A heavy-metal drummer, a punk/bass player, a folksy accordion/banjo master and a jazz/classical pianist walk into a theatre.
They’re consciously avoiding the bar, though what follows provides the punchline to a unique avant-garde performance that illustrates genre-bending musician Leila Neverland’s fifth CD with a debut play, Transcending Orbit.
“The concept behind (the story) is simple,” says Neverland. “It’s a young woman going from stagnancy to effervescence.”
“Simple” might not be the word anyone else would use, but one look at Neverland’s performances (YouTube them) and you’ll know this is one seriously talented artist with an imagination that could paint the Sistine Chapel while penning the Greek classics and reconstructing Beethoven’s chords.
Neverland is technically a classically trained pianist, but she demonstrates the kind of love for jazz that can only be inborn and, at 27-years-old, she can usually be found dancing at her keyboard as she experiments with some mind-numbing rhythms and a vocal range capable of grabbing even the most mundane of auditory palettes.
As this latest collection of songs was written over the two years of her pregnancy and initiation to motherhood, the theatrical production provides a way to avoid the usual “lets get trashed and have a CD-release,” she explained.
“The arrival of my daughter took me from a life of a lot of booze and drugs to a place where I pretty much healed myself and went through my own metamorphosis to really take the world by the reins,” she said.
This is the story of that growth, as much as an album, and the production she’s created to illustrate the music has been compared to Pink Floyd’s The Wall for both its story style and illustrative cast of characters.
Eight women perform the play alongside the band, which unravels like a silent movie punctuated by projections of cartoon dialogue bubbles.
Her group of underground musicians and creative contacts have rallied to make the project a reality; carpenters are donating time to build the set, spray-paint artists providing the backdrop, a youth worker acting as director, and a string of local businesses pitching in with donations.
“Nobody’s really professional in the sense of being hired. So if it works, then we all get a little money to go do groceries with and, otherwise, it will be an experience,” she said.
Somehow, one doubts anything about Neverland’s talents won’t work.
The young artist has been around music so long she can remember sitting on her grandmother’s knee watching the black keys fly—at eye level.
Her 84-year-old grandmother, Jacqueline Rosenblatt, “still rips the bumblebee like you wouldn’t believe,” she said, in the manner of one so well-versed in music a Rimsky-Korsakov reference to Flight of the Bumblebee rolls off the tongue, no explanation required.
Rosenblatt was a professional pianist, providing accompaniment to big names like opera singer Jessye Norman, in addition to her solo performances; and the apple does not fall far from the tree. Ditching her classical training at 13-years-old in favour of Ella Fitzgerald’s trills, Neverland put out her first CD of original music three years later.
Neverland is her stage-name, incidentally, and though she doesn’t disclose her original, she does say the Okanagan has provided the “effervescence” portion of her personal tale.
She landed in the Okanagan in pursuit of her anthropology degree, after giving up on Ryerson’s journalism program. The “stagnation” portion of Transcending Orbit stems from her late teens, when she was forced to leave Toronto to spend the traditional angst period in “small-town, backwoods, redneck Texas,” as she describes it.
Transcending Orbit plays the Mary Irwin Theatre in the Rotary Centre for the Arts Jan. 14 from 7:30-9 p.m. Tickets include the album and cost $30 for adults and $20 for students/youth. More about this unique project can be found at www.transcendingorbit.com and tickets can be purchased at www.selectyourtickets.com
The first 100 seats sold also receive a VIP pass to the after party occurring on stage with local DJs and special guests. The audience is asked to attend in an impression of black-tie formal or fantasy black-tie.
“So you get dressed to the nines but, if you feel like putting a butterfly on your head, you can,” said Neverland.