Jonathan Christopher kicks off virtual Bermuda Festival
Jonathan Christopher is hopeful that in the coming months, he might just get his life back.
As the Broadway singer envisions it: he’ll see his family, get back up on stage and leave the tiny apartment in Toronto he’s been stuck in on his own since the Canadian city was ordered into a seemingly never-ending Covid-related lockdown.
While he waits for all that to happen he’s thankful to have the chance to entertain Bermuda.
Mr Christopher will kick off the 46th season of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts next Saturday with “a bountiful array of music from [his] repertoire performing Broadway shows around the world”. The free, virtual series of concerts will run through December.
“I felt so blessed that they approached me and asked me to do that,” said Mr Christopher, who was able to offer up the highlights from the fundraising video he produced at the end of last year, Another Year Has Gone By.
“It was really, really well done. I got to collaborate with a great music director and he helped me assemble a fantastic band and we were able to record in a small, intimate venue called Small World Music Centre.”
Having attended Small World preschool as a kid in Bermuda, he took the name as “a good sign” and was thrilled he was able to donate just over $10,000 to the Actors Fund.
“Since the festival is making all of the content accessible to all, I thought why not share what I made with people that didn’t have the opportunity to see it because it was only available for one weekend in December.”
To that video Mr Christopher is adding a performance he entered in the American Traditions Vocal Competition; judges Kurt Elling, Lawrence Brownlee and Kate Baldwin gave him the Johnny Mercer Award for it.
“I sang a song called My Shining Hour that [Mercer] wrote. Frank Sinatra performed it, Sammy Davis Jr performed it, Barbara Streisand performed it and I thought I’d do an arrangement that highlighted those three singers, especially because I love them so much.
“The pianist and I came up with a fantastic arrangement of that and I won [the award] and I was able to pay my rent for a month. It was really, really special because he and I worked really hard to make that arrangement. So I’ll be playing that video as well during the concert.”
Mr Christopher was set to tour North America with the musical Hamilton when the pandemic hit.
“I stayed put up here and I kind of fell in love with the city,” he said. “In November, right before I filmed my virtual concert, they went to another full lockdown and Toronto – and most of Ontario – has been under that full lockdown ever since.
“I have only been with myself, in this tiny apartment up here. Thankfully I have a big window with a north-facing view of Toronto so I don’t feel like I’m in prison but … I feel like I’m up in a tower.
“I kind of was working on this hope that Canada would open faster than the US but then once the vaccine roll-out happened that kind of just took a twist – which is great for the US. That means that theatre’s going to come back sooner than expected. We’re hoping that Hamilton, the musical, will be back on stage in all of its capacity – from Broadway to all the national tours.”
He plans to get back to work as soon as that happens; in anticipation of once again travelling freely, Mr Christopher received his first Covid-19 vaccine last week.
“I think now that the US has vaccinated basically everyone that wants to get vaccinated, they’re sending up vaccines that countries have ordered and Canada’s receiving it. I’m hoping that this will take a turn for Canada but I think my days here are numbered.
“If theatre’s going to reopen, I want to be able to travel and see my family, who I haven’t seen for a while. My sister Vanessa just had her first baby back in April, and then Nick, my brother, and his fiancee Jen, are expecting their baby in June. So I want to make sure I get my second dose of vaccine and spend some quality time with my family before we all go back to work and the world continues to open up.”
Next week’s show will be his first time in the Bermuda Festival line-up. Coincidentally, it falls ten years to the day that Mr Christopher gave his first classical music performance on a local stage.
“The first time I performed classical singing in Bermuda was on May 22, 2011 for this group called The Ensemble Singers. Some of the audience members who I met at that concert had said I should look into the Bermuda Festival because they love classical singers, they love celebrating the arts. So I’ve always had an eye on the Bermuda Festival but I had never submitted because the timing was just never right. I think it’s exciting that, ten years to the day that I made my professional debut in Bermuda I get to perform and be a part of the Festival.
“Hopefully when the world reopens we can make something happen where I can come down live and perform and, if not just me, get my brother involved and my father [Ed Christopher] involved as well – showcase that Bermuda talent and that musical relationship we have as a family. That’s my hope, hopefully for one day.”
The only other time they performed publicly as a group in Bermuda was when Bacardi Limited celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2012.
“My father did a set for Bacardi and [my brother] flew down. He might have been doing Motown on Broadway at the time. He came down and the three of us sang My Girl and dedicated it to our mom [Theresa].”
Having been exposed to the arts throughout his childhood – from the string lessons he took with the Menuhin Foundation to watching his father perform as part of the annual Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society pantomime to the more formal education he received when his family moved to Boston, Massachusetts – Mr Christopher believes it’s important that young Bermudians get that same opportunity.
“The arts were such a positive part of our family; using that as a form of expression in Bermuda is so vital and so important. I love whenever I come back seeing the dance performances and various concerts that are going on. The fact that the Festival is able to bring all of that together, and bring people from all around the world to our little island, I think is very, very special and can hopefully open the eyes of the young folk on the island that there is a world of music, a world of dance, a world of art out there for us to access and if we go out into the world to experience it we can come back and share it with the next generation.”
He continued: “I think it’s very important these days to do that, to share and to teach and to harvest the next generation of artists and to show them that there is more to life than insurance. The Bermuda Festival is taking this year to showcase Bermuda talent; people can access it free and make a donation, we can show these young folk in Bermuda that it’s out there and you can do it too.”
For the full list of performances in the 46th season of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts visit bermudafestival.org. Access to all the shows is free