Sean Nicholas Savage and Please Thrill Me collaborators Jane Penny and Adam Byczkowski

Jane Penny, Sean Nicholas Savage (foreground) and Adam Byczkowski. Photo by Chris Filippini

Please Thrill Me brings TechniColor dreams to life

Musician Sean Nicholas Savage and director Sophie Cadieux on the ambitious musical coming to la Chapelle in February.

For the generation raised on music videos, sound and vision are inextricably tied. Add a dose of vintage movie musicals to the formative mix and daydreaming about choreography and backdrops while listening to music comes easily.

When it’s your own music, even more so.

Sean Nicholas Savage talks about letting his imagination paint pictures to his music from an early age, when he was “singing in the bathtub and dreaming on the bus.” The prolific genre-mashing singer-songwriter who came of age in Edmonton but moved to Montreal about a decade ago (and sometimes lives in Berlin), has written a musical that’s being produced in spectacular fashion by Ballet Opéra Pantomime (BOP), to be performed in February at la Chapelle.

Please Thrill Me features the music of Sean Nicholas Savage, who also plays the lead role in the piece with a supporting cast of fellow musician-actors: Jane Penny of TOPS, Rollie Pemberton (aka Cadence Weapon), Lulu Hughes and Adam Byczkowski (aka Better Person). There will be a narrative — a coming of age road trip fable about finding yourself, making instant friends and seeking “a life without limits” — as well as singing, dancing and live musicians on stage, making it the biggest production that a lot of its players have ever been involved in.

For Savage, an iconoclast of the local scene who’s kept a low profile lately, the project began with a serendipitous meeting with BOP’s Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse, who assisted in giving Savage’s music the orchestral treatment with the Joliette and Sherbrooke youth orchestras.

“My latest released works are a cassette trilogy I spent many years working on, and when I finally completed them, I was totally lost and in desperate need of a change,” Savage says. “Just then, Hubert asked if I was interested in working on a musical. It was an honour.”

Musical world-building

Directing the piece is Sophie Cadieux, whose extensive acting credits and experience directing theatre and collaborating on live theatrical elements for musicians like Pierre Lapointe have prepped her for helming this ambitious project.

“A song is like a scene in a play — you can make it exist on another level if you put it in a big space, if you put a certain light on it. The context in which you listen to music influences the way the music gets to you. I have this fascination with bringing to every song a certain emotion, a trip, a quest. I’m going to try to bring that sensibility into Sean Nicholas Savage’s world, where everything is contained in the dreamy, rainy, epic pop that he does.”

With all the personalities involved gathered on one stage, Please Thrill Me promises a flavour that’s distinct from both the concert experience (however elaborate) and the type of stage production we may be accustomed to. But fans of Savage and co. as well as connoisseurs of classic musicals will have plenty of reasons to come together.

Adam Byczkowski, Jane Penny and Sean Nicholas Savage on the cover of the Dec. 2019 issue of Cult MTL
Adam Byczkowski, Jane Penny and Sean Nicholas Savage on the cover of Cult MTL Dec. 2019

“We wanna have fun with classic West Side Story-style dance. We’re not going to lose that, it’s not a dark intellectual piece. But with people who aren’t necessarily dancers and have their distinct personal expressions,” says Cadieux. “Sean Nicholas Savage is dancing all the time but he has his own system of dance with his body. We’re gonna do some numbers with comedy, too — dancing on the tables of the restaurant, falling off the table, that kind of thing. But the world that the music lives in is dreamy and atmospheric and the world that he describes is very strange, where there’s no boundaries between people. What he would like is that people get together and form a new kind of family.”

Like his character in Please Thrill Me (whose name is Jazz), Savage is open to collectivism — not necessarily an obvious trait for a solo artist — certainly when it comes to this project. 

“I am merely a tablecloth and all the world is raining tomatoes,”  he says. “It’s lucky that I happen to be working with several brilliant artists. Everyone is going off an audio demo of the musical that I recorded. Beyond that, it’s up to their own imaginations.”

The final pieces of Please Thrill Me are coming together in the next couple of months, and the excitement and anticipation shared by Savage and Cadieux were obvious when I spoke to them in November. “I’m thrilled,” Savage says, rather appropriately. “I really can’t wait to sing those songs from the inside out, to enter the world of the music.” ■

Please Thrill Me will be performed at la Chapelle (3700 St-Dominque) from Feb. 17March 1, various times, $33.50/$28.50 students, seniors, under 30, art pros and neighbourhood residents/$23.50 performing arts students/$18.50 12 and under. Note that there are three dates with French surtitles.

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