Like it or not, there is only a short amount of time left until Christmas, and final papers, labs, and exams that will pass by very, very quickly. This being said, in between all the time you spend stressed, buying presents, and feasting on holiday dinners, it is important to remember those less fortunate. This should, of course, be something that we put our effort into and consider throughout the entire year, but it seems especially emphasized during the holiday season. Little Match Girl Messiah is officially on my list of must-see shows to watch for this very reason.
Five shows happening on two weekends between Brighton, Norwood, and “The Barn” (just outside of Campbellford), the Westben Arts Festival is revisiting a previously performed production called Little Match Girl Messiah, imagined and composed by musician/writer Ken Tizzard, and Westben’s artistic director, Brian Findley. The show is an incorporation of Danish poet Hans Christian Anderson’s short story, “The Little Match Girl” (1845), and the Christmas choruses of Handel’s masterpiece “Messiah” (1741), with new arrangements and compositions by Tizzard and Findley.
First performed in 2006, Little Match Girl Messiah comes together as a beautiful piece of semi-dramatic musical theatre. It leaves you feeling the importance of not forgetting or neglecting those in need around us, and also the importance of openly giving the gift of salvation and maintaining hope for all of mankind.
A hush of silence fell upon the room as the Westben Festival Chorus took up position against the walls of the perimeter, and even the sounds of typing on my keyboard seemed out of place. Breaking the silence was a fabulously humorous and informative introduction from Findley. We were then drawn into a surreal and magically-infused world of winter cold. Westben’s Festival Chorus was entrancingly beautiful in their vocal capabilities, and, coupled with Findley’s amazing piano composition and performance, the mood was set. For the next hour and a half, we were invested in the life of this poor young girl, who has visions and hallucinations prior to succumbing to death in the frigid street outside the decorated doorway of a soup kitchen.
Olivia Rapos, one of the two young actresses who performs the lead role as the Little Match Girl, is haunting and bewitching in her performance. Beatrice Muldon performs the part of the Little Match Girl on the Saturday performances, and is equally talented and a natural performer. The lyrics from “Please Help Me”, written by Tizzard and Findley, are ones that will be stuck in my mind for quite some time. Even in the first act of the show, we see the beginning of Little Match Girl’s descent into delirium. Crying out into the silent world around her, she finds herself still alone and unseen by the society in which she lives, even by volunteers at the Soup Kitchen, who are busy with the work at hand. Tizzard’s and Findley’s “Hold On” brings together all the emotions, including sadness, desperation, and desire for action, and these feelings are similarly crescendoed in Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus.
The show is very much a cry for people to do what they claim to uphold in deed as well as in word. To share hope and love with our words does not fill the rumbling stomachs of the hungry, or warm the freezing bodies of those without a home.
The audience at the sold-out show was on their feet with enthusiasm, and in the two hundred-year-old tradition, the trumpeting joy of redemption after the sadness, from the entire ensemble, was riveting to see.
For those who have been part of large productions in the past or present will know that it takes many dedicated individuals to make any show come off without a hitch. Having the privilege of attending the sound checks and last rehearsal before a show really gives the keen observer a much bigger picture of how many talented people are involved in making a production like this happen. An ensemble of over 80 people: 36 from the Westben Children and Youth Choirs, 42 forming the Westben Festival Chorus, as well as Findley and Donna Bennett conducting and performing, and Tizzard playing bass throughout the musical for emphasis as well as featured pieces. To top all that off, Westben is also blessed to have a huge, dedicated team of volunteers to manage a vast range of behind the scenes tasks.
Many thanks to Findley and the other Westben executives for making room for me at the Norwood showing of this fantastic performance.
There are a limited amount of tickets left for the last performance, which is to be held on Sunday, December 1 at 3pm at Westben’s “Barn” theatre, located just north of Campbellford on Highway 30. The ticket price for students is only $15, whereas adult tickets are $25 and youth tickets are $5.For more ticket information and directions, please visit their website at www.westben.ca. This is the perfect show and is worth watching to kick off this Christmas season.