Grosse Île: Une histoire chorale preparing for Palais Montcalm

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

The chorus and soloists of Grosse Île: Une histoire chorale are perfecting their performance in rehearsals held at St. Patrick’s High School auditorium, but they will soon be on stage at the Palais Montcalm.

The auditorium of St. Patrick’s High School was buzzing with activity last Saturday morning as the cast of Grosse Île: Une histoire chorale gathered to rehearse the historical musical about the Irish immigrants who landed at Grosse Île in the mid-1800s.  

Co-written by Margaret Forrest, John Halpin (musical director) and Hubert Radoux (stage director) and produced by Guy Morisset, Grosse Île: Une histoire chorale features soloists Katee Julien, Olivia Labbé, Héra Ménard, Marie-Maude Potvin, Greg Halpin, David Souza, Dominic Veilleux and the Ensemble Vocal Dal Segno, directed by Guillaume Saint-Gelais. The singers will be accompanied by Marc D’Anjou on piano, Erin Halpin on flute and Stefan F. Gow on guitar.

Halpin said the Ensemble will have the role of a Greek chorus, standing at the back of the stage. There are 20 pieces of music in the show but, with the exception of a couple of songs that are sung during a blackout, they do not have to memorize all of them.

Greg Halpin, who plays the role of Donal, one of the immigrants, was recruited for the first production at St. Lawrence in 2012 by his parents, co-writers Margaret Forrest and John Halpin. Greg also plays the role of Skews, the villain of the piece.  

Chorister Constance Crossland, a former St. Lawrence teacher, now a guidance counsellor, was also in the first production. She explained, “That show was much more in English and there were more soloists. This is more in French and there is also Gaelic and beautiful choir arrangements.”

Gordon Brown, Dean of Faculty at St. Lawrence, was also in the original production and gladly joined the group again to encourage this locally-grown musical. “It’s wonderful to take this production from the school cafeteria to the Palais Montcalm,” said Brown.  

Mercedes Gayk is a member of the Dal Segno choir and a personal friend of John Halpin and Margaret Forrest. They went to University of Toronto together and played in the Hart House Orchestra; John played cello and Margaret, the viola. 

Sarah Blair, a special-needs teacher at Quebec High School, said, “I’m here because Hubie [Radoux] saw saw my daughter Isabelle in some show and asked her to be a part of this as one of the orphans; he invited me and my other daughter Hannah too.”  

When Miriam Schurman was asked what brought her to this musical she said, “My uncle … Hubert Radoux.” Schurman also sang with the choir in the original production. 

Backstage, Forrest was helping Katee Julien, who plays the doctor on Grosse-Île, and Marie-Maude Potvin, who plays Dara, an immigrant and a nurse, with their costumes. Forrest painted the colour and black-and-white scenes that will be projected against a backdrop during the musical. On Facebook (Concert Grosse Île: Une histoire chorale) there is a link to video clips that promote the show and give the backstory of the making of the musical. 

Producer Guy Morisset said about 20% of the tickets have been sold so far. “We’ll be busy promoting the play in the next few weeks. This show is fabulous …. There are 35 choristers, seven soloists and three musicians involved, plus the lighting technicians at the Palais Montcalm. 

Gina Farnell (wife of the producer) said, “The story of Grosse Île is a part of our history that many Quebecers are forgetting. The English-speaking community is probably more aware of it than the French. It’s a beautiful example of the open-mindedness that the citizens of Quebec displayed to the immigrants, because a lot of other ports were closed to them. The irony of it all is that the name of the first ship that landed at Grosse Île was the Syria. Almost two centuries later, history repeats itself. This musical has a universal theme.”

The bilingual concert will be presented on Saturday, March 12, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 13, at 2 p.m. at the Palais Montcalm. Tickets are available at the Palais Montcalm ticket office, by calling 418 641-6040 or at palaismontcalm.ca or Billetech.com