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New musical portrays false hope of the American dream

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Buried machinery in barn lot in Dallas, South Dakota, United States during the Dust Bowl. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So many freezing cold months ago it seemed like a fortuitous opportunity when Toronto-based theatre company Soulpepper launched a summer series of performances. At the time, a day in the city with a good friend lunching at a favourite Distillery District restaurant and then taking in a matinee performance seemed ideal. Then, the mid-July weekend arrived and I was somewhat less than enthusiastic about having to set the alarm to get up early, get a little dressed up and then drive to the city. I became completely deflated when I realized that it was the Indy weekend and I would have to change up my usual route in order to get into our destination on time.

Just let me say that the Soulpepper production of The Promised Land: Steinbeck Through Song was worth any inconvenience tenfold! The Promised Land takes audiences on a journey across America, utilizing novelist John Steinbeck's artistic and personal musings on the struggle to realise the American dream or the proverbial promised land.

In order to respect artistic expression, I won’t divulge the playlist, but will share with you that featured performers Alana Bridgewater, Divine Brown, Hailey Gillis, Raha Javanfar, Travis Knights and Mike Ross, with Joseph Ziegler acting as the voice of Steinbeck, are outstanding. The house band includes Jacob Gorzhaltan, Scott Hunter, Raha Javanfar, Mike Ross and Adam Warner.

Ziegler's narration includes personal musings of Steinbeck chronicling his life and times, but not sequentially, and that works just fine. Each narrative is an intimate introduction to a song written by such illustrious people as Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, James Blunt, Leiber and Stoller, Bob Dylan, Herman Hupfeld, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Paul Simon.

A screen strategically placed high above the stage showcases scenes from life as Steinbeck experienced it, while juxtaposing the climate and refugee crisises we are experiencing today and bringing many in the audience to tears as it drives home how little has changed in the last nine decades.

The parallels between the current provincial government in Ontario, the prospect of a Conservative-led federal government and the belief that only the strongest survive and thrive was not lost on me. This musical is a reinvigorating statement that resonates with anyone concerned about a guaranteed basic income; living wage; workers rights; migrant workers rights; human rights to food, shelter, water; the climate crisis; and the refugee crisis.

Important, too, is the subject of interference by foreign governments that has caused these crises, particularly the United States' long history of interference in South American and South Asian politics; and the fact that the world is racing once again to the brink of war in the name of environmentally disastrous jobs and a stable 1 per cent capitalist economy.

The Promised Land has extended its run and that is fabulous news because if you only see one show in Toronto this summer make sure it's this one.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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