Using the musical likes of Ira Gershwin and Irving Berlin to recreate Canadian radio and war in the 1940s, Till We Meet Again is an appropriate tribute to veterans post-remembrance day.
First performed in 2005, Till We Meet Again is based on the first CBC radio show broadcast out of Montreal. Music of the Stars was meant to entertain soldier’s families and bring them news from the front. With a mix of song, dance and interviews, the show was an instant hit nationwide.
Till We Meet Again examines the radio show from the standpoint of the live audience, so viewers will witness the backstage drama of putting on a radio show and how live commercials were made, sound effects and all. The audience also sees the show evolve, from its scruffy beginnings in 1940, to its triumphant popularity in 1944.
The on-air group is composed of journalist May Powell (Jane Hackett), newsreader Gerald Trudel (Pierre Lenoir), two aspiring entertainers (Amanda LeBlanc and Michael Daniel Murphy) and a veteran singer (Stephanie McNamara). All the actors sing and dance throughout every broadcast to popular tunes of the time period accompanied by a single pianist (Marian Siminski).
Unfortunately, the plot is thread-thin and the songs are a tad repetitive in tone, but Till We Meet Again has a lot of heart.
The characters are given a chance to interact initially; the two aspiring entertainers share some romantic chemistry, while there is friction between the veteran singer and the journalist as to who is the bigger star. Yet, these story lines are left alone once the music cues up and the radio show starts. In this way, Till We Meet Again is more of a revue, where the story is relegated to short vignettes and the song and dance numbers take priority.
The show excels in its authenticity; the commercials were actual advertisements on the air, the news bulletins were actual news updates and the interviews were almost word for word transcripts of real CBC interviews. However, sometimes these moments lose traction as most of the interviews run a little long, and reading the names of fallen soldiers on air becomes a bit tiresome.
Till We Meet Again is a love letter to the CBC and to Canadian veterans, and will almost certainly be enjoyed by anyone who grew up around the time of the Second World War. At one point during the show, Powell turns to the audience mid-song and instructs everyone to sing with her. I fully expected only a few people to recognize the song and begin to hum the tune. I nearly fell out of my seat with the response.
The entire Oscar Peterson auditorium joined in full chorus, as if waiting for this moment since they stepped into the theatre. The song was “We’ll Meet Again,” a melody with a message of hope that still resonates with so many individuals who grew up in that time period.
The next day, I told my grandfather, a veteran, to buy tickets as I was sure he would love the show, even if it did not resonate deeply with me. It turns out he had seen the show back in 2005, during its first incarnation. He decided to go again.
Although Till We Meet Again is far from perfect, it is worth bringing your grandparents to. It will be a trip down memory lane, and ultimately a great bonding experience. It was for me.
Till We Meet Again plays at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall Nov. 21, 22. Tickets range from $27 to $55.