The Canadian Press

Irish tenor Wilkinson brings spirituality to the stage with cross-Canada tour

TORONTO - Renowned Broadway star Colm Wilkinson is best known for his powerful performances in "Les Miserables" and "Phantom of the Opera," but when he launches his first cross-Canada tour next month it'll be his spirituality that takes centre stage.

Wilkinson promises to offer fans a mix of favourites from the world of theatre and popular music, but also a prayer for peace in these troubled times.

"I didn't turn into Jean Valjean overnight but I mean, I do feel that as artists we should make some sort of a statement if we can and remind people about what's going on in the world," Wilkinson says in a recent interview, referring to the iconic stage hero from "Les Miserables" that he's become known for.

"I want to do a song about peace and (in the show) I say: 'Peace in your heart, peace in your mind, peace in your family, I wish you all the gift of peace.' That's what I say because I think people need to be reminded. Peace in Iraq, peace in Northern Ireland, and we make people conscious of that."

The Irish tenor, who mesmerized Toronto audiences for 4 1/2 years with his portrayal of the Phantom, says the upcoming show will feature a special arrangement of the John Lennon classic "Imagine" with Tom Paxton's "Peace."

It will also include a rendition of Leonard Cohen's soaring "Hallelujah" and the Johnny Mathis hit, "One God."

"It's quite spiritual," Wilkinson says of the show, later describing himself as a lapsed Catholic and "born-again atheist".

"I don't go off on a civil rights rant or anything like that but if I can, I like to touch on subjects like that.... I have a slight reservation that it might be too, maybe slightly too spiritual, but ...we didn't think "Les Miserables" was going to be as huge as it was because it was so spiritual but people actually reached out for it, you know, they really did.

"I think people are hungry for a sort of spirituality in their life, they're hungry for some sort of security and I think they'll enjoy this."

Of course, Wilkinson knows he can't ignore the Broadway standards. The set includes "Phantom"'s showstopper "Music of the Night," and "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables."

The rest of the list is a varied assortment of best-loved melodies: "Man of La Mancha," "Impossible Dream," and "Somewhere," round out the Broadway set. Then there are the perennial favourites "Tennessee Waltz," "Some Enchanted Evening," and "Danny Boy," while more modern touches include "House of the Rising Sun" and a Ray Charles medley.

"I know what's expected, so I have to do the Broadway stuff," says Wilkinson, elegant in a crisp black-and-white striped shirt with white cuffs.

"But I came from rock 'n' roll so I like to switch."

Though he's known for more traditional fare these days, Wilkinson began his career in the rock circles of the 1970s, when he performed around his native Ireland with his band, The Action.

Wilkinson went on to achieve international fame with the role of Valjean, which featured award-winning runs in New York and Toronto, and as the Phantom, which brought him to Toronto in 1989.

Throughout his long career, music has been a passion that has never abated, he notes, capping the interview with a private performance of some of his favourite songs, including a gospel take on U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

Wilkinson admits that his spiritual inclinations could be traced back to his childhood and father from Belfast who was very nationalistic about a united Ireland.

Today, he recognizes that there are many forms of spirituality.

"I became a musician, which transcends borders, religions and everything else," he says. "I met all creeds, all colours, all castes and music was our common denominator."

Wilkinson's 16-city tour kicks off Oct. 6 in Halifax.

Accompanying Wilkinson will be Broadway singers Susan Gilmour, who starred as Fantine in the Toronto production of "Les Miserables", and Gretha Boston, who won a Tony award on Broadway for her role in "Showboat."

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