Review: What Makes a Man (Necessary Angel Theatre Company and Canadian Stage)

The music of Charles Aznavour is brought to the Toronto stage at the Berkeley Street Theatre

Necessary Angel Theatre Company has paired with Canadian Stage to present a musical revue, What Makes a Man, highlighting the works of French-Armenian multilingual singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, a “showman” still touring the world at the age of 90. He and his work have appeared in multiple films and both CNN and the readers of Time magazine have heralded him as ‘Entertainer of the Century’ beating out both Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley.

Honestly, I’ve never heard of him — don’t know anyone that does either. And if his work has won over global audiences, there’s a big chance I’m missing out on something spectacular. That was all the reason I needed to catch a performance with the hopes I’d be blown away and perhaps become a new fan.

Unfortunately that didn’t quite happen.

This musical revue is just that — more a concert than theatrical piece as there isn’t any narrative to speak of linking the songs together. That’s a big component that I feel the show is lacking. I want there to be a story and insight into this artist’s colourful life and though the lyrics in his songs do tell a tale, it’s not one that is easy to follow.

Four performers take to the stage taking on personas of Aznavour’s personality — poet, lover, performer and survivor. The four singers include Louise Pitre, Kenny Brawner, Saidah Baba Talibah and Andrew Penner — and they’re all great performers with amazing voices so the music alone is beautiful, the backing band accompanies them well (aside from the beginning when the piano player introduces Brawner and it was clear his microphone wasn’t on, in fact it was even vocally pointed out by members of the audience). It’s sad that I wasn’t able to connect with the subject matter.

And I’m not the only one. Vance, my date for the evening, felt uncomfortable with how depressing the lyrical subject matter was, and I agree. Yes there are songs about hope and pressing forward, but that hope doesn’t appear to lead anywhere. There’s little here that is uplifting, not a song to break up the downward spiral and so the production is rather single note.

There were two audience members that ducked out about 15 minutes away from the end, apparently they felt the same.

The reprieve in this show comes from the performers. It’s always a treat to see Pitre perform and her voice is truly remarkable. When you listen and watch her belt those notes, it’s clear why she’s picked up multiple Dora Awards and other notable nominations along the way.

But even with the vocal talent, I wasn’t able to connect with this piece or derive any sort of inspiration from it. I know that Aznavour is quite a talented showman but this selection of his works hasn’t been able to appeal him to me. I left the theatre feeling empty.


Photo of Kenny Brawner, Louise Pitre, and Saida Baba Talibah by John Lauener. 

3 thoughts on “Review: What Makes a Man (Necessary Angel Theatre Company and Canadian Stage)”

  1. Justin Ellington is the Musical Director of the piece, not a performer. Andrew Penner is the fourth performer.

  2. It’s too bad and a little bit shocking, that you never heard of Charles Aznavour. I would say he’s the Leonard Cohen of his age. Do not judge his music by “what makes a man”. Although the cast sang well, it was NOTHING LIKE CHARLES AZNAVOUR neither the arrangements nor the delivery. Do yourself a big favour and get some CD’s by Aznavour. You will see why he is so loved around the world.

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