Jeannette Lambermont-Morey is an established Canadian director, teacher, and veteran of the Stratford Festival. She has worked as a director at major theatres across North America, but throughout her career, she has privately maintained a passion for one particular project. That project is now approaching its world premiere, one that’s bound to the catch the eye of theatres in Canada, and beyond.
For decades, Lambermont-Morey has been fascinated by the classical masterwork, Faust, by the German playwright Goethe, in which a highly educated man, Faust, is seduced into an agreement with evil incarnate. Since her youth, Jeannette found the work compelling, and dreamt of staging it. But is a centuries-old work about a man’s struggle with good and evil, relevant to today’s audience? To Jeannette, Faust is entirely contemporary. “I find the play more relevant than ever in the 21st century. I see a direct parallel between Faust’s hubris and mankind today – striving for supreme knowledge without a care for what might be destroyed in the process.”
Fatefully, in 2009, Jeannette met Alex Dault, then a student at George Brown Theatre School. She workshopped the play, with Dault cast in the title role of Faust. Jeannette recalls, “Our first project was the Faust workshop we did in Period Study. His passion for the piece was palpable, and we began talking about producing it almost right away.”
Various ideas were put forth about when and where it could be staged. Then, in 2015, Dault was named Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay, and in an audacious move, he proposed that Faust should premiere in Barrie, Ontario, at the Mady Centre.
For the production, Lambermont-Morey chose a translation of the German work by David Luke into clear, modern English, with Dault securing the rights. But with this version of Faust, much of it in crisp, rhyming couplets, Jeannette saw an opportunity to expand the entertainment vista of the play. It became obvious to her that “the piece is, and needs to be, infused with music.”
Faust is a panoramic drama of wit, subtlety, and power. You can’t just stick in a few bouncy songs and make it a musical. The text demands a refined score, full of complexity and depth. For this, Leslie Arden was the natural choice. Jeannette remarks, “Leslie is a close and dear friend. We have always wanted to work together and have never found the right opportunity or the right project until now.” Arden, who studied under Broadway’s premiere composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods), has herself enjoyed a long and successful career. For Faust, she has created music that’s both clever, as well as darkly effervescent.
I was fortunate to hear much of Arden’s intoxicating soundtrack in an early workshop held in Toronto, over last year’s Thanksgiving holiday. I assure you, to hear music of this beauty, intrigue and intensity will be a rapturous experience for any audience.
A project as interesting as this one has attracted some of the strongest performers in Canada. I also suspect it will attract a celebrity audience.
While Barrie, Ontario, doesn’t enjoy the credentials of a Stratford or Shaw Festival, this is clearly a bold step, one that puts Barrie on the theatrical map. It would have been easy for Theatre by the Bay to stage any number of well-known musicals hits. Instead, it’s opted for a unique, pioneering effort, one that should pull in tourists eager to see an intelligent spectacle, one that would be rare for a huge city like Toronto, let alone Barrie.
But then, that’s what happens when theatre’s high priestess holds court.
Faust plays July 5 to 16, at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in Barrie, Ontario.
Advanced tickets are available for less and with more options at:
All photos by Burke Campbell.