BWW Interviews: Reza Jacobs on Acting Up Stage's TAPESTRIES
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by Kelly Cameron
Acting Up Stage is embarking on an exciting new 2012-2013 season, featuring A Craigslist Cantata and Falsettos in addition to a continued focus on developing and cultivating Toronto’s musical theatre landscape. As part of this, they are presenting ‘Tapestries’, a one-night only concert featuring some of Canada’s best and brightest theatre talent singing the music of James Taylor and Carole King. ‘Tapestries’ follows on the heels of two sold out concerts – Both Sides Now and The Long and Winding Road. The evening features well-known and loved songs, re-arranged by Reza Jacobs in a brand new way to pay tribute to this music.
Tapestries will feature songs such as “I Feel the Earth Move’, ‘Fire and Rain’, ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘Sweet Baby James’ and ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ sung by Cynthia Dale, Arlene Duncan, Jake Epstein, Sara Farb, Kelly Holiff, Amanda LeBlanc, Eden Richmond and Josh Young.
Reza Jacobs sat down to speak with BWW about his role with Acting Up Stage and with Tapestries, how he arranges such well known music and how he feels about Toronto’s musical theatre scene:
What exactly is 'Tapestries'?
Every year we do a concert that takes an artist or a couple of artists and I do arrangements of the songs. I also do arrangements for our back-up singers and the band who hold the concert down, and then we have soloists who come and sing individual songs. We’re featured Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, Lennon and McCartney and Michael Jackson. This year we’re doing James Taylor and Carole King which is a great musical pairing, they’ve been collaborators and sung on each other’s album so it makes musical sense.
Where did the idea for these shows come from?
When I first moved to Toronto six years ago I knew about two people here, so I started to get out and get to know people. One thing led to another and I found myself at a production of Elegies: A Song Cycle done by Acting Up Stage. After the show someone pointed out Mitchell Marcus and said ‘that guy is the producer’ so I went up and introduced myself. I told him I had just moved from NYC and didn’t know anyone but that I loved his show and wanted to meet with him.
A little while later I was working for Toronto Youth Theatre and I did a version had took a meeting. He said he had an idea to bring two people from New York who were doing a concert version of Ben Folds Five songs to Toronto. I suggested we do our own version of something similar and suggested the Beatles. It was a seminal event in my time in Toronto – he took a huge leap of faith. He’s one of the smartest people I know who also has a great gut instinct. We did it, it went really well and now we’ve continued to do it.
Do you do all the arrangements?
I wish I could take all the credit but I do collaborate with the artists, we try and find what works with their voices and their personalities. For the back up vocals I work with the four girls and we try to make the them together. They’re all very instinctive and very musical. It’s not easy, it takes a lot of work but we have a great vibe together and we love coming up with the vocals. I love collaboration and I like seeing what a person needs by figuring out how they work as a human being – and putting that into the music.
How do you decide how much to change in any given song?
That’s decided on a case by case basis. There are two things. One is looking at just the song and the person singing it. I want to find out why they’re singing that song and what story they want to tell. For example, with Cynthia Dale we’re doing a three in the morning, dirty, sexy, sultry version of It’s Too Late by Carole King. We were sitting in a room together and we just came up with it and did it in one take. We didn’t know why or how, but it was one of those magical things and we knew we needed to honour that organic impulse.
The other consideration is in figuring out how the song fits in the show because I think with these concerts people want a mixture of reinvented tunes and classic fare. So generally the way these work is that there is a smattering of songs that are similar to the original and some that are quite different.
Have there been a few songs that have stood out as a favourite?
I think everyone has their own favourites. It’s hard for me to play favourites because they’re almost all like my children. Some of them are stronger than others just like with children. Some can be more aggressive, some are quiet and I love it for that variety.
Have you ever had someone really dislike the new arrangement?
Sure there are times that happens but that’s a part of the whole collaborative process. For example I have a few good friends who came to the Paul Simon show who preferred the songs in their original form. But you can’t please everyone and the concert was very received by most people – but there will always be some people who it will bother. With the Michael Jackson concert for example I reinvented the songs quite a bit and I stripped a lot of them of their rhythmic drives and when I look back I think ‘ok maybe that was a wrong decision’ because that is what is so magmatic about his songs. But live and learn right?
One of the things I love about reinventing is it forces people to reconnect with the lyrics and hear the words again. It makes them hear the stories in the songs. When you have songs you love you become immune to the lyrics because the songs are so familiar. It’s like what happens with families sometimes, we take them for granted because we’re so familiar with them. What I’m trying to do is give the songs a bit of a makeover so we can look at our family members anew.
How do you choose who will perform in these shows?
It’s a mixture of chance – who is available and who wants to be in the concerts. We also brainstorm, I sit down with Mitchell and we toss around names but usually it just falls into place. I always think that these things turn out the way they should.
What do you think of the musical theatre scene in Toronto? Are you optimistic?
I’m always a robust optimist. I kinda feel like things move in phases and at any given time there are things that you can feel good about and there are things that you can complain about. I think it has a lot to do with where people are personally in their lives and arts funding. That has a huge impact on things, especially on non-commercial theatres. So if I’m ever going to get irked by anything it would be about arts funding cuts. Other than that I’m pretty optimistic about everything. I know a lot of people who are working and I’m interested in a lot of things happening out there and I think there’s excitement.
The cradle of excitement lies within all of us. It’s easy to become down and pessimistic about stuff, but I think we have an obligation to ourselves to be positive and not be down and pessimistic because those are self fulfilling attitudes. Get out there and do something. Make art.
Or at least buy a ticket and go see art? *laughs*
What would you say is the number one reason to come and see the show?
It’s a hell of a lot of fun. There are great vibes in the room and on stage. It’s joyful, big bright and smiling warm energy. And it’s done with great technical proficiency from the singers and from the band. Even if you don’t like every version of every song, each song only lasts about three minutes so it’ll be over quickly. Plus we've got incredible talent on stage.
When and Where?
Acting Up Stage presents Tapestries at Koerner Hall on Monday, November 26th at 8PM. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased online through the Royal Conservatory website.
For more information on Acting Up Stage, visit their official website at www.actingupstage.com.