossy pop that closed the decade in favour of the gritty Motown-infused funk that was popular during Hatfield’s early 1970s prime.

All of the songs are originals written by Cole, the majority of them making the cut on the 11-track album, which will be sold at The Playhouse in Fredericton during the production’s run.

Chesworth credited some of the show’s best songs to Cameron MacDuffee and Tania Breen who, as that young Minto couple, belt out the cheeky Spark Plugs and the scathing Oil on His Collar.

Chesworth’s own solos cover Bricklin’s utmost heights and deepest lows.

“My first solo is essentially Mr. Bricklin offering the keys to his success, and the second one involves him lambasting his critics,” Chesworth said, adding that the latter comes at the tail end of the musical.

Co-star Troy Adams had several such character arcs to juggle – from Cormier, Hatfield’s buttoned-down accountant, to cabaret singer Turnbull, to the manifestation of the Premier’s love for the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s famed Salvador Dalí painting Santiago el Grande (which the provocative politician encounters through what is implied to be a skewed state of mind).

Adams said the music helped him distinguish between such an eclectic character mix. Most of Turnbull’s Temptations-esque songs, for instance, are delivered in staccato spoken word. Cormier, on the other hand, embraces more fluid rumba numbers reflecting his sublimely strange transition from straight-laced number cruncher to bohemian dreamer. Adams revelled in the rhythmic steps between those points.

“The play starts with a number from Turnbull’s band, the Acrylics, where I get into my Temptations dance moves,” Adams said. “By the end, all of us get to do the hustle or the rumba, the dirty, funky R&B that’s never used in musical theatre – which makes it all so fresh.”

Cole said such gritty harmonies are the keys to Bricklin’s success – offering more than what one might expect from a disco musical. He hopes to disprove any shallow notions about a premier nicknamed Disco Dick, or the potential of tiny towns like Minto that he tried to turn into industrial capitals.

“People should come out of this play disagreeing about whether his ambition was admirable or a waste,” Cole said of Hatfield. “Love him or hate him, you’ll see his passion for this kind of music, he loved the arts … and that’s how he saw the Bricklin, not as a car but as a work of art that he was willing to step on some toes for.”

‘The Bricklin: An Automotive Fantasy’ opens July 30 and runs until Aug. 15. Limited tickets are also available for three preview nights: July 27-29. Ticket prices $24-$32 or $10 for students. Contact the box office at 458-8344 or 1-866-884-5800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              1-866-884-5800      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit http://www.theplayhouse.nb.ca or http://www.bricklinmusical.ca

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