Victoria Clark & Jordan Barrow
Jordan-Barrow-Ryan-Allen-Montego Glover
Jordan Barrow, Ryan Allen & Company

A review by Meegan Scott

Sousatzka, a delightful musical with a different kind of theatrical flow, has come to Toronto at the perfect time.  The way in which the Show listens as well as speaks to Toronto through Luca’s rewrite of the original story, “Madame Sousatzka” by Bernice Rubens, and the Drabinsky production is what piqued my interest.  The two have created a musical that could never be more relevant to Toronto on the eve of Canada’s 150th Anniversary.  The variety of contemporary themes and issues raised in Sousatzka are as rich as the architecture of the 104-year-old Elgin Theatre, where the show opened on March, 23, 2017.

Sousatzka is the story of Madame Sousatzka (Victoria Clark), and her student Themba (Jordan Barrow) and their individual as well as their shared journeys to a state of harmony with their past and present. Clark plays the role of a talented piano teacher, refugee, and Holocaust survivor who specializes in teaching child prodigies. And Barrow, is her young piano pupil, a political refugee who escaped apartheid in Soweto.

One cannot miss the power of music and the collision of cultures in unveiling commonality between people of different races who have travelled different life journeys. The potency of those two factors to propel very different people on a shared journey to finding who they are in a new state of harmony with their past and present is a major theme in the musical. It is indeed the story of Clark and Barrow. But Sousatzka is also a story in which mothers wrestle to keep their sons but were forced to let go of much of those sons in order to save and have them again in the face of social and cultural upheaval.

The applause of the audience showed their love for Sousatzka (Tony Award-winner, Victoria Clark); Themba (Jordan Barrow); Naledi (First African-American Madame Thénardiers in Les Miserablés); Countess (Two time Tony Award-Winner, Judy Kaye); Xholiswa Khenketha (Tony Award-nominee, Montego Glover), Jabulani Khenketha (Ryan Allen); and Jenny (Sara Jean Ford).

Most impressive is the fact that it  tells the story of Toronto and Canada— their bold ambition of becoming a multicultural city and nation.  Sousatzka immerses its audience in unsettling scenarios  – interracial bonding, rape, racism, eccentricity, and diversity—both realities and stereotypes that serve to make multiculturalism seem illusive.  Yet at the same time it is the confrontation and experience of those very issues and the “letting go” of them that have helped Themba and Madame Sousatzka to find themselves, live their dream, and heal.  It is clear that the producer intended to plunge his audience into an experience of true multiculturalism.

There were lessons too for newcomers who fear that their children may lose their cultural identities, Barrow (Themba), does a great job of alleviating fears and Clarke effectively reinforces it with “You can’t kill memory”.

Victoria Clark delivered an outstanding performance. She was clearly the star of the show and  well received. Clark performed a true embodiment of the themes of eccentricity, talent, devoted teacher, and lover of the arts.  That she is a talented singer and actress is unquestionable.

Fuchia (Naledi) delivered a rousing performance of “So Sing.”Great singing and great moves with a hint of Miriam Makeba. Fuchia saved Xholiswa from being consumed in her fight for a different Soweto and Themba’s African identity .

Montego Glover was well suited for the role of Xholiswa, Themba’s mother.  She engaged the audience in an authentic delivery and response to the typical stereotypes and fears. She was excellent in her role as the proud, steadfast, and forceful mother and activist and did great justice to the leader hinted at in her stage name.  Together Montego and Clark provided the right disruptions for simulating thought and arousing conscience.  Glover was flawlessly powerful, in her “no jestering“ stance as she moved to protect her son from the risk, of heartache, and even a sense of betrayal that the black mother fears when her child enters an inter-racial relationship.

The musical picked up momentum with the rich and melodious performance of South African songs and the backdrop which placed that segment of the show in 1976 Soweto, South Africa.  The uprising and arrest of Jabulani Khenketha (Ryan Allen), Themba’s father, redeemed the show. Despite a lovely rendition of “Song of the Child,” the westernized ending of the piece brought the performance in conflict with the character of Xholiswa and missed an opportunity to deliver the powerful rhythm, and voice of South Africa.

Sousatzka definitely provides an escape for Torontonians from their day-to-day lives. But that escape is to a deeper reality of the life they live in one of the world’s most diversified cities and one that is caught up in the throes of fulfilling an ambition to become multicultural even as it resists diversity. Though the issues are serious, the lively performance ushers the audience into the dream of multiculturalism fulfilled.

Title Sousatzka
Music by David Shire
Lyrics byRichard Maltby Jr.
Book by Craig Lucas
Directed byAdrian Noble
StarringVictoria Clark
VenueElgin Theatre
Runs UntilSunday, April 9, 2017