It sounds like a musical a certain supergroup from the ‘60s would have written.
A young British lad named Jude sets sail from Liverpool to the U.S., meets a girl named Lucy, and immerses himself in the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll culture amid the turbulent years of anti-war protests, the struggle for free speech, and the civil rights movement.
Throw in a few psychedelic mind trips, and you have just a taste of Across the Universe.
For those who have seen the 2007 musical film directed by Julie Taymor, and featuring cameos by the likes of Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, Bono as an existential drug guru, and Joe Cocker as a homeless person, Across the Universe stands out for many reasons.
The story spans a decade that to this day remains one of the most revolutionary, but it’s the music that resonates. The film incorporates 34 compositions originally written by, you guessed it, The Beatles.
Across the Universe is about to get a new life on the stage when the Vernon Community Music School’s glee club presents its version at the Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon Dec. 14 to 16.
“We’re actually performing 26 songs that will take people through the British Invasion up into the psychedelic, spiritual era,” said glee club director and VCMS vocal instructor Therese Parent.
This is the second time the club has brought a famed musical film to the stage. Last January, members presented the ABBA music from Mamma Mia! to three sold-out houses at the Powerhouse Theatre, and this year they are hoping to do the same. And considering they are performing songs that have spanned a few generations, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
“If people haven’t seen the film, it won’t matter. They will know the music. It’s amazing when you talk to teenagers or talk to adults, they all know The Beatles,” said Parent.
With both new and familiar faces joining the club for this production, almost all of them auditioned to perform solos. The club’s mandate is to give everyone a chance to perform, said Parent, adding those expecting the songs to be performed the way The Beatles did them originally should expect a surprise.
“It’s a different twist on their music. It’s all (The Beatles’) lyrics but done in a different way,” said one of the original glee club members Lori Hancock, who performed The Winner Takes It All in Mamma Mia! and this time will perform Let it Be. “You wouldn’t know that some of our members haven’t performed before — now they own it.”
To some of those more seasoned members of the group who grew up with the Fab Four’s music, performing such iconic songs in a different manner has been an exciting challenge.
“We take I Want To Hold Your Hand, which is a rock song, and the way we’re doing it is a ballad,” said Michael Wardlow, who plays an older version of Jude and will open and close the show with a solo. “I am an old rock ‘n roller and listened to The Beatles all the time in my youth, so I was prepped to do the show. Then I got the CD (of the film) and thought ‘oh, God,’ but I am thrilled with the way it has turned out.”
The glee members will not just be standing there pumping out The Beatles’ catalogue, there’s a lot of dance, movement, and drama in the show, said Allison Inkpen, who performed in Mamma Mia! with a broken leg and this time is looking forward to actually moving around in the show to perform two solos.
“We stage these vignettes that are centered around the music. There’s more dynamic choreography,” she said, adding 17-year-old Melea Ward has come in to choreograph the show, and will dance in the song Something.
The club has also welcomed other special guests to perform. One of them is no stranger to singing in front of thousands of rock fans around the world.
Vernon’s Darby Mills, of Headpins fame, is slated to bring her multi-octave vocals to Don’t Let Me Down.
“Therese used to see The Headpins in Regina and didn’t realize Darby lived here. I know Darby, so I asked her if she could be part of the show, and she couldn’t commit at first, but then I received a phone call from her and she was in,” said Hancock, adding “Therese has done a massive job of picking the right songs for each singer… She has amazing insight.”
The club has also enlisted local actor Clive Goodrich to get “trippy” (without hallucinogens, of course) in Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite and joining Hancock in singing Let it Be is young talent Lynley Gordon-Mason, a student of Parent’s who is only 11 years old.
John Phillips is also bringing along his mandolin to perform in Blackbird, while a live band, consisting of Mike Parent, Rod Neufeld, Elishiva Phillips, Peter McKillop, and Luke Mortensen, is backing the singers in all the numbers.
“We were able to do some fundraising this year and get some sponsors on board to upgrade our sound,” said Parent, adding new headset microphones will be used so every singer can be heard loud and clear. “We really appreciate the sponsors support…. It makes for a better show and helps us cover the technical aspects, the costuming, makeup, the production team and the theatre rental.”
The glee club is also giving back by donating proceeds from Across the Universe to the VCMS’ Sound Foundation Campaign to build a new foundation and conduct repairs on the 100-plus-year-old Smith House, where the music school is housed.
“We raised $7,000 from Mamma Mia! for the campaign and we are hoping to match that,” said Parent.
Across the Universe takes the stage at Powerhouse Theatre Dec. 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $26 (all ages) available at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.