Joanna Chapman-Smith brings global folklore to life with multi-disciplinary folk opera

Joanna Chapman-Smith launches Elon & the City of Stone

Sunday November 20 at Hugh’s Room

A dinner theatre featuring storyteller Anna Kerz

Tickets: $20 Advance / $22.50 Door

Performance: 7:30pm

Reservations:  (416) 531-6604 / info@hughsroom.com

Eight years in the making and comprised of folklore from four continents, the latest project from Toronto chanteuse Joanna Chapman-Smith is a career-defining work of art – an utterly unique album combining music and storytelling into glorious musical theatre of the mind.

Elon & The City of Stone features beautifully-orchestrated original songs based on traditional tales Joanna collected from Italy, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Europe, Africa and Asia — all tied together with an original story about Elon, a young inhabitant of the City of Stone who helps a mysterious, story-telling being transform his urban home.

“Shall I tell you stories?”  Joanna sings, on the album’s overture, before narrating the opening chapter of Elon’s tale.  From there, she picks up his story between the songs – which themselves represent the stories told by the mystical raconteur.

Joanna’s voice, strengthened over several years of study and training that followed vocal damage in 2008, is a revelation – powerful and pure and possessed of the mellifluous dexterity of a Broadway star’s.

As a narrator, she is bold, expressive and dramatic, bringing Elon and his surroundings to life with a captivating flare. It is sometimes said that a story is only alive between the teller and the listener, and Joanna succeeds beautifully at animating the City of Stone in the listener’s imagination.   

The music, still rooted in the catchy, globally-infused, jazzy pop Joanna is known for, is so cinematic and so beautifully integrated with the themes that underscore her storytelling, that the whole album feels sound-designed – the designers, in this case, being producer Ken Whiteley and composer David Stone, who scored the story segments.  A veritable chamber orchestra of Toronto talent brings the arrangements to life, including Ernie Tollar on wooden flute and clarinet, Ewan Divitt on trumpet and flugelhorn, Gary Craig on percussion, Peter Cosbey on cello and Catherine and Thomas Cosbey on violins.

Song-Folktale Highlights:

  • First up are “Spaces Between,” based on a Maori creation tale, and “Little Bird,” based on an origin story of the kiwi bird.
  • There are several songs inspired by the Brothers Grimm, one including the evil queen from Snow White.
  • “Crystal Heart” describes what happens when a Vietnamese Emperor’s daughter falls in love with an unseen stranger who sings beautiful songs to her – but turns out to be a toothless old fisherman.
  • “The King” is based on an Estonian tale that is similar to the Greek Atalanta story.
  • “Broken Beast” is inspired by a series of South Sudanese stories in which people go crazy and turn into lions but others find ways to make them human again.  The message about the ability of human connection to restore sanity was especially poignant for Joanna.

The Back “Story”

You might say Elon & The City of Stone is a musical expression of the zeitgeist, witnessed in the popularity of narrative radio programs such as This American Life and the marketing profession’s current passion for storytelling in branding.  As a culture, we have found solace in hearing the mess of modern life given meaning in lovingly-packaged vignettes.

Joanna’s life-altering encounter with storytelling occurred in 2008, when she saw a project by Vancouver’s multi-disciplinary Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret, which brought stories to life through dance, puppetry, and theatre.

She fell in love with folk tales in particular, in part because of their brutality – their sometimes terrifyingly honest observations about human nature.

When she moved back to Toronto, Joanna joined the board of Storytelling Toronto.  She was involved in a storytelling guild and performed at several storytelling festivals.

During this time, she also completed teachers college and began teaching music and drama in the inner city; She work-shopped Elon & The City of Stone to her students and incorporated their suggestions into the final project, resulting in a flawlessly-crafted tour de force.

A 2012 finalist for the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award, Joanna has already earned high praise from the likes of the Toronto Star, which wrote “she’s got the whole package” and the Globe and Mail, which said she “makes it look effortless.”

With the release of Elon & The City of Stone, Joanna only stands to increase her recognition as one of Toronto’s most gifted and most unique musical talents.

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