Nearing the end of its pandemic-shortened 2021 season, the Stratford Festival’s last cabaret, Finally There’s Sun, sends audiences home on a hopeful note, but the show offers much more than a cheerful, musical farewell.
Artfully curated by singers Sara Farb and Steve Ross, the cabaret, which opened under the Festival Theater canopy on Sunday, doesn’t shy away from exploring through songs and poetry many of the painful current events that brought us to this point.
It begins, naturally, with the arrival of the COVID-19 crisis.
The show’s quartet of singers, which includes Germaine Konji and Noah Beemer in their Stratford debuts, uses news clippings and social media posts to transport the audience back to the pandemic’s earliest moments. Performances of Stephen Sondheim’s Something Just Broke, from Assassins, and Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going to Rain Today capture perfectly the unease, fear, and apprehension of that time.
The idea to use newspaper articles and tweets to give the 90-minute cabaret a sense of narrative is cleverly executed. Those snippets of context, presented chronologically, not only push the show forward, they help Farb and Ross connect the audience to the themes and emotions their musical selections convey.
Thankfully, the impending doom that marked much of last year isn’t the show’s sole focus. There are plenty of light-hearted moments in the cabaret, too.
At one point, the audience is reminded of an April 2020 quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the now famous American public health adviser: “As a society, just forget about shaking hands.” With hindsight, it drew laughs on Sunday before I’m Going to Go Back There Someday, a longing Paul Williams tune from The Muppet Movie.
A brief section on rising divorce rates during the pandemic also had audience members giggling. Relationship pitfalls have long been fodder for comedians and, in this case, who would be better to turn to than Sondheim? Farb and Ross chose his song, Live Alone and Like It, from Dick Tracy.
Besides the pandemic, Finally There’s Sun dives into some of the other culture-shifting events of the past 18 months, and it’s at that point when one of the show’s most powerful moments takes place.
In a spot dedicated to exploring the deep hurt that accompanied the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others, Konji is given space to present original music and her performance on Sunday was stunning.
The Stratford Festival and many of its artists have recently strived to acknowledge the systemic racism stoking social and political unrest. Konji’s contribution stands out.
Despite successfully tackling some heavy themes, Finally There’s Sun doesn’t feel weighed down. Ultimately, the cabaret is an entertaining journey about the resilience of the human spirit and, near the end, Farb, Ross, Konji and Beemer had their opening afternoon audience joyously clapping along to Dolly Parton’s Light of a Clear Blue Morning.
It seems fitting to give her the last word:
It’s been a long dark night
And I’ve been a waitin’ for the morning
It’s been a long hard fight
But I see a brand new day a dawning
I’ve been looking for the sunshine
You know I ain’t seen it in so long
But everything’s gonna work out just fine
And everything’s gonna be all right