Toronto Review: ‘Uncovered: Stevie Wonder and Prince’ The Musical Stage Company

  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

I’ve ‘UNCOVERED’ a treasure gem of a terrific evening of riveting entertainment by the Musical Stage Company.

I just wished I had known sooner about the history of ‘Uncovered’. It’s played the past thirteen years as I would have made my way to Toronto far sooner to receive this early Christmas/holiday gift for myself. It’s only here for a short time and I hear tickets are going fast.

Do anything you can to see this production and, especially, to hear some of our superb Canadian vocalists offer a heartfelt tribute to the music of Stevie Wonder and Prince.

Three quarters concert and one quarter story telling, ‘Uncovered: Stevie Wonder & Prince’ follows a back story behind some of the iconic music of two of North America’s beloved artists. I learned from the programme that the text featured in the production has been curated from actual quotes spoken by Stevie Wonder & the late Prince.

Naturally, the big question – Who will play Stevie Wonder & Prince?

Sarah Afful and Chy Ryan Spain respectively play them with a natural, believable characterization and likability that I honestly felt the two were speaking to me directly throughout the evening. Ms. Afful wore the colourful clothing akin to Stevie Wonder’s fashion style during his many concerts. During Wonder’s songs, I looked at Ms. Afful who became Stevie Wonder to me. She slowly moved her head from side to side in the same manner. She adopted his same smile. Wonderful.

As the somewhat distant loner who introduced the world to androgyny (along with Boy George), Chy Ryan Spain captured a heartbreaking aloofness and poignant sadness as Prince that led me to understand further some of the background behind his songs. At the top of the show, Mr. Spain as Prince referred to the tremendous respect for Stevie Wonder. He said,

“If Michael Jackson is the king of pop, Stevie Wonder is the emperor.”

That same respect and admiration both Ms. Afful and Mr. Spain had for these two artists (and along for each other) was continuously evident to me throughout the show.

What was also the crème de la crème for me of the evening were the selection of singers who showcased their talent. And what a selection of names that I recognized – Thom Allison, Jully Black and Jackie Richardson. The other names to whom I was introduced this evening – Colin Asuncion, Aimee Bessada, Divine Brown, Lydia Persaud, Cary Shields, Michelle Bouey and Alan Hibbert – left me gobsmacked with their vocal renditions of several hits by Wonder and Prince.

Whenever I’m out to review, I always have my notebook in hand to write ideas down if a thought comes to me during the performance. I just decided to close the book, put the pen away and just sit and listen.

Was I disappointed? Absolutely not.

Under Reza Jacobs’ outstanding music direction, vocal arrangements and orchestrations, these ten artists gripped me with their powerhouse vocal work which soared high to its extreme heights on the stage of Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music. The smile did not leave my face at all during the evening. I looked around and saw many audience members around me were the same.

Jackie Richardson’s solo renditions of ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘For Once in My Life’ blew the roof off Koerner Hall. ‘My Cherie Amour’ was beautifully sung by Jully Black as I was on every word she sang. Thom Allison’s ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ taught me so much about the responsibility artists have in selling a song and believing every word that is crooned.

Cary Shields’ ‘Raspberry Beret’ was deliciously and sweetly delivered. Aimee Bessada, Divine Brown and Lydia Persaud worked a poignant and soulful ‘When Doves Cry’ that brought a hushed silence for a few seconds after the song concluded before the much-deserved applause. Colin Asuncion’s ‘Superstition’ soulfully sang right to my very being that I just closed my eyes because I wanted to hear the words and listen attentively to the music.

An absolute joyful gift.  Treat yourself and a guest. Another definite must see.

FINAL COMMENTS: ‘Uncovered: Stevie Wonder & Prince’ runs only to November 7 at Koerner Hall, Telus Centre for Performance and Learning at the Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto. It then transfers for two nights, November 8 and 9, to the George Weston Recital Hall at the Meridian Centre (formerly Toronto Centre for the Arts).

For tickets and further information, visit www.musicalstagecompany.com

Production runs approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

UNCOVERED: STEVIE WONDER & PRINCE

Sarah Afful as Stevie Wonder and Chy Ryan Spain as Prince with Thom Allison, Colin Asuncion, Aimee Bessada, Jully Black, Divine Brown, Lydia Persaud, Jackie Richardson and Cary Shields.

Musical Direction, Vocal Arrangements & Orchestrations by Reza Jacobs

Dramaturgy by Mitchell Marcus and Kevin Wong.

Orchestra: Piano and Conductor: Reza Jacobs;  Percussion: Jamie Drake, Basses: Justin Gray; Cellos: Erika Nielsen;

Staging: Elenna Mosoff & Mitchell Marcus; Script: Jason Spetter & Kevin Wong; Lighting Design: Chris Malikowski; Blind Disability Dramaturg: Jessica Watkin

Photo of Jully Black by Dahlia Katz